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We'll confess: The rules for what international lawyers can and can't do in India are confusing to us, in part because the situation there is fluid. So we read with interest this piece in The Australian Friday about a suit recently filed in the Indian high court in Madras seeking to ban foreign firms from practicing in India. Wait, we thought. Aren't international firms already banned from practicing in India?
The answer is, basically, yes: As we reported in December, one of India's highest courts had handed down what amounted to a ban on foreign lawyers from practicing any sort of law in the country. That decision extended a much earlier ban on firms opening physical offices in the country, a step only three firms (White & Case, Chadbourne & Parke and Ashurst) took in earnest. The December decision imperiled the more common practices of international firms striking informal alliances with Indian firms and international lawyers parachuting into the country to give quickie M&A advice or hold seminars, according to our reporting and the blog Legally India.
So what in the world is A.K. Balaji, a 30-year-old recent graduate of law school in India, suing over? We tracked down the complaint (available below) and chatted with a few experts to get a better idea of the nature of the complaint. For one, Balaji, who names 32 law firms as defendants, claims that international firms are not properly abiding by the ban on practicing in India. "Advocates from various law firms are often visiting India and conducting seminars in various parts of our country," Bajali alleges. "They are entering into India through visitor's visa but the actual intention of their visit is to indirectly market and earn money out of clients from India by way of seminars." And, later: "There is absolutely no scope for any foreign lawyer or foreign law firm to practice the profession of law in [India]."
But it seems clear that what Balaji is really worked up about is the lack of reciprocity between the U.S. (and, especially, the U.K.) and India in terms of allowing non-citizen lawyers to practice law in those countries. Balaji says that India shouldn't loosen its rules and allow foreign lawyers to even give seminars in India until the U.K. and U.S. make it easier for Indian lawyers to practice in those countries. Balaji spends about five pages in his 24-page complaint outlining the hurdles Indian lawyers face in gaining a license to practice in London, including earning an LLM degree and paying thousands of pounds in admissions fees. "The procedure for Indian lawyers to practice in the UK is far more cumbersome as compared to the easy accessibility of the Indian legal market to the law firms of the UK," Bajali claims.
This article first appeared on The Am Law Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.