"A casual visit for giving advice may not be covered by the expression "practice", the bench of Justices A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit said.
"However, the Bar Council of India or Union of India will be at liberty to make appropriate rules in this regard, including extending the code of ethics even to such cases", the bench said.
The Bombay High Court, in its 2009 judgement, had held that while foreign law firms could not practice in India, foreign individuals may do so after getting registered in India.
However, there is no limitation for them to visit India for a temporary period on a "fly-in and fly-out" basis for giving legal advice to their clients in India relating to the law which is applicable to their country.
Foreign firms, companies and law firms can not practice legal profession in India, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday.
However, it has permitted foreign la firms to participate in arbitration proceedings.
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Due to a phenomenal increase in global arbitrations involving foreign litigants, foreign law firms and lawyers have started appearing in many legal proceedings in India.
The court said that foreign lawyers could, however, come to the country and participate in worldwide commercial arbitration but they have no "absolute right" to do so. The High Court said that "BPO companies providing wide range of customised and integrated services and functions to its customers like word processing, secretarial support, transcription services, proof reading services, travel desk support services etc do not come within the purview of the Advocates Act, 1961, or the Bar Council of India Rules".
It, however, said that foreign lawyers may not be debarred from conducting arbitration proceedings arising out of worldwide commercial arbitration in view of the provisions of the Advocates Act.
The court's verdict came on batch of petitions filed by Bar Council of India and others.
Uday S Ahlawat, partner, Ahlawat & Associates, said, "The judgment doesn't really change anything, unlike the view taken by the courts on "multinational accounting firms" which are prevalent in India, there aren't many foreign law firms practising in India".
"We hold that mere label of such services can not be treated as conclusive".