India liberalisation plans draw objection from national law society

The Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF) has voiced opposition to the government’s draft plans for opening up the Indian legal market to foreign firms, published last week.

Speaking to Legal Week, SILF president Lalit Bhasin said that although the society no longer opposes liberalisation, he takes issue with the proposals laid out in the draft and would prefer a phased approach to the changes.

On Monday (4 July), the ministry published draft regulations to allow foreign firms and lawyers to operate in India, which is currently closed to non-domestic legal service providers.

The draft rules propose allowing foreign lawyers to set up offices in India to do all non-Indian law transactional work, enter into a partnership with an Indian law firm and hire local lawyers, as well as allowing foreign lawyers to work for a domestic firm.

The proposed registration fee for an individual foreign lawyer under the new rules would be $25,000 and $50,000 for a “partnership firm”. Lawyers will be required to have certificates from the Indian government and be registered with the Bar Council of India.

Bhasin told Legal Week the Society takes issue with the lack of domestic liberalisation – allowing firms to form LLPs and advertise – prior to the introduction of foreign firms to the market.

Furthermore, he said SILF opposes allowing foreign firms to form associations with domestic firms, saying this should be a later stage in the liberalisation process, after determining if allowing firms into the country to practice foreign law had been successful or not.

“They have combined the phases and that is not acceptable to us,” he said.

A meeting to discuss the regulations was attended by Indian Law Secretary Suresh Chandra, representatives from SILF and the Bar Council of India on Tuesday.

SILF and other stakeholders now have a month to respond to the draft rules before a second meeting in August.

Bhasin said the Society plans to put together a presentation on its objections to the regulations and lay out its proposals for a phased liberalisation.

In April, Legal Week reported that detailed plans for the liberalisation of the Indian legal market were expected before the end of the year.

Liberalisation of the Indian legal market has been on the agenda for decades but was given renewed momentum in November 2015 when UK and Indian industry bodies started drawing up detailed plans. Then in January, George Osborne and Indian finance minister Arun Jaitley struck an agreement that India would “press ahead with liberalising” its legal market.