International law firms are scaling down their India practices as the economy falters and new market challenges become apparent

An interim order made on 4 July by the Supreme Court – clarifying that foreign law firms should not be given permission to open liaison offices in India – has driven home the message that the doors to the country’s legal market may not open any time soon.

This will have come as a blow to foreign law firms, several of which have long lobbied to be allowed to enter India. Stuart Popham, a high-profile UK lawyer who visited India in July 2010 as part of an official delegation accompanying the UK prime minister, had been confident that UK law firms would soon have a presence in India.

Popham, then senior partner at Clifford Chance, predicted that his firm would have an office in India by 2012. “If I said 18 months I would probably be optimistic, if I said two and a half years I would be unduly pessimistic,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg.

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