Based on an extensive survey of in-house counsel and international legal professionals, we reveal India’s most recommended lawyers. Chandu Gopalakrishnan reports
There is nothing more satisfying than becoming a lawyer if you want to witness and initiate changes in public discourse. We at India Business Law Journal found that statement even more apt in 2022, a year in which the legal remedies for the issues created in the post-pandemic world picked up pace.
A lawyer continuously learns and improves his or her craft by observing and taking up new cases. Moreover, society is constantly changing and economic demand creates new legal provisions that supersede obsolete ones, particularly in situations where we are grappling with the after-effects of the pandemic – from IP issues to cybercrime.
Since 2020, we have seen India’s top lawyers coping with new business requirements and a multitude of regulatory changes that resulted from the pandemic. As a leading publication of the Indian legal sector, IBLJ is proud to have gathered and collated views and recommendations from across the civil, legal and business spectrum to compile the A-List of India’s most outstanding legal professionals.
We are aware that no one tracking this profession can claim to have a definitive list of the best legal minds, nor can they keep celebrating the industry’s pioneers at the risk of sidelining future leaders. With that in mind, leaders from across various sectors, have provided us with personal accounts of why they prefer to work with certain lawyers and why they consider them outstanding.
ICONS AND STARS
Every profession has icons whom the entire industry looks up to; names that always claim the top slots of the who’s who list. Zia Mody is among them.
Despite being managing partner of AZB & Partners, Mody still takes great personal interest in matters of key clients, according to Amit Chandra, managing director of Bain Capital. Mody has been a long-time counsel of the American private investment firm’s Indian division.
“She is also very keen to ensure development of the ecosystem and contributes enormous time to industry bodies. She does not waffle and gives a clear commercially savvy perspective on matters,” said Chandra. He also has high praise for Mody’s colleague Ajay Bahl.
“Ajay is perhaps the best combination of lawyer, banker and chartered accountant in the country. He brings an incredible commercial perspective to issues that is unmatched by any other lawyer in the country. He is also perhaps the best guy to deal with – has a heart of gold.” Chandra said.
It’s no secret that long-term associations help a client better understand the person behind the legal professional. Amarjit Singh, CEO of India Business Group, says he has “high dependability” on Sudhir Mishra, founder and managing partner of Trust Legal, owing to Mishra’s acumen and ability to handle disputes before regulatory tribunals and commissions.
“I would describe Mishra as ‘a highly sought-after lawyer’ for his expertise in commercial and constitutional dispute matters. He has a high level of expertise in matters pertaining to the media, telecoms, healthcare and, most importantly, environment sectors,” he said.
“He is regularly called upon by Indian and foreign corporates for his wide expertise in handling disputes. He carries a solid reputation for his appreciable involvement in matters and advises on both the enforcement and transactional sides of the law. He knows the substantive and procedural laws like the back of his hand,” he added.
Jay Parikh, partner at L&L Partners, is credited for his “Excellent legal skills coupled with outstanding business sense,” by Ritesh Rajani, partner and M&A practice group head of German firm Graf von Westphalen.
Infibeam Avenues legal counsel Pooja Shah goes into further details for why she commends Parikh. “Jay has considerable experience in M&A, joint ventures, private equity, banking & finance, insolvency & corporate restructurings, capital markets and general corporate advisory.”
Vikas Wadhawan, the CFO of REA India, cites the years of fruitful association as the reason to nominate IndusLaw partner Saurav Kumar as the lawyer of his choice. REA India runs popular Indian real estate portals such as PropTiger.com, Housing.com and, Makaan.com
“I have been advised by Saurav for many years on many different aspects ranging from M&A litigations to shareholder-related disputes,” says Wadhawan.
“I have always found him very balanced in his approach and if he doesn’t have expertise in a particular subject, he involves the relevant members from his law firm who can appropriately advise on the subject matter. He is very pragmatic in his approach and advice.”
Subject expertise and client servicing were two qualities that came up frequently in the nominations. Take Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co partner Anurag Dwivedi for example. Abhinav Manchanda, senior vice-president of project & structured finance at HDFC Bank, nominates Dwivedi because of his sound and detailed knowledge of legal aspects; solution orientation, integrity and reliability; and, of course, top-quality client servicing.
Among the many deals he has handled, Dwivedi was HDFC Bank’s counsel in the recent extension of the term loan facility of INR4 billion (USD48 million) to GR Sangli Solapur Highway to fund their work on the NH-166 in the state of Maharashtra on hybrid annuity model.
Pallavi Shroff, managing partner at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas, is an “encyclopaedia” on competition law matters in India, says Narayanan Iyer, executive director – legal at Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL).
“[Pallavi is] very intelligent and mature. She provides the guidance and lays out the strategy for mounting your legal defence if an anti-competitive behaviour is alleged against your organisation. She is ably supported by a team including Harman Sandhu and they are really formidable. One should go to them if the stakes are big,” said Iyer.
For Hong Kong-based private equity firm HPEF Capital Partners, the private equity and venture capital expertise of Kunal Kumbhat, partner at AZB & Partners has come in handy for them as well as their co-investors, said the fund’s partner Laetitia Yu.
“Kunal has been our firm’s Indian portfolio lead counsel for years. Consistently, he has been the legal adviser for all our co-investors. Having the best counsel at the table has benefited our investments and his outstanding performance is solidly consistent,” she said.
AVAILABLE, PROMPT, PRECISE
Deal advisory skills, across all sizes and rounds, feature prominently in IBLJ’s awards and rankings every year. Constant availability and prompt response is a game-changer here, said Cytecare Hospitals director Himanshu Shah, citing JSA joint managing partner Vivek Chandy as an example.
“With Vivek, one feels that you are in safe hands because of his experience and in-depth understanding of the subject. He spends a good [amount of] time understanding the matter before advising. His responses are prompt and actions are immediate,” said Shah.
Rajnish Singh of Deloitte Legal, too, advocates for Chandy. “Vivek is an amazing lawyer to work with as he brings in a wealth of knowledge and experience. He has a great skill in advising and managing an array of legal matters. With his demeanour and approach, he is able to resolve matters very quickly,” said Singh.
HPCL’s Iyer also vouches for the expertise of L Vishwanathan, partner at Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas. “He is a top lawyer in the field of banking and finance,” says Iyer.
“We have had the pleasure of dealing with him in big project finance loan documentations and he is the best in this. He has helped finalise a project finance loan of INR290 billion for a grassroots petroleum and petrochemical project in India. While safeguarding the interests of the lender fully, he appreciates and gives a workaround to the issues raised by the borrower, too.”
Adaptability in work and legal advice was a factor that came up repeatedly in several recommendations, such as the one Ford India legal affairs director Anubhav Kapoor made for Ashish Suman, partner at JSA.
According to Kapoor, Suman provides legal advice keeping in mind the business and the implications other than legal risks.
“Ashish is one of the go-to lawyers if the intent is not only to find the best legal advice but also to get the legal advice from a commercial perspective. He provides business-oriented legal advice keeping in mind the industry and the sector of the client,” said Kapoor.
“I had many opportunities of working with Ashish when I was legal head with another automotive company and in both places Ashish sailed the organisation through some difficult legal situations and nullified the legal risk. He is regarded as a legal icon by other automotive clients and is a go-to lawyer if one needs solution-oriented advice.”
PUNCTUALITY, PROFESSIONALISM AND ADAPTABILITY
This year’s A-List has a considerable number of rising stars, who matched the standards set by the industry icons through their sharp application of knowledge, enhanced by their punctuality, professionalism and adaptability.
Kalkine Media CEO Kunal Sawhney puts Uday Singh Ahlawat, managing partner of Ahlawat & Associates, on that large list.
“India has a complex legal environment and he has delivered for us on several occasions in various circumstances. He is the best in terms of overseas and domestic companies to deal with complex legal issues whether that is a corporate matter or emerging technologies or privacy or financial services or intellectual property,” said Sawhney.
Abhijeet Biswas, managing director of 7i Capital Advisors, sees similar qualities in IC Universal Legal senior partner Kavitha Vijay, with whom his company has worked on more than a dozen transactions.
“Most of these deals were complex transactions involving multiple stakeholders. The structuring involved amalgamating through a slump sale basis. Most deals had a cross-border element requiring knowledge of multiple jurisdictions and working with FEMA, RBI etc. Kavitha led her team on all the above, while managing every stakeholders’ expectations,” he said.
Vijay and her team were ready for their clients, even during crisis situations such as the Chennai floods, Biswas added.
Nipun Gupta, co-head of the India strategy group of UK-based law firm Bird & Bird, similarly credits the multifaceted skills of Yogesh Singh, partner and co-head of the corporate practice group at Trilegal.
“As the firm moves forward in its growth and strategy, Yogesh seems to straddle the drive of a magic circle law firm while having a positive and motivated team of lawyers around him. [There is] a strong range of capable lawyers across all of their offices,” she says.
Interactions with established lawyers make one capable of spotting an exceptional one, and Ashish Taparia, associate general manager (finance) at Adani Green Energy, said Abir Lal Dey, partner at Saraf and Partners, is exceptional.
“I have been engaged in numerous project finance documentations with Saraf and Partners. Abir comes with superb experience and has a thorough knowledge of the subject and the context. Many of the issues get resolved by his simple, yet effective explanations. He is supported by a good team whom he mentors and guides effectively,” said Taparia.
Khaitan & Co partner Manisha Shroff belongs to that league as well, says a general counsel. “A superb lawyer in her chosen field. She is hardworking and is conscious of the client’s needs and goes out of her way to provide solutions instead of just identifying problems,” he explains.
“Siddharth was selected on recommendation from a trusted friend and was excellent from the outset. He is extremely approachable, knowledgeable, articulate and a great strategic thinker. He is exceptional at answering my questions promptly and with high professionalism and attentiveness,” he said.
Such skills in communication come in particularly handy when it comes to advising foreign clients.
INDIA AND BEYOND
“Safir has been leading the trademark prosecution practice of Anand and Anand for many years, and I have had the pleasure of working with him both on behalf of his clients for matters within the UK/EU and for my clients relating to Indian matters,” said Bird & Bird partner (intellectual property group) Allan Poulter.
“He is very professional and always provides high-quality legal and commercial advice. He is one of the most eminent Indian-based lawyers working in this field.”
“I have worked with Mithun on transactions over the past 12 to 18 months. He is an excellent technical lawyer, very commercial and very solution-oriented. He is ideally suited to the needs of international investors and is also a pleasure to work with and one of my go-to lawyers in India,” said McLaren.
Similarly, Trilegal partner Atul Gupta is the attorney of choice for US-based IT services company Sakon.
“Atul is our go-to attorney in India for all legal matters impacting our Pune-based subsidiary. He is always there for our legal needs. Atul provides sage legal advice on Indian employment law issues. He also co-ordinates and oversees the delivery of all other legal services to our subsidiary in India through his colleagues at Trilegal,” says Paul Cronin, general counsel at Sakon.
Raymond Low, partner at Malaysian law firm Shearn Delamore & Co, seconds Cronin.
“Atul is the go-to employment lawyer in India and has deep experience in various employment and industrial relations law. He is backed by a sound employment law team and provides comprehensive and business-friendly advice to his clients,” Low tells IBLJ.
Inter IKEA Systems BV, the Netherlands-based holding company that legally owns all of the IKEA brand’s intellectual property, had high praise for Shwetasree Majumder, managing partner of Fidus Law Chambers, said the company’s legal counsel Cecilia Emanuelson.
“Majumder is an outstanding lawyer with a deep legal knowledge and a pragmatic sense of how to advise her clients. Inter IKEA Systems BV relies on her advice for all IP matters in India and we are very happy with her work. She delivers high-class legal advice in a timely and professional manner, and is always accessible and always on top of developments,” Emanuelson said.
Manjula Chawla of Phoenix Legal is also seen as an expert on cross-border transactions by Shah of Infibeam Avenues.
“Since the early years of liberalisation, she has assisted many multinational corporations including Fortune 500 companies in establishing their presence in India,” says Shah who explains that Chawla was one of the first corporate lawyers to advise on cross-border transactions after the liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1991.
It does not take big-ticket transactions to apply exceptional legal skills. Take the case of Epitomee Medical, an Israeli pharmaceutical business that found its footing in India, thanks to Ameeta Verma Duggal, co-founder of DGS Associates.
“I have approached Ameeta Verma Duggal a few times for consulting in regard to commercial and business topics that are related to the Indian market. I have found that she was highly skilled in terms of recognising and analysing the topic along with assuring the right path for solving the problem,” said Arie Afek, director – process technologies at Epitomee Medical.
“In addition, I was impressed by the efficient responsiveness and can-do approach, which I have found at our meetings. Ameeta is an example of a professional who gives services at an A-List standard,” he added.
To determine India’s most-recommended lawyers, India Business Law Journal turned to thousands of in-house counsel in India and around the world – as well as India-focused partners at international law firms – and asked them to tell us which lawyers should make the cut.
Respondents were invited to nominate lawyers to appear on the A-List, and provide a justification as to why each one should be included. They were also invited to nominate lawyers to be recognised as India’s Legal Icons.
A-List Lawyers were defined on the nomination form as “Lawyers who are currently the star performers of India’s legal profession; the lawyers who are personally undertaking the country’s top legal work, crafting the most cutting-edge legal solutions to complex problems, and setting the highest standards in terms of quality, innovation and the ability to handle complex matters”.
Legal Icons were defined as “Lawyers who are the luminaries of India’s legal profession; the titans who command the respect of clients and juniors alike; the mentors who lead India’s most admired law firms and/or legal teams, and the country’s most prolific rainmakers”.
More than 3,000 nominations and testimonials were received from professionals at a wide range of Indian and international companies, international law firms and other organisations, including: 3M, Accenture, Adani Enterprises, Aditya Birla Finance, Aditya Birla Group, Afridi & Angell, AIA, Air India, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Akzo Nobel, Allen & Gledhill, Allen & Overy, Alpha Capital, Alstom, Alta Laboratories, Amazon, American Express, American Tower Corporation, Anand Rathi Financial Services, Ananta Capital, Anish Pharma Equip, Antares Marine, Applied Research International, Apraava Energy, Apya Capital Services, Asian Development Bank, Assem Infrastructure Finance, Atra Pharmaceuticals, Atsumi & Sakai, Automi Tech, Avendus Capital, Axis Bank, Bain Capital, Bajaj Electricals, Baker McKenzie, Bank of Baroda Capital, Barclays, Barings, Basil Technology Partners, BBC Studios, Bharti Airtel, Bharti Enterprises, Bird & Bird, Bloomberg, Blue Dart Express, BNP Paribas, Britannia, British American Tobacco, Brookfield Asset Management, Bullero Capital, Canara Bank, Cardiac Wellness Institute, Carlyle Group, Carrefour, Caterpillar, Ceres Foods, Cipla, Cisco, Clifford Chance, CLSA, Clyde & Co, CMS, Coal India, Colgate-Palmolive, Control Risks, Cravath Swaine & Moore, Cummins, Dabur, Dalmia Bharat, DBS Bank, Deloitte, Dentons, Deutsche Bank, DLA Piper, Dorsey & Whitney, Dr Agarwal’s Health Care, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, Droom Technology, Edelmann Group, Enel Green Power, Eversheds Sutherland, Experion Developers, Fab India, FedEx, Ferrero, Flipkart, Food Service India, Ford, Fortis Healthcare, Fortum India, Foseco, Freshfields, Frost Brown Todd, Fullerton, GAIL, GE, Gencare Pharmaceutical, Glenmark, Godrej Industries, Goldman Sachs, Google, Gunderson Dettmer, HDFC, Healthcare at Home, Herbalife International India, Herbert Smith Freehills, Hero MotoCorp, Hindalco Industries, Hindustan Construction Company, Hindustan Unilever, Hitachi, Hogan Lovells, Hyundai Motor Company, ICICI, IDBI Capital Markets & Securities, IKEA, Indiabulls, Indian Art Corporation, Indian Hotels Company, Infosys, Inox Wind Infrastructure Services, Intel, Intelsat, Investec, JCB, Jindal Steel & Power, JM Financial, Johnson & Johnson, JSW Energy, JSW Steel, King & Spalding, Kirkland & Ellis, Kotak Mahindra Bank, KPMG, Larsen & Toubro, Latham & Watkins, Levis Strauss, Mahindra & Mahindra, Mandala Capital, Mapwood, Marks & Spencer Reliance, Marsh India Insurance Brokers, Max Financial Services, Mayer Brown, Metro Brands, Milbank, Mishcon de Reya, Mitsubishi, Mitsui, Morgan Lewis, Morgan Stanley, Mori Hamada & Matsumoto, Morrison Foerster, NDTV, NEC, Nippon Life India Asset Management, Nishimura & Asahi, Nokia, North Oil Company, Norton Rose Fulbright, O’Melveny & Myers, Omniactive Health Technologies, Orient Cement, OYO Hotels and Homes, Panasonic, PepsiCo, Petronas, Pfizer, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Rabobank, Raheja Developers, Rajah & Tann, Ravindra Energy, Reckitt Benckiser, Reed Smith, Reliance Industries, Saama Capital, Sahara, Saint-Gobain, Samsung, Sanofi, Sapura Energy, Sequoia Capital, Shearn Delamore & Co, Shook Lin & Bok, Siana Capital, Sidley Austin, Siemens, Simmons & Simmons, Slaughter and May, Smiths Medical, Snapdeal, Softbank, Sony Pictures, Squire Patton Boggs, Standard Chartered Bank, Statkraft, Steel Authority of India, Sumitomo Chemicals, SyCip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan, Tata Capital, Tata Motors, Tata Power, Tata Steel, Tech Mahindra, Temasek, Tesco, Tilleke & Gibbins, Toshiba Water Solutions, TVF, Universal Music, Viacom18 Media, Visa, Vodafone Idea, Volkswagen, Welspun, WestBridge Capital, Wipro, Xiaomi, Yes Bank, Zee Infra, Zhong Lun Law Firm, Zydus Lifesciences, and thousands more Indian and international companies, and financial institutions and international law firms.
Lawyers working at Indian law firms were not permitted to make nominations.
The final list reflects the nominations and supporting information provided by the nominees, combined with thorough background research and India Business Law Journal editorial team’s collective experience in documenting and analysing India’s legal market.
All Indian private practice lawyers who are currently associated with Indian law firms were automatically eligible for inclusion in the nominations process and, as always, there were no fees or any other requirements for entry.
The list only reflects lawyers who are currently working at Indian law firms. It does not include independent advocates or senior counsel.
It is important to emphasise that the A-List is merely indicative of the nominations and testimonials received by India Business Law Journal, and the background research of our editorial team. Many outstanding lawyers do not appear on the A-List, which should not be viewed as a comprehensive list of the leading lawyers in the country.