The Supreme Court today gave its judgment in the case of entry of foreign law firms in India. The court hearing the appeals from decisions of Madras High Court and Bombay High Court held that foreign law firms could have a limited practice of fly in and fly out in India. However it were not the foreign law firms but also the legal process outsourcing companies in India that were waiting for the judgment with bated breath. 

In para 39 of the judgment, the Apex Court held, “Thus, we uphold the view that practice of law includes litigation as well as non litigation.” This clearly means that LPOs will now be covered by the definition of legal practice in India. However, the real deal for LPOs is reflected in para 43 of the judgment which states, “The BPO companies providing range of customized and integrated services and functions to its customers may not violate the provisions of the Advocates Act, only if the activities in pith and substance do not amount to practice of law. The manner in which they are styled may not be conclusive. As already explained, if their services do not directly or indirectly amount to practice of law, the Advocates Act may not apply. This is a matter which may have to be dealt with on case to case basis having regard to a fact situation.”

LPOs do not appear before any Court, authority or person. Most of them work on foreign laws, which has been included in the definition of law practice. In an age where overzealous Bar Council is trying its jurisdiction on every sundry issue, making of Regulations is a real challenge before it. Until then, LPOs shall always be in the fear of being shut down or at least facing an inspection by the Bar Council. 

Also, it is not a fact that the judgment satisfies everyone. Crucially, in para 40, the Court has observed, “Scheme in Chapter-IV of the Advocates Act makes it clear that advocates enrolled with the Bar Council alone are entitled to practice law, except as otherwise provided in any other law. All others can appear only with the permission of the court, authority or person before whom the proceedings are pending.” 

Thus, it is clear that the ball is now in Bar Council's Court, which is a player as well as the referee. Are we going to see fresh litigation if a certain entity is practicing law or not? Watch out.



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