New Delhi: The Bar Council of India (BCI) has drafted rules that would allow foreign lawyers to practise in India, if ratified. The rules will be discussed on Tuesday at a meeting called by the law ministry, which has invited four other ministries and three other organisations for the talks.

The new rules propose allowing foreign lawyers and law firms to set up offices in India after registering with the BCI and paying registration fees between $25,000 for individual lawyers and $50,000 for law firms.

Individual lawyers will also have to pay a security deposit of $15,000 and law firms $40,000.

Foreign lawyers would be allowed to do all non-Indian legal transactional work and hire Indian lawyers or go into partnership with Indian lawyers — activities that are all currently forbidden under the Advocates Act 1961 that only allows persons who are Indian nationals to practise law in India.

Foreign lawyers would not be allowed to provide any legal advice relating to courts, tribunals, boards or statutory authorities; however, they would be allowed to appear as counsel for overseas clients in international arbitrations held in India, irrespective of the type of law the dispute falls under.

Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF) president Lalit Bhasin, who will be attending Tuesday’s meeting on behalf of the organisation, wrote in an e-mail to members: “As you will see, this is a very limited circulation, addressed only to the Society of Indian Law Firms and Secretary, Bar Council of India. No other professional body of lawyers has been invited for the meeting convened by the ministry on 5 July 2016.

“It should be appreciated that the ministry has taken into consideration the stand taken by SILF for a phased sequential entry of foreign law firms to India. The draft rules do not entitle foreign lawyers/law firms to practise Indian law. Moreover, appearances in the law courts is not allowed."

One partner at an Indian law firm, who declined to be named, commented that the draft rules were still slightly unclear in parts and whether they would comply with the Advocates Act without amendment, including on whether Indian firms could set up offices overseas and hire foreign-qualified partners.

He also said that the registration fees chargeable for individual foreign lawyers were too high, making it a very expensive proposition for Indian law firms to hire international lawyers.

Apart from SILF’s Bhasin, the law ministry has also invited Indian Corporate Counsel Association (ICCA) secretary general Bhargav Bhushan Bhuyan, president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), and the joint secretary of the Bar Council of India (BCI).

In addition to those bodies, the law ministry has also invited representatives not below joint secretary rank from the ministry of external affairs (MEA), the ministry of home affairs, the ministry of finance and the ministry of commerce and industry.

The BCI has reportedly been drafting the new rules since early this year, after the government had taken a strong position that liberalisation should happen.

On 30 June 2015, the early proposals were sent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In July, the commerce ministry proposed allowing foreign lawyers to arbitrate in India.

In August 2015, India blamed the BCI before the World Trade Organisation for slow progress in liberalisation. SILF held a press conference and formally stated that it’s opposition to the phased entry of foreign law firms would end.

Kian Ganz is publishing editor of Legally India.

(Mint’s association with LegallyIndia.com will bring you regular insight and analysis of major developments in law and the legal world.)

Close