American Bar Association / ABA, Barack Obama, India, Outsourcing

ABA Asks Obama To Make India Play Fair

Lawyers complain but Obama won't listen.

If you’ve been following along with the trend towards outsourcing over the past few years, you know what American lawyers are up against. Indian lawyers can do American legal work… while American attorneys are shut out of India’s (large and growing) legal market.

As many of you know, President Obama recently fled traveled to India, and ABA president Stephen N. Zack is begging Obama to use his international goodwill to convince India to stop acting like dicks in an exclusionary fashion with respect to American lawyers and law firms.

Zack’s arguments are simple ones, based on sound business practices, free trade, and fundamental fairness. Yet these arguments haven’t worked on Indian legal authorities, and apparently Obama isn’t any more receptive…

Zack’s letter to Obama highlights the different treatment foreign lawyers receive in India as compared to the U.S.:

Under the auspices of the ABA, overseas licensed lawyers including those from India have been enabled to provide their legal services to businesses stationed in the United States. As this letter will summarize, there is an effort in India to deny such reciprocal treatment to U.S. licensed lawyers…

U.S. lawyers want no more than the rights Indian lawyers have in the United States – a reciprocal opportunity to advise clients on the laws of their home country without presuming to advise on the law of a country where they are not admitted to practice.

In case you don’t find “it’s not fair” particularly compelling, Zack makes an excellent case that free trade would also be enhanced if India loosened restrictions:

A critical element in increasing the size of that trade and the relationship between the two nations is the provision of legal services in their support. Such services of lawyers well versed not only in the laws of the United States and India but also cross border transactional matters are plainly essential for such an increase. Obviously, the ability of lawyers in the United States to provide such services is an important issue for the ABA and its membership.

However, there is currently a serious risk that unless action is taken by the Government of India and the Indian Bar Council, such legal services will be curtailed significantly, creating serious and perhaps overwhelming obstacles to the desired increase in United States/India trade contemplated by the March 17, 2010 Framework for Cooperation on Trade and Investment.

But Zack’s point may have already fallen on deaf ears. The ABA Journal reports:

[A] lawyer who accompanied Obama on the trip, Shahana Basu Kanodia [digression: also Lat’s law school classmate], tells Bloomberg News and Legally India that the subject of the Indian legal market was dropped from Obama’s agenda. Kanodia, chair of the South Asia practice group of Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge, said India’s legal market won’t open for at least five years.

“The law-related agenda was actually dropped from the agenda. Initially it was there but then it was decided to focus on the main issues, which from the president’s perspective was job creation,” Kanodia told Legally India.

The president is focused on job creation. Don’t jobs for lawyers count as, I don’t know, “jobs”? How can this president — a former law professor, mind you — totally ignore an issue of such critical importance to lawyers trying to survive in a global economy?

I guess we really shouldn’t be surprised. Obama’s administration has ignored the racket being run by the nation’s law schools, it has ignored the critical need to have better and better government lawyers to “enforce” Obama’s grand financial regulatory reform plans, and now it’s ignoring the way one of our global allies discriminates against American attorneys. Maybe he’s punishing the entire profession because he’s still pissed at Justice Kennedy over Citizens United? Who knows.

For whatever reason, the concerns of actual practicing attorneys always seem to bounce off of his huge ears. Join the club, legal professionals. Whenever your African-American friends or your gay and lesbian friends get too mouthy, Obama sends them a video of Tea Party highlights, with the message “STFU” printed on the DVD.

ABA President Asks Obama to Push India to Allow Foreign Legal Offices [ABA Journal]
Liberalisation talks ditched for jobs in Obama’s visit with DLA, Edwards Angell partners [Legally India]
India Legal Market to Stay Closed Until 2015, Edwards Angell Partner Says [Bloomberg News]

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