India reverses 2009 Bombay High Court ruling which banned foreign law firms

updated on 21 March 2023

Reading time: one minute

India has abandoned its ban on foreign law firm offices in the country, leaving the Indian market open to overseas lawyers.

According to The Times, UK/US firm DLA Piper UK LLP and US firm Baker McKenzie are thought to be actively considering a move into the country following the decision. 

Last week, the Bar Council of India agreed to allow overseas lawyers to set up offices in the country, effectively opening one of the last untouched legal markets to international firms.

This decision overturns a 2009 ruling made in the Bombay High Court that,  in effect, forced international firms Ashurst LLP, White & Case LLP and Chadbourne & Parke (which merged with Norton Rose Fulbright in 2017) out of their emerging liaison offices in India.

The ruling has since faced lobbying and numerous attempts to overturn the decision. However, the strict protectionist rules remained for more than 10 years. Analysts are of the opinion that the Indian authorities were in fear of large English and US firms devouring the growing commercial law instructions around Indian businesses if they were allowed full practice rights in India.

In contrast to this view, in a statement last week, the Bar Council of India commented: “Opening up of law practice in India to foreign lawyers… would go a long way in helping [the] legal profession/ domain grow in India to the benefit of lawyers in India too.”

Having spent a fortnight in India recently with officials, the president of the Law Society in London, Lubna Shuja, forecast that the decision would “create huge opportunities for solicitors and Indian advocates in both countries”.