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Indian Law Firms: Overview

May 2015 saw India’s “Big Six” firms become seven leading players. The dissolution of the largest and most prestigious law firm, Amarchand Mangaldas Suresh A Shroff (AMSS), into two constituent elements – Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas and Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas – has had little effect on their fortunes, and both new firms occupy a leading position in the market, although the gap with their traditional competitors has narrowed. As the legal market is still closed to international players, domestic firms with national coverage dominate the landscape. This looks set to continue for some time as they continue to grow in both stature and expertise. Here we explore the leading firms in India.

The "Big Seven"

Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas

Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas is a true market leader, having built upon its predecessor firm’s well-established reputation for excellence in the Indian market. Now the country’s largest full-service law firm, it sees over 625 lawyers across six offices in key centres in India assist a range of domestic and international clients across a variety of core and specialist practice areas. The firm recently marked the 100-year anniversary of the founding of AMSS with the promotion of 21 lawyers to partner level, becoming only the second firm to pass the 100-partner mark in the process, and has also announced the establishment of an “innovation lab” to explore the development of technology and artificial intelligence and its uses in the legal services market. Managing partner Cyril Shroff is a major presence in the Indian corporate sphere and is widely recommended as a thought leader in corporate governance, while Manishi Pathak is a prominent name in the Indian labour and employment market.

Khaitan & Co

Founded in 1911 by Debi Prasad Khaitan, Khaitan & Co is one of the largest and oldest firms in the market. The firm boasts a significant presence in the key regional centres across the country, with over 480 fee earners, including more than 100 partners, in its Bengaluru, Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi offices. The firm regularly acts on significant matters for its varied client base, which includes corporates, banking clients, financial institutions, private equity houses, government bodies and trusts, among others. Recently, for example, the firm advised First Gulf Bank on Indian compliance and regulatory issues concerning its merger with the National Bank of Abu Dhabi. It also advised JSW Steel Limited on bank guarantee facilities worth €113.75 million from Credit Suisse related to a bid for a steel manufacturer in liquidation in Southern Italy.

Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas

The fastest-growing law firm in India, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas is one of the country’s leading full-service law firms with an excellent reputation for handling significant mandates for domestic and cross-border clients. The firm, boasting over 430 lawyers across seven offices in India, is well known for its significant expertise in M&A and private equity transactions, competition law issues, banking and finance, project finance and dispute resolution, handling these matters for a range of high-profile domestic and international clients. Executive chairman Shardul Shroff is one of the foremost practitioners in the country and achieves recommendations in our corporate, energy, government contracts, life sciences and project finance publications. Other prominent members of the firm include Pallavi Shroff, a distinguished litigator and thought leader, and Naval Satarawala Chopra, who is recognised as one of India’s principal competition law specialists.

AZB & Partners

AZB & Partners was founded in 2004 through the merger of Mumbai-based CZB & Partners and Ajay Bahl & Company in Delhi, and has since established itself as one of the country’s leading players. M&A, joint ventures and general corporate advisory; banking and finance; competition; and private funds all form core competencies at the firm, and its lawyers are regularly called upon to handle some of the larger and more complex transactions in the market. A key recent mandate saw the firm secure Indian merger control clearance for General Electric’s $16 billion acquisition of Alstom SA’s power and grid businesses. Founding partner Zia Mody is an eminent lawyer with expertise stretching from corporate and finance to dispute resolution.

Luthra & Luthra

Luthra & Luthra is a key player in the Indian legal market with a fantastic reputation on the international stage. Established in 1990, the firm’s original focus centred on advising both Indian and international clients on infrastructure-related project finance and joint ventures, but it has since expanded the scope of its expertise and now provides advice across 22 practice areas. Founder and managing partner Rajiv Luthra is a distinguished lawyer who is well known on the international stage, while senior partner Mohit Saraf, who heads the firm’s corporate and private equity practices, draws recommendations for his expertise in banking and finance, insurance and reinsurance, energy and real estate law.

J Sagar Associates

J Sagar Associates (JSA) was founded in 1991 as a reaction to the traditional, family-run model prevalent in Indian law firms of the time and now flourishes as one of the top firms in the market. Day-to-day management of the firm is handled by Shivpriya Nanda and Dina Wadia as joint managing partners; they took charge in January 2016. Its members also recently elected regulatory and policy practice chair Amit Kapur as senior partner to handle firm strategy alongside the joint managing partners. The firm’s lawyers are particularly well known for their significant experience acting on some of the largest transactions in the Indian market across a variety of industry sectors. For example, 2016 saw a JSA team act for telecom giant Reliance Communications in the sale of a 51 per cent stake in Reliance Infratel to Brookfield Infrastructure, valued at 110 billion rupees. In the TMT sector, the firm also recently acted for Keystone Logic, a US supply chain management firm, during its sale to Zensar Technologies. Bangaluru-based Sajai Singh chairs the firm’s corporate practice and is a pioneering figure in the Indian IT space. A former president of ITechLaw, Singh represents a number of blue-chip international technology companies and Fintech clients.

Trilegal

Trilegal is a top full-service firm with a significant presence in the market thanks to its national coverage and international exposure. Established in 2000 by four NLSIU graduates, the firm benefited from a referral relationship with London-headquartered international heavyweight Allen & Overy until 2012, allowing it to gain considerable experience handling significant, cross-border mandates for a range of international clients. It counts a number of major financial institutions, banks and corporates among its client roster and particularly impresses in the technology space, advising the likes of the Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Intel. Ajay Raghavan leads the firm’s labour and employment practice and is an internationally recognised specialist.

Other Leading Firms

Nishith Desai Associates

Medium-sized firm Nishith Desai Associates enjoys a wonderful reputation in the market as an innovative and dynamic firm with a key focus on international mandates. The firm, founded in 1989, is one of the few Indian law firms to boast overseas offices, with a presence in Munich, New York, Silicon Valley and Singapore, highlighting the importance of inbound work and a commitment to offering clients a comprehensive, global service. The latest incarnation of the firm’s research-based approach is the establishment of the NDA Centre for Research and Strategic Thinking – a state-of-the-art research campus located 45 minutes from central Mumbai – which aims to further facilitate and augment the firm’s relationship with industry experts, thereby improving the service offered to clients. Founder Nishith Desai is a prominent figure in the Indian legal market and well known in international circles for his corporate tax expertise. Alongside him, HR laws practice head Vikram Shroff is also recognised as a key name in the market.

Economic Laws Practice

Economic Laws Practice is a well-established and respected player in the Indian market. Founded in 2001 as a Mumbai-based tax and trade and customs offering, ELP has continued to go from strength to strength and now boasts over 130 lawyers in five offices, offering advice across 12 practice areas. The firm prides itself on its strong relationships with law firms in Europe, North America, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region, offering clients a comprehensive international service. Despite the recent exit of founder Rohan Shah, corporate tax and international trade are still key practices for the firm. Sanjay Notani heads the firm’s international trade practice and is a highly regarded trade remedy specialist.

Phoenix Legal

Phoenix Legal, another premier offering in the Indian market, is home to 60 lawyers operating out of offices in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai. Its members provide assistance to both domestic and international clients on transactional, regulatory, advisory and contentious issues. Co-founder Saket Shukla is renowned for his insurance and reinsurance expertise, Aseem Chawla is a recognised corporate tax expert and Abhishek Saxena is a market-leading lawyer with significant experience handling energy-related transactions.

Archer & Angel

Delhi-headquartered full service firm Archer & Angel is a top choice for foreign and domestic clients looking to expand their operations in India. The firm’s retail, franchising and distribution practice is a market leader, with practice head Srijoy Das enjoying international recognition for his insight into, and experience in, the franchising space.

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Nominees have been selected based upon comprehensive, independent survey work with both general counsel and private practice lawyers worldwide. Only specialists who have met independent international research criteria are listed.

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