Following an extensive nomination process, Asia Business Law Journal unveils its top performers of the country’s legal profession. Lim Miran and Nguyen Yen report
urdened by mounting debt, foreign exchange squeeze and runaway inflation, Sri Lanka still fumbles with a faltering economy. As public disquiet over economic turmoil deepens, the government is increasingly under pressure to undertake social and economic reforms to raise investment and productivity, making it crucial for businesses to seek advice from knowledgeable lawyers to navigate this challenging time.
In 2021 the island country did manage to record positive GDP growth of 3.7%, against a 3.6% contraction the previous year. However, pre-existing macroeconomic weaknesses and economic scarring from the pandemic continue to cloud an already challenging outlook for the economy. The Asian Development Bank has lowered Sri Lanka’s growth prospects for 2022 to 3.4%, slightly down from the previous estimation of 3.6%.
On the bright side, Sri Lanka is hoping to find light at the end of the tunnel by shifting gears towards a digital economy. Given more than 60% of the population own mobile phones and increasing Internet penetration, the country can remain optimistic about its economic transformation. Building a technology-based society has been identified in its National Policy Framework as a key initiative to achieve prosperity, with additional digital laws and policies designed to enable this development.
Against this backdrop, Asia Business Law Journal presents its A-List of the top 50 lawyers practising in Sri Lanka (see the list of all lawyers and the key practice areas for which they are endorsed following this article). The list is based on extensive research conducted and nominations received from in-house counsel in Sri Lanka and elsewhere, as well as Sri Lanka-focused partners at international law firms based outside the jurisdiction.
Comments submitted to Asia Business Law Journal suggest that businesses not only look for lawyers with in-depth knowledge and vast experience on legal affairs, but also those who have a proactive attitude towards difficult tasks when handling their clients’ demands.
Nearly all of the A-List lawyers are located in Sri Lanka’s capital and commercial centre, Colombo, home to numerous diplomatic institutions as well as the majority of Sri Lanka’s corporate offices.
As Sri Lanka needs more foreign investment to save its economy, the government is committed to conducting larger regulatory reforms in most leading sectors – focusing on exports, financial services, information and communication technology, energy and transportation. Many A-List lawyers have been acknowledged by their clients and peers for navigating legal issues in these areas.
Arjuna Hettiarachchi, managing director at containership operator X-Press Feeders in Colombo, commends Arittha Wickramanayake, precedent partner at Heritage Partners, for his hands-on experience and wealth of expertise in M&A.
“He has participated in an advisory capacity in domestic and international corporate and commercial affairs and specialised in authority on corporate and securities law, providing pragmatic and practical advice in dealing with situations,” says Hettiarachchi. “He has advised our company on various elements of real estate development including financing, acquisitions, investment and transfers.”
Rajan Asirwatham, former precedent partner of KPMG Sri Lanka in Colombo, agrees. “Aritha Wikramanayake never compromises on his principles and always displays a high degree of professionalism in discharging his duties,” says Asirwatham.
“There was an instance where a group of minority shareholders were battling the head of a conglomerate, rightly or wrongly, on the premise that their rights were suppressed,” Asirwatham adds. “Despite subtle hints about the loss of future business, he did not forsake his clients but continued to represent them.”
Asanga Gunawansa, lead counsel at Colombo Law Alliance, is nominated by Sundra Rajoo, managing director of Sundra Rajoo Arbitration Chambers in Kuala Lumpur, who highly regards him among the top legal counsel in South Asia.
“He is a world class counsel and international arbitrator,” says Rajoo. “He is really an expert in many areas of law and arbitration and on top of any situation.”
Dushyantha Perera, partner at Sudath Perera Associates, is recommended by Priya Menon, executive director and general counsel at multinational conglomerate corporation 3M India in Bengaluru.
“He is meticulous and very responsive with his advice,” says Menon. “He will provide out-of-the-commercial-box solutions and practical ones with reasoning on why that approach is more effective for our company. For us, Dushyantha Perera is that kind of lawyer who sees the entire picture and helps us navigate the issue at hand.”
When it comes to project financing and dispute resolution, Chanaka De Silva, president’s counsel and senior partner at Nithya Partners, stands out. He is praised by Chanil Nishantha, programme manager at Uber Sri Lanka. “He has in-depth and diverse subject knowledge and understands the intricate nature of project transactions, especially in the energy, transportation and infrastructure segments,” says Nishantha.
While the country largely provides for gender equality, this does not always translate into legal practice. Women lawyers play an important role in the Sri Lankan legal landscape but few have made their way to the top.
Among those who have, Aparrajitha Ariyadasa, senior partner at ATD Legal Associates, is applauded by Amanda Sandamini Buddhakorala, legal associate at internet service provider HGC Global Communications in Colombo, for being “a true inspiration to all female lawyers”.
“Whether it is academic or practice, she is knowledgeable and versatile. It is not very common for a female lawyer to engage in the legal profession as much as she is,” says Sandamini.
A Pasindu Ravinath, CEO at electrical and electronic installations firm Dayanath Technologies in Katukurunda, also acclaims Ariyadasa for her “contribution to cyber law and intellectual property law research and reform in the country”.
After working on several M&A transactions together, Ranila Wijesundara, senior manager of legal at Sri Lanka investment bank Capital Alliance Limited (CAL) in Colombo, praises Nirusha Ranjitkumar Ratnatunga, partner at Nithya Partners.
“She has always been responsive, thorough and clear in her advice,” says Wijesundara. “She understands the commercial realities involved and provides solutions quickly and efficiently.”
Ratnatunga is also applauded by her long-standing client Hiran Embuldeniya, managing partner at private equity firm Ironwood Capital Partners in Colombo. “Nirusha uses practical wisdom to keep a good balance between attending to the minutiae while ensuring that both sides move forward towards getting a deal done”, says Embuldeniya. “She is knowledgeable, thorough, pragmatic and fair, which are qualities that I appreciate most in seeking out her advice.”
Lihini Fernando, founder partner at Velox Legal, is applauded as “a talented individual” by Hijas Suhair, chief financial officer at IT hardware company The Technocity in Colombo, for her active practice in the areas of civil law, corporate law and conveyance.
Mali Dias, country manager at solar power generator Fujisun in Colombo, nominates Laila Nasry, partner at Tiruchelvam Associates, for helping her company to take the best legitimate action conscientiously.
“I’ve gone to several lawyers before I went to Laila, and no lawyer provided me information as she does,” says Dias. “She explains the whole process with all possible options precisely and never rushes to answer all my questions. When it comes to documentation, I must say that I almost didn’t change anything in the documents she prepared for us.”
Martijn van Bemmel, general counsel at Blue Leaf Energy in Singapore, agrees. “The experience with Laila Nasry has been very positive,” says van Bemmel. “Laila is an outstanding counsel that I would recommend to any renewable energy company exploring the possibility of entering the Sri Lankan market.”
Other prominent women who made it to the A-List include Julius & Creasy partners Amila Fernando, Anandhiy Gunawardhana, Janaki Kumaraguru, Diluka Rodrigo, Priya Sivagananathan, and Anomi Wanigasekera; DL&F De Saram partners Hansi Abayaratne, Shanthi John, and Aloka Nandasena; FJ&G de Saram precedent partner Ayomi Aluwihare-Gunawardene and partners Anjali Fernando, Himali Mudadeniya, and Shehara Varia; Yashara Wijesinghe, senior partner at Ekaratne Associates; Peshala Attygalle, partner at Nithya Partners; and Lakshana Perera, partner at Sudath Perera Associates.
Compiling the A-List
The A-List is based on extensive research conducted by Asia Business Law Journal. To identify the top 50 lawyers in Sri Lanka, we turned to thousands of in-house counsel in Sri Lanka and around the world – as well as partners at international law firms – and asked them to tell us which lawyers should make the cut, and why.
Nominations were made by professionals at a wide range of Sri Lankan and global companies, including Blue Leaf Energy, Capital Alliance Limited, Dayanath Technologies, Fujisun, Ironwood Capital Partners, HGC Global Communications, KPMG Sri Lanka, Sundra Rajoo Arbitration Chambers, The Technocity, Uber Sri Lanka, 3M India and many more. Thorough editorial research followed the nomination process.
The final list reflects the nominations received, combined with Asia Business Law Journal editorial team’s more than 30 years of collective experience in documenting and analysing Sri Lanka’s legal market.
All Sri Lankan private practice lawyers were automatically eligible for inclusion in the nominations process and, as always, there were no fees or any other requirements for entry.
The names and photographs of all A-List lawyers are published following this article. In addition, each A-List lawyer was given the opportunity to include their biography and contact details, for which a publishing fee was charged.
It is important to note that while compilation of the A-List was based solely on independent editorial research, the biographies and contact details that appear alongside many of the listings have been written by the participating lawyers, and the content has not been independently verified by Asia Business Law Journal.