The foreign lawyers most recommended by clients and peers for their work on the cross-border aspects of India-related matters. Katherine Abraham reports
In 2022, India experienced a surge in deal activity, setting new records. Major Indian transactions in which international firms participated during the past year included: the leveraged buyout of Ambuja Cement and ACC for USD10.5 billion, with Appleby, Allen & Overy (A&O) and Latham & Watkins among those advising; Biocon Biologics’ USD3.3 billion acquisition of Viatris pharma assets, with advisers including Herbert Smith Freehills, A&O and Cravath Swaine & Moore; and Reliance’s multibillion-dollar expansion of its Jio Infocomm unit, in which Milbank provided advice.
India’s economy is forecast to expand 6.4% in fiscal 2023, accelerating to 6.7% the following year, the Asian Development Bank predicted in April, with growth driven by consumption and private investment, and supported by government initiatives to enhance transport infrastructure, logistics and the overall business environment. On top of the improving outlook, the Bar Council of India’s move to permit foreign lawyers to practice in the country has caught the attention of international firms looking to expand.
To be designated an International A-List lawyer requires a strong grasp of the intricacies of India’s corporate landscape and the needs of Indian clients, as well as extensive connections within the Indian legal community. A-List lawyers are expected to adeptly guide clients through complex legal and compliance issues, while demonstrating a practical problem-solving approach in the face of adversity. Their ability to provide commercially astute solutions and negotiate pragmatically is highly valued.
The following highlights are of select commendations for International A-List lawyers based in important regional hubs.
Allen & Gledhill’s Singapore-based partner, Ankit Goyal, is commended by JSA’s joint managing partner, Vivek Chandy in Bengaluru. Goyal had recently represented a JSA client on two related Singapore-seated SIAC arbitrations in respect of biotechnology real estate projects based in India.
“The counterparty had raised a claim of USD40 million against our client on alleged breaches of contractual understanding. The A&G team, along with Ankit, were able to secure a comprehensive victory for our client. The SIAC tribunal dismissed the claims and allowed 100% of our client’s counter-claim, and ordered the counterparty to pay our client’s legal costs.”
Aashit Shah, a partner at JSA in Mumbai, describes Gautam Narasimhan, joint managing partner for Singapore at A&O, as being “on the ball and deeply involved in deals, and also well-regarded by his clients”.
Narasimhan was the lead partner to advise the mandated lead arrangers and bookrunners in the debt financing for Adani Group’s buyout of Ambuja Cement and ACC, valued at about USD10.5 billion. This was a landmark transaction and India’s largest M&A deal in the infrastructure and materials sector. It featured an innovative and complex capital structure with multiple layers and inter-creditor arrangements.
Continuing in the same vein is Pallavi Gopinath Aney, a Singapore-based partner and joint chair of Allen & Overy’s India practice. Rajat Sethi, a partner at S&R Associates in Mumbai, says: “Pallavi is a star lawyer with a deep understanding of India. She is one of the dominant names in her practice area. She is able to make an impact in every interaction and on every matter she works on.” Devottam Sengupta, general counsel at Mount Row & Partners in Singapore, also praises Gopinath, calling her “a debt capital markets powerhouse”, and adding that “having her as your deal lawyer is a force multiplier”.
JSA’s Shah says Kah Chin Chu, a principal from Baker McKenzie has “extensive experience on dealing with ECBs [external commercial borrowings] being raised by Indian corporates [and has an] excellent turnaround time and service”.
Chu has acted on several ECBs involving Indian public sector units, in addition to many high-value and high-profile ECBs in India. In the past year, she was lead partner on a USD1.1 billion syndicated social loan facility to the Housing Development Finance Corp (HDFC) where the firm advised the mandated lead arrangers, the joint social loan co-ordinators and the lenders on the matter.
This transaction is the world’s largest social loan to date, India’s largest social financing issuance, the first social ECB loan originating from India, and the largest ECB loan deal from a housing finance company.
Ashok Lalwani, a principal, has been the face of Baker McKenzie’s practice in India for more than a decade, having earned the respect of firms in India and abroad. Lalwani has more than 25 years of experience in handling inbound and outbound India transactions for clients in various industries.
Akshay Chudasama, managing partner at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co in Mumbai, says: “[Ashok] is strongly recommended for his commercial sense and knowledge of India’s corporate world.” Mukesh Butani, managing partner at BMR Legal in New Delhi, adds that Lalwani is “well networked with large Indian corporates”.
Speaking about Nick Peacock from Bird & Bird, Rishi Gautam, global general counsel of Tata Consumer Products in Mumbai, says he is “an old India hand who can genuinely and professionally navigate any disputes or arbitration matters”.
London-based Peacock has been acting on India-related commercial disputes for the past 15 years and is the co-head of the India Group, which has 30 partners and 12 other lawyers. He has sat as an arbitrator on India-related disputes in London and Singapore, and is a renowned India enthusiast and expert.
Sayantan Dutta, a partner at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co in New Delhi, believes that Rajiv Gupta, partner at Latham & Watkins, is “the best international lawyer serving Indian clients. His clarity of thought makes it very easy for the clients to understand the law and comply with it.”
Gupta advised Adani on its purchase of Ambuja Cement and ACC stakes from Holcim. As head of the India practice, Gupta’s practice covers SEC-registered, rule 144A Indian IPOs, as well as qualified institutional placements (QIPs) and high-yield bonds. Rule144a allows the resale of restricted securities to qualified institutional buyers, which typically manage large investment portfolios with at least USD100 million in securities.
“Rajiv has a deep understanding of the legal and regulatory framework in India,” says Arindam Ghosh, a partner at Khaitan & Co in Mumbai. “His expertise and knowledge of the Indian market, coupled with his strategic thinking and ability to navigate complex transactions with ease, makes him invaluable to his clients.”
Ghosh also mentions Sherina Petit, the London-based head of India practice at Norton Rose Fulbright: “Can’t think of anything which Sherina has taken up and not given her 100%. Her approach to things has always set her apart.”
Jayendra Kapadia, joint managing partner at Little & Co in Mumbai, describes Petit as an expert in arbitration and adds: “Besides arbitration, she has significant experience in investor-state dispute resolution, alternative dispute resolution and litigation. She is a person of great integrity and efficiency.”
Kabir Singh, a partner at Clifford Chance Asia in Singapore is credited by Ajay Bhargava, a partner at Khaitan & Co in New Delhi, as one of the most outstanding lawyers he has worked with. “His subject knowledge, domain knowledge and hands-on, solution-oriented approach is exactly what is needed in this day and age of quick fixes to litigation. He is an asset to his firm and to the team where we have worked together. His thought process is truly a game changer.”
Manoj Bhargava, a Singapore-based partner at Sidley, leads the India-focused practice and possesses more than two decades of experience. He has played a pivotal role in advising on 200-plus equity and debt capital markets offerings, raising more than USD50 billion for Indian companies. In 2022, his notable contributions include advising on several high-value offerings such as IPOs for Adani Wilmar and Vedant Fashions, and QIPs for Small Finance Bank and Macrotech Developers.
Crediting Bhargava for Sidley’s fantastic performance over time, Akash Agarwal, executive director, Axis Bank in New Delhi says: “Manoj has been spearheading the Indian capital markets practice from Sidley. Today, Sidley is the most prominent international legal firm in the Indian capital markets practice. He has been responsible for building relationships at senior levels and providing solutions in complicated situations.”
Lionel D’Almeida, from AZB & Partners in Mumbai, adds: “Manoj is absolutely prolific on Indian IPOs. He is clear, candid, and is happy to advise the client and deliver a message that no one [else] is willing to.”
Rahul Patel is co-chair of King & Spalding’s global private equity practice and the India practice in Atlanta. S&R’s Sethi says: “Rahul is an old India hand, an experienced dealmaker who is very familiar with the Indian market … he is able to look ahead and proactively address potential questions from the client.”
Sharad Singh Moudgal, a partner at Khaitan & Co in Bengaluru, was quick to share how his association with Parveet Singh Gandoak, a partner at King & Spalding in Singapore was built. “I have worked with Parveet on many matters, and also across him. I have found him to be a superlative lawyer,” he says.
“[He] has a long track record of successfully closing many high-value, complex cross-border transactions in India. He delivers customised legal solutions that align with business objectives and offers clients the assurance of strategic guidance and impeccable execution.”
Some of Gandoak’s recent notable deals as lead partner include: representing Apollo Global Management in the USD800 million sale of BPO firm IGT Solutions to Baring Private Equity Asia; advising family-owned business Abdul Latif Jameel on its USD220 million minority investment in Greaves Electric Mobility, an Indian electric vehicle manufacturer; and assisting renewable energy company BrightNight in its USD250 million joint venture with ACEN International for the development of renewable energy projects in India.
Ranajoy Basu, a London-based partner at McDermott Will & Emery, was one of the leading lawyers advising Innovative International Acquisition Corp, a publicly traded special purpose acquisition company, regarding its definitive merger agreement with Zoomcar, the world’s largest emerging market-focused car sharing platform.
The combined company is valued at USD456 million. Abhishek Saxena, a partner at Phoenix Legal in New Delhi, commends Basu, saying that he is “one of the nicest and sharpest lawyers that one will come across. He has made his niche in the social impact assessment space. Despite his busyness with his regular practice areas, he continues to be very busy and responsive on India matters.”
THE INTERNATIONAL A-LIST METHODOLOGY
To identify the top international India experts, we turned to hundreds of lawyers at Indian law firms, as well as thousands of in-house counsel in India and around the world, and asked them to tell us who should make the cut. A nomination form was available on our website in March and April, and invitations to make nominations were sent by email to professionals at a wide range of Indian and global companies and Indian law firms. Lawyers at non-Indian law firms were not permitted to make nominations.
All lawyers based outside of India who advise on the international aspects of India-related matters were automatically eligible for inclusion in the nominations process and, as always, there were no fees or any other requirements for entry.
The final list reflects the nominations received combined with thorough background research and the India Business Law Journal editorial team’s more than 50 years’ collective experience in documenting and analysing India’s legal market.