Legal Profession in India – A Ringside View

Ashok Dhingra [L] Sonia Gupta [R] Co-founders Ashok Dhingra Associates | Insights Success | Best online business magazine

Legally India in an article dated February 18, 2013, had stated that in 2011 there were around 1.3 Million attorneys in India which had grown at the rate of 4% during 2007 to 2011. Fancy for legal education has led to a boom in the growth of legal professionals in India since 2011. Based on rough estimates as of now, there are around 1.5 Million attorneys in India, which is much more than 1.34 Million attorneys in the USA upto 2018 as per data available in public domain.  Hence, India has the largest pool of legal professionals engaged with big, medium to small firms providing full services across sectors, boutique law firms offering niche services to compete with larger counterparts, litigators in courts, especially lower courts and in-house counsels.
India has a federal structure and in terms of constitutional provisions, revenue and law & order subjects are with State Governments. Hence, the majority of criminal and civil matters are fought in lower and district level courts, appeals against the order of which lies to the High Court of the State. While not many cases arising out of orders of High Courts travel to the Supreme Court but still vary a large number of cases are pending decisions before Supreme Court, the highest judicial dispute resolution Institution.
The large part of Indian legal professionals comprises of litigators practicing in lower courts across Country which constitute around 80% percent or more of litigators. Over a period of time, there is steady migration of litigators from lower Courts to District Court to High Court and some make it to Supreme Court. Thus, litigation practice is the backbone of the legal profession in India.
The other areas of practice are boutique, small, medium and large firms providing specialised or full services to clients.
Boutique firms are a recent trend. Many boutique firms are set up by former partners of large firms catering to specialised practice areas or sectors having expertise in these areas. Thus, clients are also benefited by the availability of domain experts at a reasonable fee and service teams led by partners and not mid-level attorneys, as is the practice in some larger firms.
Similarly, small firms are also being set up by attorneys having few of years of experience to enjoy independent practice, carve out a name for them and serve the community. At times few partners with teams from large or mid-size firms split and set up firms which grow over a period of time. Yet large full services law firms have not lost out their charm, which corners a big chunk of work in every practice area they have.
Corporate practice including merger and acquisition are the mainstay of large firms, which also has teams in other practice areas like dispute resolution, white-collar crimes, intellectual property, taxation, etc. However, most of young attorneys’ dream of working as corporate lawyers and work on big transactions or some of them go for litigation practice. While big full services law firms have no competition in corporate practice, these firms don’t have much to offer in taxation and valuation of deals arena in front of Big4 accounting firms.
India is big on the global map as a land of opportunities to set up a manufacturing base here, which has the dual advantage of the availability of a talented pool of professionals and large population driving consumption. In addition, the Government of India is promoting India with various initiatives to make India as a manufacturing hub like Make in India, Ease of Doing Business and pan India roll out of Goods and Service Tax creating a unified market. These initiatives have also created demand for quality legal services in the Country.
In this wave of globalisation, Indian legal industry has a high potential of growth. However, India has protected and reserved legal market barring entry of International Law Firms in India and denying foreign law firms or foreign lawyers practice law in the Country. Even fly-in to provide service and fly-out attorneys are not welcome.
While foreign law firms are not interested in doing litigation practices in lower or superior courts, they are definitely interested in the more lucrative market of corporate practice, arbitration, and other specialised services. On the other hand, a large population of legal professionals opposes entry of foreign law firms in India on the fear of being driven out of practice or losing big clients.
Entry of foreign law firms in India has its own advantages and disadvantages. While foreign law firms bring in best practices and international expertise they would also heat up the Indian market with a high cost of legal services. On the other hand, existing Indian large and medium law firms will be benefited by getting better realisation per hour of billable rates. Of course, the fear of Indian firms of losing good and talented professionals to foreign law firms who have deep pockets is also well-founded.
Having said that there are no sides that one can take. We would refrain from expressing our personal views on the issue. It shall be the Bar Council of India which is the regulatory body of the legal profession to tackle this big question on whether or when these foreign law firms will be allowed entry into the legal profession in India.
About the Authors
Ashok Dhingra
Ashok Dhingra, the Co-Founders of Ashok Dhingra Associates, worked with Indian Customs for more than 22 years, 7 years with Big4 Consulting Firms and for 9 years with law firms Khaitan & Co. and J. Sagar Associates (JSA). In 2014, three partners moved out of JSA to set up Ashok Dhingra Associates. Ashok heads White Collar Crimes, Investigations and Regulatory practice group.
Sonia Gupta
Sonia Gupta is one of the Co-Founders of Ashok Dhingra Associates having the dual qualification of Chartered Accountant and an Attorney. She heads Customs and Trade including Export Controls and Sanctions practice group of Firm.

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