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🇮🇳 India (slightly) opens its doors

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India's legal market might finally open up to UK law firms. The Bar Council of India is planning to change regulations by the end of July, allowing these firms to set up offices in India and advise both Indian and non-Indian clients. This could create new opportunities, though there are still some hurdles, like high fees, administrative challenges, plus opposition from Indian lawyers.

EDITOR’S RAMBLE 🗣

It’s election year in the UK across half the world!

About 49% of the globe will be impacted by this year’s elections👇️ 

But this week it’s the UK’s turn.

So, here’s a rundown of what the experts are saying about the financial impact of the election (learn this to impress your mates).

🔴 Labour will probably win: Polls suggest the opposition Labour Party will win by a big margin. Their main pledges are: boost economic growth, keep spending tight, rein in debt, build new homes, upgrade infrastructure.

📈 It’s a positive for financial markets: JPMorgan (the US investment bank) views a Labour victory as a “net positive” for financial markets. They think banks, homebuilders and grocers will benefit.

😡 Some businesses (like energy) don’t want Labour: Labour’s plans are to nationalise the rail network, increase taxes on energy firms, increase regulation for water companies, push for more spending on green energy infrastructure.

💷 It’ll probably be good for the British Pound: The Japanese investment firm MUFG predicts the British pound could be the biggest market winner if Labour wins. Why? The end of the Conservative Party's unstable tenure, plus potential for improved UK-EU relations post-Brexit.

See? You’re like an economic genius now.

Idin

P.S. there was a slight tech issue at LittleLaw HQ last wee, so some of you didn’t get the newsletter in your inbox. Here’s a link if you want to read it (it was a banger).

🇮🇳 India (slightly) opens its doors

Air India Indian GIF

Credit: Giphy

What's going on here?

India’s notoriously closed legal market might finally be opening up to UK law firms.

The Bar Council of India had discussions this Thursday with the Law Society and Bar Council of England and Wales. It seems India will change its regulations by the end of July, making it easier for UK law firms to enter into the Indian legal market.

Have foreign law firms ever been able to practice in India?

So, India’s Advocates Act 1961 and a 2009 Bombay High Court ruling meant foreign law firms could not get involved in litigation or corporate advisory work in India for ten years

A 2019 ruling by the Indian Supreme Court made things more relaxed — it allowed foreign lawyers to operate in India but only on a fly-in, fly-out basis (i.e. offering consultancy services in India for up to 60 days in any calendar year).

Law firms have got creative to access the Indian market. For example, Dentons combined with the Indian firm Link Legal in 2022. Link Legal lawyers represent Dentons’ clients inside India, while Dentons represents Link Legal’s clients in other jurisdictions.

Despite the ban, foreign law firms have still been advising Indian businesses from overseas, particularly from bases in Singapore or Hong Kong.

What were these discussions with the Law Society?

In March 2023, the Bar Council of India (BCI) issued a press release saying foreign law firms will be allowed to set up offices in India to appear as arbitrators or advise clients on the international elements of corporate work.

However, they clarified things a few days later, stating that when foreign law firms are operating in India, they’ll only be restricted to advising non-Indian clients on India-related matters. This wasn’t really a big change from how things were anyway — international firms already do this from offices outside of India.

The Law Society raised this during discussions and the BCI agreed to allow law firms to advise Indian clients, as well as non-Indian clients, from Indian offices (but the final draft of this regulation hasn’t been published yet).

So, it’s smooth sailing from here?

Well, not exactly.

😡 Indian lawyers aren’t happy: A group of Indian lawyers have filed a challenge to this legislation in the Delhi High Court.

They argue the legal profession should not “be taken over by foreign market forces.” The BCI doesn’t think this case will stop the new regulations, but challenges like this could delay things.

💸 Foreign law firms will have to pay: According to the draft regulations, the fees for foreign law firms and individuals seeking to establish a practice in India are $50,000 for a foreign firm and $25,000 for a foreign lawyer. In comparison, an Indian firm would have to pay around £2,000 to set up in England. The Law Society raised this and the BCI said it would consider reducing the fee.

🗄️ There’s a lot of admin: Foreign law firms looking to open an office in India could have to deal with 4 separate administrative bodies:

  1. the foreign law firm’s home authority,

  2. the foreign law firm’s home government,

  3. the Indian government, and

  4. the BCI.

Why should law firms care?

India is a *huge* market — it’s the world’s fifth largest economy (and on track to be the third largest by 2028).

With fast economic growth comes mergers, acquisitions and companies going public — all work which international law firms are well placed to help with (they have strong existing corporate and financing expertise).

There are three cities which seem obvious targets for opening offices:

  • Bengaluru — the “Silicon Valley of India”, the world’s fastest growing tech hub,

  • Mumbai — India’s financial centre, and home to the central bank, and

  • Delhi — the centre of the government’s operations.

Some international law firms are already well integrated with the Indian market. For example, Baker McKenzie has 300 lawyers across 40 countries working on India-related matters. Herbert Smith Freehills has advised Indian client Bharti Global on a $1 billion commitment to rescue OneWeb, a distressed satellite company.

For these firms, if the regulations are implemented, they’ll be able to take advantage of their existing relationships to grow more in the region.

Others might wait to see how it plays out for those already integrated before jumping in.

Credit: Laura White

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IN OTHER NEWS 🗞

  • 🇬🇧 US law firms Perkins Coie is starting a new kind of training contract in London to help students from low-income backgrounds get into law. The law firm (which has a focus on tech clients like Google and Meta) just opened its London office last month. It’s introduced a new training program which uses the new SQE rules to make the training process one year shorter.

  • 🏫 BPP, the law school and training company, is up for sale. Its owners are TDR Capital, a UK private equity firm. They want more than £2.5 billion for the business (the buyer will probably be another private equity firm). They bought BPP for less than £700 million in 2021. Many top law firms, like Hogan Lovells, Linklaters, and Freshfields, send their future trainees to BPP.

  • 🚫 A human rights group is asking the UK’s financial regulator to block Shein’s plan to list on the London Stock Exchange. The group ‘Stop Uyghur Genocide’ (which is being backed by the law firm Leigh Day) alleges Shein uses forced labor from Uyghur people in its supply chain. The group wrote to the Financial Conduct Authority urging it to reject Shein's listing. Shein denies the forced labor claims, stating they have a strict policy against it.

  • 💼 Paul, Weiss, a top US law firm, is launching a new UK training contract program in London. Starting this autumn, they plan to recruit 5-10 trainees to begin in 2026 and earn £180,000 upon qualification (matching the highest pay in the market). This move is part of the firm’s expansion in London, where the firm has grown its team significantly over the past year.

  • 🤖 Bird & Bird is running a big trial with AI company Leya. This trial will test how Leya’s AI can help with tasks like analysing laws, drafting contracts, and reviewing documents. The trial will start in the UK, Germany, Spain, and the Nordic offices. Leya’s CEO, Max Junestrand, says it will help refine their AI tools. Bird & Bird's CTO, Karen Jacks, said this trial is part of their strategy to lead in legal tech.

As more firms are adopting tech (like the Leya story), I’m curious about adding more legal tech stuff to LittleLaw.

What do you think? 👇️ 

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STUFF THAT MIGHT HELP YOU 👌

  • 📹️ Free application help: If you're applying to commercial law firms, check out my YouTube channel for actionable tips and insights into the lifestyle of a commercial lawyer in London.

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