India Business Law Journal names the top law firms in India 2017-18.
Rebecca Abraham reports
By all accounts, 2017 has provided both opportunities and challenges for law firms across India. While large general practice law firms continue to dominate the market in many practice areas, the country’s increasingly complex legal and regulatory environment has created the space for a growing number of specialist lawyers and law firms. This positive development has been tempered somewhat by a continuing downward pressure on fees and a widening of the market that has translated into increased, and sometimes brutal, competition. Yet companies looking for legal advice in India could not have had it better.
This is the scenario in which we present India Business Law Journal’s 2017-18 Indian Law Firm Awards. As in previous years we identify one law firm of the year. In all other categories (best overall law firms and 20 practice areas) we have seven winners of equal standing. This is one more than in previous years, which we believe is appropriate to reflect the growing size of the market. In the best new firms category we honour four firms.
THE JUDGING PROCESS
LAW FIRM OF THE YEAR
|AZB & Partners
The past year has been good for AZB & Partners, which has long been regarded as one of India’s most respected firms. Headed by Zia Mody, Bahram Vakil and Ajay Bahl, the 400-lawyer firm of around 85 partners advised on several headline-grabbing and challenging transactions in the course of 2017.
This included the US$120 billion merger of six small banks with India’s largest lender, State Bank of India, which took effect in April 2017. AZB’s experienced corporate partner Ashwath Rau was legal counsel to State Bank of India for the merger, which according to all accounts was unique. According to Rau it involved “a process that had not been prescribed under any law,” and which had to “stand the test of constitutionality”.
Similarly AZB & Partners was counsel to Bain Capital when in November 2017 it made a ₹68.5 billion (US$1.06 billion) investment in Axis Bank, in what was one of the largest private equity investments in the Indian banking sector. Describing the firm as one of Bain’s “key legal partners” in India, Amit Chandra, managing director of Bain Capital Advisors, says: “What makes AZB special is the availability of each of the three senior most partners, with their names on the door of the firm, to provide guidance to complicated issues whenever needed”.
Input from clients suggests that it is the stellar reputation of the three named partners that sets AZB & Partners apart. The firm has also worked to beef up its capabilities across practice areas in recent years with some valuable lateral hires. This has included Ashwath Rau, who moved to the firm in June 2016 along with his team; Ami Parikh, who joined in June 2017 and is set to develop the firm’s transaction support group; and litigation expert Anoj Menon, who was hired in April 2017.
The firm’s top clients typically include companies of the Tata group that it advised on several transactions, global investment firm KKR, Reliance, Max India, and companies of the Mytrah group.
AZB & Partners says it has put together expert teams to service the needs of the rapidly evolving fintech industry and for matters to do with the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016, which has brought about a sea change in insolvency resolution in India.
AZB & Partners was the leading Indian law firm in Mergermarket M&A rankings for 2017 having advised on 72 deals valued at US$34 billion. It also advised on 13 of India Business Law Journal’s 2017 Deals of the Year. This included the listing of the BSE in January 2017, which was a first for a stock exchange in India, and an IPO by SBI Life Insurance, which was the largest IPO for a life insurance company in India.
AZB & Partners also picks up nine practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards below.
BEST OVERALL LAW FIRMS
|AZB & Partners
Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas
J Sagar Associates
Khaitan & Co
Luthra & Luthra
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co
It has been two and a half years since the emergence of Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas and Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co. Yet the aftershocks of the demise of their parent firm, Amarchand Mangaldas, are yet to subside. This has not only increased competition between India’s top law firms, but as feedback from clients suggests, the firms themselves have upped their game as they fine-tune and widen their offerings.
The winning firms in the best overall law firms category for 2017-18 are: AZB & Partners (as described above), Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, J Sagar Associates, Khaitan & Co, Luthra & Luthra, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co and Trilegal.
Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, headed by Cyril Shroff, has grown to be India’s largest law firm with 630 lawyers, which includes around 100 partners and six offices across India. The firm continues to be well regarded by both Indian and international corporate clients, and, thanks to its formidable depth and width of expertise, it routinely advises on many of India’s most complex and challenging transactions involving both domestic and international companies.