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2009 Directory of Indian Law Firms

2009 Directory of Indian Law Firms

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Intelligence report
India Business Law Journal
41
India’s legal market
 July/August 2009
 
41
Intelligence report
Plus
 
expert analysis of the legal market
Editorial analysis: page 42Directory of law rms: page 48
India’s legal market
India Business Law Journal’s
2009Directory of Indian Law Firms
 
Intelligence report
India Business Law Journal
42
India’s legal market
 July/August 2009
T
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 prole, waiting or work to return.Most agree that law rms in India have not suered asmuch as their overseas counterparts. “We’ve beneteddue 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 aected,” 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 eects 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 eect,” says VikramTrivedi, managing partner o Manilal Kher Ambalal & Co, acentury-old Mumbai rm.
Costs and benefts
“The downturn helped us in diversiying 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 oce.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 aliated with New Delhi Law Oces.However, it changed its name earlier this year when NewDelhi Law Oces was reorganized ater the departure oPS 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 deensive. 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 layos and wehaven’t really suered.”The troubles aficting law rm clients have translated intopressure on their law rms to replace billable hours withxed, 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 paymentsater 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 benets 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 layos 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 aliatecompany 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.
Painul lessons
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
 
Intelligence report
India Business Law Journal
43
India’s legal market
 July/August 2009
Indian standards o independent directorship, account-ing and auditing. “Every day was a war,” says AmarchandMangaldas partner Pallavi Shro, whose irm deployed15 proessionals to work on saving the ractured IT out-sourcing company rom complete collapse. “We had tounderstand what Satyam’s visions and deals were, analyseits contracts and its people. The process was closely moni-tored by the Company Law Board, the Indian governmentand independent counsel investigations. It was hugelycomplex – we were dousing res one by one.”“The need or transparency and accountability andgood corporate governance need not be urther reiter-ated. I expect some improvement in this area,” says RamniTaneja, a partner at the Law Oce o Ramni Taneja.Private equity also suered last year, with unds dryingup and nancing options scarce. However, not all areas othe sector were adversely aected. “The small transactionsanywhere rom about US$3 million to US$20 million havenot been aected at all,” notes Sanjay Asher, a partner atCraword Bayley & Co.Lawyers say the growth potential or private equity isphenomenal, especially in agriculture: “Funds are now onlylooking at agriculture, they are no longer sector-agnostic,”says Manishi Pathak, a partner at Kochhar & Co. A politi-cally sensitive sector, agriculture is a major contributor toIndia’s huge subsidy bill. The government has announcedplans to rehabilitate the ailing Fertilizer Corporation o Indiaand Hindustan Fertilizer Corporation by reviving up to eightclosed plants in an eort to reduce dependence on importsrom overseas.Corporations that have incurred severe losses elsewherein the world are now closely examining entry strategiesinto India to revive their businesses and regain lost capital.Some law rms have reported resh investment activity romEurope with companies expressing great interest in settingup Indian subsidiaries. “They are keeping the growth actorin mind and looking at long-term returns,” explains SumesDewan, a partner at KR Chawla & Co.
New legislation
With the implementation o India’s new Competition Act,competition law has become an important area o practiceor many Indian law rms. “It will be a steep learning curveand clients will have to be told in very concrete terms whatis permissible,” says Alka Bharucha, a partner at Bharucha& Partners. Most important, says Bharucha, is that properprecedents are set beore the Competition Commission oIndia (CCI) in order to help the law evolve properly.Currently many competition complaints are rivolous,laments Anand Pathak, a partner at P&A Law Oces, whorecently provided the CCI with training on merger control.“The multiplex dispute was a genuine one, but there havebeen others which are more like consumer disputes,” hesays. “A undamental challenge will be trying to get regula-tory authorities amiliar with competition principles.”Some lawyers insist that domestic companies in par-ticular need education about the new regulations. “Anyonewho wants to grow inorganically rather than through green-eld expansion will be impacted,” says Saxena at PhoenixLegal. “The Tatas, Birlas and Reliances will denitely beaected.”Sridhar Gorthi, a partner at Trilegal, suggests that mostIndian corporations will see the competition regime as sim-ply another set o rules to be complied with: “Indians areno strangers to regulations and authorities. They are usedto reporting to authorities to gain the necessary approvals.So they will perceive this as a necessary process, not ahurdle.”Law rms have their own concerns, with the governmentannouncing that lawyers are now liable to pay a 10% tax ontheir services (see
Mukherjee’s mixed bag
, page 34). Whilethe tax excludes sole proprietors and legal advice to indi-vidual clients, law rms with corporate clients are set to eelthe pinch. “There is no justication or why we shouldn’tbe taxed, but there are double standards,” argues SeemaJhingan, a partner at LexCounsel. “Our services are notacknowledged; we are not allowed to advertise and mar-keting is prohibited. Even worse, it is unair on our clientsbecause it makes our services more expensive.”While some lawyers prepare to ght the new service tax,others are evaluating the new LLP Act, which nally allowslaw rms to structure themselves as independent entities,limit the liability o their partners, and crucially, expandbeyond the current 20-partner limit.“On the one hand you want to encourage partnershiprms by permitting LLP practices, but on the other handyou tax such practices but exempt individual lawyers,”laments Chander Lall, managing partner o IP specialistLall & Sethi. “Will this not push lawyers to go back to pro-prietorship concerns?” Aaron Solomon, a partner at Solomon & Co, predicts that
Fancy structures have ailedand lenders are now in searcho real hard securities Abhijit JoshiPartner AZB & PartnersNone o the Indian bankshave ailed!Sumes DewanKR Chawla & Co

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