According to reports, the Bar Council of India has announced it is to lift restrictions on law firm websites.
Now, anyone who has followed the Indian legal market over the years knows that liberalization is always “just around the corner”, so we shouldn’t read too much into this.
But let’s say this does happen as a first tentative step.
Can we expect to see Indian law firms engage more fully in the sort of marketing, advertising, and promotional activities like firms in most other countries?
We certainly know more about Indian law firms than we did 15 years ago.
Legal news sites like Legal Week, The Lawyer, The American Lawyer, and Asian Legal Business cover Indian law firm stories, and Legally India, set up by former lawyer Kian Ganz, has done a fine job of covering Indian legal news in the last few years.
Indian business newspapers like Mint, which has a tie-up with the Wall Street Journal, write about legal market developments.
Martindale Hubbell lists 327 Indian lawyers.
The legal research consultancy, RSG, has published an annual Top 40 Indian law firms ranking since 2008.
Some of the more adventurous Indian law firms have used foreign-based publications and directories as a way of advertising themselves to prospective clients and referral partners.
However, the Bar Council of India’s restrictions have been interpreted more literally by some firms, who have played safe and chosen not to advertise or engage with Western-owned legal publishers.
The move to relax the rules on Indian law firm website advertising is welcome.
Many Indian law firms currently do not have websites at all, and the few that do limit their sites to neutral, factual information.
Khaitan & Co, for example, has this disclaimer on its one-page site:
“Current rules of the Bar Council of India impose restrictions on maintaining a web page and do not permit lawyers to provide information concerning their areas of practice. Khaitan & Co is therefore constrained from providing any further information on this web page.”
The new proposals will allow firms to include more detailed information on their websites from March 2014.
India has 1.2 million lawyers – along with the United States, the country with the most lawyers in the world.
We know little about most Indian firms – mainly the small, elite firms that work with the leading UK and US international outfits.
Sure, many of the 1.2 million lawyers are one-man bands in small villages, but everyone would be better served if we knew more about the richness and variety on offer in the Indian legal market.
On a personal note, I have a special interest in India. My family were in the British Army and moved to India at the start of colonial period. They stayed on for generations, even after Independence. My mother was born in India, and her family live there. I have spent a lot of time in the country throughout my life.
The rise of India is one of the great stories of our age, and it would be good to see the authorities ease up on their protectionist stance so Indian lawyers and law firms can make themselves known to the world.
(Pictured: Indian railway tea stall, taken by Lloyd Pearson in 2002)