Foreign firms  India calling
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Foreign firms India calling

Bar & Bench

A large section of the Indian legal community might be aggressively protesting the entry of foreign law firms in India, but nobody can deny that these firms will make their mark in India one way or another.

News and debates surrounding the liberalisation of the Indian legal services sector has been doing the rounds for quite some time now. Certain sections of the Indian legal fraternity (read the Bar Council) are opposed to the idea of allowing foreign law firms in India.The recent writ petition filed by A.K.Balaji raises many issues relating to what the foreign law firms can and cannot do in India under the prevailing Indian laws.

In this background, it is interesting to see that the foreign law firms have in the last few years become very active in sponsoring legal events and competitions in India. It is not new to see foreign law firms sponsoring and participating in legal conferences, however, English law firms such as Herbert Smith and Clifford Chance have taken their participation to the next level.

Earlier this year, Herbert Smith sponsored an essay writing competition in collaboration with the National Law School of India University, Bangalore,a premier law school in India. Herbert Smith has also collaborated with the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata to organise and sponsor the NUJS-Herbert Smith National Moot Court Competition which was held for the first time in 2008. The competition this year was held between February 19 – 21, 2010 and was won by the students of NALSAR, Hyderabad. These initiatives by Herbert Smith are a part of its “Indian University Support Initiative”, which was launched in 2008. Clifford Chance has also joined the bandwagon and is sponsoring the Third National Law School International Arbitration Moot Court Competition organised by the National Law School of India University, Bangalore.

The foreign firms have also found other ways of contributing to legal education in India. For instance, representatives of Herbert Smith, Clifford Chance, Covington & Burling and several others have in the last few years, visited the campuses of the premiere law schools of India and shared their knowledge and know-how with the students by conducting short courses.

Linklaters, the blue chip English law firm has found its own way to contribute to the Indian community; it has provided financial support to the India School Fund, an innovative non-profit organisation founded by Harvard Business School graduates.The financial support provided by Linklaters has gone towards setting up of a new school in a village near Delhi.

Why such initiatives in India? Is it because the foreign law firms suddenly have new found love towards India, Indian legal community, especially students? Well, it is a settled debate that most of these firms look at India as a ‘gold mine’ of opportunities for expanding their businesses and therefore invest time, money and resource on the Indian market. I tried speaking to several law firm partners connected with these sponsorpship activities. None of them wanted to comment on their firms’ practice. However, one partner of a magic circle firm commented on condition of anonymity. She said “ India for us is not a short term plan, but a long term and when I mean long term it’s a 40-50 year plan and therefore we are just letting the students (who would be potential associates and partners at the firm) and the clients know that we are world class firms who are looking at India” she said.

Over the last five years, the foreign law firms hiring from Indian law schools has increased tremendously. Linklaters alone has about 25 to 30 students from the National Law Universities. By sponsoring law school related events or conferences, these firms make themselves visible to the vast talent pool available in India.

While the debate about what the foreign firms can and cannot do so far as legal services are concerned is debatable under the prevailing laws, what is clear is that the foreign firms are in this game for the long run and therefore will continue to invest in Indian initiatives because for them the game has just begun.

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