Business of Law

ABA President Asks Obama to Push India to Allow Foreign Legal Offices

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Updated: ABA President Stephen N. Zack is hoping President Obama’s recent visit to India will be helpful to American lawyers who want to advise clients there without obtaining a law license from the country.

India requires all lawyers who practice law in the country to be licensed there, even if they don’t handle litigation. Zack sent a letter (PDF) to Obama last week urging him to ask the Indian government to allow American lawyers to open offices in India so they can counsel clients on the laws of the United States, the National Law Journal reports.

Zack pointed out that foreign lawyers have more freedom to practice in the United States than U.S. lawyers have to practice in India. An ABA model rule adopted by 32 U.S. jurisdictions allows licensed lawyers from outside the United States to maintain an office here to advise clients about the laws of their home country. Registration with a local bar or court is required, however. Zack urges Obama to ask India to adopt a similar rule.

Zack writes that lawyers who are well-versed in the laws of the United States, India and cross-border transactions are needed to pave the way for an increase in trade between the two countries. “U.S. lawyers want no more than the rights Indian lawyers have in the United States—a reciprocal opportunity to advise clients on the laws of their home country,” he writes.

Currently, U.S. law firms such as Covington & Burling and White & Case don’t maintain offices in India. Instead, their lawyers travel to the country on a temporary basis to advise clients on U.S. laws. A pending lawsuit seeks to limit the ability of outside lawyers to travel to the country to give legal advice. If it’s successful, lawyers will be adversely impacted and their firms will be unnecessarily disadvantaged, the letter says.

Zack told the NLJ on Tuesday that he had not received a response from the White House and doesn’t expect to hear anything until Obama returns. Meanwhile, a lawyer who accompanied Obama on the trip, Shahana Basu Kanodia, tells Bloomberg News and Legally India that the subject of the Indian legal market was dropped from Obama’s agenda. Kanodia, chair of the South Asia practice group of Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge, said India’s legal market won’t open for at least five years.

“The law-related agenda was actually dropped from the agenda. Initially it was there but then it was decided to focus on the main issues, which from the president’s perspective was job creation,” Kanodia told Legally India.

Updated at 12:35 p.m. to include information from Bloomberg News and Legally India.

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