Vandana Chatlani reports

India has faced a terrible year battling the covid-19 pandemic. Companies and law firm offices shut shop. Homes were turned into work spaces, and lawyers relied on technology to stay connected.

Investments in software infrastructure were made, virtual courts were embraced, and frustrations were pushed aside when connectivity failed. Most importantly, law firms prioritised welfare support for their lawyers and other staff, focusing on virtual social gatherings, mental health and, in some instances, financial support for covid treatment.

Training and workshops were organised to ensure clients and junior employees did not lose out on learning and development opportunities. They shared worries, laughter and innovative ideas with their networks to find comfort and beat isolation.

The first wave of the pandemic across India came and went and, at one point, life began again, hope was restored, and work seemed to pick up pace. Many law firms announced new hires and partner promotions, and some opened new offices.

While some areas such as the suspended Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code remained quiet, others including edtech, online gaming and healthcare witnessed an upswing, accelerated by the covid scenario. Law firms with niche expertise in fintech capitalised on strong appetites for investment in the sector. Intellectual property law firms jumped on infringers selling fake sanitisers and face masks. Employment law specialists came to the rescue of companies struggling with retention, compensation and labour policies under the weight of lockdown and covid restrictions.

But as quickly as India emerged from the pandemic, it was thrown back into the fire in April this year. Thousands of devotees gathered at the Kumbh Mela festival, moving in throngs, immersing themselves in the Ganges and returning to their home cities on crowded buses and trains. Many did not show up for covid tests, and have been rightfully blamed for spreading the virus.

Electoral campaigns and mass rallies continued as the death toll steadily rose, and those with a fighting chance searched desperately for hospital beds and oxygen supplies. The legal community lost Ajoy Halder and Sundeep Dudeja, among others – young lawyers who had promising careers ahead of them.

The worst is not over. But private practitioners have shown resilience and compassion, looking after their workforces and continuing to support clients in every way possible. Throughout this devastating and challenging time, firms have managed to close landmark deals, set precedents and resolve disputes amicably.

In this demanding environment, India Business Law Journal’s editorial team was tasked with selecting the winners of the Indian Law Firm Awards. Our decisions are based on thousands of nominations and endorsements received from in-house counsel, other senior corporate executives and legal professionals around the world, as well as hundreds of submissions from Indian law firms. Many of those who assisted with our research are quoted in the text that follows. Others provided their endorsements on an anonymous basis.

As in previous years, we identify one Law Firm of the Year and seven Best Overall Law Firms. We also have five winners in the category of Best New Law Firms and seven winners of equal standing in all other categories. Descriptions of the achievements of winning firms are given in the category in which each firm is first mentioned.

Although the current mood is far from one of celebration, these awards are a testament to the hard work, excellence and fighting spirit of India’s legal community. Our winners are leading lights, showing the way forward from these dark days.

JUDGING THE AWARDS

India Business Law Journal‘s Indian Law Firm Awards have been presented annually since 2009. As in previous years, the winners have been selected based on nominations received (and justifications thereof), submissions from law firms, reference checks with law firm clients, and qualitative information received from in-house counsel and other legal professionals, in India and around the world.

A nomination form was posted on our website between December 2020 and February 2021, and thousands of in-house counsel, lawyers at international law firms and other India-focused professionals were invited to make nominations and provide qualitative information to support each nomination. At the same time, Indian law firms were asked to make submissions in support of their candidacy for awards and also complete a peer-review exercise.

The results reflect the data and qualitative information from all of these sources, combined with rigorous research by India Business Law Journal’s editorial team. All Indian law firms were automatically eligible for inclusion in the awards process and, as always, there were no fees or any other requirements for entry.


LAW FIRM OF THE YEAR

WINNER

AZB & Partners takes away 17 practice area awards this year, along with the accolade for Law Firm of the Year.

The 450-lawyer firm, with 112 partners, has proved its might time and again, winning starring roles on mega deals. A major achievement, particularly given it occurred at the height of the covid-19 pandemic, was representing Reliance Industries on its series of investments in Jio Platforms. The US$20 billion deal involving 13 investors made it the largest technology foreign direct investment in India to date.

Reliance Industries also turned to the firm for advice on its US$7.1 billion rights issue, a deal touted as the largest rights offering by a non-financial services company globally in the past decade. This was part of a string of capital markets successes, as the firm also assisted HDFC on its US$2.3 billion qualified institutional placement (QIP), Yes Bank on its US$2 billion further public offering, and Hexaware Technologies on its US$600 million voluntary delisting from Indian bourses.

It also made its presence felt on policy matters. Bahram Vakil, one of the founders and senior partner, sits on the Insolvency Law Committee, which was constituted by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs last year to develop the pre-packaged insolvency resolution process. The firm advised Jet Airways on its insolvency process, while the airline sold two floors of a Mumbai building and acquired title to six Boeing 777 aircraft to add about US$200 million to the value of its assets.

One client comments on the firm’s “high-powered lawyers and their ability to bring ammunition” when deals reach a critical point. AZB’s credentials are bolstered by its star lawyers – Zia Mody, Bahram Vakil, Ajay Bahl, Ashwath Rau and Varoon Chandra, to name a few. These lawyers led robust teams that claimed roles on 15 of India Business Law Journal’s Deals of the Year 2020.

AZB is respected for its bench strength and experience on complex matters. Amit Aggarwal, the vice president of finance at Hero Enterprise, says the firm offers a “practical, solution-oriented approach to problem-solving, and has the ability to cut through to issues very quickly”.

Phillip D’Costa, a partner at Penningtons Manches Cooper in London, appreciates the firm’s “knowledgeable, skilled practitioners who work hard for the client”.

The firm’s recent hires include Gautam Ganjawala from Wadia Gandhy & Co and Anuja Tiwari from DSK Legal. They strengthen the firm’s banking and finance, and infrastructure and energy offerings, respectively. The State Bank of India’s former managing director, Arijit Basu, has also been recruited as a senior consultant.

BEST OVERALL LAW FIRMS

WINNERS

Six of this year’s Best Overall Law Firms have maintained their positions at the top of the market for several years. They are AZB & Partners, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas (CAM), J Sagar Associates (JSA), Khaitan & Co, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co (SAM), and Trilegal.

Our seventh law firm, IndusLaw, is a new entrant, earning its place after building a stellar reputation among peers and clients, while pulling together a robust deal portfolio. “Their expertise is impeccable and they are just a phone call away when we need quick confirmation or a sounding board”, says Rakshika Kaul Padora, general manager legal at AMP Energy India. “It’s a one-stop solution law firm.”

IndusLaw replaces L&L Partners in the top table, as the latter faces turbulence sparked by a dispute between founding and managing partner Rajiv Luthra and senior partner Mohit Saraf. The two are the only equity holders at L&L.

Despite the internal struggles, L&L continues to be recognised for its multi-practice capabilities, attracting blue-chip clients and winning assignments on high-profile deals. However, the cloud of instability and uncertainty over the firm’s future has cast doubts in the minds of clients and peers, dampening its accomplishments compared to previous years.

The shifting power structure within India’s high-performing law firms illustrates why those at their peak cannot be complacent. IndusLaw’s move to the top tier provides evidence that hard work, equitable ownership structures and industry expertise can create new champions of legal excellence.

With 750 lawyers, including 137 partners, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas holds the title of India’s largest law firm. For clients, this is an attractive offering – a firm with extensive resources and a wide talent pool able to handle the full spectrum of legal concerns across disciplines and geographies.

CAM prides itself on its lawyers’ academic pedigrees, technical skills and out-of-the-box thinking. It also believes strongly in fostering a culture of innovation, as evidenced by its launch of Prarambh, India’s first legal technology incubator. As part of the initiative, CAM will mentor and partner with young entrepreneurs to develop technology and artificial intelligence-based products, platforms and solutions.

Benjamin Parameswaran, the managing partner of DLA Piper in Germany, appreciates the firm’s “consistent quality”, while Siddhanth Sharma, senior legal counsel at Procter & Gamble in Singapore, says CAM is “timely, pragmatic and cost-sensitive”.

Si Xuan Cai, legal director at CDPQ London, speaks emphatically about partner Ravindra Bandhakavi, CAM’s head of private equity. “He is the best lawyer I have worked with in India, and I go so far as to say in Asia,” she says. “Ravindra is the corporate client’s dream external ‘trusted counsel’. He understands the sensitivities of PE investors, sovereign wealth funds and pension funds supremely well. The skill I value the most in him is being able to dissect issues clearly and succinctly to their core … take instructions and get a deal done efficiently and commercially with counterparties.”

On the transactional side, the firm’s recent highlights include advising Gland Pharma on its US$872 million IPO, Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone on its US$1.6 billion acquisition of a 75% stake in Krishnapatanam Port, and Blackstone Group on its purchase of 26 real estate properties across hospitality, retail and office space from various entities of the Prestige group.

CAM reinforced its position as a banking and finance powerhouse, closing numerous deals for its loyal lender client base including State Bank of India, ICICI Bank, JP Morgan Chase, Kotak Mahindra Bank and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation.

It also sank its teeth into contentious matters, acting as counsel to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs on the first ruling to deal with debarment of an auditor under section 140(5) of the Companies Act, 2013, and representing Volkswagen group companies in proceedings before the National Green Tribunal and the Supreme Court.

CAM also rakes in 12 practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards this year.

IndusLaw makes its debut as one of the Best Overall Law Firms following a year of accomplishments across practice areas and impressive feedback from clients and peers. Established just over a decade ago, the 250-lawyer firm with 52 partners has become a magnet for lateral hires and shown its excellence in areas such as capital markets, private equity, technology and telecommunications, and employment.

In the past year, the firm relied on its traditional strengths, such as domestic offerings, but also made inroads into new product lines and transactions. It offered thought leadership on India’s emerging overseas listing framework and innovated on special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) listings, advising on the reverse Nasdaq listing of an Indian business through a SPAC in one of the first such transactions of its kind.

It has worked with a slew of new-age consumer tech companies on issues ranging from complex capital structuring to unique use of proceeds and preparation for Indian listings.

Standout deals across disciplines include: Advising on Burger King’s US$110 million IPO; assisting BigBasket, an online food and grocery store, in relation to an alleged data security breach; advising Elara (owner of Housing.com, PropTiger.com and Makaan.com) on its US$116 million acquisition by REA; and acting for Unacademy, Sequoia and Nexus on Unacademy’s US$150 million investment led by Softbank, which earned it unicorn status with a valuation of US$1.4 billion.

IndusLaw also managed to hire 30 new lawyers last year, despite the pressures of the pandemic.

“It has a fast growth rate on not just volumes, but qualitative and diversified legal advice,” says Prachi Shrivastava, the founder of Lawfinity Solutions.

Clients recommend Manan Lahoty, Suneeth Katarki, Sudipta Routh and Siddharth Manchanda.

“Manan is a capital markets lawyer, but he has been extremely helpful and approachable on everything that we have needed,” says one client. “He has a genuine level of insight into the priorities that the regulator has.”

They are “excellent, focused and clear on what to go for”, says Nipun Gupta, a consultant at Bird & Bird. They are a “substantive team that gets on with it without any fuss, [emphasizing] quality, not quantity”.

IndusLaw also picks up eight practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

J Sagar Associates has long been respected for its professionalism and meritocratic structure.

At the start of the pandemic last year, JSA launched a series of knowledge platforms to connect with clients and peers. These initiatives include one-to-one conversations to demystify impacts, disruptions, business dynamics, and policy changes. It also developed Project Kickstart, to assist startups and venture-backed companies with how technology companies are incorporated, financed and grown.

The 320-lawyer firm with 99 partners has built a solid reputation for its work on anti-corruption and white-collar crime. Partner Rupinder Malik was engaged as an independent compliance expert by a company debarred by the World Bank. She worked with the company, which has operations across Asia, Europe, the US and Africa, to review the implementation of a compliance framework across various subsidiaries, and overall compliance with the terms of debarment. Malik also conducted comprehensive pre-acquisition anti-bribery and anti-corruption risk due diligence for a European company looking to acquire an Indian hydropower project in a high-risk zone.

Aviation is another core area of expertise. Partner Vishnu Sudersan advised the Airports Authority of India on the agreement signed with special purpose vehicles (SPVs) formed by Adani Enterprises to operate, manage and develop airports in the cities of Guwahati, Thiruvananthapuram and Jaipur on a public-private partnership (PPP) basis.

JSA continues also to be a trusted adviser on banking transactions, and recently advised the Standard Bank of South Africa on a foreign currency facility of up to ZAR300 million (South African rand) (US$21.2 million) for ICICI Bank, through its Johannesburg Branch and assisted Standard Chartered Bank, on a term loan of 13.05 billion (US$177.4 million) for the Shapoorji Pallonji group to repay existing facilities.

Clients praise the firm for its work ethic and ability to deliver in pandemic times. “JSA has been a great partner in most of our negotiations,” says Vinayak Parameswaran, head of corporate finance and innovation at WeWork India. “They made navigating transactions during the pandemic much easier than we expected it to be.”

Parameswaran recommends Kuriyan KZ and Ritika Vaswani for their hard work, business insight and thoroughly great attitudes.

JSA takes away seven practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

Khaitan & Co marks its 110th anniversary this year, celebrating its journey from a small Kolkata firm to one of India’s leading law practices. It relies on the strength of its heritage and experience, but focuses on progressive thinking and ways to modernise its operations.

The firm of more than 700 lawyers, with 152 partners, emphasises its position as an institution rather than a personality-driven or family-run outfit. It has held workshops to raise awareness about gender, disability and LGBTQ issues, illustrating its commitment to diversity and inclusion, and is in the process of revamping its partner compensation model to be data driven.

Given the high cost of quality medical care in India, the firm introduced a policy covering expenses related to covid (including home quarantine and hospitalisation) for employees and their immediate dependents. In addition, it launched a programme with healthcare company Optum to provide free mental wellness services.

The firm remained busy across practice areas last year. Its education practice, led by partners Rajat Mukherjee and Monika Srivastava, advised on Laureate’s exit from the India and sale to Global University Systems. The deal is one of a few examples of a complete exit by way of secondary sale in the Indian education market.

Khaitan & Co has been at the forefront of India’s fintech revolution, taking on assignments for key industry players such as Razorpay, PhonePe, Flipkart, NeoGrowth, Slicepay, Fintopia, YY.com, Udaan, and Ola. It routinely advises investors and financiers such as Bessemer, Temasek and DST Global in their funding of fintech players, and works with international law firms in the fintech space.

Clients and peers offer glowing praise. Kabir Singh, a partner at Clifford Chance in Singapore, highlights the firm’s “depth of legal expertise, breadth of talent across practice areas, and excellent client management”, particularly on arbitration, indirect tax, labour and employment, and restructuring and insolvency matters.

Khozem Mirza, president of the Aditya Birla Group, appreciates the firm’s “professional and prompt advice”, while Bobby Majumder, a partner and co-head of the India practice at Reed Smith, says the firm has “excellent lawyers, commercially savvy and providing value for service”.

“Their service and knowledge are superb,” adds Robert Appelbaum, a partner at Webber Wentzel. “They are extremely collaborative and work alongside rather than trying to grab the mandate.”

Clients speak highly of Rabindra Jhunjhunwala, Sudhir Bassi, Abhimanyu Bhattacharya and Aditya Cherian.

Khaitan & Co snaps up 14 practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

With 684 lawyers including 132 partners, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co maintains its preeminent position in the Indian market as it expands its talent pool under the leadership of iconic founders Shardul and Pallavi Shroff.

Shardul heads the firm’s insolvency and bankruptcy practice, which saw a flurry of activity last year. A number of companies engaged the firm for advice on their insolvency processes under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, including Odisha Slurry Pipeline Infrastructure, Uttam Value Steels, Falcon Tyres, Alok Industries and 13 Videocon group companies. SAM also advised on Aircel’s insolvency and acquisition by UV Asset Reconstruction for US$2.6 billion, and Uttam Galva Metallic’s insolvency and acquisition by CarVal Investors for US$208 million.

Pallavi leads the dispute resolution practice and is the chief mentor for the competition law practice. Under her guidance, the firm took on several high-profile mandates, one of which was advising Punjab National Bank in India’s biggest banking fraud involving the fugitive diamond jeweller, Nirav Modi, and his companies, which defrauded the bank of more than US$1 billion.

In other headline-grabbing deals, the firm was counsel to: Reliance Retail Ventures on its acquisition of Future Group for US$3.6 billion; Rossari Biotech on its US$66 million IPO; and GMR Airports in an investment of US$1.5 billion by Aeroports De Paris. It also assisted Facebook, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Vista Equity Partners, Public Investment Fund, Silver Lake Capital Partners, General Atlantic, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, TPG Capital and L Catterton Management on their combined investment of more than US$20 billion in Jio Platforms.

In the past few years, International Finance Corporation (IFC) turned to SAM for advice on a number of its debt investments, the most recent being an infusion of US$175 million into the John Keells Group (JKG) in Sri Lanka – one of IFC’s largest investment transactions in Asia. The funding will be used to expand JKG’s supermarket chain in Sri Lanka, and help fund the expansion and refurbishment of hotel properties in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

The firm has introduced new digital initiatives, two of which are called Litera and CLEmentine. Litera, an artificial intelligence (AI) solution for document proofing, helps with delivery when timelines are tight. CLEmentine is SAM’s AI-based learning management system, with in-house video-based training content.

Tom Platts, a partner at Stephenson & Harwood says SAM is the “most responsive and knowledgeable firm we deal with”, while being “commercially-minded and effective at what they do”.

Vidyut Gulati, general counsel and director of legal at Bharti Airtel says the firm provides “quality advice”.

SAM collects 15 practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

Since its inception, Trilegal has embraced a philosophy of integrity, professionalism and institutionalisation. The firm believes that its leaders are not proprietors, and that the path to management is a democratic one open to all of its lawyers. The firm has 300 lawyers with 63 partners.

With employee welfare in mind, the firm launched various covid initiatives, including Fahrenheit Fridays, where lawyers meet every Friday via Zoom over specially curated music concerts and talks. It also started Trilegal Engage – a series of modules created for interns in order to replicate the law firm learning experience through digital training sessions and discussion forums moderated by partners and counsel.

As it marked its 20th anniversary this year, Trilegal announced the formal launch of its corporate social responsibility programme. It partnered with Catalysts for Social Action, an NGO focused on children in institutional care, and now sponsors the needs of their two homes in Ahmednagar.

The firm continues to be a magnet for complex and prestigious deals. Its competition practice under the leadership of Nisha Kaur Uberoi is highly sought after. It successfully won unconditional approval from the Competition Commission of India (CCI) for: The US$50 billion merger between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Groupe Peugeot; the US$45 billion merger between International Flavors & Fragrances and DuPont’s Nutrition & Biosciences Business; Reliance Retail’s US$3.4 billion acquisition of Future Group’s retail, wholesale, logistics and warehouse businesses; and Orix’s US$980 million investment in Greenko Energy.

Trilegal runs a preeminent data protection practice, attracting some of the world’s largest technology, telecom and media companies including Accenture, Google, Facebook, Adobe, Bharti Airtel, AWS, Amazon, PayPal and Comcast. The firm has been at the forefront of data protection regulatory advice, working with the Indian government to create the first approach paper for data protection in the country, and the first government-sponsored right to privacy bill. It also advised the government on privacy aspects relating to Aadhaar, and the covid contact tracing app, Aarogya Setu.

“Trilegal has been our go-to firm from day one,” says Dennis John, head of legal at Solv, who has used its services for technology, media and telecoms matters, and corporate queries. “Many times they have accommodated us with urgent deliverables on a war-footing basis. Despite the tight timelines, they never compromised on the quality of services.”

Trilegal takes away 10 practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

ANTI-CORRUPTION & WHITE-COLLAR CRIME

WINNERS

A rise in corporate misdeeds and India’s developing framework around corporate criminal liability have led to greater demand for legal support around white-collar crime. Enforcement agencies are stepping up investigative activity, taking disciplinary action and making arrests. With time and experience, these actions are bound to become more routine. Three of our winners in the Best Overall Law Firms category are also named in this category. The other four places are taken by specialist, mid-sized and smaller firms that have been recognised for their expertise in this area.

Bharucha & Partners is a 12-partner firm with offices in Mumbai, Bengaluru and New Delhi, led by MP Bharucha. It has a standalone governance, ethics and anti-corruption practice recognised domestically and internationally. Key clients include Unitech Wireless (Tamil Nadu), AstraZeneca, Diageo, Avantha Holdings and Shivender Mohan Singh (former promoter of Religare Enterprises, Fortis Healthcare and Ranbaxy Laboratories). The firm is also recognised for its capabilities in arbitration and ADR, internet & e-commerce, and litigation.

DSK Legal comprises more than 150 lawyers with 21 partners. It has solidified its reputation across practice areas, particularly on contentious matters, under the leadership of managing partner Anand Desai. “Their expertise is exemplary,” says Sunita Singh-Dalal, senior counsel at Stephenson Harwood. “Desai invests personal time and effort to handhold clients. I couldn’t ask for more.” The firm is representing Flipkart in a criminal case involving the sale of items unauthorised under India’s Arms Act, and advising Vuclip India, a group company of Hong Kong-based PCCW, before the law enforcement agency and courts.

In addition, it is defending the chairman of the India Today group against a criminal complaint alleging the broadcast of defamatory material by a news channel owned by the group. “They have a versatile team equally at home with corporate issues as they are with serious litigation,” says Nasser Kabir, the group general counsel at India Today. “Anand Desai is a legend, prompt and effective with his advice on strategy and difficult issues.” The firm is also recognised for its skills in aviation, litigation, media and entertainment, real estate, and infrastructure and project finance.

Nasser-Kabir-Group-General-Counsel-India-Today-001

New Delhi-based Karanjawala & Co is a dispute resolution specialist that has worked on some of India’s most prominent corporate crime matters. Spearheaded by Raian Karanjawala, the firm represents clients in the Supreme Court, across high courts, and in subordinate courts and tribunals in Delhi’s national capital region. The firm is also recognised as a dynamic force on litigation matters.

MZM Legal is a 50-lawyer firm focusing on white-collar crime solutions, preventive compliance, strategy, prosecution and disputes. Managing partner Zulfiquar Memon is part of a team representing billionaire diamond jeweller Nirav Modi in his extradition case.

ARBITRATION & ADR

WINNERS

Government rescue packages and the temporary renegotiation of contracts throughout the pandemic have led to peaks and troughs in arbitration proceedings, rather than a flood of cases. Despite this, arbitrations may slowly rise as parties dispute the scope of force majeure clauses, companies face insolvency and industries suffer losses, falling under the weight of financial pressure. Four firms listed in this category are among our Best Overall Law Firms. We focus on the other three that have made a name for themselves in this space.

Arista Chambers specialises in dispute resolution, offering counsel and arbitrator services for litigation in India and arbitration globally. The firm, led by founder Promod Nair, focuses on providing advocacy and strategic advice on contentious matters, and has represented sovereign states, Indian and international companies, and government departments in disputes spanning industries from power and technology to education and aerospace. George Pothan Poothicote, a Supreme Court advocate and legal consultant for the Ministry of External Affairs, enjoys the “ease of working together and eye for detail” that the firm brings, and attests to its “knowledge, experience and work ethic”.

Bharucha & Partners successfully represented Prysmian Cavi e Sistemi, a provider of technology cables and systems, in an arbitration governed by the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA), and subsequent enforcement proceedings before the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court. It also represented Adani Group in arbitration proceedings against Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation, seeking payment for defaults totalling 800 million. Other clients on the firm’s arbitration roster are Balaji Motion Pictures, Lapis India, HSBC France, IL&FS and Alchem International.

Kachwaha & Partners, an 18-lawyer firm with five partners, offers multidisciplinary expertise, but is best known for its track record in arbitration. With more than 40 years of experience, founder and managing partner Sumeet Kachwaha has handled arbitration matters in India and beyond, covering matters including infrastructure disputes, asset recovery, construction and government contracts. Kachwaha’s credentials have resulted in his appearance as an expert witness on Indian law in landmark matters before courts in England and Singapore.

AVIATION

WINNERS

J Sagar Associates, one of the Best Overall Law Firms, is recognised for its aviation work. The six other firms in this category are a range of large, mid-sized and small firms that are also frontrunners on aviation law.

ALMT Legal has about 70 lawyers and 20 partners spread across Mumbai and Bengaluru. The firm has a dedicated aviation practice headed by senior partner Sameer Tapia, which advises both domestic and international airlines on various regulatory issues, including registration and de-registration of aircraft with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. The firm also advises on the sale and purchase of aircraft, leasing transactions, competition law and cargo handling claims.

The firm wins praise not only for its aviation work, but for other areas too. “[Senior partner] Aliff Fazelbhoy has been exceptional over the past six years,” says Nicholas Stone, the global real estate leasing and project manager at Mavenir Systems, who engages the firm on property matters. “They are attentive, super logical, effective, responsive and can see the solution out of complex issues.” ALMT Legal also wins an award in the shipping and maritime category.

DSK Legal’s aviation team regularly advises and represents governments, concessionaires and contractors on a wide array of matters including tender documentation, bids, consortium arrangements and grant of concessions. It also takes on financing, dispute and regulatory assignments in this sector. Most recently, the firm acted as consultant to: GMR Goa International Airport on the tender to develop a cargo terminal, fuel farm and ground handling facilities at Greenfield International Airport; GMR Visakhapatnam International Airport on the tender to develop facilities at Bhogapuram International Airport in Vizianagaram; and DSR Consultants on the memorandum of understanding between DSR Consultants and Shaurya Aeronautics for operation and maintenance of hangars by Shaurya at Meerut Airport.

Other clients include the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India, City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra, Zurich Airport International, and Maharashtra Airport Development Company.

Hammurabi & Solomon consists of 90 lawyers with 16 partners across offices in Delhi, Bengaluru, Gurugram, Mumbai, Patna and Ranchi. Its aviation practice is one of several for which it is well regarded. The firm regularly advises the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA) on numerous matters.

Most recently it assisted the AERA in an appeal filed by Delhi Aviation Fuel Facility, challenging the fuel infrastructure charges fixed by the AERA in relation to Delhi International Airport. It also advised the AERA on an appeal filed by GMR Hyderabad International Airport challenging tariff orders for Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad.

Roshan RT, general counsel and head of legal, compliance and secretarial at the Adecco Group in India, consulted the firm for a range of matters including litigation, insolvency and bankruptcy, tax and employment. He notes its lawyers’ “exceptional support” and “360-degree approach, rather than focusing on the problem area alone”.

AB Mandanna, president of legal at Embassy Property Developments, says “the partners take up all our briefs with utmost sincerity and a sense of deep commitment”. He recommends Shweta Bharti for her “professional knowledge, acumen and reciprocation”. Hammurabi & Solomon also picks up an award for policy and regulation.

Kochhar & Co is a full-service firm with more than 200 lawyers, including 52 partners. The firm has offices in New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Gurugram and Hyderabad, and a presence overseas in Dubai, Singapore, Chicago and Jeddah (Saudi Arabia). The firm has a robust aviation practice with clients such as British Airways, Air France, Emirates, Longview Aviation and AML, and on the aerospace and defence side Lockheed Martin, Alion Sciences, Bell Helicopters and AMETEK Aerospace.

The firm boosted its aviation credentials with the hire of Sheetal Sabnis, the former head of legal and contracts with Go Airlines. In the past year, the firm saw an upswing in labour and employment work as a result of layoffs, salary reductions and restructuring or closure of operations relating to covid in the aviation, travel and cargo sectors. In addition, it has advised major international airlines and industry bodies on disputes pertaining to commercial contracts, employment, cargo and ground handling, litigation with agents, passenger claims, etc. Kochhar & Co is also recognised for fintech, labour and employment, and technology and telecoms.

Link Legal has grown from strength to strength through lateral hires and a merger, creating depth and breadth in areas such as banking, projects, infrastructure and disputes. The firm has 200 lawyers, including 31 partners. The firm recently did a rebranding exercise and unveiled a new logo. On the aviation front, it is currently advising Air India on its proposed disinvestment, a transaction expected to be valued at more than 350 billion. It is also advising GMR Hyderabad International Airport on its exclusive concession to set up, operate, maintain and develop the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad. In addition, Link Legal is challenging the constitutional validity of section 73 of the Cantonments Act, 2006, while seeking directions from Delhi High Court declaring that the land forming part of Indira Gandhi International Airport is not a “cantonment” within the definition of the act.

Deepak Kumar, the deputy general manager of finance and corporate treasury at Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals, engaged the firm for the issue of non-convertible debentures.
Kumar says the firm “demonstrated the best expertise in the area with all due diligence, and completed the assignment on time”.

Link Legal also takes away awards for energy and natural resources, and infrastructure and project finance.

MV Kini & Co is retained by the national carrier, Air India, and has negotiated the sale, purchase and resale of its Boeing and Airbus aircraft, as well as joint venture agreements. The firm of 150 lawyers, with 12 partners, advises private airlines seeking approval from the Directorate of Civil Aviation, and assists with the negotiation and vetting of code share agreements.

Recent work includes assisting Trujet in the lease of three ATR72-500 aircraft from Constellation Aircraft Leasing, and AirAsia (India) on its engine lease agreements with SR Technics. It also advised Hindustan Aeronautics on the repudiation of contract for the supply of Russian and Ukrainian-made equipment used in the aircraft manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics. “The firm is prompt, proactive and has specialised knowledge in the field of aviation law,” says Alhad Kulkarni, the general manager of legal at Air India. Kulkarni recommends Ravi Kini, Tavinder Sidhu and Khushboo Jain. “Their expertise in aircraft leasing and other aviation aspects is exemplary and stands out in comparison with others.” MV Kini also picks up an award for environment.

BANKING & FINANCE

WINNERS

Four firms recognised for their capabilities in this practice area are also among the Best Overall Law Firms. The other three are smaller firms with excellent banking credentials.

Phoenix Legal wins accolades from clients across the practice spectrum. With 65 lawyers, including 14 partners, it is a lean outfit, but one that has earned the trust of blue-chip financial institutions and companies such as Deutsche Bank, Northern Arc Capital, Reliance ADAG, Mitsui & Co, Volaris Group, Interglobe Aviation and ICICI Bank.

Banking and finance is a core area of expertise. “They are hardworking and provide value-for-money legal input,” says Atulya Sharma, legal director at Max Healthcare. He recommends the firm for its “top-end work delivery” in banking and finance, litigation drafting and research, medical law and general manufacturing. “They have exceeded my expectations,” says Sharma.

SNG & Partners is a second-generation law firm with an enviable reputation for banking and finance deals. The mid-sized firm, headed by Rajesh Narain Gupta with a total of 18 partners and associate partners, counts Standard Chartered Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, DBS Bank India, Arka Fincap and State Bank of India among its client base.

Recently, the firm advised Standard Chartered Bank on a term loan facility to Vaishnavi Anushka Infrastructure so the company could repay the promoters’ loans and finance the construction and development of its residential project, “Vaishnavi North 24”, in Bengaluru. It also advised DBS Bank India on a term loan facility to DLF Cyber City Developers, Arka Fincap, on a line of credit to Puravankara and Provident Housing, and drafted common security documents for IndusInd Bank, Axis Bank and Punjab National Bank to secure various facilities granted to Dalmia Refractories. The firm also picks up an award for its private client practice.

Talwar Thakore & Associates is a young seven-partner boutique firm that has showcased excellence in banking and finance, competition law, corporate M&A, capital markets and financial regulation. Under the leadership of banking partners Sonali Mahapatra and Rituparno Bhattacharya, the firm offers advice across the finance spectrum, from bank finance to structured finance, acquisition financing, project lending and convertibles. Mark Stevens, director of legal at Deutsche Bank in Hong Kong, calls Talwar Thakore an “outstanding top-tier firm with a deep bench of experienced, overseas-trained banking and finance lawyers”.

CAPITAL MARKETS

WINNERS

All the firms honoured in this category were recognised in this area last year, and at least five have held their positions for several years. This is an indication that clients are keen to stick to their preferred partners when it comes to capital markets deals.

IndusLaw continues to win plum mandates thanks to the reputation of practice expert Manan Lahoty. “Manan Lahoty is a first class capital markets lawyer,” says I Bobby Majumder, the Dallas-based co-head of India practice at Reed Smith. Existing clients turned to the firm for newer and innovative transactions. RBL Bank hired IndusLaw for layered structuring of a qualified institutional placement (QIP) followed by a preferential allotment, while hypermarket leader D-Mart sought the firm’s guidance on its unique fundraising structured as a QIP, followed by an on-market offer for sale by its promoters. “Manan has been extremely helpful and approachable on everything that we have needed,” says one client. “He has a genuine level of insight into the priorities that the regulator has … he and his team are excellent.”

J Sagar Associates enjoyed a busy year on capital markets deals. Sunil Chari, the managing director and co-founder of Rossari Biotech, engaged JSA for its IPO. “Our issue was the first in corona times,” says Chari. “The JSA team worked under tight timelines, day and night, to ensure the IPO was a superb success, and all this when its offices were closed and the city was in lockdown.” Chari describes capital markets specialist Arka Mookerjee as “a phenomenal leader”.

S&R Associates has a market-leading capital markets practice. The firm of 23 partners and counsel is a draw for clients with its combination of Indian law expertise coupled with international quality legal services. Many of its lawyers have previously practised law in jurisdictions including the US, the UK and Singapore. Recent highlights include advising on the first institutional placement by a listed real estate investment trust (Embassy Office Parks REIT) in India; acting for Kotak Mahindra, Citigroup, Haitong Securities and Nomura as book running lead managers in the 64.79 billion IPO by Gland Pharma; and advising IRB Infrastructure Trust, India’s first unlisted infrastructure investment trust in its 5.1 billion rights issue to eligible unitholders.

S&R is also recognised for M&A. Key achievements include advising Eros International in its stock-for-stock merger with STX Filmworks, and Everstone Group on an investment by Brookfield Business Partners and its institutional partners in IndoStar Capital Finance.

COMPETITION & ANTITRUST

WINNERS

Competition law expertise continues to be in demand, especially in light of proposed amendments to the Competition Act that seek to adopt international best practices. The winners in this category include three firms from our Best Overall Law Firms list. The other four have earned a stellar reputation for their work in this area.

Chandhiok & Mahajan is a young firm of 33 lawyers and five partners. In just seven years, the firm has carved out a solid reputation for itself on competition law matters. In the past year, it successfully represented a number of clients before the Competition Commission of India (CCI) and the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT). It secured a favourable order rejecting the complaint of cartelisation among credit rating agencies in India for its client, ICRA, and defended the CCI’s order against Adani Gas before the NCLAT and the Supreme Court.

Competition specialist Deeksha Manchanda was promoted to partnership earlier this year. The firm is also respected for its work on restructuring and insolvency. “The team is technically very competent on IBC [insolvency and bankruptcy code] matters, and is highly prompt in responding to legal queries,” says one client, who commends Pooja Mahajan and Mahima Singh for being “very solution-oriented and available for advice and counsel anytime”. New clients on the firm’s roster include Google, ICRA, Michelin India, HP India, Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India, ATC Telecom Infrastructure, and Indus Towers.

L&L Partners faced a year of disruption and discontent as a result of tussles between the firm’s two equity partners. Although clients appear to be treading carefully, somewhat unsettled by the current situation, many still vouch for the firm’s credentials across practice areas. “I cannot recommend them enough, they are excellent,” enthuses Jannan Crozier, a partner at Baker McKenzie. “We have worked with many of their offices and we always find their advice to be of a consistent and high standard.”

On the competition front, the firm has strong expertise in leniency proceedings before the CCI and has played a role in proceedings in two of the largest global cartels in recent history. It is currently representing GMR Hyderabad International Airport in an ongoing proceeding before the CCI and the Supreme Court of India. Clients also speak highly of the firm’s project finance capabilities. “They know their work, are professional and meticulous,” says Ankur Saboo, head of project finance at Vector Green Energy. “Having them on your side makes documentation much more reliable, time-bound and thorough.” Saboo says Karan Mitroo is “deeply respected … and has incredible knowledge in project finance”. Nupur Gupta, who works in project and structured finance at Enel Green Power, says the project finance team under Mitroo is dedicated, knowledgeable, and showcases “impeccable execution skills”. The firm is recognised in four other categories – international trade, pharma and life sciences, policy and regulation, and restructuring and insolvency.

Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan is one of India’s largest full-service law firms. With more than 400 professionals including 51 partners, and 14 offices, the firm’s employees come from diverse backgrounds and bring extensive industry and policy experience. The firm invests heavily in technology, believing in its role as a driver of legal services for the future. Its competition and antitrust team offers consultancy, litigation and transactional support to domestic and international companies, along with trade associations. The team’s primary focus is behavioural matters relating to both anti-competitive agreements and unilateral conduct. It regularly represents parties in investigations and litigation proceedings before the CCI, the NCLAT, various high courts and the Supreme Court of India. It also advises clients based in and outside India on merger filings before the CCI. The firm is also recognised in five other categories – intellectual property protection, international trade, pharma and life sciences, taxation (direct), and taxation (indirect).

Samvad Partners is made up of more than 100 lawyers with 17 partners in offices across Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and New Delhi. “We have had a fantastic experience with Samvad Partners,” says Rohnil Nandu, the CFO at Securens Systems. “They have a clear thought process and practical solutions … and they guide the management beautifully about the pros and cons of [a matter].” The firm takes pride in its collegiate culture and a rich mix of domestic and international experience that its lawyers bring to the table.

Sachit Murthy, the senior vice president of success orchestration at Algonomy Software, commends the firm for its “deep understanding of law”, “professional and ethical practices”, and “genuine concern for the client”. In a significant matter on the competition front last year, the firm represented the CCI in the case of Samir Agarwal v the Competition Commission of India, of crucial importance as it clarified the role of informants and allowed a wider category of people to approach the CCI with information of anti-competitive activity.

Samvad also picks up awards for education, fintech, internet and e-commerce, licensing and franchising, private equity and venture capital, and sports and gaming. Arijit Sarkar, associate director at Trifecta Capital, appreciates Samvad’s “excellent focus on client service and practical perspectives”, and “great knowledge base on fintech”.

CORPORATE & COMMERCIAL

WINNERS
Crawford Bayley & Co
India Law Offices
Indian Law Partners
Krishnamurthy & Co
LexConsult
PSA
Singh & Associates

In this category, we look past India’s largest full-service law firms and honour some of the leading mid-sized and smaller firms that have received enthusiastic endorsements from clients for their excellence in corporate and commercial work.

Crawford Bayley & Co is a legacy law firm of 145 lawyers with 12 partners that remains well respected by peers and clients. Senior partner Sanjay Asher is a preferred adviser for many companies seeking an experienced hand in capital markets, restructuring and insolvency, joint ventures and M&A deals. “Sanjay Asher continues to be at the cutting edge of where his clients need him most”, says Nipun Gupta, a consultant at Bird & Bird. Late last year, the firm advised Canara Bank on its US$271 million QIP.

India Law Offices, a 10-partner firm with 55 lawyers, has embraced individual clients and small businesses, providing the same attention it would grant multinational and Indian conglomerates. “We have had excellent experiences with Gautam Khurana and his team,” says Thomas Kramer, a partner at Esch & Kramer. Another client says the firm is “very professional in all areas including legal, company secretarial, accounting, taxation, trademark and more”. She adds that “ILO puts themselves in the customer’s shoes”, gaining an “in-depth understanding of their situation and needs”, and “extends their utmost professional and sincere services to achieve the customer’s goals and objectives”.

Indian Law Partners is a boutique full-service firm comprising 25 lawyers, with four partners. The firm is led by managing partner Gopika Pant, and has had a non-exclusive best-friend referral arrangement with foreign firm Ashurst since 2011. The firm is advising Major League Baseball USA (MLB) on extensive corporate commercial matters and assisting on their business setup in India. “I work mostly with Vineet Gupta who has been great,” says Briana Meginniss, a counsel at MLB in New York.

“I’m most impressed with the responsiveness and the quality of those responses. I am confident in the guidance I receive.” The firm also advised Cardtronics, the world’s largest white label ATM operator, on its India operations. Other corporate clients include Savills Hong Kong, Nippon Paper Foodpac and Chiyoda Corporation.

Krishnamurthy & Co is an 85-lawyer firm with 10 partners spread over offices in Bengaluru, Mumbai, New Delhi and Chennai. The full-service firm is headed by founder and managing partner, Naina Krishna Murthy. “They are very responsive to clients’ requirements and knowledgeable in their respective areas,” says Rohan Thacker, deputy vice president of legal at Tata Capital Financial Services, who consulted the firm for project finance documentation and real estate matters. Thacker commends Krishna Murthy for her availability and personal involvement when necessary. The firm recently advised: JSW Infrastructure on its 10 billion acquisition of the Chettinad Group’s port business; Calderys India Refractories on its 800 million purchase of HIL’s industrial thermal insulation business sold under the HYSIL brand; and Reliance Industrial Investments on its US$40 million acquisition of a controlling stake in Reverie Language Technologies.

Lex Consult is a boutique firm of five lawyers, with two partners, which specialises in corporate commercial and transactional advisory. Clients endorse its work on corporate and commercial assignments, as well as insolvency, M&A and fintech. “They’ve always put in what was needed to reach a commercially viable solution without getting stuck in legal minutiae,” says Yashasvini Kumar, global general counsel and chief compliance officer at Innoterra. “This balance of practical business motivations with the technicalities of law is what makes them stand apart from other firms.”

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Kumar rates Majid Siddiqi and Naresh Pareek who “go the extra mile”. The firm recently advised Cupid on setting up an unincorporated joint venture to produce medical devices, and assisted Accelerated Learning Edutech on its income sharing agreements. Priyesh Karia, vice president of finance at investment platform Stockal, says the firm’s “assistance on developing and innovating in our investment products while being on the right side of regulations has been invaluable”. Raveena Singh, in-house counsel at Urban Platter, says Lex Consult provides “authentic, creative, bespoke and highly curated solutions”.

Priti Suri is the driving force at PSA, a 15-lawyer firm with three partners. Corporate and commercial work is the firm’s core expertise, complemented by its experience in environmental law, M&A, labour and employment, and technology. The firm advised a client on creating its defence manufacturing and services subsidiary to qualify as offset partner and vendor in defence contracts. It also advised a consortium of 23 not-for-profit organisations and tech companies to create a covid taskforce for awareness, telemedicine and grasssroots level outreach.

In addition, it conducted legal 101 sessions for Startup Odisha a government initiative that seeks to develop a world-class startup hub in the state. “Priti Suri and Arya Tripathy are my go-to lawyers for any type of corporate transaction in India,” says Jonathon Whittlesey, a partner at Squire Patton Boggs. “They are always quick to respond and they provide detailed, excellent advice that is easy to understand.” Dariaus Shroff, medical director and vitreoretinal surgeon at Shroff Eye Centre, says Suri is “enthusiastic, dedicated, bold and determined” and Tripathi “has a clear, incisive mind and is extremely knowledgeable about her subject”. PSA advised Shroff on issues such as labour law, contract and malpractice issues, privacy policy and tele-consultation legal framework and policy. The firm also picks up an award for media and entertainment.

Singh & Associates is a full-service firm with 128 lawyers, including 16 partners. Its main practice groups are litigation and alternative dispute resolution, corporate and allied laws, contracts and transactions, intellectual property, valuation services, and indirect tax, customs and trade. The firm assisted Bempu, a social enterprise dedicated to improving healthcare in India and around the world, in exploring capital-raising possibilities through equity investments using instruments that would allow for an easy exit in the future.

It also advised Dakshas Foundation, a registered section 8 company, in obtaining a certificate of registration under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010, so it could be registered under the Nasscom Foundation’s “BigTech Soup” scheme to build the capacities of the non-profit sector. Robert Fichter, the managing director at Dennemeyer & Associates, says the firm offers “outstanding legal expertise”, “a helpful network” and “helped us establish new entities in India at the speed of light”. Fichter additionally acknowledges the firm’s “profound knowledge and experience” on IP mandates.

DATA COMPLIANCE & CYBERSECURITY

WINNERS
Agama Law Associates
Ikigai Law
IndusLaw
Nishith Desai Associates
Reina Legal
Spice Route Legal
Trilegal

Companies are increasingly seeking expert advice on data protection and cybersecurity as India’s Personal Data Protection Bill, introduced in 2019, is gradually enacted into law. One of the law firms in this category also appears in our Best Overall Law Firms list. The others have dedicated practices in this area.

Agama Law Associates is a boutique commercial law firm that has developed its practice to assist e-commerce and fintech companies, among others, to create their commercial contracts, e-contracts, click-wrap and shrink-wrap agreements, keeping in mind current data protection laws in India and globally. The 11-lawyer firm led by two partners has also developed expertise in helping companies build technology in a compliant manner.

Agama recently assisted one of the largest e-surveillance players in Mumbai in drafting and negotiating its commercial contracts in the B2B space, and advised a string of customers on data compliance and related matters. “Sumit Rai [an independent of counsel who works closely with the firm] and [partner] Archana Balasubramanian are superbly meticulous with detail but also very insightful of the bigger picture and strategy at work,” says one client. “I would recommend them, without hesitation … their understanding of our legal position on several matters is exceptional.”

Ikigai Law is a specialist law firm made up of 20 lawyers, including three partners, with a focus on technology and innovation-led businesses. The firm’s key tech-focused practices are regulatory, public policy, general corporate, data, venture capital and IP. The firm developed a unique app for CCC, an international content production company, to obtain data consent from people in rural areas who feature in their films.

The app is the first of its kind in India, using videos to explain to those who may be illiterate, or speak only vernacular languages, what consent is being sought and then records the consent on video.

Ikigai advised Amazon on personal and non-personal data governance including localisation requirements and proposed data-sharing mechanisms. “They are truly excellent on matters of policy research and thought leadership on sunrise sectors,” says one client. Ikigai is also named in two other categories – internet and e-commerce, and sports and gaming.

Nishith Desai Associates (NDA) is a full-service firm of more than 80 lawyers with offices in Mumbai, Bengaluru, New Delhi, Silicon Valley, Singapore, Munich and New York. The firm’s technology law practice handles issues relating to transfer pricing, IP, privacy, data protection and security. Its client list includes names such as Amazon, Broadcom, Cisco, Cognizant, eBay, Facebook, Flipkart, Google, Integreon, Oracle India, Tata Sky and Verizon. “We are extremely happy with NDA’s services,” says one US-based client. “They have been our legal partner in India for over a decade, providing a range of corporate, litigation, employment and real estate counsel.”

The firm is also recognised in the categories of fintech, internet and e-commerce, labour and employment, pharma and life-sciences, taxation (direct), taxation (indirect), and technology and telecommunications. Bobby Majumder, co-head of the India practice at Reed Smith, attests to Nishith Desai’s tax expertise. “Hands down the most knowledgeable and client-friendly service,” he says. Speaking in a personal capacity, Evgenia Fkiaras, director of global employment law at Synopsys, says the firm is “thorough, knowledgeable, and very responsive” when it comes to labour law matters. She adds: “It is tied for the best relationship with outside counsel I have, worldwide. I would absolutely recommend Vikram Shroff and would follow him to a different firm if he ever left.”

Reina Legal is a four-partner firm with offices in New Delhi and Mumbai. It is supported by a network of affiliated firms across India, as well as in the UAE, Bahrain and Oman. The firm provides specialist advice on data protection law, guiding clients on implementing privacy ecosystems, conducting data protection impact assessments, creating data protection toolkits, and developing security and privacy best practices.

Spice Route Legal is a 42-lawyer firm led by three partners. The firm, which has offices in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Delhi, Kochi and Pune, consists of specialists in technology, media and telecoms who bring deep expertise in all things data, privacy and fintech. Spice Route assisted some of the world’s largest tech companies on structuring their privacy policies, risk mitigation and regulatory disclosures, following significant data breaches. It also provided data and privacy advisory on multiple health tech mandates regarding the storage and transfer of user data.

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Spice Route “is well versed with data, fintech, IPR and TMT, with particular relevance to new age companies and the evolving e-commerce and tech space,” says Vinita Varghese, head of legal at Urban Company. “Every issue and advice receives partner attention, which is remarkable.” Varghese recommends partner Mathew Chacko “for his nuanced and deep understanding of the law” and “ability to grasp complicated business models with ease”.

Vishakha Mangale, co-founder and COO of OmiX Research & Diagnostics Labs, says the firm is “very professional”, but with “a very personal and humane touch as well”. Mangale is also impressed with Chacko’s ability to anticipate challenges and plan next steps. “He is a very vocal and outspoken person and good at taking calculated risks.” The firm also takes away awards for fintech, and internet & e-commerce.

EDUCATION

WINNERS
AP & Partners
IndusLaw
Khaitan & Co
LexCounsel
Poovayya & Co
Samvad Partners
Vertices Partners

This is the first year that India Business Law Journal’s Indian Law Firm Awards are recognising firms for excellence in this practice area. The demand for legal advice in education is set to grow with the rise of online schooling apps, investments in educational technology and partnerships between Indian and international universities.

Established in 2019, AP & Partners has 16 lawyers and four partners. Its recent highlights include advising Teacher Tools on its early-stage investments from Matrix Partners, Beenext, 3One4 and AL Trust, and representing minority institutions in the states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Gujarat regarding fee regulation statutes enacted by their respective state legislatures. The latter concerns complex issues pertaining to rights guaranteed to minority institutions under article 30 of the Constitution of India, and will have widespread consequences for constitutional law cases.

The firm is also representing the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination regarding implications of the new National Education Policy for the board as well as the 2,500 schools affiliated to it. Niklas Holck, the founder and CEO of Tradeworks.vc, engaged the firm for a venture capital matter, and describes the team as “outstanding, commercially savvy and very responsive”. Holck recommends partner Moksha Bhat and associate Suchita Vyas. AP & Partners is also recognised for licensing and franchising.

LexCounsel is led by partners Seema Jhingan, Alishan Naqvee, Dimpy Mohanty and Abhijeet Das. The firm has worked extensively for educational institutions, and created a framework document and bylaws to record the management and governance parameters for FICCI ARISE (Alliance for Re-Imagining School Education), a collegium of stakeholders representing schools within India.

It has also advised Yamanashi Gakuin School Japan on its proposed structure under the central and state-level education laws in India, and the funding mechanism under India’s foreign direct investment policy and external commercial borrowing regulations. Other clients in the education sector include Dual Academy (Germany), Doon Business School, Galgotias University and Aga Khan Education Service. Seema Jhingan “is a brilliant lawyer and understands the legality of the education system of India,” says Siddharth Singh, director of The Emerald Heights International School. “She was able to understand and analyse my problems and give solutions instantly.”

Poovayya & Co is headquartered in Bengaluru with a branch office in New Delhi, and operates through a network of associate offices in Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Kochi. Led by managing partner Sanjanthi Sajan Poovayya, the firm advises the management of several educational institutions and trusts focused on different stages in the education process, from preschool to further education in arts and culture.

In the past year, the law firm has: Advised a leading preschool on its transition to digital learning and related compliances, including the restructuring of its leasehold obligations; assisted a public charitable trust focused on art and culture on the sale of trust property and their ongoing data archival policies; and acted for an educational trust on hiving out one institution under its control to a trust with similar objectives.

Vertices Partners has been prominent on education matters. Key mandates include: Acting for Whitehat Jr as counsel for the vendor due diligence in its all-cash sale to Byju for US$300 million; reviewing, negotiating and executing the transaction documents for Teachmint relating to an investment in the company by Better Innovations; and advising Lattu Media Kids by Airtel on a seed investment in the company by Airtel. “Their knowledge and flexibility in working with startups is unparalleled,” says Rhitiman Majumdar, co-founder and CEO of shipping solutions company Pickrr. Majumdar praises founder partner Archana Khosla Burman and her team for their “deep and vast expertise in all of the boutique areas that any firm would need, right from fundraising and contract drafting to litigation”.

The firm has launched initiatives such as “StartUp Caravan” to bring entrepreneurs and legal advisers together to discuss solutions for common challenges and build a knowledge ecosystem for new businesses to flourish. Vertices also wins an award for private equity & venture capital.

ENERGY & NATURAL RESOURCES

WINNERS

HSA Advocates enjoys a stellar reputation for its work in the energy sector, having served clients such as Engie, GMR Energy, HLS Asia, Vivid Solaire Energy, Entoria Energy, Eden Renewables, Avaada Power, Juniper Green Energy, Powerica and Masaya Solar Energy. The firm advised Mytrah Energy (India) in an arbitration against Siemens Gamesa Renewable Power, in relation to a dispute that arose regarding the precise nature of the scope of the parties’ obligations with respect to multiple contracts for supply, erection, commissioning, operation and maintenance of wind turbine generators.

It is currently involved in addressing wind power generation industry-related issues in the states of Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, and has in the past represented the solar power developers in the state of Gujarat, before diverse judicial forums including the Supreme Court. “HSA has end-to-end capabilities in energy, with strong sector specialisation,” says Babita Ambekar, a partner at CMS in Singapore.

The firm recently launched an online compliance platform to help companies stay ahead of the emerging compliance requirements, with bespoke frameworks covering both statutory and non-statutory compliance at the central, state and district levels across a range of industry sectors. HSA also wins awards for environment, and infrastructure and projects.

Sarthak Advocates is a two-partner firm based in New Delhi. The firm has assisted the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE), a Government of India initiative, on drafting rules and regulations to be issued under the Energy Conservation Act, 2001. The BEE’s mission is to assist in developing policies and strategies focusing on self-regulation, with the primary objective of reducing the energy intensity of the Indian economy. Sarthak has been requested to monitor market insights and developments so that the relevant rules and regulations, including amendments to the existing regulations, can be amended and modified accordingly.

“They are a small outfit, but conscientious about providing comprehensive legal advice right from strategic thinking to negotiation to litigation,” says Yogesh Mathur, an independent senior restructuring adviser. “Their timely drafting, filing and legal advice at each stage of a matter has resulted in favourable awards and orders,” says another client. “As a government entity, our matters need distinct and customised legal advice, which goes beyond quoting favourable provisions of law and case laws … Sarthak thoroughly understands this.”

ENVIRONMENT

WINNERS
Dhir & Dhir Associates
Halder & Associates
HSA Advocates
MV Kini & Co
Saikrishna & Associates
SKS Law Associates
Trust Legal

Dhir & Dhir Associates is a full-service firm with offices in New Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad, and a representative office in Japan. In January, Dhir hired Sonal Verma plus a team of five professionals with dual qualifications to lead its environmental, social and governance (ESG) practice, the first dedicated practice of its kind in India, according to the firm. The core focus of its practice will address sustainable finance, corporate responsibility, governance, environmental liability, climate change and carbon emissions, capital markets, business and human rights, sustainable workforce and labour issues.

The firm is currently producing a compliance report for Lords Chloro Alkali based on 150-plus ESG key performance indicators, which will be shared at the company’s audit committee meeting. Sushil Bhatt, general manager of legal at Jindal India Thermal Power, commends the firm’s lawyers for their availability, accurate strategies and prompt opinions. Dhir is also recognized for restructuring and insolvency. Harish Vaid, senior president of corporate affairs at Jaiprakash Associates, appreciates Dhir’s “repository of legal knowledge” and “skilful handling of matters before the debt recovery tribunal”.

Halder & Associates is a boutique law firm that provides specialised legal consultancy services in energy, oil and gas, construction contracts, infrastructure, real estate, project finance, technology and media, M&A and disputes.

Its recent achievements include advising: Climate Policy Initiative, a US-funded multilateral company, on renewable energy projects in India; Alstom on the development of a rooftop solar project in India; and a Malaysian company on its acquisition of three solar projects in India, where Halder assisted on due diligence, structuring of equity and debt, and drafting of transaction documents.

The Asian Development Bank has committed US$500 million to solar projects across India, and Halder & Associates will be advising on them all. Tragically, the firm’s founder and managing partner, Ajoy Halder, passed away with covid-19 on 6 May at the age of 41. The firm described Ajoy as a “very genuine person full of life and optimism”. He is survived by his sister, Sushmita Halder, a counsel at the firm. While the team is deeply saddened and shocked by Ajoy’s passing, it will continue its operations to carry forward his legacy.

Saikrishna & Associates is a full-service law firm best known for its strengths across IP, media and technology, and disputes. The firm’s specialised environmental law practice caters to domestic and international clients in the technology and consumer durable space on a variety of regulatory matters pertaining to India’s environmental laws, specifically relating to electronic, hazardous and plastic waste management.

It assists clients on regulatory compliance with environment protection laws and regulations, including on extended producer responsibility (EPR) obligations, to deal effectively with regulatory agencies and environmental bodies, and to identify and eliminate potential liabilities including engaging with regulatory bodies in relation to show cause notices and other compliance-led filings. Founder and managing partner Saikrishna Rajagopal, and partners Ameet Dutta and Monica Dutta are among the firm’s most well-recognised lawyers. The firm also picks up awards for excellence in IP enforcement, media and entertainment, and pharma and life sciences.

SKS Law Associates is an IP boutique of six lawyers and six patent agents. Clients speak highly of founder Sunita Sreedharan. Muhammed Majeed, founder and managing director at Sami-Sabinsa Group, notes Sreedharan’s “prompt responses and brilliant analysis”, along with her “exemplary knowledge of national biodiversity laws and patent laws”.

In the past couple of years, Prabuddha Ganguly, the CEO of Vision-IPR, has engaged SKS Law for advice on the cannabis-based pain reliever cannibidiol, the Nagoya Protocol, climate change, new plant varieties and farmers’ rights, geographical indications and other areas. He says SKS is “a formidable team” that has “been able to carve out creative solutions under the most demanding circumstances”.

Ganguly praises Sreedharan for “her insightful knowledge of IPR laws, policy implications of these laws, contextualising the laws to diverse situations, providing solutions, and convincingly arguing and defending them before regulatory bodies, tribunals and courts in India and other jurisdictions”.

The firm has offered in-depth analysis to the Ministry of Commerce on proposed amendments to the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. The SKS team also successfully obtained mandatory regulatory approvals from the National Biodiversity Authority on behalf of domestic and international clients seeking to commercialise their products.

Trust Legal has been a frontrunner for advice on environmental law for many years. The firm’s clients include the Wildlife Protection Society of India, the World Wide Fund for Nature, Freeland Foundation, Corbett Foundation and various state governments and pollution control boards across the country.

Most recently, the firm conducted environmental due diligence on behalf of Tata Consultancy, on the lease of a property from Vatika, and advised fertility chain Medicover Healthcare on medical waste management under the Bio Medical Waste Management Rules, 2016.

Last year, Trust Legal undertook its biggest due diligence exercise on behalf of Adani to assess the environmental impact within dense forests in Jharkand, Orrisa and Chhattisgarh, where coal blocks were to be auctioned. It also advised Tetra Pak India and the World Plastic Conference held in Italy, on alternatives to plastics.

Vidyavathsal Annapragada, managing director for India at Vital Capital Environment, speaks enthusiastically of managing partner Sudhir Mishra and partner Petal Chandhok, and strongly recommends the firm for litigation, contract drafting and vetting. He is “very happy” with the firm’s “hands-on approach, personalised services, quick and qualitative responses and above all, value for money”.

FINTECH

WINNERS
Amicus Services
Khaitan & Co
Kochhar & Co
Nishith Desai Associates
Samvad Partners
Spice Route Legal
Trilegal

Fintech firms have flourished across India. In the past 18 months, India saw a number of fintech companies achieve valuations of more than US$1 billion. Law firms are leaning in and sharpening their skills to stay ahead of developments in this cutting-edge area. Given its connection with finance-related fields, this category is dominated by large firms, however, boutique and specialist firms have been quick to capitalise, demonstrating their expertise and agility.

Amicus Services has been a part of the fintech ecosystem since 2015, when the sector was still at its nascent stage. The firm has advised clients, including regulated entities, on tie-ups with fintech partners, lending documentation for consumer finance, issues relating to know-your-customer guidelines, and privacy and data sharing. It has also structured, negotiated and closed transactions on varied financial and credit products.

Associate partner, Joyeeta Banerjee led the team that advised DMI Finance, a leading digital consumer finance lender, on marquee tie-ups for lending, including with an online wallet and digital payment system, and one of the top three mobile phone OEMs in India. On the regulatory side, Amicus has worked actively with industry associations such as the Digital Lenders Association of India, and regulators to help establish norms and regulations for the industry.

“Amicus handles virtually all of our outside legal needs,” says one client, who has worked with the firm for almost a decade. “Even in circumstances where we require specialised services from another firm, we insist on Amicus’ involvement and oversight.” He adds: “I cannot say enough about [Amicus co-founder] Shivi Rastogi … and her willingness to find solutions to what might appear to be intractable problems at first glance. She provides exceptional service.”

INFRASTRUCTURE & PROJECTS

WINNERS

The Indian government, in its Union Budget 2021, allocated about US$32 billion to enhance transport infrastructure around the country. It also expanded its National Infrastructure Pipeline to 7,400 projects. About 217 projects valued at approximately US$15 billion were completed last year. The legal advisers on such deals are often the larger law firms who have the bench strength and expertise to execute these long-term projects.

INSURANCE & REINSURANCE

WINNERS
Clasis Law
CSL Chambers
Khaitan Legal Associates
Majmudar & Partners
Phoenix Legal
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co
Tuli & Co

Clasis Law celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The full-service law firm has a market-leading insurance practice, where it handles contentious and non-contentious matters. The firm represents clients at each stage of the insurance process, including incorporation and setting up business, development of insurance products and policy terms, claims handling and coverage advice, and insurance coverage litigation and arbitration.

Clasis recently advised a New Zealand-based insurance and reinsurance company specialising in credit and financial risk insurance and guarantee, in relation to its joint venture in India and incorporating a step-down subsidiary to undertake credit risk guarantees and credit enhancements. The joint venture company will be the first of its kind in India, which will offer credit enhancement services to its clients through sureties and guarantees on their behalf.

“I’m extremely happy with the Clasis Law team,” says Nagendra Pai, country head at ContiTech India. “They are a great set of professionals who understand their customers well and provide them with excellent services … in any challenging situation.” Clasis also picks up an award for shipping & maritime.

CSL Chambers is a boutique law firm based in New Delhi, which has a close association with Clyde & Co. Insurance is one of its core specialisations. Recently, the firm assisted a foreign reinsurer in preparing coverage pertaining to the admissibility of a claim relating to the alleged “non-return” of diamonds, which the insured entrusted to a customer. The policy in question was a jewellers’ block insurance policy. The coverage advice involved detailed analyses of the meaning of the term “physical loss” in the policy wordings under Indian law.

Avya Kapoor, operations director and head of specialty lines at Proclaim Insurance Surveyors and Loss Assessors, says CSL “are considerate of the practical issues that prevail in all jurisdictions, and have the ability to cut through the legal jargon”. Davinder Chhatwal, in-house counsel at Brit Insurance, says the firm has “deep technical knowledge” on insurance and reinsurance matters. Another client who used the firm on a reinsurance coverage dispute for a large loss in India, says the firm produced work that was “excellent, timely and clearly shows expertise and understanding”.

The insurance practice at Khaitan Legal Associates is geared to assist insurers, reinsurers, and intermediaries, with their corporate, regulatory and other business and commercial requirements. The firm has in-depth experience in advising and representing local and foreign clients in drafting bespoke insurance products, coverage advice, pursuing subrogated recoveries, negotiating reinsurance communications and conducting litigation. Khaitan recently offered regulatory advice on insurance regulations and exchange control laws to a foreign reinsurer in respect of its Indian operations, and assisted a leading foreign insurer in issuing a group medical policy to an offshore entity with employees in India. “Khaitan Legal Associates are a leading authority when it comes to insurance-related matters,” says Babita Ambekar, a partner at CMS.

Financial services and insurance are a core industry focus for full-service firm Majmudar & Partners. A recent highlight includes advising US healthcare insurance provider Cigna on the proposed replacement of TTK Group, an Indian conglomerate, by the Manipal Education and Medical Group, as its Indian joint venture partner in ManipalCigna Health Insurance. The transaction has received the approval of the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India, and is closing.

“The firm does a good job of setting out the land mines and risks of entering the India market, and then is able to effectively advise the client on a practical level in the context of the client’s goals and risk profile,” says Mark Mihanovic, a partner at McDermott Will & Emery. Mihanovic recommends managing partner Akil Hirani, who is “sophisticated and knowledgeable and understands well issues faced by US clients entering the India market, by acquisition or otherwise”. Gagan Chawla, finance director for Asia-Pacific at CPP Group, commends Hirani and also rates partner Amrit Mehta for being “well versed and an expert in banking and insurance”.

Phoenix Legal has hired a six-lawyer maritime disputes team from Legasis Partners, including partner Gautam Bhatikar and counsel Zoeb Cutlerywala. Bhatikar is a maritime and shipping insurance specialist, and his focus areas include commercial disputes and international commercial arbitrations in India, Singapore and the UK.

Tuli & Co is a specialist insurance boutique with headquarters in New Delhi. Under the leadership of Neeraj Tuli and Celia Jenkins, the firm goes beyond insurance M&A assignments and advises insurers, reinsurers and insurance intermediaries on all aspects of insurance, from product development to sales, to regulatory issues and investigations, claims and coverage issues, arbitration and litigation matters, and corporate-commercial matters. Key assignments in the past year include: Providing coverage advice under material damage and business interruption policies in respect of claims arising due to covid and the lockdown in India; providing coverage advice under cyber policies in respect of varied ransomware attacks and incidents; and advising multiple leading life insurers on the process flow to be followed for the solicitation of insurance from non-resident Indian customers, using different modes of solicitation.

Rajive Kumaraswami, managing director and CEO of Magma HDI General Insurance, says the firm is “reliable, approachable” and has a “deep understanding of [insurance] matters”.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ENFORCEMENT

WINNERS

Anand and Anand is a formidable presence in IP, both in terms of enforcement and protection of rights. “We have used Anand in numerous patent litigations involving our top products for almost 20 years,” says Shahan Islam, senior corporate counsel at Pfizer. “In all cases necessary, they have given due attention to the matter, including a great assessment of what our business needs are, and how we can use negotiations, as well as the tribunals and courts, to achieve our objective.”

Last year, the firm handled 150 customs cases for brands such as Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Montblanc, Chanel, Hermes, Dior, Givenchy, Kenzo, Apple, Sony, Nokia, Microsoft and Ferrero. It also achieved more than 1,800 successful oppositions, with decisions that safeguarded the interests of multiple brands including Facebook, WhatsApp, Bridgestone, Dolby, Volvo and Mars.

The law firm handled a series of pharma patent cases filed on behalf of AstraZeneca and conducted raids with an ayurvedic drug inspector to seize counterfeit Himalaya sanitizers in Ludhiana. Clients recommend managing partner Pravin Anand, as well as MS Bharat, Shrawan Chopra, Tusha Malhotra, Prem Chander and Archana Shanker. Pravin Anand is “an expert on copyright law” and “has a heart together with being the thorough professional and expert that he is”, says Sanjay Tandon, CEO of the Indian Singers’ Rights Association. Anand and Anand also wins awards for IP property protection and pharma & life sciences.

Fidus Law Chambers is a boutique IP firm led by Shwetasree Majumder. In a short space of time, the firm has risen up the ranks and earned an enviable reputation for IP enforcement matters. Fidus is known for its litigation expertise pertaining to trademarks (enforcement and anti-counterfeiting actions, infringement actions, domain disputes), designs, copyright, patents, trade secrets and geographical indication.

The firm assists clients in civil as well as criminal proceedings in courts across India. In the past year, it has taken over the trademark portfolio of Yum Brands, and also acquired NBC Universal as a client. The GSK Group has also consolidated much of its India IP work (trademark, patents and disputes) with the firm. Recently, it filed three composite suits for patent, designs and trademark infringement on behalf of a German client dealing in textile machine parts and obtained an ex-parte ad interim injunction and an Anton Pillar order during the covid pandemic.

Nitin Mittal, head of legal and compliance for India, Australia and New Zealand at Signify Innovations, says Majumder is “a lawyer par excellence. She argues your matter, having all facts at her fingertips, with ferocious energy and unrelenting passion, which no senior advocate can match.” Amol Apte, vice-president of legal at Dream11, has had “excellent experience” engaging the firm for IP monitoring and enforcement. “Their team is a mix of experience, youth and the round-the-clock support.”

Nitin-Mittal-Head-of-Legal-&-Compliance-for-India,-Australia-and-New-Zealand-Signify-Innovations-001

Inttl Advocare is a full-service IP firm based in New Delhi and Mumbai. The 50-lawyer, four-partner firm is led by IP litigator Hemant Singh, who has handled more than 2,500 IP litigations across India involving contentious and complex issues in the areas of trademarks, patents, designs, copyright, trade secrets, geographical indications, and competition laws.

Recent highlights include: Applying the trademark word “dessert” for class 30 goods for Société Des Produits Nestlé; filing a suit for injunction restraining infringement of trademark and passing off of the Royal Stag mark on behalf of Pernod Ricard India; filing a suit on behalf of Nestlé India before Delhi High Court against those involved in the sale and distribution of counterfeit Maggi Masala-ae-Magic flavour enhancers; and appearing on behalf of LG Electronics for its mark “V80”, which the Trade Marks Registry objected to on the grounds of it being non-distinctive. One “very happy” client calls Inttl “excellent” and says the firm “delivered exceptional work on a critical pharma patent case. Inttl has a rare experience and knowledge of the law, the pharmaceutical industry, and how to win cases.”

K&S Partners has more than 110 IP professionals and an overall staff of more than 250 spread over offices in Gurgaon, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad. The firm offers advice on copyright, designs, geographical indications, patents, plant varieties and trademarks.

K&S sent a cease and desist notice on behalf of a well-known US-based manufacturer of construction equipment. The notice was successful in stopping an infringer in Gujarat from using several of the company’s trademarks.

Andreas Hübel, head of IP at Jennewein Biotechnologie, highly recommends K&S for patent prosecution in the fields of biotechnology and chemical process engineering, and commends senior associate Kavita Arora for her work. “She always provides clear, practical and reasonable advice on all issues,” he says. Partner Deepa Tiku is also highly regarded. “She focuses on success and is one of the best IP lawyers of the country,” says one client.

Rahul Chaudhry & Partners is a 70-lawyer, 10-partner firm that focuses on IP, litigation, and corporate and commercial matters. Founding partner Anuradha Salhotra has a solid track record for IP enforcement and handles the contentious practice at the firm, advising and representing prominent clients in litigation, arbitration and mediation, as well as negotiating IP transactions.

The firm’s recent achievements include undertaking raids on behalf of The Coca-Cola Company and Samsung. The raids resulted in the seizure of empty and filled bottles of Coca-Cola, Limca, Sprite and Thums Up with sizeable volumes of caps and labels of infringing material. Separately, TVs, stickers, labels and fake Samsung software was also seized in two locations. The firm also took action on behalf of Exxon Mobil against a defendant for the use of the mark “Mobil” as part of its trading name. Despite lockdown conditions, the firm successfully obtained an order to conduct local commission at the defendant’s premises to stop the violation.

Remfry & Sagar has a rich history, tracing its roots back to 1827. The firm now comprises more than 100 lawyers and 150 professional staff who offer services across the full spectrum of IP law in both prosecution and litigation. Its key practice areas are patents, trademarks, copyright, designs, geographical indications, IP litigation, patent litigation, technology, media and telecoms, plant varieties and biodiversity, and corporate law.

“Their wealth of experience in trademark litigation and prosecution is remarkable,” says Margret Knitter a partner at SKW Schwarz. “They provide an impressively wide range of IP services [with] an incredible depth of experience. Its lawyers are extremely collaborative, unflappable and a pleasure to work with.”

In the past year, the firm has undertaken 24 raid actions in Delhi, Surat, Ahmedabad, Gurugram, Chennai and Kolkata on behalf of clients from diverse sectors, leading to a seizure of more than 65,000 units of counterfeit products.

Terry Kiel, a senior trademark administrator at Activision Blizzard, has worked exclusively with Remfry on trademark matters in India for more than 25 years while at various companies. They are “exceedingly patient”, “totally responsive” and “take ownership in a way that … makes my job easier”. Remfry is also recognised for IP protection.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY PROTECTION

WINNERS

Anand and Anand and Remfry & Sagar are the only two law firms that are recognised for excellence in both IP enforcement and IP protection.

With more than 200 professionals, Krishna & Saurastri is a full-service IP and technology firm with offices in Mumbai, New Delhi, Bengaluru, Pune, Ahmedabad and Chennai. The firm’s team includes specialists with niche expertise and industry experience. Recently, the firm successfully represented a leading online matrimonial business in a high-profile trademark litigation against its larger competitor. The judgment was upheld in the Appeal Court, whereby an injunction was refused against a registered trademark, in view of it being a descriptive expression and lacking distinctive character.

The Supreme Court also refused to interfere in the judgment. In addition, the firm handled several IP-focused transactions in the media, condiments, biotechnology and pharma sectors, and advised and negotiated on behalf of the author of the world’s first books on a covid publishing agreement with a leading British publisher. In addition, the firm advised a large Australian financial services firm on cryptocurrency regulation.

Lall & Sethi provides the full gamut of IP services including filing and prosecution of applications, oppositions and cancellation proceedings, searching and watching services, renewals, licensing and registered users, franchising, IP audits and enforcement of rights through civil, criminal or administrative measures. The firm recently worked on stopping the unauthorised use of IP belonging to the well-known Friends television series, including Central Perk Cafes operating in Indian cities. Lall & Sethi’s investigations revealed that some of the parties were connected and had opened chains of cafes in various cities such as Pune, Mumbai and Delhi. Based on the investigations and findings, the firm sent demand letters, filed oppositions, and sent multiple takedown notices to remove the listings from commercial and social media websites. Its work led to the closure of unauthorised outlets and halted all other misuse that draws its similarity to the series.

Ahassim Rashid, vice president of anti-piracy and content protection at Warner Bros, worked with the firm on the matter. “We are extremely happy with the services and expertise provided by Lall & Sethi,” he says. “They are experts in their field.”

LexOrbis is a full-service IP firm that specialises in data protection, licensing and franchising, litigation, technology, media and telecoms, and pharma and biotechnology. The firm’s patent practice group has more than 55 patent lawyers well-versed in chemistry, pharmaceuticals, life sciences, and a broad range of engineering subjects.

The firm’s trademark and design group has 23 lawyers who manage portfolios for international and domestic businesses, and its IP enforcement and litigation group comprises 10 seasoned litigators with vast experience. In 2020, the patent team drafted more than 1,200 new patent applications for inventions originating from India and elsewhere, for first filing with the Indian Patent Office, and in many cases for first filing with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

It also renewed its exclusive IP service provider contract with Indian Oil, and represented the Defence Research & Development Organisation, the Department of Biotechnology, and other Indian government agencies in the past 12 months. “While we have had fewer trademark activities in India this past year, I strongly recommend Manisha Singh and her team for trademark matters,” says one US-based client. “They are very responsive, tenacious and produce high quality work. They are adept at handling challenging and difficult conflict situations.”

SS Rana & Co is an IP and corporate law firm that assists clients in protecting, enforcing, defending and monetising their IP rights in India and beyond. The firm of 70, with seven partners, has a presence in Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai and Noida. SS Rana believes strongly in employee welfare and often holds events, well-being workshops and training to build camaraderie and ensure career development.

In the past 12 months, the firm advised several international clients seeking IP protection. These include a mechanical engineering company, a Belarus-based in-line inspection company, a non-profit national organisation and a logistics company. The firm also assisted a renowned writer on various commercial agreements including, but not limited to, licence agreements, non-disclosure agreements, shareholder-employment agreements, franchise agreements, and copyright publishing agreements.

The firm also conducted an IP audit and due diligence on behalf of a leading organic cosmetics brand prior to its merger with another company. SS Rana also wins awards for licensing and franchising, and sports and gaming.

INTERNATIONAL TRADE

WINNERS

DGS Associates has a well-established trade law practice and specialist knowledge of anti-dumping law, safeguards law and foreign trade policy. The firm successfully represented some of the biggest steel companies from Korea, including POSCO, Dongkuk Steel Mill, KG Dongbu Steel, Samsung C&T, Hyosung TNC and others in the anti-dumping investigation concerning aluminium-zinc coated flat steel products. It also represented Korean company Taekwang Industrial in an anti-dumping investigation concerning nylon filament yarn, which was eventually terminated in the client’s favour. Managing partner Ameeta Verma Duggal “really stands apart, not only on her response time but her depth of knowledge and practice approach”, says Sandeep Gupta, a consultant at Havas.

Arun Malhotra, CEO and managing director of Sunglass Palace, engaged DGS for advice on cases in Canada, Sweden, Korea and the UAE. “DGS is easily one of the most responsive, accommodating and solution-driven law firms, says Malhotra, adding that he has “never felt the need to look elsewhere for legal services”.

DMD Advocates has risen to prominence following its representation of Vodafone at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. The court ruled in favour of Vodafone with respect to the Indian government’s retrospective tax claim of approximately US$5.5 billion together with penalty and interest stemming from the company’s acquisition of the Indian assets of Hutch in 2007. The tribunal held that Vodafone is entitled to fair and equitable treatment under the bilateral investment treaty (BIT) between India and The Netherlands. It further noted that the Indian government’s insistence on the tax claim, despite the Supreme Court’s 2012 judgment, was in breach of the terms of the BIT. The tribunal also directed the Indian government to pay Vodafone around £4 million, which equals 60% of the company’s costs for legal representation and assistance. Founder and managing partners Anuradha Dutt and Fereshte Sethna were Indian counsel to Vodafone supported by associates Haaris Fazili and Kunal Dutt.

Dua Associates’ international trade and anti-dumping practice group continued to work relentlessly and was quick to seize opportunities that arose during the pandemic. A number of companies such as the Dow Chemical Company, Sadara Chemical Company from Saudi Arabia, Eastman Chemical, Kodak, and the Thai government turned to Dua for representation before the anti-dumping authority, the Directorate General of Trade Remedies (DGTR). Most investigations conducted by the DGTR involve an element of travel to the country against which the investigation is initiated. Dua was one of the first firms to start the process of virtual verification with DGTR officials, conducting the entire process through conferences and video calls online.

William Krohley, a partner at Kelley Drye & Warren says the firm is “of the highest calibre” in litigation matters, and recommends Shiraz Patodia. “I am so happy that we are partners with Dua Associates,” says Souhayel Tayeb, chief legal and governance officer of the Commercial Bank of Dubai. “They have excellent expertise in the banking and finance sector … [and] are also responsive, cost efficient and clear.”

The international trade and customs practice at Economic Laws Practice (ELP) has been at the forefront of trade law and policy in India. ELP was one of the first firms to be appointed by the Indian government to advise on the WTO compatibility of India’s largest export incentive programme. Its experience on contentious matters means the firm is involved in a large number of trade remedial litigations in India ranging from the anti-dumping and safeguard authorities to the Supreme Court. ELP has handled advisory and enforcement matters involving trade controls, including export controls and economic sanctions. It also advises clients on a wide range of customs compliance matters, including the proper classification and valuation of imported goods, rules of origin, the establishment and operation of free- trade zones or special economic zones, duty entitlement and other export-import schemes and customs issues. The firm draws on its legal, economic and accounting expertise to develop strategies to address trade policy problems. ELP is also recognised for its capabilities in direct and indirect taxation.

Sarvada Legal, formerly known as Seetharaman & Associates, is led by seven partners formerly from Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan and Economic Laws Practice. The firm specialises in international trade and customs and also offers expertise in competition law, corporate commercial and regulatory laws, dispute resolution, insolvency and bankruptcy, tax advisory and litigation, trademark and copyright, and white-collar crime.

INTERNET & E-COMMERCE

WINNERS
Bharucha & Partners
Ikigai Law
Keystone Partners
Nishith Desai Associates
Samvad Partners
Spice Route Legal
Trilegal

The covid pandemic severely impacted India’s internet economy as a result of lockdown restrictions. While e-commerce and travel took a hit, other areas such as education technology, local deliveries, online payments and health technology prospered by moving products and services online.

Keystone Partners is a specialist dispute resolution firm founded by a group of first-generation lawyers. With offices in Bengaluru, Mumbai and New Delhi, the firm handles disputes from a wide cross-section of practice areas thanks to the deep sector expertise brought by each partner. Keystone also regularly handles matters in the energy, technology and trade sectors. The firm represented Uber in proceedings before Karnataka High Court in a constitutional challenge made to regulations concerning taxi aggregators.

The firm was partially successful before the single judge and has filed an appeal in respect of other portions of the judgment. It is also acting for Snapdeal in a public interest writ petition seeking mandatory disclosure of the “country of origin” of goods sold on e-commerce platforms.

The petition seeks disclosure not only on the products themselves, but also in the product listings on e-commerce platforms. As a mere intermediary, Snapdeal believes it should not be liable for compliances called for under the Legal Metrology Act and Packaged Commodities Rules.

LABOUR & EMPLOYMENT

WINNERS

The pandemic created a spike in labour and employment mandates as companies worldwide struggled with staff retention, compensation, management and health and welfare responsibilities. All the firms listed in this category have robust labour and employment practices. They also picked up awards in other categories.

Singhania & Partners brings tremendous experience to labour and employment mandates. During the pandemic the firm emerged as strategic advisers, taking on the role of external general counsel for many companies to prevent lay-offs and industrial disputes. It also advised management boards in social security legislation-related disputes with employees in addition to tackling questions around the transfer of employees and restrictive covenants in employment arrangements. The firm has retainers with several reputed companies and manages complete employment law compliances for S&P Global, American Bureau of Shipping, McGraw Hill Education, Oxford University Press, ValueMomentum, Cotton Connect and Thryve Digital.

Nikhil Chauhan, legal manager and company secretary at McGraw Hill Education India, has used the firm for corporate law, litigation, arbitration, labour law and IP and is “extremely happy and satisfied”. He was inspired by the firm’s ability to arrange a local counsel at short notice during the pandemic. “We had somehow skipped a notice from a court for a hearing against us in another city, and the date of the hearing was the very next morning,” says Chauhan. “I got in touch with the S&P litigation team at 10:30pm … they arranged a local counsel and we were all set for the hearing by 11:30pm, and the hearing went as required. I was mighty impressed with the connections they have and also the help they are ready to extend in such difficult and urgent times.”

LICENSING & FRANCHISING

WINNERS

Calibre Legal is a young law firm based in Chennai led by co-founders Shadaan Mohammed Saipillai and Arun Kurian Joseph. The firm, which was established only last year, has advised Chattels in relation to drafting franchise and licence agreements. It also worked with Anjuman-E-Himayath Group of Institutions to draft a licensing agreement to be executed with a Bengaluru-based institution for a curriculum designed by the AHI Academy for Women. “Their thorough expertise in commercial law, quick turnaround time, level of partner involvement and overall professionalism is highly commendable,” says SM Mazharullah, executive director at Anjuman-E-Himayath-E-Islam Institution.

Vikas Chawla, co-founder of Social Beat, says his company “had an excellent experience with the team at Calibre”, who were “quick in understanding our need” and “able to add a lot of value”. Saipillai is endorsed by clients for being “fantastic”, “helpful” and for providing “spot-on advice”.

Upscale Legal was founded in 2019 by Rashi Suri who now has a team of 10 associates. Over the past year, Upscale Legal advised a leading footwear manufacturing company in its registrations under the Legal Metrology Act and Rules and advised the client on its retail and wholesale labels, ensuring compliance with applicable laws. It also assisted a company on the regulatory and licence requirements to launch and operate a regional news channel. In addition, it acted for a startup involved in the manufacture of ayurvedic drugs, helping it obtain the necessary manufacturing and loan licences under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act and Rules. Rohit Shah, co-founder and CEO at Hemp Horizons says he is “extremely happy with the services and expertise that Upscale has provided”. Shah used the firm for advice on Hemp’s first seed fund investment. “The team took over everything professionally and guided us along the way for the best possible rights, deal, closure, etc.” he says. Suri “is like a rock to budding companies like us”.

LITIGATION

WINNERS
Agarwal Law Associates
AK Law Chambers
Bharucha & Partners
DSK Legal
Karanjawala & Co
P&A Law Offices
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co

The winners in this category are a mix of some of the bigger law firms along with smaller outfits that have focused intensively on litigation to create a name for themselves.

Agarwal Law Associates is renowned for its litigation expertise. The firm of seven partners and 21 associates is led by managing partner Mahesh Agarwal, who features on India Business Law Journal’s A-List of India’s top lawyers. Agarwal has a diverse practice across the country with a major presence in the Supreme Court. He specialises in disputes in the fields of insolvency, arbitration, commercial, civil and corporate criminal matters. He also has deep experience in regulatory disputes in sectors such as energy, mining, telecoms and others. Agarwal Law Associates “is the go-to firm for complex India-related litigation and arbitration”, says Phillip D’Costa, a partner at Penningtons Manches Cooper.

The firm’s lawyers also appear across other courts and tribunals including the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, the Company Law Board, the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, among others.

AK Law Chambers is a boutique law firm of 15 lawyers and four partners. Despite its lean size, the firm has created a strong reputation as a dispute resolution expert. Bhuvanan Veeramuthu, contracts manager in Chennai at Shapoorji Pallonji, points to the firm’s “professionalism and consistency” and its “coordinated, sincere and structured actions”. The firm’s partners have appeared before the Supreme Court, the high courts of several states, company law boards, the National Green Tribunal, debt recovery tribunals and more. Recent accomplishments include appearing on behalf of the foreign investors in a series of litigation before the Madras High Court and Supreme Court with respect to investments in Tamilnad Mercantile Bank; representing Afcons Infrastructure before the Bombay High Court in relation to the challenge of an arbitral award pertaining to an infrastructure project; and handling a series of litigation on behalf of the Ind Barath Group of Companies against M/S Tangedco arising out of power purchase agreements.

“Anirudh Krishnan is one of the best lawyers we have dealt with across India and his understanding of the law and the courts is what every client will be looking for,” says Kamal Kumar, associate vice president at Northern Arc. “The team at AK Law Chambers is intelligent, hardworking and innovative,” says Thomas Williams, a partner at Sultan Al-Abdulla & Partners. He recommends Krishnan, Goda Raghavan, Radhika Krishnan, Hitesh Singhvi and Pranay Prakash. The firm also wins an award in the startups category.

Karanjawala & Co is a “very responsive firm, which specializes in high-profile litigation”, says Vijay Goyal, vice president of ArcelorMittal. Goyal recommends Ruby Singh Ahuja and her team for corporate litigation and credits the firm for its resourcefulness in engaging appropriate senior advocates. When the firm advised ArcelorMittal on its purchase of Essar Steel through the insolvency and bankruptcy code (IBC) over a year ago, it was “extremely proactive, alert and prepared to fight a formidable case resulting in two landmark IBC judgments at the Supreme Court”, says Goyal.

Led my managing partner Anand Pathak, P&A Law Offices has an impeccable record for litigation. A landmark achievement over the past 12 months was the permission granted to senior advocate Gopal Subramanium, briefed by P&A, to have the right of audience before the Singapore High Court and Singapore Court of Appeal. It is the first time such a right has been granted by both courts to Indian lawyers. As a consequence of the judgment, the 35 billion arbitral award in favour of Daiichi Sankyo remains enforceable. P&A continues to be a trusted name in the field of competition law. The firm is representing Amazon and MakeMyTrip, respectively, in two important investigations directed by the Competition Commission of India (CCI) in the e-commerce sector. On the cartel enforcement front, the firm has defended clients such as Tata Steel before the CCI and is also representing General Motors before the Supreme Court in a challenge to the constitutional validity of the Competition Act. In addition, P&A has continued to represent the Republic of India on various bilateral investment treaty disputes, including, most recently, an investment dispute initiated by a Japanese investor under the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between India and Japan.

MEDIA & ENTERTAINMENT

WINNERS
Anand & Anand & Khimani
DSK Legal
IndusLaw
Naik Naik & Co
PSA
Saikrishna & Associates
TMT Law Practice

Anand & Anand & Khimani is a full-service firm, which has cultivated an impressive media practice under the leadership of co-founder Priyanka Khimani. The firm offers expertise on intellectual property, media and entertainment, technology, dispute resolution, general corporate advisory and investments. Khimani has represented celebrities such as singers Lata Mangeshkar and Sonu Nigam, and other musicians, actors and artists. Khimani’s advice is often sought on coveted service and product launches, market entry by foreign multinationals, as well as commercially tactical M&A in the entertainment and technology sector. She is a core adviser as member of the board of the Canadian blockchain music company Beatdapp, and is the chairperson of Women In Music, India, a global non-profit organisation dedicated to championing the female voice across global music spaces.

Clients and peers have long recognised Naik Naik & Co for the depth and breadth of its media and entertainment practice. The firm’s intellectual property capabilities have attracted high profile clients in the media industry from actors and directors to conglomerates, production houses and media moguls. In a memorable deal from this past year, the firm drafted and negotiated the acquisition, transfer of rights and settlement between five parties: its clients, Azure and GlobalGate Fund, along with LionsGate India, Globalgate Entertainment, and Ram Madhvani Films, in relation to an Indian remake of the Korean film Terror Live. The firm also advised Sony Pictures Films India on the licensing of the adaptation of rights for the production of a Hindi film based on the German film Lola Rennt.

“They are definitely the most preferred legal advisory firm in the entire media and entertainment business and in fact, they have been the exclusive legal services provider across all of the large entertainment conglomerates that I have been employed with since 2005,” says Ashish Chakravorty, operations management and business affairs consultant at Big Bang Content. “Their specialised expertise, in-depth understanding and their vast experience in the areas of intellectual property rights, company law, M&A, litigations and arbitration … are unmatched in the business.” Vasundhara Kuthiala, Radhika Iyer, Abha Shah, Madhu Gadodia, Abhishek Kale and Ameet Naik are highly rated.

The interdisciplinary team of litigators and transactional lawyers at TMT Law Practice has advised some of India’s most prominent media, entertainment and communications companies and individuals. The firm, led by founder and managing partner Abhishek Malhotra, represents clients across the entire spectrum of the media and entertainment industry, including television, films, radio, music, print and publications, events, fashion, arts, OTT platforms, etc. Highlights from the past year include providing legal, transactional and strategic support to India’s biggest motion picture studio in all pre-production, production, and post-production matters for projects with a total budget of US$100 million. The firm also advised film artists, sports personalities, and other celebrities with regard to monetising and protecting their personality rights. In addition, it assisted a leading broadcaster in its negotiations and transactions with international copyright societies, to seek licences for music usage. TMT also wins an award for sports & gaming.

MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS

WINNERS

The majority of Indian law firms will have evidence of their work on M&A deals, but it is often the largest general practice law firms that win the meatiest mandates, which make the front pages. All the firms listed in this category win awards elsewhere. One client calls Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas a “stellar firm with a strong reputation” which is “seen around the biggest deals”. Another client describes Khaitan & Co’s Rabindra Jhunjhunwala as “very clever” with the ability to “understand the need for speed and transparency”.

PHARMA & LIFE SCIENCES

WINNERS

This is the first year that we have included pharma & life sciences in our awards. India’s healthcare market has witnessed huge investments over the past few years and the country has always been an important manufacturing power for drug development. This will only continue as it races to produce vaccines to help contain the covid pandemic. Most of the law firms in this category profit from having strong intellectual property capabilities – an important complimentary practice in an industry defined by innovation.

Anand and Anand has filed 2,900 national patents with a patent grant rate of 97%. The firm has been a part of several pharmaceutical cases, which involved convoluted aspects of genus and species patents including 12 matters filed by AstraZeneca against drug makers such as Ajantha, Natco, Torrent, Emcure and Micro Labs for infringement of AstraZeneca’s patent rights over diabetic drug Dapagliflozin.

Khaitan & Co’s life sciences team is a cross-practice group comprising experts from different domains relevant to the industry. It works with clients along most parts of the product lifecycle, including clinical trials, product approvals, patent filings, manufacturing and distribution and is particularly active on transactions in this space. The firm advised Fosun Pharma and its subsidiary, Fosun Pharma Industrial, on Gland Pharma’s IPO; Zentiva Group on its purchase of the API manufacturing facility of Sanofi India; and Wanbury on the sale of brands in the women’s healthcare industry to Cipla.

L&L Partners has excellent healthcare and pharmaceutical credentials having represented some of the largest companies in the sector such as AstraZeneca, Mankind Pharma, Cipla, Merck, Biological E, Max Healthcare, Abbott and Biocon. Recently, the team acted for Mylan in its merger with Upjohn Inc.

Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan’s life sciences team specialise in pharma, biotechnology, biochemistry, genetic engineering, plant variety protection (PVP), chemistry, medical devices and biodiversity laws. The firm is the largest filer of PVP applications in India and one of the top Patent Cooperation Treaty filing agents from India.

Nishith Desai Associates continues to advise multinational companies on regulatory issues and compliances relating to the conduct of clinical trials in India along with the import and promotion of pharmaceutical products. The firm provides strategies for protecting IP and confidential information. Clients include StemCyte, Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, and Johnson & Johnson.

Saikrishna & Associates attracts pharmaceutical clients thanks to the reputation of its patents procurement team. Patent services offered by the firm are tailored to assist clients along the length of the invention and IP ladder – from the stage of conception of the invention up to its enforcement and commercialisation. The patents team specialises in conducting global prior art searches aimed at patentability assessment, invalidation opinion, infringement analysis and the identification of grey areas.

Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co is a heavy hitter on the transactional side of the pharma and life sciences industry. The firm clocked up a number of high-value deals over the past 12 months, acting for KKR on its acquisition of a majority stake in JB Chemicals for US$800 million; General Atlantic on its exit from the CitiusTech healthcare technology firm valued at US$780 million; TPG Growth on its acquisition of Abraaj Growth Markets Health Fund for US$1 billion; ChrysCapital on its acquisition of Mankind Pharma for US$322 million; and Par Pharmaceutical on various legal issues related to the outsourcing of clinical trials to India.

POLICY & REGULATION

WINNERS

Influential businesses in India flock to firms that understand the intricacies of policymaking and regulation. Several firms listed in this category have built important connections and expertise through their roles on government-appointed committees and industry bodies. Many have also nurtured solid relationships with various regulatory bodies. As expected, this field is populated by the big guns, however, firms such as Hammurabi & Solomon and PLR Chambers have jostled for position, with dedicated policy practices that deliver.

KL Rao, officer on special duty, at The Fertilizer Corporation of India, offers glowing praise for Hammurabi & Solomon. “Dr Manoj Kumar has provided not only unique and strategic, but highly innovative and pragmatic solutions to various complicated challenges,” says Rao. “I specifically appreciate the way the firm and it’s highly efficient team has assisted in navigating our transactions before the Department of Fertilisers, who, in turn, submitted to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs … and achieved favourable results every time.” Rao says Kumar offers “360-degree cutting-edge strategies and solutions while providing an inside perspective of how policies evolve and how they impact the matter at hand”.

PLR Chambers, a boutique law firm based in New Delhi led by Suhaan Mukerji, specialises in legal advisory, policy formulation and legislative drafting, dispute resolution and advocacy. The firm’s lawyers have experience working with government-appointed committees and working groups, think tanks, non-governmental organisations and industry bodies across sectors. As an empanelled firm to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, PLR assisted the ministry on building on the “appropriate government” framework under the Information Technology Act, 2000, to handle unlawful online content and conduct; and on potential amendments to the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961, to account for the regulation of user-generated content.

The firm is also a principal party in drafting ongoing amendments to the Central Motor Vehicle Rules and other rules corresponding to the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019.

Dhayvat Udeshi, vice president at Jayant Agro Organics, engaged the firm for advice on regulatory compliance and international trade. “Harsh Hiroo Gursahani has an excellent knowledge of the legal and regulatory frameworks applicable to food, as well as the drugs and cosmetics sectors,” says Udeshi. “Coupled with his expertise in international trade law and regulations, he is a complete package.”

PRIVATE CLIENT PRACTICE

WINNERS

Many industrialists and promoters are reassessing their monetary structures and turning to trusted advisers for smart solutions to safeguard their wealth. The lawyers who receive such assignments have often worked closely with company founders and come from the largest firms. However smaller legal service providers such as Vashi & Vashi and Veritas Legal show that niche players are equally able to command such work. Years of reliable service on company matters usually builds confidence that results in promoters handing over their private wealth portfolios.

Vashi & Vashi is led by disputes expert Vivek Vashi with a team of 20 associates. The firm handles litigation before all tribunals, magistrates and courts, including the Supreme Court, and domestic and international arbitrations, including in the London Court of International Arbitration, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre and the ICC International Court of Arbitration. Vashi brings considerable experience managing disputes involving family, companies and construction, economic offences and more. The firm has advised Jagdish Chanrai and the Chanrai Group on multiple matters. These include advice on the creation of a family trust; drafting and vetting various agreements to be executed with employees and/or other companies of the Chanrai Group in India and abroad; drafting correspondence concerning building repairs being conducted in a high-rise building in Nariman Point, Mumbai; and representing the family in procuring a probate of the will of two family members from Bombay High Court.

Veritas Legal is a boutique business law firm with full-service offerings led by Abhijit Joshi. The firm has a robust private client practice following years of experience guiding high net-worth individuals on insulating their capital. Wealthy individuals have turned to Joshi for advice on asset management and estate planning as they spread their footprint beyond India. Veritas has acted for a prominent promoter and his family on succession and business-related issues from a global perspective as well as on India specific issues, and assisted another business family on succession planning matters, regulatory and exchange control, and philanthropy.

In addition, it is counselling another promoter on a family arrangement and a restructuring exercise for the company involving schemes of amalgamation and various other agreements. Amanna Sandhya, senior legal manager at Pfizer, says Veritas offers the “best in class legal service from each and every member … the senior most to the junior most”. Vageesh Gupta, senior vice president at Partners Group endorses the firm for other skills. “We have worked with the Veritas team on M&A, private equity, debt capital markets and real estate, and their advice has been exemplary across all these areas,” he says.

PRIVATE EQUITY & VENTURE CAPITAL

WINNERS

Firms of all sizes continue to compete for assignments in the private equity sector as investments pour into India’s lucrative industries. While many firms are enjoying a slice of the pie, the winners on this list take away the lion’s share of work in this area.

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IC Universal Legal is a full-service law firm with seven offices, 15 partners and over 100 team members. Clients count on the firm’s in-depth insights and expertise of the applicable legal regime, the VC-PE industry and the e-commerce sector where much of this investment is directed. The firm recently advised on a series B fundraising from Danish asset management firm, Maj Invest Financial Inclusion Fund III as it purchased 18% equity in Indian financial inclusion company SAVE Solutions for US$16 million. It also guided Stellaris Ventures Partners India I and Kalaari Capital Partners III in their re-investment in Signzy Technologies, which provides a digital trust platform to meet the risk and compliance needs of businesses. Dipanjan Basu, a partner and CFO of Fireside Ventures, worked closely with the firm for its fund setup and investment work. “The team has a good mix of technical understanding, business understanding and high ownership,” says Basu. “The entire team is fabulous, but I will call out Tejesh Chitlangi, Twinkle Dhamecha and Sanchit Kapoor … I would recommend them very highly.”

Ashish Shand, the finance controller at NoBroker Technologies Solutions, says Samvad Partners provided practical, business-oriented advice in a timely and cost-effective manner. “Their work for our company has been impeccable and unparalleled,” says Shand. They “batted for us 100% the whole time in PE/VC transactions, while also being pragmatic in getting all the parties on the same page and closing the documentation in a quick manner.”

REAL ESTATE

WINNERS
AZB & Partners
Dhaval Vussonji & Associates
DSK Legal
Fox Mandal & Associates
Kanga & Co
Vidhii Partners
Wadia Ghandy & Co

Most of the names in this category are mid-sized law firms with veteran lawyers who have handled real estate matters and disputes for many years.

Dhaval Vussonji & Associates prides itself on its role in some of the largest and most complex land acquisitions in recent times. The firm has a rich experience of investigating complex titles for agricultural land and an understanding of the laws relating to humane rehabilitation, the statute of limitations and principles of harmonious interpretation and jurisprudence. Its deal list includes advising the Xander Group on its purchase of Raymond-owned land in Thane, Mumbai – a 20-acre plot worth 6.5 billion. The firm conducted title diligence of the entire property, pointed out legal issues and risks, and suggested ways to resolve the problems holistically. It also conducted title diligence and calculated the stamp duty owed by Strata in its acquisition of Lodha Excelus, a building in New Cuffe Parade worth 15 billion. In addition, it worked on the title diligence and acquisition of five warehouses and a utility area in Bhiwandi in a deal with 3 billion.

Fox Mandal & Associates provides a comprehensive range of advisory, liaison, compliance and litigation services relating to commercial, industrial, residential and mixed-use real estate. The firm recently took on Capital Lands, Tata Realty, House of Hiranandani, Godrej Properties, Prestige Properties and Asia Pragati Capfin as clients. A major accomplishment was conducting due diligence for Wistron, a contract manufacturer for Apple phones. The firm assisted in the acquisition of 43 acres in Narasapura near Bengaluru for Wistron’s plant.

The Bangkok, Thailand-based conglomerate Mahaphant Group also engaged the firm for advice on the setup of its first manufacturing facility for environment-friendly fibre-cement products in Pune. On the policy front, Fox Mandal has provided recommendations on draft bye laws for the redevelopment of apartments in Karnataka and land reforms. Sundar Rajan, general counsel at Vaishnavi Developers, endorses Prashantha Kumar for leading a “highly mature, experienced and result-oriented team”. Nicholas Griffin, managing director at Principle Global MEAI & APAC, appreciates Shuva Mandal’s “humility and passion” and his “delightful way of getting from A to Z with minimal challenges”. He calls Malvika Bakshi “a true asset to the Fox Mandal team”.

Kanga & Co has no trouble winning real estate mandates thanks to its long history representing real estate developers, builders, real estate funds, investors, lenders, contractors and non-resident Indians. The firm is representing IL&FS for the ongoing sale of over 1 million square metres of land in Kutch, Gujarat. Shailesh Vaidya is leading the team on structuring the transaction and preparing and reviewing various transaction documents.

The team has also issued title reports for 90,754 square metres of land in Borivali, Mumbai, owned by the Cable Corporation of India, which is being developed by CCI Projects for a 2 billion residential development, Rivali Park. In addition, a team led by Rishiraj Bhatt advised a high net-worth individual from the pharmaceutical industry in their purchase of seafaring apartments situated in Worli, Mumbai.

Vidhii Partners is led by co-founders Manish Desai and Sowjanya Menon. The firm’s scope of real estate services includes performing land due diligence; preparing documentation including conveyances, lease deeds, development agreements and associated documents with landlords and tenants; closing acquisitions through both the open market and auction sales conducted by the debt recovery tribunal, government authorities and official liquidator; and handling associated litigation.

The firm also advises on environmental clearance and coastal zone regulations, and guides clients on the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016.

Wadia Ghandy & Co is one of India’s oldest firms with offices in Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Singapore. The firm has a track record of advising on real estate deals including Jet Airways’ US$65 million sale of two floors of a Mumbai building to a company controlled by Brookfield Asset Management, where the firm with partners Dhawal Mehta and Denzil Arambhan advised HDFC. It was also counsel to Chalet Hotels on its US$23 million acquisition of Belaire Hotels. Both deals were recognized in India Business Law Journal’s Deals of the Year 2020. Rajive Kumaraswami, managing director and CEO at Magma HDI General Insurance, says Wadia Ghandy is “reliable, approachable and reasonable”.

RESTRUCTURING & INSOLVENCY

WINNERS

Activity in this area has been muted over the past year given the suspension of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) from 5 June 2020 until 25 March this year. Even now, only urgent cases are being heard by the National Company Law Tribunal, and experts say the IBC may be suspended once again. Lawyers will be scrutinising developments closely and in the meantime getting to grips with the government’s pre-pack insolvency resolution process.

Argus Partners has comprehensive experience in handling intricate legal issues connected to distressed assets and corporate restructuring. The firm has advised several clients on the IBC and is currently advising investors, funds, asset reconstruction companies and financial institutions in several bids for distressed acquisitions in Reserve Bank of India mandated cases. Argus’ transactional experience gives it an edge in guiding clients on complex restructuring, both contentious and non-contentious, mergers, demergers, acquisitions, takeovers and capital re-organisation.

SHIPPING & MARITIME

WINNERS
ALMT Legal
Bose & Mitra & Co
Brus Chambers
Clasis Law
K Singhania & Co
Mulla & Mulla & Craigie Blunt & Caroe
ZBA

Bose & Mitra & Co is the largest boutique shipping law firm in India with 16 fee earners. The firm has been involved in virtually every major maritime casualty in India in recent years. It has rich experience in handling practical issues and dealing with the Indian maritime administration, as it regularly advises on collisions, salvage, wreck removal, total loss, piracy and terrorism, oil pollution and other environmental damage. Almost all International Group of P&I Clubs instruct the firm and it is on a retainer for three of the largest shipping companies in India.

In a recent major case, the firm had initiated proceedings before the Delhi High Court against the Steel Authority of India to ensure that its client was immediately paid the freight that was being withheld from him under the guise of the covid pandemic. This was a victory against a goliath public sector undertaking and set an important precedent that state-owned enterprises would not be allowed to treat small ship-owners unreasonably and then take refuge citing the pandemic. One client describes Amitava Majumdar as “a good strategist” and Bose & Mitra & Co as a firm with “a leading position in the Indian market”.

Brus Chambers is led by managing partner Shrikant Hathi. The firm is well known for its shipping and maritime expertise, which is divided between litigation and transactional work. Brus has extensive experience in handling ship arrests and releases, shipbuilding contracts, ship repairs, bunker disputes, recovery of unpaid dues, cargo claims, commodity disputes, masters and crew claims, construction of ships and rigs, marine insurance and more.

K Singhania & Co is well respected for its dispute resolution proficiency and together with its shipping capabilities, the firm presents a strong offering for maritime matters. The firm successfully resolved a dispute between its client and a supplier of services through mediation, thus saving considerably on costs for court litigation. In addition, it advised on a case where an Indian buyer failed to take delivery of an export of apples from Poland. This led to the cargo being destroyed as apples fall under perishable goods, and the firm’s claim was successfully invoked against an insurance company for recovery of dues. “The litigation team is very experienced and they are very effective in pre-litigation mediation,” says Nitin Goel, director at Schokhi Industries. Apurva Dangi, director at Revergon, says Krrishan Singhania is “very knowledgeable and practical”. Another client says “the approach, clarity and personalised touch to each and every problem is their key strength. They are extremely sound on the technical aspects of law.” He commends Srishti Singhania for being “highly meticulous and organised on the job”.

Legacy firm Mulla & Mulla & Craigie Blunt & Caroe has 11 partners and over 100 professionals. The full-service firm enjoys a solid reputation across practice areas including in shipping assignments. It advises on all aspects of shipping law and also has an extensive ship finance practice. It also guides clients on charter party agreements, shipbuilding contracts and marine insurance, along with litigious mandates such as charterparty disputes and pollution matters.

The firm’s clients include shipyards, ship owners and banks and insurance companies. Clients depend on the firm for advice on regulatory and compliance requirements in the Indian shipping market. This is in addition to the registration of vessels, maintaining class and security registrations and licences, as well as meeting reporting requirements stipulated by the Reserve Bank of India and authorised dealer bank where relevant. Shardul Thacker is an expert in the area.

ZBA is a specialist law firm with headquarters in Mumbai. Led by managing partner Zarir Bharucha, the firm’s core areas of expertise are infrastructure, shipping, insurance, energy, financial services, healthcare and commodities. It has key expertise in charterparty disputes, maritime and admiralty law and related insurance litigation, offering commercial legal services, both contentious and non-contentious, in these sectors. Bharucha participates in policy contribution and on committees for new legislation, particularly in the marine sector.

SPORTS & GAMING

WINNERS
AZB & Partners
Desai & Diwanji
Ikigai Law
Krida Legal
Samvad Partners
SS Rana & Co
TMT Law Practice

We include a separate category for sports & gaming for the first time this year as it continues to be a huge area of growth demanding niche expertise.

AZB & Partners has closed numerous transactions in the sports space. It has handled the corporate and commercial legal needs relating to agreements for distribution and broadcasting, content supply and acquisition, licensing, endorsements, sponsorship and advertising. The firm recently advised Footpath Ventures, Tiger Global Management and TPG Capital on their investments in Dream 11, India’s online fantasy sports platform.

Desai & Diwanji is a full-service law firm with over 200 professionals and 22 partners. The firm recently advised Hsquare Sports on its engagement of cricketer Ajinkya Rahane as an exclusive brand ambassador for online booking platform Hudle. Hudle is a Delhi-based sports, tech, events and management company that uses technology to make sports activities accessible to the masses, irrespective of age or skill. The firm also advised on Rahane’s acquisition of a minority stake in Hsquare and in preparing the partners’ agreement with venue owners to list their premises on the online booking platform.

The firm is also lauded for its corporate commercial practice. Pankaj Ghai, managing director at Olympus Capital Asia worked with Aneesh Gupte, Shreya Iyer and Shireen Langrana on investment and exit processes. He commends their “deep understanding of regulatory requirements”, and their ability to ensure a “balance between law and practical realities”. KC Woody, COO at Midrex Technologies, says “Desai & Diwanji has always provided a personal touch”. He praises “Joebin Devassy’s professionalism and dedication to his clients, [which] makes him one of the best lawyers I have ever dealt with.”

Ikigai Law has a focused e-gaming practice. MPL, one of India’s largest and most popular online gaming companies, is a key client. Ikigai assists MPL in navigating India’s complex gaming laws as the regulatory framework is unique to each Indian state. While skill-based digital games purchased with money, are legal in India, many Indian states still tend to regulate them in the same way as gambling, leading to an unpredictable regulatory environment. The firm undertook a comprehensive review of the MPL platform to assess regulatory compliance and highlight the platform’s best practices across gaming laws, digital payments, data protection, IP rights, content regulation and others.

Krida Legal is a specialist sports law firm. The firm represents professional sports leagues, teams, athletes, coaches, government entities, schools and franchises. It also advises gaming industry clients such as casino owners, lottery operators and gaming companies both in India and abroad including poker, rummy and gambling companies. The firm’s expertise extends to sports, gaming, anti-doping, contracts, agency, constitutional, labour, trademark, athlete and celebrity management, and tax issues. In the past, managing partner Vidushpat Singhania represented the Commonwealth Games Federation and the Athletic Federation of India before the Court of Arbitration for Sports; a cricketer before the Board of Cricket Control of India’s anti-doping panel; and a few sportspeople before the National Anti-Doping Panel.

Samvad Partners has worked on a number of interesting sports and gaming assignments. The firm assisted Knolskape, a gamification and simulation software company, in the renegotiation of certain agreements with institutions and corporate customers. Samvad advised Knolskape on IP issues arising from the gamification of management theories and provided an analysis of the scope of Knolskape’s rights within various open-source licences. The firm also assisted Merxius, an augmented and virtual reality company, on a proposed agreement with Boeing as a part of its accelerator programme.

SS Rana & Co has helped gaming companies with strategy and incorporation. It has also assisted companies in obtaining licences for online games, in devising the scheme of the game to include a substantial degree of skill and enabled them to launch gaming applications on various social media platforms.

TMT Law Practice has been retained by franchisees in the Indian Super League to provide legal support on the transfer of players, sponsorship agreements, player and coach agreements, negotiations, and dispute resolution. It also regularly advises on the legality and functioning of fantasy sports mobile applications, esports (games of skill) and betting and lotteries in India (games of chance).

STARTUPS

WINNERS
Ahlawat & Associates
AK Law Chambers
Burgeon Law
JoyceLaw
Legasis Partners
Pier Counsel
Rajaram Legal

This is the first year in which India Business Law Journal is recognising excellence in legal advice to startups. This category recognises legal assistance offered to emerging companies in the entire startup ecosystem from fundraising and commercial advice to drafting founder and employment agreements and protecting IP. As technology and innovation intersect, the startup revolution is poised for exponential growth. The winning law firms in this area have shown their nuanced understanding of startup culture and know how to operate nimbly while offering competitive pricing.

Over the past year, Ahlawat & Associates has advised multiple startups from the US, UK and beyond in setting up their base in India. The firm has an array of innovative thinkers, entrepreneurs and pathbreakers as clients, in varied fields such as education, health, logistics, food, technology, hospitality and others, which has led to its expansive legal knowledge base when advising other startups. The team assists startups with regulatory compliance and the drafting of contracts to maintain good working relationships with customers, vendors, employees and others while simultaneously protecting the client’s IP rights.

Dip Shankar Nanda, founder and CEO of startup Rezlytix Technologies, says Ahlawat has “an exceptional team with an exceptional work ethic”. Nanda recommends Uday Singh Ahlawat and Sheena Ogra. “All of my legal and compliance-related worries have been taken care of with the utmost professionalism and with great quality,” he says.

Burgeon Law is a firm that caters to founders, startups, emerging growth companies, incubators, accelerators, angel investors, family offices, venture capital and private equity funds. It recently structured the entire business and contractual framework of Mothersense Technologies (Janani) and Nexus HealthTech (Maatri), a tech platform connecting users with stakeholders such as doctors and clinics, to arrange consultations and treatment for infertility, pregnancy and assisted reproductive technologies.

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Other clients include North Base Media, Animall, Kitchens Centre, GrowX Ventures, ZipLoan, Biryani by Kilo, VTION, and CoHo. Founder Roma Priya is very well regarded by clients. Samir Sood at Venture Highway, says he had “a feeling of being in trusted and competent hands”, when working with Burgeon. “They provided practical solutions rooted in sound law that also made complete commercial sense,” he says. “The firm has a consistent reputation in the [startup] market for hands-on, affordable, innovative, business-oriented, cost-efficacious advice delivered against the clock.”

JoyceLaw founder Deepak Joyce offers deep experience on financing and acquisition transactions in the startup ecosystem. He has advised on and negotiated transactions ranging from seed-round funding to jumbo financings and acquisitions, with ticket sizes ranging from US$100,000 to US$250 million. The firm recently advised FrontRow – a consumer internet company that develops instructional video content delivered by celebrities – on partnerships with multiple top-rated personalities. It also advised a client in structuring its business using a franchising model to achieve capital efficient scalability and regulatory compliance.

Anant Goel, co-founder and CEO of Milkbasket, began working with JoyceLaw when Milkbasket was a seed-stage company. The firm continues to represent them on all matters where external counsel is required. “JoyceLaw has advised us in fund-raising transactions totalling more than US$30 million over the years,” says Goel. “In addition to being our external counsel representing us on all corporate, funding transactions and other important matters … Deepak truly became my trusted adviser. In our interactions on a broad range of issues, including strategic initiatives … I found his inputs extremely insightful and valuable, and his judgment accurate.”

Legasis Partners has a solid track record on private equity and venture capital transactions which lends itself well to fundraising advice in relation to startups. Last year, the firm advised ITI Growth Opportunities Fund on seed funding in Vicara, a Bengaluru-based motion gesture and analytics recognition startup, and separately, an investment in Wagonfly, which provides contactless shopping and delivery experiences for customers. It also represented 1Crowd in relation to its investment in Tessol Energy Service Solutions, a Mumbai-based cleantech startup that provides thermal energy-based cold chain technology solutions. Balaji Thotadri, the CFO of Talentedge, points to the firm’s “quick turnaround, ability to support us as a business partner even in lean times like the pandemic, and firm-footed advice which could be contrary to our thoughts”. Thotadri says Apurv Sardeshmukh is “brilliant in his analysis of any case in point” and Yogesh Chawak “is another example of candor at its best”. He also names Vaishnavi Bhat, Avadhoot Potnis and Kaushal Parsekar, remarking that “one and all have been brilliant business partners”.

Pier Counsel is led by managing partner Anand Kumar who has over 18 years of experience in seed and venture capital financing, technology transactions, M&A, joint ventures, exchange control laws, venture capital and private equity and general corporate and commercial transactions. Kumar recently advised edtech startup Doubtnut on a US$31 million fundraising led by venture capital firm SIG Investments and Lupa Systems. Partner Vatsal Gaur is also an experienced hand in the startup ecosystem having advised both founders and investors on investment banking and fundraising deals, and mentoring a variety of startup incubator programmes. Gaur has acted for diverse private equity funds, venture capital and angel investors across the entire spectrum of the investment and divestment cycle, and has developed a focus on sub-sectors such as online gaming and esports, food and beverage, retail, blockchain, artificial intelligence, fintech, edtech, agritech and spacetech.

Rajaram Legal has positioned itself as a law firm for investors and entrepreneurs. The firm advises startups and emerging companies on optimum entity selection for their chosen business and assists on the incorporation of startups. It also has broad expertise in private equity, venture capital, technology transactions and e-commerce, all of which complement its offerings to entrepreneurs. The firm recently advised Sequoia Capital India on a US$7 million fundraising for Avataar.me, a 3D and augmented reality software, which creates an immersive shopping experience for customers. It also acted for logistics startup LoadShare Networks, Matrix Partners India and Stellaris Venture Partners on a series B funding round of 1 billion led by BEENEXT along with CDC Group. “They are spectacular,” says one client. “We work with Prasad Subramanyan. They take a lot of pride in the quality of their work, analysis and insight. I rate them very highly.”

STRUCTURED FINANCE & SECURITISATION

WINNERS

The winners in this category all boast strong banking and finance practices. Six of the firms named are also among our Best Overall Law Firms.

Juris Corp is one of India’s most trusted advisers for structured finance and securitisation transactions. The firm acted for Deutsche Bank (Bengaluru branch) in relation to a revolving and without recourse basis receivables purchase facility of 39.2 billion, extended by the bank to CISCO Commerce India. The facility was extended against the purchase of certain receivables arising from the sale of IT equipment and other services sold by the company. In another deal, KKR India Financial Services had previously extended two separate loan facilities totalling 2.45 billion to Wanderland Real Estates and Flexituff Ventures International. The borrowers defaulted in their repayment obligations, leading KKR to assign the loans along with underlying security to the Assets Care & Reconstruction Enterprise (ACRE). Juris Corp advised ACRE on the assignment of the facilities under the securitisation route. Omkar Redkar, director of global markets, fixed income at VTB Capital, recommends the firm for dispute resolution, insolvency and restructuring. “Shubhabrata Chakraborti and his team have provided us with clear, succinct and decisive memos, which have helped in institutional decision making,” he says.

TAXATION (DIRECT)

WINNERS

The firms listed in this category all have robust, dedicated tax practices that capture the latest developments in this fast-moving practice area. Five firms: AZB & Partners, Economic Laws Practice, Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan, Nishith Desai Associates and Vaish Associates, are recognised for both direct and indirect tax capabilities.

BMR Legal, led by the skilful Mukesh Butani, is a force to reckon with on tax matters. The firm specialises in corporate international tax, transfer pricing, GST, customs and trade and also offers expertise in policy, disputes and transaction advisory. BMR is the briefing firm for IBM in an ongoing matter before the Supreme Court of India. The matter concerns the characterisation of payments made to non-resident entities for packaged software. The firm is also representing Devas Multimedia before the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal in Bengaluru in respect of various assessment years. Several issues are spread across assessment years including allegations relating to re-opening of assessments under section 147 of the Income Tax Act, 1961, revisionary assessments under section 263, disallowance of various business expenses and transfer pricing adjustments, etc. The issues are currently sub-judice. “BMR Legal is one of the go-to firms for dispute resolution and first-class legal tax advisory work,” says Robert Jan Vlug, senior director for global tax planning and strategy at Accenture. “Their litigation team has insights on the judiciary that I have not experienced anywhere else. Mukesh Butani is a first-class litigation lawyer … his experience with the judiciary and political system in India is unrivalled.”

Vaish Associates is highly sought after for its tax expertise. The firm has more than 100 multi-qualified professionals with a total strength of about 250, including 12 partners in its three offices in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. The direct tax team comprises lawyers and chartered accountants who provide a comprehensive array of tax advisory and litigation services for businesses and organisations in various sectors. Vaish has a strong track record on tax-related litigation before all forums including the Supreme Court, high courts, tax tribunals, and tax authorities; advice and consultancy relating to domestic and international tax issues; strategic tax planning; transfer pricing; and compliance and regulatory matters. In the niche arena of transfer pricing, the firm has built capabilities to handle the entire gamut of services from the stage of compilation of data and preparation of transfer pricing reports to representation before the transfer pricing appellate authorities and courts. Vaish’s indirect tax team renders advice on goods and services tax, customs, service tax, central sales tax and value-added tax, central excise, and more.

TAXATION (INDIRECT)

WINNERS
AZB & Partners
Economic Laws Practice
Khaitan & Co
Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan
Nishith Desai Associates
Nitya Tax Associates
Vaish Associates

Nitya Tax Associates is a boutique law firm primarily focused on indirect tax advisory and litigation. The firm has 40 professionals including lawyers and chartered accountants who are based in New Delhi. The firm’s significant assignments over the past year include representing a leading automotive component manufacturer in obtaining relief from the Delhi High Court on the transition of pre-GST credits. This was a landmark ruling on the issue when different high courts were taking contradictory stands and became precedent for several cases thereafter. The firm also supported several companies on the new country of origin customs regulations.

The Indian government introduced CAROTAR 2020 to administer rules of origin under trade agreements to prevent the misuse of concessional customs duty granted under trade agreements. Nitya helped familiarise its clients with the new set of compliances and take action where needed. Naveen Kumar, division head for tax at Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India, says the firm is “one of the top amongst the tax firms in India”. He adds: “Nitya’s in-depth technical analysis of transaction and tax issues … and pragmatic approach … is definitely a cut above the rest in the business. Their advisory and litigation support services in relation to the erstwhile indirect tax regime (excise and service tax) and the current one (GST), is excellent.”

TECHNOLOGY & TELECOMMUNICATIONS

WINNERS
Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas
IndusLaw
Kochhar & Co
Nishith Desai Associates
RegLaw Chambers
TechLegis
Trilegal

RegLaw Chambers is an extremely popular boutique law firm for technology and telecommunications deals, particularly when they involve detailed knowledge of regulation and policy. The firm also offers strong capabilities in other regulated sectors of the economy including energy, aviation, environment, real estate and other infrastructure areas. RegLaw advised and represented four major telecoms companies – Tata Teleservices, Tata Teleservices (Maharashtra), Tata Communications and Hughes Communications before the Supreme Court in one of the biggest telecommunications industry matters involving the recovery of licence fees of around 1.6 trillion by the government. It also assisted Tata Sky Broadband in obtaining a virtual network operator licence, and facilitated the migration of Tata Teleservices and Tata Communications from the earlier licensing regime (unified access service licence) to the new
unified licence regime.

Sridhar GSM, vice president at Tata Teleservices, says the firm is “quick in action, possesses analytical expertise, follows the right approach, is ethical, not expensive, provides quality service and has good bandwidth and infrastructure to handle any and all legal matters”. Arun Kumar Singh, additional vice president for regulatory and corporate affairs at Tata Teleservices says “all our regulatory matters are handled by RegLaw Chambers … they are best in whatever they do. I recommend the entire team … each one of them is a gem”.

TechLegis is a commercial law firm that provides strategic, legal, regulatory and tax advice across various industry sectors including technology, media, telecoms, pharma and life sciences, intellectual property, and corporate. The firm advised a Hong Kong-based telecoms original equipment manufacturer in setting up a special purpose vehicle, and an online platform for B2B e-commerce to engage in technology development, technical consultation, technology transfer and technical services. It also represented ZTE India in a major transaction involving one of its Indian vendors with regard to certain telecoms equipment and mobile handsets purchased over a period of time, and related disputes before the Delhi International Arbitration Centre. The firm is collaborating with the Big Innovation Centre, a UK-based exclusive technology and innovation network involving global leaders and international regulators focusing on artificial intelligence and blockchain.

BEST NEW LAW FIRMS

WINNERS
Algo Legal
AP Law Chambers
Iris Legal
Numen Law Offices
Tag & Bench Associates

In this category, our editorial team considers law firms that have been established during the past two years. This year we have five winners, an indication of healthy competition and growing talent within the Indian legal market.

Algo Legal was set up in August 2019 by Sandeep Kapoor as a technology-driven full-service law firm for investors and startups. The firm’s head office is in Bengaluru and also has offices in Mumbai and New Delhi. Kapoor brings over 20 years of experience in the venture capital space. Prior to launching Algo, he was the director of legal for the Asia-Pacific at Sequoia Capital. Last September, the firm merged its practice with litigation boutique Samvid Legal. A recent highlight was advising Surge Ventures and Sequoia on a series A funding round for Indonesian accommodation startup Bobobox, led by Horizons Ventures and Alpha JWC Ventures.

Hero Choudhary, the managing partner of BEENEXT in Singapore, says Algo is “professional, meticulous and overall a great team”. Scott Mitchell, president of Omni-X USA, engaged the firm when his company underwent an entity transformation due to changes in the Indian tax scheme. “We were moving in uncharted territory where many factors were critical to manage in finalising our transition plan,” says Mitchell. “Algo skilfully and deftly manoeuvred the myriad legal, tax, financial, and compliance hurdles we were facing to determine options for us to consider. They then executed the plan very well, allowing our business leaders to focus on growing the business rather than managing the numerous transactions and compliance items to be performed.”

AP Law Chambers was launched last March by former Indus Law partner Anupam Prasad. The firm has already advised clients in the fintech, e-commerce, edtech and data privacy space; assisted on acquisitions in the advertising and publications sector; helped clients with investments in the e-commerce services sector; and has a pipeline of work for mid-market M&A. Recent transactions include assisting SigTuple Technologies and its promoters on exiting the company; knowledge process outsourcing business DiTech Process Solution on its acquisition of SM Solutions; and Renewate Infrastructure Technologies on its fundraising from London-based Better Capital. Neeraj Rana, senior manager at HRBP India, says that he is “extremely happy” and would “highly recommend AP Law Chambers”. While he has used the team for employment guidance, he finds them “excellent in all their services”. Another client endorses Prasad for “the personal attention he gives to matters and the domain knowledge he brings for corporate and company law”.

Iris Legal was launched last year by Kanupriya Bhargava, a lawyer with a distinct focus on tax litigation, advisory and arbitration matters. In a short space of time, Iris has already earned the respect of high-profile clients. “Kanupriya Bhargava is an exceptional lawyer and we had several successful decisions coming our way while working with her,” says Kushal Roychowdhury, head of finance at Shapoorji Pallonji & Co. “She has a vast repertoire of knowledge and skill set as a leading tax and dispute resolution lawyer.” Bhaskar Krishnan, senior manager of finance and accounts at SPI Power Operations, respects the firm for its “commitment and deep analytical skills”.

Numen Law Offices (NLO) was set up by Arush Khanna, George Thomas, Lakshmi Raman and Chaitanyaa Bhandarkar at the end of 2019. The firm specialises in dispute resolution, corporate advisory and criminal litigation. It also has a dedicated criminal litigation team that specialises in serious offences. The firm recently secured the right to livelihood for the National Restaurants Association of India by obtaining a stay on the sealing notices issued to restaurants and bars situated in Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi. It also defended Lenovo in a matter for recovery and damages that became an authority on the jurisprudence of section 8 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996. Fréderique van Gelderen, international tax structuring adviser at Athos Group, recommends Khanna.

“I find him professional, accurate, punctual, efficient and fast,” she says. Seh’ba Srivastava, regional legal counsel at Corning, says Numen’s “advice is always crisp, practical and is always focused on the best interests of the client”. She says the firm prioritises clients’ interests over its own, and steers clear of working unnecessary hours which are then billed. “NLO has always exceeded my expectations,” she says. “They are always up to date on the latest judgments being propounded by the apex court in India.”

Tag & Bench Associates was launched by Shraddha Ray Menon to serve the modern technology company. The firm targets fast-growing tech companies with a vision of operating as an experienced in-house counsel should. The firm was originally known as Ray Menon Law and merged with Vertices Partners in October 2019. However, after three months, the merger came to an end and Ray Menon grew her independent practice, branding it Tag & Bench Associates.

The firm has advised Airbnb India on trust and safety issues, data privacy, host aggregator, contract employees and marketing tie-ups. It also assisted Terumo India on the recent self-regulatory guidelines issued by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation for promotional and advertising activities by medical device companies. Ray Menon is “dedicated, hardworking and always on the right side of the law without compromising the business need”, says one client. Srinjoy Banerjee, founder of Excaliburancy, says “the team is proactive, on their feet and cost-efficient, with value-addition ensured at every stage of legal assistance”. Banerjee is particularly impressed with Ray Menon. “At a macro level, she drives the legal strategy; while at the implementation level, she manages end-to-end execution,” he says. “She has a strong understanding of the market, industrial trends and economic conditions, which lends gravitas to her advice.”

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

A number of law firms came very close to winning awards, but narrowly missed due to increasing competition across practice areas in the Indian legal market. These firms receive an honourable mention for their expertise and excellent client feedback.

AKS Partners is well respected for its arbitration expertise. Nishant Nandan, regional legal head for the north and east for ACC, says the team is “diligent, result-oriented and gives attention to even the smallest of issues, thereby leaving no scope for surprises”. Tushar Chaudhary, associate director at the UK India Business Council recommends Sonal Kumar Singh for IP, corporate advisory and regulatory matters. Singh is “very honest”, “proactive”, “professional” and “friendly”. Pulin Kumar, senior legal director at Adidas India, consulted the firm for dispute resolution, corporate advisory and arbitration. “One would like to collaborate again and again on any given legal issues with this firm,” says Kumar.

Singh “brought a win-win ending” to a big commercial law dispute “using his negotiation skills”, to get a huge debt recovered and bring the protracted litigation to an amicable end.

Gravitas Legal focuses on banking and finance, corporate and commercial, litigation, restructuring and insolvency. Gulshan Kumar, vice president at IDBI Capital Markets & Securities, was pleased with the firm’s efforts to distil complex matters. “The way they break down the most complicated issue and explain it in the simplest manner makes the process easy,” says Kumar. “They consistently display a high level of quality and are abreast with all the new amendments and developments.” The firm’s clients include REC, HDFC Bank, Orange, ACME, ReNew Power, Green Infra Wind Energy, SolarArise India and L&T Infrastructure Finance. Gravitas was legal counsel to a State Bank of India-led consortium on the concession agreement entered into by Bareilly Highways Project with the National Highways Authority of India for the construction of the Bareilly-Sitapur section chain of National Highway No. 24 in Uttar Pradesh.

HK Acharya & Co is an intellectual property firm based in Ahmedabad. The firm’s operations are mainly focused on patents, trademarks, designs, copyrights, cyber laws, licensing, geographical indications, corporate laws and litigation. Mita Shah, director at SKSM Diamonds Impex says she was “glad to receive the technical assistance, as well as thorough advice for protection of our IP assets, especially our patents … which has resulted in the grant of patent applications in multiple countries”. Shah recommends Rajeshkumar Acharya for “his profound experience”, Omkar Acharya for “unique strategies”, and Nilam Gadani for “technical know-how”.

Sujata Chaudhuri IP Attorneys is well known for its trademark expertise. “The firm’s lawyers are thorough, thoughtful and do their absolute best to represent my company’s best interests in India, despite the challenging legal system there,” says one senior trademarks counsel. “All the attorneys I have worked with at Sujata Chaudhuri IP Attorneys provide my company with excellent service.” Kieran Doyle, a partner at Cowan, Liebowitz & Latman, says Chaudhuri “is knowledgeable as anyone in the field, responsible and conscientious”.

He also speaks highly of Deeksha Anand whom he recently started working with in connection with an opposition proceeding for his biggest US client. “Despite the complexity of the matter, it has been effortless working with Deeksha,” says Doyle. “She is a detail-oriented person with excellent comprehension and drafting skills. Deeksha prepared a 28-page affidavit which did not contain a single typographical error. And substantively … it communicated our positions in a compelling manner. The quick turnaround and the quality work delivered is something external counsel hope for from all their local associates.”