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India calling: Freshfields and Linklaters make key India hires as Amarchand opens up its partnership

The periodic excitement over the liberalisation of the Indian legal market may currently be reduced to background chatter but the past fews days have been a reminder that the top UK firms continue to position themselves for India work while leading local firms are themselves bulking up and adopting far more expansive strategies.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has appointed Linklaters’ Arun Balasubramanian to co-head the firm’s India group out of Singapore, working alongside Pratap Amin, chairman of Freshfields’ India group.

Balasubramanian was a partner in Linklaters Singapore office and brings with him India capital market expertise and US law practice in Southeast Asia. He has worked on two of the largest IPOs in Indian history: DLF Limited (US$2.2bn) and Cairn India Limited (US$1.9bn).

Freshfields senior partner Will Lawes said: ‘Arun’s market knowledge and experience will make him an invaluable member of our India team and will greatly enhance the already considerable level of experience within Freshfields for Indian work. We also expect Arun to contribute to the development of our fast growing Southeast Asia practice.’

Rob Ashworth, Freshfields’ regional managing partner for Asia added: ‘We have a strong and growing Asian practice. The Indian and Southeast Asian markets are increasingly important to the firm’s clients and Arun’s experience will enhance our ability to assist them.’

However, Linklaters has already gone some way to offsetting its loss with the hire of Narayan Iyer, a partner in one of India’s leading law firms and Linklaters Indian ‘best friend’ Talwar Thakore & Associates (TT&A) in Mumbai, who will be re-joining Linklaters in August this year.

Iyer first joined Linklaters as a trainee in 1996 and was elected to become partner in 2007. He joined the TT&A partnership in late 2009, where he spent the last three and a half years developing the firm’s finance practice.

In his new role, Iyer will be based in London and work alongside head of Linklaters India practice Sandeep Katwala and corporate partner Savi Hebbur to support client investment into India and advise on the global expansions of India corporates and financial institutions.

Katwala said: ‘We need to respond appropriately to the evolving needs of our India related clients. Narayan’s return will further strengthen our London-based India facing capability and complement the India expertise we have in Asia. Our best friends arrangement between Linklaters and TT&A will continue to thrive and Narayan will play a key part in strengthening this relationship.’

Separately, Citibank’s India general counsel Sandip Beri has left the corporate world to re-join private practice with leading full service law firm Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A. Shroff & Co. (Amarchand Mangaldas). Beri joins the firm’s New Delhi office following his most recent role at Citibank for the South Asia regions, where he specialised in corporate and securities, M&A, banking and structured finance, private Equity, government relations and regulatory compliance.

Amarchand has further boosted its general corporate practice with the hire of partner Yashojit Mitram, who joins the Mumbai office from Economic Law Practice where he was recommended by Legal 500 for investment funds work.

Both lateral hires follow the firm’s recent round of 13 internal partner promotions, in which, significantly, the majority were not family members.

Seven associates have been made up in New Delhi, five in Mumbai and one in Bangalore. The promotions came into effect on 1 April this year and were split across the firm’s corporate, banking and finance, projects, capital markets and disputes practices.

The firm has grown from having 69 partners to an 84-partner team across seven domestic offices. From the new additions, only five are family members, countering the long-held perception that most partnerships in Indian firms are of the same blood line.

Amarchand Mangaldas managing partner Cyril Shroff said: ‘Inevitably, there will be perception that this is family-controlled, but this is not the case, it is family-led rather. Family remains a position of influence but it is as much as a meritocracy as any other.

‘You can be a young graduate with no relations and have as much chance to make it to the top like anyone. We have a standard and family members have to go through these same hoops.’

The firm has been working on revamping its image for some time now and by 2017 aims to reduce its family stake within the partnership to 40%.

Additionally, the progressive firm has one of the highest numbers of female partners worldwide. Over 60% of its partners are women – well above UK and Wall Street firms.

The firm plans eventually to open offices internationally, with Singapore, London and New York being considered, however Shroff said: ‘Until we have completely covered the Indian space, it would be a distraction to open anywhere. We have to get our head around what it takes to run an international operation. Once we have mastered what we do in India, we can tap into a slightly different skillset to tackle it globally.’