Dentons, Link Legal officially seal partnership in India

From left: Elliott Portnoy and Atul Sharma

Dentons, one of the world’s largest law firms, officially entered the Indian market in May this year in a tie-up with Link Legal after clients questioned why it did not have a footprint in the globe’s fifth-largest economy. The firms had first announced the partnership in October 2022.

Dentons’ relationship with Link Legal started four years ago, driven by global clients in the UK, the US and Australia, its global chief executive officer Elliott Portnoy said.

Given India’s prominent position on the world stage, it was important for Dentons and its clients to combine with Link Legal, and set up the first global law firm in India that offers immeasurable opportunities for client collaboration, he added.

Everyone is asking about India and the drivers are the talent, the economic opportunities, the business culture and customs, Portnoy said. Through the combination with Link Legal, Dentons has an established presence in five of the six largest cities in India, namely New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad.

The importance of finding an alternative manufacturing base makes India the single most asked for jurisdiction, said Portnoy.

There is not a single industry where a global player is not present or has not shown interest – be it manufacturing, insurance, banking, private equity, aviation, or energy, Portnoy said, commenting on the bullishness of the Indian market. Dentons is not a franchise but a partner within a partnership. A partnership that has access to more than 200 offices in 83 countries of Dentons’ combination firms worldwide.

Dentons India is “the only global law firm, India owned and Indian managed by Indian lawyers,” Portnoy says. Indian companies like to work with global firms they know or are comfortable with, says Dentons Link Legal executive chairman Atul Sharma. The Dentons Link Legal leadership comprises Sharma and managing partners Nusrat Hassan and Anand Srivastava.

Dentons can offer clients this because it has firms on the ground across jurisdictions that it can vouch for, effectively providing a one-stop shop that can ascertain the competence and area of specialisation, Sharma said.

“We are now both local and global,” said Sharma, as Dentons allows Link Legal to connect its clients to leading legal talent around the world while continuing to be wholly owned, controlled and managed by Indian lawyers.

Portnoy agrees and tells India Business Law Journal that having a domestic presence through Link Legal ensures that Dentons would be living and breathing India, staying close to new developments and providing more nuanced advice.

Dentons’ unique model goes a step beyond the “best friend relationship” model where two law firms enter into an agreement to share clients and work on referral bases. “We have the same brand, share the technology and our clients,” said Noor Kapdi, chief executive officer of the Africa region at Dentons.

Dentons’ entry into the Indian market comes when the Bar Council of India has opened up the legal market to foreign law firms but is limited to advising clients on foreign transactional and corporate law.

Dentons does not believe in setting up its own offices. “That model is not the way we do business anywhere in the world,” Portnoy said. Instead of sending people back and forth, “we combine with an elite law firm in a jurisdiction”, he added.

Welcoming competition from various global players, Portnoy tells India Business Law Journal that Dentons’ value proposition is materially different and distinct as a local firm owned, controlled and run by Indian lawyers. He says it is foolish to think that someone at a headquarters in another jurisdiction knows the market better.

“We focus on the needs of our clients, and that’s how we have continued to scale and why our competitors are for the most part standing still,” Portnoy said. The Dentons model saves on costs. Instead of other global law firms, which are likely to keep a skeletal presence in India, Dentons through Link Legal has fully fledged offices across the five key markets in India, effectively offering clients the best of both worlds.

Dentons, founded in March 2013 following the merger of SNR Denton, Fraser Milner Casgrain and Salans, has since grown to become one of the world’s largest global law firms with 21,000 professionals in more than 200 locations across 83 countries.