Big 4 audit firms in dock on surrogate law practice charge

K. R. Srivats New Delhi | Updated on November 12, 2019


Bar Council issues notice on plaint by Society of Indian Law Firms

Legal trouble is brewing for the Big Four audit and accountancy firms as the Bar Council of India — the regulator for the legal profession — has slapped notices on them for surrogate practice of law.

This move followed a complaint filed by Lalit Bhasin, President of Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF), a representative body of over 100 law firms in the country.

Bhasin told BusinessLine that the Big Four (KPMG, PwC, Deloitte and EY) have been served notices and they would have to file their responses by August 7.

His main ground of complaint was that these firms were resorting to “unauthorised practice of law” (providing legal services) in violation of the Advocates Act.

“It is based on my complaint that the Bar Council has issued notices to these Big Four firms,” Bhasin said, adding that the notices were issued last week.

He said that these firms were employing law graduates and providing legal advice, besides drafting joint venture and other agreements for clients, without registering themselves with the Bar Council of India.

According to legal experts, the main problem in India is that there is no explicit statutory support for multi-disciplinary practices within a firm, something which is allowed internationally.

Also, there are still grey areas in the legislative framework over what constitutes legal advice.

“Is tax advice tantamount to providing legal advice as there is somebody who is interpreting the income-tax law which is also a statute?” wondered a lawyer who sought anonymity.

Under the Advocates Act, only those registered with the Bar Council can provide legal advice, which would not only include appearing in court but also dispensing advice from a chamber outside the court, say lawyers.

Now all eyes are on the Big Four firms to see how they respond to the Bar Council’s notice.

Some also saw the SILF’s move to approach Bar Council as an attempt to protect its professional turf, which is now being encroached upon by these big firms.

In a statement, PwC said it does not have a law practice in India nor does it own or operate a law firm. “In consultation with our external lawyers we will be filing our appropriate reply.” it added.

Published on July 13, 2015

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