In an especially challenging year, India Business Law Journal’s annual market survey gauges the mood of the country’s lawyers and the health of the legal profession. Gautam Kagalwala reports

As the effects of the first wave of the pandemic were beginning to subside, Indian law firms were making plans to return to the old ways of working. But with the onslaught of the second wave, everything changed. Many lawyers caught the virus themselves. Medicines, hospital beds and oxygen cylinders were in short supply. Countless appeals for relief were made on social media.

The economy faced a slowdown and activity in sectors such as aviation, real estate, entertainment and hospitality came to a standstill due to curbs on travel.

“Covid-19 has fundamentally changed the legal, economic and social order,” says Sameer Jain, the managing partner of PSL Advocates & Solicitors in New Delhi.

But demand for legal services exists in times of adversity as well as growth, and when considering the impact of the pandemic on the business of law, lawyers could view the scenario as a glass half empty or half full. Our annual survey of the prevailing sentiments in India’s legal profession is based on detailed responses provided by 63 law firms of all shapes and sizes, including DSK Legal, Fox Mandal & Associates, Hammurabi & Solomon Partners, IC Universal Legal, Inttl Advocare, J Sagar Associates, Majmudar & Partners, Mulla & Mulla & Craigie Blunt & Caroe, Obhan & Associates, Pier Counsel, Samvad Partners, Singhania & Partners and many others.

We asked them about the impact of covid-19 on working arrangements, revenue, profitability, business outlook and other key issues.

SEIZING OPPORTUNITY

Economic downturns do not directly translate into a decline for transactional practices,” says Meenakshi Acharya, the founding partner at RMA Legal in Mumbai. “Market difficulties, regulatory responses, stimulus programmes, changes in employment and other stressors provide potential sources of demand for legal services.”

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Shantanu Mukherjee, the managing partner at Ronin Legal in Mumbai, says many firms have reduced operating costs and increased profitability significantly as they have “moved away from physical offices and associated costs, renegotiated rents and even moved to cheaper offices”.

Mukherjee’s firm focuses on healthcare and life sciences, and has been busy addressing the increased demand seen in this area on account of the pandemic.

IP firm LexOrbis has seen an increase in litigation around trademark infringement and domain name disputes due to counterfeiting reaching an all-time high with the increase in e-commerce activity. The law firm has also observed an increased workload for patent-related processes from the pharma industry.

LexOrbis took a decision not to cut pay or lay off staff while the pandemic raged. “We provided financial support for covid-19 treatment and two weeks of paid sick leave to employees if they or any of their family members were infected or recovering,” says Manisha Singh, the firm’s managing partner.

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