In a celebration of hard work, ingenuity and excellence, India Business Law Journal reveals the winners of the 2022 Indian Law Firm Awards. Vandana Chatlani reports

In the past 12 months, India’s lawyers have rediscovered their rhythm. A certain lightness brought about by a return to routine has to some degree replaced the heaviness of grief and loss as memories of the pandemic begin to fade.

Law firms demonstrated their resilience and adaptability, closing deals in record numbers and sizes to the amazement of market observers. Equity capital market specialists took companies to market and facilitated the creation of multiple unicorns. Debt market advisers structured innovative issues from India and Southeast Asia. Promoters and their advisers orchestrated landmark acquisitions. And venture capitalists loosened the purse strings, forking out for controlling stakes in a rich variety of promising businesses.

Law firms are poised for the opportunities and challenges ahead as new regulations, regimes and developments come into play. Competition law experts remain hawkeyed as the regulator scrutinises digital technology businesses. Lawyers are preparing for the introduction of new data protection legislation and the implications this will have for clients. And arbitration specialists are primed for a wave of offshore activity as PASL Wind Solutions v GE Power Conversion India paves the way for two Indian parties to an arbitration agreement to opt for foreign-seated arbitration.

The past year was also a time of soul-searching, risk-taking and departures. Veteran lawyers such as MS Bharath bade farewell to Anand and Anand after two decades and launched his own firm, Kria Law. Meanwhile, former Nishith Desai Associates M&A practice co-head Simone Reis and partner Rajesh Simhan jumped ship after 12 years to launch their own firm, Anagram Partners.

In the midst of this flurry of activity, India Business Law Journal’s editorial team conducted rigorous research to select 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 contributed to our research are quoted in the text that follows. Others offered 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 up to 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.

These awards celebrate the innovation, talent and capabilities of India’s legal community.

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, 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 and late February, and nominations were received from hundreds of Indian and international companies and law firms, including: Accenture; Aditya Birla Group; Agility Ventures; Ajmera Housing Corporation; Allied Blenders & Distillers; AMP Capital; Anderson Mori & Tomotsune; Association of European Lawyers; Axis Bank; Bajaj Finance; BakerHostetler; Bank of New York Mellon; Bird & Bird; Capgemini; Cisco; CMS Cameron McKenna; Dabur; Deloitte; Digisafe Insurance; Digital Collectibles; Early Steps Academy; Eko India Financial Services; EY; FIFA; Garuda Finance; Hindustan Times; IBM; IBS Software; ICICI Bank; ICICI Lombard General Insurance; JPIN Venture Catalysts; JPMorgan; Kanpur Flowercyling; Kilpatrick Townsend; King & Spalding; Kirkland & Ellis; Larsen & Toubro; Lok Capital; Mahaveer Printers; Manikaran Power; Maruti Suzuki; Marvel; Merlin Entertainments; Microtek Infrastructures; Mori Hamada & Matsumoto; Odessa Technologies; Omidyar Network; Peterson Conners; Premji Invest; Propstack Services; R for Rabbit Baby Products; RBSA Restructuring Advisors; Reegera Fintech; Relentless Sports Retail; Reliance Industries; Rothschild & Co; Salesforce; Sampatra Technologies; Sanofi; Sidley Austin; Siemens; Silveredge Technologies; Simmons & Simmons; Skadden; Sonisvision; SPS Konstruction Konsortium; Sree Builders; Steel Authority of India; Sterling and Wilson Renewable Energy; Strawberry Lenceria; Sumitomo Chemical; Tata Consultancy Services; Teleperformance Group; Tetrapak; Times Innovative Media; Warade PackTech; Wellcure Infotech; Zee Entertainment Enterprises; and many others.

Indian law firms were not permitted to make nominations. However, they were invited to make submissions in support of their candidacy for the awards. The submissions included details of law firms’ achievements in key practice areas, as well as a peer assessment.

The awards results reflect data and qualitative information from all these sources, combined with extensive reference checking for all candidate law firms and rigorous background 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 scoops up 16 practice area awards this year, along with the honour of Law Firm of the Year.

The 450-lawyer firm with 112 partners is consistently recognised across practice areas and continues to be a client favourite on prominent deals. A key highlight was advising Tata Group through its subsidiary, Talace, on its successful USD2.4 billion bid for Air India as part of the Indian government’s privatisation plan. The deal – one of the most talked about transactions of 2021 – involved the acquisitions of Air India and Air India Express, and a 50% stake in Air India SATS. It also marked the first complete disinvestment of a public sector undertaking in 18 years.

The conglomerate also turned to the firm when Tata Digital sought to acquire a 64% stake in India’s largest online grocery retailer, BigBasket, for USD1.2 billion last May. The team assessed novel issues relating to data sharing implications and new age digital markets. One month later, Tata Digital engaged AZB again when it purchased online pharmacy 1MG.

AZB is particularly proud of its participation in the venture capital space, where funding has flowed into various startups creating multiple Indian unicorns. Experts from the firm have assisted foreign investors including Tiger Global and Addition in unicorn rounds for companies such as Grow, Cred, Share Chat, Moglix and Bharat PE.

Ashwani Verma, director of legal at Sequoia Capital for India and Southeast Asia, works closely with AZB’s senior partner, Gautam Saha, and partners Sachin Mehta, Dushyant Bagga and Swati Chauhan. “The entire team is super helpful and understands VC ecosystem requirements,” says Verma. “They offer practical solutions in complex situations and take a balanced approach.”

Verma has consulted the firm for multiple transactions across sectors including those that are heavily regulated. “AZB’s practical advisory on e-commerce, trading activities, the insurance sector and competition advisory is something we have found extremely useful aside from their understanding of the transaction terms,” he says.

Last summer, AZB represented PharmEasy on its acquisition of a 66.1% share of the promoter shareholding in diagnostics services chain, Thyrocare, for INR45.46 billion (USD600 million). The deal, which was the first acquisition of a listed company by an Indian unicorn, triggered an open offer for the purchase of an additional 26% stake in Thyrocare. It was the first time that a unicorn in India had acquired a listed company.

The firm continues to lend its experience in public policy initiatives. Co-founder Bahram Vakil and partner Anuja Tiwari were part of a working group on green finance taxonomy launched by The National Investment and Infrastructure Fund’s Green Frontier Initiative. The initiative recently published a report that aims to engage with policymakers, regulators, investors and entrepreneurs on green finance issues.

On the contentious side, AZB’s dispute resolution team worked with the Ministry of Law and Justice on its Committee on Delay and Time standards, as well as with NITI Aayog, focusing on decriminalisation as a way to unclog the courts.

The firm also played a role through pro bono work, organising a free vaccination campaign in collaboration with the Akshaya Patra Foundation and Hope Oncology Clinic, where nearly 15,000 people from underserved communities received vaccinations. The campaign ran for several months in New Delhi.

BEST OVERALL LAW FIRMS

WINNERS

 

All seven of this year’s Best Overall Law Firms maintained their positions in the top category this year. While some clients shop around for competitive offerings and follow veteran partners that have decided to go solo, many prefer the stability offered by larger firms with a legacy, solid bench strength and reliable expertise. Of course, firms across India will continue to fight for dominance, so those occupying the top spots cannot afford to be complacent.

Clients are spoiled for choice at Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas (CAM) where generalists, specialists and senior ex-regulators offer legal and strategic guidance across industries and sectors. The firm comprises more than 750 lawyers including 150 partners who combine academic knowledge with technical skills to fulfil corporate India’s ambitions.

CAM opened two new offices last year – one in GIFT City in Gujarat, and the other its first international office in Singapore. As with its rivals, CAM views Singapore as an important stepping stone for clients doing business in the Asia-Pacific region, and considers its location there instrumental in serving domestic and international clientele.

Clients also benefit from the firm’s learning and development platform, Gurukul CAM Institute of Learning. The platform is divided into three offerings: Paathshala, aimed at junior managers and in-house lawyers; Vidyapeeth, which focuses on mid-level in-house lawyers and business professionals; and Vichar-Sammelan, targeted at senior client representatives.

CAM is a frontrunner for banking transactions thanks to its expertise across the financing spectrum, from project finance and external commercial borrowings to debt restructurings, mezzanine financing, high-yield bonds, securitisation and loan portfolio sales.

The firm was borrower’s counsel to PGP Glass, a Blackstone Group entity, in securing a USD360 million external commercial borrowing. It also advised Embassy Office Parks REIT on a USD355 million private placement of non-convertible debentures, assisted Piramal Group on the refinancing of its South India loan portfolios, and acted as borrower’s counsel for Netafim Irrigation India in its debt financing transaction involving the issuance of unsecured and unlisted, non-convertible debentures to International Finance Corporation.

CAM scored a string of roles on billion-dollar capital markets deals including Zomato’s USD12.5 billion IPO; the USD6.7 billion initial offer of units by National Highways Infra Trust; and the USD1.2 billion listing of Renew Energy Global through a de-SPAC transaction with RMG Acquisition Corporation II. It was also adviser to Power Grid Corporation of India on POWERGRID InvIT’s USD1 billion IPO; and Greenko Dutch on its issue of USD940 million 3.85% senior notes due in 2026.

One of its most notable highlights in the past 12 months involved advising Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, on obtaining merger control approval for its acquisition of a stake in Biocon’s subsidiary, Biocon Biologics. Other companies that have knocked on CAM’s door for competition law advice are Google, TVS, Mahindra and Adani Ports – an indication of the firm’s innovation and strengths in this area.

Rajiv Bakshi, legal adviser at Dabur India, describes the firm as “very professional”. He respects CAM’s banking team for providing “good turnaround time and a practical approach to protect clients’ interests”.

CAM also snaps up 14 practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

IndusLaw retains its position as one of the Best Overall Law Firms after another stellar year of dealmaking. The firm’s commitment to an equitable ownership structure means it has little trouble attracting and retaining talented professionals.

The team of more than 300 lawyers and 50 partners recently expanded its equity pool to a total of 17 partners with the addition of Akhoury Winnie Shekhar, Anindya Ghosh, Namita Viswanath, Pallavi Kanakagiri and Vishal Yaduvanshi.

It also promoted three members to partner – Minhaz Lokhandwala, Sowmya Kumar and Shreya Suri, and recruited 11 new partners across practice area specialties from competitor firms. They are: Ravi Kumar, Pratyush Khurana, Apurbalal Mallik and Faraz Khan (corporate/transactions); Praveen Kumar Thodupunuri and Avikshit Moral (real estate); Bharadwaj Jaishankar (intellectual property); Unnati Agrawal (competition law); Ranjana Adhikari (technology, media and telecommunications, and gaming and gambling); Shashi Mathews (tax); and Vaibhav Bhardwaj (employment).

In the past 12 months, the law firm has taken its labour and employment practice from strength to strength, handling a variety of matters such as: advising Shell India on social security payouts for inbound and outbound expats; providing strategic board-level advice in contentious trade union negotiations for Siemens India; setting up foreign entities in India for Deliveroo UK; and advising on complex senior management exits for ReshaMandi.

The firm has quickly established itself as a leader in the fintech space. Recent accomplishments include advising on the proposed launch of Bridgeweave UK’s InvestorAi product, which offers hyper personalised information and insights on listed securities to users in India on a business-to-consumer basis.

IndusLaw was equally prominent on capital market deals last year, clocking up an attractive mix with novel offerings in sunrise sectors along with more traditional offerings. In 2021, the firm led on prominent listings of India’s new-age unicorns including Zomato, Car Trade, Paytm and PolicyBazaar. The firm worked with these companies to iron out several non-traditional issues ranging from complex capital structuring to the unique use of proceeds, and prepare them for Indian listings.

Throughout the year, IndusLaw has made time for pro bono activities. It assisted non-profit United Way India (UWI) in establishing a governance framework and a compliance checklist, and also structured and drafted contracts for UWI’s collaboration with Nivea India for the donation of 250,000 cream products to hospitals and healthcare institutions treating covid patients.

It also advised on the launch of the Swasth platform by Swasth Digital Health Foundation. With the vision to be a self-regulatory body within the health tech sector, and in the larger public interest, Swasth prescribes standards and codes of conduct for all service providers collaborating with them. IndusLaw drafted the terms of use for service providers and users, drew up the privacy policy, and advised on telemedicine regulations, data classification and storage.

IndusLaw rakes in nine practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

JSA reaffirms its position as a top-tier firm that operates with integrity and traditional values while creating a modern blueprint for businesses. The firm celebrates its 30th anniversary this year with a bench strength of more than 350 lawyers including 108 partners.

As in previous years, JSA secured mandates on a number of headline deals across sectors and practice areas.

On the finance front, the firm was an adviser to State Bank of India (SBI) on a USD1 billion credit facility extended to the Sri Lankan government for the purpose of importing food, medicine and other essential items. The transaction was signed between SBI and the Sri Lankan government during its Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa’s recent visit to India as part of a wider initiative to increase bilateral economic co-operation.

The firm also scored wins in capital markets, acting as counsel to 18 of the selling shareholders in the USD2.4 billion IPO of One 97 Communications – India’s largest IPO to date in Indian rupees.

In another first, the firm advised the lead managers on the first euro-denominated green bond from India by Power Finance Corporation last September. The EUR300 million (USD343.5 million) issue of 1.841% notes due 2028 was also the first euro bond from India since 2017.

JSA was also in the spotlight across a number of M&A deals including Blackstone’s largest acquisition in Asia in 2021, where it was counsel to the lead arrangers. A fund of the private equity firm, Marble II, purchased a controlling stake in IT services provider Mphasis for USD2.8 billion from another fund of Blackstone, BCP Topco IX.

Renowned for its expertise in technology and telecommunications, JSA was engaged by Baring Private Equity Asia in the USD3.14 billion sale of its holding in Hexaware Technologies to The Carlyle Group in the largest deal in the domestic software services space. Separately, it assisted Symphony Technology Group on the India leg of its USD4 billion acquisition of McAfee Corp’s Enterprise Business.

The firm’s reputation in pharmaceuticals and life sciences earned it a role as counsel to Lupin when it acquired a portfolio of 343 brands from Anglo French Drugs & Industries and its associates for INR3.25 billion (USD42.6 million). B Capital also looked to JSA in respect of its primary and secondary investment in API Holdings (PharmEasy), a pre-IPO stage company engaged in pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) products, and the provision of tech-based healthcare solutions.

Pro bono assistance is a vital part of JSA’s culture. In the past 12 months, the firm advised more than 30 non-profit entities, social enterprises and advocacy groups on a range of issues from structuring and legal compliance to policy guidance research and advocacy strategy.

JSA picks up nine practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

Khaitan & Co effortlessly combines its rich heritage with modern legal practice, earning its place as a trusted adviser among India’s most renowned companies. The firm’s executive committee is democratically appointed in an effort to promote transparency and objective decision-making.

The 800-lawyer firm includes more than 185 partners, many of whom hold dual qualifications. Last year, it opened new offices in Chennai and Singapore. It is licensed to practise Indian law in Singapore and caters to Asian clients seeking to enter India. It also has international desks in India staffed by lawyers with extensive experience on those specific corridors. These include a US desk with a California-based US national executive director and a France desk with an erstwhile French diplomat.

Khaitan & Co impresses across practice areas including anti-corruption and white-collar crime, where the team has advised on some of India’s biggest scams. Among these are NMC Healthcare, Wirecard, the Chinese App Ban and scams involving the Loan App, Nirav Modi, IL&FS, Cox & Kings and TRP. It has also advised on the prosecution side and defence side.

With a stellar reputation for banking, the firm sits on the panels of leading banks, non-banking finance companies, corporates and financial institutions. In the past 12 months it was co-counsel to Reliance Industrial Investments and Holdings on an investment in Digital Fibre Infrastructure Trust by Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia; and adviser to Cisco System and its Indian subsidiary on establishing a master receivables financing programme in India with Deutsche Bank, Bangalore.

In the pharmaceutical and life sciences sector, the firm works with clients along most parts of the product lifecycle, from clinical trials and patent filings to manufacturing, branding, data protection and disputes. Most recently, it advised Elanco India on the India leg of its purchase of Bayer Animal Health.

Social responsibility initiatives and programmes are routinely prioritised. The firm works with IDIA foundation to support legal education for marginalised groups and collaborates with Biz Divas, a national network of professional women to create mentoring and sponsorship programmes.

Jagannadha Rao, group head of legal, contracts and secretarial at Sterling & Wilson Renewable Energy, acknowledges the firm’s strengths across practice areas from corporate matters to intellectual property(IP), securities law, litigation and more. “[It is] long established and maintains a good working culture as well,” he says. “This firm has a brilliant team of lawyers for capital markets work”.

Nipun Gupta, joint leader of the India strategy group at Bird & Bird, praises Khaitan & Co for “very deep experience” in the pharmaceutical and life sciences space, the “breadth and depth” of its capital markets practice, a “consistent and strong team of litigators across cities”, and its “dedicated employment law specialists”.

Khaitan & Co takes away 14 practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co (SAM & Co) continues to secure roles on the prominent deals and disputes that bind and divide corporate India.

In 2021, the firm continued to expand its bench strength increasing its partner count to 146 and its total number of lawyers to 745.

Some of its landmark deals last year include advising: Covidshield Technologies on its purchase of a stake in Biocon; Indiaideas on its USD4.6 billion acquisition of PayU Payments; Canada Pension Plan Investment Board on its USD3.6 billion investments in Flipkart; Reliance Retail on its USD3.3 billion acquisition of the Future Group; and TPG Rise Climate on its investment in Tata Motors for USD1 billion.

SAM & Co has an impeccable reputation on contentious matters anchored by more than 148 dispute resolution lawyers including 21 partners. The team is led by senior litigators many of whom have more than 20 years of experience at the bar.

The firm is presently advising LG Polymers India with respect to legal proceedings pending before the Supreme Court, Andhra Pradesh High Court and the National Green Tribunal, as well as an investigation initiated by regulatory authorities including a special high-power committee formed by the Andhra Pradesh government to probe the matter.

It also represented the National Stock Exchange of India (NSE) and National Securities Clearing Corporation before the Supreme Court of India in a case against Rusoday Securities.

SAM & Co is a popular choice for private clients who entrust the firm with personal matters relating to succession planning. Shardul Shroff and Divi Dutta lead the practice, which has crafted wealth plans for family-run businesses, promoters of large corporate houses, high net worth individuals (HNWIs) and non-resident Indians.

The firm assisted OP Jindal Group and Hero Group on their family settlement agreements, and helped Cigniti Technologies draft and oversee the execution of a family severance agreement between the promoters of the company.

Jagannadha Rao, group head of legal, contracts and secretarial at Sterling and Wilson Renewable Energy, describes SAM & Co as “a reputed firm with highly knowledgeable and experienced partners and teams”. Rao appreciates the firm’s “excellent knowledge and experience in M&A” and its “ability to turn around complex transactions under quick timelines without compromising on the quality of services”.

SAM & Co has also been busy with pro bono matters in the past 12 months, advising Indian non-profits working on consumer rights, civic education, resource management, human trafficking and other areas on conducting their operations in compliance with the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Act, 2020.

It also assisted a non-profit organisation that designs solutions to empower women in rural India through training and skill-building sessions in reviewing and revising their anti-sexual harassment policy with a focus on extending the policy to regional and project offices.

SAM & Co clinches 15 practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

Trilegal works consistently to nurture diverse talent throughout the firm. The firm’s all-equity lockstep model, based on transparency, democracy and meritocracy, holds much appeal for junior lawyers and veterans alike.

This year, the firm signed the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles to advance gender equality in the workplace and community through equal opportunities in leadership roles, high-profile engagements and client-facing responsibilities.

In March, the firm promoted six counsel to the partnership, and it announced two lateral hires in April. Anuj Berry and Vishrov Mukerjee bolster the firm’s disputes practice and push Trilegal’s overall partner count to 79.

The firm enjoyed a solid year of deal-making, representing companies on fundraising, acquisitions, public offerings and disputes.

Its credentials in energy and natural resources landed it a role as Indian adviser to Atlantic Gulf & Pacific (AG&P) City Gas, which is developing 12 city gas distribution networks in India under the brand AG&P Pratham. The deal involved a USD120 million investment in AG&P City Gas by Tokyo Stock Exchange-listed Osaka Gas and Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corporation for Transport & Urban Development.

AG&P has exclusive rights for 25 years to develop city gas distribution infrastructure and supply gas across areas in Southeast India and Rajasthan. The company is part-owned by Osaka Gas, the Japan Bank of International Co-operation and Kuwait fund Asiya.

With deep experience in e-commerce, Trilegal was called upon to assist the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation on its purchase of a stake in Flipkart. The 10.37% stake valued at USD3.6 billion was bought by GIC, along with the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Softbank Vision Fund 2, and existing investors.

Whizdm Innovations, a platform that provides personalised credit products, turned to the firm for advice for its series D funding of USD75 million from existing and new investors including some who were sourcing funds from Russia. The team co-ordinated with multiple investors to prevent the transaction from being stalled as a result of the current political tension surrounding Russia.

Competition law is another key strength. Trilegal advised Ola Cabs when the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal dismissed appeals filed by rival cab companies Meru Travels and Fast Track. The appeals pertained to a 2017 order of the Competition Commission of India (CCI) that held Ola Cabs was not dominant in the market for radio taxi services in Bengaluru given its competitive constraints, evolving market dynamics, technology and innovation in the platform’s markets.

Beyond its commercial ambitions, the firm works with Catalysts for Social Action (CSA), an NGO focused on children in institutional care. Trilegal supports CSA to provide 94 children in two homes in Ahmednagar access to basic healthcare, hygiene, sanitation and safe living conditions. Its professionals volunteer to provide education and mentoring support to older children around general knowledge, identifying career options, and overall personality development.

Trilegal collects nine practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

ANTI-CORRUPTION & WHITE-COLLAR CRIME

WINNERS
AZB & Partners
Bharucha & Partners
Khaitan & Co
Mansukhlal Hiralal & Co
MZM Legal
Numen Law Offices
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co

 

Three of our winners in the Best Overall Law Firms category are listed in this category. We focus on the specialist, mid-sized and boutique firms that hold deep experience in this area.

Bharucha & Partners is a 15-partner firm with offices in Mumbai, Bengaluru and New Delhi, led by MP Bharucha. The firm has taken the lead on numerous high-profile fraud cases and offers rich experience in compliance advisory and investigative work. The firm is often engaged for assistance with anti-corruption and money laundering matters thanks to its dedicated governance, ethics and anti-corruption practice and the reputation of senior practitioners DP Singh, MP Bharucha and Sonam Gupta. The team regularly appears before the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) for finance matters, and also before Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court. Bharucha & Partners is also recognised for its capabilities in litigation.

Mansukhlal Hiralal & Co makes its debut in this year’s Indian Law Firm Awards. The 25-lawyer full-service firm has offices in Mumbai and New Delhi. It is currently representing a group of investors affected by the National Spot Exchange Limited (NSEL) scam, a matter valued at INR2.25 billion. NSEL, a platform for forward trading in agricultural commodities, had misled investors into believing it had goods in its warehouses when none existed. The law firm has filed a suit against NSEL and its parent company, 63 Moons, for attachment of its properties and lifting the corporate veil. It is also representing NSEL Investors Action Group on a related matter in the Supreme Court. Bhushan Shah, head of the corporate team, receives high praise from clients on corporate litigation matters. Shah is “a very dynamic and eloquent lawyer who was able to bridge the cultural [gap] between us and the debtor,” says Singapore-based Ronald Tan, from the risk management department at Mitsubishi HC Capital Asia Pacific. “Mr Bhushan fought the case passionately and we ended up with a settlement amount that was beyond our expectation.” Anand Baldawa, CEO of investment group Seeba, credits the firm for being “proactive and detailed about the work they do, whether it’s drafting or speaking to counsel”, and appreciates its “honesty, transparency, candidness and attention to detail”.

MZM Legal offers a laser focus on white-collar crime defence solutions, preventive compliance, strategy, prosecution and disputes. Last year, the firm launched MZM Analytics – an in-house business analytics and forensics operation, to bolster its legal services and give it an edge on its competitors. The firm advises on whistleblower and internal investigations, anti-counterfeiting, incident response services, background checks and asset tracing, litigation and arbitration, and investigations into violations of domestic and international anti–bribery laws. Recently, MZM represented businessman BR Shetty in several criminal litigations in India, the UAE and Europe, on a financial fraud case valued at USD6 billion. It also defended the promotors of Housing Development & Infrastructure in criminal litigation relating to an alleged case of banking fraud worth INR60 billion. In addition, it advised Landmark Group in its initiation of criminal proceedings against former employees involved in receiving kickbacks and embezzling funds in the UAE, China and India. Clients recognise managing partner Zulfiquar Memon and senior partners Parvez Memon and Waseem Pangarkar as standout lawyers.

Numen Law Offices specialises in dispute resolution, corporate advisory and criminal litigation. It also has a dedicated criminal litigation team that specialises in serious offences. The firm is representing Radhey Shyam in multiple first information reports (FIRs) registered in various states by different investors on allegations of fraud and cheating. In addition, it is defending Kaleel Rehman, accused of economic terrorism by The National Investigation Agency for his role in the circulation of high-quality counterfeit Indian currency from Malaysia. The firm also represented Magellan Logistics Tanzania by drafting a complaint in accordance with the Malawi Penal Code against an ex-employee accused of embezzlement. After procuring an arrest warrant, Numen assisted the Lilongwe police in drafting an extradition request sent from the Republic of Malawi to India’s Ministry of External Affairs. “They were always accessible,” says Sankar Venugopal, director of Magellan Logistics Kenya. “They were able to guide us through the correct processes and gave us a realistic and practical approach to resolve the issue.” Venugopal recommends partner Lakshmi Raman for her “professional guidance and an empathetic approach every step of the way”.

ARBITRATION & ADR

WINNERS
AK Law Chambers
AZB & Partners
Kachwaha & Partners
Karanjawala & Co
P&A Law Offices
PSL Advocates & Solicitors
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co

 

Companies continue to seek advice on arbitration and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) as a means of avoiding protracted negotiations in court. In the past year, India saw a number of developments including another amendment to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1966, and the continued pronouncement of pro-arbitration judgments by Indian courts. The rising favour of arbitration as a fast and economical mode of resolution together with an evolving landscape in this area has created greater demand for experts in the field. Two firms listed in this category are among our Best Overall Law Firms. We focus on the other five that are recognised for their work in this area.

AK Law Chambers has cemented its reputation on the arbitration circuit. The firm is representing one of India’s largest engineering conglomerates in a dispute pertaining to a design and build contract for the construction of tunnels and stations for a metro project. The arbitration, with claims valued at INR12.7 billion, involves intricate issues on the applicability of principles of res sub judice and the concept of latent and patent defects. The firm is also handling two arbitration matters for construction group Shapoorji Pallonji, and has ongoing arbitrations at the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC). “Anirudh Krishnan is one of the brightest young legal minds I have worked with in India,” says Ramesh Selvaraj, a partner at Allen & Gledhill in Singapore. “He shows maturity and commercial savviness way beyond his years. He is my go-to lawyer in India for commercial disputes of all kinds.” Selvaraj also appreciates the firm’s turnaround time and ability to “explain difficult concepts of law in an intelligible manner”. Vivek Jhunjhunwala, director of investment banking at Deloitte, worked with the firm on the sale of a company to a large listed entity. He commends partner Goda Raghavan’s “effort and expertise” and says “the team’s commitment was phenomenal”.

Boutique law firm Kachwaha & Partners has long been dedicated to the growth of arbitration jurisprudence. The firm has run an all-India essay writing competition on arbitration for Indian law students since 2012, and continues to be the regional organiser and sponsor of the South Asia rounds of the FDI International Arbitration Moot. The 18-lawyer firm with five partners is consistently recognised as a leader on arbitration matters. Last year, an Australian mining company instructed the firm in an ICC arbitration against an Indian public sector undertaking (PSU). The award was granted in favour of the mining company. The matter then went up to the Supreme Court of India which rejected the challenge proceedings and upheld the ICC award. The firm also succeeded in a national highway construction arbitration where more than INR3.4 billion was awarded in favour of its client. The dispute related to contracts for the construction of Chambal Bridge in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh on an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) basis. Founding partner Sumeet Kachwaha and partner Dharmendra Rautray are well recognised for their capabilities in this area.

Karanjawala & Co is a powerhouse for dispute resolution. The firm is currently handling a matter to ascertain whether the Arbitration & Conciliation Act, 1996, grants powers to an arbitral tribunal to pass directions to a quasi-judicial body. The team is also challenging the constitutional validity of a notification from December 2020, issued by the government of Haryana before the Punjab & Haryana High Court, which empowers the registering authority to register a cancellation deed. In another matter, the firm successfully represented Raheja Developers before Delhi High Court to secure an interim order of status quo under section 9 of the Arbitration Act on a proposed project for the Dwarka Expressway valued at INR36.62 billion. It went on to represent Raheja successfully before the arbitral tribunal to free the proposed project from all encumbrances and disputes. With its outstanding record, Karanjawala & Co also takes away an award for Litigation.

P&A Law Offices has earned its clients’ trust on arbitration matters after years of experience and success in the field. The firm represented Amazon.com NV Investment Holdings in a SIAC arbitration seated in New Delhi against Future Group, concerning breaches of a shareholder agreement relating to Amazon’s USD190 million investment in Future Coupons. P&A obtained a favourable interim award by a SIAC-appointed emergency arbitrator and a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court of India, which held that an award delivered by an emergency arbitrator under the SIAC Arbitration Rules was enforceable under Indian law. It also represented Daiichi Sankyo in an ICC arbitration seated in Singapore against the promoters of Ranbaxy, where Daiichi Sankyo was awarded USD465 million in damages. The firm is equally renowned for its competition law credentials. “Their insight and advice on antitrust investigations are best in class,” says Hitesh Mehra, senior vice president and general counsel at MakeMyTrip. He credits managing partner Anand Pathak for his “invaluable strategic guidance to the board on antitrust investigations in markets where the law is at a formative stage”; partner Shashank Gautam “for incisive and result-oriented advice”; and partner Sreemoyee Deb “for excellent feedback and connects at the regulator and its investigative arm”. P&A has also assisted Tata Trusts on a pro bono basis with work in cancer care hospitals, state healthcare facilities and primary education facilities.

PSL Advocates & Solicitors may only be a nine-year-old firm, but it has steadily made its mark as a top contender in ADR. The firm recently opened a new office in Bengaluru, its fifth in addition to Mumbai, Delhi, Chandigarh and Lucknow. The 30-lawyer firm saw a flurry of activity in the past year, advising on matters before the SIAC, International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Dubai International Arbitration Centre and Indian Council of Arbitration. Its clients include domestic and international companies across sectors including logistics, manufacturing, technology and infrastructure. The law firm is currently representing an international commodity trading house headquartered in Singapore in its challenge to arbitral award proceedings before the Indian courts, and advising the liquidator of a construction company in an arbitration proceeding initiated against a Chinese company. Jesus Diaz, the CEO of Zirkel Infraca, appreciates the firm’s “diligence, service and performance”. Ashwan Malhotra, an adviser at Hex Trust, says PSL is “a great firm with great lawyers who are knowledgeable, clever and aggressive”.

On arbitration matters, the team is “competent, factual and to the point”, says Malhotra. The firm has partnered with multiple platforms and NGOs to offer free legal support, in particular to economically disadvantaged members of society.

AVIATION

WINNERS

 

With India gunning to be the largest aviation market by 2030, sector-specific advice in this space remains in high demand. JSA, one of the Best Overall Law Firms, is awarded for its aviation work. The six other firms in this category are a range of large, mid-sized and small firms.

DSK Legal thrives across practice areas as a result of its proactive, pragmatic and innovative legal advice. The firm, with 144 lawyers including 24 partners, is a trusted adviser in the field of aviation, offering expertise across all aspects of airport development. DSK is currently advising the City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra (CIDCO) on all aspects of Navi Mumbai International Airport, one of the world’s largest greenfield public-private partnership (PPP) airport projects. It is also a consultant to GMR Goa International Airport on the development of a greenfield international airport that includes cargo terminal facilities, a fuel farm and fuel hydrant system, and ground handling services. Among the firm’s other clients are Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India, GMR Visakhapatnam International Airport, and Zurich Airport International. DSK is involved with several NGOs such as L&T Employees Welfare Foundation, Swades Foundation, Yuva Parivartan and Paani Foundation. Managing partner Anand Desai is also the chairman of the Tribal Mensa Nurturing Programme, and a member of the managing council of Vision Foundation of India. The law firm snaps up awards in five other practice areas – Fintech, Litigation, Media & entertainment, Shipping & maritime, and Real estate.

Hammurabi & Solomon is a multidisciplinary firm with 90 lawyers spread across offices in Bengaluru, Gurugram, Mumbai, Patna and Ranchi. The law firm plans to launch new offices in Kolkata, Hyderabad and Chennai later this year. Aviation is a notable practice area strength at Hammurabi & Solomon, and the firm has a loyal client in the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA). In the past year, the law firm advised the AERA on tariff regulations for aeronautical services, determining other airport charges for services rendered at major airports, and monitoring the performance standards of such airports. It recently acted for the AERA in an appeal filed by Delhi Aviation Fuel Facility challenging the tariff order relating to fuel infrastructure charges worth about INR25 billion, which the AERA fixed at Delhi International Airport. Senior partner Shweta Bharti and managing partner Manoj Kumar are well recognised. The law firm also takes away an award for Policy & regulation.

Kochhar & Co routinely seeks ways to expand its horizons and practice area specialities both within and outside India. In the past year, the firm opened two new offices. The first, in Chandigarh, gives the firm a presence in seven Indian cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Gurugram, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Chandigarh. The second, in Chicago, adds to its two other overseas offices in Singapore and Dubai, where it is the only Indian firm with a licence to practice local UAE and Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC) law. The firm has a robust aviation and aerospace practice with a team that has an integrated law firm and in-house aviation industry experience. Its client portfolio includes Air France, KLM, Atech Negócios EM Tecnologias, Dubai Aviation Corporation, Emirates, Lockheed Martin and Panasonic Avionics. It also won mandates last year from new clients SpaceX, Jet Airways, NextLeap Aeronautics, and Jupiter Aviation & Logistics. Senior partners Reena Khair and Nishant Menon are representing the AERA in a tariff appeal preferred by Mumbai International Airport before the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal involving stakes of more than INR3 billion. Sheetal Sabnis, formerly head of legal and contracts at GoAir, joined the firm last year as a partner.

Full-service firm Link Legal has cemented its reputation in the Indian legal market as a prominent force in aviation law. The 209-lawyer law firm advises on every area of aviation law and litigation, regularly assisting clients such as airlines, airports, aviation service providers and maintenance organisations with transactions, corporate advisory, financing, regulatory advice and disputes associated with their operations. It has wide experience in aircraft acquisitions, financing documentation for those purchases, leasing of aircraft, leasing of spaces at airports by airlines, acquisition of landing rights, approvals from civil aviation authorities for the setup of infrastructure within the airport for an airline operation, employee contracts and more. Link Legal also advises on the restructuring of airline companies and brings extensive experience in dealing with regulatory agencies. The firm advised on one of the most high-profile deals of 2021, where Tata Group, through its subsidiary, Talace, acquired Air India, its subsidiary Air India Express and a 50% stake in Air India SATS. Link Legal, led by partner Anand Srivastava, advised Air India and its subsidiaries on vendor due diligence for the USD2.4 billion deal.

MVKini has a dynamic aviation practice supported by its offices across 23 cities in India. The firm is retained by Air India and has negotiated the sale, purchase and resale of its Boeing and Airbus aircraft, as well as joint venture agreements. The firm advises private airlines seeking approval from the Directorate of Civil Aviation, and the negotiation and vetting of code share agreements. Other work includes the drafting of agreements on software, inflight entertainment, flight simulators and payment gateway facilities. In addition, the firm advises on international aviation treaties and protocols. In the past 12 months, MVKini drafted various service-level agreements as well as amendments of existing agreements for Air India and its subsidiaries, paving the way for its disinvestment process. The law firm is acting as local counsel for the airline for the re-purchase of 21 Boeing 787-8 aircraft through early termination of the leases under which Air India was an operator. Alliance Air is also a client. The firm helped negotiate and finalise its crucial and high-value IT services agreement for integrated passenger service systems. Ravi Kini is the firm’s aviation practice lead.

RNC Legal handles domestic and cross-border aviation and asset finance matters. The firm is well-versed with leasing, financing, securitisation, repossession, transactional, regulatory and contentious cases, including bankruptcy. RNC frequently advises on regulatory and litigation issues thanks to its rich experience in enforcement actions through the courts and other forums. On the finance side, the law firm assists with discounting, factoring, external commercial borrowings, letters of credit and issues emerging from international financing transactions. Other services include drafting, reviewing and settling loans, guarantees, inter-creditor agreements and mortgages. Managing partner Ravi Nath is a veteran aviation specialist. He has chaired the aviation law committee of the International Bar Association, and serves on the legal advisory panel of the aviation working group. Nath’s well-known clients include Boeing, Bechtel, BMW, Airbus, UBS, Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas and Barclays.

BANKING & FINANCE

WINNERS

 

Five firms recognised for their capabilities in this practice area are also among the Best Overall Law Firms. The other two are smaller firms with solid banking practices.

SNG & Partners is a 90-lawyer firm with offices in Mumbai, New Delhi, Bengaluru and Singapore. The firm is renowned for its banking expertise and is a preferred partner for banks, non-banking financial companies (NBFCs), financial institutions, investment banks, private equity houses, real estate companies, large corporate houses, ultra-high net worth individuals, developers and promoters. Its client roster includes names such as Standard Chartered, Avendus Finance, Axis Bank, State Bank of Mauritius and Doha Bank. In the past 12 months, the firm assisted DBS Bank India and the SBI with the drafting of transaction and security documents in relation to a term loan facility to DLF Cyber City Developers. It also advised IndusInd Bank, Axis Bank and Punjab National Bank on drafting common security documents for multiple lenders to secure various facilities to be granted to Dalmia Refractories. In addition, SNG advised Emirates Bank on credit facilities extended to Tata International and Indiabulls Asset Reconstruction, on reviewing the gamut of operations of an asset reconstruction company.

Talwar Thakore & Associates (TT&A) is a magnet for structured and complex financing transactions. The eight-partner boutique firm advises clients across the finance spectrum, from bank finance and structured finance to acquisition financing, project lending and convertibles. The law firm has also worked on acquisitions involving finance entities. Recently, TT&A was counsel to HSBC Asset Management Company on its USD425 million purchase of the mutual fund business of L&T Finance. Partners Sonali Mahapatra and Rituparno Bhattacharya are recognised for their expertise in this area. The law firm also offers strong capabilities in competition law, corporate M&A, capital markets and financial regulation.

CAPITAL MARKETS

WINNERS

All the winners in this category were recognised in this area last year, and at least five have held their position for several years. This illustrates a preference among clients to stay with tried and tested advisers rather than experimenting with new lawyers, especially where capital markets deals are concerned.

S&R Associates has been a hive of activity in the past 12 months, attracting fundraising assignments as well as roles on acquisitions and contentious matters. This year, the firm represented Vodafone Group on its INR33.7 billion acquisition of equity shares of Vodafone Idea (VIL), as part of VIL’s INR45 billion preferential allotment of equity shares to its promoters. Vodafone also engaged the law firm for its INR14.2 billion bulk sale of 63.6 million equity shares of Indus Towers on the National Stock Exchange of India. And when Vodafone proposed a sale of 127.1 million equity shares of Indus Towers to Bharti Airtel, S&R was its chosen counsel once again. Other highlights include representing Flipkart in its acquisition of ANS Commerce, and advising Oravel Stays, the operator of OYO Hotels & Homes, on its USD660 million term loan B debt financing from global institutional investors. The firm also assisted IRB Infrastructure Developers in its INR53.47 billion preferential equity issue on a private placement basis to Cintra INR Investments for a 24.9% stake, and Bricklayers Investment for a 16.9% stake.

COMPETITION & ANTITRUST

WINNERS

 

With the CCI scrutinising business practices more than ever, companies are looking to specialists to ringfence their investments and steer clear of heavy penalties. The winners in this category include four firms from our Best Overall Law Firms list. The other three have proven expertise in this category.

Chandhiok & Mahajan may be a lean operation with 35 lawyers, but the firm packs a punch with an impressive client roster featuring Google, Samsung, Honda, Whirlpool and Goodyear. “They have great expertise and, being a young firm, they are eager to provide excellent services,” says Nitesh Bhasin, head of legal and regulatory at Bharti Realty. “C&M brought with them a wealth of knowledge and expertise, and were able to deal with every eventuality,” says Darius Bragassam, the general counsel at Indorama, who engaged the firm for an M&A deal. “They highlighted all key risks for our consideration and proffered sensible suggestions for how to mitigate these.” The firm has built a stellar reputation for itself on competition law matters. In a complex investigation around access to information, the CCI found that Intel was in a position of dominance, however Chandhiok & Mahajan successfully showed that there was no abuse committed by the company. The firm also obtained CCI approval for the complex acquisition of Clariant’s pigments business by SK Capital Partners and Heubach. Clients name managing partner Pooja Mahajan, partners Karan Singh, Chandhiok Kaushalya Venkataraman, Vikram Sobti and Sujoy Bhatia, and managing associate Lovejeet Singh as standout lawyers.

Despite a turbulent year fuelled by the split of its equity partners, L&L Partners has worked to maintain its position as an experienced, well-connected firm on which clients can rely. The firm is particularly noted for its competition credentials, winning assignments from companies such as Jet Airways, ArcelorMittal, GMR Hyderabad International Airport (GHIAL) and Food Corporation of India. Google Asia-Pacific recently instructed the firm when it was alleged that the integration of Google Meet with Gmail constituted anti-competitive behaviour. L&L demonstrated that there was no prima facie contravention of the prohibition on abuse of dominance and that Google’s conduct did not merit an investigation. The CCI dismissed the case. The firm also advised GHIAL and GMR Aero Technic (GAT) in a proceeding initiated by Air Works India alleging abusive practices against GMR before the CCI. The CCI initiated an investigation against GHIAL and GMR, however the two parties approached Telangana High Court and successfully obtained a stay on the investigation. Clients recognise the firm for its banking, finance and private equity capabilities, too. Shilpa Nautiyal, vice president of legal at HDFC Bank, commends partners Karan Mitroo and Girish Rawat for their banking knowledge. Ashwani Verma, director of legal at Sequoia Capital for India and Southeast Asia, credits Nitin Gera for being a “very hard working and committed lawyer with the necessary skill set to close fast-paced complex transactions”.

Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan (L&S) continues to enhance its bench strength and now has a footprint across 15 offices in India with 410 lawyers including 113 partners. Joydeep Mookerjee, the CFO of Vision RX Lab, credits the law firm for its “knowledge and competence”. Throughout the covid pandemic, the firm adopted a people-first approach, ensuring staff were supported through various healthcare and wellness initiatives. The competition and antitrust practice at L&S regularly appears in courts and tribunals to represent domestic and international enterprises, conglomerates and trade associations. Clients benefit from the competition impact assessments conducted by the firm in prominent sectors such as automotive, e-commerce, steel, speciality chemical, sports technology, etc. L&S is currently representing Honda before the Supreme Court of India, challenging an order of Delhi High Court that partially upheld the order of the CCI penalising Honda over allegations of abuse of dominance in the secondary market for spare parts and after-sales services. The firm also successfully defended Indian Corrugated Case Manufacturers’ Association in a matter before the CCI alleging cartelisation among corrugated box manufacturers. The CCI passed an order dismissing the allegations made against the association.

CORPORATE & COMMERCIAL

WINNERS

 

In this category, we look beyond India’s largest full-service law firms and identify some of the mid-sized firms that have received exceptional commendations from clients for the quality of their corporate and commercial work.

Desai & Diwanji’s full-service capabilities and rich experience in the legal market are an attractive proposition for business houses. The firm has more than 210 lawyers and 30 partners who have served clients such as Société Générale, Union Bank of India, Royal Bank of Scotland, GoAir and Piramal. Desai & Diwanji is routinely nominated on high-value transactions. Last year, the firm advised Sterling & Wilson Solar and the selling shareholders, Shapoorji Pallonji and Khurshed Daruvala (Sterling & Wilson’s chairman), when the company sold a 40% stake to Reliance New Energy Solar for INR2.85 billion. It was also appointed creditors’ counsel and later administrators’ counsel in Piramal Capital and Housing Finance’s USD4.6 billion acquisition of insolvent Dewan Housing Finance Corporation. The firm conducted an asset quality review of the wholesale loan book of Dewan Housing Finance as part of the proceedings that resolved about USD13.9 billion in debt. This year, the firm advised private equity investor Greater Pacific Capital when it acquired a 14% stake in Muthoot Microfin, the microfinance arm of Thiruvanathapuram-based Muthoot Pappachen Group, for INR3.7 billion.

India Law Offices (ILO) is well recognised by domestic and international companies for its corporate and commercial capabilities. The firm has worked on a number of interesting assignments including the setup of a hotel in Leh, Ladhakh, by a Singapore national in collaboration with his friend in India. ILO initially advised the client on legal and regulatory compliance relating to foreign direct investment, but later went on to incorporate the company, draft the shareholders’ agreement and handle company secretarial work, as well as accounting and taxation. The law firm also advised on a joint venture between an Indian adhesives and industrial chemicals manufacturer and an Italian family-owned company that designs and manufactures automatic packaging machines for food. Abhijit Bhandari, president of global development at ComPsych International, speaks highly of the firm’s “customised approach and bespoke solutions”. He also acknowledges managing partner Gautam Khurana’s “foresight and business law acumen”. Adds Bhandari: “Gautam and his team have helped ComPsych through numerous challenges resulting in millions in savings and penalties. They helped streamline the entire legal and accounting portfolio at ComPsych South Asia, which helped not just the bottom line but created a greater productive environment.”

Indian Law Partners has a strong track record of setting up businesses in India through subsidiaries, joint ventures and limited liability partnerships. The firm has had a non-exclusive best-friend referral arrangement with international firm Ashurst since 2011. Geoffrey Picton-Turbervill, a senior consultant at Ashurst, speaks highly of managing partner Gopika Pant’s credentials: “She is extremely bright and knowledgeable, and is therefore able to provide the very best legal advice in a pragmatic manner and with a commercial context.” He also acknowledges partners Vineet Gupta and Kanika Premnarayen as “extremely good lawyers who provide a professional and responsive service”. The firm advised Chiyoda Corporation on its commercial agreements with L&T, and assisted US company Victaulic in relation to corporate advisory matters pertaining to its Indian subsidiary. “The depth of knowledge at the firm is, in my view, without parallel in India,” says Bharat Dube, senior adviser for brand protection at Authentix. ILP assisted in a merger between Authentix and Strategic IP Information last year. “Gopika Pant has to be one of India’s finest lawyers,” says Dube. “She is very sophisticated, has a deep knowledge of the law … and the ability to grasp complex issues.”

King Stubb & Kasiva is a full-service law firm with more than 120 lawyers and 25 partners spread across eight Indian cities and an overseas office in Milan. The firm has high-profile clients such as Amazon India, Swiggy, Sequoia, Baring Private Equity Asia, Black Dragon Capital and Saama Capital. “What I like about them most is their dedication,” says a senior in-house counsel. They are a “very motivated set of people who give their heart and soul to anything they do. They obtained numerous favourable court orders for us and also advised on strategies that helped us to bring warring partners to the negotiation table.” He describes senior partner Rajesh Sivaswamy as “the best corporate lawyer in India”. Parmjit Singh, head of the India group at Eversheds Sutherland, says the team provides “an excellent service”. K Vijayshyam Acharya, global head of legal and company secretary at QuEST Global, recommends the firm for international M&A and IP because of “their reach and relationships with international law firms”, and for litigation due to their “superlative advice and execution”. Managing partner Jidesh Kumar, partners Smita Paliwal, Prithiviraj Senthil Nathan and Prashant Kataria, and senior associate Gaurav Singh are well regarded.

S&A Law Offices delivers legally sound and commercially viable solutions across a diverse range of industries. In the past year, the firm’s startup desk in Bengaluru secured several new clients in education technology, e-commerce and IT. Its new corporate clients include Rattan India Finance, Feedback Infra, Feedback Energy Distribution Company, Oomph Social Needs, Dennemeyer India and Dakshas Foundation. S&A recently represented RattanIndia Finance in safeguarding its interests in light of disputes with its foreign counterparts and pending litigation before Indian tribunals and courts. Jai Khurana, managing director at Adani Ennore Container Terminal, says S&A played a key role in advising the company on disputes concerning its PPP contracts in the port sector. “What sets the firm apart from others [in ADR] is its involvement in high-stakes, unique and exemplary cases that help add better understanding to each dispute being dealt with,” says Khurana. He is impressed with joint managing partner Gunita Pahwa’s “promptness, diverse experience and legal remedies for the most complex scenarios”, and founding partner Manoj Singh’s availability and “hands-on advice” prior to crucial events.

Singhania & Partners wins plaudits for its professionalism, honest advice, timely support and diligence. Its lawyers offer extensive legal knowledge from corporate law and labour law to disputes and intellectual property. The law firm has clients such as Axis Bank, Bhushan Power & Steel, Deloitte, General Motors, Grohe, JSW, Punj Lloyd and Shangri-La. The firm recently conducted legal research in relation to the sale and storage of raw materials and finished products in India on behalf of Japanese company Tanaka Kikinzoku Group, which manufactures and distributes precious metals. Harish Mysore, a senior director at IEEE India Operations, has worked with the law firm for a decade. “I always felt the entire team worked very professionally and found them to be very knowledgeable,” says Mysore. “When the POSH laws were enacted in India, [senior partner] Shilpa Shah provided a very good assessment and helped IEEE to formulate our own internal policies,” he adds. Deepal Hoda, a senior manager at C&C Constructions, praises partner Vikas Goel for his “positive, prompt and absolutely logical approach” with regard to disputes. “He explains the merits and demerits of a claim upfront and tries to complete a matter as soon as possible,” says Hoda.

DATA COMPLIANCE & CYBERSECURITY

WINNERS
Ikigai Law
Khaitan & Co
Nishith Desai Associates
PSA
Reina Legal
Spice Route Legal
TMT Law Practice

 

A complete redrafting of India’s Data Protection Bill, 2019 may be on the cards according to a review and recommendations submitted by a joint committee of parliament last November. If the law is rewritten, both companies and lawyers will be forced to comb through the provisions carefully to understand its implications. One of the law firms in this category also appears in our Best Overall Law Firms list. The others have robust practices in this area.

Ikigai Law is a lean 29-lawyer, three-partner firm that focuses passionately on data protection, e-commerce, fintech, blockchain and cryptos, policy and regulatory, and technology, media and telecommunications (TMT). The firm helps clients navigate the uncertain and evolving space of data privacy. Ikigai advised Tide, a UK-based neo-bank and one of the UK’s fastest growing fintechs, on its India launch, drawing out differences from UK and EU laws to help shape its approach to data in India. For India’s tech body NASSCOM, the firm carried out a first-of-its-kind assessment of the impact of Europe’s top court ruling on EU-India data transfers. This allowed the IT sector to understand how to avert disruptions in data inflows. The firm advised the Data Security Council of India on encryption, culminating in a whitepaper for encryption policy. For MedoPlus, it drafted easy-to-use consent forms that allow the company to onboard individuals with no smartphones. Ikigai is mindful about workplace inclusivity and finalised a partnership to help secure internships for LGBTQ candidates, those with a physical disability, or who are from tier two or three colleges. The law firm also has an association with mental health partner YourDost, where its lawyers have access to free therapy and group sessions.

Nishith Desai Associates keeps its finger on the pulse of data privacy, cybersecurity and technology. The law firm keeps clients informed of significant changes to data protection legislation such as liberalisation of the geospatial data regime, the introduction of industry standards for privacy assurance, and the establishment of tighter security measures in the digital payments sector. It also stays abreast and counsels clients on judicial developments such as pronouncements on issues of anonymity, the right to be forgotten, and on state surveillance. Nishith Desai’s multi-sector expertise in areas such as media, employment and life sciences means it can offer a unique understanding of how data privacy laws impact particular industries. For example, the firm has produced insights for clients on the implications of data protection regulations on social media and educational technology platforms, urging companies to consider data collection practices seriously. The firm has advised clients in the education system to take into account all stakeholders, including education technology platforms, schools, teachers and even parents to convey the importance of data collection and use.

PSA’s dedicated technology law and data protection teams advised a variety of domestic and international clients on a wide range of matters in the past 12 months. Highlights include conducting comprehensive data protection and information security due diligence for Give Foundation, and advising a social impact crowdfunding organisation on its terms of use and privacy policy for the platform. It also assisted Telehealth Foundation on its health data processing protocols, data-sharing agreements, consent mechanisms, data subject rights, data audits and retention practices for several of its global healthcare projects, including the launch of its first telemedicine pilot project in Kyrgyzstan. It also conducted training sessions for ERP solutions providers on the entire ambit of data protection laws in Australia, China, the EU, Hong Kong and Singapore, and advised on group data collection, processing and retention policies. PSA was recently invited by the Department of Justice to advise on strengthening the culture of pro bono work in law firms. Rajiv Gulati, director and founder of Eliph Nutrition, says the firm excels in corporate law and understands the startup ecosystem. “PSA handled everything from the formation of our startup to finding detailed legal explanations of our model for investors, and also handling frivolous cases … against our company.” Managing partner Priti Suri and partner Dhruv Suri are well regarded.

Reina Legal 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. The four-partner firm has offices in New Delhi and Mumbai, and is supported by a network of affiliated firms across India, as well as in the UAE, Bahrain and Oman. For IT service provider Rahi Systems, Reina Law implemented a global privacy compliance programme covering 16 countries, customising it to include each entity’s jurisdictional requirements. For IDP Education India, the firm conducted an in-depth analysis of the provisions and positions in the report of the expert committee on the Non-Personal Data Governance Framework and drafted a representation for submission to the expert committee. It also conducted a data protection impact assessment of IDP’s overall business activities. Reina also launched www.privacydesk.in, which contains a complete repository of global privacy laws across the globe and updates on privacy laws, concepts, timelines and judgments in India. Bhavesh Jain, director of global financial planning and CFO of shared services at IDP Education, says: “They are flexible in approach and provide a comprehensive view of the issue at hand with the best outcome.”

Clients frequently instruct Spice Route Legal when crafting Indian and global data protection policies as a result of its cutting-edge work in the area. The law firm’s privacy, data protection and cybersecurity team has five sub-groups: Employment data; advertising technology, marketing technology and social media; cybersecurity; health data; and financial sector data. Spice Route advised on more than 40 cybersecurity incidents in 2021 for some of the largest companies in the world. It advised on how to respond to or manage ransomware attacks, working alongside some of the world’s leading incident response units. Among its clients are Microsoft, LinkedIn, AWS, 3M, the International Cricket Council, ICICI Bank, Airtel, Orange Telecom, Telia, Vattenfall, Gameopedia and Big Fish Games. Recently, the firm advised Srijan Technologies, which outsources software development, on numerous matters including negotiating 14 outsourcing contracts, of which two were with Singapore’s Mediacorp and Nestlé. For AT&T’s ad-tech unit, Xandr, the firm assisted with the expansion of its demand and supply side platforms in India, including local law divergences from EU requirements on data processing, the use of ad-tech tools to target consumers, and the operation of ad exchange platforms.

TMT Law Practice bridges the gap between advances in IT and issues around data privacy by liaising with government representatives through think tanks on policy and regulatory issues. The firm has assisted in-house teams to implement general data protection rules, and has rendered opinions on domestic data privacy and protection requirements. TMT regularly features on advisory groups and shares its knowledge with concerned ministries around the issue of data localisation and its social and economic implications. Recently, the firm advised an upcoming social media platform with respect to regulatory landscaping of data privacy and protection laws across the European Economic Area, Latin America, North America and Oceania. It was also counsel to several healthcare platforms on the implications of proposed policies relating to health data retention and management. Prashant Ramdas, head of legal at Radio Mirchi, recognises the firm’s strengths in IP and telecom disputes. “They were instrumental in protecting the interests of the radio industry and protecting it from getting arm-twisted into exorbitant and unviable licensing deals with the music industry,” he says. Ramdas recommends founding partner Abhishek Malhotra, principal associate Shilpa Gamnani, and senior associates Atmaja Tripathy and Gurmukh Choudhri for their “professionalism, excellent domain knowledge and promptness in responding to queries”.

EDUCATION

WINNERS

 

Ambitions to make India a global education hub have helped drive healthy interest in the sector from both domestic and international investors. In addition, the liberalisation and internationalisation of higher education, along with evolving methods of learning and teaching through online platforms and educational technology, have created avenues for new business opportunities.

Established in 2019, AP & Partners is a 20-lawyer and four-partner firm that has advised educational institutions, education technology companies, vocational and skill set training companies, venture capital and private equity funds, and corporates seeking a footprint in the education sector. Toddle, a collaborative learning platform for international baccalaureate primary years and middle years programmes, designed by IB teachers, engaged the firm when it received seed investment from Matrix Partners, Beenext, 3One4 and AL Trust. AP & Partners also advised the company on global child-focused data protection. Sunrise Mentors Private (Coding Ninjas) and its promoters also turned to the firm for advice on aspects of its series A funding from Info Edge India. Coding Ninjas, one of the largest online tech education companies in India, offers courses related to coding and computer programming. On the contentious side, AP & Partners took on a matter for the Council for Indian School Certificate Examination (CISCE) in Mamta Sharma v CBDS & Ors, known as the “board exam cancellation” case. It also assisted CISCE in negotiating technology service agreements with third parties for its education management platform. In another case, the firm helped an ed-tech business to navigate a dispute with a San Francisco-based competitor on alleged IP infringement claims.

IndusLaw advised on the steady stream of investments in India’s education sector in the past year. Highlights include advising US-based digital reading platform Epic on the India-related aspects of its USD500 million acquisition by Indian startup Byju, and Unacademy in relation to a USD459 million series H round of funding by Softbank, Tiger, GA, Temasek and Mirae. The firm was also counsel to Indian School of Hospitality in relation to the acquisition of its majority stake by Sommet Education, the international hospitality education group that owns Glion and Le Roches campuses.

LexCounsel was founded by Seema Jhingan, Alishan Naqvee and Dimpy Mohanty. The law firm has offices in New Delhi and Bhubaneshwar, and its impressive track record in the education sector earned it a role as adviser to FICCI Arise, a collegium of stakeholders representing the school education industry within India. The firm assisted in preparing and providing comments on the draft School Safety Manual and its bylaws, which the government proposes to introduce in all schools across India. The firm also acted for DIT University on its collaboration with Wellington College in the UK to establish K-12 residential and non-residential schools in India. “I have tried other law firms in the past, but these guys are incomparable,” says Ranjan Goyal, the director and CEO of Dibber Schools India. Goyal recommends Jhingan and associate partner Dhruv Manchanda “for the very thorough and customer-centric work they do”. Mark Barnes, a partner at Ropes & Gray in Boston, regularly refers multiple large international pharma companies and American university clients to Naqvee for healthcare and life sciences regulatory advice. “Alishan and his colleagues have been responsive, responsible, and effective,” says Barnes. “Everyone I have referred to him and his colleagues have only said the very best things about the legal services they received”.

Samvad Partners prides itself on its diversity. Women comprise 76% of the firm’s partners and 64% of its lawyers. The firm has a strong culture of pro bono advisory to several NGOs, startups, educational institutions and individuals including women who have suffered sexual harassment, people from marginalised communities and the LGBTQ community. The firm has deep ties with India’s most reputed law schools and industry bodies, which contribute to its thriving education practice. Samvad represented Sowmya Narayanan Sadagopan Committee in drafting the University Visvesvaraya College of Engineering (UVCE) bill that was passed by the Karnataka assembly in December 2021. The law establishes UVCE as an autonomous institution of higher education, with a governance structure modelled after the Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management, making it one of the first state institutions of eminence. The firm also acted for RVCF India Growth Fund in connection with its investment in Dhurina Ventures, an e-learning mobile app. Nandinee Nanda Mayekar, head legal counsel at Bizongo, values the firm’s “expertise, professionalism and integrity”, which are “remarkably excellent”.

Spice Route Legal’s education practice spans both transactional and advisory mandates. The team has advised leading ed-tech platforms, private equity firms, strategic investors and educational institutions primarily in relation to data and regulatory queries, as well as on investments into the ed-tech sector. Its most exciting work in the past 12 months includes advising StudyIQ, a Union Public Service Commission-focused ed-tech company, on its acquisition by ed-tech platform Adda247. It also advised Collpoll, an ed-tech platform, on its seed investment from Seabright III and Manipal Global Education Services. Ohmium International, a US-based hydrogen fuel company, also engaged the firm when it collaborated with IIT Madras Research Park, to set up a research and development centre at IIT Madras.

Boutique firm Vertices Partners saw a flurry of activity in the education space in the past year. The firm represented Teachmint Technologies in its series A round of investment from Learn Capital Venture Partners IV, Lightspeed India Partners II, AL Trust, TM Fund II and MV Opportunities India. Teachmint again instructed the firm for its series B fundraising round and its acquisition of Teachmore, an online course selling platform, and Airlearn, an online live teaching and learning platform. The law firm also assisted Edureka on its purchase of Veranda Learning Solutions, Sunstone Eduversity on its series B round of funding led by WestBridge Capital, with participation from existing investors Saama Capital, Alteria Capital and Work10m, and ICICI Bank on its investment in MyClassBoard Educational Solutions. Demonstrating its commitment to staff wellbeing, the law firm organised #MenstruationMatters, a three-month initiative for insightful conversations aimed at women lawyers to manage their health in a safe and comfortable space. The firm’s Mind Your Wellness initiative encourages all colleagues to proactively promote mental health positivity.

ENERGY & NATURAL RESOURCES

WINNERS

 

HSA Advocates runs a robust projects, energy and infrastructure practice that caters to all aspects of a project’s lifecycle. The law firm has strong capabilities in structuring and negotiating documentation for power, renewables, transportation and PPPs including concession agreements, EPC, operations and management (O&M), financing contracts and bidding documents. HSA also offers depth and breadth of expertise on contentious matters and advice on regulatory and policy aspects before sector regulators, tribunals and commissions. Its client portfolio includes Arinsun Clean Energy, Adani Green Energy, Acme Group, Adhunik Power & Natural Resources, Berkeley Energy Renewable Singapore, Engie, Power Grid Corporation, Kalpataru Power, Sterlite Energy and Enercon Wind Energy. Last year, the firm was counsel to Greaves Electric Mobility on its USD2.4 million acquisition of a 26% stake in electric three-wheeler manufacturer MLR Auto. It is also advising on ongoing projects such as the development of Vizhinjam International Seaport, a greenfield deep-water multi-purpose seaport that is being developed under a PPP model with funding from the state government of Kerala. Firm founder Hemant Sahai, and partners Dipti Lavya Swain, Monali Dutta, Ravi Jain, Shailendra Kumar Singh, Soumya Kanti De Mallik and Sumit P are well regarded for their expertise in this area.

With 75 lawyers, Phoenix Legal has proved its might across multiple practice areas. One of its accomplishments in the energy and natural resources sector was advising Höegh LNG AS on India’s first floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU) LNG import terminal. The firm advised on all Indian law aspects of the transaction, operations and services of the FSRU in India, and on the transaction documents, including the bareboat charter agreement and operations and services agreement including chartering, licences and permissions and other compliances required under Indian law. In addition, the firm assisted a global oil and gas major in preparing expert evidence in the Singapore Court of Appeal based on parliamentary committee reports, law commission reports and collated statistics to counter an opinion rendered by the former Chief Justice of India (Justice YV Chandrachud). The firm provided expert evidence on Indian law and its opinion was subsequently affirmed by the Singapore Courts. Clients speak highly of the firm. Gayathri Kamath, manager of contracts and tenders for India at Intuitive India, says the team is “very through and articulate in their opinions”. “The final product … from their desk is very well thought out and makes my job easier,” she says.

Sarthak Advocates & Solicitors is a 15-lawyer, two-partner firm based in New Delhi. The firm has taken on energy transactions across jurisdictions including India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Senegal and the Maldives. It has worked with government and international agencies such as the World Bank and International Finance Corporation in drafting standard bid documents for PPP projects, advised regulatory bodies on legislative drafting, policy and regulations, and represented clients on transactions and disputes. Its clients include the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (India), Convergence Energy Services, Bharat Heavy Electricals, Moser Baer Group, Hindustan Power Group, GMR Group, SunSource Group, Ecotra (Senegal), and Chaudhary Group (Nepal). Recently, Sarthak acted for a Singapore-based company’s Indian unit that won a bid for a new solar power project in a closely contested auction. The project was to be funded through a combination of international funds and debt. A Canadian oil and gas company consulted the firm for assistance with drafting and negotiating a number of agreements with the government of Senegal, including contracts for fuel supply and EPC. The firm also advised the Indian government on setting up the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, which aims to assist in developing policies and strategies on self-regulation and market principles.

ENVIRONMENT

WINNERS

 

Dhir & Dhir Associates is a 75-lawyer firm led by 11 partners spread across New Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune and a representative office in Japan. The law firm has a committed environment social and governance (ESG) practice that offers services on the setup of ESG frameworks, risk mitigation, global compatibility with supply chain networks, sustainable finance, corporate responsibility, environmental liability, climate change and carbon emissions, business and human rights, sustainable workforce and labour issues, and ownership of natural assets. ESG partner Sonal Verma has advised Indian companies operating in the UK, MENA, the Asia-Pacific and the Americas, handling regulatory compliance projects in 61 countries for Indian multinationals and Fortune 500 companies across industries in collaboration with a network of local firms. Alongside its ESG expertise, the firm profits from a flourishing insolvency and restructuring practice, and works as a regular adviser to IIFCL to provide long-term financial assistance through the Scheme for Financing Viable Infrastructure Projects under the provisions of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC). It is also representing real estate developer Supertech and its promoters against various proceedings in the National Companies Law Tribunal filed by financial creditors and home buyers.

MVKini has sealed its reputation as a specialist in environmental law. The firm has advised a global cloud platform on exporting its used and non-waste electronic and electrical equipment for repair and reuse, and associated environmental approvals. In another matter, it advised a multinational company operating in various jurisdictions on its corporate environmental responsibility and CSR obligations relating to large-scale data centres in India. MV Kini also conducted regulatory due diligence for a global leader in in-vitro diagnostics, with a specific focus on adopting the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit-sharing in Indian municipal laws. Russ LaMotte, a principal at Beveridge & Diamond in Washington DC, says MVKini is “my go-to firm in India for all issues related to environmental law and product regulatory law for our large ICT-sector clients.” LaMotte appreciates the firm’s “outstanding support on issues like registration under e-waste rules” and credits partners Els Kini and Tavinder Sidhu for their “responsive, timely and cost-effective advice”.

Saikrishna & Associates is a 112-lawyer firm led by 19 partners and associate partners who focus heavily on IP, TMT, corporate law and competition law. Partner Ameet Datta and associate partner Suvarna Mandal are key practitioners in this area. The law firm’s specialised environmental law practice assists domestic and international clients in the technology and consumer durables space on a variety of regulatory matters, specifically relating to electronic waste, hazardous waste and plastic waste management. Companies frequently approach the firm for guidance on compliance with environment protection laws and regulations, including on extended producer responsibility obligations to deal effectively with environmental authorities. The firm offers advice on identifying and eliminating potential liabilities including engaging with regulatory bodies such as the Central Pollution Control Board in relation to show cause notices and other compliance-led filings. In addition, Saikrishna works closely with media houses, broadcasting companies, copyright societies, film production, music labels and content exploitation platforms to safeguard their IP. Its wide-ranging experience in IP enforcement and anti-counterfeiting has attracted clients producing a broad spectrum of products and services including apparel, luxury goods, pharmaceuticals, consumer durables, books, films and music.

Boutique IP law firm SKS Law Associates is led by Sunita Sreedharan. The practice specialises in the prosecution, litigation and licensing of patents, trademarks, copyright, industrial designs, geographical indications and plant variety protection. SKS has deep expertise in life sciences, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, robotics, the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and telecoms. SKS has been involved in policy work including drafting a law on traditional knowledge protection relating to genetic resources and benefit sharing for the Ministry of Environment. It also runs a busy practice in matters pertaining to obtaining regulatory compliances under the Biological Diversity Act. Clients benefit from the firm’s extensive experience on contentious matters, where the firm has proved its capabilities in opposition, rectification, revocation, infringement action as well as dispute resolution in all areas of IP law. It is equally adept at providing assistance on non-contentious and transactional matters as well as IP audits.

Trust Legal continues to earn recognition for its specialist environmental law practice. Since 2015, founder Sudhir Mishra has worked on a public interest litigation against the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, appearing before Delhi High Court to highlight growing climate deterioration and alarming air pollution in Delhi on account of vehicular pollution and crop burning. For the government, the firm has worked on various consultative committees of the Ministry of Environment and Forest, as well as for the state forest departments of Sikhim, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. The firm has handled tricky environmental mandates for clients such as Tata Consultancy Services, Adani, Amazon, Cadbury, Tetra Pack and Max Healthcare. It is currently acting in a case before the Supreme Court for Oil India based on an environmental issue relating to Assam Oil Fields. “Trust Legal has a convoy of partners who are skilled in niche business areas and seamlessly table business insights along with profound legal knowledge,” says Sidheshwar Bhalla, a partner and leader of governance risk, resilience, compliance and sustainability at Mazars India. Bhalla describes Mishra as an expert with “deep practical understanding on environmental matters”, and says partner Petal Chandhok is “exceptional in drafting and very articulate in putting legal fabric to the facts”. He also recommends partner Ritwika Nanda, principal associate Raghav Sethi and associate Simran Gupta.

FINTECH

WINNERS

 

The explosion of fintech innovation in India has created new avenues of work for many law firms. According to Invest India, there are about 6,600 fintech startups in the country, with the industry worth USD31 billion last year. Law firms are fine-tuning their knowledge in this fast-moving space to keep abreast of developments and trends shaping the industry. As a result of its alignment with finance-related fields, this category is dominated by larger law firms with robust finance practices. However, boutique and specialist firms have muscled in, showcasing their niche expertise.

Amicus Services has since 2015 advised regulated entities on tie-ups with fintech partners, lending documentation for consumer finance, issues relating to know your customer guidelines, and privacy and sharing of data of customers with partners. The law firm interacts frequently with associations, such as the Digital Lender’s Association of India, and regulators to help establish rules and norms for the industry. Amicus recently advised DMI Finance on its tie-up with a digital payment platform, as well as on its collaboration with Reliance Retail. Shiv Chatterjee, co-founder of DMI Group, has worked with the firm since its inception a decade ago. “The entire team has an incredible client-first ethos that has led to DMI being very reliant on their services,” says Chatterjee. “Every part of our organisation – digital consumer and SME lending, corporate lending, real estate lending, housing finance, venture capital fund and alternative investment fund – uses Amicus as the first port of call for answers to any legal questions in those areas.” Chatterjee praises co-founder and partner Shivi Rastogi, and partners Kinshuk Chatterjee and Madhav Rastogi for being “highly effective”. Pankaj Singh, programme manager at Yatra Angel Network, appreciates Shivi Rastogi’s “exceptional ability to break down complex legal problems”, and senior associate Keshav Saboo’s “diligence and good eye for detail”.

Fintech is a core practice area for Ikigai Law. The law firm has helped clients launch and scale several digital payments, lending, neo-banking and wealth-tech platforms. Last year, it established a new public affairs practice area focused entirely on the technology ecosystem. It played a critical role in the discourse on cryptocurrency regulation through its engagement with the government and several members of parliament. Recent accomplishments include advising FamPay on pre-paid instrument interoperability through a unified payments interface, Xiaomi on the launch of its wearable payment devices, and Tide – a UK neo-bank – on its launch in India. “Being an early-stage crypto startup, there are very few law firms who can help you navigate the legal space keeping in mind the business aspect. Ikigai helped us sail through that,” says Srivar Harlalka, co-founder of Flippy. “I highly recommend [managing partner] Anirudh Rastogi and his team for everything to do with cryptocurrencies and digital assets. The knowledge and understanding that the Ikigai team has of this space is probably one of the best in the country.”

INFRASTRUCTURE & PROJECTS

WINNERS

 

Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a 35.4% increase in infrastructure spending for the upcoming financial year. The INR7.5 trillion budget is expected to be used for roads, railways, airports, ports, mass transport, waterways and logistics. Sitharaman revealed that INR200 billion would be allocated for the expansion of highways, and that separate funding would go to the manufacture of 400 new-generation, energy-efficient trains. The legal advisers selected for these huge infrastructure projects are often from larger firms with an established bench strength and the capacity to provide long-term support.

Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas is routinely called on for advice on project finance transactions thanks to its multi-sector experience. The State Bank of India, Axis Bank and Bank of Baroda consulted the firm when they provided USD1.47 billion in financial assistance to DME Development to finance the first two years of the Delhi-Mumbai Expressway. The firm was also lenders’ counsel to a consortium of banks on the USD977 million refinancing of Mumbai International Airport. In addition, it has played a leading role on numerous other project financing transactions for clients such as Pune IT City Metro Rail, Nayara Energy, Yamuna International Airport, ABC Renewable Energy, Clean Solar Power (Tumkur), Thrissur Expressway and Senvion Wind Technology.

JSA has advised on cutting-edge projects across the infrastructure sector including energy and natural resources, transport, smart cities, and municipal infrastructure and telecoms. The law firm secured roles on a number of exciting, high-value projects last year, among them the sale of Andhra Pradesh government’s equity stake in Gangavaram Port to Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone for about INR6.4 billion. JSA advised the government on the deal. The firm also advised India Grid Trust on its acquisition of a 74% stake in Parbati Koldam Transmission Company from Reliance Infrastructure, and is assisting NVVN in relation to the development of gas supply infrastructure and the supply of gas for 25 years to a dual fuel power project in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands on a PPP basis.

INSURANCE & REINSURANCE

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

 

Clasis Law offers an experienced hand on insurance matters across the board. The law firm understands the regulatory environment surrounding insurers, reinsurers and other players, and appreciates the operational nuances and practicalities of the insurance industry. The firm handles both contentious and non-contentious assignments, taking care of clients at each stage of the insurance process, from incorporation and development of insurance products to claims, coverage advice and insurance coverage litigation and arbitration. The team is regularly involved in providing policy coverage advice, acting in regulatory actions, pursuing subrogated recoveries, negotiating reinsurance communications and conducting litigation. Clasis Law’s clients include multinational insurance groups, reinsurers, domestic insurers, insurance brokers, corporate agents and other intermediaries. Managing partner Vineet Aneja, partner Shwetabh Sinha and associate partners Varun Sharma and Dinesh Gupta are practice area experts.

CSL Chambers has an established and well regarded insurance practice taking on both transactional and advisory work alongside disputes. The law firm has assisted clients with pre-litigation strategies and representation before courts and tribunals. CSL recently branched out into cyber law, advising cyber insurers on the interpretation of policy terms, notification requirements in case of cyber security breaches, and the obligations of stakeholders with confidentiality breaches over sensitive personal information. Recently, the firm advised a German multinational insurance company and the retrocessionaire on detailed coverage advice based on the loss suffered by the insured arising under an all-risk retrocession policy. The firm also took on work for an international insurer in the market providing jewellers with block insurance cover worldwide, and for a Saudi Arabia-based reinsurance company. “Their teams have been prompt and the attention to detail has been meticulous,” says Avya Kapoor, head of specialty lines at Proclaim Insurance Surveyors and Loss Assessors. “[Founding partner] Sumeet Lall is building a great practice that dominates in his area of expertise. Each member of his team has the ability to manage the expectations of the clients, which puts our teams at ease.”

With more than 100 lawyers across India, Majmudar & Partners provides a full-service offering covering everything from corporate M&A and private equity work to tax, projects and disputes. The firm is respected for its insurance regulatory advisory capabilities and the setup of insurance joint ventures. Its track record in the past includes: advising Ambridge Partners on a prominent tax case pending before the Supreme Court; a matter pending before the Authority of Advance Rulings; and a transaction in which it was going to provide tax indemnification and insurance to Summit Partners on a purchase of shares of Calypso Technology. Other highlights in the Transaction Solutions on Indian tax matters for a potential M&A insurance deal in India; CIGNA International on the proposed replacement of TTK Group by Manipal Education and Medical Group as the Indian joint venture partner in its Indian joint venture, CignaTTK Health Insurance Company; and Axis Bank on a major investment in Max Life Insurance Company.

Tuli & Co is renowned for its insurance-driven commercial litigation and regulatory practice. Its familiarity with the entire spectrum of insurance work – from product development to sales regulatory issues and investigations, claims and coverage issues, arbitration and litigation, and corporate-commercial deals – means it is often sought out for high-profile, high-value and complex matters. Covid-19 claims continue to keep the practice busy as its lawyers handle a surge of enquiries for advice in relation to structuring policies and the pandemic endorsements that can be applied. The law firm has: provided breach coach services and coverage advice in relation to cyber attacks; advised a major Indian oil company on the effect of covid-19-related delays in the procurement of replacement parts from outside India in calculating business interruption periods under an integrated package insurance policy; and conducted an insurance regulatory audit on a leading insurance broker. “The entire team, from partner to the associates, is very approachable and humble,” says Rishi Shukla, head of special legal projects at SBI General Insurance Company. “The legal advice provided is crisp, clear and unambiguous.” Shukla recommends partners Naval Sharma and Saket Satapathy for litigation, and partners Celia Jenkins and Shubhangi Pathak for their regulatory knowledge.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ENFORCEMENT

WINNERS

 

Anand and Anand is one of the most prominent IP law firms in India. In the past 12 to 18 months, the firm has handled the prosecution of more than 5,000 cases and 70 patent oppositions, obtained more than 1,800 decisions to safeguard the interest of multiple brands, and secured 82 successful opposition orders for an American multinational technology. In Renaissance Hotel Holdings Inc v B Vijaya Sai & Ors, the firm secured a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court, distinguishing between sections 29(2) and 29(4) of the Trade Marks Act. It succeeded in obtaining a multi-year, multi-technology patent cross-licence agreement between Nokia and Lenovo, and settled all pending patent litigation worldwide. The firm’s litigation and patent teams worked closely with Eli Lily when its patented “baricitinib” compound was granted an emergency use authorisation for treatment of covid-19. On the protection front, the firm used its expertise in raids and counterfeiting to assist brands such as Montblanc, Chanel, Cartier, Piaget, Hermes and Vacheron Constantin on anti-counterfeit measures and seizure of items at customs. Stephen Akerley, vice president, deputy general counsel and head of IP and litigation at InterDigital, says the firm delivers consistently on “very sophisticated and cutting-edge matters”. Clemens-August Heusch, vice president and head of litigation and disputes at Nokia, says managing partner Pravin Anand and partner Vaishali Mittal “make a power-packed winning team on complex patent issues. When the stakes are high, you would want Pravin to bat for you. Vaishali makes the cut with her eye for details and her dedication.”

Intll Advocare is a 50-lawyer firm led by four partners who specialise in IP, litigation, telecoms, technology, and media matters. The firm often bags roles on prestigious, high-profile deals for marquee clients. In the past year, the firm has handled numerous contentious and non-contentious mandates for clients in industries such as pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, garments, cosmetics, fashion accessories, computer software, automobiles and biotechnology. The firm was an adviser to Nestlé in a INR20 million suit concerning the sale and distribution of counterfeit Maggi 2-Minute Noodles across markets. Separately, it advised Nestlé in a case where ITC alleged that Nestle was trying to pass off its “Maggi extra-delicious Magical Masala” as that of ITC’s “Sunfeast Yippee! Noodles Magic Masala”, which is recognised as “Magic Masala” by the general public and traders. The firm was also counsel to TTK Prestige, assisting it on an infringement of its mark by owners of the “Prestine” brand. Zee Entertainment reached out to the firm for a matter relating to fixed statutory royalty rates for a radio broadcast of musical work, sound recordings and underlying works under section 31D of the Copyright Act. The case was the first matter to date pertaining to fixed statutory royalty rates under section 31D of the act. Managing partner Hemant Singh and senior partner Mamta Jha are well recognised for their expertise.

IP boutique K&S Partners has more than 110 IP professionals and an overall strength of more than 260 across India. The firm offers capabilities in copyright, design, geographical indications, litigation, patents, plant varieties and trademarks. In the past year, K&S clinched roles on a string of significant assignments. It represented Usha International on a trademark infringement case involving its mark “Butterfly”, which is used in conjunction with another mark, “Usha”, on its sewing machines. Delhi High Court granted an ad-interim ex-parte injunction against the defendant, restraining it from using the Butterfly mark in relation to its products and business. The court also appointed a local commissioner to visit the defendant’s premises and seize all infringing goods. In a complex pharma and life sciences case, the firm successfully argued on behalf of Immunovative Therapies for the use of compositions comprising cells, which some patent controllers are reluctant to allow. K&S also secured an important win for Apeptico Forschung Und Entwicklung relating to the interpretation of section 3(i) of the Indian Patents Act. The team was able to show that the claimed invention – a method to improve donor lung conformity and other functions before transplantation – enhanced the functions of the donor lung.

Rahul Chaudhry & Partners has a solid reputation for contentious work. It represents clients across all sectors in cases before tribunals and courts, and advises on IP matters and other areas. The firm assisted Purple Innovation, which alleged that its copyrighted videos, display and online content related to its innovative mattresses was being used and imitated by Comfort Grid Tech. Delhi High Court passed an injunction order against Comfort Grid Tech, restraining the company from using Purple’s copyright. In an ongoing matter, the firm is advising Zydus Wellness on the use by Satvik Nutraceuticals of the essential features of Zydus’s trade dress of Sugar Free Gold, Sugar Free Natura and Sugar Free Green for products sold and promoted under the trademarks Sweet Care, Sweet Care Green and Sweet Free Green. Delhi High Court restrained Satvik from using the marks, packaging and/or any trade dress which was similar to Zydus’s sugar-free range of products. “Rahul Chaudhry has been very attentive and consistently follows up on the status of open matters,” says Vanessa Ignacio, a New Jersey-based partner and chair of trademark, copyright and trade secrets at Lowenstein Sandler. Narinder Kumar, group CFO at VLCC, says the firm benefits from a “young, hungry, motivated and professional team to deliver results”.

Remfry & Sagar combines an enduring cultural and professional legacy with a philosophy of innovation and creativity to advise IP owners worldwide. Last year, the firm expanded its footprint with a new office in Mumbai, which will help serve its growing litigation practice. Remfry has more than 130 professionals and support staff, and a leadership of 29 partners and nine partners-designate. In its most recent round of promotions, Mohini V was admitted to equity partnership; Amol Dixit, Tanmay Joshi, R Mahesh, Ritam Rawal and Sangeeta Savant were named retained partners; and Devaki Sharma and Vishal Singh were elevated to partners-designate. The firm manages more than 8,000 clients from more than 70 countries, assisting on trademark and patent filings, design filings and IP disputes. It assists Fortune 500 companies, startups, policy-makers and government enterprises in securing IP and business interests in India and international markets. The firm has handled more than 900 trademark oppositions and proceedings, and more than 250 patent oppositions and proceedings in the past 12 months. Clients reward the firm with their loyalty.

With a headcount of 11 lawyers led by two partners, Sujata Chaudhri IP Attorneys may be lean in numbers, but it certainly packs a punch and gives its rivals a run for their money. In the past 12 months, the firm has obtained favourable orders for clients in several matters listed before Delhi High Court, as well as in district courts in the city. Highlights include obtaining interim injunctions from Delhi High Court in favour of: Levi Strauss & Co in a dispute with Imperial Online Services; and Glaxo Group in cases against Cenofi Healthcare, Connectlife Pharma and Rexion Healthcare. The law firm also obtained an ex-parte ad interim injunction from Delhi District Court in Retail Royalty Company v Mazhar Khan, trading as Black Hawk. “I am very happy with Sujata’s legal services,” says Alexandra DeNeve, senior counsel for trademarks and brand enforcement at New Balance. “I have worked with her for many years across three different clients. Each time I went to a new company, I replaced the existing Indian firm with [managing partner] Sujata’s firm because I trust her legal services above all others in India.” DeNeve rates Chaudhri for all matters relating to trademarks, including prosecution, litigation and domain name enforcement. He also recommends partner Urfee Roomi.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY PROTECTION

WINNERS

 

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

IP and technology firm Krishna & Saurastri Associates comprises 170 employees spread across offices in Mumbai, New Delhi, Bengaluru, Pune, Ahmedabad and Chennai. Its professionals are dual-qualified in law and other subjects such as accounting, business, engineering and science. The law firm’s client base includes multinationals, domestic companies, universities, research institutions and government organisations. Clients consult the firm for a host of IP matters covering everything from patents, trademarks and geographical indications to design, copyright, technology transfers, licensing and franchising. The firm also advises on transactional M&A and joint ventures and litigation and arbitration among other areas. In the past year, Krishna & Saurastri Associates has taken on patent, trademark, copyright and design applications for clients across all industries from the US, Germany, Japan and China to the UK, France, Sweden and India. It also handled several complex trials before the high courts of Bombay, Delhi, Madras and Bangalore City Court in the areas of trademark infringement, passing off, copyright infringement, unfair competition and patent infringement. In one recent highlight, the firm represented a multinational luggage maker in invalidating several designs incorrectly registered by an Indian party, and concluded complex design infringement proceedings before the court.

Lall & Sethi has cemented its reputation as a leader for IP protection. The firm is led by six partners, with a team of 25 lawyers who bring in-depth knowledge and understanding of trademarks, copyright, designs, patents and brand protection. The firm offers strong capabilities across the IP spectrum from prosecution, oppositions and cancellation proceedings to searching and watching services, renewals, licensing, brand protection, media and entertainment, IP audits and enforcement of rights through civil, criminal or administrative measures. The firm has spearheaded brand protection strategies for clients such as Warner Bros, Coca-Cola, Cadbury, American Express, Guinness World Records, Schweppes, Lindt & Sprungli, Estee Lauder, Kraft Foods, Diageo, Revlon, Fox Entertainment and Citigroup. Last July, Lall & Sethi recruited Pankaj Monga as a partner based in Singapore to head its brand protection, risk management and strategy practice as the firm expands its footprint in the Asia-Pacific. Monga had an earlier stint at Lall & Sethi, and went on to work at Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline. The firm plans to open offices in Singapore and Dhaka in the near future.

LexOrbis stands tall in the field of IP with a breadth of technical expertise matched by robust legal credentials. Its team consists of lawyers and patent agents with doctorate and post-graduate qualifications in the fields of chemistry, biotechnology, genetics, electronics, IT and mechanical engineering. The firm acts as a one-stop shop to provide clients with the gamut of IP and legal solutions by: developing research and development within its patent research and analytics team; working with inventors to train them on innovations; drafting high-quality patent applications; devising patent prosecution strategies; managing and maintaining portfolios; and enforcing patent, design and trademark rights through litigation. In the past 12 months, the firm handled seven patent infringement lawsuits, one of which involved an Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) patent used in the agro-tech and rural financial sectors. The firm drafts new patent applications for some of the world’s leading global technology companies, with research centres in India including Samsung and Panasonic, pharmaceutical companies, and public sector companies such as Indian Oil and Bharat Petroleum. LexOrbis added to its bench strength recently, welcoming 25 new patent and trademark attorneys as managing and senior associates.

Obhan & Associates runs a thriving IP practice from its offices in New Delhi and Pune. The firm of 42 lawyers is led by four partners who help to facilitate IP protection through risk mitigation and creative business strategies. The firm assists in both prosecution and enforcement for domestic and international clients, and also represents individual inventors and universities. It has assisted clients such as Pearson India, Penguin Random House India, Tata Chemicals, Minda Corporation, Business Media (part of the ABP Group), and Flexing It on numerous contentious and non-contentious matters. Obhan is also committed to growing its corporate and commercial capabilities. This year, it advised Neeraj Sharma, the co-founder of robotics and automation solutions provider Addverb Technologies, when Reliance Retail Ventures purchased a 54% stake in the company for USD132 million through a primary issue and secondary acquisition. The firm recently launched an initiative called Think Wings to support the start-up community from ideation to implementation. Obhan & Associates is headed by Essenese Obhan, a lawyer and patent agent with a degree in mechanical engineering and expertise in the mechanical, pharmaceutical, software and telecoms sectors. Partners Ashima Obhan, Aparna Kareer, Charul Yadav, Taarika Pillai, Vrinda Patodia and Sneha Agarwal are also key experts.

SS Rana & Co has built a dedicated IP practice for more than three decades, offering expertise on patents, trademarks, designs, geographical indications and domain names. The firm of 45 lawyers led by eight partners operates from offices in New Delhi, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai and Noida. SS Rana believes strongly in the welfare of its staff and frequently organises events, well-being workshops and training to create a collegiate atmosphere and ensure clear paths for career development. SS Rana runs IP4Kids, a flagship sensitisation programme to spread awareness about IP rights among the younger generation. Through resources, games, comics and competitions, the law firm aims to educate children on the basics of IP rights while also encouraging creativity and innovation. SS Rana offers advice beyond the realm of IP in a wide range of areas including ADR, consumer law, corporate and commercial law, data protection and privacy, e-commerce, energy and infrastructure, sports and gaming, and IT law. The firm also collects an award for licensing and franchising.

INTERNATIONAL TRADE

WINNERS

 

Ameeta Verma Duggal spearheads a well-established international trade practice at DGS Associates with a specific focus on export controls and trade remedies. The law firm, which has offices in New Delhi and Assam, offers expertise in anti-dumping law, safeguards law and foreign trade policy. It is trusted by some of the biggest steel companies from South Korea, including POSCO, Dongkuk Steel Mills, Dongbu Steel, Samsung C&T, Hyosung TNC and others for its advice in anti-dumping investigations. Clients appreciate the team for its “vast expertise, flexibility and consistency”, and its ability to provide “simplicity and comfort … even on complex issues”. Despite its modest size, the firm has no trouble picking up mandates and handling disputes for large Indian and multinational companies. DGS also offers experience in arbitration, mediation and litigation; corporate and commercial law; environment, health and safety; infrastructure; labour and employment; project finance; and property law.

DMD Advocates provides holistic solutions to clients using its core practices as a springboard. Its key focus areas are dispute resolution, corporate law, taxation, competition law, regulatory and IP rights. The firm has assisted a multitude of clients, from Indian and multinational companies to financial institutions, investment funds and public sector undertakings. It has solidified its standing as an authority on international trade matters after handling a plethora of intricate matters and disputes before forums such as the ICC, Indian Council of Arbitration, the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA), the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, and the SIAC. DMD has extensive experience in international arbitrations relating to bilateral investment treaties (BITs). The firm recently bolstered its corporate offering with the appointment of Tejveer Singh as a partner in its Mumbai office. Singh, who is dual-qualified as a lawyer and accountant, has more than 18 years of experience and specialises in corporate consulting. Last year, the firm advised Indian multinational conglomerate Escorts when Japanese agriculture and heavy equipment manufacturer Kubota agreed to increase its shareholding from 9.09% to 53.5% and become a joint promoter. The INR93.7 billion deal was led by senior partner Rashi Dhir.

Dua Associates has built a team of experienced trade lawyers, cost accountants and former government officials who have in-depth knowledge of both the legal and political landscape across multiple jurisdictions to provide effective global strategies for clients engaged in cross-border trade and investment. The firm recently attracted several new clients, among them Wisewoods, Green Fiber, Kruger, UACJ Foil Malaysia, and Varopakorn. For the Royal Thai Government, Wisewoods, Green Fiber and Agro Fiber, the firm assisted in a countervailing duty and anti-subsidy investigation initiated by the Director General of Trade Remedies (DGTR) concerning imports of fibreboards originating in, or exported from, Thailand. Dua, led by partner Shiraz Patodia, was able to successfully demonstrate the absence of injury caused by its clients, and submitted details on non-countervailability of the programmes alleged against the Thai government. “Shiraz is extremely capable in the anti-dumping arena,” says David Wright, legal and HR director for Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa at Kodak Australia. “She has very good client relationship skills and … is able to provide uniformly excellent service. Anti-dumping is a very complex and very technical area, and the consequences of an adverse finding can be devastating.” Clients also recommend Manoj Menon, Sharan Balasubramanian, Sunil Malik, Neeraj Kumar and Salil Gulati.

Economic Laws Practice (ELP) has 41 partners and more than 200 professionals including lawyers, chartered accountants, economists and company secretaries spread across seven offices in the country. The firm has a loyal client base, from Fortune 500 companies and public sector undertakings to multinationals, Indian corporates and startups. The international trade and customs team represents clients in matters concerning trade remedial investigations, Bureau of Indian Standards certification, export control licensing and sanctions, and disputes before the WTO Dispute Settlement Body, domestic courts and customs authorities. In one notable anti-dumping investigation, the firm successfully represented the domestic industry before the DGTR seeking the imposition of anti-dumping duties on “certain flat rolled products of aluminium” from China. The primary challenge in the case was the complexity of the product being investigated, and exclusion requests made by opposing parties on technical grounds. ELP was able to secure the imposition of anti-dumping duties from the Ministry of Finance. In a separate investigation, ELP represented a US producer, Singapore exporter, and Indian importers and users of soda ash before the DGTR, opposing the levy of duties. ELP successfully argued that there was no injury suffered and thus no justification for levy of duty.

Sarvada Legal is a 17-lawyer firm led by six co-founders 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 law, dispute resolution, insolvency and bankruptcy, tax advisory and litigation, trademark and copyright, and white-collar crime. The firm represents clients at domestic and international forums in all trade-related proceedings. It has represented the federal government in several WTO disputes, and acted for other clients in trade-related proceedings before government authorities, tribunals, high courts and the Supreme Court of India. Sarvada has represented its clients in more than 18 jurisdictions internationally, in various trade remedy investigations. The firm also provides a strong competition law offering, having handled contentious and non-contentious matters e-commerce, digital markets, aviation, entertainment and chemicals, among other sectors. Sarvada was most recently counsel to Meru Travels and Fast Track in a case before the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, where they alleged that their rival, Ola Cabs, was dominant in the market for radio taxi services in Bengaluru.

INTERNET & E-COMMERCE

WINNERS

 

Pier Counsel routinely works with domestic and international companies and e-commerce players in the retail, luxury retail, business to business to consumer (B2B2C) and online marketplaces. The firm brings experience on policy-level issues, compliance, and the drafting of vendor contracts and agreements for brand licensing, distribution, sponsorship and promotion, and joint ventures. Pier Counsel is led by Anand Kumar, who has 20 years of expertise in private equity, venture capital, M&A, fund formation, cross-border transactions, IP and general corporate law. His passion for innovative startups, social media, gaming, internet bots, AI, fintech and digital technologies compliment the firm’s e-commerce offerings.

LABOUR & EMPLOYMENT

WINNERS
ALMT Legal
IndusLaw
Khaitan & Co
Kochhar & Co
L&L Partners
Nishith Desai Associates
Trilegal

 

With 94 lawyers including 21 partners, ALMT Legal provides a full-service offering with particular strengths in shipping, aviation, private equity, labour and employment, and other areas. The firm’s employment team caters to employees and employers across a range of sectors, assisting in the settlement of disputes, employee share option plans, dealing with foreign work force issues, drawing up airtight contracts, advising on remuneration and benefits, and taking into account confidentiality and IP protection. The firm recently assisted a US financial products company on setting up a call centre operation in India in six locations, advising on various employment and exit option strategies, issues including legalities relating to women in the workplace, legal requirements relating to benefits and perks, unionisation laws, labour contracts, and usage and enforceability arising in different states of India. It also assisted a software multinational on several issues relating to employment law on appointments, retrenchment, disciplinary proceedings, stock options and termination proceedings. ALMT also receives and award for shipping and maritime.

LICENSING & FRANCHISING

WINNERS

 

Fox Mandal was established in Kolkata in 1896 as one of the first Indo-British law firms, and recently marked its 125th anniversary. The law firm takes pride in its heritage and combines its years of rich experience with modern processes and practices to meet client expectations. In 2010, the firm launched the Fox Mandal Foundation, which offers free legal services, quality legal education, and services to support the environment, sustainability, and underprivileged communities. The foundation also supports early-stage entrepreneurs by providing free space, legal and accounting assistance through “Orygin”, set up in 2016. Orygin is a sector-agnostic business incubator committed to supporting and enabling entrepreneurs in fintech, analytics, e-commerce, healthcare and other spaces with the potential to transform society. On the licensing and franchising front, the firm recently advised a digital publisher on various agreements to obtain digital publishing rights from multiple authors, publishing houses and the legal heirs of the deceased authors. In another matter, the firm advised on the transfer of IP for a client, assisting on transaction structuring and drafting, negotiating and settling the assignment agreement. It also worked on a product distribution mandate, advising a specialist manufacturer of disinfectant products looking to distribute their products across India and abroad.

LITIGATION

WINNERS

 

Agarwal Law Associates is well respected for its litigation prowess. The law firm has grown to 60 lawyers and five partners led by Mahesh Agarwal, who specialises in disputes in the fields of insolvency, arbitration, commercial, civil disputes, and corporate criminal matters. He also has rich experience in regulatory disputes in sectors such as energy, mining, telecoms and others. The firm, which appears regularly before the Supreme Court and many high courts and tribunals across India, has been instrumental in various landmark cases. In one recent case, the firm succeeded in confirming an arbitral award of INR70 billion on behalf of Reliance Infrastructure, in Delhi Airport Metro Express Ltd v Delhi Rail Corporation, before both Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court of India. In another significant case, the firm represented Monsanto when its patent was reinstated. It has also appeared on behalf of healthcare and related service providers in cases relating to covid treatment pricing.

Karanjawala & Co is renowned for its litigation prowess. The law firm features in more than 625 reported judgments in the Supreme Court. Recent highlights include representing Tata Sons in a case against Cyrus Mistry, and advising ArcelorMittal Group to gain approval for the corporate insolvency of Odisha Slurry Pipeline Infrastructure. The firm is also advising St Xavier’s Education Trust against Mayurica Biswas, Media Corp Digital Network and Netflix Entertainment. Through the trust, a Gurugram-based school approached Delhi High Court to stop the streaming of a documentary titled A Big Little Murder on Channel News Asia and Netflix. In the past five years, the firm has carved out a niche practice for itself in the fields of consumer protection and Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA) litigation. It also has extensive experience in dealing with high-profile matters under the Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC). Ajay Singh, vice president, group head of legal and company secretary at Sona BLW Precision Forgings, engaged the firm for IP litigation. “I found them quick on collating research and case law relevant to our matter,” he says. “They also kept track of the matter and co-ordinated well with senior counsel.” Singh recommends partner Meghna Mishra and principal associate Ankit Rajgarhia.

Vashi and Vashi is a 17-lawyer firm led by Vivek Vashi. The Mumbai-based practice specialises in dispute resolution across India, including litigation before all tribunals, magistrates and courts, and domestic and international arbitration. While commercial dispute resolution is its mainstay, the law firm’s practice also extends across corporate disputes including insolvency, construction disputes, family disputes, iron and steel, economic offences, renewable energy, telecoms and infrastructure. Vashi & Vashi recently successfully represented Money Magnum Nest, a real estate developer in Mumbai, in a writ petition filed against the state government in relation to the grant of approvals for the development of large tracts of mill land in Mumbai’s Lower Parel area, under the Development Control & Promotion Regulations 2034. The firm’s role in the matter involved analysis of the various provisions of the regulations and the Maharashtra Regional and Town Code, 1966. The firm was also successful in advising the Bahubali Jain Charitable Trust, Mumbra, before the Supreme Court, and defended proceedings initiated against the trust by governmental authorities. The firm advised, strategised and represented the trust before Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court. “Vivek Vashi and Anusha Jegadeesh have excellent legal minds, says Nikhil Guliani, head of legal at NDTV Group.

MEDIA & ENTERTAINMENT

WINNERS
ANM Global
DSK Legal
IndusLaw
Naik Naik & Co
Nishith Desai Associates
Saikrishna & Associates
Tandon & Co

 

ANM Global advises on deals and disputes across industries such as infrastructure, media and entertainment, IT, real estate, environment, power and energy, and insurance. The law firm hired three new partners in Mumbai last year. Anushree Rauta spearheads ANM’s media and entertainment practice. The law firm counts among its clients film production companies, OTT platforms, producers, TV channels, artists, actors, film financiers and digital media companies. It advised Applause Entertainment on its partnership with Amar Chitra Katha, a publisher of Indian comics and graphic novels, to develop and produce animated content based on the publisher’s catalogue. Phonographic Digital, a digital music collection company, also reached out to the firm for assistance on its global licensing deal with Google and YouTube. Anuraag Srivastava, the CEO of Culture Machine Media, credits the firm for “supporting us through some very complicated contracts” and commends managing partner Nidhish Mehrotra for “combining legal and business advice in a very useful manner”. Sushant Chaturvedi, legal manager at Associated Broadcasting Company, says he was “extremely happy with the services and expertise provided”, and rates Mehrotra and senior associate Adarsh Himatsinghka for “executing contracts in extremely critical situations where time is of the essence”.

DSK Legal has an impeccable record on media and entertainment matters. Key highlights in the past 12 months include Certification (CBFC), drafting, reviewing and negotiating production, marketing and distribution contracts for films Radhe – The Most Wanted Bhai and Antim – The Final Truth. The law firm assisted RSVP Movies in various script and film clearances, assessing the final bound scripts of films and web content, and reviewing rough cuts and edited pre-censored versions of such content to identify and minimise potential legal risks. DSK helped prepare legal clearance reports in order to obtain approval from CBFC and OTT platforms. The firm also filed a suit in Delhi High Court on behalf of 38 plaintiffs against various defendants including Republic TV, Times Now, Zee News and Facebook alleging libel and vilification of the Bollywood film community. Film producer Siddharth Roy Kapur, who founded Roy Kapur Films, describes the law firm as “engaged, mature, pragmatic, wise and experienced”. Partner Chandrima Mitra “gets the business intuitively and instinctively”, he says, and the team has shown “tact and sensitivity” in the most complex matters.

Naik Naik & Co is an authority in the media and entertainment sector with a client roster that includes prominent clients from actors and directors to conglomerates, production houses and media moguls. Past clients include Big Bang Content, Azure, GlobalGate Fund, Ram Madhvani Films, Sony Pictures Films India, Southbay Sound, Super Cassettes Industries, Mriga Film, and Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan. The law firm’s expertise in copyright matters sits at the heart of its media practice and has made it a trusted adviser on landmark transactions and tricky disputes. “Their specialised expertise, in-depth understanding and vast experience in the areas of IP rights, company law, M&A litigation and arbitration, in my opinion, are unmatched in the business,” says one media client. Last November, Naik announced a collaboration in Mumbai with IP law firm Anand and Anand. “Anand and Naik” will have about 160 lawyers who focus on offering a cross-border, integrated and multi-disciplinary practice. The firm will be led by Naik Naik & Co founder Ameet Naik, and Anand and Anand’s managing partner, Pravin Anand, and senior partner, Safir Anand.

Tandon & Co offers capabilities in real estate, product liability and consumer law, banking and project finance, corporate and M&A, IP and dispute resolution. The law firm represented Bennett Coleman & Co in a challenge against the direction issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to all broadcasters. In a separate matter, it advised Bennett Coleman on a challenge against the Broadcast Audience Research Council, which had changed its method for measuring the television rating point of a channel. The writ petition is pending adjudication before Bombay High Court. Tandon & Co also took on a mandate for Sony Pictures Networks India in a special leave petition (SLP), which alleged that the amendments to the new regulatory regime introduced in 2017 by the TRAI lacked transparency and violated the fundamental rights of broadcasters. The SLP is pending adjudication. Sandeep Panwar, vice president of legal at Zee Entertainment says Tandon & Co is “very prompt and has legal acumen in litigation. There have been numerous occasions when they have delivered and protected the interest of the organisation in the court of law”. He says firm founder Kunal Tandon and associate Shashank Shekhar “have in-depth knowledge and provide legal solutions keeping in mind the interest of the organisation”.

MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS

WINNERS

 

The majority of Indian law firms will have M&A deals to their credit, however complicated, innovative and high-value deals often fall into the laps of lawyers at the largest general practice law firms. All the firms listed in this category win awards in other categories.

PHARMA & LIFE SCIENCES

WINNERS

 

India’s healthcare market continues to boom as investor appetite remains strong across pioneering research, drug development, manufacturing and marketing. According to India Investment Grid, India stands as the largest provider of generic drugs globally. The country’s pharmaceutical industry supplies more than 50% of global demand for various vaccines, 40% of generic demand in the US, and 25% of all medicine in the UK. The sector is expected to grow exponentially with predictions that the market will be worth USD100 billion by 2025. Most of the law firms in this category benefit from having strong IP capabilities – an important complimentary practice in an industry dependent on innovation.

POLICY & REGULATION

WINNERS

 

Conglomerates and business houses in India seek out law firm firms that can appreciate the nuances and fast-paced changes underpinning policymaking and regulation. Several law firms listed in this category have established meaningful connections at the highest levels of government and expertise through their roles on government panels and industry associations. Many have also cultivated close relationships with various regulatory bodies. As expected, this field is populated by the most powerful law firms, however, other firms such as Hammurabi & Solomon and PLR Chambers have muscled their way in with dedicated policy practices that deliver.

Economic Laws Practice is a safe pair of hands for clients – including governments – seeking assistance in navigating the thorny and divisive terrain of policy making. The firm assisted the Indian government from consultation to hearings before the WTO Appellate Body in disputes against India by Australia, Brazil and Guatemala concerning certain Indian policies around sugar and sugarcane. The case poses unique challenges and involves politically and economically sensitive issues, given that it deals with alleged subsidies in the farm sector. The main subject of the disputes are the Indian government’s policies for the sugar sector, including the mandatory minimum price at which sugar mills must purchase sugarcane from farmers, and several other state and central-level measures allegedly assisting the sugar mills and sugarcane farmers. The case raises untested issues before the WTO, including what is understood by “market price support” under the Agreement of Agriculture. The outcome of the disputes will have a far-reaching impact for India’s sugarcane and sugar sector and many other economies where some form of price administration is available for the farm sector.

Hammurabi & Solomon has a dedicated policy, regulation and strategy practice that keeps track of evolving policies and their implications on client businesses. The firm’s government relations practitioners have an in-depth understanding of the statutory and regulatory framework in which issues arise, boosted by strong ties with executive agencies and key decision makers. Its recent activities include working closely with the Observer’s Research Foundation and Institute for Competitiveness as their think tank in the public policy space. Managing partner Manoj Kumar has also been closely involved with legal developments affecting outdoor advertising in India. In addition, the team has been involved in drafting the Commercial Division of High Courts Bill, jointly with the Confederation of Indian Industries, to set up fast-tracked commercial courts. The bill is presently under discussion. In other highlights, the firm was involved in the disinvestment of ITDC Hotel Jaipur Ashok and Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel, Mysore, to the governments of Rajasthan and Karnataka. It has also published a knowledge report and recommendations relating to the Affordable Rental Housing Complexes Scheme.

PLR Chambers, a boutique law firm in New Delhi led by Suhaan Mukerji, specialises in legal advisory, policy formulation and legislative drafting, dispute resolution and advocacy. Mukerji has extensive experience in crisis management, policy formulation, and drafting and monitoring of legislative agendas. He has advised clients on corporate affairs and public policy strategy in India, primarily in the sectors of defence, nuclear power, ICT, privacy and data protection, anti-corruption and white-collar crime, public procurement, food and pharmaceuticals law, not-for-profit law, education, internet and e-commerce, international trade and investment disputes. PLR’s lawyers have experience working with government-appointed committees and working groups, think tanks, NGOs and industry bodies. Mukerji regularly advises the government at a federal and state level on policy and legislative reform, serving on a number of government and industry committees, and regularly appearing as an expert witness before parliamentary standing committees. He has worked on legislative drafting assignments for the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (Road Transport and Safety Bill), the Department of Heavy Industries (the Construction, Earthmoving, Material Handling and Mining Bill), and Inland Waterways Authority (PPP framework).

PRIVATE CLIENT PRACTICE

WINNERS

 

Many industrialists and promoters are re-evaluating their financial setups and consulting trusted advisers on succession planning to safeguard their assets for future generations. The lawyers who inherit such mandates have often worked in close quarters with company founders and come from the largest firms. However, mid-sized legal service providers such as SNG & Partners and Veritas Legal illustrate that this area of work is becoming increasingly competitive. Years of reliable service on company matters usually help to foster connections that lead promoters to hand over both commercial and private portfolios to their favourite legal advisers.

With 49 lawyers including 13 partners, Veritas Legal has created a comfortable position for itself as a go-to firm for marquee clients. The firm commands great respect in the private wealth space thanks to its deep experience of inheritance issues, multi-jurisdictional intricacies, tax savviness and family complexities. The law firm advised the promoters of a renowned company on all estate and succession planning matters involving multiple jurisdictions, multiple testamentary dispositions and various immigration and residential statuses that needed to be reconciled into an efficient structure. For another promoter, the firm was tasked with handling multiple trust structures across several jurisdictions because of various disputes within the promoter’s family. The complexities involved managing disputes in the financial services and banking sectors, succession issues, and disputes on custodianship, among others. For a third promoter, Veritas was consulted on internal family succession and estate planning, testamentary disposition, and assisting with the family understanding of the issues. As with most other cases, the advice included a cross-border element due to the global location of assets and foreign residencies. Managing partner Abhijit Joshi is highly rated.

PRIVATE EQUITY & VENTURE CAPITAL

WINNERS

 

IC Universal Legal (ICUL) has quickly established itself as a leader for venture capital and private equity deals. The 140-lawyer, 21-partner firm has advised domestic and international VC and PE funds of considerable repute, and investee companies from seed-of-an-idea innovators to major companies across different verticals. With offices in Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, GIFT City, Hyderabad, Mumbai, New Delhi and Chandigarh, the firm is poised to close deals in all major cities around the country. Memorable assignments include a role advising Wipro on its funding for PT Invent India, which operates as the beauty e-commerce company Soulflower. Wipro made the investment through its subsidiary Wipro Consumer Care & Lighting’s venture capital arm, Wipro Consumer Care. Baby products retailer R for Rabbit and its promoters raised INR400 million last year from Xponentia Capital Partners, which was advised by ICUL. The firm also advised domestic venture fund Sixth Sense Ventures last year when it invested in Nobel Hygiene, a manufacturer of disposable hygiene products, as part of a INR4.5 billion round of investment that saw healthcare-focused PE Quadria Capital emerge as the largest minority shareholder.

Investors and entrepreneurs prefer Rajaram Legal for its ability to convey complex legal requirements to clients with simplicity and clarity. The team promises to ease the fundraising process right from term sheet to cash in the bank – and everything in between. It has handled financings across stages from USD100,000 seed deals to deals above USD100 million in late-stage private equity financings and exits. Rajaram captured deals in both established and sunrise sectors in the past year. The team bagged a role for SoftBank Vision Fund 2 in an investment worth USD1.2 billion in Indian food delivery platform Swiggy. Five Star Business sought the firm’s advice when it raised USD233 million from SCI, Norwest Venture Partners, KKR and TVS. Later, Lenskart Solutions engaged the firm for a fundraising of USD230 million from Falcon Edge Capital, Bay Capital and Chiratae Ventures. It also assisted Dailyhunt in a fundraising of USD185 million from Siguler Guff & other investors, and MPI in an investment worth USD160 million in Razorpay. Although the firm focuses on fundraising and exits, it also handles strategic legal matters such as founder agreements, venture debt, and M&A to prevent delays in fundraising and exits. Clients speak highly of managing partner Archana Rajaram and partner Prasad Subramanyan.

REAL ESTATE

WINNERS
Dhaval Vussonji & Associates
Dua Associates
Dhir & Dhir Associates
DSK Legal
Kanga & Co
Kochhar & Co
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.

Real estate is a key specialisation for lawyers at Dhaval Vussonji & Associates. The law firm investigates complex titles for agricultural land, laws relating to humane rehabilitation, the statute of limitations, principles of harmonious interpretation and jurisprudence. It also advises on the acquisition of large parcels of land for cluster development schemes, manages unique issues pertaining to personal laws of people with diverse faiths, and handles issues around the amalgamation of leasehold and freehold land, reservations and setbacks. Dhaval Vussonji was an adviser to Kaushal Agarwal and other promoters in their alliance with Kotak Realty Fund through a joint venture company named Ground Holding Realtors, which proposes to manage INR20 billion for real estate funding. It picked up a mandate as adviser to Macrotech in its acquisition of Raj Grandeur Phase 2 Land for USD46.8 million. Other clients include NNP Buildcon, Kautilya Real Estate Fund and Ashdan Developers. Shobhit Agarwal, the managing director and CEO of Anarock Capital, appreciates “the dynamic nature of the firm”. He values Dhaval’s real estate consulting and advisory services and commends the entire team for being “very professional and active”.

Dua Associates regularly represents developers, institutional lenders, Indian and foreign venture capital funds, borrowers and investors in all phases and aspects of real estate transactions. The firm offers expertise through each stage from financing, acquisition and investment to disposition and leasing matters, and restructuring real estate-related debt. Notable deals in the past 12 months include: conducting title due diligence of land in Dharwad, Karnataka, to be acquired by Aequs Group from KIADB to establish manufacturing units of consumer durable goods and appliances; conducting title due diligence of various properties acquired by Godrej Properties in Bengaluru to develop a residential project; and representing Fourth Partner Energy in acquiring 121 hectares of land in Uttar Pradesh. “We use Dua for the entire spectrum of our activities – PPA structuring and verifications, corporate finance, litigation, land verification and due diligence, etc.,” says Vivek Subramanian, co-founder and executive director at Fourth Partner Energy. “We would very strongly endorse the capabilities of partners Manoj Menon and Sharan Balasubramanian. There are times [when my team members] bypass the use of our in-house legal team for some tasks, as they have comfort on the turnaround time and quality from the Dua team. Kudos to them.”

One of India’s oldest law firms, Mumbai-based Kanga & Co has amassed rich experience through decades of legal practice in real estate, joint ventures, private equity, capital markets, banking, finance, M&A and litigation. Sadly, last December the firm lost senior partner ML Bhakta at the age of 89. Bhakta had worked at the firm since the start of his career in 1955. His colleagues and peers remember him as a man of principles, a kind and encouraging mentor, polite, courteous, extremely alert, clear and agile. Although his departure has left a vacuum at the firm, his colleagues remain committed to carrying forward his legacy and wisdom. In the past year, the firm won an assignment as adviser to Premchand Roychand & Sons on one of Mumbai’s largest property deals. The client’s premium heritage property situated in Malabar Hill, Mumbai, sold for INR10.01 billion. Kanga is “very thorough in understanding legal provisions, strategic thinking and providing services in a timely manner,” says Govind Iyengar, senior vice president of legal and company secretary at United Breweries. Clients recommend senior partner Preeti Mehta, partner Punit Damodar, and associate Jalees Shaikh.

Wadia Ghandy & Co is another one of India’s legacy law firms, with offices in Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Singapore. The firm has a well-established real estate practice and over the years has served clients such as Jet Airways, Chalet Hotels, Chennai Network Infrastructure, Swan Telecom and Magma HDI General Insurance. The firm is active across other areas, too. Last year, it advised BlueOrchard in its funding of USD6.7 million to Mumbai-based Probus Insurance Broker. The investment was made by Luxembourg-based InsuResilience Investment Fund, which was launched by Germany at the 2017 UN Climate Conference COP23.

RESTRUCTURING & INSOLVENCY

WINNERS

 

With a team of 92 lawyers led by 19 partners, Argus Partners has solidified its reputation as a go-to law firm for restructuring and insolvency. The firm is familiar with the intricate legal issues relating to distressed assets and corporate restructuring, and currently advises investors, funds, asset reconstruction companies and financial institutions as well as committees of creditors in several bids for distressed acquisitions in Reserve Bank of India-mandated cases. Recently, the firm was the sole legal adviser to the liquidator of Concast Steel & Power in connection with the sale of assets of the company (under liquidation) to SMC Power Generation for INR3 billion. The deal was one of the largest acquisitions in a liquidation process under the IBC. Tata Steel engaged the firm and successfully bid to acquire Rohit Ferro Tech through its subsidiary Tata Steel Mining for INR17.92 billion. With staff mental health a priority, Argus recruited a life coach on a full-time retainer basis who is available to every member of the firm for individual sessions. In the past year, the firm appointed three new partners: Prashanth Sabeshan and Rachika Sahay join the corporate, energy and infrastructure team; and Udit Mendiratta joins the disputes team.

SHIPPING & MARITIME

WINNERS

 

Shipping boutique Bose & Mitra & Co has the unique distinction of actively appearing across all coastal high courts of India in addition to Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court of India. The law firm has been involved in major maritime casualties in India in recent years, and has deep experience of handling the practical issues associated with the Indian maritime administration, as it regularly advises them on a wide gamut of issues including collisions, salvage, wreck removal, total loss, piracy and terrorism, oil pollution and other environmental damage. The firm also regularly handles complex personal injury and death compensation claims. “They understand the commercial and substantive law in this field unlike any other law firm,” says Ramya Dharmaraaj, manager of legal and claims at Norvic Shipping India. Dimitri Vassos, a partner at Holman Fenwick Willan, says Bose & Mitra & Co “displayed a professional and responsive approach” while handling “a substantial multimillion-dollar dispute against an Indian state-owned company where difficult jurisdictional issues and points of law have been in play”. Managing partner Amitava Majumdar (Raja) and partner Aditya Krishnamurthy are well regarded. “Raja is very experienced and knowledgeable about maritime matters and ship arrests in India,” says another client. Dharmaraaj also rates senior associates Pabitra Dutta and Rishabh Saxena, and associate Tripti Sharma.

Brus Chambers is renowned 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. On ship arrests, the firm advises on all types of disputes representing owners, charterers, suppliers, repairers, cargo owners and their insurers, including protection and indemnity clubs, banks, financial institution, mortgagors, and litigation. The law firm also offers capabilities in other practice areas including corporate and commercial, banking and finance, and real estate and construction. Managing partner Shrikant Hathi is a recognised expert.

Mulla & Mulla & Craigie Blunt & Caroe has 10 partners and more than 100 professionals. The full-service law firm has been a trusted adviser 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 charter party 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 banks where relevant. Clients recommend partner Shardul Thacker.

ZBA is a 12-lawyer firm headquartered in Mumbai. The firm is a leader on admiralty and maritime issues with clients such as Trafigura, Skuld, Motiva Trading and Bostomar. Recent accomplishments include advising E-Nav Offshore in relation to the prospects of a ship arrest being set aside in Bombay High Court, and advising Global Marine Systems in reviewing the potential risks and liabilities in relation to a full turnkey contract for the design, engineering, procurement, installation, testing and commissioning of fibre pairs for a submarine cable system between mainland Kochi to Lakshadweep Island in India. The firm is “meticulous, thorough and reasonable,” says Agnipushp Singh, chief legal officer and head of board affairs at PNB MetLife India. The firm also shows its might on capital markets mandates. Last year, it was an adviser to Power Finance Corporation (PFC), which issued EUR300 million (USD343.5 million) 1.841% notes due 2028. It was the first euro-denominated green bond from India, and also the first euro bond from India since 2017. “They have mastered the legal due diligence in ECB financing and are very thorough with all the requirements,” says Basant Kumar Pasari, general manager (F&A) at ONGC Videsh. “[Partner] Niloufer Lam is a very knowledgeable person.”

SPORTS & GAMING

WINNERS

 

Gaggar & Partners provides a full-service offering with a special focus on new-age economic laws – competition, dispute resolution, gaming, technology, insolvency and bankruptcy, real estate, and white-collar crime. The firm represents various governing bodies as well as leading global multi-nationals and sports celebrities such as Virender Sehwag and Gurpreeet Singh. The firm’s other marquee clients include the CCI, National Engineering Industries (Birla Group), Magnolias Association, Haicheng Vivo Mobile (India), India Newspapers Association, Indian Cellular & Mobile Association, NTN Corp, Denso Ten, Security Sector Skill Development Council, Cryogas Equipment and Orris Group. “They are extremely knowledgeable, approachable and professional,” says Jayant Mammen Mathew, a director at Malayala Manorama Company. “I recommend [managing partner] Vaibhav Gaggar for his astute thinking and deep knowledge of competition law. He is able to quickly understand the technical aspects of the case and present it well. He is one of the best competition lawyers in India.” Haresh Thakur, managing director at Modern Radio House India, credits the firm for helping in “our fight with the big bullies like DLF in the CCI and the Supreme Court. They made them pay INR6.3 billion in penalties in a landmark judgment.”

Specialist sports law firm Krida Legal 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. Krida is involved with various educational institutions across India promoting the area of sports and gaming law, and has undertaken pro bono litigation work for Indian athletes such as wrestler Vinesh Phogat. In the past year, the firm: represented IPG Group in the structuring of the “Lanka Premier League” for T20 cricket; advised table tennis player Manika Batra, who was accused by the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) for bringing disrepute to the TTFI and its coaches; and represented Vijay Singh, an Indian Superbike Champion who returned an adverse analytical finding in an in-competition doping test in 2018 for a prohibited substance. The firm also acted for All India Gaming Federation (AIGF), reviewing representations before Karnataka High Court, where the AIGF challenged the validity of the Karnataka Police (Amendment) Act, 2021. Roland Landers, CEO of AIGF commends managing partner Vidushpat Singhania for his “in-depth knowledge of the sports and gaming landscape”.

STARTUPS

WINNERS
Ahlawat & Associates
Burgeon Law
Law Office of Navarre Roy
Legasis Partners
Lex Consult
Thinking Legal
Vertices Partners

 

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. The winning law firms in this area have shown their specialist understanding of the startup scene, and know how to operate with agility while offering competitive pricing.

Ahlawat & Associates consistently provides expert assistance to startups in relation to the initial stages of business setup. It assists startups with procuring licences, funding, taxation, IP protection, regulatory compliance, and the drafting of policies, agreements, offer and appointment letters, and employment manuals. The firm has also helped clients with the drafting of employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), and has formulated policies in line with the law on Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, 2013.

Burgeon Law provides essential legal knowledge and acumen to promote and support entrepreneurship. In the past year, the law firm has added eight new lawyers and expanded its practice to include tax and restructuring, pre-litigation, dispute resolution and fund formation. The firm also handles matters before courts, tribunals and quasi-judicial authorities, including the Supreme Court, high courts, district courts, the Company Law Board, and the CCI. “Burgeon is great,” says Utsav Somani, a partner at AngelList. “I would recommend [founder] Roma Priya to our investee companies for closing out early-stage rounds.” Kshitij Rishi, co-founder and COO at 4Care Onco Solutions, says Burgeon is “very well experienced” in the healthcare sector. “[Partner] Abhay Vohra’s knowledge of healthcare helped us in revising our T&Cs and privacy policy. Burgeon has been helping us strategise our business and fundraise based on the deep experience the team has.”

Boutique firm, the Law Office of Navarre Roy was set up in Chennai in the midst of the covid pandemic in December 2020. Its core verticals are IP, media and entertainment, corporate law, contracts, food safety, packaging laws and dispute resolution. Several startups turned to the firm for assistance with fundraising in the past year. The team provided guidance on investor due diligence and ensured that all contracts, licences, permits and functioning were regularised and ready prior to the due diligence. It also took part in negotiations on behalf of the startups. “A startup needs one lawyer who can help with everything from rental agreements to investment agreements and IP disputes,” says Jaydeep Halbe, the CEO of Halbe Innovations. “Navarre has always understood our clients and changed the way he is used to functioning with other large clients to accommodate the requirements, timelines and work culture at a startup, which is of significant value.” Roy is also recognised for his IP expertise. “When I have a trademark matter that needs attention in India, I send it to Navarre,” says Dwayne Goetzel, a director at Kowert Hood Munyon Rankin & Goetzel. “I know him, I trust him, and I know that the results will be in line with client expectations.”

Legasis Partners is an active player on the startup circuit with its team of 35 spread across offices in Mumbai, Hyderabad, New Delhi and Pune. The firm enjoyed a busy 12 months: taking on work for Arcatron Moblity in relation to its fundraising from India Angel Network, Klub and other investors; advising Pegasus India Evolving Opportunities Fund in relation to its investment in Funfirst Global Skillers, a skill and education startup company; and acting for Solar Analytics startup Prescinto on its funding round. In addition, the firm helped with the incorporation of Dronacharya Unmanned Solutions, provided compliance and regular advice to Proeves Services, Arcatron Mobility, Skylex Technologies and Snackible. Partner Apurv Sardeshmukh and associate Aanchal Lamba are recognised for their work in this area.

With a team of five lawyers, Lex Consult may seem like a small outfit, but its hands-on approach and expertise has seen it quickly gain client favour in the startup arena. An increasing focus on fintech has led the firm to be retained by various emerging and mature fintech startups such as BridgeUp, CRED, Earnnest, Stockal, Snapmint and Zokudo. This has also extended to include mature startups such as Fraazo, Kytchens, Little Muffet, Medkart, Rario, Urban Platter and Yumlane. Clients speak enthusiastically of Lex Consult’s offering. “Everything that these guys do is top-notch and always complete,” says Jahangir Pandey, the founder of BridgeUp Tech. “I cannot recommend anyone better for startups. Partner Majid Afsar Siddiqi, associate Suchitra Dey and senior associate Pooja Natarajan are always on the ball, and are constantly on call when required.” Bansi Kotecha, the CEO of Kytchens, appreciates the firm’s flexibility and understanding of startup culture. “They’ve been super helpful in not only explaining the various aspects of legality involved, but are also very accommodating towards the needs of a startup like ours,” she says. “Their advice and approach in drafting business agreements and the fundraising process have been phenomenal.”

New Delhi boutique Thinking Legal is a business-oriented, tech-enabled law firm for entrepreneurs, startups, and visionary venture capital funds and investors who invest in them. The law firm acts as outsourced general counsel for various startups and advises them on everything from fundraising to employment contracts. Its services include the drafting of policies such as ESOPs, prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace, and human resources, and the creation of tailored and easy to understand templates of various commercial agreements, non-disclosure agreements and terms of use. Recently, Thinking Legal advised Delhi-based fintech startup Cardspe on structuring partnerships with merchants, payment aggregators and users. The firm is also advising Celebfie, a unique celebrity engagement platform that brings celebrities, their fans and brands closer through channel partners. The firm has set up the ESOP structure for Sirona, a product innovation brand, committed to solving intimate and hygiene issues for women. In addition, the firm has gained experience with venture funds investing in startups. It assisted Phool, a D2C startup, on its fundraising from Bollywood actress Alia Bhatt.

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 an experienced hand on complex structured finance and securitisation matters. The firm advised JC Flowers Asset Reconstruction on the structuring, negotiaton and strategy for the bidding of non-performing assets (NPAs) of Sathavana Ispat; and drew up documentation and negotiation in respect of the transaction documents executed in relation to the securitisation. The documentation for the securitisation part of the deal involved settling of the securitisation trust, including the rights of the trustee and the offer document in respect of the security receipts issuance. In another highlight, the firm advised and successfully represented CFM Asset Reconstruction in legal actions and challenges to the assignment process involving the acquisition of NPAs of JBF Industries, and the Swiss challenge bidding process in accordance with the Reserve Bank of India’s guidelines. The transaction involved heavy negotiations with a consortium of 14 lenders and comprehensive due diligence on the secured assets, including title due diligence of the immovable properties acquired and the loan accounts associated with the banks. Last year, the firm inducted three new lawyers into its partnership and launched a new white-collar crime practice with a team poised to deal with a range of law enforcement authorities, regulators and investigators.

TAXATION (DIRECT)

WINNERS

 

The firms listed in this category all have strong, dedicated tax practices that stay ahead of the latest developments in this fast-moving practice area. Four firms – Economic Laws Practice, Khaitan & Co, Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan and Nishith Desai Associates – are recognised for both direct and indirect tax capabilities.

BMR Legal is a client favourite for tax matters. In the past year, the law firm was engaged in several high-profile advisory, expert witness, advocacy and dispute engagements with clients. The firm appeared before the high courts and Supreme Court on an array of matters. One of these was IBM India Private Limited v Commissioner of Income Tax, International Taxation, Bangalore, where IBM was the lead case in a batch of more than 100 cases. BMR was the briefing firm for IBM on the matter, which involved the controversy around the characterisation of payments made for shrink-wrapped software. The landmark judgment settled a long-running contentious issue over how payments made by Indian customers to non-resident suppliers for the use or resale of computer software should be characterised, providing much-needed tax certainty on the issue, in favour of the assessee. On a separate matter, the firm is representing Canon India, which again is the lead case in a batch of more than 100 cases. The case is one of the biggest controversies in international tax before the Supreme Court. Managing partner Mukesh Butani is highly sought after for his capabilities.

Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan offers a plethora of services within the GST category, including GST returns and assessments, GST advisory, tax compliance reviews, contract reviews, due diligence and litigation. Its lawyers also advise taxpayers on issues arising from restructuring of the supply chain following GST implementation. In the area of litigation, the firm’s team represents clients from departmental authorities and tribunals to the high court, Supreme Court, and Authority for Advance Rulings. Clients also benefit from the firm’s dedicated customs advisory and litigation practice. Key accomplishments include acting on a USD500 million matter for Sony, Nikon and Canon on the interpretation of WTO Notification and the power of the tax investigation agencies to issue show cause notices. For the Gas Authority of India, Lakshmikumaran is advising on issues relating to the classification of naptha gas. It has spearheaded this litigation right from the stage of adjudication, and fought a long battle with the Excise Department. The firm offers a “good combination of legal and business perspective,” says Natarajan Ranganathan, the founder of Foundation Partners, who recommends partners Badri Narayanan and Kunal Arora.

Vaish Associates is renowned for its tax expertise. The firm has more than 100 multi-qualified professionals with a total strength of about 250 lawyers, 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 law firm has built capabilities to handle the entire range 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
Iris Legal
Khaitan & Co
Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan
Nishith Desai Associates
Nitya Tax Associates

 

Iris Legal takes pride in the success it has garnered in the field of indirect taxation. The law firm recently acquired a Fortune 500 client, a public sector undertaking, for whom it is providing indirect tax litigation services. Iris represents various clients, among them CNH (Industrial) India, Case New Construction Equipment, Coastal Gujarat Power, Shapoorji Pallonji, Rural Electrification Corporation, the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India, and Aristocrat Technologies India. It has also been engaged by a railways-affiliated governmental entity to advise on the taxability and structuring of various transactions. As part of this matter, it is assisting the client in approaching the Authority for Advance Rulings on the taxability of output supplies. Iris is also on a retainer with a multinational automobile giant to expedite, manage and strategise all ongoing indirect tax litigation including appeals, writs, review petitions and special leave petitions. In another interesting matter, the firm is advising an international chess player on the taxability and eligibility of her services to be treated as exports in multiple engagements including online commentary, sponsorship, brand and event promotion, online content creation, etc.

Boutique law firm Nitya Tax Associates provides a robust offering on indirect tax advisory and litigation. Its advisory support includes legal opinions on specific issues and transactions, determining the classification of goods and services, transaction structuring and review of contracts. The firm has 50 professionals including lawyers and chartered accountants who are based in New Delhi. It has acquired more than 200 clients, largely made up of multinational and mid to large-sized Indian companies. Nitya provides customised services across a wide range of industries from automobile and fast-moving consumer goods to IT, infrastructure and logistics.

TECHNOLOGY & TELECOMMUNICATIONS

WINNERS

BEST NEW LAW FIRMS

WINNERS
Anagram Partners
Bombay Law Chambers
Kria Law
Saraf & Partners
Stratage Law Partners

 

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

Anagram Partners was launched last year by two lawyers from Nishith Desai Associates – Simone Reis and Rajesh Simhan. A few months later, they were joined by former Tata Sons group general counsel, Shuva Mandal, as a partner. The law firm is already scoring roles on high-profile deals. Recently, it was an adviser to TVC in a USD100 million series E funding round in FarEye, an end-to-end global delivery management platform. TVC led the funding along with Dragoneer Investment Group. Anagram seeks to showcase its deep appreciation of legal, commercial, regulatory and governance issues when pitching to domestic, global privately held and publicly listed companies, private equity and venture funds, sovereign wealth funds, global pension funds, technology platforms, large family offices and investment banks. The firm offers specific expertise on legal and regulatory issues in financial services and securities, insurance and banking, digital payment systems and fintech, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, infrastructure, industrials and logistics, edtech, retail, sports, and media and communications.

Bombay Law Chambers (BLC) has positioned itself as a young and agile firm with a very focused vision of being the go-to legal adviser for the investment ecosystem. Its key practice areas are M&A, private equity, banking and finance, capital markets, corporate, regulatory, employment and private client work. In a short time, the firm has built up a solid portfolio including names such as ResponsAbilty Fund, Alteria Capital, Trifecta Capital, Birla Corporation, ZCL Chemicals, Nirvana Ventures, WestBridge Capital and Global Environment Fund. “We find the firm to be extremely responsive and practical in their approach to contracting and working in multi-party negotiations,” says Rajan Mehra, a partner at March Capital. “I have recommended BLC to multiple startup companies, and to larger companies looking to design their India market entry. The firm has the right blend of competence, energy and ownership which engenders trust.” Mehra is impressed by founder Karan Kalra, co-founder Abhinav Harlalka, counsel Saumya Ramakrishnan and senior associate Satvik Kulshrestha. Jigar Shah, the CEO of MIB Securities India, recommends the firm for capital markets work, and says Kalra excels at “understanding the client’s interest and gives ethical and frank opinions”.

Kria Law was established last March by former Anand and Anand lawyer, MS Bharath. Bharath, who spent 20 years with Anand and Anand, now leads a 12-member Chennai-based firm that provides a full-service offering with its core in IP law. Kria aims to design creative and innovative solutions across matters in IP and IT, litigation and dispute resolution, commercial law, taxation, competition and antitrust, and general civil disputes. The law firm intends to broaden its offering to cover commercial and business advisory, transactional services, litigation support, dispute resolution and other related areas.

Saraf & Partners was formed last July as an independent, full-service law firm with offices in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. The law firm marks a new beginning for Mohit Saraf, the co-founder of L&L Partners. After a bitter tussle between the two founding partners, Delhi High Court ruled that Saraf was entitled to claim credit for all work done, and accolades won by L&L Partners, until 2 June 2021, as well as compete for its clients, work, advocates and staff. Saraf & Partners came into being soon after and currently has a bench strength of 180 with 28 partners, 21 of whom resigned from L&L. The newest additions were real estate partners Sachit Mathur, Ajay Bhadu and Astha Singh Trehan, who joined the firm along with their entire team from Emerald Law Firm. Rajiv Bakshi, a legal adviser at Dabur India, says Saraf is a good choice for “restructuring and drafting resolution plans, obtaining approval from regulatory authorities and defending it in the National Companies Law Tribunal”. Kiran Belekar, a controller for direct tax and corporate finance services at Abbott India, praises partner Lokesh Shah “for his in-depth knowledge, expertise to represent before tax authorities, and great understanding of the business”.

Stratage Law Partners was launched in August 2020, and has grown from a team of seven to a total of 25. Each of the firm’s partners – Darshan Upadhyay, Bhavin Gada, Shyam Pandya, Soumya Shanker and Ameya Deosthale – has more than 17 years of individual experience. Stratage offers specialist services for M&A, private equity, venture capital, corporate governance, dispute resolution and real estate assignments. It is already developing a reputation as an authority on fintech, quality system regulation (QSR), healthcare, pharma and agro-chemicals. This year, the firm advised PT Invent India, which operates as beauty e-commerce company Soulflower, when it raised an undisclosed amount from Wipro Enterprises. In addition, it has advised unicorns (including their promoters and investors) and earned the trust of HNWIs seeking to set up private trusts for inheritance purposes. Siddharth Bafna, a partner and head of corporate finance at Lodha & Co, compliments Stratage for being “very accessible and prompt”, with “comprehensive advice” delivered by “strong relationship-based lawyers”.