Abhay “Rocky” Dhir, an Indian-born attorney and entrepreneur, was among the first, if not the first, to train and hire professionals in India to write American-style legal briefs at the start of the offshoring boom, 13 years ago. At its height the North Texan’s Indian operation, located in Bangalore, boasted a staff of 45. 

But then, like other U.S. firms in a variety of fields, Dhir’s Dallas-based Atlas Legal Research LP got a crash course in the challenges of doing business in India. As a result Dhir, founder and CEO, decided to reverse course. He now has brought most of his company’s work back to the United States.

Today, at a number of locations across the country, including in Dallas, Houston, and New York, Dhir’s telecommuting attorneys peruse precedent-setting legal judgments and craft their briefs for a variety of clients. Those clients include large corporate legal departments, small law firms, and solo practitioners. Despite the U.S. recession and the company’s ups and downs in India, Atlas has been profitable since its inception, in part by keeping overhead low. (Dhir himself works at home.) Since 2001 the company’s gross revenue has increased, on average, by 20 percent annually.

The experience of Dhir—pronounced “deer”—and Atlas illustrates a trend called “reverse outsourcing,” whereby jobs that previously were done in foreign countries are returning to the U.S. The trend is occurring for a variety of reasons, including increased wages in countries like India, higher unemployment in the U.S., and complex government regulations that complicate doing business abroad. Atlas brushed up against them all.

A 'GOOD INDIAN BOY' 
The bicultural Dhir, 39, is a warm, outgoing man with an easy, “never-met-a-stranger” manner. These traits, plus his uncanny talent at mimicry, helped get him where he is today. The path he followed has been unique.  

Dhir first arrived in the United States when he was just 18 months old, while his father was pursuing a masters degree in engineering in South Dakota. There were so few non-Caucasians in South Dakota, young Rocky didn’t realize he was different. “Everyone was white in Rapid City,” he recalls. “I thought I was white.” After playing one day with an African-American neighbor, Dhir asked his mother, “Why is she black and I’m white?” His mother laughed, took him to a mirror, and explained that they both were brown.

This led Dhir to recognize a need for first-class, but affordable, legal research so that attorneys without deep pockets could represent their clients on an even playing field.

When Rocky was 10, the family moved to North Texas. Like the stereotypically brainy, “good Indian boy,” Dhir eschewed sports at Arlington’s Martin High School: “I wasn’t big enough for football, and they had no cricket team.” But he did make the debate society and the academic decathlon team, and regrets not pursuing the drama club. 

Following graduation from Martin and undergrad studies at the University of Chicago, Dhir was accepted into law school at the University of Michigan. During his first year there, he landed a coveted summer internship back home in Dallas with the storied federal judge, Jerry Buchmeyer. The law school’s career office had suggested that students cite an “unusual interest” on their applications to set them apart. Dhir wrote down “celebrity impersonations.” 

Told he could do impressions of Bill Clinton, Ross Perot Sr., and Kermit the Frog, Buchmeyer’s clerks asked for, and got, Dhir to do a spot-on impression of Clinton’s Arkansas twang. More challenging was a request from Buchmeyer, a judge best known for his 1985 ruling that helped desegregate Dallas public housing, but who had amused the legal community for years with his humor column in the Texas Bar Journal

The judge wanted the young Indian-American not only to impersonate Kermit the Frog, but to have the iconic Sesame Street character doing Dallas’ inimitable Ross Perot. “I had to make up a routine on the spot,” Dhir recalls. Despite the pressure, he successfully channeled the frog as the diminutive Texas billionaire. On a recent September morning at an outdoor Starbucks table off McKinney Avenue, passersby were treated to an impromptu, pitch-perfect reprise of that command performance for the federal judge. No doubt, Dhir had nailed it.

During other summer breaks, Dhir landed law-firm internships at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Dallas, and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York. Then, with his membership on the law review and his experience as an intern in Buchmeyer’s chambers, he was offered a clerkship with Buchmeyer upon graduation. Such coveted positions are for U.S. citizens, however, and Dhir hadn’t given much thought to naturalization, although he had gone through several changes in self-perception. During the first Gulf War, for example, classmates at his Arlington high school had made fun of him for being “Iraqi.” He was called a camel jockey and a raghead. It stung, he says. “Classmates said, ‘Why don’t you go back where you came from?’ Even teachers made me feel I was a foreigner.” 

But the summer job with Buchmeyer had been something of an epiphany. “The internship taught me there’s no inconsistency being American and being of Indian origin,” says Dhir, who would become a U.S. citizen. “You can bring your Indian heritage and add to your American experience. I didn’t have an identity crisis after that. … 

“I was assembled in the United States, made of Indian parts.”