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A climate of competition has kept legal fees stable as lawyers strive to provide certainty and prove their credibility. Vandana Chatlani reports

Over the years, clients have become sophisticated buyers of legal services in India. Spoiled for choice as law firms mushroom across the country, clients know they can demand more, tapping the brightest legal advisers while negotiating for the best price.

Clients have visibly become “more goal and objective-oriented”, says Gautam Khurana, the managing partner at India Law Offices. Khurana notes a new degree of efficiency whereby clients are showing “greater clarity, quicker decision-making, and a focus on objectives as compared to the past”.

Having built their own robust internal legal teams, general counsel know exactly what they want from external counsel. Law firms are expected to demonstrate deep industry knowledge; to go beyond paper pushing to provide commercially savvy, holistic advice; and to explain precisely how they have used their time before drawing up a billing invoice.

“Justifying billable hours has been the biggest challenge,” says Sudhir Ravindran, founding partner at Altacit Global in Chennai.

Bhushan Shah, a partner at Mansukhlal Hiralal & Co in Mumbai, shares a similar view. “Clients are not agreeable to the time spent,” he says. “They believe it should be a lot less.”

All of this has forced law firms to automate, digitise and streamline their processes, creating an airtight, clear and measurable solution to quantify their work. Some have harnessed existing technology while others have designed systems to suit their needs and practice specifications.

“We have opted for our own customised billing software based on MS Navision,” says Manisha Singh, a founding partner at LexOrbis in New Delhi.

Mayank Arya, the chief operating officer at Ashwathh Legal in New Delhi, says his firm realised early on that installing a robust electronic system was imperative to forestall disputes around fees. “So in the last decade itself, we went for full digitalisation of our records and moved towards a 100% paperless office,” says Arya. “We have our own in-house legal database management and billing software, which has helped us in overcoming billing challenges.”

Openness and honesty are crucial, says Anupam Prasad, the managing partner of AP Law Chambers in Mumbai. “For a new and young firm such as ours, it is less about the fees per se, and more about convincing clients of the value proposition that we bring to the table,” he says.

“We have been extremely transparent and sincere, as there have been instances where we have charged less than agreed, as the effort required from our end was less than originally envisaged. We believe in the simple philosophy of treating others as we would like to be treated, in a professional manner, and I assume this has led to a steady flow of work.”


Legal fees in India have also been impacted to some extent by the strong dollar and rupee depreciation. Those who spend in rupees and predominantly serve domestic clients have been largely unaffected, while others working on cross-border assignments or representing overseas clients have benefitted.

“Dollar billing rates have gone up substantially,” says Sameer Tapia, founder and senior partner at ALMT Legal in Mumbai. “As such there are no major billing challenges to the firm, as we bill foreign clients in USD and GBP, depending upon which country they originate from. We usually find that it is convenient mostly to raise fee notes in USD, GBP and EUR as opposed to any other currency.”

Kamala Naganand, the managing partner at Aarna Law in Bengaluru, operates similarly and says: “We are moving to bill in dollars as much as possible.”

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