Law firms faced with proposals for ‘super-regulator’

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Law firms may be governed by a “super-regulator” if proposals in the draft Legal Practitioners Act are approved. The Legal Practitioners (Regulation and Maintenance of Standards in Professions, Protecting the Interests of Clients and Promoting the Rule of Law) Act, 2010, suggests the establishment of a “Legal Services Board”, modelled on the UK Legal Services Board, which would establish a consumer panel, an ombudsman and be responsible for regulating the entire legal services sector, including the bar councils in the country.

The board would provide an avenue for recourse for rights owners wanting to hold patent agents accountable for deficient or negligent advice. At present, it is only possible to take action against a patent agent for inadequate services by filing a lawsuit for negligence. Income- tax practitioners, customs clearance agents, customs and immigration law practitioners, trademark attorneys/lawyers, lawyers providing legal services in their chambers and other legal professionals who do not fall within the ambit of the Advocates Act can also be held accountable by the board.

The board would comprise the chairmen of the state bar councils to ensure adequate representation of the north, south, west, east and northeast regions of India. The board would establish a consumer panel which would make representations to the board on behalf of consumers and clients of lawyers. A former high court judge would be appointed as a chief ombudsman and ombudsmen for the states (former district judges) would be appointed to deal with grievances against legal professionals at the state level.

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The legislative and regulatory update is compiled by Nishith Desai Associates, a Mumbai-based law firm. The authors can be contacted at nishith@nishithdesai.com. Readers should not act on the basis of this information without seeking professional legal advice.