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‘Ridiculous’: Salve slams fear-mongering in fraternity to ‘preserve own turf’ • ET Now confirms PM's pro-lib stance

Harish Salve and Gopal Jain both say foreign law firms would provide great opportunities for junior lawyers, as PM remains dead-set on liberalisation.

Harish Salve on anti-liberalisation: “Most unfortunate ways certain members of fraternity have created scare to preserve their own turf, I'm sorry to say, to use very mild language.'
Harish Salve on anti-liberalisation: “Most unfortunate ways certain members of fraternity have created scare to preserve their own turf, I'm sorry to say, to use very mild language.'

Following our exclusive report of a ministry meeting with lawyer stakeholders on 28 July, at which prime minister Narendra Modi's intention was made clear to allow foreign law firms to enter on a “top priority” basis, ET NOW has re-reported the development and interviewed two eminent senior counsel - Harish Salve and Gopal Jain - who both spoke out in favour of the prompt entry of foreign law firms.

ET Now wrote on its Facebook page: “According to sources, the Law Ministry and Commerce Ministry have been instructed to submit a draft notification in 4 weeks time.”

In April 2015, Narendra Modi too had publicly spoken out for the entry of foreign lawyers, with ministry officials also following that line.

However, talks were derailed after the Bar Council of India (BCI) had unceremoniously pulled out and went on strike against a Law Commission report to reform the profession. More recently, the government has brought things back on track, setting a deadline of two weeks for the BCI to draft regulations to allow foreign lawyers in, with other lawyers present having been given four weeks to respond with suggestions.

Salve on liberalisation: 'Unfortunate' how members of own fraternity sow fear to preserve turf


In the interview with ET Now anchor Nayantara Rai, senior counsel Harish Salve commented: “I hope the government is getting both points of view.

“I consider the fact that foreign law firms have so far been obstructed from setting up practice in India to be one of the most unfortunate ways in which certain members of my fraternity have created a scare to preserve their own turf, I'm sorry to say, to use very mild language.”

Salve has represented a group of Indian lawyers pro bono since early 2015, arguing in a Supreme Court writ petition against foreign lawyers for their entry.

Salve continued in the ET Now interview, which we have transcribed:

First of all let's be clear by what you mean by saying 'foreign law firms practising in India'.

The impression to the common lawyer, who then gets upset is, you will have English and American, German and French and Austrian lawyers flying down to argue bail applications, and divorce cases and Rent Act cases. Certainly not. Nobody is interested in your litigation practice.

How will foreign law firms work in India, like the Indian side of foreign accountancy firms have worked? They will hire Indian lawyers directly.

Today, how does a foreign law firm for a foreign client get work done in India? They will go to an Indian law firm, who hires junior lawyers to do the work and the bulk of the fees is retained by the senior partners.

If the foreign firms come in, they will set up their own bunch of Indian lawyers. There are two advantages.

One is, you directly get hired by the foreign firms. The second huge advantage is, Indian lawyers will get to work with global firms, and that will be a fantastic training for foreign lawyers.

In 5-7 years time, Indian lawyers will be not just intellectually - where we are on par with everybody - even practice and culture wise we will be on par with everyone else.

The most ridiculous thing is, let's say Apple wants to do a deal with an Indian company for the manufacture of phones, we are very happy [to] have the meting in New York or California, because the Indian lawyer can fly to California and give advice.

But if Apple says, I want to fly my legal team to India, no no no, that is practising in India, you must come to an Indian lawyer.

This is not at all something which is acceptable. Your doctor and your lawyer are people of your confidence. Indians when they want to do business with people abroad, prefer Indian lawyers. Why? because you have confidence with the lawyer you work with on a day to day basis.

We are wanting their investment, we are wanting their participation, but we are denying them something else, as basic as their own legal consultation, which I think is ridiculous.

So I hope the gov doesn't delay this anymore, and opens up.

And let's be very clear by what you mean by opening up. The Advocates Act applies. Unless you are a qualified advocate in India, you can not step into an Indian court. and believe me, no one is interested in Indian litigation practice in generality.

If you have a law firm, a Freshfileds or Clifford Chance or a Baker McKenzie here, they will have Indian lawyers who will work for them, like the KPMG and Deloitte and chartered accountants.

I don't understand why legal fraternity is scared at all? The PM is quite adamant about it.

Salve says he was wrong to ask for reciprocity

Salve also added that when he was solicitor general, a delegation of British lawyers came to see him and Salve himself demanded “reciprocity” of practice in the UK. “Now I realise there is complete reciprocity,” he told ET Now.

Salve himself is a tenant at London elite commercial barristers ;; Blackstone Chambers since 2013, where he practices for part of the year (at that time he also argued for the benefits of foreign law firms entering in an interview with Legally India).

He told ET Now that if an Indian lawyer sets up in England, they can do so very easily by just giving a commitment not to practice English law.

And if they sit a conversion test and become a solicitor or barrister, they can practice even English law.

“There is complete reciprocity,” said Salve. “We are the only people who have these high walls coming in because we want it to be preserve of the few.”

Salve then asked if the top 20 global law firms, who might hire hire “2,000 Indian youngsters who will then become globalised lawyers, whose future are we stealing?”

In respect of arbitration, Salve said that Singapore, since allowing in foreign law firms had become “one of the largest arbitration centres” in the world.

Three things would be needed in India, said Salve: superior telecom facilities, better transcription facilities, “which we can train very easily”, and third, “complete liberty to allow foreign lawyers to come in”.

Gopal Jain: If for cricket, why not for law?

Senior counsel Gopal Jain agreed with Salve when speaking to ET Now, although he said a phased approach to foreign law firms entering would be preferred. “Since it's a transformative change, we should do it in phases and steps... We want the objective to be achieved...”

When Rai asked Jain whether foreign law firms should be allowed to hire Indian lawyers - which was resisted by Society of Indian Law Firms (Silf) members at the meeting in late July;; - Jain said: “It would make a lot of sense, they would also benefit from larger international experience.”

Jain took as an example the Indian Premier League (IPL), which he said had given young Indian players great opportunities. “My argument - if for cricket, why not for law?”

Jain added: “Our own law firms and lawyers are so skilled and talented and competent, they will actually give them a run for their money. [It is] no longer where we're at a disadvantage: we have an outstanding talent pool of young lawyers. They will be able to hold their own.

Rai said she had reached out to corporate law firms for comment but “most did not want to participate in this story”.

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