In the case of AK Balaji v Government of India, Madras High Court on 21 February disposed of a writ petition that sought to restrain foreign law firms and lawyers from “illegally” practising in India. The case was a follow-up to Lawyers Collective v Ashurst, in which Bombay High Court held that the practise of all law by foreign firms in India was illegal, whether the matter was litigious or non-litigious.
The order in AK Balaji, which has been treated as neither a victory nor a defeat, has paved the way for some clarity on what foreign law firms can and cannot do in India.
Crux of the petition
By the writ, AK Balaji contended as follows:
(a) Foreign law firms (without establishing any liaison office in India) and foreign lawyers – visiting India for the purpose of offering legal advice on foreign laws to their clients, attending arbitrations, conducting seminars, or overseeing legal outsourcing units – violated the provisions of the Advocates Act, 1961, and fundamentally amounted to unfair competition for domestic lawyers. Additionally, the mode of entry adopted by foreign lawyers resulted in immigration law violations as most lawyers visit India using tourist visas.
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