The government plans to allow, in a phased manner, foreign legal companies to practise in the country, and on a reciprocal basis.
A committee of secretaries (CoS) to the government is looking into the matter and will be coming out with a plan shortly, according to outgoing commerce secretary Rajeev Kher.
“We have to introduce competition into the sector…(But) The litigation area will remain closed,” he said.
He said the government was in talks with the Bar Council of India (BCI) and Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF). According to Kher, both bodies, which represent the country’s legal sector, have agreed.
The CoS had first met in April on this issue. However, the matter is stuck on the issue of reciprocity — on whether or not Indian lawyers will be treated at par with those in other countries and be allowed to practice there.
This also entails India clinching mutual recognition agreements (MRAs) with partner countries that will result in the latter recognising the qualification and licensing requirements.
“Unless MRAs are there, professional services do not take off. And, these MRAs get stuck on qualification issues,” Kher said.
SILF has demanded that Indian law firms be allowed to advertise and promote their expertise abroad. “We have seen the fate of Indian accountancy. Now, only the big four is talked about and nobody knows Indian accountancy firms. For over 20 years we have been fighting this for the legal sector. First, we should be allowed to liberalise internally and then talk of competition. So, we want the foreign players to be allowed only in transactional and corporate services and that too over five to seven years,” said Lalit Bhasin, president, SILF.