India could liberalise legal market by September amid fresh talks

India is on the brink of opening its legal market to foreign law firms as ministers have revealed they will meet to discuss fresh proposals on Tuesday (5 July).

The Bar Council of India (BCI) has completed its keenly anticipated proposed rules to allow foreign lawyers to practise in India, according to a report by Legally India.

India Map

Sources in India said the market could open as early as this September should the upcoming discussions go to plan.

The proposals would allow foreign lawyers and firms to set up offices in India to practise non-Indian law. Law firms would have to pay BCI registration fees of around $50,000 and a deposit of $40,000, while individuals would pay $25,000 and a deposit of $15,000. Foreign lawyers would then be allowed to practise non-Indian transactional law and could hire or go into partnership with Indian lawyers.

While foreign firms could not appear before courts or tribunals, they would be allowed to appear as advisers for foreign-headquartered clients in international arbitration proceedings held in India.

Attending the meetings next week will be representatives of the BCI, the Indian Corporate Counsel Association, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and the Society of Indian Law Firms, as well as Government officials from the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

It emerged in January the BCI had started drafting the new rules following a renewed push towards liberalisation among local legal bodies and government. The Law Society, Bar Council of England and Wales and the BCI revealed they were drawing up a “memorandum of understanding” on plans to liberalise India’s legal market at the time. The negotiations followed the BCI eventually dropping its longstanding opposition to opening up the market last year.

Working in emerging markets

A host of UK and US firms are expected to pile into India when it opens its doors to global firms.

Allen & Overy (A&O), Clifford Chance and Linklaters have already expressed an interest in opening an office there, while Ashurst, Chadbourne & Parke and White & Case all have liaison offices in the country.

A&O ended its referral agreement with Indian best friend Trilegal in 2012, blaming India’s failure to liberalise its legal market for the split.

Clifford Chance has been investing in its India legal services operation in recent years after opening its “knowledge centre” in New Delhi in 2007.