The week we’re all talking about… Clifford Chance’s paralegals

Outsourcing UK jobs always gets tempers going, especially in the English & Welsh legal profession. Therefore, the news that Clifford Chance was beginning to take its paralegals offshore to India and that Eversheds was embarking on outsourcing legal corporate due diligence work to an Indian company, was not welcomed by all. (See story, 11 August).

Clifford Chance already has seven Indian qualified paralegals employed in its service centre in Gurgaon, just outside Delhi. By the end of the year the number of paralegals will be 20, as well as ultimately almost 10 per cent of total business services staff, resulting in a saving of around 8m annually.

Gurgaons paralegal capacity of 20 will be a sizable chunk of Clifford Chances total London capacity of around 110 paralegals. And when considering that the paralegals in India will be expected to do work such as filing form 395 company charge submissions, due diligence reviews, shell company conversions and certain other work, which is normally the exclusive preserve of paralegals or London trainees, it leaves one to wonder, what exactly the London paralegals and trainees of the future will be doing.

Clifford Chance global managing partner David Childs said that trainee numbers in London would not be affected, seeing as they were the firms principal recruitment source.

However, he added that paralegal numbers in London may stay flat or drop slightly, as leavers are not replaced. Paralegals are usually on short term contracts and many tend to leave the magic circle after a one-year stint before they move on to training contracts at other firms or other careers, having perhaps become disillusioned with form 395 company charge submissions.

But while paralegal and low-end trainee work may be dull, it is an investment in young English legal talent for the long term – after all, how can you be expected to become a partner and to outsource and check the low-level, boring work, if you have never done it yourself?

Then again, there could be the hope that if all the low-level work leaves the UK, hungry trainees of the future will be able to get their fangs into juicier, higher-level work, such as drafting, negotiating, doing business development and leading teams – of Indian paralegals and lawyers?