Advertising Restrictions for Indian Law Firms – A Boon or a Bane?

This article was first published in Lex Witness October 2014 issue.

With about 1.2 million lawyers, India along with the United States ranks as the country with the most number of lawyers. The country is at the threshold of great change, and as markets open up around the world and India Inc. becomes more globalized by the hour, India’s legal community faces a whole new set of challenges that comes with such globalization.

The legal community across the world plays a critical role in shaping their countries. In India, the lawyers not only hold important positions in the administration of justice to the second largest populated country of the world, but also facilitate in crucial policy making and changing processes.

What Does The Rule Book Say?

The Indian Bar Council plays an important role in setting world class standards for the country’s legal community to not only excel at what they do within the Indian jurisdiction, but also ensure that it is amongst the most vibrant and tenacious legal communities in the world.

In order to uphold and maintain the values and principles, The Bar Council of India has set out professional and ethical standards within the legal community. Among other things, these standards spell out an advocate’s duty towards the Court, Clients, Opponents and Colleagues.

As per the Ethical Standards set out by the Bar Council on ‘AN ADVOCATE’S DUTY TO COLLEAGUES’

“An Advocate shall not solicit work or advertise, except through a medium maintained by the Bar Council of India, either directly or indirectly, whether by circulars, advertisements, touts, personal communications, interviews not warranted by personal relations, furnishing or inspiring newspaper comments or producing his/her photographs to be published in connection with cases in which he/she has been engaged or concerned. His/her sign-board or name-plate should be of a reasonable size. The sign-board or name-plate or stationery should not indicate that he/she is or has been a President or Member of a Bar Council or of any Association or that he/she has been associated with any person or organisation or with any particular cause or matter or that he/she specialises in any particular type of work or that he/she has been a Judge or an Advocate General.

oliciting work or advertise” as used in this clause of the Code would not mean and include setting up of a web-site by an advocate or a law firm giving only basic information about the names and number of lawyers in a law firm, the contact details and areas of practice. This would apply similarly to lawyers’ brochures and law directories.”

A Boon Or A Bane?

While it is understandable that the regulations and laws revolving around the advertising aspects of the Indian Law Firms aim to protect the sanctity of the profession as well as the public at large, however this beyond a level also creates a handicap for the fraternity to compete with the profession at global levels. The standards are great if they can be equally enforceable, which unfortunately not the case is. The fraternity can definitely pledge to maintain the sanctity with liberal laws in place. Right from advertising to strategic techniques to position themselves as thought leaders, being heard and seen at the right places, and in the process promote their service offerings in the most professional manner. This will not only let the fraternity create a stance for themselves through various branding and advertising platforms but will also let them race harder in the global competition in the legal profession.

IS Change On the Horizon?

Earlier this year, it was reported that the Bar Council of India has responded to widespread demands by announcing it is to lift restrictions on law firm websites. Albeit Indian law firms were permitted the have websites since 2008, they had to adhere to the advertising restrictions imposed by the Bar. The rules only allowed for the website to specify contact information, areas of specialisation, and qualifications.

The Indian legal profession has grown over a short period of less than 50 years to become the world’s largest branch of the profession. The legal system does an impressive job of reflecting the diversity of Indian society, its social hierarchies and realities, while efficiently delivering justice through Courts.

Due to globalization, the effects of the world economy are being felt, with foreign law firms seeking entry into the Indian space and Indian law firms handling transactions with global implications. This creates an inevitable need for evolution of rules through reforms in legal education and ethics. It can only be hoped that as the nature of legal services sought by the consumers of legal service change, the profession in India will evolve and rise to the challenges that they raise.

Photo Credit: NovelGrounds

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