Bar councils to discuss global law firms’ rush to India

January 27th, 2009 - 11:41 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 27 (IANS) Amid reports of global law firms forging alliances with Indian counterparts, the Bar Council of India (BCI) has called a meeting of lawyers’ bodies to assess the impact of the trend and work out modalities to regulate the operation of such alliances.The BCI, which is the statutory body for regulation of legal services and education in India, has convened the meeting amidst a growing realisation in the legal fraternity that the entry of foreign law firms in India is now an established fact.

The meeting of state bar councils and associations has also come in the wake of notification of a new law, the Limited Liability Partnership Act, enacted by parliament last December and notified Jan 9, which provides for alliances between an Indian firm with a foreign firm in any sector.

The only condition is that the two firms are liable to pay only limited damages in case of violation of a country’s rules by the other firm.

This law, which also seeks to raise the numbers of the two partnering firms to 100 from 20, is generally being feared by lawyers as an entry ticket for foreign law firms and legal professionals to India.

“The BCI has taken note of the reports on rush of foreign firms to India and notification of the LLP Act, 2008,” BCI chairman Suraj Narayan Prasad Sinha told IANS.

“We have convened a meeting of various stakeholders of providers of legal services and bar associations on Feb 7 and 8 to discuss these new developments and their impact on the legal service sector,” he added.

Sinha admitted it may no longer be possible to keep the Indian legal service sector completely closed to foreign lawyers, but said it was necessary to regulate their entry so that the interests of Indian lawyers are not affected.

Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president P.H. Parekh also echoed Sinha’s opinion, saying that there might be no harm in allowing foreign law firms to operate in India if foreign countries too reciprocate favourably in granting work permits and business visas to Indian lawyers as per the stipulation and reciprocal clause of India’s Advocate Act, 1961.

Indian lawyers generally fear that allowing foreign lawyers and their firm in India would lead them to monopolise the legal sector on the strength of their better economic resources, said K.C. Mittal, president of the Delhi High Court Bar Association.

The Delhi High Court Bar Association, like several other bar associations in the country, is opposed to the opening of the Indian legal service sector.

According to reports, the US-based DLA Piper, one of the world’s largest law firms with over 3,500 lawyers working for it in 28 countries, forged an alliance with Delhi-based Jyoti Sagar Associates.

The same report also said British law firm Beachcroft has forged an alliance with another Indian firm Khaitan, Jaykar, Sud and Vohra early January this year.

However, Lalit Bhasin, the president of the Society of Indian Law Firms, denied the reports.

“The two US and UK firms have sent e-mails to me denying any formal business alliance or signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with any Indian law firms,” he said, adding that their association may only be informal.

Bhasin also noted that there was nothing new in lawyers across the world providing legal advice to lawyers abroad about their own country’s legal provisions and procedure. “This practice has been going on for several decades,” he said.

“Needless to say, even formal alliances between a foreign and an Indian firms will not provide foreign lawyers direct access to Indian courts to argue cases of their Indian or native clients,” Bhasin said, adding that bar council rules prevent registration of foreign lawyers in India and access to Indian courts.

It will be providing foreign lawyers only a foothold in the legal service sector here in India and the Indian lawyers a better foothold abroad, he added.

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