Outsourcing sorcerers: Bay Area companies find bargains for clients, work for Americans in Israel

The word “outsourcing” often carries negative connotations and paints a picture of bustling Indian call centers and long American unemployment lines.

Two companies in the Bay Area take issue with this stigma.

Michael Moradzadeh and Yaacov Silberman recently co-founded Rimon Law Group, which offers Bay Area clients the services of attorneys born and educated in the United States.

Their attorneys just happen to live in Israel.

Likewise, Sarah Leah Gootnick’s company, Secretary in Israel, matches personal assistants in Israel with Bay Area business owners. Most of her assistants are Americans who have made aliyah; all are fluent in English and have secretarial experience.

Due to the lower wage structure in Israel, both companies offer their services at one-half to one-third of American prices. For example, a Bay Area attorney with partner-level experience generally could cost up to $800 per hour. Rimon provides the same service for $200 to $225 per hour.

After meeting on the job at the San Francisco law office of Ropes and Gray, Moradzadeh and Silberman decided to merge their legal expertise and their love of Israel.

Not many 28-year-olds can take credit for starting a law firm, much less one with international scope, but the decision to enter the expanding field of legal outsourcing came naturally to the pair.

“If we could represent people in New York while sitting in California, certainly someone in Israel could represent someone in the United States, and save them on costs,” says Moradzadeh, a Sephardic Jew originally from Iran who grew up on the Peninsula.

Targeting small and mid-size companies, Moradzadeh and Silberman offer partner-level experience to those whose work would normally be handled by first-year associates at a big law firm in the United States.

Rimon attorneys can practice American law in Israel because all have passed the bar and have worked at U.S. firms. They are skilled in most types of law, dealing with everything from venture capital to patents.

The firm currently has 13 attorneys and is looking to double that number by year’s end.

Moradzadeh and Silberman said they are committed to eliminating what they consider to be wasteful, inefficient business practices. “You save costs by not having efforts duplicated, by not having three different tiers of people looking at your assignment,” says Silberman, who grew up Modern Orthodox in Montreal.

On the downside, the distance and the 10-hour time difference eliminate the possibility of working with clients whose cases require the attorney to be physically present or available during Pacific time zone business hours.

Moradzadeh and Silberman hope that Rimon Law will play a role in bolstering the Israeli economy, which they believe suffers not only from a shortage of educated, skilled professionals, but also from a dearth of jobs with which to lure them. The firm also creates well-paying jobs for attorneys who made aliyah but are having trouble supporting themselves in Israel.

Silberman says a first-year associate at a major U.S. firm might earn $200,000, whereas the same person earns around $30,000 in Israel. Rimon pays its attorneys more than the base Israeli wage, but the firm’s fees are low enough to make a significant difference for their clients, Silberman said.

Moradzadeh’s and Silberman’s Jewish upbringings and numerous visits to Israel motivated them to make a tangible economic contribution where they saw the need.

“Ultimately, it’s a way of helping people to work to earn money, instead of [giving] charity, or just starting another nonprofit organization,” says Moradzadeh, who has a lot of family in Israel.

A connection to Israel also inspired Gootnick, a Bay Area native who lives and works from her Kentfield home, to found Secretary in Israel.

Her inspiration for offering “virtual assistants” to Bay Area residents came from conversations with two friends: one who was unemployed in Israel, the other who was working late hours to finish extra paperwork for his growing business.

Kirk Hylan of Novato couldn’t afford a Bay Area secretary with the necessary experience, and Margelit Hoffman, an American Jew from the East Coast who had relocated to Jerusalem, was struggling to get by on $7 an hour.

Kirk, meet Margelit. Margelit, Kirk.

It’s been a year since Gootnick played matchmaker and put Hylan and Hoffman in touch.

After the match is made, Secretary in Israel does a “virtual office” training, providing all the online tools necessary for effective communication.

For example, they set up a jott.com account for clients, which enables them to send 30-second messages to their assistants.

Hylan and Hoffman are representative of Gootnick’s client-secretary relationship: she works mainly with business owners who are looking for part-time assistants but have a small budget. As for the assistants, all have graduated from U.S. colleges, and all have previous secretarial experience, ranging from three to 20 years.

And in Israel, where good work is hard to find, people stick with their jobs. “You have the potential to work with [your assistant] for five or 10 years,” says Gootnick, who currently has about 50 assistants for hire.

Moreover, the reduced cost attracts small business owners who couldn’t previously afford a secretary.

Secretary in Israel arranges set rates depending on the assistant’s level of experience — wages range from $18 to $25 per hour. Due to the part-time nature of the work, each assistant works for two to four clients at a time.

“If [the business owners] weren’t working with us, they would be still be doing all the work themselves,” says Gootnick, who got start-up assistance from the Hebrew Free Loan Association.

Secretary in Israel and Rimon Law Group might reflect the start of a shift in Bay Area thinking — and a new way of supporting Israel.