Practicing law across borders obviously presents many issues, especially in countries that do not allow foreign law firms to have a presence within their jurisdiction. For instance, India’s Indian Advocates Act prevents foreign law firms from practicing law in the country.
India’s stringent regulations have ruffled many feathers, including US firms wanting to establish a presence in the world’s largest democracy. In the 1990′s, thee firms (two US and and one UK) were granted licenses by India’s central bank to operate liaison offices in India; however, India’s High Court concluded that the firms were in violation of the Act. In December 2009, the Court suspended the foreign firm’s licenses. The court held that the Act prohibited the “practise of the profession of law,” which includes conducting litigation and non-litigation matters within India.
Despite the rulings, Indian attorneys have expressed interest in having greater access to US legal markets, and a dialogue has started regarding whether and how to open both markets to foreign firms. The dialogue was continued at the 2010 ABA International Law Section Spring Meeting in New York City.
A panel including Lalit Bhasin (Society of Indian Law Firms), Priti Suri (Indian Bar), Eugene Theroux (Baker & McKenzie, Washington DC), and Daniel Watson (Office of US Trade) highlighted obstacles to reform. Concerns range from the overal impact of foreign involvement in the Indian legal market; easing educational requirements for Indian attorneys seeking admission in the US; and leveling the playing field for Indian attorneys within their own country. The Act not only restricts foreign involvement but also strains Indian lawyers/firms by limiting law firm size and the ability to advertise and solicit business. I get the impression that the Act’s restrictions will eventually be eased, but it is a matter of when and how. The dialogue is scheduled to continue… stay tuned.
UPDATE: More information on India’s 12/2009 High Court ruling can be found at Law360.com.