India allows foreign attorneys and legal firms to operate there: Bar Council of India

The Bar Council of India (BCI) ruled on Wednesday to enable foreign attorneys and law firms to now practice in India in areas including foreign law, international legal difficulties, and arbitration proceedings. Indian law firms applauded the decision.

The BCI Rules for Registration and Regulation of Foreign Attorneys and Foreign Law Firms in India, 2022, which were announced on March 10 require foreign law firms and attorneys to register with the bar council.

“Opening up of law practice in India to foreign lawyers in the field of practice of foreign law, diverse international legal issues in non-litigious matters and in international arbitration cases would go a long way in helping the legal profession/domain grow in India to the benefit of lawyers in India as well,” the BCI stated in a statement on Wednesday.

For the first time, international legal firms and attorneys are now able to register under the Advocates Act of 1961, which was previously only open to Indian residents.

Under the current arrangement, foreign law firms and attorneys may provide legal counsel to their Indian clients on a variety of international legal matters and foreign law, but they are not allowed to appear before any courts, tribunals, or statutory or regulatory authorities.

The recently issued rule states, “The registration will be authorized by the BCI based on the concept of reciprocity, i.e., comparable facility should be in vogue for Indian lawyers/law firms in the nation where the foreign law firm is predominantly registered with. “The foreign legal firm or practitioner, once registered in India, must renew the registration every five years.”

Registration fees for attorneys and legal firms have been set at $25,000 and $50,000, respectively, while renewal fees for the two categories will be $10,000 and $20,000, according to the statement.

According to the BCI, the legal profession in India is unlikely to be harmed by a “limited, highly managed, and regulated” opening of the legal market to foreign businesses and attorneys since the levels of Indian lawyers' legal expertise are on par with those of other countries.

Legal companies in India applauded the BCI's action.

Vinayak Burman, managing partner of the legal firm Vertices Partners, said that allowing foreign attorneys to practice law in India will open up prospects for collaboration and collaborations. It is probably going to open the door for further consolidation, particularly for businesses engaged in cross-border mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity.

Rajesh Narain Gupta, managing partner of SNG & Partners law firm, added yet another perspective to the development when he said, “Entry of foreign law firms will support in a big way the ambition of India to be more visible and valuable in a global context, especially on international trade and commerce. For mid-size businesses, this will be a game-changer. It will also assist law firms in India become more productive in terms of management, IA, technology, subject expertise in a global context, and personnel management.

A foreign attorney may now practice law in India in non-litigious cases under the recently issued rules. The new regulations said that BCI, who may consult the minister of law and justice in this respect, shall establish the fields of legal practice for a foreign lawyer or law firm. In the event of professional misconduct or deception, the BCI also maintains the authority to refuse registration and suspend or terminate registration, according to the statement. Yet the BCI won't have any disciplinary authority over international attorneys or legal firms.

Even though the new rules prohibit practicing before any courts, tribunals, or other statutory or regulatory bodies, registered foreign lawyers are still permitted to work on transactional work and corporate matters like joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property disputes, contract drafting, and other related issues on a reciprocal basis. They would not be permitted to participate in any job involving the conveyance of real estate, title research, or similar tasks.

The regulations also outlined the dos and don'ts for foreign attorneys, restricting their scope of practice to commercial transactions and providing counsel and opinions on the legal systems of the countries they are predominantly from. If an international arbitration proceeding being held in India, the client they counsel will unavoidably need to maintain an office there.

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