The globalization of the legal profession is experienced at the meeting point between the demand for international legal services by international businesses and corporations that operate in countries like India and China, and the supply of legal services by lawyers and law firms whose national identities are fast blurring in response to these demands. If indeed there is likely to be a dramatic increase in GDP coming from Asia, Africa and Latin America, with the combined US and Western European share dropping from 48% to 18% as projected by the IMF, the nature of the practice of law is likely to witness a dramatic change as well. Irrespective of whether lawyers practice in large law firms, in corporations as in-house counsel, or public interest organizations, they are already beginning to witness the growing importance of countries like India and China.
The GLEE project at Harvard Law School organized a highly successful sequence of conferences in New Delhi, India in October, 2011 to bring together high profile legal professionals, judges, academics, industrialists, and thought leaders in India to discuss and map out the ongoing changes in the landscape of the legal profession. The first daylong conference in this sequence saw mostly legal academics and social scientists presenting focused ideas and outlines of proposed empirical work and hypotheses about changes in legal education, the profession, and the regulation of the profession. The presentations included a wide range of topics, from cross-border Mergers and Acquisitions in India to strategies of social inclusiveness in the context of emerging elite law schools in India. The discussion on Mergers and Acquisitions initiated by Professor Umakanth Varotil (National University of Singapore), highlighted the growing potential for in-bound Merger deals and for out-bound deals wherein Indian companies are starting to acquire companies in the UK, the US, and Western Europe. The conference also discussed the growing phenomena of legal process outsourcing. Professor Vic Khanna (University of Michigan Law School), member of GLEE at HLS, analytically explored the emerging inclination of law firms to consider reengineering their supply chains. It is not uncommon to find several law firms in the US hiving off parts of their production of legal services to outsourced and off-shored service providers in other countries.
The main public event of GLEE in India was organized on October 10, comprising panels on the transformation of Indian legal education and the transformation of the Indian legal profession. The panel on the transformation of legal education in India brought out the challenges of reforming education to produce the human resources needed to cope with the increase in demand for lawyers capable of delivering high valued services to multinationals. N.R. Madhava Menon, founder of National Law School of India University, spoke about the vision he had when he started NLSIU—that it was originally purely intended to produce lawyers who would serve the country in public interest areas, and how the institution evolved into something that started to produce mostly corporate lawyers who serve elite law firms and corporate in-house legal departments. C. Raj Kumar, Dean of Jindal Global Law School spoke at length about his own experiment to carry forward Mr. Menon’s vision when he started the Jindal Global Law School. The sophisticated conference audience was in no doubt that serving the corporate sector in India is not mutually exclusive from serving in public interest in India.
The panel on transformation of the Indian legal profession provided deep insights into the emergence of the relatively new species in the Indian legal profession—the law firm. Hitherto, lawyers who practiced in courts have dominated the legal profession in India. The law firm as a new form of organizing the production of legal services in India, now provides mostly transactional services in contrast to what practicing lawyers do in courts—i.e., litigate. Mr. Cyril Shroff of premier law firm Amarchand Mangaldas, who participated in this panel, pointed out that law firms are starting to explore possibilities of employing lawyers who practice in courts. He warned that this is likely to upset the monopolistic position that elite standing counsel in courts in India currently enjoys by increasing competition. Last, but not least, the contentious issue of allowing foreign lawyers and law firms in India was also a part of the discussion. Mr. Lalit Bhasin, a noted advocate who speaks out against allowing foreign lawyers and law firms in India spoke of the need to fix the legal system internally before thinking of allowing foreign lawyers to practice in India.