Lawyers may be safe from offshoring, at least for a while longer. That’s my conclusion after talking to Alok Aggarwal, co-founder of Evalueserve (EVS), a company in India that helps US companies write patent applications.

I had a very interesting conversation with Alok a few weeks ago (full report here). The bottom line is that setting up knowledge-intensive work in India is much harder than it might appear. EVS has about 550 professionals in India; 85 are engineers and scientists who work on US patents and patent analysis. But it’s taken up to two years of training and a process-intensive approach to handle writing 40 patent applications per month.

This is not to say that lawyers can rest on their laurels or that in-house lawyers should give up looking for lower cost alternatives. The question is what substantive legal work is most suitable to do offshore? Domestic outsourced legal research has not grown as much as I would have expected; lowering its cost further by doing the work in India may not increase demand nor suffice to shift where it is conducted.

My sense is that the initial sweet spot for higher volume offshoring is document review in litigation or antitrust second requests. After all, many large firms already use contract lawyers, sometimes not even in their main office building. So the leap to lawyers in India seems easier for this task. After that, I suspect the next target would be simple contract drafting and review.

Over time, EVS or other companies with operations in both US and India and the patience to invest will likely identify legal work that has enough volume at moderate complexity and so makes it profitable to send offshore. General counsels who face cost pressures – and that would include most – should remain open-minded to the potential of offshoring to reduce costs.