Published: Wed, March 14, 2018
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Foreign law firms not allowed to practice in India

Foreign law firms not allowed to practice in India

BCI had drawn the top court's attention to the 2009 judgment of the Bombay High Court, which held that RBI was not right in allowing foreign law firms to open liaison offices in India.

However, there is no limitation for them to visit India for a temporary period on a "fly-in and fly-out" basis for giving legal advice to their clients in India relating to the law which is applicable to their country.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday barred foreign law firms/companies or foreign lawyers from practising legal profession in India either in the litigation or in non-litigation (rendering legal advice) side.

"The apex court also modified the Madras High Court direction that the BPOs, which provide customised and integrated services, do not come within the purview of the laws regulating the legal profession here".

Pronouncing the judgment, Justice Goel said: "We hold that there is no absolute right of the foreign lawyer to conduct arbitration proceedings in respect of disputes arising out of a contract relating to worldwide commercial arbitration". According to The Times of India, BPO companies working on legal services have also been given a free pass to operate in India as they don't come under the ambit of the Advocates Act.

Uday S Ahlawat, partner, Ahlawat & Associates, said, "The judgment doesn't really change anything, unlike the view taken by the courts on "multinational accounting firms" which are prevalent in India, there aren't many foreign law firms practising in India". It has maintained that although, it is not averse to the idea of practice of law by foreign lawyers and firms, it should be based on reciprocity and regulated by the Advocates Act.

"Visit of any foreign lawyer on fly-in-and-fly-out basis may amount to practice of law if it is on regular basis". Foreign law firms have primarily worked on best-friend relationships with Indian law firms and may continue to do so now that specific directives have been issued. The bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and UU Lalit directed the Centre and the Bar Council of India to frame rules on this. All others can appear only with the permission of the court, authority or person before whom the proceedings are pending, it said, adding the regulatory mechanism for conduct of advocates applies to non-litigation work too.

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