India Allows Entry Of Foreign Law Firms

The Bar Council of India (BCI) — the country’s apex disciplinary and regulatory body for legal education and profession — has finally allowed foreign law firms and lawyers to practise in India, but in a restricted manner and on reciprocity basis.

The BCI had opposed the entry of foreign law firms and lawyers for years.

On 10 March, the BCI released the Bar Council of India Rules For Registration and Regulation of Foreign Lawyers and Foreign Law Firms in India, 2022, to facilitate the registration and practice of international lawyers in India.

This comes 5 years after the Supreme Court permitted the entry of foreign lawyers and firms on a temporary basis, but left it to the BCI to frame appropriate rules.

From restricting foreign lawyers and firms to playing only advisory roles to their clients in India to making renewal of registration mandatory every 5 years, the BCI has framed the rules in such a way that it does not jeopardise the prospects of Indian lawyers.

“Time has come to take a call on the issue. BCI is of the view that opening up of law practice in India to foreign lawyers in the field of practice of foreign law; diverse international legal issues in non litigious matters and in international arbitration cases would go a long way in helping legal profession/domain grow in India to the benefit of lawyers in India too,” said the BCI notification on the rules.

It added, “Taking an all-inclusive view, the BCI resolves to implement these rules enabling foreign lawyers and foreign law firms to practice foreign law and diverse international law and international arbitration matters in India on the principle of reciprocity in a well-defined, regulated and controlled manner.”

BCI officials, who were part of the committee that drafted the rules, told ThePrint that, subject to their registration, the lawyers and legal firms from abroad shall be allowed to take up only non-litigious work, that too in an advisory role. However, exceptions are given with regard to international arbitration cases.

The rules restrict such advocates and firms from appearing before a judicial forum including tribunals and other statutory or regulatory authorities. They would be permitted only to render advice about the law of the country of their primary qualification, and allowed to practise on transactional work/corporate work such as joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property matters, drafting of contracts and other related matters on reciprocal basis.

The rules also clarify that such lawyers shall not be involved to do any work pertaining to property-linked matters.

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