International firm Gowling WLG has extended its agreement with an Indian practice as it looks to increase its presence in the country ahead of any freeing up of the legal market.

The firm has revised a referral agreement with Mumbai-based Naik Naik & Company. The agreement enables Gowling WLG clients in need of legal advice in India or those seeking to enter the Indian market to access Naik Naik & Company’s services and vice versa. It builds on an existing relationship between the firm and Gowling’s UK office to include Gowling’s global offices.

Gowling declined to comment on whether it is pursuing a merger that would enable it to formerly enter the Indian market in the long term but it is understood India has long been seen as an important market for the firm. 

International firms currently face obstacles to practising in India. The country is one of few remaining major jurisdictions to restrict legal practice to its own nationals, although there are signs that that may be changing.

In March, India’s Supreme Court gave a limited concession to foreign lawyers, formally allowing them to enter India on behalf of clients on a ‘fly in, fly out’ basis. However, a long heralded freeing up of the legal market – which would let firms open offices in the country – has yet to materialise. For that to happen, there would need to be a change to the Indian Advocates Act 1961.

At the moment, firms are restricted to entering into alliances with local law firms.

Sarosh Zaiwalla, partner at Zaiwalla & Co, described the situation regarding the legal market as a ‘stalemate’. ‘The Indian government is eager to open up the legal market, however there are some lawyers who are strenuously opposed to overseas law firms opening offices in India,’ he said.

Andrew Witts, chairman of Gowling WLG (UK) LLP, said: ‘This is a further step in an already important relationship and represents our commitment to Naik Naik & Company and India as a crucial jurisdiction for Gowling WLG and our clients.’

Canada-headquartered Gowlings merged with UK-based Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co in 2016 to form a new international law firm, Gowling WLG.

Meanwhile another international firm, Pinsent Masons, announced this morning that it itends to open an office in Frankfurt - its third in Germany. The office will be founded by six partners.