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India Shuts Its Doors on Foreign Firms
The American Lawyer
One of India's highest courts has banned foreign law firms from all forms of practice in India, a major victory for a trade group of Indian lawyers and a defeat for firms that opened liaison offices in India during a brief window in the 1990s, according to the blog Legally India.
Representatives of the three firms immediately affected by the ruling -- Ashurst, White & Case and Chadbourne & Parke -- have confirmed the nature of the decision and said they are reviewing its implications, according to Legally India and media contacts at two firms that we contacted early Wednesday. Only Ashurst still has an open liaison office in India, and the firm's Web site specifies that the office does not provide legal advice. White & Case conducts much of its India practice from offices in Singapore, a spokesman tells us.
The Bombay High Court's ruling quashes the optimism some legal observers felt in May, when India's voters re-elected Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a proponent of liberalizing the country's economy. Foreign law firms have been banned in India since a 1995 high court ruling that closed the brief window during which the three firms named above opened their liaison offices.
As we reported in June, several major firms have gotten around the ban by creating alliances with Indian firms under which they refer business to each other. Linklaters, Allen & Overy and Clifford Chance are among the firms that have struck such deals.
One interesting note from Wednesday's ruling: According to Legally India, the high court ruled that the practice of law encompasses just about everything a law firm might do. Lawyers arguing for the international firms said the ban on the practice of law should apply only to litigation and not to M&A advice and other out-of-court work.
This article first appeared on The Am Law Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.