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Chennai writ ruling: Foreign lawyers can advise foreign law but not domestic; LPOs must not give legal advice [download judgment]

Firang FIFO (fly-in-fly-out) allowed
Firang FIFO (fly-in-fly-out) allowed

The Chennai High Court has cleared foreign lawyers from flying in and out of India to advise on foreign law, as well as the operations of legal process outsourcing (LPO) outfits, although it added that foreign lawyers would not be allowed to practice domestic law unless they registered with the Bar Council of India (BCI).

[Update: Download full judgment via Indian Kanoon]

The case against 31 foreign law firms and an LPO (AK Balaji v The Government of India, Ashurst LLP, White & Case et al (WP5614/2010)) was last heard on 1 February. The Madras High Court passed its order today.

Karthikeyan, counsel for the petitioner AK Balaji, said that the bench ruled that “foreign law firms are not allowed to practice in India, whether in litigation or non-litigation. Neither firms nor individuals are allowed”.

However, he added that “they are allowed to enter into international commercial arbitration, and advise on foreign law not Indian law”.

“LPO [legal process outsourcing companies] are allowed to be set-up, but they have to restrict their work. They cannot give any legal advice,” said Kartikheyan about the ruling.

Counsel for the foreign law firms was not available for comment and the judgment was not available at the time of going to press.

Foreign lawyers admitted at the American Bar Association (ABA) conference in India last month that the current rules on “fly-in fly-out”, particularly after the Chennai writ petition, were unclear.

Update: Chennai-based Dua Associates partner Senthil Kumar confirmed that the judges had made four main points, namely that:

1. Foreign lawyers and law firms can not practise the profession of law in India, either in litigation or non-litigation.

2. There is no bar on foreign lawyers to visit India for a “temporary period” on a fly-in-fly-out basis to give legal advice regarding foreign law or their own system of law.

3. Foreign lawyers can not be debarred from participating in international commercial arbitration proceedings in India, such as those between an Indian and foreign company.

4. LPO companies are not violation of the Advocates Act or rules, but if there were any complaints against them appropriate action should be taken.

Kumar added that the full judgment would likely be available tomorrow (Wednesday 22 February).

[Update: Download full judgment from Judis]

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