Summit flags ‘gulf of understanding’ on foreign law firm entry

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(Left to right): INBA Secretary General Kaviraj Singh, Minister of State for Human Resource Development Satya Pal Singh, Union Law Secretary Suresh Chandra, President of the Supreme Court Bar Association RS Suri, and former secretary-general of the Lok Sabha Subhash C. Kashyap at the National Leadership Summit

The entry of foreign law firms into the country will be important for capacity building and provide “opportunities for young lawyers, which is of utmost necessity,” Kaviraj Singh, secretary general of the Indian National Bar Association (INBA), told India Business Law Journal. He added that INBA is keen that “a decision should be taken soon either way and not kept pending”.

However, Lalit Bhasin, the president of the Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF), said there has been little progress with regard to the entry of foreign law firms. He said neither the Bar Council of India, which has been tasked with drafting necessary amendments to the Advocates Act, nor the relevant ministries appear to have made any headway on the matter. Bhasin reiterated that his association welcomed the entry of foreign law firms, but in a phased manner.

While INBA looks forward to foreign law firms providing employment opportunities for young Indian lawyers when they enter India, SILF is of the opinion that there is no need for foreign law firms to hire Indian lawyers as they will initially only be providing advice on the laws of their jurisdictions.

INBA recently organized a one-day summit in New Delhi on reforms in the Indian legal sector, which was attended by about 350 lawyers. It was held in collaboration with the Department of Commerce, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and the Centre for Trade and Investment Law of the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade.

The president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, RS Suri, spoke of a “gulf of understanding between the Bar Council of India, state bar councils and the government,” which he said needed to be bridged.

Satya Pal Singh, a minister of state for human resource development, delivered the inaugural address. He spoke of the practical difficulties faced by victims of the Indian legal system and the urgency of the need for reform. In a video message, Minister for Commerce and Industry Suresh Prabhu emphasized the growing importance of alternative dispute resolution.

The summit included sessions on arbitration, legal sector regulatory reform, and liberalization of the legal sector. Participants included Sameer Chugh, head of legal at Airtel; Mukesh Butani, partner at BMR Legal; James P Duffy III, former co-chair of the India committee at the American Bar Association; VR Kamala Nathan, secretary of the Madras High Court Bar Association; Pankaj Mohindroo, president of the Indian Cellular Association; James Nedumpara, head of the Centre for Trade and Investment Law; and Suman Jyoti Khaitan, managing partner at Khaitan & Partners.

In a presentation on the myths and realities of legal reform in India, Sumes Dewan, managing partner of Lex Favios and a member of INBA’s executive committee, said the entry of foreign law firms will benefit the Indian legal industry by providing better employment opportunities for law graduates, broader exposure for lawyers, and a bigger range of legal services for clients.

INBA, which has over 10,000 members, is of the view that foreign lawyers should be allowed into India to provide legal advice, but not to appear before Indian courts. INBA will organize detailed discussions on the issues surrounding the entry of foreign law firms with members of the Madras Bar Association and a bar association in the north east of India over the next few months.