The next legal boom? India to open legal market to international law firms

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By Alex Aldridge on

Some welcome news amid Brexit chaos for London’s megafirms


One of the biggest legal markets in the world is set to open its doors to foreign lawyers — potentially creating a boom of investment and throwing up exciting opportunities for young solicitors at London’s global law firms.

For the last 20 years there has been regular chatter about the possibility of India relaxing strict protectionist rules that prevent anyone but Indian citizens practising law in the country. But it hasn’t happened, forcing the likes of Herbert Smith Freehills, Linklaters and Slaughter and May to run their India practices out of London and Hong Kong.

Finally, though, after a host of false starts it looks like liberalisation is on the way. This week India’s government will meet legal profession regulators to discuss legislation that would allow foreign firms to open offices in India.

The get together follows Chancellor George Osbourne’s announcement in January of various trade deals with India, one of which was a pledge to liberalise the legal market.

Although the draft rules being debated would only allow foreigners to practise non-Indian law from the country, international firms opening offices there could hire Indian lawyers. Alternatively, they would be able to enter into partnerships with local firms thus providing full service capability for clients.

Expect the aforementioned firms to flood in to metropolises like Mumbai, alongside many of their rivals. Clifford Chance, which has a low cost outsourcing office in Delhi, will also be one to watch as Brexit-burned firms look beyond Europe.

According to the website Legally India — which was set up by former The Lawyer journalist Kian Ganz in 2009 in anticipation of Indian legal market liberalisation — foreign lawyer entry is “closer than ever”, with speculation elsewhere that the deal could be done as soon as September. But others reckon that may be a bit excitable and have suggested that the new rules won’t come into force until 2017.

Things should become clearer after Tuesday’s meeting, which will be attended by India’s three legal bodies — the Bar Council of India, the Indian Corporate Counsel Association and the Society of Indian Law Firms — and various government departments.