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How India opening up to foreign firms can help Australia

As ties between India and Australia grow, the national president of the Asian Australian Lawyers Association said India’s decision to allow foreign firms and lawyers to practise there will benefit both countries.

user iconMalavika Santhebennur 11 September 2023 Big Law
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In what was heralded as a significant move by India, the Bar Council of India (BCI) decided to allow foreign law firms and lawyers to practise in the country, opening doors for global firms operating in Australia.

In its Bar Council of India Rules for Regulation and Regulation of Foreign Lawyers and Foreign Law Firms in India, issued in March, the BCI moved to enable international practices solicitors and arbitrators to advise in India.

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.


Ahead of the Women in Law Forum 2023, Molina Asthana – the first south Asian woman who became president-elect of the Law Institute of Victoria in 2022 – applauded the development and its potential for strengthening ties between the two jurisdictions.

Ms Asthana, who previously practised law in India and hails from a family of lawyers and judges, said connecting the Australian and Indian communities was a natural extension for her, adding that the partnership could bring geopolitical benefits.

“There is a growing trade relationship between Australia and India. When you have greater growth in trade and business between two countries, it creates a lot of legal work. I think we’re well placed to collaborate with the Indian jurisdiction to do that work,” she told Lawyers Weekly.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), India is Australia’s sixth-largest trading partner, with two-way trade in goods and services valued at $46.5 billion in 2022.

“India and Australia also have the same common law system, so that’s another commonality through which we can have more cooperation,” Ms Asthana said.

At the Women in Law Forum 2023, Ms Asthana and a panel of speakers will unpack how lawyers could show respect and empathy to clients from different cultural backgrounds to build trust and what training they would need to undergo to increase awareness of cultural nuances and read body language and non-verbal cues.

Free movement of trusted advisers

Ms Asthana said the free movement of lawyers and having experts in those jurisdictions who could assist with the legal work is essential for both countries because they could take their trusted legal advisers to another country to advise them on the legalities of the transactions.

She added: “For many years, I’ve been advocating for foreign qualified lawyers to have easy access to be able to practise in Australia. Currently, they must requalify, which brings with it challenges to be able to re-establish themselves here in legal practice.

“Also, law firms are reluctant to take on someone from overseas because of all the hurdles they face in joining the legal profession. But with India opening up its legal market to foreign practitioners, it will be easier for lawyers from both countries to be able to practise there, which I think will enhance our relationship.”

Servicing the growing Indian diaspora

Simultaneously, the burgeoning Indian diaspora in Australia seeks trusted advisers from their own communities to feel at ease, Ms Asthana observed.

“They sometimes have legal requirements in India as well, or Indians living in India may have relatives in Australia and have legal requirements here,” she said.

“So, it’s important for us to promote greater movement of people between the two countries, including by encouraging people in India to study law here.”

Raising awareness of dowry and family violence

When asked how lawyers could understand the cultural nuances of clients from diverse backgrounds, Ms Asthana cited her example of how she raised awareness of dowry in Australia.

“The dowry issue is pretty common in the south Asian community in Australia, along with, to some extent, in the African, Chinese, and Greek communities,” she explained.

“But the level of awareness in courts has been very low because they may not come from those backgrounds.”

To address this issue, Ms Asthana said that through her position on a board, she worked on introducing dowry as a form of economic abuse in the Victorian family violence legislation.

The Victorian Parliament passed legislation to ban dowry abuse in 2018.

“We had a petition going, and we made a submission to the Royal Commission on Family Violence. One of the recommendations that came out of it was to include dowry as a form of economic abuse in the family violence legislation,” she said.

This has increased awareness among judges, the police, and other law enforcement agencies that dowry could be a cause of family violence, Ms Asthana noted, adding that it is now easier to understand because it has been included in law.

Why diversity in law is vital

However, the community may lack awareness about several other cultural nuances because they do not exist in law, she pointed out.

As such, it is essential for firms to employ lawyers from different cultural backgrounds, Ms Asthana insisted.

“We have lots of qualified lawyers from overseas who have the legal knowledge and good understanding of cultural nuances. I think engaging with them would be useful.”

The Asian Australian Lawyers Association has been approached by law firms because the courts have asked them to consult with the association on appointing expert witnesses with knowledge about culturally sensitive matters, Ms Asthana said.

She concluded: “We have that expertise available within our community. I encourage the judiciary to engage with those lawyers”.

To hear more from Molina Asthana on how lawyers can work with clients from diverse cultural backgrounds and why diversity in the legal profession is crucial, come along to the Women in Law Forum 2023.

It will be held on Thursday, 23 November 2023, at Crown Melbourne.

Click here to buy tickets and don’t miss out!

For more information, including agenda and speakers, click here.