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Foreign law firms served in Chennai writ petition as law min and BCI to 'frame guidelines'

The 31 international law firms and one legal process outsourcing (LPO) company will now be served with notices to defend the Chennai writ petition that aims to prevent foreign firms practising any law in India.

Today, as the petitioner pressed for an injunction against the foreign firms, the government respondents' counsels asked for time to file responses while the law ministry and Bar Council of India would "frame guidelines" on the issue.

Only state respondents number one to eight - including the government of India, the Reserve Bank of India, the BCI and the State Bar Council of Tamil Nadu - were due to file their counters affidavits today (7 July) but the Madras High Court told all 41 respondents to now reply by 4 August when the matter is listed for its next hearing.

"What happened today was that the additional solicitor general appeared for the government departments, respondents 1 to 6. He told the court that there is a consultation between the law ministry and the Bar Council [of India] to frame guidelines on this issue," said a Chennai lawyer who was present at the hearing on behalf of a number of foreign law firms.

"He said that the government needed another four weeks, and the Bar Council said the same," added the lawyer, although he did not know any details on the kinds of guidelines the law ministry and the Bar Council would be framing.

The petitioner's advocate Karthikeyan confirmed the lawyer's statements above and added: "This is a good development. All of us including Association of Indian Lawyers, senior advocate for the petitioners ARL Sunedrasan and AK Balaji are happy with the turn of events."

"First notices have to be served upon the foreign law firms – respondents 9 to 41 – after that they will enter appearance through counsels on 4 August," he told Legally India.

Karthikeyan confirmed that he petitioned the court today to make an interim order to injunct foreign firms from practising law as described in the petition while the case was heard.

However, the court said that it would not be able to make an interim order without serving the respondent law firms.

The lawyer representing the foreign firms said that he expected it to take several weeks before all foreign firms would be served with the writ petitions.

At the time of going to press a respondent UK firm's general counsel was unable to comment because he was not yet aware of the most recent development in the case.

An affidavit in the original writ petition stated:

"…various International Law Firms, having their routes outside the Territory of India, have opened up Offices in India or in neighboring countries and are operating the legal practice within India, such as Mergers, Take-overs, Acquisitions, Amalgamations etc. and are into various commercial transactions, arbitrations so on and so forth.

"Moreover, the advocates from various foreign law firms are often visiting India and conducting seminars in various parts of our country. They are entering in to India through visitor’s visa but the actual intention of their visit is to indirectly market and earn money out of clients from India by way of seminars. Moreover they are also conducting arbitration in Indian Hotels and for which the Payments are made to their head office located outside India. This is complete violation of our country’s Income Tax laws, Immigration laws and loss of revenue to our country. Similar to this there are numerous foreign law firms that are draining our Indian legal market."

Almost four months after first having been filed, the matter was listed as item number 21 on today's cause list and was heard at 11:45am by the division bench comprising justices Elipe Dharma Rao and K K Sasidharan.

According to the cause list, advocates Karthikeyan and S R Ezhilarasan appeared for the petitioner AK Balaji, while senior government counsel P Chandrasekaran appeared on behalf of various state departments (respondent number 1 to 6), K Venkatakrishnan for the BCI (respondent number 7) and S Y Masood and R Tamilselvi for the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu (respondent 8).

In today’s proceedings, the Tamil Nadu Women Lawyers Association president and advocate D Prasanna also intended to open her arguments against the liberalisation of legal sector, but she was asked to wait for the government's response on 4 August.

The Women Lawyers Association was included as one of the petitioners after the court allowed a separate application filed by them in May. As previously reported the Madras High Court Advocates Association is also expected to file a formal application for to the petitioners through its president RC Paul Kanagaraj at the date of the next hearing.

The case was first filed on 18 March but has suffered from a series of postponements until the court decided to serve the foreign law firms today.

The respondent firms are, in the order listed: Rouse; Ashurst; Kelley Drye & Warren; Kennedys; DeHeng Law Office; White & Case; Linklaters; Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer; Allen & Overy; Clifford Chance; Wilmer Hale; Shearman & Sterling; Herbert Smith; Slaughter and May; Hogan & Hartson; Davis Polk & Wardwell; Eversheds; Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; Paul, Weiss, Rifkin, Wharton & Garrison; Norton Rose; Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman; Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati; Arnold & Porter; Covington & Burling; Perkins Coie; Loyens & Loeff;  Freehills; Clayton Utz; Mayer Brown; Clyde & Co; and Bird and Bird.

Integreon is the only named LPO provider.

Photo by pareerica

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