Hot Off The PressNews

No fresh permissions/ renewal of permission shall be granted by the Reserve Bank/AD Category-I banks to any foreign law firm for the opening of Liaison Office in India, till the policy is reviewed based on, among others, final disposal of the matter by the Supreme Court in Bar Council of India v. A.K. Balaji, (2018) 5 SCC 379

Supreme Court has while disposing of the case, held that Advocates enrolled under the Advocates Act, 1961 alone are entitled to practice law in India and that foreign law firms/companies or foreign lawyers cannot practice the profession of law in India.

As such, foreign law firms/companies or foreign lawyers or any other person resident outside India, are not permitted to establish any branch office, project office, liaison office or other place of business in India for the purpose of practicing legal profession. Accordingly, AD Category – I banks are directed not to grant any approval to any branch office, project office, liaison office or other place of business in India under FEMA for the purpose of practicing legal profession in India. Further, they shall bring to the notice of the Reserve Bank in case any such violation of the provisions of the Advocates Act comes to their notice.

All other provisions of the BO/LO/PO policy shall remain unchanged. AD Category – I banks may bring the contents of this circular to the notice of their constituents and customers.

Read the detailed Notification here: NOTIFICATION


Reserve Bank of India

[Press Release dt. 23-11-2020]

Op EdsOP. ED.

As places that tend to be extremely crowded like the trial courts, appellate courts, consumer forums, and tribunals across India continue to be deserted since the lockdown in March, there is a compelling argument to adopt this as a new normal.

As the courts encourage cases that were heard in front of a Judge to be taken up for hearing via videoconferencing, lawyers and their clients need to embrace virtual courtrooms to ensure the continuity of the judicial system. Even corporate lawyers who typically only offer legal advice and prepare legal documents need to learn about the technology available for the legal system to carry on serving their clients.

Lawyers need to use this time to read and learn about legal technology, which will enable them to work effectively and efficiently no matter where they are. This includes equipments for working both remotely and from the office, case tracking, videoconference calls, drafting and negotiating contracts.

If you are in the legal profession and looking to setup or augment your office in line with the current virtual requirements with the latest legal tech, here are some ideas to help streamline the process.

Invest in smart office solutions

 With so many people working remotely, there is an increasing need to invest in the latest tools to assist in working from home and connecting seamlessly. Most people have atleast one computer and a high-speed internet connection in their homes. However, there are means to augment the performance of these devices for better connectivity and efficiency. For example:

  • It’s better to have a laptop with a docking system rather than a desktop. This will help in mobility and, if need be, you can connect an external monitor, mouse to make it more comfortable to work in your home office. If need be, as second screen can be added to help in reviewing documents side by side. My personal experience is that productivity increases considerably if these methods are used.
  • While nothing can compare with a well-stocked library, it may be time your office switches to online legal/business research tools due to the time and risk associated with ordering books or copying passages related to current cases the firm is working on.
  • It is essential to purchase licences for conference call software. Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and Zoom are some of the most popular options for videoconference calls and meetings with clients. You can even record the sessions for future use. Microsoft Teams even helps reduce email chains as you can share documents among your team of advocates, paralegals, and even with clients. Microsoft Teams also allows multiple people to collaborate and work on documents simultaneously.
  • For videoconferences, whether it is appearing in a virtual court, arbitration, or a client meeting, ensure your room is well lit, with no bright light facing the camera, and ensure your camera isn’t facing the window. This will impact the quality of the video and therefore the conversation. Invest in a high-quality external speakerphone or a mic and speakers for calls lasting more than an hour. Computer speakers and mics are not as effective, and putting headphones on for hours can potentially damage your eardrums.

Implement a knowledge management system

 While knowledge management (KM) is considered a function for large law firms,  it remains elusive to solo practitioners. Generally, large law firms have an established KM department where professional support lawyers are responsible for research, using tools, and managing knowledge for the entire firm.

I highly recommend every firm, no matter the size, invest in developing a KM department to assist in the cases. There is no reason to buy sophisticated tools, so long as you follow my recommendations on some basic procedures:

  • KM should be stored on cloud services like Google Drive or Microsoft One Drive to provide every member of the firm access to any needed documents by logging in with the provided credentials. In addition, both servers have features limiting access to different files/folders to selected individuals depending on the confidentiality requirements.
  • Ensure all the research documents, whether draft or final, used or unused, are appropriately named and stored in a single folder that can be easily located for later reference. It is also a good idea to invest in a high quality PDF convertor and/or PDF scanner. Free tools available on the internet often leave their brand as watermark and even the confidentiality of the document is lost once you upload it on the web. If you still choose to use the freewares please at least ensure they are not banned by the Government. For example, recently a Judge was displeased when an advocate used one of these banned freeware scanners.
  • Create a folder containing necessary documents for clients or legal research accessible to everyone who works in the firm. Make sure you name these in a clear and concise manner. There is no one size fits all when it comes to how to name files and folders. However, there does need to be consistency throughout the firm on how to name them. New joiners, including interns,should be briefed within a week of joining on how to name and file everything to ensure the continuity of the filing system. This may sound a lot of work, but this is a basic practice in managing the knowledge of a firm and needs to become the “habit” of the firm. Whenever you get a new client, it is far more time-conscious to refer to similar former cases rather than starting all the research from scratch. For larger firms where KM is already established, I recommend going a step further and evaluating how artificial intelligence and machine learning tools can help automate the KM process to provide the relevant information at the click of a button. For example, in a Mergers and Acquisitions  exercise, looking for specific information in thousands of contract documents can be a tedious task. Thankfully, today there are tools that can extract this information for you in a fraction of the time it would take a human to find it.
  • Investing in case management software that stores every file related to each case/client in one place will be useful if you are a panel lawyer/retainer with multiple cases on a similar point of law. Case management software helps you segregate the files, track them, and creates alerts for the next hearing date. Today case management software can also help track your timesheets and bill clients.
  • As automated tools become increasingly accurate, data extraction, creating the first draft of contract, redlining contracts, and workflows are becoming the new normal. Many large firms around the world are using these systems more effectively, and are delivering the desired results.
  • A word of the warning – very few of us take the need for anti-virus or firewall protection seriously enough. Moving to an online platform with most, if not all, of the lawyer’s intellectual property stored on software requires that firms should invest in a good anti-virus software, as well as external storage devices to keep back-ups of important information. A simple web search can help you find some very good options are available at every price point, meaning smaller and newer firms can get the protection. Even back-ups can now be kept on a cloud server, so everyone should choose a model that suits them.

Go virtual

 If you create a virtual office using the above tools, the strain of not meeting your clients face-to-face will be considerably less. In addition, moving to e-signatures or digital signatures, if permissible in law, will make the process smoother when meeting clients face-to-face isn’t possible.

While practicing law has always been based on the personal interactions between lawyers and clients, we need to move away from more traditional ways of practicing law, including in-person court dates, document signing, and meetings for case updates. Making this shift toward a more virtual space is fast, safe, and doesn’t require a face-to-face meeting.

Contract negotiation teams are created virtually now, and the negotiations are discussed and agreed via videoconference. Advocates, or anyone else for that matter, who are not used to working remotely will need to learn and adapt to this practice.

In summary, while we recover from the pandemic, the need to adopt a new normal, redraft the rules of the game, and play within them, while maintaining social distancing, is paramount to keeping the legal system operating as usual!


*Mani Agarwal is the Global Head of Contract Compliance & Optimization practice at Capgemini. He started his career as a litigation lawyer before taking up corporate assignments. He can be reached at mani.agarwal@capgemini.com.  Views expressed are personal.

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the matter where it was brought to the Court’s notice that an advocate had demanded 16% of the amount received by the client in a Motor Vehicle accident claim as fee, the bench of AK Goel and UU Lalit, JJ asked the Government to take cognizance of the issue of introducing requisite legislative changes for an effective regulatory mechanism to check violation of professional ethics and also to ensure access to legal services which is major component of access to justice mandated under Article 39A of the Constitution.

The Court referred to the 131st Report of the Law Commission of India, wherein it was recommended that maintenance of irreducible minimum standards of the profession was a must for ensuring accountability of the legal profession. While considering the mounting cost of litigation, it was observed in the report that fee charged by some senior advocates were astronomical in character and that it was the duty of the Parliament to prescribe fee for services rendered by members of the legal profession. It suggested that first step should be taken to prescribe floor and ceiling in fees.

Noticing that though the 131st Report was submitted in the year 1988, no effective law has been enacted to regularize the fee or for providing the public-sector services to utmost needy litigants without any fee or at standardized fee, the Court said:

“Mandate for the Bench and the bar is to provide speedy and inexpensive justice to the victim of justice and to protect their rights. The legal system must continue to serve the victims of injustice.”

The Court also took note of the 266th Report submitted in the light of the decision in Mahipal Singh Rana v. State of Uttar Pradesh, (2016) 8 SCC 335, which observed that the conduct of members of the legal profession who do not follow ethics contributes to the pendency of cases owing to the dilatory tactics such as unjustified strikes, seeking adjournments on unjustified grounds, etc. The Report said that there was dire necessity of reviewing regulatory mechanism not only in the matter of discipline and misconduct but also in other areas. It was suggested that constitution of the Bar Council required a change for which an Amendment Bill was also recommended. [B. Sunitha v. State of Telengana, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 1412, decided on 05.12.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Showing concern over the urgent need to review the provisions of the Advocates Act, 1961 dealing with regulatory mechanism for the legal profession and other incidental issues, the Court asked the Law Commission of India to go into all relevant aspects in consultation with all concerned at an early date and the Government of India to take further appropriate steps in the light of report of the Law Commission within six months thereafter.

The 3-judge bench of A.R. Dave, Kurian Joseph and A.K. Goel, JJ. took note of the provision under Section 24A which debars a convicted person from being enrolled applies to an advocate on the rolls of the Bar Council for a period of two years and said that a person convicted of even a most heinous offence is eligible to be enrolled as an advocate after expiry of two years from expiry of his sentence.

The Court was hearing the appeal in a decade old matter where the appellant was held guilty by the Allahabad High Court of Criminal Contempt for intimidating and threatening a Civil Judge and was directed not to enter the court premises. The Court had issued notice to the Bar Council of India and the Bar Council of Uttar Pradesh to initiate appropriate proceedings against the appellant for professional misconduct, however, no action has been taken by the Bar Council. In view of such failure of the statutory obligation of the Bar Council of the State of Uttar Pradesh as well as the Bar Council of India, the Court held that suo moto action can be taken under the Advocates Act in view of proved misconduct calling for disciplinary action. The Court further added that by virtue of statutory appellate power under Section 38 of the Advocates Act High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution in appropriate cases on failure of the Bar Council can also take action after its attention is invited to the misconduct. [Mahipal Singh Rana v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 663, decided on 05.07.2016]

Supreme Court

Supreme Court: Dismissing the appeals, the bench of M.Y. Eqbal and R. Banumathi, JJ held that the retired officials who joined legal profession constitute a separate class and the disentitlement of the benefit of lump sum welfare fund under the Tamil Nadu Advocates Welfare Fund Act, 1987 to this group of advocates cannot be said to be unreasonable.

The Court further said that the retired employees have the substantial retiral benefits, gratuity apart from receiving pension. Some amount of financial stability is ensured in the form of pension and terminal benefits to these advocates who joined law profession after retirement. Making them eligible for lump sum welfare fund under the Act would actually amount to double benefit to them placed better than their counter part lawyers who struggle through difficult times.

The class of lawyers who choose this profession as the sole means of their livelihood are the real deservers because they stand difficult times in the profession and. also because they form a separate class from that of retired persons. The retired officials who joined legal profession constitute a separate class and so this distinction is not arbitrary, unreasonable and violative of Article 14. Therefore, the disentitlement of the benefit of lump sum welfare fund to this group of advocates cannot be said to be unreasonable. 

Advocates Welfare Fund is enacted with the object of providing social security in the form of financial assistance to juniors and the welfare scheme for indigent or disabled advocates. As the appellants are already in receipt of pension from their employers so there is no arbitrariness in excluding them from the applicability of Bihar State AdvocatesWelfare Fund Act 1983.S.Seshachalam v. Bar Council of Tamil Nadu, 2014 SCC OnLine SC 1011, decided on 16-12-2014