Insights

Opportunity knocks for UK law firms as the Indian market opens its doors

March 20, 2023

Opportunity knocks for UK law firms as the Indian market opens its doors

A statement by the Bar Council of India (BCI) last week was a big moment for the UK legal sector. The Law Society of England and Wales has been trying for more than a decade to persuade the BCI to unlock the doors to the Indian legal market. In last week’s a historic announcement, India’s legal regulator finally revealed that it is indeed turning the key and will be allowing foreign law firms and lawyers to enter the market.

For the UK’s thriving legal sector, this is a huge opportunity. UK firms will undoubtedly be among the first to set up shop in this booming economy – which is now the fifth largest in the world, with a GDP of $3.5 trillion. And from the Indian perspective, the presence of UK-headquartered international firms will facilitate the conduct of international business and the flow of foreign investment into the country. It’s a win-win.

How will the arrangements work? The BCI is keen to ensure that the opening up of the Indian legal market is done in a ‘controlled’ way. It will be on a reciprocal basis, and foreign lawyers will be restricted to transactional and corporate matters, with no rights of audience in India’s courts and tribunals. But it is still a very significant step forward.

India has been one of the last big economies to open itself up to foreign law firms. In 2018, the issue came before its Supreme Court, which firmly closed the door on any notion that foreign firms could set up a permanent office. The Court did, however, clarify that foreign lawyers were permitted to provide casual advice on a ‘fly in, fly out’ basis; which was a first step in the right direction.

As work now continues in relation to the implementation of the new regulations that have been published, we can expect a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity from UK-headquartered international firms, which will be carefully sizing up the best way of entering the market when the time comes. One player already in pole position is global law firm Dentons, which announced last October that it had entered into a ‘combination’ arrangement with Indian law firm, Link Legal.

No doubt managing partners at all of the most international-facing Indian firms can expect their phones to start ringing very soon.


March 20, 2023

Insights