Leah Cooper, the global managing attorney for Rio Tinto, spoke at the Legal Week Corporate Counsel Forum last week. Her remarks added nuance to what I have written previously about the company and its ground-breaking arrangement with CPA Global (See my post of June 4, 2007: 50 lawyers worldwide for Rio Tinto and decentralized reporting; May 4, 2009: 100-year relationship with major firm; June 18, 2009: describes offshoring arrangement and annual £60 million external legal bill; Aug. 3, 2009: Cooper’s role; Aug. 4, 2009: heat map used by CPA Global; and Sept. 1, 2009: deal will support, not replace, in-house attorneys.).
Cooper said that the litmus test is “if it can go to a paralegal, it can go to India.” Having started on May 1st, to date the law department has sent 120 projects to India, of which 46 would otherwise have gone to a law firm and 74 would have been done inside. She estimates the savings at $4 million.
The department measures the quality of each project on a scale of 1 to 10; the average rating is in the 7-8 range and any project below that gets scrutinized.
Each month she prepares a report for the in-house team that describes the projects recently completed. At this point, clients do not interact directly with the offshore team. A web-based tool enables Rio Tinto lawyers to describe and initiate work from the offshore group. But, she stressed, there is a mandatory “clarification call” within 24 hours to make sure both sides share the same understanding of the assignment. As a personal touch, they maintain a Facebook site for the team in India.