The move to open up the Indian legal market to foreign law firms and lawyers has seen keen interest from global biggies even as the local firms are looking for clarity and debating the “legality and its fallout” on the legal profession.
Top global law firms like Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, which is the largest law firm in the world devoted solely to business litigation and arbitration, are now making a beeline to India post the Bar Council of India’s (BCI) move of last week to allow foreign law firms to practice foreign law, advise on international legal issues and participate in international arbitration matters.
John B Quinn, Founder and Chairman of Quinn Emanuel, is planning to visit India this week to explore growth opportunities for the Los Angeles-headquartered law firm, which employs over 1,000 lawyers in 31 offices across the world, sources said.
Indian law firms are, however, contending that the latest BCI rules on registration and regulation of foreign law firms and lawyers are inconsistent with the Advocates Act 1961 and the Supreme Court (SC) pronouncement (in the Balaji case).
The Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF) — an umbrella body of top Indian law firms — has convened a meeting of its members on Monday to discuss how these rules would impact Indian law firms.
What lawyers say
According to Lalit Bhasin, President, SILF, BCI rules cannot overrule or override the judgment of the SC. An amendment to the law is required because both the Advocates Act and a SC judgment provide that only Indian citizens can practice law in India, Bhasin told businessline. “It will be safer for the government to amend the Advocates Act rather than to risk any challenge,” he said.
Suhail Nathani, Managing Partner, Economic Laws Practice, said, “One can interpret that portions of the BCI notification goes beyond the Advocates Act 1961. If this is an intended consequence, the Act may need to be amended and if not, the notification will need to be revised.”
Aseem Chawla, Managing Partner, ASC Legal, said that the BCI regulations do require extensive consultations from all the stakeholders in particular lawyers and lawyer bodies which are into non-litigation/legal advisory practice.