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Clifford Chance to have India office by 2012, vows Popham

Clifford Chance Stuart Popham
Clifford Chance Stuart Popham

Clifford Chance expects to have an office in India by late 2012 said the firm's senior partner Stuart Popham, vowing to keep pushing the liberalisation agenda in India despite a lack of "overnight" results during his visit as part of the UK prime minister's delegation.

"If I said 18 months I would probably be optimistic, if I said 2 1/2 years I would be unduly pessimistic," Popham said in an interview with Bloomberg in New Delhi yesterday.

"Banks that are looking to expand their business in India need international law firms," Popham (pictured) said. "They will need the comfort of internationally experienced lawyers who know what kind of documents they have written in China, in Africa, in America, in Russia, which Indian lawyers don't do."

Popham was the only private practice lawyer who is part of a UK delegation that included 39 business leaders and Cabinet members during Prime Minister David Cameron's visit to India this week, as first reported on Legally India.

Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF) chairman Lalit Bhasin reiterated in a press release on the eve of the U.K. delegation's visit that SILF continued to oppose the entry foreign firms.

"Revival of interest on the part of the government is the result of insurmountable pressures being exerted on the government by the British lobby," Bhasin said in a July 23 statement. "Every month there are delegations from U.K. visiting India with one point programme of getting legal services in India open up to the foreign law firms.  The British Prime Minister is visiting India soon and one of the topmost priorities is to discuss opening of legal services sector in India." (see box below for full statement)

"Legal profession is too sacrosanct to be polluted by deep pockets of foreign governments or foreign lawyers," added Bhasin. "Unlike our foreign counter-parts we are not into the Business of law – we are a profession.  And our Profession is not for sale."

The U.K. delegation was well received, Popham told Bloomberg, although he did not expect "overnight" results.

Cameron had urged India on 28 July to reach an agreement with the European Union on free trade by the end of the year, reported Bloomberg.

"The question of how well this visit will go down will be judged in six months or 12 months," Popham said.

"If in six months' time or 12 months' time none of the restrictions on banking, on insurance, on legal services, on cross-border investment, if the free trade agreement with the EU hasn't been signed, then I think there would be room to harbour doubts as to what it is going to take to pursue the Indian avowed policy of liberalisation," he said.

Popham will step down as Clifford Chance senior partner after new elections for the post are held this autumn, reported The Lawyer magazine yesterday.

A shorter, edited version of this article was first published on Bloomberg.

Lalit Bhasin press release excerpts dated 23 July
Bhasin also criticised Veerappa Moily's proposal to move the Chennai writ petition against 31 foreign law firms to the Supreme Court because the Bombay High Court judgment in the Lawyers Collective case was the current law.

"This judgment has not been challenged either by the aggrieved 4 top foreign law firms or by the Government of India which had aligned itself with the foreign law firms by filing an affidavit that practice of law only means litigation work under the Advocates Act – thereby implying that foreign law firms are free to open their shops in India if they do not appear in Courts.  This untenable stand was categorically rejected by Bombay High Court.  Dr. Veerappa Moily the present Law Minister had publicly dissociated his Ministry from the affidavit which was filed during earlier regime.

"There is now a thinking again that somehow the matter should be brought before the Hon’ble Supreme Court by a device of getting a Madras High Court Petition  which raises almost same issues as are already covered by Bombay High Court judgment transferred to the Supreme Court.  Why should Government of India take this initiative since it has not challenged Bombay High Court judgment which has become final?   Case can be sought to be transferred to the Supreme Court if two or more High Courts are seized of the same issue of law.  In the present case there is only one petition which is pending in Chennai – unless yet another device is adopted of getting yet another writ petition filed in some other High Court."

"There have been exchange of visits by top government functionaries of India and the U.K. very recently. U.K. Government is fully backing its legal profession for seeking greener pastures due to negative growth in the U.K.  China and India are the markets they are looking at.  Govt. of India, instead of supporting and protecting India’s legal profession appears to be supportive of these moves by U.K. Government.  We have still not learnt lessons from the havoc played by foreign accountancy firms on the accountancy profession of our country.

"Our regulatory body – the Bar Council of India has totally and unequivocally  opposed the entry of foreign law firms.  Our Society has opposed the entry of law firms from overseas.

"Indian legal profession and Indian law firms are second to none. They are involved in billion dollars deals, acquisitions and transactions.  It is too late in the day to say that Indian law firms are not equipped to handle multinational corporate deals and they do not have the necessary expertise. This is a bogey being raised to justify allowing foreign law firms into our country.

"Indian Judiciary’s role has been lauded all over the world – this is an acknowledgement of Indian legal profession’s brilliance because lawyers make judges.

"Moreover in India, legal profession is an integral part of our system of Administration of Justice.  We have also a legacy to protect.  Can foreigners be inducted into our legislatures or in the executive – then how and why in our justice administration and delivery system.  

"Legal profession is too sacrosanct to be polluted by deep pockets of foreign governments or foreign lawyers.

"Unlike our foreign counter-parts we are not into the Business of law – we are a profession.  And our Profession is not for sale.

"Lest it be misunderstood, we are not opposed to our brethren in other parts of the world.  We have extremely cordial, mutually rewarding and beneficial relations as with the American Bar Association, the Law Society of England and Wales, the French, the Australian and the Japanese Bars.  We have exchange of delegations, sharing of information and developments in law and organizing and hosting joint conferences and events. […]

"This is the kind of respect India’s legal profession enjoys.  There is need for mutual cooperation, assistance and sharing of knowledge which is required among legal fraternities in the world and not taking over or acquisition of Indian legal profession.    These maneuvers are resorted to in business and not in professions."

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