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India opens up to foreign firms and lawyers

In what could well be a major shake-up of the global legal services landscape, the Bar Council of India (BCI) has decided to allow foreign law firms and lawyers to practise in the country — a move that is “hugely exciting” for global firms that operate in Australia, with some now considering their options.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 16 March 2023 Big Law
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The new rules

In its Bar Council of India Rules for Registration and Regulation of Foreign Lawyers and Foreign Law Firms in India, issued on Wednesday (15 March), the BCI moved to enable international practices solicitors and arbitrators to advise in the world’s most populous country.  

As reported by India-based legal publication Bar and Bench, the newly issued rules note that the “time has come to take a call on the issue”.

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“[The] Bar Council of India is of the view that opening up of law practice in India to foreign lawyers in the field of practice of foreign law; diverse international legal issues in non-litigious matters and in international arbitration cases would go a long way in helping legal profession/domain grow in India to the benefit of lawyers in India too,” it said.

Under the new rules, foreign firms and lawyers will only be entitled to practise in the country via registration with the BCI (which will cost $25,000 per lawyer and $50,000 per firm and be valid for five years), while “fly in, fly out” practitioners will not be able to operate in the country for more than 60 days within a 12-month period.

The development will be “mutually beneficial” for Indian lawyers and those from abroad, the BCI said.

“These rules will also help to address the concerns expressed about flow of foreign direct investment in the country and making India a hub of international commercial arbitration ... let us ensure that an opportunity for creating development and growth for the legal profession and in the legal sphere in India is not lost,” it outlined.

How BigLaw firms are reacting

In statements issued after the announcement, global law firms with Australian presences welcomed the development, with some noting they are now considering their options.

Dentons global chief executive Elliott Portnoy said: “India is of enormous economic and strategic importance to our clients, and a country with outstanding legal talent, which led Dentons to become the first global law firm to announce a combination last October with a leading law firm in India.”

As reported by Lawyers Weekly, Dentons earlier this week unveiled a new combination with Philippine firm PJS Law, which followed its combination with Link Legal in India late last year.

“We look forward to working closely with our new colleagues at Link Legal, and to continuing to meet the needs of our clients in India and around the world,” Mr Portnoy said.

Ashok Lalwani, who chairs Baker McKenzie’s global India group, said that the firm has “been an advocate of a greater international legal presence in India”.

“Baker McKenzie has around 300 lawyers in more than 40 countries outside of India working on India-related matters, including supporting Indian multinationals as they expand, finance and diversify their businesses overseas, and also international companies looking to invest in the fast-growing and dynamic country,” the firm detailed.

Mr Lalwani noted: “With our long history of working on India-related matters and the scale of our India-focused team today, the possibilities that this announcement opens up are hugely exciting.”

“We now need to review the Bar Council’s announcement in detail and consider its implications for our firm, and the industry more broadly.”

Herbert Smith Freehills echoed the sentiments of Bakers in also calling the development “hugely exciting”.

The firm is now considering its best options moving forward for its clients and staff, it said.

“We have been committed to the region for decades and are regularly the firm of choice for international and Indian clients on their most important matters in India and overseas. We enjoy longstanding relationships with India’s top law firms,” HSF detailed.

“Our wider commitment to India includes our work with law schools and local charities. We also offer high-performing university law students in India internship opportunities in our London office.”

Clyde & Co APAC board chair Simon McConnell reflected that India is a growing legal market that will "benefit from the new rules of liberalisation". 

Since 2018, Clyde & Co has worked in association with CSL Chambers in New Delhi, led by Sumeet Lall, providing clients with local support and access to a global network. The growth of CSL Chambers in those five years has been exceptional, demonstrating the value placed by clients on access to the best legal advice," he listed.

"There are no doubt exciting opportunities ahead and we will consider the implications of the announcement by the Bar Council of India in detail over the coming days.”

For DLA Piper, there are "very significant opportunities" arising from this development. 

"We are very encouraged to see the Indian Government taking affirmative action to liberalize the legal services sector. India holds huge promise for the global economy as a hub for futuristic, prosperous and inclusive growth. This comes at an opportune time as India assumes the G-20 presidency, driving an ambitious agenda under the theme of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ or ‘One Earth, One Family,One Future’," said DLA Piper managing director for the Asia Pacific, Middle East and African regions Charles Severs.

"Our business is value-led and built on being progressive, collaborative and embracing change. DLA Piper, through its global network, already has a market leading India focused practice and has an outstanding track record in supporting blue-chip Indian clients in becoming global enterprises, and in helping global enterprises expand their operations in India."

"India is accordingly a very important market for us and we are privileged to contribute to the growth of this exceptionally dynamic and fast-growing market. Recent announcements in India present very significant opportunities for DLA Piper and we will be working with our clients to evolve our strategy for the Indian market and to continue our leading role there," Mr Severs added.

Lawyers Weekly has also approached global law firms Allen & Overy, Allens, Ashurst, Clifford ChanceK&L Gates, King & Wood Mallesons, Norton Rose Fulbright and Squire Patton Boggs for comment.

Jerome Doraisamy

Jerome Doraisamy

Jerome Doraisamy is the editor of Lawyers Weekly. A former lawyer, he has worked at Momentum Media as a journalist on Lawyers Weekly since February 2018, and has served as editor since March 2022. He is also the host of all five shows under The Lawyers Weekly Podcast Network, and has overseen the brand's audio medium growth from 4,000 downloads per month to over 60,000 downloads per month, making The Lawyers Weekly Show the most popular industry-specific podcast in Australia. Jerome is also the author of The Wellness Doctrines book series, an admitted solicitor in NSW, and a board director of Minds Count.

You can email Jerome at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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