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BCI makes friends with SILF, invites for help to regulate Indian & foreign lawyers • Bhasin, Rajiv, Jyoti, LK, Rohan Shah to visit BCI Saturday

Good friends: BCI invites Silf to help it come up with rules on Indian & foreign lawyers and profession
Good friends: BCI invites Silf to help it come up with rules on Indian & foreign lawyers and profession

The Bar Council of India (BCI) has invited the Society of Indian Law Firms (Silf) to help it fine-tune its proposal to the Law Commission, which was called upon by the Supreme Court to take a comprehensive look at the role of the bar councils’ “failure” and “inaction” in regulating the legal profession.

In a letter dated 5 October, BCI secretary Srimanto Sen scheduled a meeting between Silf and the BCI on Saturday, 15 October at 11am, and wrote that “your [Silf’s] good self has been nominated for making your suggestions on the subject Law Firms (Indian & Foreign) their (sic) Regulations” as part of the BCI’s Advisory Committee, chaired by 2005-retired Supreme Court judge Shivaraj V Patil.

“The Council is sure that your contribution in this regard for the enhancement of the standard of legal profession of the country will be invaluable,” added the letter, attaching a copy of the BCI’s draft amendment to the 1961 Advocates Act, which we have published and reported on yesterday.

We understand that Silf chairman Lalit Bhasin is to be accompanied on Saturday by Luthra & Luthra managing partner Rajiv Luthra, J Sagar Associates (JSA) former managing partner Jyoti Sagar, Lakshmikumaran and Sridharan managing partner V Lakshmikumaran, and Economic Laws Practice (ELP) outgoing managing partner Rohan Shah.

Bhasin commented via email today: “This is a step in the right direction.”

“The combined wisdom of BCI and the Law Commission would help in paving way for entry of foreign lawyers in a phased manner simultaneously with internal reforms,” said Bhasin.

Bhasin noted that other than Silf, “no representatives of other groups such as litigation, etc” had been invited by the BCI.

The BCI also wrote that Silf “would be most welcome” to make “suggestions on some other category of subjects”, if interested.

Other than discussion of regulating law firms, there are six other subjects that will be considered by the BCI, namely:

  • “Enrolment & Practice / Appointment / Transfer”,
  • “Continuing Legal Education at all Levels”,
  • “Strikes Boycotts + Abstaining from Court works”,
  • “Welfare Schemes for Lawyers”,
  • Disciplinary jurisdictions of bar councils, and
  • “strengthening Bar Councils and Bar Councils / Qualifications for being office bearers and members of Bar Councils, Office bearers of Bar Associations, structure of Bar Councils, Elections Etc.”

Liberalisation talks stalled?

In an email sent to Silf members yesterday (12 October), Bhasin wrote:

“I have learnt that Ministry of Law and Justice which was earlier dealing with the Draft BCI Rules has closed the file in view of withdrawal of the Draft Rules by the Bar Council of India.”

When contacted by us today, Bhasin clarified that his statement regarding the ministry closing the file, only applied to the BCI's draft rules to allow the entry of foreign lawyers, which the “BCI had itself withdrawn”, and not to the government’s entire liberalisation process.

The BCI’s discussions regarding the Law Commissions reform plans follow the BCI boycotting the government liberalisation talks last month, pulling out at the last-minute after having previously endorsed the entry of foreign law firms under oversight of the BCI. The BCI had pulled out of the liberalisation talks after proposals and discussions suggested that the BCI should not regulate the entry of foreign law firms.

Silf had resisted the BCI’s original proposal to allow the rapid entry of foreign law firms, instead preferring a “phased” approach, where a “level playing field” would first have to be created by reforming domestic regulations and restrictions of law firms, before taking any other steps.

The latest BCI draft amendment to the Advocates Act that will now be discussed with Silf, appears to contain provisions with respect to foreign lawyers, though it is silent on details, giving the BCI power to frame detailed rules.

The draft also proposes that the BCI regulate most bar associations, membership in one of which would be compulsory, as well as restrict younger lawyers from practising in higher courts, and reform its internal disciplinary procedures.

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