India shuts doors on foreign firms

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One of India’s highest courts has banned foreign law firms from all forms of practice in India, a major victory for a trade group of Indian lawyers and a defeat for firms that opened liaison offices in India during a brief window in the 1990s.

Representatives of the three firms immediately affected by the Bombay High Court ruling – Ashurst, White & Case and Chadbourne & Parke – have confirmed the nature of the decision and said they are reviewing its implications.

Only Ashurst still has an open liaison office in India, and the firm’s website specifies that the office does not provide legal advice. White & Case conducts much of its India practice from offices in Singapore.

The Bombay High Court’s ruling quashes the optimism some legal observers felt in May, when India’s voters re-elected Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a proponent of liberalising the country’s economy. Foreign law firms have been banned in India since a 1995 high court ruling that closed the brief window during which the three firms named above opened their liaison offices.

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