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How will India opening up affect in-house lawyers?

India has, for the first time, opened its doors to foreign law firms and lawyers. Here, find out how in-house lawyers and legal teams for global companies are likely to be affected.

user iconLauren Croft 09 May 2023 Corporate Counsel
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Earlier this year, the Bar Council of India (BCI) decided to allow foreign law firms and lawyers to practise in the country, a move that was “hugely exciting” for global firms.

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.

This announcement followed the combination of Dentons with Link Legal in India late last year, with many other global BigLaw firms and legal organisations subsequently welcoming the decision and reinforcing the fact that India could be a big growth opportunity moving forward.  


Following these developments, Lawyers Weekly spoke to two recruiters to delve into how the opening up of India is set to impact in-house legal teams in Australia and how it could change corporate legal work.

Matthew Edwards is a director and qualified lawyer, and he managed the in-house recruitment team at Beacon Legal — and said that the opening up of India is likely to have an impact on both the legal industry and international organisations, as well as the in-house teams within them.

“From a recruitment perspective, we’re fielding an increasing number of enquiries from Indian lawyers looking to make the move to Australia. The Australia-India relationship has been a key focus for the Albanese government, and that can only be beneficial for our legal community. A significant proportion of law students in Australia have Indian heritage, and we expect those numbers to rise in the coming years,” he told Lawyers Weekly.

“Generally speaking, it’s the international companies who will benefit from the growing relationship with India. We’ve worked with a number of international businesses [that] have actively recruited lawyers in India given its proximity to the APAC but also European markets. India is a fast-growing economy that is emerging as a key global player, and international legal teams are looking to capitalise on that growth.”

Similarly, G2 Legal director Daniel Stirling said that any company with business in India is likely to be affected, particularly those that have “APAC regional legal functions headed up in Australia”.

“I would expect the biggest impact would be for Australian based general counsel leading Asia-Pacific teams or those in a sole regional counsel for the region. In the case of the APAC GC role, they may need to reassess their team structure now that foreign lawyers can provide advice in India. This may mean that they can cover the India business from other jurisdictions or hire a foreign qualified lawyer into India that can then also cover other countries,” he explained.  

“That said, many companies have their APAC GC role within Asia, such as Singapore or HK, rather than Australia. In the case of a sole regional counsel, or any in-house counsel in Australia at a company that does business in India, the main difference would likely be in selecting external counsel given that foreign lawyers and firms can now practice there.”

Moving forward, in-house lawyers looking to move into an Asia-Pacific role will need to be “up to speed” with any risks and regulatory concerns within India, Mr Stirling added.

“Lawyers who are looking to move into an Asia-Pac role, either now or in the future, need to ensure they are across these changes. As discussed, they will affect how regional teams are structured and how they engage with external lawyers, which are both critical issues for in-house counsel,” he said.

“Clearly, if you are an in-house counsel that may need to advise the Indian business as part of your role going forward, then you will need to ensure that you are up to speed as soon as possible. Any lawyer that may be advising a company doing business in India will need to get an understanding of the legal framework and any key business risks in the region.”

And while this doesn’t necessarily involve a massive shift, any barriers for in-house lawyers — and for Indian lawyers — will be more easily overcome as Australia’s relationship with India continues to develop, according to Mr Edwards.

“I don’t think there needs to be a fundamental shift in thinking for in-house lawyers, but it’s definitely worth being aware of India’s growing presence in the global economy. As ties with India develop, lawyers (particularly in international companies) will need to familiarise themselves with Indian laws and regulations and strengthen relationships with lawyers and key stakeholders on the ground,” he added.

“From a purely recruitment perspective — there are still some logistical barriers (sponsorship, lack of Australian legal qualifications and so on) which present challenges for Indian lawyers looking to move in-house with Australian legal teams, but the same can be said for most international jurisdictions. As education ties with India strengthen, we expect to see far more Indian students studying law in Australian universities — and that can only be a good thing for the industry.”