India Business Law Journal
India’s legal market
he Indian legal market is buzzing with talk o animminent upswing ollowing 12 months o struggle.Some rms have thrived on recent challenges whileothers have kept a low prole, waiting or work to return.Most agree that law rms in India have not suered asmuch as their overseas counterparts. “We’ve beneteddue to our size,” says Abhishek Saxena, a partner at 10month-old Phoenix Legal. “There hasn’t been a greatamount o slowdown, it’s mostly anecdotal,” he adds.“When you’re riding the wave, you become blasé aboutany bad news.”“India’s story is not that bad,” agrees Ravi Nath, a partnerat Rajinder Narain & Co. “Our banking system is intact, wehave a healthy consumer base and producers in India areless dependent on exports.”“Any sector that has potential in the rural areas wasnot aected,” says Sunil Seth, a partner at Seth Dua Associates. For example, “most telecom companies areexpanding their businesses in India and are actually look-ing at going down to the grassroots level and spreading tosmaller towns”.Others say that maintaining a general practice has insu-lated their rms rom the eects o the crisis: “We neverrelied on a single branch and instead handled a varietyo matters such as IP, M&A, property matters, litigationand dispute resolution, so we elt no eect,” says VikramTrivedi, managing partner o Manilal Kher Ambalal & Co, acentury-old Mumbai rm.
Costs and benefts
“The downturn helped us in diversiying our revenuestreams and recruiting new talent,” says Rajat Sethi, apartner at S&R Associates. For Phoenix Legal, the down-ward spiral was also a blessing in disguise. “We were ableto have the undivided attention o senior executives whowould otherwise have been too busy to listen to us com-municate our vision as a law rm,” says Sawant Singh, apartner based in the rm’s Mumbai oce.While the ebulliant mood at most law rms in New Delhiand Mumbai suggests that India is on the road to recovery,others say the worst is not yet over. “Work has risen, but itdoesn’t mean revenue has,” says Ranjeev Dubey, manag-ing partner at N South. “You can’t make money o peoplewho are broke.” Dubey’s rm was previously known asNDLO South and was aliated with New Delhi Law Oces.However, it changed its name earlier this year when NewDelhi Law Oces was reorganized ater the departure oPS Dasgupta, one o its main partners.“The nal phase o recession is yet to come,” agrees ManojSingh, managing partner at Singh & Associates. “I’m alreadybeing deensive. We’re conscious about new costs and weare cutting costs. We’ll hit rock bottom in six to 12 months.”Firms relying on transactional work have certainly eltthe impact o the slowdown. “Work has been dull,” admitsShobhan Thakore, a partner at Talwar Thakore & Associates.“We’re operating at hardly 50% o our capacity, althoughluckily, because o our size, we’ve had no layos and wehaven’t really suered.”The troubles aficting law rm clients have translated intopressure on their law rms to replace billable hours withxed, fat or other alternative ee structures. “Clients are ina stronger position now; they are delaying payments, look-ing at alternatives to hourly billing and they have the powerto impose numerous conditions,” says Pooja Yadava, anassociate at PSA Legal Counsellors. “It’s rustrating anddisappointing when clients don’t pay or delay paymentsater months o work. Clients are even delaying paymentswhere xed fat ees are concerned.”Some irms have lowered rates to help their clients.“Good clients are not asking or discounts,” says SumeetKachwaha at Kachwaha & Partners, “although our Europeanclients are taking ve months to pay instead o one month.Chinese clients like to bargain like mad”.Cost pressures have benets or lawyers, too: with cli-ents taking stringent action to recover their unds, there hasbeen an increase in corporate nance, debt restructuring,asset reconstruction, employment layos and companyclosures.Delhi-based Associated Law Advisers recently advisedRolls Royce on its restructuring activities in India. The rmis also working on another restructuring deal or an aliatecompany in the same group. Dismantling, rebuilding andreorganizing have replaced the ervent acquisitions andcapital expenditure o yesteryear. “Completed deals haveblown up into new matters,” explains Saxena at PhoenixLegal.
Corporate governance has taken a battering, with theSatyam debacle generating international criticism o
After surviving months of economic turbulence, Indian lawyersare priming themselves for the legal market’s resurgenceand the chance to lead distressed clients to safety
Vandana Chatlani reports
We never relied on a singlebranch and instead handleda variety o mattersVikram TrivediManaging PartnerManilal Kher Ambalal & Co