Doing legal business in India

India is the world’s fifth largest economy. It jumped to 63 in the World Bank’s ‘Ease of doing business’ ranking in 2020, from 140 in 2014.

In July 2018, the UK Ministry of Justice signed a memorandum of understanding with India’s Ministry of Law and Justice concerning co-operation in law and justice and strengthening existing relations between the two countries.

Although India is a major overseas market for our members, it is almost entirely closed to foreign lawyers.

Practising in India

Foreign lawyers are not currently permitted to practise in India. However foreign lawyers are regularly granted visas to visit clients or referral partners in India.

The legal profession

Since 1961 the Indian legal profession has been unified into a single type of legal practitioner: the advocate.

There are two classes of advocate:

  • senior advocates, who are given this distinction by the Supreme Court or High Court in recognition of their special knowledge, experience or standing
  • ordinary advocates

Regulation and representation

The Bar Council of India and the appropriate state bar councils are responsible for regulation of the profession. There are 18 state bar councils and two High Court Authorities (Jammu and Kashmir, and Jharkhand).

The Bar Council of India is responsible for:

  • setting standards of professional conduct
  • procedures for its disciplinary committee and the disciplinary committee of each state bar council
  • safeguarding the rights, privileges and interests of advocates
  • promoting and supporting law reform
  • supervision and control over state bar councils
  • promoting legal education and setting standards of education in consultation with universities and state bar councils
  • recognising universities for the purposes of admitting their graduates as advocates
  • organising legal aid for the poor
  • recognising on a reciprocal basis foreign qualifications in law for the purpose of admission as an advocate

The Bar Council’s rules are published on its website.

Each state bar council is responsible for:

  • admitting people as advocates on its roll
  • preparing and maintaining the roll
  • hearing and deciding cases of misconduct against advocates on its roll
  • safeguarding the rights, privileges and interests of advocates on its roll
  • supporting law reform
  • organising legal aid for the poor

Indian advocates must register with their state bar council and pay a one-off fee to the bar council of India.

The state bar councils are responsible for disciplining individual advocates. Appeals of disciplinary findings can be made to the Bar Council of India.

The legal system and courts

India’s legal system combines elements of civil law, common law, customary law and religious law. The constitution came into force in 1950.

The highest court is the Supreme Court. There are high courts at state level, and subordinate district courts.

Legal services market

The Indian legal services market was valued at US $1.3bn in March 2018.

At least five Indian firms have chosen to open offices in London: Singhania and Co, ALMT, Khaitan Legal Associates, Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan and Lex Meridian. Many Indian lawyers work in the UK at English and other non-Indian law firms.

Foreign law firms

India follows a restrictive policy regime in its legal services sector. The entry of foreign law firms continues to be prohibited in India.

Foreign legal professionals are only permitted to provide advice on home-country and international law through fly-in fly-out services on a temporary casual basis.

All major international firms headquartered in London have India desks serving corporate clients with business interests in India, and most high-value India-related legal work is done through London, if not Singapore or Dubai.

Qualifying as a foreign lawyer in India

There is no requalification system for foreign lawyers. To practise law in India you must be an Indian citizen and graduate with a law degree from an Indian university.

Requalification in England and Wales

India is a recognised jurisdiction under the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS). This means that Indian advocates can dual-qualify as a solicitor of England and Wales through a simpler process.

The Law Society and India

We have worked with the Bar Council of India on opportunities and engagement between our legal professions, including hosting a delegation in 2019. We continue to work closely with the Indian authorities on strengthening our countries’ legal profession thorough greater co-operation.

For further information on our activities in India contact Asia@lawsociety.org.uk.

Resources

British High Commission in New Delhi

India’s Ministry of Law and Justice

High Commission of India in the UK