The Indian bar, therefore, should not be afraid of competing with lawyers from around the world, both here in India and abroad, he said.
Wilkins, Vice Dean, Harvard Law School, who was here to deliver the convocation address of O P Jindal Global University, said that while regulatory barriers might have been necessary at a certain point to allow India’s commercial legal profession to develop, it is a mistake to believe that such restrictions can exclude competition from foreign lawyers in the long run.
“Foreign lawyers have already made significant inroads in the Indian legal market through ‘fly-in-fly-out’ policies, and technology will only allow these existing inroads to grow. As a result, it is better for the Indian bar to meet the competition head on, especially given the significant increase in the capabilities of Indian law firms over the last several years,” he said.
Wilkins went on to say that the fears of many Indian lawyers about liberalising the legal market are likely to be exaggerated.
“It is unlikely that many foreign law firms will want to set up offices in India,” Wilkins noted, “and those that do will only practice commercial law”.
Foreign lawyers will have little incentive to appear before Indian courts, and those who can do, still be required to demonstrate that they have sufficient knowledge of Indian law and procedure, Wilkins said.
“And for important cases before the Indian Supreme Court, it is very unlikely that any litigant foreign or domestic, would rather have an international lawyer than an experienced Indian Supreme Court Advocates such as Fali Nariman, Harish Salve, Kapil Sibal, Gopal Subramanium and Abhishek Manu Singhvi,” he added.
The law professor further added that finally, making India’s legal market more open would allow Indian lawyers to learn more from their foreign counterparts and vice versa while giving talented Indian lawyers more incentives to stay in the country.
“Right now far too many talented Indian lawyers leave the country to pursue opportunities with foreign law firms in Singapore, London and New York. It would be far better if these young women and men stayed in India and continued building the excellence of the Indian bar,” Wilkins noted.
But in order to achieve these benefits, India will have to invest more in upgrading the quality of legal education in the country, he further said.
Wilkins noted in his recent book, “The Indian Legal Profession in the Age of Globalization: The Rise of the Corporate Legal Sector and its Impact on Lawyers and Society”, that although select National Law Schools and other established institutions such as the Delhi University, and a few private schools like the Jindal Global Law School, provided their students with outstanding legal education, “these schools educate only a tiny fraction of Indian lawyers.”
“Most of India’s remaining 1600+ law schools do not provide anything like this level of quality. As a result, India must work to upgrade the quality of all of its law schools. If it does concludes, there is nothing Indian lawyers cannot achieve,” Wilkins said.