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India: the next legal hotspot?

Posted by: Laurence Simons 27/03/15

For a country that boasts 1.2 billion people, a gross domestic product of $1,876.8bn (USD) and 3% of the world economy, India has always be an ‘interesting’ place to do business. For the last couple of years India’s interest to foreign professional service firms has become greater.

Last year, accountancy firm Ernst & Young found that “53% of more than 500 business leaders around the world planned to enter or expand their operations in India within the following 12 months”. The corporate giants of the world such as Diageo, GSK, Unilever and Vodafone are all making long term investments. This huge investment will naturally boost the legal industry in India and as such the Indian legal market is quickly becoming one of the most talked about areas within the legal world.

In recent months the demand for Indian qualified lawyers has increased and more international firms are setting up specialist ‘India desks’ in locations such as Singapore, London and Dubai. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise considering its legal market is valued at $1.07bn (USD) and has averaged a growth rate of 13% for the past three years, according to RSG Consulting, a London-based consultancy practice.  That figure combined with India’s current growth rate of 5%, predicted to be 7.2% annually in just 10 years (according to global management consultant firm McKinsey & Company), makes India one of the most sought after legal arenas.

As promising as it sounds, it’s not that simple. There is a law prohibiting foreign firms having an office in India; many of the world’s largest law firms are either working with local firms or they have set up their own ‘India desks’ in nearby countries as mentioned. Whilst the law blocking foreign firms setting up locally may sound strange there is sound logic for this. The 1991 foreign exchange crisis almost caused India to default on its foreign currency obligations leaving the country with a cautious approach to foreign investment and debt.

Notwithstanding, the demand for dual-qualified Indian lawyers is greater than ever. An Indian qualified lawyer with a second legal qualification, from a country such as the UK or North America, is a prized asset to a non-Indian legal firm. It’s an encouraging trend that can only benefit the legal market in India and with over half a million lawyers in the country, it’s a potential goldmine. As Laurence Simons has been on the ground in both Delhi and Mumbai since 2012 we are perfectly placed to see the developments as they happen in real time. Exciting times are ahead over here and we look forward to seeing how this fascinating country develops its legal industry in the coming years.