Foreign law firms, lawyers can not practise in India

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"(The) Bar Council of India or Union of India will be at liberty to make appropriate Rules in this regard including extending Code of Ethics being applicable even to such cases", it added. "If in pith and substance the services amount to practice of law, the provisions of the Advocates Act will apply and foreign law firms or foreign lawyers will not be allowed to do so", the top court said.

At this juncture, the Supreme Court's decision comes off as a "protectionist" move to prevent foreign law practices and legal professionals from exposing the gaps in the Indian judiciary, especially after the Ministry of Commerce and Industry had amended a rule past year to allow foreign legal firms to set up offices and advise clients hailing from Special Economic Zones (SEZs). The bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and UU Lalit directed the Centre and the Bar Council of India to frame rules on this.

New Delhi- The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that foreign law firms cannot set up offices in India but their lawyers could visit in "fly in and fly out" mode to give legal advice on foreign laws to clients, which would be casual in nature.

BCI, the body that regulates legal profession in the country, had argued that foreign lawyers and law firms can't be allowed to work in the country unless they subjected themselves to Indian regulations.

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The only exception that is available is for foreign lawyers coming to India for providing advice on foreign law or when they are coming in to take part in an worldwide commercial arbitration.

However, it has permitted foreign la firms to participate in arbitration proceedings.

Uday S Ahlawat, partner, Ahlawat & Associates, said, "The judgment doesn't really change anything, unlike the view taken by the courts on "multinational accounting firms" which are prevalent in India, there aren't many foreign law firms practising in India".

Ajay Shaw, partner, DSK Legal, said: "This judgment will not have any bearing on Indian law firms at this stage".

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The court's verdict came on batch of petitions filed by Bar Council of India and others.

"We hold that mere label of such services can not be treated as conclusive".

"Visit of any foreign lawyer on fly-in-and-fly-out basis may amount to practice of law if it is on regular basis".

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