Edge International

India Proposes To Open Arms to the Global Legal Profession

Bithika Anand

India is finally gearing up to permit foreign law firms to conduct business within its borders. As Edge International’s principal in India, I would be more than happy to assist firms that are interested in exploring possible future opportunities for entering into this exciting new market.

A Decade of Working for Change

The admission of non-Indian law firms to India’s legal sector finally appears to be coming about after a difficult process that took more than ten years of debate and discussion. During that time, the Government of India considered and addressed many concerns that were raised by individual lawyers in India, and by associations that act as custodians of interest to Indian lawyers – in particular ­the Bar Council of India (BCI), which is the apex body regulating the legal profession in India, and the Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF), which represents the top law firms in the country. Most of their concerns related to maintaining a level playing field for domestic firms, although there were also other issues that derived from the particular history and nature of India’s legal industry and of India itself.

Since the latter half of 2015, the Government of India has been pro-active in reaching out to all stakeholders, explaining its rationale for opening up the legal sector in a calibrated manner. The profession is now in advanced stages of its discussions with the Government regarding the global liberalization of legal services. The move aims to set certain regulations in place to protect some of the interests and mandates of Indian firms and regulatory agencies. In addition, to enhance the goals of a level playing field for all legal practitioners, for the first time ever, Indian law firms may be allowed to advertise on a limited basis.

It is contemplated that foreign law firms entering the Indian legal sector will be able to practice only in certain restricted fields, and within particular guidelines. They are likely to be more successful if they are familiar with the traditional structures and ways of thinking that currently exist within the Indian legal market. This is where I believe Edge International can help.

As the world economies are integrating, India is seen as the most progressive nation in Asia, with the government opening its key sectors to invite investments and know-how, while creating a new and fair level playing field for Indian companies. This is an opportune moment for firms from around the world to investigate how they may be able to contribute to this exciting and rapidly growing economy.

We Can Help

In 2011, as part of its ongoing mission to provide global support to law firms of all sizes and areas of expertise, Edge International created an alliance with Legal League Consulting of Delhi and Mumbai – the oldest and most respected consultancy to law firms and corporate legal departments in India. As founder and CEO of Legal League, and a chartered accountant with more than thirty years of experience in working with top Indian law firms, I joined Edge International as a principal. Since then, the staff of Legal League’s offices have been instrumental in facilitating Edge International’s work in India.

Please contact Edge International if I or any of my Edge colleagues can be of assistance to you in taking your first steps into India’s legal landscape.

Important alert regarding India

Gerry Riskin

For decades, I have spoken about India with the senior leaders of major law firms around the world. Because India was closed to the idea of foreign law firms practicing within its borders, the subject was academic to many.

This is changing now. My fellow Edge principal, Bithika Anand – founder of Legal League, India’s most prominent consultancy to the legal profession, and former executive within India’s most prominent law firm, Armachand – now announces that India is relaxing its restrictions. While India is opening its doors carefully, it is nonetheless doing so.

Many of the law firm leaders outside India have operated under the misapprehension that the legal market in India was fundamentally the inexpensive variety, utilized for outsourcing. That is a myth. The top law firms in India are among the best in the world. They are not only among the finest in terms of the substantive quality of legal work they provide, but they also employ management sophistication that is rarely seen elsewhere.

Notwithstanding that foreign lawyers have not been allowed to practice in India, top Indian firms have often involved the best foreign lawyers in the world in their efforts stay at an unsurpassed level of global sophistication in their substantive practice areas.

Read Bithika’s article contained in this special issue of Edge International Communiqué closely. If your firm wants to explore India, whether from the vantage point of having a “best friend” relationship, practising on the ground there, or simply attracting work from some of India’s top corporations, feel free to contact Bithika or any other Edge principal to discuss this in much greater detail.

Bithika will be joining select fellow Edge principals in Australia next month and in California early next year for informal meetings with law firm leaders who are interested in what Bithika has to say.

Foreign Law Firms and the Indian Legal Market

Bithika Anand

The topic of liberalization of the Indian legal profession has once again gained steam to become a hot point of conversation, both in India and globally.

The new Indian government has pro-liberalization lawyers at the helm of the ministries of Law and Finance. India has the third largest GDP as per the Purchasing Power Parity Index, and with the new government having a clear reformist approach across industry sectors, there has been a substantial and meaningful movement towards clarity in the legal sector as well.

As a signatory to GATS, India has an obligation to open up the legal sector. After years of see-sawing, in 2014 the Ministry of Commerce began working on a cabinet paper through a 15- to 20-member inter-ministerial group with limited representation from non-government experts.

The indications are that the proposal will contain a phased-entry strategy for foreign law firms, which will begin with progressive reforms for strengthening Indian law firms and then the gradual entry of international law firms in all non-litigious areas of practice.

Over the past decade, Indian firms have grown in both financial and manpower numbers. The frequent ups and downs of the market, international expansion of Indian corporations, introduction of new practice areas such as competition law, cyber law, etc., and a mix of fragmentation as well as consolidation of law firms have all helped the Indian legal profession to grow in strength and learn from its experiences.

While the world eyes India, a host of Indian firms have opened offices in places like Palo Alto, London, Geneva, Dubai, Singapore and Tokyo, as part of their own plans to go global.

What should foreign law firms do?

Over a hundred international firms have increased their focus on India in the recent past. Even without liberalization, evidently there are opportunities well within the legal framework that these foreign law firms find profitable. These firms stand to gain immensely with the opening up of the legal industry.

The following are some aspects that international firms who are already in India –  as well as those looking to enter India – should consider in light of India’s current environment.

Strategise: As is the case with any venture, the most important factor is to reduce “ad-hocism. “Having a plan in place with a long-term vision is imperative. There are pros and cons to the various ways that international firms plan their India strategy, including best-friend relationships, referral arrangements, India desks and outsourcing. The differentiating factor for success is to strategise the strength of the firm and the kind of work the firm is planning to undertake.

Understand India better: As the world’s largest cultural mix, India’s diversity is often difficult even for us Indians to completely understand. International firms that are interested in India need to account for this diversity, including such simple steps such as wishing your clients well on important festivals, learning key words in the different languages, and understanding the food and other local preferences

Show that you care: A sure-shot way for gaining accessibility in any new country is to cater to the society. Law firms can look at offering lectures to law students, taking up pro-bono initiatives and tying up with NGOs as some of the ways that this can be achieved.

Invest in India: Show clients in India and in your home country that you are serious about India. This could include making India-specific collaterals and knowledge kits, increasing visibility by writing and taking up speaking opportunities in India related journals and forums, amongst other activities.

With or without liberalization, one thing is for sure:  there are exciting times ahead for the Indian legal industry. Some of the above thoughts will help international firms make the most of their foray into India, while staying well within the stipulated legal framework.