India Business Law Journal reveals the country’s top lawyers and legal icons
Each year, the A-List seeks to recognize India’s most outstanding lawyers. This year required the country’s top lawyers to demonstrate agility and adaptability in staying ahead of the new business requirements and the multitude of regulatory changes issued in response to the pandemic. This meant reorienting business strategy and imagining a workplace that stands permanently altered, but also overcoming the disappointment of seeing existing projects put on hold, and work decline.
As in previous years, the A-List is based on nominations and supporting information provided by law firm clients, as well as India-focused lawyers at international law firms. As such, it provides a snapshot of current sentiment and identifies the lawyers who in the eyes of the market have performed the strongest and received the greatest prominence in the past 12 months. There are many outstanding lawyers who have not made it onto this year’s A-List, and their absence should not be seen as a denigration of their skills or expertise.
More details of the methodology can be found on below. The analysis that follows provides highlights of the 2020 A-List, including endorsements of many of the recognized lawyers by those who nominated them. Space did not permit us to include editorial coverage of every A-List lawyer, but the full list of all 100 A-List lawyers and 50 legal icons can be found on here.
Even in these harsh times, clients have stepped up to show appreciation for their favourite advisers. IBLJ has received an unprecedented response of well over 2,000 client endorsements. “Vineet has been instrumental in establishing our new entity, particularly in the midst of working through the challenges of covid-19,” says Ron Steffenino, a senior managing director of Newmark, a US-based commercial real estate company, about Vineet Aneja, the managing partner of Clasis Law in New Delhi.
Leaders of their destiny
Aneja has received wide support from clients. “His advice is always sound and pragmatic, leading to positive outcomes,” says Aman Aditya Sachdev, the regional director of South Asia, Myanmar and Middle East at EHL Advisory Services, who has worked with Aneja for eight years. He adds: “This, coupled with his highly professional demeanour, makes him the go-to lawyer.”
Aneja’s firm has been notably active in the white-collar crime and employment law spaces. One of his important matters involved advising an Indian subsidiary of a US-headquartered multinational public relations and software company in relation to the termination of its CEO. The work was completed in September 2019, and required meticulous planning, as the employee was the senior-most employee in India and also a director of the board.
Markus Leitner, the founding partner of Austrian law firm Leitner & Hirth Rechtsanwälte, nominates Gautam Khurana, the managing partner of India Law Offices based in New Delhi, for the A-List because, “Gautam is constantly engaged to find cutting-edge solutions for clients, and to explore the business possibilities of India.”
Similarly, Randy Whitmeyer, a partner at the Morningstar Law Group in the US, says Khurana is “an exceptionally strong lawyer with tremendous integrity”.
Ameeta Verma Duggal, the co-founder of DGS Associates in New Delhi, has been keeping herself busy advising clients on export controls, conducting workshops, and assisting companies with setting out internal compliance programmes. Duggal also co-authored a book on the subject, titled Export Controls in India – Law and Procedures, in 2019. She is recommended by Sandeep Gupta, a consultant at Havas Worldwide India, for “her knowledge and experience”.
Gopika Pant, the founding partner of Indian Law Partners in New Delhi, provides outstanding legal advice, says Gaurav Patel, the group counsel of transactions, finance and IP at BlueScope Steel in Australia, who has worked with her for many years. He says: “She provides very excellent legal advice and strong practical and commercial guidance.”
Fadil Erten, the CFO of Turkish fabric company Soktas, says Pant’s involvement in the company’s Indian subsidiary made a “very important contribution”, from the time it was established in 2007 to when all its shares were sold in 2019.
Kumar says he has seen a notable increase in his corporate M&A and dispute resolution work for the firm this year, with work coming from the real estate, infrastructure, information technology-enabled services, and energy sectors.
Vijay Sambamurthi, the managing partner of Lexygen in Bengaluru, has a “comprehensive helicopter-view on legal issues”, says Sachin Gopalan, the founder and CEO of Indonesian consulting company Chairos International Ventures.
Ankit Prasad, the founder and CEO of Bobble AI, says, “Vijay has helped us demystify and close complex deal structures. Even during stressful times, he maintains his cool and ensures that our company’s interest remains protected.”
Amrita Barthakur, the COO and general counsel of Saama Capital, calls Sambamurthi “one of the absolute best negotiators”, adding, “he is a rare breed of lawyer whose deep knowledge, not just of the law but of business, is an invaluable asset to clients.”
Shwetasree Majumder, the managing partner of Fidus Law Chambers in Noida, is described as a “leading IP lawyer” who has advised many reputed global clients by Amol Apte, the vice president of legal at Dream 11, an online sports fantasy platform. During the pandemic, Majumder has been engaged in advising her food, pharmaceuticals and healthcare clients to stay on guard against counterfeiters and infringers, with the rise of these activities at this time.
“Ashwath is one of the smartest people in the business, with a razor-sharp mind,” says Nupur Garg, an independent director at SIDBI, about Ashwath Rau, a Mumbai-based corporate partner at AZB & Partners. “He has groomed some of the best lawyers, and is constantly raising the bar for other lawyers. Not to mention, he is a rainmaker.”
Among his significant deals this year, Rau, during April and May, advised Reliance’s Jio Platforms on the sale of a stake totalling US$10 billion to big-ticket investors such as KKR, Facebook, General Atlantic, Silver Lake and Vista Equity Partners.
Rishi Khanna, the managing director at C&S Electric, recommends Aparajit Bhattacharya, a corporate partner at DSK Legal in New Delhi, for “the exceptional quality of his services to our company”. He also credits him for his “incisive analysis, and practical and effective approach”.
Bhattacharya is a new entrant to the A-List this year. He was part of one of the biggest team movements across law firms in India in 2019, when he and partner Anjan Dasgupta left HSA Advocates with at least 24 lawyers to join DSK Legal.
Marcin Utratny, the director of legal at Polish packaging company Canpack, calls Bhattacharya “the best Indian lawyer I have met”, and credits him for being professional, practical and trustworthy.
Reeba Chacko, the partner and head of corporate at Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas in Bengaluru, is credited for being an “excellent transactional lawyer” by Ashok Lalwani, Singapore-based head of Baker McKenzie’s international capital markets practice in Asia-Pacific and chair of the firm’s India practice.
Nipun Gupta, a consultant at Bird & Bird in London, adds that Chacko “runs a very impressive team and gets right to the point of what is needed”. Chacko was recently the lead partner representing private equity giant Blackstone in its purchase of offices and other commercial real estate worth US$1.5 billion from Prestige Group in India, in November.
Bikash Jhawar, a partner at L&L Partners in Mumbai, is described by Aravind Balajee, a vice president, legal, at Adani Enterprises, as a “stand out financing lawyer” who provides high-quality advice and excellent service. He is also called a “leader in debt and IBC [insolvency and bankruptcy code] transactions in India, with a deep understanding of the jurisprudence” by Anupam Misra, a senior vice president at Adani Enterprises.
This year, Jhawar advised CA Lotus Investments, an investment arm of the Carlyle Group, when it sold almost its entire shareholding in Metropolis Healthcare in a deal worth US$100 million. He also advised ArcelorMittal India in its acquisition of Odisha Slurry Pipeline Infrastructure via the corporate insolvency resolution process, in a deal that was worth US$353 million.
“Rajendra deserves to be recognized for commendable work done in the field,” says Montek Mayal, a senior managing director at FTI Consulting India, about Rajendra Barot, a Mumbai-based senior disputes partner at AZB & Partners. “He is always willing to go the extra mile for clients.”
Ajay Bhargava, a disputes partner at Khaitan & Co in New Delhi, is described as an “expert lawyer and a thorough professional” by Pritish Mukherjee, a senior manager, legal, at GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals. “His problem solving skills, coupled with sharp legal acumen, give a lot of comfort to the client.”
Ameet Gupta, a director at Havells India, says Bhargava is their “go-to man for litigation requirements”, while Sunil Katariya, the senior vice president, legal, at SRF, a chemical manufacturing company, says he adopts a “practical approach to disputes, and comes up with the best strategy when matters are pushed to litigation”.
Preet Heri, managing director of Armsel MHE, a company that manufactures industrial lifting equipment, calls Poornima Hatti, the disputes head and partner at Samvad Partners in Bengaluru, a “legal icon” in the dispute resolution field.
Hatti has acted on behalf of Tata Projects in an ongoing international arbitration, and has successfully defended the company in relation to interim relief sought against them.
Simrata Gujral, a legal consultant at global investment firm KKR says, “I am particularly impressed with Poornima’s foresight and strategic advice, especially in litigation strategies.”
Capital market leaders
Yash Ashar, partner and national head of capital markets at the Mumbai office of Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, is classed as “one of the most experienced capital markets lawyers in India” by Jamie Benson, a Singapore-based partner at Duane Morris & Selvam. Similarly, Dev Raman, the managing partner of Lastaki Advisors, an investment banking company, commends Ashar for “his ability to work all parts of the ecosystem to create the best solutions for clients”.
Among his recent work, Ashar was the transaction lead for a US$750 million bond issue by Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone. The listing took place on the Singapore exchange and was concluded in August.
I Bobby Majumder, the Dallas office managing partner and co-head of India practice at Reed Smith, says Lahoty is a “very sophisticated capital markets lawyer who is comfortable in Mumbai, and in [London and New York]”.
Lahoty was made part of the equity partnership at IndusLaw in July 2020. He left L&L Partners in late 2019, where equity is held by the two senior-most partners, taking with him a team of 17 lawyers, including four partners. Lahoty was the capital markets head at L&L Partners, and the move was considered a significant loss for the firm.
Sandip Bhagat, a partner at S&R Associates in Mumbai, is called an “outstanding practitioner” by a partner at a foreign law firm who wishes to remain anonymous. “He has an excellent grasp of the finer nuances of Indian law, years of experience, and the commercial knowledge to guide clients appropriately on complex transactions,” says the partner.
Zia Mody, the founding partner at AZB & Partners in Mumbai, is appreciated for her “honesty and her razor-sharp focus” by Harshbeena Zaveri, vice chairman and managing director at NRB Bearings. “[Zia] is everything that you would need in terms of competency, understanding people, and helping them create a win-win situation,” she says.
Garg, at SIDBI, adds: “Zia’s place in this list needs no reason. Her depth of knowledge, clarity of thought and advice make her one of the finest lawyers. She can handle the most complex and largest issues. She has been setting precedents as a lawyer and as a leader.”
Pravin Anand, the managing partner of Anand and Anand in Noida, is credited by Bharat Dube, the founder of SIPI, a Swiss anti-counterfeiting website, for “leading the IP legal profession for several decades”. Sandhya Amanna, a senior manager, legal, at Pfizer, says Anand’s “application of legal and technical knowledge, and his manner of using this in litigation strategy, make him stand apart in the IP Litigation scene”.
Dhruv Chhatralia, a principal associate at Gowling WLG in London, describes Anand Desai, the managing partner of DSK Legal in Mumbai, as “great at managing client relationships”.
Manish Kiri, the managing director of Kiri Industries, a dyes and chemicals company, also strongly recommends Desai. “We have been working with Anand since 2015, for our ongoing legal case in the Singapore International Commercial Court and Supreme Court. I strongly recommend him for his commercial dispute and litigation skills,” says Kiri.