Indian court upholds ‘fly-in fly-out’ practice for foreign firms

In a landmark order made today, the Chennai High Court in India has cleared foreign lawyers from flying in and out of India to advise on foreign law, as well as clearing the way for legal process outsourcing (LPO) companies to operate in the country.

The hearing in the case against 31 foreign law firms and an LPO (AK Balaji v The Government of India, Ashurst LLP, White & Case et al) ended on 1 February. The Madras High Court handed down its order today (21 February).

Karthikeyan, counsel for the petitioner AK Balaji, said that the bench ruled that “foreign law firms are not allowed to practise in India, whether in litigation or non-litigation. Neither firms nor individuals are allowed”.

However, he added that “they are allowed to enter into international commercial arbitration, and advise on foreign law not Indian law”.

“LPO [legal process outsourcing companies] are allowed to be set-up, but they have to restrict their work. They cannot give any legal advice,” said Kartikheyan about the ruling.

Chennai-based Dua Associates partner Senthil Kumar, who represented nine of the US firms involved in the litigation, confirmed that the judges said that there is no bar on foreign lawyers to visit India for a “temporary period” on a fly-in-fly-out basis to give legal advice regarding foreign law or their own system of law.

Kumar said the judges also confirmed that foreign lawyers can not be debarred from participating in international commercial arbitration proceedings in India, such as those between an Indian and foreign company.

Foreign lawyers admitted at the American Bar Association (ABA) conference in India last month that the current rules on “fly-in fly-out”, particularly after the Chennai writ petition, were unclear.

The full judgment is expected tomorrow (22 February).

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