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Foreign lawyer entry: Bar Assoc India prez Divan calls for ‘meaningful dialogue’ & resolution post budget thaw

Liberalisation: Remains in limbo
Liberalisation: Remains in limbo
Reacting to the Indian finance ministry’s suggestion in its 2012-13 economic survey, as reported by Legally India on 28 February, that the government should explore allowing greater access to foreign law firms, Bar Association of India president (BAI) and senior counsel Anil Divan has called for the government to produce a position paper containing its national objectives and a “proposed mechanism” on the issue.

Recognising foreign law firms’ disinterest in working at the Indian bar, the association’s president Anil Divan wrote in a column in The Hindu:

Predominantly, foreign law firms want to practise as consultants (FLCs) and not in court. Government apathy, unthinking bureaucratic support to foreign law firms, total disconnect with the legal profession, absence of national policy objectives and dubious behaviour by foreign law firms in the past have clouded the whole issue.

Divan recited much of the history of the debate, including two court cases and a 1994 Delhi bar council challenge to an English Queen’s Counsel (QC), and concluded:

It is time a resolution to this contentious issue was arrived at. The ball lies in the government’s court. It must start a frank and meaningful dialogue by publishing a position paper containing the national objectives and a proposed mechanism.

In sum, reciprocity, transparency and accountability of foreign lawyers with strict court-monitored mechanism of disciplinary control (one cannot trust the executive in view of its consistent support to foreign law firms) and a level-playing field are essential to be put in place by law. Our law firms should not be eliminated in India as has happened in the accountancy sector but should grow nationally and internationally. A modus vivendi between the legal profession and the authorities is a precondition for fashioning a meaningful mechanism. Foreign Legal Consultants (FLCs) and foreign lawyers being permitted to enter the legal services sector in India without these safeguards would be unacceptable, inopportune and contrary to national interest.

Click here to read the full opinion column in The Hindu

Economic Times article examining liberalisation, including views from SILF president Lalit Bhasin and several law firm partners favouring liberalisation (3 March 2013)

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