Not "entry of foreign law firms"

India again closes door on foreign firms

Only a few days after large foreign firms in Brazil received some troublesome news about their ability to operate in the country, many of those same firms got another dose of bad news, this time about their aspirations to gain a foothold in India.

India's Ministry of Law and Justice issued two statements on behalf of The Bar Council of India (BCI) stating that the regulatory body "has decided not to permit foreign lawyers into India."

News of the decision was first reported by Indian legal publications Bar & Bench and Legally India, which obtained the statements from India's government press information bureau.

The reasoning behind the Indian bar council's decision was not immediately clear, although it's apparently "subject to a more detailed and rational scrutiny in the light of the opinions and points of view of different stakeholders," according to the first Law Ministry statement, titled "Entry of Foreign Law Firms."

While foreign firms have previously gotten the cold shoulder in the country, Legally India reports that the BCI had not discussed the issue of foreign firms at its last three meetings, but noted that in publishing the minutes of those meetings BCI had promised to address the topic at a future session.

Meanwhile, a BCI insider told Bar & Bench that the organization had decided on a course of action to "go through a transparent process before formulating any legal opinion."

A second statement issued by the Law Ministry, which refers explicitly to lawyers from the U.K., says that "this is a matter which is to be considered by the [BCI] and the [BCI] is presently laying a clear road map for the purpose of ensuring legal reforms so that even entry of foreign lawyers would cause no serious concern."

Gopal Subramanium, BCI chairman and India's solicitor general, did not respond to a request for comment from Legally India on the statements about foreign firms. In a previous interview with Legally India, Subramanium said he was opposed to foreign lawyers practicing in India until local lawyers were able to ""reclaim business" that had left the country.

In July, recently retired Clifford Chance senior partner Stuart Popham headed a British delegation visiting India to discuss the entry of U.K. firms into the closed legal market, according to Bar & Bench. The publication notes that an official with India's Law Ministry said at the time that, "On the opening up of the legal market, the government would not impose a decision on the legal community of India."

(Published by The AM Law Daily - September 29, 2010)

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