In a setback for U.S. firms who seek access to India's legal markets, the High Court of Judicature at Bombay Dec. 16 held that foreign or transnational law firms cannot set up satellite offices in India unless each lawyer is licensed to practice law in that country, even if the firm limits its activities to consulting and other nonlitigation work (Lawyers Collective v. Union of India, Bombay H.C., No. W.P. 1526/1995, 12/16/09).
Transnational firms that set up “liaison offices” in India to draft and review documents, conduct negotiations, and advise clients on international standards and practices are deemed to be engaging in the unauthorized practice of law notwithstanding the work's nonlitigation nature and even though the legal work does not involve the application of India's laws. This is not surprising, however, because most states in the U.S. also consider such activity to be "practicing law."