• Dr. Mohan Dewan

 By a notification dated March 10, 2023, the Bar Council of India (BCI) has issued rules for registration and regulation of foreign lawyer and law firms in India. This will of course include foreign lawyers and law firms practicing in the area of Intellectual Property.


An interesting distinction made between foreign lawyer/law firms and Indian law firms is in the definition itself. A foreign lawyer is defined to mean an individual, a law firm meaning a group of individuals, an LLP, a company or a corporation called by whatever name. However, Indian law firms are defined as individuals, partnership firms and LLP firms having Indian lawyers as partners.


The rules require foreign lawyers and foreign law firms to register themselves with the Bar Council as foreign law firms and unless the foreign lawyer / law firm is so registered they will not be entitled to practice law in India. Registration will not be necessary if the legal advice in respect of foreign laws or international legal issues is given, on what is referred to as the “fly in” and “fly out” basis. For the purposes of registration, a complicated set of 12 certificates and declaration is required along with fees of USD25,000 for an individual lawyer and USD50,000 for a legal entity. In addition to the fee, an individual lawyer is required to provide a security deposit of USD15,000 and an entity is required a guarantee amount of USD40,000. Once registration is granted the registration will be valid for a period of 5 years and if the lawyer / entity wants to continue practice in India, the renewal fee of USD10,000 and USD20,000 will be needed to be paid. The Bar Council may also levy process charges for processing the application.


Interestingly, the rules also provide for reciprocity as well as proportionality, i.e. the Bar Council of India may refuse to register a foreign lawyer or law firm, if the principal country of practice of the lawyer/firm does not allow Indian lawyers or law firms to be registered in their country and there is a balance of Indian law firms registered in that country and in India respectively.


Once a lawyer or a law firm is registered to practice in India, they will be entitled to practice “non-litigious” matters and such a foreign lawyer who is registered shall be deemed to be an advocate in respect of acts and deeds performed by the foreign lawyer. In the case of violation of the code of ethics and conduct under the Advocates Act, the registration of the foreign lawyer may be cancelled by the Bar Council of India. It is very clear that such foreign lawyers/law firms are not permitted to appear before any courts, tribunals or other statutory or regulatory authorities, this will include of course the Patent and Trademark offices and other IP offices in India. Such foreign lawyers are also barred from doing any professional work in relation to conveyancing of property and title investigation.


What the foreign lawyer is entitled to do is give advice to transact business and opinions, but only in relation to the country where the lawyer is qualified to practice. In addition, a registered firm lawyer may advice and appear as a lawyer for a foreign entity in case of an international arbitration which is conducted in India. In proceedings before bodies other than courts, tribunals, statutory authorities or any other authority which is competent to record evidence of both and in which knowledge of foreign laws is essential.


The rules do not bar Advocates enrolled with any State Bar Council in India to be a partner or an associate in such a registered foreign law firm. Such Indian Advocates can take up only “non-litigious” matters and can provide advice as required by the client. However, such a lawyer shall have no advantage or right of such a person being an Advocate enrolled in India.


Registered foreign lawyers/law firms can of course open offices in India and can enter into partnerships, and procure other legal expertise and advice in connection with legal practice in India. For this purpose, they may engage and procure legal expert or advice of an Indian lawyer.


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