Home / Politics / Policy /  Govt, Bar Council meet over entry of foreign law firms

A meeting between government ministries and several organizations representing companies, lawyers and law firms passed without any principled resistance to allowing foreign lawyers to practise in India.

This was very much a kick-off meeting with few substantive discussions, according to three people with knowledge of the one-and-a-half-hour meeting held on Tuesday in New Delhi.

The government’s attitude had been “very positive" and indicative of it wanting to liberalize the legal market “as early as possible", said one of the people.

Union law secretary Suresh Chandra suggested holding the next meeting in two weeks’ time to discuss the proposals.

However, law firms’ lobby group Society of Indian Law Firms (Silf), represented at the meeting by its president Lalit Bhasin and Luthra & Luthra managing partner Rajiv Luthra, highlighted gaps in the regulations and asked for six weeks’ time to come back with their own suggestions to the proposals. The lobby group was earlier opposed to allowing foreign lawyers to practise in India.

Eventually, the law secretary agreed to four weeks, and the next meeting will be scheduled around 10 August.

Silf has called a meeting of its members on 11 July.

The main points raised by Silf at the meeting were related to creating a level playing field for Indian law firms before allowing liberalization, including things such as allowing law firms to have normal websites, advertise and market themselves.

After the meeting ended, Silf circulated an email to its members about the outcome, noting that “the meeting was held in a very cordial atmosphere and the law secretary was very receptive to the points which were raised during the discussions. It would have been a disaster if we had not attended the meeting and had simply asked for time".

The meeting was also attended by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci), Assocham, and the Indian Corporate Counsel Association (ICCA).

The Bar Council of India (BCI) was represented by its joint secretary Ashok Kumar Pandey.

The BCI’s proposed rules that would allow foreign lawyers to practise foreign and non-litigation law in India had been drafted after consulting state bar councils, which approved the rules, BCI said at the meeting.

The BCI reiterated that it had rule-making powers on the issue, however, the government indicated that it was open to a separate regulator or body that would govern the entry of foreign law firms.

This could indicate that the government might not be afraid of passing a new statute on the issue in Parliament.

Kian Ganz is publishing editor of Legally India.

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