The Bar Council of India (BCI) announced new rules on Wednesday signalling a significant policy shift that relaxes entry conditions allowing international lawyers and arbitration practitioners to advise in the country.
Foreign lawyers and law firms registered with the BCI will be able to open offices in the country and engage and procure legal expertise from Indian advocates.
These lawyers and firms, however, will not be permitted to appear in Indian courts or tribunals and will only be permitted to advise on international arbitration cases on a reciprocal basis.
This means that only lawyers and law firms from countries that offer comparable opportunities to their Indian counterparts are permitted to practice in India.
Other BCI restrictions include limitations on appearing before statutory or regulatory authorities, doing any work pertaining to property conveyancing, and title investigation or other similar work, to name a few.
Foreign lawyers and law firms could also practise law under the previous fly-in and fly-out basis without registering with the BCI. However, in this case they were prohibited from opening offices in India, and their practice could not exceed 60 days in any 12-month period.
Foreign lawyers and firms can now practice law in non-litigious matters and, on transactional corporate matters such as joint ventures, intellectual property, mergers and acquisitions in India.
Despite these shackles, the BCI says: “The time has come to take a call on the issue. The Bar Council of India is of the view that opening up … to foreign lawyers in the 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, too.”
It added that the easing of rules was an attempt to create a mutually beneficial playing field for lawyers from India and abroad, as well as to facilitate a greater flow of foreign direct investment into the country, and to “make India a hub of international commercial arbitration”.
The policy shift comes after more than a decade of debate over whether foreign lawyers should be allowed to practice in India.
The BCI, however, has mandated that a foreign lawyer or law firm be registered in India, with fees ranging from USD25,000 for a foreign lawyer to USD50,000 for a law firm.