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Today’s liberalisation talks: Gov’t very enthu • SILF averts ‘disaster’, swings postponement • Luthra highlights ambiguities

Possible artist's impression of today's meeting...
Possible artist's impression of today's meeting...

This morning’s hotly anticipated meeting between government ministries and several non-governmental organisations, including the Society of Indian Law Firms (Silf) and the Bar Council of India (BCI), passed without any principled resistance by stakeholders to the allowing foreign lawyers to practice in India.

This was very much a “kick off meeting” with few substantive discussions, according to sources with knowledge of the one-and-a-half-hour meeting held today in Delhi.

The government’s attitude had been “very positive” and indicative of it wanting to liberalise the legal market “as early as possible”, one person said.

Timing

The law secretary Suresh Chandra suggested holding the next meeting in two weeks to discuss the proposals.

However, the traditionally anti-liberalisation law firm lobby group Silf, represented at the meeting by its president Lalit Bhasin and Luthra & Luthra managing partner Rajiv Luthra, highlighted some gaps in the regulations and asked for six weeks time to come back with their own suggestions to the proposals.

Eventually, the law secretary agreed to four weeks, and the next meeting will be scheduled around 10 August.

Stakeholders

Silf has called a meeting of its members for the coming Monday (11 July).

The main points raised by Silf at the meeting were related to creating a level playing field for Indian law firms before allowing liberalisation, including things such as allowing law firms to have normal websites, advertise and market themselves.

After conclusion of the meeting, the Silf circulated an email to its members (see below) about its outcome, noting that “The meeting was held in a very cordial atmosphere and the Law Secretary was very receptive to the points which were raised during the discussions. It would have been a disaster if we had not attended the meeting and had simply asked for time.” 

The meeting was also attended by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Assocham, and the Indian Corporate Counsel's Association (ICCA).

Bhasin told Legally India: “In principle we have nothing much to say against the rules but certain things have to be ironed out.”

“The first phase must be internal liberalisation – LLPs [limited liability partnerships] being allowed and advertising being allowed,” he added. “Nothing has been done by the Bar Council on that account, and Bar Council has jumped immediately to the second stage.”

“Our stand has been very consistent that they [foreign firms] should be allowed to come but practice only their own law,” said Bhasin.

BCI role

The Bar Council of India (BCI) was represented by joint secretary Ashok Kumar Pandey and one other person.

The BCI said at the meeting that its draft rules had been drafted after consulting state bar councils, which approved the rules.

The BCI reiterated that it had rule making powers on the issue, however, the government indicated that it was open to a separate regulator or body that would govern the entry of foreign law firms.

This could indicate that the government might not be afraid of passing a new statute on the issue in Parliament.

Silf letter to members (emphasis added)

Dear Colleagues,
 
As you are aware a meeting was convened by the Ministry of Law and Justice to discuss Draft Rules of the Bar Council of India with regard to the above subject.  SILF was represented by Mr. Rajiv Luthra and the undersigned.  Other participants included FICCI, ASSOCHAM, ICCA (Corporate Counsel), Bar Council of India and representatives from the Ministry of Commerce, Finance and Home Affairs. 

At the outset, I submitted to the Law Secretary who was chairing the meeting that Ministry of Commerce and SILF had agreed on a phased entry of foreign lawyers / law firms in India.  This seems to have been given a go-by in the Draft Rules of BCI.  Mr. Rajiv Luthra while endorsing my views highlighted the ambiguities in the Draft Rules.  Discussion followed and even the representative of Ministry of Commerce Ms. Aparna Sinha, Director supported SILF’s stand.

I conveyed to the Law Secretary that during the last 2 - 3 days  I have received comments, suggestions from SILF members and as such there is a need to formulate and finalise SILF’s considered views with regard to the Draft Rules.  The Law Secretary wanted to give us 2 weeks’ time but we were able to pursuade him to give us 4 weeks.  The next meeting will be held around 10th August (date yet to be fixed by the Ministry).   The Law Secretary desired that SILF should make a proper presentation of its recommendations in the next meeting.  We have agreed to do so.

The meeting was held in a very cordial atmosphere and the Law Secretary was very receptive to the points which were raised during the discussions. It would have been a disaster if we had not attended the meeting and had simply asked for time

We do not have much time and accordingly as already conveyed I have convened a meeting of SILF members on 11th July, 2016 at Hyatt Regency, New Delhi from 3 PM to 6 PM (Family Room in the Living Room).  Please note the change in the timing.  We could not get appropriate venue for the meeting to start at 5 PM – accordingly the time has been preponed to 3 PM - 6 PM over high tea.  Please make it convenient to attend this important meeting.  I request only one member from each firm to attend the meeting or at the most two, but not more than that.

Best Regards,

LALIT BHASIN

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