On 21 February, India’s High Court ruled that foreign law firms or lawyers cannot practise the profession of law in India in response to a petition which challenged the legality of the temporary or ‘fly in, fly out’ provision of legal advice.
The petition was filed by lawyer AK Balaji on behalf of the Association of Indian Lawyers, seeking action from the Indian Government against more than 30 foreign law firms, including the Magic Circle and Australia-based firms Freehills and Clayton Utz, for illegally practising the profession of law in India. Legal process outsourcing company Integreon was also a defendant in the case.
Although the Court concluded that “foreign law firms or foreign lawyers cannot practise the profession of law in India either on the litigation or non-litigation side”, it held that the temporary provision of legal advice by foreign firms was legal.
“There is no bar either in the Act or the Rules for the foreign law firms or foreign lawyers to visit India for a temporary period on a fly in and fly out basis, for the purpose of giving legal advice to their clients in India regarding foreign law or their own system of law, and on diverse international legal issues,” the Court said.
With respect to arbitration, the Court added that foreign lawyers cannot be prevented from visiting India to conduct arbitration proceedings with respect to disputes arising out of a contract relating to international commercial arbitration.