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Harish Salve, fast-tracked to English bar, extols boon of foreign-lawyer-entry to India, slams ‘handful of people’ holding things up

Salve: Indian profession has "been fed misinformation"
Salve: Indian profession has "been fed misinformation"

Senior counsel Harish Salve, who is set to join London’s Blackstone Chambers, said he had been allowed to fast-track his application to become an English barrister, while strongly criticising opponents of legal market liberalisation in India.

Salve said that by 25 July he would be called to join Gray’s Inn – one of four London Inns of Courts that barristers are required to join before they can practice before courts in England and Wales.

“They have a very flexible system,” explained Salve about the admissions process for foreign lawyers. While qualifications were “undoubtedly important” in the process, the English bar also took into account “overall credentials”.

The general rule to become a barrister in England and Wales requires that budding practitioners undertake a “pupillage” under a senior lawyer, said Salve, but in “exceptional cases” this could be waived by the regulators.

However, he would still have to fulfil some of the “ceremonial” requirements, which includes literally dining with other members of the Inns.

Opponents of liberalisation have “been fed misinformation”

Contrasting it with his own experience in England, Salve went on to strongly criticise domestic opposition to the entry of foreign lawyers into India.

“This impression has been created in India unfortunately that the Indian bar is being blocked abroad,” he said. “That impression is simply not true. Unfortunately they have been fed misinformation.”

Lack of access to the English bar for Indian advocates was one of the main arguments in the Bombay high court case filed by the Lawyers Collective.

“Let us be very clear when we talk of opposing foreign firms coming into India. If you think English barristers are going to be doing divorce [cases or matters in the magistrate courts, this is not correct].”

“Best thing for young Indian lawyers”

Foreign law firms, meanwhile, should be allowed to practice in India as consultancy firms have been allowed to do, said the senior counsel.

“When Sunil Mittal goes to negotiate [abroad] he took AZB [& Partners] with them. Same way, when foreign clients come into India they allow them to use their own brand [of advisors whom they are comfortable with]. That’s why we allow all the consultancy firms to come in.”

“If we allow foreign firms to come in, we’ll have Indian lawyers benefiting – this will be the best thing for young Indian lawyers,” Salve told Legally India today. “Come on – foreign law firms are not going to take away work from Indian lawyers. They will hire Indian lawyers who will do work for them.”

“Handful of people”

“It’s a handful of people who are holding things up,” he said about why the domestic market had not yet liberalised, pointing to pending and past court cases.

“Those very people who’ve criticised the entry of foreign law firms have signed best friend arrangements with the firms,” he added, noting that this resulted in referral work for those firms at the expense of younger lawyers.

Inefficient instructions

The current confusion in the rules was also creating inefficiencies in the current system, argued Salve.

“The clerk in Blackstone, when he asked me to join formally, [said] he’s been approached by some English solicitors whether they can have access to my service for an international arbitration. They have been given the impression to get an Indian […] senior counsel you have to go through an Indian law firm.”

“In this time, particularly, no one wants to add one tier of cost. Suppose an English law firm tomorrow wants to brief somebody to take on an arbitration. Why shouldn’t they do it directly?”

“We have to come together”

Salve noted that he was very happy about joining Blackstone, which was “one of the finest in financial work” and a “very international chamber”.

He confirmed that he would remain based in Delhi despite taking up tenancy at the London chambers. “As it is I’m doing a lot of international work by way of arbitration and other things - it’s not that I’m going to shift base to start practice in the UK courts.”

“This is, I hope, a first step in area of cooperation which we can arrive at between the two bars – the English bar and the Indian bar,” Salve said. “In an increasingly shrinking globe where India is going to be a significant economic player, we have to sort of come together and work together.

“That’s why I’m very happy.”

Liberalisation perspectives

Earlier this month Khaitan & Co senior partner Pradip ‘Pinto’ Khaitan argued for the entry of foreign law firms in a Hindu Businessline interview.

In March Anil Divan, the president of the Bar Association of India, called for “meaningful dialogue” on liberalisation to take place after the Finance Ministry recommended “exploring” greater access to foreign law firms in the Union Budget.

The best friend relationship between law firms Allen & Overy and Trilegal broke up in September 2012, citing lack of progress on the liberalisation front.

One year ago, the Supreme Court affirmed in an interim order that foreign lawyers could fly-in-and-fly-out of India on business but could not open offices here.

The Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF), a lobby group of Indian law firms, resolved that it agreed with the Supreme Court view.

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