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Bar Council permits foreign law firms to practice in select fields in India

New Delhi, March 15, 2023 

BCI said that the entry of foreign firms will be restricted, well-controlled and regulated to ensure that it is mutually beneficial to Indian as well as foreign lawyers

On Wednesday, the Bar Council of India (BCI) allowed foreign lawyers and law firms to practice foreign law and diverse international law and international arbitration matters in India, as reported by LiveLaw. This will be on a reciprocity basis.

For this, the BCI has notified the Bar Council of India Rules for Registration and Regulation of Foreign Lawyers and Foreign Law Firms in India, 2022. It states, "opening up of law practice in India to foreign lawyers in the field of practice of foreign law; diverse international legal issues in nonlitigious matters and in international arbitration cases would go a long way in helping legal profession/domain grow in India to the benefit of lawyers in India too."

According to the report, BCI said that the entry of foreign firms would be restricted, well-controlled and regulated to ensure that it is mutually beneficial to Indian and foreign lawyers.

"These rules will also help to address the concerns expressed about the flow of Foreign Direct Investment in the country and making India a hub of International Commercial Arbitration. In case, we sleep over the matter, the legal fraternity of India may be left behind in providing legal/professional expertise in accordance with the rule of law in a manner consistent with the best interests of this fast-growing class of clients in India. Let us ensure that an opportunity for creating development and growth for the legal profession and in the legal sphere in India is not lost," the body was quoted as saying in the report.

What does the current law say about foreign lawyers and law firms?

According to the Advocates Act of India, 1961, the advocates enrolled with the BCI "alone" can "practice law" in India. For this, they must obtain a licence to practice as a lawyer from the BCI. However, they can only do so if their country allows Indian lawyers to practice legal professions there.

In 2018, BCI told the Supreme Court that it was not in favour of allowing foreign law firms to open branch offices in India. The Supreme Court also passed a verdict stating that foreign lawyers and firms are not allowed to practice law in India unless they meet the requirements.

The latest notification by BCI is a U-turn from its 2018 stance.

[The Business Standard]

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