Indian law firms should take the reins and dictate the growth of their legal service offerings overseas, writes Stephen Kines
In all the noise about opening the Indian legal market to foreign competition, little has been said about the reverse direction. What about Indian law firms expanding abroad? We are all aware of the tactics of law firms as they hungrily wait (in vain?) for a liberalized legal market in India. But why do we assume that India itself cannot take the leadership in the global legal services market? Is it India’s destiny to be only a back-office centre servicing the lower end of the market? A reputation for doing excellent volume work has overshadowed India’s potential for taking on high-end work. And there is a whiff of colonialism to such a conclusion as well.
We all know the statistics of India’s rapid industrial growth and more importantly the global expansion of Indian industry. But where is the corresponding expansion of the industry’s trusted counsel? The global legal services market developed in tandem with businesses in the US and UK as they expanded outside their own markets. Why is the Indian lawyer not sitting beside the client on a Mumbai-New York flight when on a New York-Mumbai flight the American lawyer is having a long bonding session?
The excuses often used to explain the lack of Indian law firm expansion are that existing domestic firms are not big enough or the legal talent is too thin. But these excuses rely on unfair comparisons between well-developed legal services markets such as the US and UK, and emerging ones such as India. Furthermore, with bankruptcies such as that of Dewey & LeBoeuf, the evidence shows that the current method of US/UK global expansion is clearly flawed.
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Stephen Kines is the CEO of Kines Global, a law firm development company exclusively focused on the global expansion of Indian and Chinese law firms. Kines has spent 16 years as a global equity partner at international law firms Linklaters and Bird & Bird, and has established a regional boutique law firm. He is ranked as one of the top 10 telecom, media and technology lawyers in the world by Euromoney and has served in a variety of management roles at law firms. He sits on the International Bar Association’s Law Firm Management Committee Advisory Board.