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Study: Indian law firms ramp up lobbying efforts. But why is it still a dirty word?

Remy Danton: Making lobbying look good
Remy Danton: Making lobbying look good

Indian law firms have taken a deeper interest in policy formulation in the last five years, than they did before, however they are wary in a big way of being seen as “lobbyists”, according to a research paper titled Notes from the field: How India’s corporate law firms are influencing her legal, policy and regulatory frameworks by Bhargavi Zaveri, who is an affiliated research fellow at the Harvard Law School Program on the Legal Profession.

More and more firms are styling themselves as having policy advocacy expertise, wrote Zaveri. Delhi-based start-up firm Policy Law and Regulation Chambers (PLR Chambers), for instance, started up by former Amarchand Mangaldas partner Suhaan Mukerji, was India’s first law firm positioning itself as focussing specifically on legal and public policy and “legitimate lobbying services”, as reported by Legally India in late 2013.

Amarchand, JSA, Dua Associates and Dua Consulting also maintain policy expertise wings.

Several Indian law firms have also recruited former administrators and sector regulators, for instance, in their competition law teams.

15 law firm lawyers across six big Indian law firms, who were interviewed for this study, claimed to regularly interface with the government with a view to influencing policy, and to “actively and strategically” taking up policy-related hurdles faced by their clients. They were all, however, apprehensive of being seen as “lobbyists” for their clients.

More than half of the law firms interviewed believed that the demand for policy advocacy by law firms would intensify in the immediate future, but two did not have plans to systematically build capacity in this area in the absence of a legal framework allowing lobbying in India, because not only is much policy work charged nominally or pro bono in India as the moment, but these firms also did not want to be seen as “lobbyists”.

The activities law firms undertake are varied and can often include drafting delegated legislation, according to the paper. For example, Amarchand drafted regulations laying down standards for the manufacture, storage and distribution of alcohol under the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006, regulations under the Competition Act were drafted almost entirely by law firms, and the government has also requested law firm resources in the past for administering new legal frameworks such as training officials in interpretation of newly enacted laws and strengthening enforcement mechanisms.

Most big Indian law firms are also members of industry associations such as the FICCI and the CII and are often called on to advise on implications of proposed and existing laws and frameworks, by preparing written presentations on behalf of these associations. The associations also call on “well known” partners from some of these law firms to represent their cases before ministries and regulatory authorities.

Hat-tip to Amlan Mohanty tweeting at @umlaahn for pointing us to the paper.

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