India heads at international law firms say they have not wavered in their commitment to India
When the first issue of India Business Law Journal rolled off the printing press in June 2007, many observers were predicting the imminent opening of the legal market to foreign law firms. “View to a kill: Foreign law firms stalk India,” read the headline emblazoned across our front cover. But 10 years and several false starts later, foreign law firms remain firmly locked out of the country. India Business Law Journal asked the India heads of 12 leading international law firms how their strategies had changed as a result of the lack of progress in liberalizing the legal market, and whether they are still “stalking” India.
“No trespassing” was the headline of an opinion piece written by Lalit Bhasin, the president of the Society of Indian Law Firms, in the inaugural issue of India Business Law Journal stating his opposition to the entry of foreign law firms. Here he explains how his views have evolved since then.
The Indian legal profession has undergone a revolutionary change during the last 10 years. Indian lawyers, and particularly law firms, have received international recognition due to their core-competence, profound knowledge, use of the latest technology, expeditious delivery, highly skilled manpower, the availability of resources, and last but not the least, the big leap in India’s economic development, which has resulted in a tremendous growth of work for law firms.
The two organizations which I represent as president are now fully supportive of the entry of foreign lawyers into India in a phased sequential manner, but not through any device of back door entry or sudden opening of the legal services sector. The Indian legal profession is now in a position to meet the healthy competition which will be available as and when foreign lawyers enter India.
The phased sequential entry of foreign law firms has to be preceded by the internal liberalization of the legal profession in India. This must include the removal of restrictions on law firm websites and brochures, clarifications regarding limited liability partnerships and recognition of law firms as separate and distinct entities. Additionally, rules regarding reciprocity with foreign jurisdictions with regard to recognition of Indian law degrees and the right to practise have yet to be put in place.
There is a great potential for India to become a hub of international arbitration. It is my view that the entry of foreign lawyers will help in this regard.
The Indian legal profession is keenly looking at opportunities overseas. Even the sky is not the limit.