Nestled amid the bustle of north Mumbai, the headquarters of Pangea3, one of India’s biggest legal outsourcing companies, is enough to give a British corporate lawyer used to the slick environs of the City or Canary Wharf the heebie-jeebies.
On the street outside, manual scavengers pick through the morning garbage while hawkers throng the sidestreets. Inside, the scene is just as alien — more reminiscent of the bridge of the Starship Enterprise than of a traditional London law firm.
Hardly anybody is wearing a suit, there are no private offices and there is not a wood-panelled boardroom in sight.
Instead, an army of young Indian graduates, most of them from the country’s top law and engineering schools, sits before a barrage of computer terminals. Many are working on legal documents digitally accessed from the servers of blue-chip Western clients via transcontinental fibreoptic cables. Others are engaged in research for upcoming litigation to be fought out in American courtrooms, or are analysing patent filings registered by British companies.
Most striking, perhaps, are the collection of giant Perspex tubes that tower above the large open-plan office. Accessible via spiral staircases, they contain raised meeting rooms. Together with the fingerprint scanners that operate the locks on the doors, they lend the premises a sci-fi feel. This may be fitting: if Sanjay Kamlani, the firm’s co-chief executive (and one of the few workers wearing a tie) is right, this is the future of the corporate legal profession.
It is a vision that could radically change Britain’s legal industry.
Much of the work that Pangea3 and similar firms deal with, such as drafting derivatives contracts or conducting due diligence for mergers and acquisitions, was once the preserve of trainees and associates at big City law firms. Some of those firms racked up annual revenues of more than £1 billion during the boom years, in part by billing out teams of junior lawyers for up to £300 an hour for even the most routine tasks.
However, those firms, in a drive to cut costs, are beginning to send that sort of work to cheaper jurisdictions, such as India, South Africa and the Philippines.