How will Foreign Law Firms coming to India impact the careers of Indian law students


The entry of foreign law firms into India has been long-awaited in many quarters, including by law students in India, hoping to see this development expand the legal market in India. Recent regulations issued by the Bar Council of India are the 1st step in that direction. However, a number of factors need to be kept in mind while considering the impact of this development on the broader legal sector, and more specifically, its impact on law students and future lawyers in India.

Firstly, the regulations specify that international firms that enter India can only practice foreign law and cannot practice Indian law. Therefore, lawyers qualified solely in Indian law cannot join these firms in India and would need to continue to work with local Indian law firms. In any event, since Indian law work continues to remain with local Indian law firms, this is unlikely to impact Indian-qualified lawyers in the short term. 

Secondly, the regulations restrict the involvement of international firms in litigation and contentious matters. This would significantly affect their scope of practice in India and again result in lawyers (and clients) continuing with local counsels/law firms for any litigation advice. Given the significance and breadth of litigation as a practice field in India, this protects a very wide field for Indian law firms/counsels. Any law student who wishes to focus on litigation may keep this in mind while considering their scope of employment with foreign firms. 

However, these are the Bar Council Regulations as of date. As things progress, it is possible that the regulations will be revisited, or the markets and practices develop so that the role of international law firms is increased. For example, if more contracts involving Indian parties use English or US laws as the governing law of the document, the need for qualified legal advice on the laws of these jurisdictions will also increase and so also the involvement of international law firms. Similarly, if the regulations at some stage permit international firms to practice Indian laws, or have a tie-up with local Indian practitioners, the scope for Indian-qualified lawyers to practice as part of international law firms will increase dramatically. 

Given the above, Indian lawyers and law students should consider the possibility of qualifying in the laws of other jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom and the US. This is likely to improve their ability to join international law firms practising in India. Similarly, Indian universities and colleges that offer courses in law should also consider the possibility of broadening their syllabus to cover international laws, as well as collaborating with foreign universities, and governing bodies in other jurisdictions (such as the Law Society of England and Wales) to be able to offer qualifications in international laws to students studying in India. 

The Indian legal sector has matured considerably over the last few decades. Indian lawyers and law firms are already involved in and have considerable expertise in international transactions and global disputes. India is also a very different legal market from the rest of the world – highly cost-conscious – to the point of often sacrificing quality for cost. It is still too early to say what impact the entry of international law firms will have on some of these issues. However, if the experience of other service sectors, such as investment banking or management consulting, is replicated in the legal field, then the manner in which law is practised in India, client expectations, quality levels, fee levels, and other matters are likely to change in the future. 

Authored By: Ankit Majmudar
Advisory Member, School of Legal Studies and Governance
Vidyashilp University