Keynote Speech by Ambassador Richard Verma: The Opening of India’s Legal Services Sector

India Habitat Center, New Delhi

(As prepared for delivery)

Good Afternoon.  It’s a pleasure to be here with you this afternoon.  I would like to thank Professor Jayanth Krishna from Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law Center and Dr. C. Raj Kumar from O.P. Jindal Global University for the invitation to speak with you today.  I am very pleased to share the stage this afternoon with the Chairman of the Bar Council of India – Shri Manan Kumar Mishra.  I appreciate the work that Chairman Mishra is doing to strengthen and reform the Indian legal system in this time of tremendous growth and change.  I am eager to hear the insights from the stakeholders that will share their perspectives during the panel discussion.

This is not the first time I’ve spoken about the opening of India’s legal service sector and the reason why I keep coming back to this topic is this: For India to fulfill its global economic potential, it should participate in the gradual globalization of the legal profession.  Consider how frequently one encounters a transnational corporation with specific needs at an international office; or a commercial contract where the supply chain begins in Vietnam but has inputs from India, Mexico, and Korea before being sold in a market somewhere like my hometown Johnstown, Pennsylvania.  These days, transactions are increasingly global and often require legal services from a variety of jurisdictions.   Discussions like the one that we are having today recognize the needs, and the challenges, of opening India’s legal services sector.  Kudos to Indiana University and O.P. Jindal Global University for advancing the dialogue.

University Partnerships 

The relationship between Indiana University and O.P. Jindal Global University started in 2009 when Jindal Global University was founded.  Since then, the law schools from both universities have organized many student exchanges, faculty exchanges, joint conferences, and joint publications.  And as JGU has grown its course offerings and influence, so too has the relationship between Indiana University and JGU.  Academic relationships such as these do much to build the ties between our two countries, across generations of scholars and professional practitioners.

The U.S. Mission is focused on promoting these types of student flows between our two countries, and creating a policy and regulatory environment in which institutional partnerships can flourish.  We are reviewing how U.S. universities – including schools of law and other graduate schools — might be able to contribute to the Government of India’s efforts to improve the quality and access to higher education in India.  In late June, the Ministry of Human Resource Development released the first draft of India’s new National Education Policy.  It has been 30 years since the last national education policy, which was written at a time before India’s market liberalization and the internationalization of higher education.  We welcome the draft policy and its recommendation to further international partnerships.  We are currently working on a bilateral agreement with the Ministry that would structure our discussions and cooperation so that together we can focus on the opportunities this new government is creating in the field of higher education.

Value of Legal Education

It is a special privilege for me to address this bright group of future lawyers studying at JGU.  You may know that I studied law at American University and completed my LLM at Georgetown University.  My parents were a bit disappointed that I didn’t choose to go into medicine – I’m sure at least some of you in this room can relate to that!  Seriously though, studying law laid the foundation for my career in public service.  I assure you that you are in an incredibly dynamic field that has much to offer professionally, and will enable you to accomplish great things for your community, your country, and for the world should you choose to do so. And I hope you do.

In preparing to speak today, I looked back at where the trajectory that studying the law has led me.  I started my career in the US military – as a Judge Advocate, which was such a rewarding experience – one that helped me in so many ways.  Then it was off to the private sector where I practiced law for many years in the international trade and regulatory compliance arena.  From there, I had a unique opportunity to witness and influence the inner workings of the American legislative process on Capitol Hill, including serving as Senior National Security Advisor to the Senate Majority Leader.  I also spent time leading the Legislative Affairs office of the State Department with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, where I often dealt with a mix of legal, policy and legislative matters.  Even today, as the U.S. Ambassador to India, I use those same skills I learned years ago at American and Georgetown to strengthen and grow the relationship between our nations.  As lawyers, you too will develop skill sets that can be employed in a host of settings and I encourage you to use those skills to think creatively, challenge yourselves, and contribute to the world around you.

Need for Legal Liberalization

The collaboration between JGU and Indiana University is an excellent example of how much the U.S.-India relationship has grown and continues to grow.  President Obama and Prime Minister Modi have met no less than seven times in the two years Prime Minister Modi has been in office. These meetings have helped to institutionalize our cooperation and put us on a long-term footing for close collaboration in several key areas.  In one of those meetings, President Obama referred to the U.S.-India relationship as “one of the defining relationships of the 21st century.”  And in his recent address to the United States Congress, Prime Minister Modi said, “in every sector of India’s forward march, I see the U.S. as an indispensable partner”.  This clear and direct endorsement of our partnership underscores that the world benefits when the U.S. and India lead together.

Pivotal to this relationship are our growing economic ties.  Our bilateral trade reached a record $107 billion dollars in 2015, which is three times what it was only 10 years ago.  In addition, U.S. bilateral investment to India has grown from a mere $8.5 billion dollars in 2005 to over $35 billion dollars last year. American firms are taking notice of the Government of India’s focus on investment liberalization reforms and improvements in the ease of doing business.  During the Prime Minister’s visit, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced a three billion dollar investment into India.  In all, American member companies of the U.S.-India Business Council announced plans to invest $45 billion dollars in India over the next two to three years.

It is because of the strengthening of the business climate here that we are extremely encouraged by the work and effort being put in by the Government, the Bar Council of India, the Society of Indian Law Firms, and so many other stakeholders, to draft a plan to open the legal market in India to foreign lawyers and foreign firms.  I understand that a committee of SILF is preparing some recommendations about the process of liberalization.  I look forward to learning more about those recommendations, which I hope will help create a clear and expeditious path for foreign law firms to be able to practice here.

 Open Legal Markets are Mutually Beneficial

I have spoken about this issue on two occasions in prior months, and would like to reiterate a couple of points.   First, I believe that liberalization of the legal sector in India will be mutually beneficial to both India and the United States.  I understand that many members of the bar in India have resisted this move toward liberalization out of concerns that foreign attorneys would displace Indian firms in the fields of litigation or commercial transactions, for example.   But based on what I have heard, seen, and read about this issue, foreign firms’ main intentions are to advise their clients within India, generally in partnership with Indian firms and advisors on the ground. Moreover, both Indian and American private companies frequently say that having law firms from outside India that are familiar with their situation can help close important business deals.  When firms are able to provide multijurisdictional and multidisciplinary advisory services, it is a win for both the legal profession and for the clients served.  A more open legal services sector would also bring increased cross-border investment opportunities for both countries.  I truly believe that Government of India initiatives like Make in India, Smart Cities, Digital India, civil nuclear and defense production and more can be hastened and deepened by liberalization of this sector, because of the cross border expertise and standards that will result.

Importance of Reciprocity

The second point that I want to reiterate from my prior comments is the importance of implementing true reciprocity for practicing law here in India.  No state in the United States requires American citizenship to practice law.  While not all states’ bars are reciprocal with one another, and an attorney may be required to pass the bar of more than one state in order to practice in several states, this requirement is agnostic to citizenship: Americans and non-Americans alike are subject to the same requirements.  All lawyers that practice in the United States, regardless of citizenship, are offered the same set of requirements to practice law.  I know of many excellent Indian lawyers that have passed the bar in the U.S., and they are truly effective attorneys in both countries.  Similarly, there are many American and other foreign lawyers capable of meeting the high licensing standards for the legal profession in India and should be afforded equal opportunities to be effective here.  The United States welcomes both existing and new legal talent and having access to the Indian market will be good for the profession in India and abroad.  I hope to see such reciprocity implemented in India as well.

I know from my own experience as an attorney the tremendous value that attorneys in different fields add to the process, and I have been impressed with the quality of work that many Indian lawyers have produced on behalf of American firms.  India’s reputation as a hotbed of innovation and entrepreneurship is attributed, in part, to gifted lawyers that bolster the legal and commercial framework to launch ideas that are changing the way we live and do business.  And given India’s economic strength, these corporate lawyers have been at the forefront of shaping cross-border transactional legal services for many years.  Foreign lawyers can learn from Indian lawyers through mutual partnerships and gain knowledge on how to successfully navigate the Indian landscape – legally, culturally, politically and commercially.  By expanding the scope of their expertise, Indian lawyers can similarly benefit and grow into competitive players on a global platform.

Today’s round-table offers an opportunity for all interested observers to build trust and understanding and to learn from a wide range of respected professionals and academics.  The varied opinions of the audience and panelists today are critical to drafting and implementing the rules the Bar Council of India is currently writing.

The United States Can Help 

The United States would welcome the opportunity to assist in the process.  I want to see more exchanges between legal experts in India state bars and the American Bar Association in the United States.  These visits are important opportunities for Indian and American attorneys to exchange best practices and better acquaint themselves with the cultural norms of doing business in each other’s countries.  Advances in educational accreditation would allow graduates U.S. legal educational institutions to practice law here which would strengthen the commercial and cultural ties between our countries.

In a global marketplace, those willing to adapt and innovate will retain a competitive edge.  I congratulate the Government of India, and the various key stakeholders today for recognizing this and helping to advance the discussion on legal liberalization.  Common values and a shared commitment to the rule of law underpins the strong partnership between the United States and India.  These shared values have allowed us to cooperate and grow together in so many other fields, and we only stand to benefit from extending our collaboration to the legal services sector.  As India continues to build its stature as a global leader, in this as in all fields, you will continue to have a strong and steadfast partner in the United States.