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How SILF feels about liberalisation: Not happy but more or less ready for entry, wants Singapore model

Space invaders: Despite reports to contrary, Paris still
Space invaders: Despite reports to contrary, Paris still

On 25 August the Society of Indian Law Firms (Silf) hosted a meeting with journalists and Arun Jaitley, finance and information and broadcast minister.

Bar & Bench reported that SILF president Lalit Bhasin said: “We opposed the entry of foreign law firms for more than 20 years and there was a reason to do that. We had to prepare ourselves. We had to come up to certain level to compete with foreign law firms. Now I can say that we have achieved our expertise, efficiency and competency.”

He said that the Singapore model of the entry of foreign law firms - which initially allowed law firms into the country only via joint venture with a local firm, followed by a strictly controlled system of licences - and quipped, according to Bar & Bench: “Let the alien invasion happen. We are equipped to face them.”

Read Legally India’s full explanation of the Singapore model of legal market liberalisation, including its successes and failures, here.

Silf general secretary Rohit Kochhar, the managing partner of Kochhar & Co, said at the event that the top 10 law firms in France were “actually owned, managed and run by the English":

While we should be ready to face the onslaught and nor fear the unknown, there are some practical realities we have to bear in mind. If you take the country of France, which has had a very well developed legal system with very renowned law firms. The top ten law firms are actually owned, managed and run by the English. So the point I am making is that these foreign law firms have such deep pockets, they can actually invade a country like India with the business plan, which says “we have planned losses for 5 years and then we will deal with what has to be done thereafter.

Editor’s note: In 2012, French legal publication Juristes Associes had reported, according to Global Legal Post, that “Clifford Chance is the largest global firm in France by turnover with €105.7 million” in fourth place overall, behind local firms Fidal (€309.8m), CMS Bureau Francis Lefebvre (€153.2m) and Gide Loyrette Nouel (€133.8m).standing...

Fidal has a best friends relationship with English firm Mills & Reeve. Gide is an independent French firm of 18 offices in 15 countries with 1,200 lawyers, according to Wikipedia. CMS BFL, belongs to an international network of CMS-branded law firms, but operates as an independent firm.

According to a Legal Week’s report of the research (behind paywall), Linklaters and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer were also in the top 10, while Baker & McKenzie having had €81.6m turnover. Allen & Overy came in twelfth in France by turnover.

That said, accounting firm Ernst & Young’s law firm, Ernst & Young Societe D’Avocats matched Gide’s turnover in 2012 for joint-fourth place, according to the report, with PwC’s legal arm Landwell & Associes in sixth place with €113.8m revenues, according to that survey.

Kochhar added in his speech:

We Indian law firms have the skills, the talent and our acumen is second to none but we don’t have deep pockets of a Baker & Mckenzie or Clifford Chance or Jones Day. We cannot run a law firm as a business where we have planned losses for 5 years and then we take on the world. That is the practical reality we have to bear in mind while we ready ourselves for the invasion of the next East India Company.

While Jaitley said the process was up to the commerce and law ministries and not his, he chided the growth of the Indian legal industry which he doubted had “kept pace with our otherwise position at the global level”.

According to Bar & Bench he said:

“We have always suffered from the fear of the unknown. This fear of the unknown can create a certain amount of protection but when that protectionism gets beyond a point, it puts you in a smaller silo where the levels of ambition also get limited...

The time has now come where we also need a massive change if we want to capture a global space for ourselves and that will be possible if we get out of the defensive mode.

It’s really three things that matter – professional ethics, competence and cost. I don’t see why we cannot beat the rest of the world in cost. You have a distinct cost advantage.

Photo by ReInis Ivanovs.

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