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Lalit Bhasin: SILF wants to start long legal liberalisation process in 2015, says BCI & gov’t agree

Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF) president Lalit Bhasin told the Business Standard that a plan of phased entry into India of foreign law firms should begin in 2015, subject to a number of conditions.

SILF had submitted a paper to the ministry of commerce and the Bar Council of India (BCI) that it was “prepared to have a phased, sequential entry of foreign law firms”, said Bhasin.

Bhasin proposed two phases to liberalisation, with the first focusing on lifting domestic restrictions on law firms, which he said prevented firms from marketing, having their “own websites” or “entries in international law directories”.

“Even the chairman of the Bar Council of India has said he is in favour of first opening up of the legal sector in the country,”  said Bhasin, adding: “This will help us to come up to the level where we can compete effectively (with foreign law firms). On this, we are all on the same page - the government, Bar Council of India and Society of Indian Law Firms.”

The second stage would involve “gradual opening up to foreign law firms”, starting with an amendment to the Advocate's Act 1961, under which the practice of law was banned to non-Indians.

Bhasin told the Business Standard:

“The next step would be to allow foreign law firms to come here, but only to practice the law of their country. Then, they should not employ Indian lawyers, and subject themselves to our regulator.”

Bhasin added that litigation services should remain off-limits for foreign law firms, however.

Bhasin had first signalled the softening of SILF’s long-standing opposition to foreign law firms in December 2014, suggesting a five to seven year roadmap for the entry of foreign firms.

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