Bar Council's New Rules to Allow Foreign Lawyers, Legal Firms to Practice in India

The rules notified on March 13, however, do not allow them to appear in court but allow them to set up offices in India and practice transactional and corporate work on a reciprocal basis.   

New Delhi: The Bar Council of India (BCI) has opened up the law practice in India to foreign lawyers and firms. It notified the ‘Registration and Regulation of Foreign Lawyers and Foreign Law Firms in India, 2022’ on Monday, March 13.

Although foreign lawyers and firms cannot appear in courts, they can, however, set up offices in India and practice transactional and corporate work on a reciprocal basis.

The BCI, which is a statutory body governing law practice in the country, defined the scope of work foreign players would be permitted to do in India.

“Foreign lawyers or foreign law firms shall not be permitted to appear before any courts, tribunals or other statutory or regulatory authorities. They shall be allowed to practice on transactional work/corporate work such as joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property matters, drafting of contracts and other related matters on a reciprocal basis,” the BCI notification said, according to Indian Express.

Explaining the rationale for opening the doors of legal practice to outside players, the notification said that the move will make India a hub of international commercial arbitration and also help address concerns pertaining to the flow of foreign direct investment into the country.

“In case we sleep over the matter, the legal fraternity of India may be left behind in providing legal/professional expertise in accordance with the rule of law in a manner consistent with the best interests of this fast-growing class of clients in India,” the Objects and Reasons of the notification stated.

It also highlighted that the decision would benefit Indian lawyers and assured that enough safeguards are in place to protect them from any adverse impact.

“The legal fraternity in India is not likely to suffer any disadvantage in case law practice in India is opened up to foreign lawyers in a restricted and well-controlled and regulated manner on the principle of reciprocity as it would be mutually beneficial for lawyers from India and abroad, and these Rules are an attempt by Bar Council of India in this direction,” the BCI notification said, according to The Hindu.

The rules stated that lawyers with a foreign degree would be allowed to practice in India conditional upon their registration with the BCI.

The notification also clarified that the reciprocity rule will not be applicable if a foreign lawyer or law firm works on a ‘fly in and fly out’ basis for the purpose of giving legal advice to a client in India on foreign law or international legal issues. In such a scenario, the lawyer or firm concerned cannot establish an office in India, and their practice cannot exceed 60 days in any 12-month period.

The Rules, however, come with a precondition that foreign lawyers and firms have to submit an undertaking that they “shall not practice Indian law in any form or before any court of law, tribunal, board or any other authority legally entitled to record evidence on oath”.