IBA Conference – India calls on foreigners to play on level playing field

The Indian Bar Association appears to have removed some obstacles to foreign lawyers setting up in its country – only to raise new ones.

During the inaugural ceremony, Lalit Bhasin, honorary secretary-general of the Indian Bar Association, said international lawyers were welcome to come to India “so long as they practise on a level playing field”.

He later told The Lawyer that his association and the lawyers' regulatory body, the Bar Council of India, had agreed that to set up in India, foreign lawyers would have to be regulated by the Bar Council – a measure that would require legislation from the Indian government and could take years.

He added that international firms would have to hire Indian lawyers, form partnerships with them and comply to the Bar Council's strict rules prohibiting marketing and advertising. “Law firms aren't even allowed to put their numbers in the telephone book,” he added.

Only three foreign firms – Ashurst Morris Crisp, Chadbourne & Parke and White & Case – have liaison offices in India, but they are not allowed to practise from them and are being sued by the Bombay Lawyers Collective for allegedly breaching this stipulation.

Law Society president Phillip Sycamore is pushing the Indians on the subject. He described a series of meetings with Bar leaders and government officials, including the attorney general, as positive.

“We have made serious progress. There's a much better understanding [among Indian lawyers] of what English solicitors want to achieve. It's going to take time, but I think we will be able to take matters forward.”