2010 saw Indian law firms jostling for position as they vied for prestigious roles on headline deals. India Business Law Journal turned to corporate clients and legal professionals to find out which firms finished ahead of the pack

Vandana Chatlani reports

For India, 2010 was a year of outstanding achieve ments, economic prosperity and international controversy. In the run-up to the Commonwealth Games, India’s ability to host an international sporting event was called into question. The organizers were hit by allegations of corruption and there were several high-profile hiccups in the completion of the facilities. But despite criticism at home and abroad, the event was a great success. The world was treated to a spectacular showcase of Indian culture and international sport. And India emerged victorious with 101 medals, taking second place in the overall medals table.

The year was also a high point for deal makers, with billions of dollars of investment flowing into and out of India. HSBC acquired RBS India; Standard Chartered became the first international bank to list in India; and Vedanta purchased a 51% stake in Cairn India. Bharti Airtel, meanwhile, spent the summer acquiring assets of Kuwaiti telecom provider Zain for US$9 billion.

Indian lawyers were put through their paces in 2010, often being forced to work to tight deadlines on extremely ambitious deals. This was particularly the case in the capital markets arena, where the government made some high-profile disinvestments. Coal India, NTPC and Power Grid all went to market last year, but there was little time for celebration. Instead of popping open the champagne, law firms have been busy beefing up the weaker parts of their practices in anticipation of an even more challenging year ahead.

Awards methodology

As India-watchers reflected on another remarkable year in the country’s economic growth story, India Business Law Journal was faced with the task of identifying the most deserving recipients of its coveted Indian Law Firm Awards. As in previous years, the results are based on nominations – and their justifications – received from qualified observers of the country’s legal profession. This year, more than 1,700 individual nominations were received from legal professionals at organizations including Aditya Birla, ArcelorMittal, Coca-Cola, ESPN Star Sports, Jyoti Structures, Mahindra & Mahindra, Microsoft, ONGC, Tata Industries, Verizon, Western Union and hundreds more.

A detailed survey was sent to more than 9,000 Indiafocused corporate counsel and business leaders in India and around the world. Respondents were invited to nominate three Indian law firms in each of 16 practice-area categories. They were also invited to make nominations for the Law Firm of the Year and the best newcomers (law firms established after 1 January 2009). In addition, survey respondents were requested to provide justifications and examples to back up their nominations.

A similar survey was sent to more than 200 Indian law firms. The law firms were invited to make nominations, but were not permitted to nominate themselves. They were also requested to provide details of their key achievements in 2010 and a list of clients who could independently verify the quality of their services.

In reaching its final decisions, India Business Law Journal’s editorial team considered objective data obtained from the survey alongside subjective information, such as justifications given by survey respondents and comments received during interviews with in-house counsel, including the referees provided by many law firms. Each law firm’s recent deals, cases and professional achievements were taken into account, as well as its accomplishments related to practice development, such as the implementation of new management systems, prominent hires and new office openings.

Diverse spectrum of talent

Unsurprisingly, India’s largest and best-known full-service firms were among the top scorers in most of the award categories. At the same time, a significant number of niche and smaller law firms were consistently recommended by survey participants. In order to recognize both the hard-won pre-eminence of the full-service powerhouses and the specialist expertise of many smaller firms, six winners of equal standing have been announced in each category. Additional awards have been given to the two best newcomers and to one Law Firm of the Year.

A full list of the winners can be found on page 55.

Winners at a glance

Law Firm of the Year

Amarchand Mangaldas sweeps the board this year winning a total of 13 awards. These include the top award of Law Firm of the Year.

The firm performed exceptionally well in the nominations process, topping the tables in many categories and attaining high scores in virtually all of them. But such recognition from clients and peers isn’t the only indication that Amarchand remains a force to be reckoned with. The 460-lawyer firm was a key adviser on no less than 36% of India Business Law Journal’s 2010 Deals of the Year (see IBLJ December 2010/January 2011), having worked on 18 of the winning transactions.

Clients clung to the firm as it thundered through the capital markets, raced to close M&A deals and demolished barriers that threatened infrastructure projects. In the past year alone, Amarchand has advised on offerings by Coal India, NTPC, Tata Motors, Adani Enterprises, Rural Electrification Corporation, JSW Energy and MakeMyTrip. It represented Aircel Group on the sale of its telecommunications tower business to Chennai Network Infrastructure for US$1.8 billion and guided Cairn India on its US$8.5 billion sale to Vedanta. The firm also represented the State Bank of India on the setup of a US$1.5 billion private equity fund with the Sultanate of Oman and advised Deutsche Bank on a complex issue of debentures for the financing of Ackruti City slum redevelopments.

“We go to Amarchand for a range of things, from core finance and banking work to strategic and acquisition work. I’ve worked with them for a long, long time. Without a doubt they would be my preferred one-stopshop,” says the vice-president and senior counsel at a global financial services firm.

Amarchand’s success doesn’t appear to have made it complacent. Determined to broaden its spheres of expertise, the firm recently set up new practice groups focusing on insurance, environment law and labour and employment. It also hired DD Nageswar Rao as a partner to boost its tax capabilities.

The installation of a new management system was also on the firm’s agenda during 2010. It implemented a customized version of Reuters’ Elite 3E platform, which enables it to generate intelligent management reports and calculate the exact billable hours and revenue generated by any associate or partner. And while staff may now be subjected to greater monitoring, they are benefiting from other initiatives, such as the establishment of a childcare centre at the firm’s Delhi office. The facility caters to up to 15 children between the ages of six months and eight years. It is staffed by two teachers and a nurse.

In addition to being named Indian Law Firm of the Year, Amarchand Mangaldas receives awards in the categories of banking and finance; capital markets and corporate finance; competition and antitrust; corporate and commercial; dispute resolution; energy, projects and infrastructure; IT, media and telecommunications; mergers and acquisitions; private equity and venture capital; restructuring and refinancing; securitization and structured finance; and best overall law firms.

Best overall law firms

Hot on the heels of Amarchand Mangaldas are the other five recipients of India Business Law Journal’s award for best overall law firms: AZB & Partners, J Sagar Associates, Khaitan & Co, Luthra & Luthra and Trilegal (listed alphabetically, not in rank order). All of these firms received glowing client endorsements in a wide range of practice areas. And in terms of the total number of nominations they each received, all were head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field.

Recently divorced from its international affiliate Clifford Chance (see News, page 5), AZB & Partners is the recipient of 11 awards in the following categories: banking and finance; capital markets and corporate finance; construction and real estate; corporate and commercial; energy, projects and infrastructure; IT, media and telecommunications; labour and employment; mergers and acquisitions; private equity and venture capital; restructuring and refinancing; and best overall law firms.

The firm’s recent accomplishments include advising Bharti Airtel, first on its US$9 billion acquisition of assets in 16 different African countries from Kuwait City-based Mobile Telecommunications Co (Zain), and then on its purchase of a 70% stake in Bangladesh’s Warid Telecom. AZB also advised Vedanta Resources on the financing arrangements for its purchase of Cairn India; KKR Mauritius PE Investments on a US$200 million investment in Coffee Day Resorts; DB Realty on a US$329 million IPO; and Fortis Healthcare on the acquisition of 24% of Parkway Holding, through a purchase of shares from TPG Capital (Texas Pacific Group).

Bharat Vasani, the group general counsel at Tata Sons, says that AZB and Amarchand are both “known for fine corporate transactional work,” and that he regularly consults both firms.

The venerable but media-shy J Sagar Associates retains its powerful presence in India’s legal market. It put its vast knowledge of infrastructure and private equity to good use last year, advising a private equity consortium led by Morgan Stanley Infrastructure on the due diligence aspects of a US$425 million investment in Asian Genco, an infrastructure company with power generation assets and engineering businesses.

J Sagar Associates also represented Australia’s Macquarie Capital on the establishment of an offshore joint venture in Singapore and a domestic joint venture in India in conjunction with the State Bank of India and the International Finance Corporation. The ventures were created to establish and manage two funds to invest in Indian infrastructure.

The firm wins awards in the following seven categories: best overall law firms; capital markets and corporate finance; corporate and commercial; energy, projects and infrastructure; mergers and acquisitions; private equity and venture capital; and restructuring & refinancing.

Another recipient of the award for best overall law firms is Khaitan & Co. This 250-lawyer firm won the Law Firm of the Year award in 2008 and has continued to perform well since. It enjoys a formidable reputation among local and international clients and has had great success in recruiting international talent. Last year the firm hired banking lawyers Shishir Mehta from White & Case in New York and Devidas Banerji from Clifford Chance in Singapore. It also recruited telecommunications expert Asim Abbas, a former director of tariff and costing at the Indian government’s Department of Telecommunications.

Interestingly, Khaitan & Co has a particular following among London-based law firms. It’s “an exceptional firm,” says Toby Greenbury, a partner at Mishcon de Reya in London, echoing comments received from several other UK law firms. “I have had a long and close relationship with them, particularly with Pinto Khaitan and his son Haigreve, both of whom I rate very highly as lawyers and lawyers who get things done, as well as being good friends,” Greenbury adds.

Khaitan & Co advised Hospira on its US$400 million acquisition of the injectable pharmaceutical business of Orchid Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals. It also represented KEC International on its purchase of US company SAE Towers Holdings from ACON Investments, a Washington-based private equity firm.

The firm receives awards in the categories of capital markets and corporate finance; corporate and commercial; mergers and acquisitions; and best overall law firms.

“They have a knack of being able to understand the commercial deal and landscape and come up with sensible solutions,” says Greenbury. “I am not the only lawyer in London who feels that.” Having received the Law Firm of the Year award in 2009, Luthra & Luthra continues to impress. Thanks to its widely acclaimed legal acumen and near-ubiquitous presence on high-profile deals, the firm is awarded in 10 categories: best overall law firms; banking and finance; capital markets and corporate finance; competition and antitrust; corporate and commercial; energy, projects and infrastructure; intellectual property; mergers and acquisitions; private equity and venture capital; and restructuring and refinancing.

Perhaps most notable is the firm’s award in the intellectual property category. Luthra & Luthra is the first general practice firm to break the hold of the IP boutiques and claim a place on the winners’ list. Credit must go to the firm’s IP partners Gayatri Roy and Ameet Datta. Luthra’s extensive client list includes Coal India, Bharti Televentures, AT&T, Abbott Laboratories, State Bank of India, NDTV, DLF and Cairn India. Last year, it advised Abbott Laboratories on its US$3.72 billion purchase of a division of Piramal Healthcare (see A spoonful of sugar, page 31); the Indian government on Coal India’s IPO; and Moser Baer Power Projects on a US$300 million private equity investment from Blackstone.

The 200-lawyer firm is in expansion mode as it seeks to maintain its capacity to capture headline-grabbing transactions. In 2010 it recruited more than 30 new law graduates for its Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore offices and promoted five lawyers to the partnership.

Rounding off the category of best overall law firms is Trilegal, the youngest of India’s firms to be consistently judged a member of the country’s “magic circle”. Clients praise Trilegal’s charming combination of youth, international outlook, knowledge and professional acumen, all of which propel the 10-year-old firm to the top of the rankings.

Chetan Maini hired Trilegal when Mahindra & Mahindra was purchasing a majority stake in electric car manufacturer Reva Electric. “The experience I had was very positive,” says Maini, who is the chief technology and strategy officer at Mahindra Reva. “Typically from a legal firm, you expect legal advice, but Trilegal played a key role in business negotiations, IP strategy, business issues and [promoter] issues.”

Maini speaks highly of partner Rahul Matthan in Bangalore, who led Trilegal’s team on the deal, and praises the firm for its speed. “The transaction was also done in a short period of time, so everyone enjoyed a feel-good factor at the end of it,” he says.

Like its counterparts at the top of India’s legal profession, Trilegal, which has an affiliation with UK-based Allen & Overy, can’t afford to rest on its laurels. In addition to completing many high-profile transactions in 2010, the firm took time to focus on strengthening the practice-area capabilities that clients will demand in future years. Foremost among these efforts was establishing a dedicated competition law practice headed by partner Sitesh Mukherjee. Sakya Singha Chaudhuri, who recently completed a secondment in Allen & Overy’s competition department in London, joins Mukherjee in the new division, which is further strengthened by Rahul Singh, a former professor at the National Law School of India University in Bangalore and a consultant to the Competition Commission of India.

Trilegal also increased its partner count to 17 last year, promoting Kosturi Ghosh from the Bangalore office and appointing Pavan Kumar Duvva to head the Hyderabad practice.

The firm scored consistently well in the nominations process, receiving glowing praise from clients in almost every category. It addition to being named one of the best overall law firms, it wins awards for energy, projects and infrastructure; labour and employment; mergers and acquisitions; and securitization and structured finance.

Mergers and acquisitions

It was a busy year for mergers and acquisitions. According to London-based Mergermarket, the value of M&A deals with an Indian element totalled US$44.2 billion in the first three quarters of 2010 alone.

Bharti purchased assets in Kuwait and Bangladesh; Vedanta bought a slice of Cairn India; foreign pharmaceutical companies pounced on their Indian counterparts; and Shree Renuka Sugars acquired Grupo Equipav Açúcar e Álcool, showing it would travel as far as Brazil to satisfy its sweet cravings.

The credit for many of these deals goes to the best overall firms, all six of which also win awards for mergers and acquisitions. Manvendra Singh, the senior counsel at Verizon Business and a client of AZB & Partners, says the firm “helped in determining the clear picture of acquiring entities”.

Jacqueline Brosnan, a legal counsel at Telstra in Sydney, is particularly impressed with AZB’s managing partner. “For more than a decade Zia Mody has assisted Telstra with a number of acquisitions, divestments and joint ventures in India,” she says. “AZB’s advice has been consistently thorough and practical and assisted us to achieve our business goals in India.”

Another favourite for M&A is Trilegal. The firm advised Thomson Reuters on its acquisition of legal process outsourcing provider Pangea3. Trilegal’s role included reviewing and drafting transaction documents, conducting a due diligence on Pangea3’s Indian operations and providing transactional advice. The deal also required Trilegal to address complex multi-jurisdictional issues, including matters relating to withholding tax.

Rajiv Bakshi, the general counsel at Godrej, says he has used Trilegal for overseas acquisitions because of its “business and practical approach in cracking the deal”. He describes the firm as “excellent” and mentions partners Sridhar Gorthi and Amit Tambe as leading lights.

Kevin Santry, the regional legal counsel for Africa and the Middle East at Heineken, is another fan of Gorthi’s work. “Sridhar Gorthi combines his legal skills well with pragmatism, which is essential for a European company to execute transactions in India,” he says.

Further praise comes from Bomi Shroff, the executive vice-president and company secretary of Tata Power. Shroff says he chose to work with Trilegal after hearing “rave reports about them”. It’s “a terrific firm to work with,” he says. “They are conscious of the time lines which the clients warrant.”

Varun Gupta, the head of M&A at Moser Baer, says his company turns to Luthra & Luthra for advice on fundraising, definitive agreements, negotiating definitive documents and closing an entire transaction. “We have a large level of comfort with Luthra & Luthra, given their expertise in this domain area,” he says. “They are superefficient, they have complete knowledge and they protect all our interests in all our deals, so we value them highly. They work round the clock with us to complete the deals. It’s a great experience.”

Gupta also has high regard for J Sagar Associates, with which he has worked in the past. However, his strongest praise is reserved for Shishir Vayttaden, an associate at Luthra & Luthra. “I think Shishir is the best lawyer I’ve ever dealt with in terms of knowledge, negotiations skills and efficiency,” he says.

Khaitan & Co is another firm that is highly regarded for its mergers and acquisitions work. Zwissler Thomas, a partner at Zirngibl Langwieser in Germany, singles out Bharat Anand for particular praise in this area. The firm has also taken steps to strengthen its offering in the related area of competition and antitrust, most notably with the appointment of Manas Kumar Chaudhuri, a competition law specialist who was previously a joint director of legal at the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission and an additional registrar at the Competition Commission of India.

Competition and antitrust

Two firms that are already reaping the rewards of their complementary strengths in M&A and competition law are Amarchand Mangaldas and Luthra & Luthra. Both are among the recipients of this year’s award for competition and antitrust. They are joined on the winners’ table by Dhall Law Chambers, which was started by a former chairman of the Competition Commission of India, Dua Associates, Economic Laws Practice and P&A Law Offices.

Ankhi Das, the director of public policy and regulatory affairs at Microsoft, says clients should seek out Amarchand’s “principal associate Naval Satarawala Chopra, as well as lead competition lawyer Pallavi Shroff,” in the competition law arena.

“Harry Chawla [at Amarchand] has also been very helpful,” adds the vice-president and senior counsel at a global financial services firm. “And Paku Khan is another good lawyer at the firm, and well-versed on competition law.”

P&A Law offices, meanwhile, has maintained its position as a leader in the competition law arena as a result of managing partner Anand Pathak’s expertise in the area. Pathak has been heavily involved in training the staff of the Competition Commission of India on the intricacies and implications of the country’s new competition law.

He boasts substantial global experience of antitrust matters, robust knowledge of European Union competition law and was involved in handling one of the first cases to be filed under India’s new Competition Act. Described by clients as “deeply knowledgeable”, “extremely committed”, “business oriented” and “customer-focused”, Pathak continues to attract challenging mandates and is a go-to lawyer for incisive competition advice.

Corporate and commercial

The winners of the award for corporate and commercial work are: Amarchand Mangaldas, AZB & Partners, Dua Associates, J Sagar Associates, Khaitan & Co and Luthra & Luthra.

In one of its most prominent deals last year, Dua Associates advised a consortium of 13 lenders, led by Rural Electricity Corporation, on raising debt financing of ₹23.4 billion (US$500 million) for the debt syndication and financing of a 600 megawatt thermal power plant in Andhra Pradesh. The plant is being developed by Meenakshi Energy. The project is financed by Rural Electricity Corporation to facilitate the availability of electricity for rural and semi-urban populations.

Singh at Verizon Business says that both Dua Associates and J Sagar Associates “have shown dedication, commitment and most importantly, delivered their opinion, judgment and action in a precise and clear way”.

Capital markets and corporate finance

Activity on the capital markets front heated up tremendously in 2010 with a wave of offerings, including Coal India’s record-breaking US$3.4 billion IPO. Two of this year’s winners in the capital markets and corporate finance category – Amarchand Mangaldas and Luthra & Luthra – made this listing possible. AK Sinha, the director of finance at Coal India, expresses great appreciation for Luthra & Luthra’s guidance. “We worked very closely with Luthra & Luthra and we got full support from them,” he says. “We had very good relations with Madhurima [Mukherjee] and her team, and the team was very, very good.”

The other winners in this category are AZB & Partners, J Sagar Associates, Khaitan & Co and S&R Associates.

Offering praise to both five-year old S&R Associates and Luthra & Luthra, Vijaya Sampath, the group general counsel at Bharti Airtel, says: “All members of the team have a thorough knowledge of the issues and have experience in overseas jurisdictions like the UK and USA.”

Banking and finance

Luthra & Luthra also wins an award in the banking and finance category, where it is joined by Amarchand Mangaldas, AZB & Partners, Dave & Girish & Co, Juris Corp and Wadia Ghandy & Co.

“We seek a lot of advice from Amarchand on finance and strategic matters, as well as for critical projects we embark upon,” says the senior counsel at a global financial services firm. “I’m pretty satisfied with their service.

“I do have other law firms that I could look at if there’s a conflict of interest,” she adds. “In those cases I would definitely look at AZB & Partners, which I can also go to for a range of matters. From AZB & Partners, I’d recommend Ajay Bahl and Vinati Kastia.”

Usha Amonkar, the vice-president of the legal group at Mahindra & Mahindra, echoes these views and maintains that “Amarchand has an excellent banking and finance team”, while AZB & Partners has “excellent knowledge of the subject”.

Wadia Ghandy & Co also receives widespread praise in this field. “Wadia Ghandy has assisted us in our transactions,” says Gupta at Moser Baer. “They’re among the top five or six firms.”

Interestingly, two smaller and more specialist firms also make the winners’ table for banking and finance this year, a reflection perhaps of clients’ growing preference for specialization among their legal advisers. Juris Corp has its roots in banking and finance-related disciplines but has since expanded to become a full-service firm. The firm’s managing partner, H Jayesh, is widely praised by banks and financial institutions. Last year, Juris Corp advised the Singapore branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland on a US$260 million bridge loan extended by it to an offshore subsidiary of Fortis Healthcare for the acquisition of shares from the Singapore Stock Exchange. The firm’s other clients include DBS Bank, Credit Suisse, Barclays Capital, DSP Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank and HSBC.

Mumbai-based Dave & Girish & Co specializes in banking and security documentation. Thomas at Zirngibl Langwieser cites partner Mona Bhide as a key lawyer in this area.

Securitization and structured finance

Dave & Girish & Co also triumphs in the securitization and structured finance category, where it is joined on the podium by Amarchand Mangaldas, Juris Corp, Phoenix Legal, Trilegal and Wadia Ghandy & Co.

Dave & Girish & Co and Juris Corp are both held in high regard by clients and peers alike for their solid knowledge and the precision of their advice in this area.

Last year, Juris Corp successfully represented Citibank in its claim for payments due under derivative transactions from an Indian counterparty, JJ Exporters, before the London Court of International Arbitration. This is reportedly the only instance following the landmark Rajshree Sugars judgment (passed by Madras High Court) where there has been an authoritative pronouncement on the validity and merit of derivative transactions with reference to Indian foreign exchange regulations.

With the exception of those in the category of best newcomers, Phoenix Legal is the youngest award winner this year. Established in 2008, this energetic firm has been busy making a name for itself in several practice areas. Its award in the securitization and structured finance category reflects the trust it has succeeded in building with its clients and peers.

Among its recent achievements, Phoenix advised Caddie Hotels, a joint venture between Accor and InterGlobe, on a syndicated loan facility from Indian public-sector banks to part-finance a hotel complex at Delhi airport. The firm’s clients include ANZ Capital, Astonfield Management Consultancy, Petronet LNG and Standard Chartered.

Private equity and venture capital

Sharing the award for private equity and venture capital are Amarchand Mangaldas, AZB & Partners, Desai & Diwanji, J Sagar Associates, Luthra & Luthra and Nishith Desai Associates.

Desai & Diwanji enjoyed a successful year in this practice area, advising on a number of high profile transactions. The firm acted for Standard Chartered, a member of a consortium led by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts that invested US$200 million in Coffee Day Resorts. In addition, partners Apurva Diwanji and Amit Khansaheb in Delhi provided Indian legal advice to Quadrangle Capital Partners on its US$300 million investment in a Gurgaonbased independent cellular telephone tower management company, Tower Vision India.

AZB & Partners advised the private equity investment vehicle on this deal.

Restructuring and refinancing

The award for restructuring and refinancing is shared by Amarchand Mangaldas, AZB & Partners, Crawford Bayley & Co, J Sagar Associates, Luthra & Luthra and Talwar Thakore & Associates.

“Narayan Iyer and Sonali Mahapatra of Talwar Thakore & Associates are particularly impressive,” says the director of a major international bank in Singapore.

Shobhan Thakore and Rahul Gulati of the firm advised the book running lead managers in Standard Chartered’s listing of Indian depository receipts last year, while Feroz Dubash, Suresh Talwar and Shobhan Thakore scored a role in the sale of Royal Bank of Scotland’s India assets to HSBC.

Energy, projects and infrastructure

Revitalizing India’s poorly developed infrastructure has been a priority for the Indian government – and many of the country’s law firms – in the past year.

Hemant Sahai Associates, for example, has been chosen as the sole Indian legal counsel to advise the William J Clinton Foundation on the construction of solar energy parks in Gujarat and Rajasthan. The project aims to generate 3,000 megawatts of solar power at each location.

Although not an infrastructure client of the firm, Arjun Wallia, the chairman at Walsons Security Services, offers valuable insights into the quality of Hemant Sahai’s services after engaging the firm to work on an M&A deal. “We choose Hemant Sahai Associates because of its excellent reputation, credentials and credibility,” he says. “We received excellent professional services when we contacted them. The team has always been prompt and swift with excellent professional courtesy. Both Hemant Sahai and Aparajit Bhattacharya are brilliant.”

Hemant Sahai Associates is one of the winners of this year’s award for energy, projects and infrastructure. It is joined by Amarchand Mangaldas, AZB & Partners, J Sagar Associates, Luthra & Luthra and Trilegal.

Construction and real estate

In the real estate sector, Kanga & Co earned its spurs by advising Neepa Real Estate on its purchase of a prime plot of land from Borosil Glass Works. The plot measured more than 7.4 hectares and is located in metropolitan Mumbai.

Kanga & Co is highly recommended by Jayesh Shah, a director at Shree Naman Developers, a real estate company and developer of commercial, residential and hospitality projects.

The firm shares the award for construction and real estate work with AZB & Partners, Federal & Rashmikant, FoxMandal Little, Mulla & Mulla & Craigie Blunt & Caroe and Wadia Ghandy & Co.

Aviation, shipping and maritime

With international trade and investment at the forefront of India’s agenda, there is increasing demand for proficiency in aviation and shipping law. Experts predict the aviation industry will grow by 18-20% this year, while India’s Shipping Ministry has unveiled plans to invest US$100 billion in building new ports and enhancing the country’s shipping industry.

Topping the tables in this important arena are ALMT Legal, Bhasin & Co, Bhatt & Saldanha, Gagrats, Mulla & Mulla & Craigie Blunt & Caroe, and S Venkateswaran.

Radharamanan Panicker, the CEO of Cargo Service Centre India, selected ALMT Legal for advice on company formation, share transfers, negotiation and finalization of concession agreements, advisory services for an airport project and advice on various contracts and agreements. “The firm is very professional and very responsive to the needs of the organization,” he says.

Although not a shipping client, Anoop Seth, the managing director at AMP Capital Advisors India, sums up the widespread praise that ALMT Legal received from nominees. “The firm is responsive and creative with their advice, which is of high quality,” he says. “They tell us their interpretation of a situation and how they think we should proceed, rather than telling us what we want to hear, which is what I really appreciate.

“Ryna Karani is the partner who does our work,” adds Seth. “It’s quite a joy to work with her. She identifies issues quickly, her advice is timely and she explains things in ways we can understand. She also separates legal issues from commercial issues very well.”

Shipping stalwarts Bhatt & Saldanha and S Venkateswaran continue to win accolades from clients and peers alike. Bhatt & Saldanha, a Mumbai-based shipping firm, often attracts clients desperate to resolve shipping disputes such as crew and charter claims. The firm also handles arbitration matters.

S Venkateswaran, meanwhile, is lauded for handling both dry and wet shipping matters. The firm generally advises ship owners but also offers legal services relating to cargo, providing there is no conflict of interest. It also handles protection and indemnity insurance and marine insurance against third party liabilities which may result from owning or operating ships.

Aviation heavyweight Gagrats has advised the founders of Jet Airways since the late 1980s, before the airline was even formed. Now, the firm advises it on contracts, aircraft lease agreements, disputes relating to those agreements, trademark registrations, copyright matters and employment contracts. “When the airline was formed the late Mr JR Gagrat advised us on what sort of structure to have and what sort of company to form,” says Saroj Datta, the executive director at Jet Airways. “We have since then worked with Gagrats on all our legal requirements. We work principally with Rustam Gagrat. He and his colleagues are very understanding of our requirements.”

Another aviation giant is Bhasin & Co. Lalit Bhasin, the firm’s managing partner, recently represented the National Aviation Company of India in Delhi High Court and successfully secured an injunction order against Air India’s striking employees. Back on the ground, his firm was a legal adviser to the domestic panel of the organizing committee of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Dinesh Jain, the vice-president and company secretary of Asian Hotels (North), says Bhasin & Co is “a very old firm and a nice one,” and describes the managing partner, Lalit Bhasin, as “a very experienced lawyer”.

Shipping and logistics are two topics close to the heart of Shardul Thacker, a partner at Mulla & Mulla. And why shouldn’t they be, when his firm has excelled in these areas for so long? Thacker is well-versed on all shipping and logistics matters and wins widespread praise from his clients. The firm offers capabilities in maritime and transport law, marine and general insurance, ship financing, aviation and aircraft financing.

Dispute resolution

When disputes flare up, it pays to have the best lawyers by your side, particularly in a country that has gained international notoriety for the sluggishness of its courts. Observers are hopeful that the new National Litigation Policy, introduced by the Ministry of Law and Justice, will succeed in bringing the pendency of cases down from 15 years to just three years. However, only time will tell.

For now, many litigating parties would prosper from having dispute resolution award winner Karanjawala & Co on their side. “Karanjawala & Co is the preferred law firm for all litigation matters,” says Vasani of Tata Sons. “We, the Tata companies, engage the firm for most of our litigations, especially for matters in the Supreme Court. In certain important cases, the firm is also engaged for litigations outside of Delhi.”

According to Vasani, Karanjawala’s strength lies in its intense devotion to dispute resolution. “What weighs in favour of the firm is its singular focus on litigation, which is also its core competence,” says Vasani. “The firm, especially its managing partner, Raian Karanjawala, has good access to senior counsel in Delhi, which is of critical help in urgent matters, and generally puts together the best legal team to represent us in the court.”

Vasani praises Raian Karanjawala and Manik Karanjawala for their strategic guidance, as well as partners Ruby Singh Ahuja and Sandeep Kapur, and associate Manu Aggarwal, for their efficiency.

KV Vaidyanathan, the vice-president for legal affairs at Colgate Palmolive, also offers high praise for Ahuja, referring to her as “a good, aggressive and practical lawyer”.

Another client of the firm is The Hindustan Times. “We have used the firm for all types of corporate legal matters, recovery suits, property matters, disputes arising out of contracts, industrial labour law disputes, other miscellaneous disputes, civil and criminal suits,” says Rajeev Jain, the newpaper’s deputy general manager of corporate affairs. “The prompt and personalized services that they offer is quite appreciable.” Aside from Raian Karanjawala, Jain names Nandini Gore, Sandeep Kapur and Seema Sundd as talents at the firm.

Karanjawala shares the dispute resolution award with Amarchand Mangaldas, Bharucha & Partners, Federal & Rashmikant, Mulla & Mulla and PH Parekh & Co.

“For litigations in Mumbai we have had good experience with Federal & Rashmikant, and Mulla & Mulla,” says Vasani.

Bharucha & Partners has also demonstrated the abilities required to win complex disputes. The firm is representing Princess Ujjwala Raje Jai Vikram Shah to thwart proceedings against her Shiv Mahal Palace lands. It is also involved in Ferani Hotels’ diverse range of disputes with entrepreneur and industrialist Nusli Wadia.

Bharucha’s award may be for dispute resolution, but out of court the firm receives equal praise from its clients. “We use Bharucha & Partners services for all legal matters pertaining to corporate affairs,” says Prakash Thakur, a director at Jyoti Structures. “We have worked extensively with senior partners Alka Bharucha and MP Bharucha for more than three decades. They are outstanding. I rate them as best in class.”

Labour and employment

One major cause of disputes is employment contracts, and this is particularly the case in a country that has complex labour laws that are often out of sync with international norms. For example, restrictive national and local legislation effectively prohibits companies with more than 100 staff from letting a single employee go without government approval.

In such a challenging environment, getting the right advice on labour and employment law is crucial. Clients, therefore, may well consider enlisting the services of one of this year’s award winners in the field: AZB & Partners, Crawford Bayley & Co, DSK Legal, Kochhar & Co, Majmudar & Co and Trilegal.

Shravan Shroff, the managing director of Fame India, an integrated film exhibition and distribution company, swears by the advice he receives from DSK Legal. “DSK Legal is exceptionally good,” he says. “Anand Desai is extremely sharp and intelligent, but he is also a genuinely good human being. Unlike some other lawyers who elongate deals for the sake of more money, he acts in the best interests to close a deal as fast as possible.”

Nassir Nurul Kabir, the associate vice-president of legal affairs at Strides Arcolab, sums up much of the praise that has been heaped on DSK’s managing partner, Anand Desai. Kabir commends Desai for “keeping issues simple and at the same time astute”.

Fellow winner Majmudar & Co also received widespread praise for its labour and employment work. However, it was comments made by Debolina Partap, the vice-president of legal affairs at Wockhardt, relating to the firm’s work in other fields that best sum up its strengths. Partap has worked with Majmudar & Co for just under two decades on banking and finance-related matters and intellectual property issues. She describes the firm as “excellent and very time efficient,” an observation that she bases on her experiences of working with several of the firm’s key lawyers, including Akil Hirani, Neerav Merchant, Kashish Bhatia, Anindita Jaiswal, Sameer Shah and Anthony Toppo.

Intellectual property

As usual, competition was fierce in the domain of the IP boutiques, but this year there’s an intruder in their midst. For the first time in the history of the Indian Law Firm Awards, a general practice firm – Luthra & Luthra – has won a place on the IP winners’ table. Sitting alongside it are IP boutiques Anand and Anand, K&S Partners, Krishna & Saurastri, Remfry & Sagar and fellow newcomer Saikrishna & Associates.

Luthra’s win may come as a surprise to many. Yet, for several years the firm has been quietly building a substantial intellectual property machine intended to rival even the most celebrated IP boutique. The hard work has paid off. Clients are impressed with the firm’s new offering and Luthra received enough nominations in the IP category to comfortably win a place on the winners’ table.

Leading the pack, however, is Anand and Anand, which received almost three times the number of nominations of any other firm in this category.

Anand and Anand is one of the best in the IP business,” says a counsel at an international electronics company. “To have Pravin Anand on your side is useful, but more importantly, it is helpful not to have him as your opposition.”

“Hilton Worldwide utilizes Anand and Anand – primarily Pravin Anand and Binny Kalra – for a variety of intellectual property matters in India … and has been very pleased with their counsel and representation,” adds Mark Robertson, the senior vice-president and an assistant general counsel at Hilton Worldwide.

Last year, the firm represented chocolatier Ferrero in relation to an infringement of its Ferrero Rocher brand. An ex parte interim injunction was initially issued against a Chinese manufacturer and its Indian importer, which had been selling Ferrero lookalikes in the Indian market. The importer’s infringing goods were sealed and the parties were restrained from marketing or selling chocolates and confectionery items under any mark, label or visual medium similar to those owned by Ferrero.

Suja Subramaniam, the head of legal at Roche Diagnostics, works with Anand and Anand on pharmaceutical and patent litigation in India. “We haven’t worked with any other firms in India on litigation,” says Subramaniam. “I would recommend Shravan Chopra and Kritika Vijay, a young associate. Both of them have done a fantastic job.”

A trademark attorney at a major pharmaceuticals company, meanwhile, recommends partner Safir Anand. “We have a long-standing relationship with Anand and Anand and we think highly of the firm, and particularly Safir.”

Jon Webster, a senior trademarks counsel for Bausch & Lomb, places his loyalties elsewhere. His company uses Remfry & Sagar for all types of trademark work in India, ranging from clearance and filing to conflict and opposition matters. “We have used Remfry & Sagar for over 20 years and have continued using them for their high-quality counsel and legal assessments,” says Webster. “Our experience has been favourable and generally successful with good results.”

Up-and-coming IP boutique, Saikrishna & Associates, is another of this year’s winners. “For software piracy cases, I would use Saikrishna Rajagopal to handle my case,” says one peer. “He is bold, has a good reputation and is very effective in court.”

The firm’s transactional team has been advising clients such as Disney and Star News Corp on film clearance issues and conducting specific audits on TV formats, content-related issues, trademark-related issues and more.

The venerable K&S Partners continues to impress clients in India and overseas, while Krishna & Saurastri retains its long-held position as the go-to IP firm in Mumbai.

IT, media and telecommunications

Hit by controversy last year, India’s telecoms sector is struggling to save face and regain its appeal to foreign investors. In May 2010, India halted telecommunications imports from China and later lifted the ban on the condition that suppliers agreed to subject their equipment to tight security audits. Later in the year, India’s telecom minister, Andimuthu Raja, resigned over accusations that he handed out telecom licences at reduced prices. Despite the controversies, observers expect strong growth in the sector this year as telecommunications activity reaches new peaks.

The six winners in the category of IT, media & telecommunications are: Amarchand Mangaldas, AZB & Partners, DSK Legal, Naik Paranjpe & Co, Nishith Desai Associates and Seth Dua & Associates.

Elvin Wan, the chief regional counsel, Asia Pacific, at Orange France Telecom relies on Seth Dua & Associates for a range of legal services, including non-compliance issues with the Foreign Investment Promotion Board, the Reserve Bank of India and telecom regulators. “I have known Atul Dua since 2000,” says Wan. “He knows the company well, he responds well, he knows the expectations I have, so it’s easier for us. From a legal perspective, it’s excellent legal advice. From a solutions perspective, he tends to give me viable and feasible solutions based on the situation in my business itself, so I’m very happy with that.”

Brosnan at Telstra meanwhile, says she depends on AZB & Partners for frequent updates to telecoms regulations. “Zia Mody has provided clear and practical advice on India’s telecommunications laws and kept us very well informed of changes to those laws,” she says.

An increasingly popular choice for media-focused work is Naik Paranjpe & Co, a 17-lawyer firm widely lauded by peers and clients alike. “What impressed me about Ameet Naik was the fact that he was very quick to grasp various subjects,” says Shroff at Fame India. “He started his own media and entertainment practice at a time when no such firm was focusing exclusively on the sector.” Shroff also commends Naik for his efficiency. “I have worked with the best law firms in India and the speed at which Ameet can revert on a document is unbelievable,” he says. “I haven’t come across any service provider who can deliver quality and consistency with such speed.”

Naik Paranjpe & Co’s clients include Reliance MediaWorks, Reliance Big Entertainment and Percept, an entertainment, media and communications company.

Shibashish Sarkar, the CFO of Reliance Big Entertainment, has worked with Naik Paranjpe & Co for over five years and says the firm is “excellent”. “Ameet [Naik]’s understanding of the industry is better than any single media firm in the country,” says Sarkar. “He is quick, especially in litigations when quick calls need to be taken, he is very apt in those situations.” Sarkar recommends Ravi Suryavanshi in addition to Naik and also has great respect for Gowree Gokhale at Nishith Desai Associates.

Naik Paranjpe & Co has also advised Viacom18 Media on its joint venture with Sun TV and is currently advising Walkwater Media on the setup of a theme park on the outskirts of Mumbai. Asked who at the firm he would recommend, Manmohan Shetty, the chairman of Walkwater Media, says: “Ameet Naik, definitely. Under Ameet’s supervision, his team, including Anuja, Ravi, Madhu, Abhishek, has done pretty well”.

Taxation

Domestic and international clients are keeping India’s tax practitioners on their toes with a flood of enquiries about the country’s forthcoming goods and services tax.

At the forefront of the tax advisory practice are this year’s winners, Associated Law Advisers, DM Harish & Co, Economic Laws Practice, Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan, Nishith Desai Associates and Vaish Associates.

“We engage Economic Laws Practice for various matters,” says Jatin Jalundhwala, the legal head at Adani Enterprises. “Contractual matters, indirect tax, arbitrations, both domestic and international, service tax and corporate matters.”

According to Jalundhwala, Economic Laws Practice stands out because of its devotion to a task. “They always take full responsibility for a matter,” says Jalundhwala. “I find the quality of ELP better than others because they have good knowledgeable people and do good research.”

Jayesh Shah is a director at Shree Naman Developers and another client who has benefited from legal advice provided by Economic Laws Practice. Shah says he chose the firm because of its “experienced team” which was “approachable at any time”. He has particular praise for the expertise of the firm’s managing partner, Rohan Shah, and partners Sujjain Talwar and Pranay Bhatia.

Economic Laws Practice successfully represented a consortium of general insurance companies in its interactions with the Ministry of Finance, which resulted in a favourable resolution of a tax controversy relating to the levy of service tax on “reinsurance commission” worth over ₹2 billion.

Meanwhile, Vaish Associates’ managing partner, Ajay Vohra, succeeded in obtaining a favourable decision from the Authority for Advance Rulings on behalf of his client Dassault Systems. The authority ruled that consideration for the transfer or sale of a computer programme (copyrighted article) does not constitute “royalty”, either under the provisions of the Income Tax Act, 1961, or the relevant double tax avoidance treaty.

DM Harish & Co and Nishith Desai Associates also command much respect in the field of taxation. DM Harish & Co has been active in advising both multinational companies and high net worth individuals on Indian tax laws. Anil Harish, a partner at the firm, is also known for his real estate expertise.

Best newcomers

With offices in Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai, one-year old Tatva Legal is the first recipient of this year’s award for best newcomers. Having broken away from Dua Associates, nine former partners and around 50 former associates opened the doors to their new firm on 1 January 2010.

Despite its tender age, Tatva Legal quickly made a name for itself on the back of the reputations of partners Shishir Sharma, NK Dilip and Shailendra Komatreddy. The young firm has also won roles on several major deals.

It acted as legal counsel to Tower Vision India, a Gurgaonbased independent cellular telephone tower management company, on its US$300 million private equity fundraising from Quadrangle Capital Partners. Avinash Mody, a partner at the firm, advised Tower Vision on due diligence and other Indian legal matters. In addition, the firm was chosen to advise Coffee Day Resorts on a private equity investment in the company by a Kohlberg Kravis Roberts-led consortium.

Sharing the best newcomer award with Tatva Legal is Argus Partners. Launched in 2009 by former Amarchand partner Krishnava Dutt and principal associate Ramya Hariharan (now a partner at Argus), the firm has offices in Kolkata and Mumbai. It currently consists of two partners and 18 lawyers, who handle corporate commercial work, M&A, banking and project work.

In January 2010, the firm advised Kolkata-based coal tar manufacturer Himadri Chemicals & Industries on a US$124 million private equity placement and open offer in the company by Bain Capital. It also acted for Prysmian Cavi e Sistemi Energia, an international provider of high-technology cables, in its purchase of a 51% equity stake of India’s Ravin Cables in February 2010.

“Argus provided accurate and tailored service in the structuring and negotiation of complex transactions, offering a high-quality service that combines a strong legal base and good practical approach,” says Michele Binda, the inhouse counsel at Prysmian.

“Their depth of knowledge and strong commercial sense makes them an invaluable adviser to us,” adds Sunita Thawani, the head of legal at Jusco.