Sunday, March 7, 2010

I'm Green With Envy...

Okay.  So, I'll admit it. I'm obsessed with India and Indians.  I'm sure you already know that. The obsession started when I moved to this area where it's easier to buy a sari and chicken tikka than it is to get soy milk or sushi, and the obsession grew exponentially when the ABA decided to kick attorneys when they were down by passing ABA “Ethics” Opinion 08-451.

I guess I just had a hard time making sense of of it all.  Even before 08-451, Indians were being given visas to come here and take professional jobs (mostly in the computer industry) and there were more than enough Americans to take those jobs.  But I couldn't be too upset because I presumed that they were paying taxes and frequenting businesses here, so they somehow contributed to the American Economy.

When the ABA decided that outsourcing to third world countries was a-ok, I lost it.  I can't go to Maryland to practice the law, but an Indian Attorney can practice law in all 50 states?  So, I was pissed as hell and mad at the powers that be.  But the ABA stands for the rights of partners and partners want to cut cost where ever possible.  So be it.  At least I lived in the United States where we have rights. I liked to imagine that Indian Lawyers were working in sub-standard conditions, all hours of the day or night so that they can be accessible to American Law firms.  Being familiar with history, I assumed that India was in its Industrial Revolution, which would be followed by Unions fighting for workers' rights.  I liked to think that I have some sort of leg up for being an American, but I was wrong.

I ran into this article:

Legal firms court women, offer flexi work options
8 Mar 2010, 0323 hrs IST, Maulik Vyas, ET Bureau
MUMBAI: At 33, Bijal Ajinkya is a partner at Mumbai-based legal firm Nishith Desai & Associates (NDA), where two of the seven partners are
women. Ajinkya, who became a partner at 30, doesn’t belong to a rare breed anymore.

Women lawyers are carving out a niche for themselves and in many firms outnumbering men as globalisation and a booming economy fuel the need for specialised legal practices and the expansion of existing law firms.

Women constitute 45-50% of the total number of lawyers in some legal firms. While women comprise half of NDA’s top team, they make up 45% of the staff strength in legal firm Desai & Diwanji. In firms like Manilal Kher Ambalal & Co, the proportion is 80%.

“While there has been no conscious preference to hire women lawyers, over the past few years, we have seen a steady rise in the number of women lawyers in the firm,” says Toral Desai, partner, Desai & Diwanji. “Over the past four to five years, we have encountered an increasing number of women lawyers acting opposite us on transactions.”

Apart from achieving a work-life balance, women bring with them the mastery of soft skills like multi tasking, cross-functionality, social responsibility, teamwork and communication, crucial to the functioning of multi-cultural organisations in a rapidly globalising world. Courtroom dramas and punishing work schedules have thus made way for flexi hours and more paper work.

“These days, legal work stresses soft skills like drafting papers. At the most, it can go up to arbitration but there’s no running around, which helps the cause of more women coming in,” says Rohini Dandekar, advocate, Supreme Court.

While the legal industry has always had successful women — Zia Mody of AZB & Partners and Indira Jaisingh, the first woman additional solicitor general of India, to name a few — the trend of women flocking to the profession began nearly six years ago, when Indian corporates began to scout abroad and locally for targets.

Issues related to mergers and acquisitions (M&As), competition law, patents, ADRs-GDRs and FCCBs required in-depth knowledge of global legal practices, and corporate lawyers were, and continue to be, greatly in demand. This is especially true in new economy sectors like information technology, the IT-enabled sector and media and entertainment, where specific skill sets are called for.

Globalisation also brought with it opportunities and access to quality education. Fresh law graduates from new-age campuses like National Law School earn anywhere between Rs 30,000 and Rs 1 lakh a month.

Technology is also helping more women enter the profession, which has always entailed long and exhausting working hours. Legal firms are providing flexi hours and daycare facilities. The Delhi office of the Mumbai-based Amarchand Mangaldas & Suresh Shroff & Co recently unveiled a day-care facility for the children of its working mothers.

Communication devices too have helped a great deal. “Being a lawyer is very demanding; one needs to put in at least 12 to 14 hours a day. However, with the help of devices like the Blackberry and laptop, our company is giving us the option to work from home or outside the office, which is making life much simpler,” says Ajinkya. 
The number of women wanting to enter the profession is also rising. Says Vikram Trivedi, managing partner, Manilal Kher Ambalal & Co: “Out of 10 CVs we get, at least seven of them are from women.”

Now I'm pissed as hell.  So, they do have rights.  They have more rights than we do. I once knew an associate who worked part time because she had a baby.  Part time in New York Shitty means that you are off one day a week, but accessible by blackberry and must work weekends when required.  So, apparently, we have outsourced our work to India and they don't necessarily work as hard as we do.  I think India is the new promised land and I will be enrolling my children in school to learn Hindi.  Chances are that they will have to to move there if they want any chance at the "American" dream.


  1. That's it, we're moving to Mumbai. What the hell -- we'd already decided to move overseas so our kids could have a better life anyway! This will just be a slight shift in location. And I don't even have to learn French!

  2. Are you serious? Aren't there like 800 million people in India who live on $2 a day. Have you ever been to India? Or any third world country.

    It's easy to read stories about pseudo-aristocrats from anywhere and think they have a sweet deal, because they do. It's a huge mistake, however to assume that since they are lawyers there and you are a lawyer here you're the same as them.

    If you think social mobility in the United States is an illusion, what in the hell do you think it's like in India. For the sake of Christ, their was a legal CASTE SYSTEM in India until just a few years ago.

    Had you been born in India, you would never even have been allowed to go to pre-school, much less become a partner in a law firm.

    Having said that, since you are an American attorney, India might not be a bad place for you to go now, I certainly plan on retiring to the EU (god bless dual citizenship) or a Southeast Asian country. But to assume India is the "new America" because a few very privileged women are law partners with flex-time schedules is ludicrous.

  3. Hmmmm.. I see what you're saying, but we have poor people here as well and they have been stuck in poverty for generations. I really don't think it's different. For example, in my neighborhood, a mother with 3 children gets $400 a month in food stamps for the month. If the cost of living here were adjusted to that of India, I bet it would come out to $2 a day.
    I see poverty daily. And I stick to my guns. I think that India is moving forward quickly and it will be the place to be.

  4. Satire. Heard of it?

  5. The United States likes to judge the economic inequality and criticize the human rights violations in countries like India and China, but our society is very similar to their caste system than the America elite wants to admit. We like to believe that we have a large middle class but in actuality we have a small group of elites and a growing number of the working poor with a shrinking middle class. The only difference between the poor in India and an American raising a family on less than $10,000 year is medicaid and a few hundred dollars in food stamps.

    I agree with Angel that despite the obvious problems in countries like India and China, there will be more opportunities in those places than in the US in the next 10 to 20 years, especially for educated Americans who are bilingual. Taiwan already has a better health system than the US and I read that universal health care in the works in China (wouldn't that be ironic if China beats us in giving their citizens UHS).

    The best decision I made as a child was to learn a foreign language. Little did I know that it could save my ass when I move to Europe next year to teach. I should've spent the last three years brushing up on my French and German and taking Mandarin Chinese classes instead of wasting thousands learning jack squat in law school. Live and learn.

  6. "So, they do have rights. They have more rights than we do."

    Sorry to nitpick, but rights are traits which are intrinsic to all humans. Governments, politicians, the economy, judges, do not GRANT rights. At most, human rights are either recognized or they are not.

  7. Another thing. Nearly every woman I know has been forced to quit their jobs after having children. No, it wasn't by choice but the employer makes women think they made the choice to leave. Some employers will make your life a living hell or nearly impossible to juggle both commitments. It's even worse for poor women who work for companies that don't provide child care. Until our country gives every woman paid leave and child care subsidies, women will never have an equal footing in the work place. A lot of women's rights in the US is an illusion too.

  8. Hardknocks: AMEN. You just described the end of my law firm career, that's for sure. The very worst part is that they gaslight you into thinking that it's your own fault. (While at the same time the rest of the world is telling you that you're a bad, failed mother for working "too much.") It's been almost 4 years for me and I never really got over it.

  9. For the longest time women have sought equality in the work place and now that they have it (we can debate flawed statistics later), many seek special accommodations. Having children is a serious decision. It should not be expected that the employer should assist in their care. If your job is really worth it, hire a nanny.

  10. "The only difference between the poor in India and an American raising a family on less than $10,000 year is Medicaid and a few hundred dollars in food stamps."

    Uh, forgot Section 8 (i.e. adequate) housing, mandatory public education, a public library system, a public health system (water, food, building/fire code enforcement, sanitation, disease control, vaccinations etc.), a fundamentally accountable public safety/criminal justice system, a public transportation system, labor laws, and an uncountable number of other social services for children, the mentally ill and the disabled.

    If you really think that a poor family in India is only separated by the poor in America by a few hundred dollars in food stamps, I pray for your sake you are not moving to a third world country.

    It's impossible to comprehend how much the government in the United States actually provides until you live in a place where the government does almost nothing.

    I'm not saying the poor in the United States have it easy, or even that their lives aren't miserable, believe me I know. I am saying that to equate the poverty of people who live in Indian slum with that of Americans on food stamps is beyond comprehension.

  11. Although I agree with anon at 10:40, I still think its ironic that there are indian firms that provide better child care than American firms. I don't think child care is necessarily a right, nonetheless its also telling that most western countries provide much more than we do. As one other anonymous poster mentioned in another blog, "we are a first world country with third world amenities".

    India still only has a literacy rate of 67% and plenty of grinding poverty. I can only assume that in India lawyers and white collar workers in general, still have much more status that their counterparts in the US.

    In the US, having a college degree, owning a home, and even working in an office doesn't mean anything anymore. A lot of 'white collar' jobs are quite awful. If anything, this article demonstrates how much our middle class has declined. You know you live in an oligarchy when 7 years of higher education can still get you working in little more than sweatshop conditions.

  12. I'm not at home so I can't write as long of a response to anon @ 2:59am than I'd like.

    Of course I know there are more government services in the U.S. compared to India. Medicaid and food stamps are just two that I pointed out. However, the services you list are far from "adequate" and are not provided to a growing number of Americans who are unemployed. Those of us who are unemployed and don't have children get virtually zero assistance from the government. There are also thousands of families who are homeless; some shelters have been so overcrowded in big cities that they are turning people away. So no, not everyone who needs services receives section 8 (which has a huge wait list, btw. some families wait for years before they can take advantage of that program), medicaid, food stamps, or lives in a poor neighborhood that actually provides transportation, library, and adequate police services. Just go to the inner cities of Los Angeles, Detroit, and Chicago then tell me if you even see an adequate supermarket let alone good transportation, libraries, and schools. You'd be lucky if you didn't leave in a body bag. You can probably look this up in the NYTimes but last year there were children and a baby who died in elevator accidents in NYC public housing. When I saw the public housing in Canada, I was like, can I live there? because it looked a lot better than whatever public housing I've seen in NYC, Detroit, and Chicago. Maybe we should stop comparing ourselves to "third world countries" like the slums of India. If we compared ourselves to other westernized nations, we'd probably look like India to someone who lives in Denmark.

  13. And HK, props to you for not buying into the "families versus single people" trap. We're all in this together.

  14. to the writer of this blog- the law firms mentioned in this article are amongst the best in India and NO!! they are not at all dependant on outsourcing from the US, rather firms like AZB and Partners and Amarchand are institutions doing high end legal corporate- commercial work such as any of the top law firms in the US would be expected to do. Like any other top law firms world over, they employ the best lawyers in India - who work under the same amount of pressure and sometimes even more as a lawyer in a magic circle British firm or top US firm would. Legal outsourcing from the US essentially involves "brain-dead" work such data processing, management, basic drafting, formatting etc., and are done by Legal process outsourcing (LPO) firms which most of us lawyers in India don't even know names off. LPOs typically employ lawyers from back end law schools who would not otherwise be able to provide for themselves or their families.

    I trust this clarifies your misconceptions.



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