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The entry of foreign firms in India, a topic that has been under discussion for the last two decades, may finally find support from an unexpected quarter. In an interview with Business Standard, SILF President Lalit Bhasin said that the opening up of the legal sector could happen this year, albeit in a “phased, sequential manner”.
Explaining the change in stance, SILF was one of the most vocal opponents of liberalisation, Bhasin says that times have changed. And so should SILF.
India at that point of time was not ripe for opening up the legal services sector to the foreign firms. Our stand was we have to prepare ourselves, and for the past 20 years we have been opposing the entry of foreign law firms. These 20 years have given enough time to Indian legal profession – particularly the law firms – to strengthen themselves, to become technologically competitive and have more skilled manpower and resources. There has been growth, led by young people, working out of the metros.
But the entry of foreign law firms should be in a phased, sequential manner, starting 2015. This also coincides with the efforts of the government to have a dialogue with the legal profession for opening up the services.
Bhasin also said that the time had come to “see the reality” of the changing circumstances.
“If the Indian legal profession has to remain relevant – not only in India but also globally – we have to face with these issues. We decided to meet with the Ministry of Commerce and the Bar Council of India, and submitted a paper to the ministry that we are prepared to have a phased, sequential entry of foreign law firms.”
Elaborating on how the liberalisation ought to take place, Bhasin said that the process can be divided in two phases.
“First is the opening up of legal services within the country itself. We have so many restraints and constraints. We cannot have our own websites or our firm’s entries in international law directories, or market our firms through brochures. This will help us to come up to the level where we can compete effectively (with foreign law firms). On this, we are all on the same page – the government, Bar Council of India and Society of Indian Law Firms.
The second stage would be gradual opening up to foreign law firms. For that, the first requirement is to amend the Advocate’s Act, 1961, under which only Indian citizen can practise law in India. The next step would be to allow foreign law firms to come here, but only to practice the law of their country. Then, they should not employ Indian lawyers, and subject themselves to our regulator…. Also, we are against any foreign direct investment coming into the legal profession.