Pulse Tracker | Liberalization of Indian Legal Space

Open Season: Forecasting the Impact

‘Will they, won’t they?’ It’s been a talking point for several years now, but finally it looks like they will. On 15 March 2023, the Bar Council of India announced that international law firms (ILFs) will be permitted to set up shop in India. Some in the industry saw it as a bolt from the blue while others breathed out and began preparing for big changes.

Our view is that the BCI Rules were the first step towards liberalisation. The rules are in force but will be operational only when the registration process is initiated. It may be a while before the clouds part for good: we expect to see further clarifications, procedures and legal challenges. We’re giving it around 12 months for the dust to settle. 

In this article, we’ve attempted to distil insights from our research to arrive at a forecast about what the future could look like for different segments of the ecosystem. 

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The Vahura View: Impact Series

  • Lawyers with cross-border deal experience and international arbitration expertise will be in high demand. There will be a premium on dual-qualified lawyers (DQLs), especially those with ILF experience. We will see movement of DQLs to ILFs looking to strengthen their India-oriented practices. Such…

  • We expect to see groups of partners and teams from large law firms break away to set up on their own. The goal will be to establish a reputed, high-quality law firm that is well suited to partnering with international law firms.

  • We are already seeing increased recruitment activity around India-oriented practices. These are primarily in the areas of M&A, Disputes and Banking & Finance, out of the UK or Asia. The demand is primarily for lateral lawyers in other international firms, who also have an India-focus as…

  • We conducted a survey with our client community for an understanding of how the entry of foreign law firms into the Indian market would affect their engagement with external legal counsel. The survey was attempted by 78 professionals, including General Counsel, Head-Legal, CFOs, CEOs, and Founders…

  • One of the stated objectives of liberalisation is to make India a preferred destination for international commercial arbitration. International lawyers are being encouraged to represent their clients in international arbitration being held in India. But the BCI Rules and subsequent clarifications…

  • India’s demographic dividend is expected to pay out over the next couple of decades, with the country expected to host the world’s largest working population by 2030. The entry of international firms will create increased demand for talent in Indian law firms, in-house legal teams, chambers and in Legal Tech.

This is a shorter version of a much longer forecast, reach out to our team to learn more about the current landscape. We’ve left out sections that examine the impact on Law Schools, ADR Institutions, Legal Tech & ALSPs, Impact Organisations and citizens. The legal industry will no doubt be heavily influenced by the way global economic winds are blowing. And no analysis in 2023 is complete without a hat-tip to Artificial Intelligence and acknowledging the seismic impact it can have on the future of legal work. 

It’s likely that our forecast overestimates the short-term impacts of liberalisation and underestimates the long-term ones. But we’ll keep updating you as we talk to people, carry out research and decode developments. If the proposed liberalisation eventually proves to be a false start, as it has before, some of this analysis may be inapplicable for the time being. But then we can remember the words of speculative fiction writer William Gibson: “The future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.”

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