In the early 2000s, I got a call from a colleague to discuss an idea someone had pitched to him: taking high-volume, repetitive legal work to India in order to take advantage of the fact that, like in the U.S., Indian laws are based on English common law and that Indian lawyers charge much lower rates than their American counterparts. “Outstanding idea,” I recall saying. “But it’ll never fly.”
Around the same time, Skadden attorney Ram Vasudevan had the same idea. Only Vasudevan was better able to see the future, so on April Fool's Day in 2004, he launched QuisLex, one of the very first legal process outsourcers. On the company's 10th anniversary, Ram and I sat down to discuss how the legal industry has changed, specifically how technology has been spurred by and resulted from those changes.
“The whole idea was made possible by technology,” Vasudevan told me. “At first, we only had three attorneys and secure Internet connections.”
There was an element of resource arbitrage, but he focused on delivering new value even for seemingly routine tasks. In the early days, for example, the company would mostly summarize contracts into basic databases that would allow clients to make more intelligent decisions.
Since then, QuisLex has grown to more than 700 full-time attorneys fueled by a number of factors. Some bar associations have issued opinions—including a key one by the American Bar Association in 2008—that have provided clients with a good framework for controls that need to be in place for outsourcing. Shifting economics and increased client pressure on law firms have played a big part. And, as often happens, the company has grown as satisfied clients have begotten new clients.
Much of the company's expansion, however, has been enabled in large part by changes in both the business and legal worlds due to new technology. For starters, technology has caused a drastic increase in the amount of legal work to be done. More deals get done quicker. More documents that require review are created faster. More companies can operate in more locations, creating more regulatory and compliance work. “The workload for law departments has grown so much over the past decade; our clients often require solutions like ours in order to get everything done,” says Vasudevan.
At the same time, new technologies have changed the way law is practiced. For example, new tools help QuisLex provide end-to-end contract management, from preparation to drafting to execution to storage. And in the litigation realm, data analytics is a major driver.
“In the early days we would only categorize documents for the legal teams. Now we use technology, statistics and processes to help our clients get better results,” adds Vasudevan. For example, the company has assisted in early data assessments to provide intelligence for meet-and-confer sessions.
Ram suggests that technology has been perhaps the single biggest change agent in the practice of law over the past 10 years.
“It is now possible to disaggregate work: What can be done by technology is done by technology, what can be done by junior staff can be done by junior staff (in or outside of the law firm environment), and what requires senior lawyers can still be done by senior lawyers.”
One result is that even major firms—the type that were once considered untouchable—have failed when they have not been able to adapt. Another result is opportunities for in-house counsel to provide more value to the corporation.
What's next? In India, QuisLex is able to compete for the very best talent from the top schools.
“New graduates no longer see traditional legal practice as the only desirable career path. The definition of ‘best of breed’ is evolving, and clients and law firms are more often integrating top legal process companies into their workflows. And it's technology that allows all this to happen.”