New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday will formally consider a March resolution by the Bar Council of India to approve online advertising by lawyers by providing limited information on websites.
The council is the regulatory body that prescribes standards in professional conduct for Indian lawyers and legal educators.
The resolution is expected to be taken up by the court in a petition, which was filed by advocate V.B. Joshi in 2000 opposing Rule 36 of the council that had prohibited all forms of advertising by lawyers. The council’s March amendment has already been approved by Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan after it was placed before him as required by India’s Advocates Act that governs the practice of the legal profession in India. On Monday, the council’s resolution will be placed on the court’s record before a bench headed by justice B.N. Agarwal.
The council’s March resolution, validating an amendment to the rule, said it “will not stand in the way of advocates furnishing website information” subject to the information provided online being limited to the lawyer’s name, address, telephone number, email, details of his enrolment to the state bar council, relevant bar association, professional and academic qualifications, and areas of practice.
But the resolution could also see the petitioners opposing it in court. “We may raise objections to the form prescribed,” said Lalit Bhasin, president of the Society of Indian Law Firms, or SILF , an association of India’s top firms. SILF had approached the court last year to be made a party to Joshi’s petition.
Bhasin says the information envisaged by the council resolution is too limited and should allow for lawyers to provide more details on their areas of practice .
“The resolution only pertains to advertising through websites. There are other aspects the case talks about, like publishing brochures for distribution at seminars and having insertions in online law directories. Those areas still need to be looked into,” Bhasin added.
Joshi’s petition had sought an amendment to Rule 36 arguing that a ban on advertising would deprive Indian lawyers of an opportunity to compete internationally.
Srinivas Parthasarathy, a securities law expert and partner at international firm Allen and Overy Llp. in Singapore, says that if a level playing field needs to be created when foreign firms are allowed to practise in India, then a lot more in Web advertising needs to be addressed. Parthasarathy’s profile on Allen and Overy’s website has details of his clients and the transactions he has facilitated.
“The limited information may not help an international client decide,” he said. “Merely knowing you are a Mr X practising at the bar of Y state will not be enough.”
Council chairman Suraj Narain Prasad Sinha says he is open to the idea of amending Rule 36 further, once the Indian ban on the practice of foreign law firms is lifted.
“Right now, only limited information will be allowed on websites,” he said.
“Later, if collaboration with foreign firms begin, we may further amend the rule based on a give-and-take policy,” Sinha added.