What are the winning traits of lawyers that make them stand out to their clients and peers? Stanley Le reports
This year’s search for Future Legal Leaders begins with the winning traits of lawyers as recognised by clients. Most commonly these are being knowledgeable: the ability to provide in-depth advice and be well-versed in their practice area; client-oriented: being reachable and responsive as well as ensuring that clients receive the best possible legal advice and representation; good at simplifying complex matters: being able to explain matters clearly to in-house counsel and business leaders; and efficient: the ability to work quickly and effectively under pressure and meet tight deadlines.
India’s Future Legal Leaders have established themselves as the counsel of choice for clients and developed enduring working relationships. Some of our lawyers who made it to this list are already working alongside founders and practice heads to close multibillion-dollar deals, while others have obtained the honour after leaving established firms and setting up their own.
Many nominations from clients and peers who named their preferred future legal leaders identified one very common attribute of value – knowledge. Experienced lawyers with well-versed knowledge in key areas, who stay up to date with the latest developments in their field, tend to win client favour and trust.
Tomu Francis, a disputes partner at Khaitan & Co, is mentioned by Aditi Mukherjee, a senior manager of legal at the Bombay Stock Exchange in Mumbai, who describes him as “very well read” and understanding of the legal complexities involved when guiding clients in a meticulous manner.
Prarabdha Jaipuriar, vice president and general counsel of water and waste management company Suez India in Gurugram commends Anisha Chand, a competition partner at Khaitan & Co, for her understanding of the law and specialised knowledge of her chosen practice area. “Anisha is doing exceptional work in the competition law space,” says Jaipuriar. “She can understand complex transactions and provide appropriate advice accordingly.”
In the past year, Chand worked on the competition law aspects for JSW Energy’s acquisition of 1,753MW of assets from Mytrah Energy for USD1.3 billion. She was also part of the core team to successfully defend pulse trader Viterra India before the Competition Commission of India on charges of engaging in cartelisation with other agro-commodity companies.
Prasad Subramanyan, a partner at Rajaram Legal in Bengaluru, is nominated for his wide knowledge by Umang Bedi, co-founder of content technology platform VerSe Innovation in Bengaluru. “His technical and transactional knowledge, negotiation skills, and the ability to find constructive solutions to deal with multiple stakeholders is second to none.”
Anjali Anchayil, a principal associate at JSA in New Delhi who focuses on dispute resolution, is nominated for her “excellent knowledge of law” by Luv Kapil, legal senior manager at PepsiCo India in New Delhi. “She is very hard working, well-versed in the topic [at hand],” says Kapil.
Many of her peers attest to Anchayil climbing the ranks at JSA, and one of them is Hajime Taniuchi, a partner at Oh-Ebashi LPC & Partners in Osaka, who worked with her on a litigation case involving a Japanese listed company and Indian individuals.
Anchayil impressed her Japanese counterpart, who says: “She worked day and night, and amazed me how she can compile a strongly written brief in a very short period of time. She was responsive to many questions our common client raised, and fought hard during relevant procedures. Without her assistance, we would not have won the case.”
Ambuj Sonal, an associate partner at Link Legal’s corporate commercial practice in Mumbai, is praised for his “in-depth knowledge” and “understanding of different subject matters of law” by Ankit Kothari, the India counsel at agrochemical company UPL in Mumbai.
A two-way street
While it is a must for lawyers to possess in-depth knowledge of the law, our Future Legal Leaders also know that the success of clients and their businesses is directly tied to their own as legal professionals. They understand that a symbiotic relationship needs to be fostered, one based on trust and mutual respect.
Oishik Bagchi, a Mumbai-based Khaitan & Co partner in the firm’s capital markets practice group, is nominated by many clients and peers for a demeanour that makes him easy to approach despite the busy lives of lawyers. “Apart from working on a deal, Oishik is one I can always reach out to for any general and specific discussion on queries,” says Ravi Sharma, the assistant vice president of investment banking company SBI Capital Markets in Mumbai.
Bagchi’s significant work in the past year included advising a consortium of 16 lenders led by the State Bank of India on capital markets aspects in relation to a settlement of the outstanding debt liability of USD1.7 billion that was extended to Suzlon Energy.
Bagchi was inducted into the firm’s partnership in April 2022, being promoted from principal associate.
Akash Aggarwal, executive director at investment banking company Axis Capital in New Delhi, has enjoyed working with Siddhartha Desai, a capital markets partner at JSA, since his first year at the firm. “Siddhartha has full control over deals and he does not allow any slippage to take place,” says Aggarwal.
“Due to the quality of work that he puts in, he has been one of my preferred lawyers in capital markets. He is admired by clients and envied by competing lawyers.”
Desai recently supported the firm’s lead partner, Arka Mookerjee, on a INR30 billion (USD379 million) IPO by market intelligence provider Tracxn Technologies. The firm advised book-running lead manager IIFL Securities on the matter.
Gaurav Mistry, a corporate and commercial partner at DSK Legal in Mumbai, is nominated many times for the care and attention he provides to clients. Jasmine Thakkar, an Amazon manager in the US city of Austin, says: “He always keeps the customer at the forefront”; while the founder and CEO of online tutoring company Tutorly, Vikram Akula, adds: “He is fully dedicated towards his work on behalf of his clients.”
Mistry was one of the four lawyers to be made partner in the firm’s annual promotions in April last year.
Aditi Singhvi, a corporate partner at Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, is recommended for similar reasons by Nikhil Chakrapani, vice president of the conglomerate Reliance Industries in Mumbai. Chakrapani has seen Singhvi “supporting the group’s transactions from an associate stage”, and says she has “very well graduated over the years to [becoming a] partner, managing individual assignments with ease”.
Among her significant work in the past year, Singhvi was on the transaction team that advised television broadcaster Viacom 18 and Reliance Projects & Property Management Services in a USD1.7 billion investment from investment group Bodhi Tree Systems.
The chief legal counsel of Volkswagen Finance, Abhishek Chand in Mumbai, commends Kushal Kumar, the co-founding partner of Erudite Legal, saying: “In-depth knowledge of the law and forceful presentation skills are his USPs [unique selling points]. He goes into the depth of the facts with utmost patience, which finally culminates in his crisp pleadings [before the court].”
As part of his litigation work, Kumar has also assisted central government standing counsel before the Supreme Court and Delhi High Court in various significant matters.
Prachi Dhanani, a litigation and disputes partner at Veritas Legal in Mumbai, is a keen and patient listener according to Sumeet Lavhate, the group executive vice president of Yes Bank in Mumbai. Lavhate says Dhanani is “a highly committed and dedicated professional, and always displays a positive attitude towards her work”.
Given the responsiveness and commitment showed by Sahil Arora, a corporate and fintech partner at Saraf and Partners in New Delhi, Chitwandeep Singh, senior legal counsel at Razorpay, says he forgets “that he works outside our company”.
Arora advised Razorpay on behalf of the firm for the 100% acquisitions of marketing services company Viverati Interactive Marketing and Singapore-based rewards management company PoshVine Systems in the past year.
“From the first time I briefed [him] about our legal challenges, I always felt that our company was in good hands with Sahil and his team,” says Singh.
Arora was one of 20 partners who joined Saraf and Partners following its split with Luthra and Luthra in 2021. At the time of his leaving Luthra, he was a managing associate. In the previous year, Arora also worked on one of the largest M&A deals in the pharma space in India.
He was part of the team, which included managing partner Mohit Saraf, that advised healthcare company Viatris for the sale of its global biosimilars business to Biocon Biologics for USD3.3 billion.
Simplifying the complicated
In an era of information overload, especially in the legal sector, a trait appreciated by clients and peers has been the ability of Future Legal Leaders to present complicated matters in a simplified manner, and provide practical guidance.
Murtaza Zoomkawala, a capital markets partner at Saraf and Partners in Mumbai, received many nominations not only for his quality service and competence, but also his ability to clarify matters. “Murtaza has great clarity of thought, which makes his vision extremely clear,” says Kaiz Jaffer, the director of Brandbox Labs in Mumbai.
Similarly, Sarthak Sarin, a partner at Khaitan & Co in New Delhi, is recognised for his ability to simplify the complicated, and “is very good at communicating complex legal and regulatory issues in a way that business people can understand,” according to John Murphy, the general counsel at telecommunications company Nextiva in Scottsdale, US.
Murphy had worked with Sarin on the acquisition of an Indian company by Nextiva, which turned out to be much more complicated than anticipated. He found Sarthak to be instrumental in navigating the Indian regulatory and legal landscape, and finding creative solutions to help the transaction to close.
Clarence Anthony, a corporate partner at Trilegal in Bengaluru, is another lawyer recommended for his ability to make things easier for clients. Ishan Sinha, the director at healthcare company Care Essentials in Geelong, Australia, who worked with Anthony on a cross-border deal, says they sometimes found “the local laws complex”, but Anthony “simplified the intent of the requirements and helped us meet all our legal obligations”.
Among his notable work in the past year, Anthony worked along with Trilegal’s head of projects, Neeraj Menon, to advise energy company Sembcorp Industries in its acquisition of 100% of the securities of Vector Green Energy and its 16 subsidiaries for USD336 million.
Anjali Menon, a partner at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co in Mumbai, is “highly knowledgeable and able to deliver advice in a way that can be easily understood,” says Alastair Duncan, the head of legal at British American Tobacco in the UK, who adds that Menon was “very responsive and a trusted adviser on complex matters”.
Lawyers need to handle a myriad of detail while working on deals, not only managing them but producing satisfactory deliverables as well.
Saurabh Sharma, a banking partner at Juris Corp in Mumbai, is described as one of the best banking and finance lawyers by Kaushal Bengani, a senior manager at steel pipes manufacturer Maharashtra Seamless in Gurugram. Having regularly worked with Sharma on debt financing transactions, he is impressed by his “input on complex structuring, with his innovative ideas to achieve deal closure in a time-bound manner”.
Lawyers who are nominated under this category also include Joginder Singh, a partner at LexOrbis in New Delhi, who impressed Anurag Vaishya, the senior IP counsel at auto components manufacturer Uno Minda in Bengaluru, who says he is “exceptionally skilled in solving complex issues with simple and effective solutions, keeping in mind the client’s interests”.
Similarly, a legal director at a venture capital firm in Gurugram says when recommending Nitin Gera, the founding partner at Aretha Legal in the same city: “Nitin is one of the most hard-working lawyers we have come across in recent times. He’s always on top of the transactions he handles, and handles complex situations with ease.”
Gautam Rego, counsel at AZB’s M&A practice group in Bengaluru, received appreciation from Mark Oblad, a partner at Gunderson Dettmer in New York who worked with him on several venture capital investments by foreign investors into Indian technology companies, amounting to hundreds of millions of US dollars. “He and his team have consistently managed several deals simultaneously, quickly identifying and resolving any material issues, while keeping a strong working relationship with the target company and their counsel, all on desired timelines,” says Oblad.
In November and December 2022, India Business Law Journal invited thousands of in-house counsel in India and around the world – as well as India-focused partners at international law firms – to nominate outstanding Indian lawyers in a number of categories, including those that are seen as the future leaders of the country’s legal profession.
Well over 3,000 nominations and testimonials were received from professionals at a wide range of Indian and international companies, international law firms and other organisations, including: 3M, Accenture, Adani Enterprises, Aditya Birla Finance, Aditya Birla Group, Afridi & Angell, AIA, Air India, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Akzo Nobel, Allen & Gledhill, Allen & Overy, Alpha Capital, Alstom, Alta Laboratories, Amazon, American Express, American Tower Corporation, Anand Rathi Financial Services, Ananta Capital, Anish Pharmaequip, Antares Marine, Applied Research International, Apraava Energy, Apya Capital Services, Asian Development Bank, Assem Infrastructure Finance, Atra Pharmaceuticals, Atsumi & Sakai, Automi Tech, Avendus Capital, Axis Bank, Bain Capital, Bajaj Electricals, Baker McKenzie, Bank of Baroda Capital, Barclays, Barings, Basil Technology Partners, BBC Studios, Bharti Airtel, Bharti Enterprises, Bird & Bird, Bloomberg, Blue Dart Express, BNP Paribas, Britannia, British American Tobacco, Brookfield Asset Management, Bullero Capital, Canara Bank, Cardiac Wellness Institute, Carlyle Group, Carrefour, Caterpillar, Ceres Foods, Cipla, Cisco, Clifford Chance, CLSA, Clyde & Co, CMS, Coal India, Colgate-Palmolive, Control Risks, Cravath Swaine & Moore, Cummins, Dabur, Dalmia Bharat, DBS Bank, Deloitte, Dentons, Deutsche Bank, DLA Piper, Dorsey & Whitney, Dr Agarwal’s Health Care, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, Droom Technology, Edelmann Group, Enel Green Power, Eversheds Sutherland, Experion Developers, Fab India, FedEx, Ferrero, Flipkart, Food Service India, Ford, Fortis Healthcare, Fortum India, Foseco, Freshfields, Frost Brown Todd, Fullerton, GAIL, GE, Gencare Pharmaceutical, Glenmark, Godrej Industries, Goldman Sachs, Google, Gunderson Dettmer, HDFC, Healthcare at Home, Herbalife International India, Herbert Smith Freehills, Hero MotoCorp, Hindalco Industries, Hindustan Construction Company, Hindustan Unilever, Hitachi, Hogan Lovells, Hyundai Motor Company, ICICI, IDBI Capital Markets & Securities, IKEA, Indiabulls, Indian Art Corporation, Indian Hotels Company, Infosys, Inox Wind Infrastructure Services, Intel, Intelsat, Investec, JCB, Jindal Steel & Power, JM Financial, Johnson & Johnson, JSW Energy, JSW Steel, King & Spalding, Kirkland & Ellis, Kotak Mahindra Bank, KPMG, Larsen & Toubro, Latham & Watkins, Levis Strauss, Mahindra & Mahindra, Mandala Capital, Mapwood, Marks & Spencer Reliance, Marsh India Insurance Brokers, Max Financial Services, Mayer Brown, Metro Brands, Milbank, Mishcon de Reya, Mitsubishi, Mitsui, Morgan Lewis, Morgan Stanley, Mori Hamada & Matsumoto, Morrison Foerster, NDTV, NEC, NIppon Life India Asset Management, Nishimura & Asahi, Nokia, North Oil Company, Norton rose Fulbright, O’Melveny & Myers, Omniactive Health Technologies, Orient Cement, OYO Hotels and Homes, Panasonic, PepsiCo, Petronas, Pfizer, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Rabo Bank, Raheja Developers, Rajah & Tann, Ravindra Energy, Reckitt Benckiser, Reed Smith, Reliance Industries, Saama Capital, Sahara, Saint Gobain, Samsung, Sanofi, Sapura Energy, Sequoia Capital, Shearn Delamore & Co, Shook Lin & Bok, Siana Capital, Sidley Austin, Siemens, Simmons & Simmons, Slaughter and May, Smiths Medical, Snapdeal, Softbank, Sony Pictures, Squire Patton Boggs, Standard Chartered Bank, Statkraft, Steel Authority of India, Sumitomo Chemicals, SyCip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan, Tata Capital, Tata Motors, Tata Power, Tata Steel, Tech Mahindra, Temasek, Tesco, Tilleke & Gibbins, Toshiba Water Solutions, TVF, Universal Music, Viacom18 Media, Visa, Vodafone Idea, Volkswagen, Welspun, WestBridge Capital, Wipro, Xiaomi, Yes Bank, Zee Infra, Zhong Lun Law Firm, Zydus Lifesciences, and thousands more Indian and international companies, financial institutions and international law firms.
Lawyers working at Indian law firms were not permitted to make nominations.
The final list of Future Legal Leaders reflects the nominations received and the references provided by those who made nominations, combined with India Business Law Journal editorial team’s more than 50 years’ collective experience in documenting and analysing India’s legal market.
All Indian private practice lawyers who are currently associated with Indian law firms were automatically eligible for inclusion in the nominations process (except for those lawyers who have been named Future Legal Leaders in previous years) and, as always, there were no fees or any other requirements for entry. Senior counsel and independent lawyers’ chambers were not included.