Despite a raft of international alliances and the growing globalisation of Indian business, the opening up of India’s legal market seems as far away as it’s been for the past 20 years
The managing partners of most international law firms would be happy if India’s legal market took a lead from cricket’s Indian Premier League (IPL). If that were the case the finest local legal talent would advise alongside rainmakers from the UK and US, with foreign lawyers able to practise on the ground in Delhi and Mumbai. It may not generate quite the same fervour as Sachin Tendulkar et al manage in the IPL’s Twenty20 games but throughout the past decade India has been a legal market to get seriously excited about.
Of course, on the ground, legal advice in India remains a purely domestic affair. Lawyers with experience of the Indian market at the major international firms offer a wan smile at the prospects for liberalisation. It has been consistently touted as ‘two years away’ for much of recent history and hopes for a change in policy by the Indian government usually dissipate on the entrenched opposition of the Bar Council of India. A series of challenges in the Indian courts have certainly not helped the prospects.
India emerging from the downturn
The financial crisis didn’t affect the Indian economy like western countries. There were no bank failures and no sub-prime crisis and although economic growth dipped it remained at very healthy levels. However, there was a clear, indirect impact on the Indian economy.
‘Between 2008 and this year it was unclear how the global economy was going to shake out and so there was an element of uncertainty in the market which affected business morale,’ Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co’s Mumbai office head Cyril Shroff remarks. ‘That said, India was powered by domestic demand and domestic growth.’
On outbound M&A the hope is that Bharti Airtel’s June acquisition of Zain’s African telecoms business for $10.7bn will mark the start of another swathe of overseas acquisitions by Indian corporates. ‘If you take out the Bharti deal, there has been a slowdown in outbound M&A as Indian companies have been consolidating their balance sheets,’ points out Sandeep Katwala, head of Linklaters’ India group. He adds that he expects to see an increase in Indian investment in the Middle East and Africa.
Clifford Chance India head Chris Wyman echoes Katwala’s comment. ‘The last couple of years have been atypical,’ he says. ‘Leaving aside the big billion-pound deals, there’s been a slowdown in the number and size of transactions.’
Foreign lawyers, though, point to foreign investors regaining their appetite for Indian deals. ‘International banks have been coming back into the market since the end of 2009 and private equity is slowly coming back,’ White & Case India head William Kirschner says. As corporate activity has picked up, the local project finance market has remained buoyant.
A report by Project Finance International published in January found that India was the largest project finance market in 2009 with $30bn raised for local projects, up from $19bn in 2008. In addition, it reported that State Bank of India subsidiary SBI Capital topped the global loan chart of major banks last year. ‘The number one sector going forward is infrastructure,’ Aaron Solomon of Solomon & Co insists, adding that he expects to see activity around water projects, offshore oil and gas and power.
At the end of 2009, the Bombay High Court ruled in the Lawyers Collective case that the Reserve Bank of India had acted illegally in granting licences to Ashurst, Chadbourne & Parke and White & Case to open liaison offices in India in the 1990s. That ruling was followed in early 2010 by another case aimed squarely at the Indian practices of a group of 31 foreign firms, as well as outsourcing company Integreon. The case has been filed in the Madras High Court although the government has indicated that it would like to move it to India’s Supreme Court.
While foreign firms remain hamstrung by local regulations, a dynamic if still immature Indian legal market is developing at a rapid pace. In the space of a decade, a raft of spin-off practices has emerged to challenge the traditional players. Lawyers have become more specialised and experienced in cross-border work. Fed by the country’s rapid economic growth, the opportunities for talented lawyers are manifold; arguably only eclipsed by those of their Chinese peers.
While local practices do not have to compete head-on with the largest foreign practices, it’s clear that many have developed despite the regulations that govern legal practices in India. There’s a clear sense that without the opportunity to grow without limits and market in a sophisticated manner to clients, the development of Indian firms is being held back. For many local lawyers, that is of more pressing concern than letting foreign lawyers into the market.
1502, A Wing, Dalamal Towers, Nariman Point, Mumbai – 400 021
Phone: +91 22 6636 7000 Fax: +91 22 6636 7172
- International trade and WTO
- Infrastructure and project finance
- Corporate and commercial
- Dispute resolution
- Private equity and venture capital
- Real estate
- Hospitality and leisure
- Media and entertainment
- Antitrust and competition
Languages spoken: English, Hindi, most Indian regional languages
Other offices: Ahmedabad, Delhi, Pune
Number of partners: 17
Number of associates: 51
Economic Laws Practice (ELP) was founded in 2001 by lawyers from diverse fields. Clients include several Fortune 500 companies, leading Indian and international companies, industry associations, and the Government of India. The firm is well known as a provider of practical solutions.
Among the senior partners of the firm, managing partner Rohan Shah is admitted in England and Wales; Suhail Nathani is admitted in New York and is a member of the US Court of International Trade; Sujjain Talwar is admitted in England and Wales; and Vikram Nankani is a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitration, London and the International Bar Association.
The taxation practice provides a unique blend of experience and offers comprehensive, seamless and integrated indirect tax advisory and litigation assistance. It is one of the few law firms in India that advises and litigates in this highly complex areal, covering customs and excise duties, service tax, sale tax/value-added tax, and transfer pricing. The Indian government has recently introduced legislation relating to the development and operation of Special Economic Zones (SEZs).
ELP’s litigation team handles more than 350 cases per year and has been instrumental in several groundbreaking judgements. In addition, the practice offers the whole range of services, including negotiations mediation, conciliation and arbitration.
The international trade law practice focuses on trade remedial litigation, consulting and government-related advisory work on policy. ELP has one of the largest domestic trade remedial practices in India and has represented domestic industries, exporters and end-users in a large number of cases. ELP has also assisted clients in anti-dumping and countervailing investigations in the EU and the US. Members of the ELP trade law practice are also actively involved in providing legal input to negotiations at the WTO.
The infrastructure/project finance team advises on infrastructure and construction projects in India and internationally. ELP is the market leader in the ports sector, having worked on projects in India, the Middle East and Africa. Projects include airports, rail, energy, power, water and roads.
The media and entertainment team offers legal services across the industry, including to broadcasters, distributors, film financing entities, celebrities, advertising and rating agencies, radio, and multiplexes.
The corporate and commercial team has worked on a number of Indian and international capital markets and M&A transactions, including transaction structuring, conducting due diligence and drafting definitive agreements.
The venture capital and private equity practice represents leading Indian and international venture capital and private equity funds throughout the life cycle of the fund, from formation and structuring to completing investments and, ultimately, implementing exit strategies. The practice also represents emerging, growth and public companies seeking financing. The practice is a part of the rapidly evolving venture capital and private equity ecosystem in India.
ELP has a fully-fledged practice in project finance, corporate finance and structured finance transactions, which encompasses the areas of rupee financing, external commercial borrowings, overseas direct investments, and ancillary security documentation. Our lawyers also have experience in the gamut of securitisation/asset reconstruction transactions, having represented some of the pioneering asset reconstruction companies in India.
ELP’s team of lawyers, economists and accountants provides clients with advice on the full range of competition law and policy issues.
There are few legal markets in the world in such a state of flux as India. Most client relationships remain associated to an individual lawyer and less to a firm so that an aspiring partner, frustrated by their lack of prospects for equity or by the general direction of their firm, can move and establish a successful new firm almost overnight.
‘The Indian market is not very mature,’ concedes Cyril Shroff, head of the Mumbai office of Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co. ‘On a scale of one to ten, with ten the most mature, I’d put it at five. Price is an unduly large component of selecting lawyers, which is a sign of an immature market.’
‘The restrictions on undertaking marketing activity need substantial modification in modern times.’
Shardul Shroff, Amarchand
Although AZB & Partners is now viewed as one of the leading players in the market, just six years after it was established, and the likes of Luthra & Luthra Law Offices and J Sagar Associates draw praise and referrals from foreign firms, Amarchand is still name-checked the most as the leading local practice. With brothers Cyril in Mumbai and Shardul in Delhi, the Shroff family maintains a prominent grip at the top of the practice. However, Amarchand is clearly evolving and gradually looking more like a developed US or UK practice.
The firm’s 17 equity partners are now remunerated on a seven-stage modified lockstep. At the end of 2009 the Mumbai office also added a chief operating officer, hiring Valerie Bowles, the former chief executive of UK regional practice Langleys, to take some of the management responsibilities away from Cyril Shroff and to help with the firm’s business development.
Amarchand needs to evolve, particularly given the ambitions of the Shroff family. According to Cyril Shroff, the firm could grow from its current level of around 500 lawyers to more than 1,000 lawyers in as little as five years. ‘India is huge, it’s the size of Europe,’ he highlights. ‘There’s so much domestic work that we’ll need to have 1,000 lawyers.’
Spin-offs and the increased movement of partners between practices have dominated the history of the Indian legal market over the past decade. For example, firms like Mumbai-based V Law Partners, established in September 2009 by a former partner at ALMT Legal, Clyde & Co’s alliance firm in India. Founder Vivek Daswaney had spent his career at ARA Law and then Kochhar & Co before joining ALMT when it was still in its infancy in 2004.
As a minority partner at ALMT (his stake in the business was less than 2%), Daswaney decided that his prospects, at least in the medium term, would be enhanced if he struck out on his own. ‘I thought if I got out and established my own firm, then if I later joined with another firm I would join at a higher level,’ he says. There was also, he claims, a gap in the market below the largest practices for a mid-sized firm focused on a select group of areas such as real estate development. Echoing one of the most prominent trends following the economic crisis, his firm has also embraced alternative billing arrangements, agreeing to effectively act as a client’s in-house legal function, handling a certain amount of work for a fixed fee each month. If the level of work then exceeds the agreed amount, V Law’s fee-earners work on an agreed hourly rate. Daswaney’s rate can reach 7,500 rupees or around £100 per hour, still well below his rate at ALMT of 12,500 rupees or around £160.
V Law’s story is just one of many similar tales in the market. Other spin-offs include Bharucha & Partners, formed in early 2008 by a 13-lawyer breakaway from Amarchand led by husband and wife MP and Alka Bharucha; and, also in 2008, Phoenix Legal – a breakaway from Trilegal. The head of Ashurst’s India practice Richard Gubbins offers a foreign lawyer’s perspective on the change in the market. ‘Indian law firms today are wrestling with their partnership structures given the 20-partner restriction,’ he says. ‘In my view Indian firms will have to change their equity structures, there are so many glass ceilings that if they don’t change young lawyers will vote with their feet.’ As a litany of examples such as V Law and Bharucha & Partners show, many have already done so.
‘Cyprus, Singapore and Mauritius are the main offshore centres for India but in general the offshore market is not well understood.’
Chetan Nagendra, Harneys
Lateral partner hires look set to increase and some in the market predict that consolidation among domestic practices is inevitable. ‘Logically mergers should happen,’ insists H Jayesh, head of 55-lawyer practice Juris Corp. ‘I’m baffled as to why they’re not happening, we would look at a merger according to the value the other firm brings to the table.’
Typically the new practices define themselves in contrast to the traditional Indian firm structure where a few family members hold equity and the prospects for promotion for most are limited. ‘There’s no limit on the number of equity partners and no inheritable stakes,’ says Justin Bharucha, a partner at Bharucha & Partners and son of MP and Alka, describing how his firm is structured. ‘Yes three members of the firm are from the same family, but we have a very flat partnership.’ The new firms are learning from past mistakes and also, increasingly, from the examples of foreign practices in developing their own businesses. Many senior partners at Indian firms view their ability to turn their hand to a broad range of work from corporate to litigation as a key strength – you can still find corporate partners who also double up as, say, their firm’s head of employment. However, there’s no doubt that there has been a trend towards specialisation as the size and complexity of work has increased.
It’s increasingly common to find firms that focus around a handful of core areas. Economics Law Practice for instance, a firm of more than 60 lawyers which was established nine years ago, concentrates the majority of its resources on tax, infrastructure and trade work. ‘We’ve added corporate and litigation expertise but the core remains tax, infrastructure and trade,’ explains Sujjain Talwar, one of the firm’s founders. ‘We try not to spread ourselves too thinly and I don’t think we’ll change unless we do a merger,’ he adds.
As firms have grown and matured, those that have entered into alliances have turned to their international allies for guidance on areas such as IT, HR and knowledge management.
1104A, Raheja Chambers, Free Press Journal Marg, Nariman Point, Mumbai – 400 021
Phone: +91 (22) 4057 5555 Fax: +91 (22) 2204 3579
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.jclex.com
- Capital Markets
- Corporate and Commercial
- Dispute Resolution
- Private Equity and Structured Finance
- Project Finance
- Real Estate and Conveyancing
Languages spoken: English, Hindi and other Indian languages
Foreign languages known: French and Spanish
Number of Partners: 10
Number of Of Counsel: 2
Number of Associates: 42
Contact: Mr H Jayesh (email@example.com)Ms Detty Davis (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Juris Corp is a full-service law firm founded in the year 2000 by H Jayesh. We are known to ‘act in the best interests of our clients’ and work on bringing down unnecessary or avoidable legal costs through innovation and forward thinking. For a firm our size, we are humbled by the fact that year on year some of the best names in the globe have chosen us to act for the largest and complex transactions in those areas in India. We thrive on quality and winning clients’ trust.
Areas of Specialisation
Banking: The firm’s banking clientele consists of many of the largest international commercial banks having a presence in India and domestic banks. The firm represent banks not only as regards establishing presence in India, but also advises them in their various roles in financing transactions, ie as lenders, underwriters, arrangers, agents, security trustees financial advisors and credit support providers.
Capital markets: The scope of services in the capital markets arena covers national and international transactional work, product development, marketing and regulatory advice. The firm also advises in relation to transactions for private placement of notes in offshore/US markets. The forte of this practice is that it draws on the regulatory, capital markets and tax expertise to provide optimal solutions to clients.
Corporate & Commercial: Significant experience in mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, buy-out of joint venture partners, advising on disputes between joint venture partners and routine advisory work.
Derivatives: Juris Corp prides itself as being THE Indian law firm in the area of Over The Counter (OTC) Derivatives and has emerged as one, through proven competence, expertise and experience.
Dispute Resolution: Has unique experience in not only advising and representing clients in traditional litigation practice but also in complex disputes involving interplay of diverse laws. Has and is playing a crucial role in the evolution of litigation and arbitration in derivatives in India.
Insurance: This has ranged from advisory (legal and regulatory), negotiating and drafting insurance joint venture related documents including structuring the manner of premium to be paid by the foreign partner, structured finance transactions involving use of credit insurance, and derivative transactions by insurance companies.
Private Equity and Structured Finance: Extensive transactional experience in inbound and outbound foreign investment, synthetic foreign direct investment (with/without onshore collateral), acquisition financing, leveraged buy-outs, trade financing, collateralised debt obligations, sponsor financing, restructuring, private equity transactions, etc.
Project Finance: Involved in transactions which range from financing the project, sell down/assignment of the financing, refinancing and restructuring of distressed projects.
Real Estate and Conveyancing: Comprehensive documentary and advisory services on structuring acquisition of property, investing in real estate and traditional conveyance and property related matters. The firm represents property developers, investors and charitable trusts.
Securitisation: The firm possesses market-leading expertise in a broad array of assets and financing techniques. Besides the typical securitisation of auto loans, housing loans and corporate loans, the Firm has been involved in synthetic securitisations also. Has represented investment banks/arrangers, originators (both, financial institutions and corporates) and financial guarantors in a wide variety of securitisation transactions.
Tax: Renders comprehensive advisory, litigation support & representation services in taxation with special emphasis on cross-border taxation and transfer pricing.
The firm has been consistently ranked in the top tiers over the years in Banking & Finance, Capital Markets, Dispute Resolution and Corporate, M&A practice by leading legal directories and publications. The firm was a winner in the Infrastructure and Real Estate category in Euromoney’s ‘Asialaw India Awards’ 2009. The firm has been recognised as one of the top law firms in India for Banking & Finance (2009) and Securitisation & Structured Finance (2009 & 2010) in India Business Law Journal’s ‘Indian Law Firm Awards’.
Since Linklaters announced an alliance with start-up practice Talwar Thakore & Associates (TTA) at the end of 2006 there have been a string of alliances between domestic and international firms. Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Clyde & Co and, among the US firms, Kelley Drye & Warren and Boston’s Brown Rudnick have all allied with local firms to offer their clients as integrated an approach as they can.
But the alliances certainly have their critics among those local practices that have opted against tying up.
‘An alliance is an engagement to marriage; merger or acquisition is the next step so there’s no point in an alliance if you don’t want to merge,’ Amarchand’s Cyril Shroff maintains. He also points to the limitations of the tie-ups. ‘It’s very difficult to integrate – there’s no formal framework, no financial integration or co-branding, so what’s the point? You don’t get the full benefits of integration and you lose referral work.’
Others echo the threat of a diminishing flow of referral work as a reason for not entering into an alliance. ‘I don’t think there’s one firm that can meet all the needs of all our clients,’ asserts Rabindra Jhunjhunwala, a partner at Khaitan & Co in Mumbai. ‘We might have a £10m deal for which a smaller cost-effective firm would do versus a £2bn deal for which a large top-tier firm may be more appropriate.’ Given that around half of the firm’s work involves a foreign law element or is referred by the likes of Slaughter and May, Macfarlanes, Berwin Leighton Paisner and Travers Smith, Jhunjhunwala points out that a tie-up would place his firm at a disadvantage.
FM House, A-9, Sector-9, Noida 201 301, NCR of Delhi, India
Phone: +91 120 4305555/3919555 Fax: +91 120 2542222
E-mail: email@example.com Website: www.foxmandallittle.com
- Corporate and commercial
- Joint ventures and foreign collaboration
- Patents and trade marks
- Real estate, hotel/tourism
- Mergers and acquisitions
- Tax, DTAA and tax planning
- Capital markets
- Arbitration and litigation
- Private equity
- Insurance and banking
- Sports law
- Environmental law
- Employment and labour
- Infrastructre and SEZs
- Energy, oil and gas
Languages spoken: Bengali, English, French, Hindi, Korean, Malayalam, Tamil
Other offices: Bangalore, Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh, Chennai, Dhaka, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, London, Mumbai
Number of partners: 50
Number of associates: 350
Contact: Som Mandal
FoxMandal Little (FML) was established as the largest law firm in India in May 2006 with the merger of leading Indian law firms Fox Mandal and Little & Co.
Fox Mandal was established in 1896 by Mr. J. K. Fox and Mr. G. C. Mandal, who joined together to form one of the first Indo-British partnerships. Established in 1856, Little & Co. is India’s oldest law firm. The firm boasts the unparalleled tradition of being the legal advisor to the East India Company, and the successive governments of the Presidency of Bombay.
Over the years, both Fox Mandal and Little & Co. have been ranked as the top firms in India by various international journals. Recently, we have been awarded ‘Employer of Choice’ 2008, an award based on responses from over 15,000 lawyers region-wide, by Asian Legal Business.
FML received the ‘Client Choice Award’ 2007 in India, an accolade based on more than 1,300 individual assessments by corporate counsel worldwide, from International Law Office, the official partner of the International Bar Association. FML stands apart for its excellent client care and quality of service. The firm has been recognised for its ability to add real value to clients’ businesses, above and beyond that provided by other players in the market.
Among others, we have been awarded ‘The Best Law Firm of the Year’ 2006 in India by International Financial Law Review, a Euromoney publication.
FML has offices in India in Bangalore, Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata and Mumbai; and overseas offices in Dhaka and London.
Representative clients include: Ascott International (Singapore), Bayer AG, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Securities Asia Pacific Ltd., Mitsubishi Corp., Samsung, Citibank, Government of India Dabhol Project, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd., Phoenix Group, Steel Authority of India Ltd., Posco (Korea), Apeejay Finance Limited, UTI Bank, S.K. Telecom Company Limited, DLF, AXA Insurance, Symphony Global Technologies, PLC UK, Spice Telecom, TATA AIG, Kuwait Airways, Primark India Ltd., Alcatel France, Hyundai, Nuclear Power Corporation of India, Carlyle Group, Tyco International Limited.
Phoenix Legal is a full service corporate and commercial law firm offering an extensive range of transactional, regulatory, advisory and disputeresolution services. The firm advises a diverse clientele ranging from companies, banks and financial institutions, funds, promoter groups, public sector undertakings and individuals both in India and overseas. In the short span of its existence, the firm has established itself in the Indian legal market having successfully advised on several complex and prestigious deals.
We are committed to developing strong client relationships, engaging capable and dedicated professionals and investing in technology. We invest time in understanding our client’s business which enables us to contribute constructively to the achievement of the client’s commercial goals by providing solutions tailor-made to our client’s needs.
A few characteristics which set us apart from a conventional firm are: a high degree of partner involvement; high quality commercially oriented legal advice; attention to detail while keeping sight of the big picture; availability and responsiveness of lawyers; and a flexible billing policyaimed at providing value to clients.
Some of the accolades received by the firm are:
a) Euromoney ‘Asia Pacific Oil and Gas Deal of the Year’ 2008. The firm acted as the borrower’s counsel for the US$425m financing of Petronet LNG Ltd’s Kochi LNG terminal.
b) ‘One of the top ten firms to watch out for in Asia in 2009’ Asian Legal Business, January 2009.
c) ‘Emerging Firm of the Year’ India 2009, Asian Counsel.
d) ‘Young and Upcoming Law Firm of the Year’ Rainmaker Law Firm Survey 2009. India’s only publicly determined survey and awards focused on the law firm sector.
e) ‘Best Newcomers’ India Business Law Journal’s 2009 Indian Law Firm Awards.
f) ‘Emerging M&A Firm of the Year (India)’ Corporate INTL Global Awards, 2010.
However, those that have taken the plunge with a foreign practice insist that it’s about more than simply the flow of work between the two sides. For A&O ally Trilegal, the partners were keen to learn from the Magic Circle firm about how to put in place internal structures that would help the firm develop.
‘As we’ve built the practice, the firm’s partners have all been client-facing and it’s hard to grow beyond a certain point if everyone is client-facing,’ admits Anand Prasad, one of the founding partners of Trilegal. ‘You need systems in areas such as HR and IT, and we realised we needed support and a relationship firm could help us grow a larger organisation.’
Although Trilegal started working with A&O soon after it was established in 2000, the Indian practice also worked with the likes of Ashurst, Norton Rose, Davis Polk & Wardwell and Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy. Prasad admits that the alliance has perhaps inevitably affected its ties with other foreign firms. ‘When we established the relationship some of our other strong relationships weakened,’ he comments.
Despite the drop off in some relationships, Prasad concedes that the benefits of the tie-up, at least in the short term, are greater for the local practice. However, as Jonathan Brayne, chair of A&O’s India practice, explains, there was also a clear benefit for the Magic Circle practice. ‘When we started to focus on India and decided that we had to position ourselves in the market, we decided to look for a firm to develop a relationship with to mesh together the two practices,’ he says. ‘We wanted to give clients the same integrated approach as they get from the rest of the network.’
The alliances though, are far from ideal. ‘It’s an odd relationship to develop,’ admits Chris Wyman, India head at Clifford Chance, which set up arguably the leading alliance with AZB & Partners in January 2009. ‘You can’t have a joint venture or share financials, and the main characteristics of business transactions that we advise our clients on are missing. The relationship is based entirely on trust.’
Wyman admits that some parts of the Indian legal community doubt that the alliances are all above board. ‘There’s a suspicion in the local Bar of these relationships because they can’t believe they work like this. I suspect they think there’s a hidden contract and that we’ve paid them a substantial sum.’
The allied firms have, not surprisingly, shown up on deals together. For instance on Indian telecoms company Bharti Airtel’s $10.7bn acquisition of Kuwaiti company Zain’s African business, which was announced in June, Linklaters and TTA took the lead role for Zain while A&O and its Indian partner Trilegal advised the banks. However, the deal also showed that the alliances don’t always overcome existing client relationships as Herbert Smith advised Bharti alongside CC’s ally AZB.
Herbies remains one of the most active foreign firms on Indian mandates that doesn’t have an alliance relationship. ‘Yes we’ve thought very carefully about whether entering into an alliance is the right thing to do,’ admits Chris Parsons, co-chair of the firm’s India group. ‘But remaining independent means that we can receive work from and make referrals to more firms and we don’t step on anyone’s toes.’
Traditionally UK firms have been perceived to be more advanced in targeting India work but there’s a sense that US firms are now much more visible. As RSG Consulting points out in its recent report on the Indian legal market: ‘Despite the UK’s historic relationship with India, corporate eyes are largely turned to the US. As the US wins the most inward investment, there are a growing number of American law firms appearing in the Indian deal tables.’
‘We might have a £10m deal for which a smaller firm would do versus a £2bn deal for which a large top-tier firm may be more appropriate.’
Rabindra Jhunjhunwala, Khaitan & Co
Baker & McKenzie, White & Case and Shearman & Sterling are among those US practices that have established India groups, typically with fee-earners spread from Singapore and Hong Kong to London and the US. In July last year Jones Day, another established player, hired Sushma Jobanputra from Barclays Capital. Now based in Singapore she has brought in India-related work from the likes of ICICI Bank and Tata Technologies.
Californian firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher also made a significant lateral partner hire focused on the Indian market when it poached Jai Pathak from Jones Day in early 2008. Having opened his own firm in India in the 1990s between stints at Jones Day, Pathak has a long track record of working on Indian deals. Splitting his time between Los Angeles and Singapore he co-ordinates a team of around 12 fee-earners who regularly advise on work from the subcontinent.
‘Alliances are odd relationships to develop. You can’t have a joint venture or share financials. The relationship is based entirely on trust.’
Chris Wyman, Clifford Chance
However, it’s not just the major UK and US firms that target the Indian market. Offshore practice Harneys has been growing its share of India mandates since it hired Chetan Nagendra, a former Amarchand lawyer, in 2008. He points out that there is a growing demand for offshore advice on Indian matters. ‘Very few Indian lawyers have a working knowledge of the offshore market,’ he says. ‘Cyprus, Singapore and Mauritius are the main offshore centres for India but in general the offshore market is not well understood.’ Although Harneys doesn’t currently have an office in Mauritius, Nagendra claims that it has plans to open there in the next 12 to 18 months.
While the alliances only amount to very loose affiliations, the Indian work that international firms handle, and the manner in which they organise their India practices, remains a controversial point for many local lawyers. Late last year the Bombay High Court announced its judgment in the long-running Lawyers Collective case, ruling that the Reserve Bank of India had acted illegally in granting licences to Ashurst, Chadbourne & Parke and White & Case which had enabled them to open representative offices on the ground. Ashurst became the last of the three firms to close their office in February this year. In its ruling the court urged the Indian government to address the issue of foreign law firms practising in India ‘as expeditiously as possible’.
If anything, however, local and international lawyers view the opening up of the market as further away under the new government. Hansraj Bhardwaj, the law minister from 2004 up until last year’s general election, was seen as a firm proponent of liberalisation. However, his successor Veerappa Moily has placed greater emphasis on court reform, essentially speeding up the litigation process, than with the liberalisation debate. ‘There’s a recognition now that it’s not an imperative objective,’ Chris Parsons, co-chair of Herbert Smith’s India group, reflects. ‘There isn’t really a great internal pressure for change.’ Unsurprisingly, like most other international firms that are active on India work, the UK practice is firmly in favour of liberalisation.
The most recent case against international practices, originally filed in the Madras High Court by local advocate AK Balaji, is more far reaching, naming outsourcer Integreon and 31 foreign firms. Among those named are all of the Magic Circle, Eversheds, Clyde & Co, Bird & Bird, as well as some US firms such as White & Case, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, and Davis Polk & Wardwell.
Ground Floor, 15 Birbal Road, Jangpura Extension, New Delhi 110 014
Phone: +91 11 4983 0000 Fax: +91 11 4983 0099
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.phoenixlegal.com
- Antitrust and Competition
- Banking and Finance
- Commercial Contracts
- Corporate and Securities Laws
- Dispute Resolution – Arbitration and Litigation
- Oil and Gas
- Employment and Industrial Relations
- Foreign Investment & Exchange Control
- Infrastructure and Project Finance
- Intellectual Property
- International Trade
- Joint Ventures
- Foreign and Technical Collaborations
- Mergers and Acquisitions
- Mining and Resources
- Private Equity and Funds
- Real Estate
- Regulatory Affairs
Languages spoken: English
Number of lawyers: 23
Offices: Mumbai, New Delhi
Contacts: Delhi: Abhishek Saxena, Saket Shukla, Manjula Chawla.
Mumbai: Sawant Singh.
At issue is the advice that the foreign firms provide on India-related matters, the marketing trips they undertake to Indian clients and the arbitration matters that are handled on the ground in the country, all in contravention of the laws governing legal practice in India. The claim also asserts that it is far more cumbersome for Indian lawyers to practise specifically in the UK as compared to the accessibility of the Indian legal market for the UK firms. ‘The attitudes of both the current law minister and his predecessor are pro-liberalisation and both are keen to allow foreign firms to enter India,’ Praveen Singh, a senior associate at FoxMandal Little, explains. ‘However, the present law minister has a broader perspective than the last one.’ So moving the case to the Supreme Court, as the government has said it wants, will help move to a final decision on foreign firms.
The risk now, however, is that this new case drags on for years through the Indian courts, much like Lawyers Collective, while the Indian government maintains that it won’t move on liberalisation until the case is resolved. The UK authorities are also clearly aware of the argument that it is harder for Indian lawyers to operate in the UK market. In December last year, UK Trade & Investment published a report specifically focused on Indian firms looking to set up a UK office.
Cecil Court, 4th floor, Mahakavi Bhushan Marg Colaba, Mumbai – 400 039
Phone: +91 22 2289 9300 Fax: +91 22 2282 3900
E-mail: email@example.com Website: www.bharucha.in
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Languages spoken: English
Other offices: Hague Building, Sprott Road, Ballard Estate Mumbai – 400 001Phone: +91 22 6132 3900 Fax: +91 22 6633 3900
Number of lawyers: 5 At this office: 26
Contacts: M.P. Bharucha (senior partner)Alka Bharucha (senior partner)
Amarchand Towers, 216, Okhla Industrial Estate Phase-III, New Delhi 110020
Phone: +91 11 2692 0500 Fax: +91 11 2992 2900
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Languages spoken: English, Hindi and vernacular Indian languages
Other offices: Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore
Number of partners: 48
Number of associates: 422
Contacts: Mr Shardul S Shroff (Managing Partner)
Founded in 1917, Amarchand Mangaldas is one of India’s leading full-service law firms. It has received national and international acclaim for successful representation of its clients before legal institutions and government agencies, winning advocacy in litigation and guiding business transactions. The firm is part of major headline transactions and litigations in all segments of industry and services, besides representing almost every major transnational corporation on their India entry and business strategy.
Quite often, Amarchand Mangaldas has been in the unique position of being an advisor on the public policy formation in India. Distinguished partners of the firm have been members of many legislative panels to assist the Indian government with a legal perspective on policy related matters.
The firm was recently recognised under ten categories by the IFLR Asia Awards 2010, including ‘Indian Law Firm of the Year’. It was also awarded ‘Firm of the Year 2010’ by Who’s Who Legal; ‘India Deal Firm of the Year’ by ALB SE Asia Law Awards 2010; ‘Best Banking and Finance Team – India’ by World Finance Legal Awards 2010; ‘Dispute Resolution Advisory Excellence in India’ and ‘Business Formation Excellence in India’ by Corporate INTL Global Awards 2010. It has been ranked as ‘Top Law Firm in India’ on quality, reputation and capability by the RSG Top 40 Firm Rankings for 2010.
Amarchand Mangaldas is also the exclusive Indian member firm of Lex Mundi, the world’s leading association of independent law firms.
The firm is at the cutting edge of new issues in law and areas of economic activity, guiding the creation of legal precedents and expanding its services and skills to meet the challenges of change.
Most lawyers at major Indian firms are in favour of liberalisation. ‘I can’t see why legal services should be kept off the economic liberalisation agenda. What is so strategic or unique or sensitive to the defence of the nation that it needs to be kept closed off?’ asks Abhishek Saxena, a partner at Phoenix Legal. Several add though that the laws dictating how local firms market themselves, such as the limited information they can post on a website and a ban on advertising, need to be lifted before foreign firms are allowed in. While they remain in place Indian firms would not be able to compete with international players in a liberalised market.
‘Unless the government of India tackles issues of internal reorganisation of the legal profession and creates an appropriate environment for local firms to flourish, the opening out of the legal services sector is likely to be a remote possibility,’ Shardul Shroff, head of Amarchand’s Delhi office, warns. ‘The restrictions on maintaining a website, on producing a firm profile or brochure, or undertaking marketing activity or limiting the number of partners to 20 need substantial modification in modern times,’ he adds.
As India’s economy adjusts to rapidly modernising times, the country’s law firms are trying to keep pace. LB