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April 2, 2009 1:30 PM

Legal Profession in India Not "Up For Sale," Lawyer Writes

Posted by Anthony Lin

The president of the Society of Indian Law Firms lays out the case against opening his country's legal market to foreign lawyers in an opinion piece published Thursday in India's Economic Times.

Lalit Bhasin of New Delhi's Bhasin & Co calls "totally unacceptable" the idea that the legal profession in India should be treated as a business that "can be acquired, merged, amalgamated, taken over, and sold to global players." He points to the number of Indian lawyers serving in the judiciary and government, claiming that the profession's civic role could be diluted by the entrance in the market of foreign lawyers.

Bhasin also dismisses as a "bogey" the proliberalization arguments that foreign advisers would bring benefits of greater expertise and technical know-how. He claims this myth was "shred to pieces" at a recent International Bar Association meeting, where major Indian companies made clear "that Indian legal services are second to none and they do not, in any way, feel handicapped if foreign law firms are not located in India."

He concludes with a swipe at India's former colonial master.

"The demand for opening legal services sector in India does not come from Indian businesses or professionals or even foreign multinational companies," claims Bhasin. "Strangely, the demand comes from foreign lawyers and, particularly, those from the U.K. It is obvious that the U.K. is witnessing a negative growth so far as its legal profession is concerned. Accordingly, India and China offer good prospects--but the problem is that, in India, the legal profession is not a business and it is not up for sale."

The outspoken comments underline the level of resistance to pressure from foreign law firms to open up the much-touted Indian legal market. Leading U.K. law firms have shown enormous interest in India. Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy both recently announced alliances with Indian law firms.

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