India Business Law Journal celebrates a glittering year of achievements and the outstanding Indian law firms that made them possible. Vandana Chatlani reports

Fluctuations in the Indian stock markets, the crippling effect of the euro crisis, and the implementation of new legislation has kept lawyers on their toes over the past 12 months. India’s legal professionals struck deals under difficult and demanding conditions and there’s no sign that 2012 will be any easier. Indeed, lawyers are sharpening their tools and bulking up weaker areas of their practices to give clients greater comfort at a time when the global economy is still sagging – threatened further by Europe’s collapse.

Today’s lawyers must endeavour to fulfil the needs of the hour. Companies are demanding a new level of restructuring expertise, so as to dispense with failing businesses, secure exits from fracturing ventures and focus on core competencies. Firms are also answering tax calls, setting up new practice areas and hiring specialists to complement existing knowledge.

Equally, there is new attention on firms able to deliver accurate advice on the takeover code, the competition regime and alternative dispute resolution. Although many foreign clients say their choice of law firm in India is a case of horses for courses, others look for practices that act as a one-stop shop.

With investors’ renewed emphasis on infrastructure, fast-moving consumer goods, renewable energy, pharmaceuticals, retail and other areas, 2012 promises to be an exciting year. While focusing on the year ahead, India Business Law Journal also takes great pleasure in looking back at a glittering past year of achievements and the outstanding Indian law firms that made them possible.

Difficult choices

As in previous years, India Business Law Journal received hundreds of nominations for the best law firms from international and Indian law firms, corporate executives and corporate counsel. Nominations flooded in from places as diverse as Singapore, London, Missouri, Mumbai, Milan, Gibraltar, Zurich, Vancouver, New York, Delhi, Chennai, Hanover and Bangalore.

India Business Law Journal’s editorial team conducted extensive research, considered the deals on which the winning firms advised, and took into account firms’ internal developments in order to choose six winners in each category. Votes and testimonials from eminent firms and companies such as Yahoo!, Bain Capital India, Yes Bank, Vodafone, Kirkland & Ellis, Star India, Sterlite Technologies, Sidley Austin, Kingfisher Airlines, Larsen & Toubro and Procter & Gamble India, add further credibility to the final results.

We recognize that the Indian legal market is peppered with firms of varying stature. Increasingly, the new entrants are offspring of legacy firms – ambitious young lawyers gritting their teeth and risking it all to launch their own practices. In some cases, veterans of India’s legal fraternity are going it alone, eager to call the shots and prove that they can flourish on the same stage as any established brand name.

Firms such as Phoenix Legal, Bharucha & Partners, Tatva Legal, Talwar Thakore & Associates, SRGR Law Offices and Argus Partners may not have won awards this year, but this does not take away from their talent and growing prominence in the Indian legal market. These are firms to watch.

Law Firm of the Year

The coveted law firm of the year award goes to AZB & Partners, which picked up awards in 12 of 20 practice areas, a feat matched by Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co. AZB’s unruffled attitude, composure and tenacity following two short-lived marriages, with Clifford Chance and Anup S Shah, indicate that this firm knows how to stay on its feet in times of crisis.

Indeed, ending its partnership with the UK magic circle firm may have been the best decision AZB has made. AZB partner Bahram Vakil told India Business Law Journal a year ago that “there was disappointment on both sides about the level of inbound and outbound work that could be referred and that we could do together … Most of the other major firms stopped giving us work, so that made it a difficult year.”

Clearly, going solo has proved worthwhile, allowing AZB to flourish and capture meaty mandates. The 260-strong firm was a key adviser on a remarkable 19 deals in India Business Law Journal’s 2011 Deals of the Year (see India Business Law Journal December 2011/January 2012). Its most exciting achievements include representing Vedanta Group on its acquisition of a 59% stake in Cairn India for US$8.67 billion; advising Reliance Industries on the sale of a 30% stake in 23 oil and gas production-sharing contracts to BP for US$7.2 billion; and advising Pfizer on the sale of its Capsugel business to Chester Holdings (an affiliate of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts) for US$2.4 billion. In addition, the firm tackled a failing joint venture and a complex IP-related litigation on behalf of Enercon India, and advised Morgan Stanley on its partnership with Spanish infrastructure firm Isolux Corsan to develop highway concession projects in India.

In a bid to pursue its growth strategy more aggressively, AZB & Partners has appointed senior partner Abhijit Joshi as its CEO. Joshi will focus on strategic management issues, talent retention, recruitment and a new phase of development. The firm’s muscle lies not only in the proficiency of its top-level partners, but also in its efforts to groom junior associates to handle deals carefully, expeditiously and independently.

“Our relationship with AZB is old and has strengthened over time,” says Amit Chandra, the managing director at Bain Capital India. “It is amongst a very small group of firms that we would go to for any legal matter. AZB is truly building a strong multi-layer firm. Its strength is that it does not just rely on one or two stars. We have had great experiences with managing partners, as well as the second and third line.”

In addition to winning the award for law firm of the year, AZB & Partners receives awards for banking and finance; capital markets; construction and real estate; corporate and commercial; energy, projects and infrastructure; mergers and acquisitions; policy and regulation; private equity and venture capital; privatization and disinvestment; structured finance and securitization; taxation; technology, media and telecommunications; and best overall law firms.

Best overall law firms

Joining AZB & Partners on the winners’ table for best overall law firms are Amarchand Mangaldas, J Sagar Associates, Khaitan & Co, Luthra & Luthra and Trilegal. It was a comfortable victory for all six firms, which picked up an award in this category for the fourth consecutive year.

Amarchand Mangaldas, a consistent all-rounder with a rock-hard reputation in India and globally, performed well in almost every category. Last year, it advised ICICI Bank on its US$5 billion global medium-term note programme, State Bank of India on its €750 million (US$1 billion) euro bond issue and Piramal Healthcare on its purchase of a stake in Vodafone Essar. It also advised Reliance Life Insurance on the sale of a 26% stake to Japan’s Nippon Life Insurance for US$680 million.

While Amarchand and AZB are far ahead of their competitors in most categories, the votes indicate they enjoy a huge lead in four areas: banking and finance; corporate and commercial; mergers and acquisitions; and private equity and venture capital.

Amarchand’s other awards are for capital markets; competition and antitrust; dispute resolution; energy, projects and infrastructure; policy and regulation; privatization and disinvestment; restructuring and insolvency; and structured finance and securitization.

In December, Amarchand appointed Anshuman Jaiswal and Siddhartha Dutta as resident partners of its Hyderabad and Kolkata offices.

Just down from the top two is the mighty Luthra & Luthra, which seized important roles on some billion-dollar deals last year. It was selected to advise Alstom Bharat Forge Power on a US$1.2 billion project financing for its joint venture companies. In addition, partners Madhurima Mukherjee and Deepak THM guided Malaysian oil and gas explorer Petronas on the sale of its stake in Cairn India to Sesa Goa for US$2.1 billion. Its role as one of the domestic advisers to Monsanto in the company’s dispute with Nuziveedu Seeds over the parent variety of hybrids of cotton was a boost for the firm’s disputes practice.

Luthra & Luthra wins awards in the following 10 practice areas: aviation; banking and finance; capital markets; competition and antitrust; construction and real estate; corporate and commercial; energy, projects and infrastructure; insurance and reinsurance; policy and regulation; and privatization and disinvestment. This 288-lawyer firm has ramped up its document and information management systems and recently introduced a unified system to manage all administrative and billing related functions.

J Sagar Associates scoops up awards in nine practice areas. The firm’s standout roles include advising the Indian promoters of Hero Honda Motors on their acquisition of Honda Motor’s stake in Hero Honda for roughly ₹38 billion (US$800 million) and advising Hero Investments in relation to a ₹35 billion private equity investment in Hero Honda. It also advised the eldest Patni brother in iGate’s acquisition of a majority stake in Patni Computers.

J Sagar Associates counts among its clients PepsiCo India, spice manufacturer McCormick, Tata Power and North Delhi Power, and Walt Disney. Gopal Saxena, CEO at BSES Rajdhani Power, enthuses: “For the past 10 years that we have dealt with JSA, the experience in terms of the quality of work, input, advice, and handling of complex matters involving techno-economic and regulatory aspects, has been excellent and unparalleled as compared to other firms who are in the top bracket.”

Gopal Saxena CEO BSES Rajdhani Power

In addition to best overall law firms, J Sagar Associates wins awards for banking and finance; capital markets; competition and antitrust; corporate and commercial; mergers and acquisitions; policy and regulation; private equity and venture capital; privatization and disinvestment; and structured finance and securitization. This 234-lawyer firm marked its 20th anniversary in November.

Trilegal, which has steadily matured into one of India’s finest law firms, takes awards in seven practice areas. Last year, partners Anand Prasad and Christopher Krishnamoorthy advised International Paper, a global paper and packaging company, in its US$423 million purchase of Andhra Pradesh Paper Mills – the Indian paper industry’s biggest acquisition to date.

Trilegal’s track record and finesse in the areas of infrastructure and banking earned it important roles on several India Business Law Journal Deals of the Year. The firm was a key adviser to Standard Chartered Bank, the lead arranger, in Mundra Port and Special Economic Zone’s acquisition of Abott Point Terminal and was also chosen to represent the lenders, including ICICI Bank, to facilitate Lanco Infratech’s acquisition of Griffin Coal Mining Company – one of the biggest investments by an Indian company in Australia. Trilegal partner Nishant Parikh, senior associate Rohan Ghosh Roy and associate Anirudh Agarwala acted for Sithe Global Power on its US$261 million investment in SKS Ispat and Power’s 1,200-megawatt power plant in Chattisgarh.

Trilegal has developed a secondment programme to strengthen its client service, and organizes discussion forums for in-house counsel, to update clients on the latest regulatory and market developments in India. This 160-lawyer firm wins awards for banking and finance; corporate and commercial; energy, projects and infrastructure; mergers and acquisitions; policy and regulation; privatization and disinvestment; and restructuring and insolvency.

Khaitan & Co, which received the law firm of the year award in 2009, receives awards this year in four practice areas: capital markets; corporate and commercial; mergers and acquisitions; and private equity and venture capital. The firm is a favourite of many international law firms, particularly in the UK market.

Many clients offer glowing endorsements for managing partner Haigreve Khaitan. A member of the legal team at Yes Bank says he is “extremely sharp”, understands “the commercial nuances required to structure a deal” and is able to put clients at ease. “He creates win-win situations and his down-to-earth approach is truly appealing,” says the legal counsel. “He has the peculiar knack of dissecting, analysing and simplifying issues rather than making them appear extremely complex. He is not the kind of lawyer who creates fear in the mind of his clients.”

Always on the hunt for new talent, Khaitan & Co hired in 2011 ex-Thakker & Thakker partners Anand Mehta and Ketan Kothari, Anindita Phukan from Bangalore-based Poovayya & Co, Abhilekh Verma from PAV Law Offices, and Sharad Abhyankar from ANS Law Associates. The firm, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in November, has 300 lawyers, housed in its 35,000-square-foot sprawling office complex in Mumbai and newly renovated offices in New Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkata.

Its many accomplishments in the past year include representing iGate on its acquisition of Patni Computers; advising Honda Motor on its sale of a 26% stake in Hero Honda Motors to Hero Investments; and acting as counsel to Welspun Group in one of the largest private equity investments in infrastructure in India. “Khaitan has emerged as a formidable force in the Indian legal market,” says Srinivas Kaushik, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis in New York.

Srinivas Kaushik Partner Kirkland & Ellis

Aviation

Bhasin & Co, Clasis Law, Desai & Diwanji, Gagrats, Luthra & Luthra and Rajinder Narain & Co all earn an award for their performance in the aviation sector.

The highest number of votes went to Desai & Diwanji, a Mumbai-based firm which was the sole legal adviser to Indian budget airline GoAir on its purchase of 72 Airbus 320 NEO aircraft. The acquisition was valued at US$7.2 billion.

Bhasin & Co has long been a prominent name for aviation work, representing clients such as Air India and Thai Airways. Managing partner Lalit Bhasin is well known for his handling of commercial and contractual disputes and statutory air crash inquiries and specializes in drafting aircraft purchase agreements, lease and security agreements, finance agreements, and work on maintenance, repair and overhaul issues.

Gagrats, at the forefront of many aviation transactions, last year advised long-standing client Jet Airways on the lease of 20 aircraft from an Irish special purpose vehicle (SPV) of GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS) and five aircraft from an Irish SPV of the Bank of China. It also represented the airline on the sublease of its 777 aircraft to Thai Airways.

Rajinder Narain & Co is a full-service firm but its aviation practice is one of its strongest. Partner Ravi Nath, an aviation expert, regularly advises on cross-border aircraft financing. His clients include Boeing, Barclays Bank, Aviation Capital Group, GECAS, Bank of America, Airbus, Deutsche Bank, Babcock & Brown, Macquarie and Bombardier. Nath was formerly the chair of the aviation committee of the International Bar Association.

Less than a year old, Clasis Law wins support from clients and peers for its knowledge of aviation law. The firm, which is a breakaway from ALMT Legal, hired partner and aviation finance specialist Sidanth Rajagopal from its best friend-firm Clyde & Co last July. Dual-qualified in India, and England and Wales, Rajagopal has represented lenders, lessors and airlines on the financing, leasing and purchase of aircraft.

Clients offer glowing endorsements of Rajagopal’s work. “Sidanth has several years of experience in aviation starting from Luthra & Luthra in India and then to Clyde & Co in London where he has sharpened and updated his knowledge of aviation law as well as the business side of aviation extensively,” says Bharath Raghavan, chief legal officer and company secretary at Kingfisher Airlines. “The important facet of Sidanth’s functioning is that he keeps himself abreast of developments in Indian law as well as the broad aviation market in general, and draws upon his experience to apply it in relevant transactions going forward.”

Aviation is a core practice area for Luthra & Luthra, the other winner in this category. The firm advises clients on aircraft purchase contracts, aircraft financing transactions, syndicated loan agreements in relation to cross-border aircraft financing, fleet-wide maintenance contracts, buyer-furnished equipment purchase contracts, and the restructuring of airline companies. Last year, the firm represented Lufthansa Airlines and Austrian Airlines before the Competition Commission of India (CCI) in a dispute between the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) and a host of foreign airlines. TAAI had alleged that the foreign airlines were breaching India’s competition regulations by refusing to give commissions or pay transaction fees to travel agents for ticketing services. The CCI ruled in favour of the airlines.

Banking and finance

Luthra & Luthra also collects an award for banking and finance. Led by partners Piyush Mishra and Sameen Vyas, Luthra advised a consortium of 27 lenders led by Power Finance Corporation on a ₹121.4 billion loan to KSK Mahanadi Power Company. The loan – a senior secured syndicated rupee term and letter of credit facility – was for the construction and operation of a 3,600-megawatt coal-fired thermal power project in Chattisgarh. “Luthra & Luthra is one of the best,” says a manager at an Indian bank in Mumbai.

Luthra shares this award with Amarchand Mangaldas, AZB & Partners, J Sagar Associates, Trilegal and Wadia Ghandy & Co.

Wadia Ghandy & Co’s clients include HDFC Bank, Kotak Bank, HSBC and Barclays Capital. Last year, it opened two new offices, in New Delhi and Singapore, to better serve its domestic and international clients. In December, the firm advised Barclays India on the sale of its credit card business to the Indian arm of Standard Chartered Bank. Trilegal partner Nishant Parikh, counsel Sakya Singha Chaudhuri and senior associate Rahul Singh advised Standard Chartered India on the purchase and helped the bank obtain clearance from the CCI.

Capital markets

The winners in the capital markets category are Amarchand Mangaldas, AZB & Partners, J Sagar Associates, Khaitan & Co, Luthra & Luthra and S&R Associates.

Amarchand Mangaldas continues to bulldoze the competition on capital markets transactions. It was a legal adviser on 80% of India Business Law Journal’s capital markets Deals of the Year, representing clients such as Tata Steel, JSW Ispat Steel and State Bank of India, and was the sole Indian legal counsel on ICICI Bank’s global US$5 billion medium-term note programme.

S&R Associates, a full-service firm, has developed an enviable reputation for its skill in navigating capital markets deals. The firm was counsel to MakeMyTrip on its US$134.1 million follow-on public offering of 5.5 million shares on the Nasdaq global market. This was the only public offering by an India-focused company registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission in 2011. In addition, S&R represented the underwriters on L&T Finance Holdings’ ₹12.4 billion initial public offering in India – the largest IPO in the private sector in India in 2011.

Douglas Liedberg, associate general counsel at Dana Holding Corporation in Ohio, describes S&R as a “terrific firm” which offers “consistently high quality of service”. Helen Lamprell, corporate and commercial group legal director at Vodafone, is an admirer of S&R’s “first class” drafting. “S&R have provided excellent support across a very broad range of matters,” says Lamprell. “They are uniformly highly responsive with practical nuanced legal advice. The quality throughout the firm from partners to the most junior associates is very strong. We work most closely with Rajat Sethi and appreciate greatly his calm manner in sometimes challenging situations.”

Sumit Saha, vice-president and general counsel at DE Shaw & Co, says S&R “probably possess the best drafting skills in any Indian firm and tend to be highly responsive to client needs”. Saha particularly appreciates S&R’s responsiveness and ability to deliver results within compressed time frames. “Sandip Bhagat is a seasoned capital markets lawyer with exceptional technical skills and very good judgment,” he adds.

Sumit Saha Vice-President and General Counsel DE Shaw & Co

Luthra & Luthra was also busy on the capital markets front, advising the bookrunners on Canara Bank’s US$445 million qualified institutional placement, while AZB & Partners played a role on Vedanta Resources’ US$1.65 billion bond offering. J Sagar Associates aided the joint lead managers and bookrunners on State Bank of India’s US dollar and euro bond issue while Khaitan & Co flexed its capital markets muscle advising on multimillion-dollar rights issues for Central Bank of India and hospitality group EIH.

Competition and antitrust

This category includes key architects of India’s competition law. Best known among them is Vinod Dhall, a former chairperson of the CCI who spearheads a boutique competition law practice, Dhall Law Chambers. Last year, the firm recruited three India-qualified competition lawyers. Dhall assisted Disney in gaining CCI approval for its acquisition of UTV Software Communications.

The firm also represented Sumitomo in the first foreign-to-foreign CCI filing, for its merger with fellow steel major Nippon. It was a complex case as the parties were Japan-based and had eight overlapping products in the Indian market. Masaki Hanai from the legal department at Sumitomo Metal Industries worked with associate Sonam Mathur on the deal. “She had very good communications with us as well as with the CCI,” says Hanai. “She made efforts and duly helped us in obtaining CCI approval.”

Joining Dhall Law Chambers in the winners’ circle are Amarchand Mangaldas, Economic Laws Practice, J Sagar Associates, Luthra & Luthra and P&A Law Offices.

Pallavi Shroff, head of Amarchand’s competition practice, was one of nine members of the High Level Committee on Competition Policy and Law led by SVS Raghavan. In September, the firm assisted NHK Japan and NHK India in securing CCI approval to acquire the BCL Springs Division of Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation.

Anand Pathak, the managing partner at P&A Law Offices, is another stalwart on the competition stage. Pathak was part of a committee led by Dhanendra Kumar, a former chairperson of the CCI, that was called together last year to discuss the implementation of a national competition policy and recommend measures to be taken by the government. Pathak represented MCX Stock Exchange in a case where the National Stock Exchange of India (NSE) was accused of abuse of dominant position. The CCI found that the NSE had abused its dominant position in terms of section 4(2)(a)(ii) and 4(2)(e) of the Competition Act. The NSE was ordered to stop “unfair pricing, exclusionary conduct and unfairly using its dominant position”, and to pay a penalty of ₹555 million.

Economic Laws Practice won the opportunity to draft Afghanistan’s new competition law in an open tender conducted by Adam Smith International, a UK-based governance and economic consultancy. Last year, the firm was also engaged by Google for advice on Indian merger control requirements in preparation for its global acquisition of Motorola Mobility. “Economic Laws Practice has proven to be very good and I am very impressed with Samir Gandhi, their competition law partner,” says Deepak Jacob, executive vice-president and general counsel of legal and regulatory affairs at Star India.

Luthra & Luthra won a case last May when the CCI imposed fines of ₹100,000 each on 27 film producers that were charged with colluding through a cartel to exploit cinema owners. The case related to a strike in 2009 by film producers who refused to screen their films in multiplexes due to a dispute with cinema owners over revenue-sharing arrangements. This was the first time the CCI imposed a penalty for the abuse of dominant position. Senior partner Bobby Chandhoke, partner GR Bhatia and senior associate Ravisekhar Nair advised FICCI-Multiplex Association of India in the case.

Construction and real estate

AZB & Partners, Federal & Rashmikant, Hariani & Co, Kanga & Co, Luthra & Luthra and Wadia Ghandy & Co all pick up a prize for construction and real estate.

Kanga & Co helped the Ajay Piramal Group gain the development rights for a seven-acre plot in Byculla, Mumbai. The group acquired the land from Mafatlal Industries for ₹7.5 billion. Because the government was a lessor of the land, Kanga had to address claims made by the government in relation to the transfer. The firm also had to deal with interests created in favour of third parties and issues arising out of regulations relating to the redevelopment of mill lands.

“We are a contented client of Mr ML Bhakta at Kanga & Co, who was recommended to us many years ago, and we appreciate the excellent help and advice he gives us with all legal matters in India,” says the associate director at a UK company. ”We have also had occasion to be involved with Hariani & Co, whom we also found excellent,” he says.

Hariani & Co, a 79-lawyer firm with offices in Mumbai, Pune and Goa, has been a consistent leader for real estate work. Last year, it negotiated several terms and conditions in a construction contract for a large development that its client planned to issue to a Korean construction company. It was also involved in real estate litigation and acquisitions. The firm’s clients include IL&FS, Oberoi Realty, Ackruti City, Dheeraj Realty and Parmar Builders.

Wadia Ghandy & Co worked on the sale and transfer of a 100-acre plot belonging to Bayer CorpScience in Thane, which had been on the market for three or four years. The deal involved a complex title as well as negotiations with multiple bidders. Federal & Rashmikant was one of the advisers to the successful bidder, Agile Real Estate.

Corporate and commercial

The winners for corporate and commercial work are Amarchand Mangaldas, AZB & Partners, J Sagar Associates, Khaitan & Co, Luthra & Luthra and Trilegal.

Saxena at BSES Rajdhani Power says of J Sagar Associates: “The diligence, eye for detail, anticipation of problems and issues is remarkable, which helps our company obviate and pre-empt adverse situations and possibilities.” Pramod Chaudhari, executive chairman at Praj Industries, a client of the firm for over 15 years, commends it for being “very thorough, professional, offering an integrated approach and understanding practical difficulties”.

Amarchand is also well appreciated. “I work with two legal firms – Amarchand Mangaldas and Trilegal – and they are equally competent,” says Upinder Singh at Larsen & Toubro. Another client says Amarchand is “always helpful and prompt”.

Nasser Kabir, vice-president of legal at Indian pharmaceutical company Strides Arcolab, says of Luthra & Luthra and AZB & Partners: “They give us the attention and focus we seek and are a bunch of talented people.”

Sandeep Deshmukh, company secretary and head of legal at Sterlite Technologies, uses Khaitan & Co because it “provides all kinds of services”. Deshmukh adds that the firm is “professional, well structured” and offers “quality inputs and timely delivery”.

Dispute resolution

Victorious in the category of dispute resolution are Amarchand Mangaldas, Federal & Rashmikant, Karanjawala & Co, Mulla & Mulla & Craigie Blunt & Caroe, PH Parekh & Co and Wadia Ghandy & Co.

Karanjawala & Co, a 58-lawyer firm, frequently appears on behalf of clients such as Tata Sons, Procter & Gamble and Hindustan Times. The firm has advised Procter & Gamble India for over 15 years, providing litigation and drafting support, legal advisory and references for counsel in courts across India. “I would give them 10 out of 10,” says Amit Vyas, general counsel at the company. “They are very reliable, dependable and in tune with the ethical conduct standards of Procter & Gamble.” Vyas recommends Ruby Singh Ahuja for all matters and also praises Kavin Gulati, Gauri Subramanian and Darpan Wadhwa. “Apart from subject mastery they are also deep into creative legal support,” he says.

Kabir at Strides Arcolab credits Raian Karanjawala for “teaching me all the nuances of litigation strategy and how the handle a matter end to end”.

Nasser Kabir Vice President - Legal Strides Arcolab

Karanjawala & Co has represented former telecom minister A Raja, his former aides and corporate bosses in their defence against corruption charges related to the 2G spectrum scam. Representing Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata before the Supreme Court of India, the firm filed a writ petition against the government and its agencies to enquire into the leakage of a private conversation between Tata and Nira Radia, a political lobbyist. Tata has asserted his right to privacy under article 21 of the constitution. The matter will be heard later this year.

Mulla & Mulla’s strong shipping practice is bringing in an increasing amount of court work. The firm acted for Halcyon Ocean Shipping, a subsidiary of Far Eastern Horizon, which is part of a large Chinese shipping group. Mulla & Mulla secured a judgment in favour Halcyon in Bombay High Court when its vessel MV Tongli Yantai was arrested in the Port of Chennai.

Pravin Parekh, who founded PH Parekh & Co, is currently the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), after serving for four terms as the SCBA’s president from 2004 until 2009. He has appeared for clients including Reliance Industries, Gujarat Gas, Indian Oil Corporation, Taj Group of Hotels, the Indian Sugar Mills Association, HSBC, State Bank of India, Air India and the National Institute of Fashion Technology. The firm continues to attract high-profile clients.

Employment and industrial relations

Kochhar & Co wins this award for the third time. The firm’s employment practice is co-chaired by senior partner Manishi Pathak, a frequent speaker on labour law issues. Pathak advises clients on employment documentation and employee handbooks, stock option schemes, termination of employment, transfer of employees, and litigation.

Majmudar & Co, another winner, draws generous praise from clients. “Majmudar is a quality outfit,” says a partner at a UK law firm. “We have worked with them on joint mandates for clients such as Rolls-Royce, Capita Group, Goldman Sachs and Barclays. The feedback we get is that they are not the largest firm, but they’re upper midmarket.” Managing partner Akil Hirani is recommended as are partners Neerav Merchant and Rukshad Daver. Daver joined the firm in January 2011. The firm advises on all aspects of employment law, as well as employment due diligence and IP audits of Indian companies.

“I really enjoyed working with Majmudar & Co,” says Sven Hettesheimer, legal counsel at KSPG, a German automotive supplier. “The legal support being provided was excellent and always very speedy.” He adds that the firm is “very business-orientated” and capable of “finding creative solutions for the problems we faced in our negotiations.”

Other winners in this category are Crawford Bayley & Co, DSK Legal, Mulla & Mulla and Singhania & Partners.

Crawford Bayley’s clients include Hindustan Unilever, Asian Paints, Bombay Dyeing, Piramal Healthcare and Essar Steel. Senior partner Darius Shroff is a labour law expert and advises on a variety of employment law matters.

Singhania & Partners’ employment practice is led by senior partner Sunil Kumar and partner Shambu Sharan. Both advise clients on India’s complex and rigid labour laws and offer solutions on the gamut of employment law questions. The firm handles employment claims and disputes in addition to providing advice in non-contentious matters.

DSK Legal’s employment team offers expertise on Indian labour laws and regulatory requirements for employers, drafting and reviewing of employment contracts and employee manuals, due diligence reviews of employment law compliance, advice on data protection and privacy, and guidance on termination strategies and retirement policies. The firm’s lawyers receive widespread praise, particularly managing partner Anand Desai. “Anand Desai has always been an excellent lawyer and a man who is always available to clarify difficult issues in the simplest terms,” says Kabir at Strides Arcolab.

Energy, projects and infrastructure

The majority of winners in this category have also picked up awards for best overall firms. Excellent past performance on projects and infrastructure has ensured that Amarchand Mangaldas, AZB & Partners, Luthra & Luthra and Trilegal continue to be magnets for such work. Outstanding work and acumen catapulted HSA Advocates (formerly Hemant Sahai Associates) and Link Legal into the remaining spots.

Amarchand and Luthra & Luthra have had great success advising on the financing of large India projects. Amarchand enjoys a huge lead in votes in this category. Last year, it advised GE Energy Financial Services on its agreement to invest US$50 million in India-based clean energy developer Greenko Group to develop wind projects in India.

Martijn Wilder, a Sydney-based partner at Baker & McKenzie who is head of the firm’s global environmental markets and climate change practice, has consulted HSA on climate change, energy and environment matters, M&A and regulatory matters. Wilder says Baker & McKenzie was initially doing a lot of climate change and renewable energy work and HSA was recommended as the go-to firm. “They built up a real expertise in this area which over time has made them the legal leader in this area,” he says. Wilder continues to work with the firm because of its “expertise, excellent advice” and because it has “good commercial lawyers who are easy to work with”.

Martijn Wilder Partner Baker & McKenzie

Last year, the firm acted as the sole legal adviser to Novatec Solar on its equity investments and solar projects in Gujarat. It represented another German company, Allianz Climate Solutions, on its investments in hydro projects in Sikkim. The firm was also appointed as the legal adviser for the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link project.

Litigation specialist Meenakshi Arora and banking lawyer Anjan Dasgupta joined the firm last April. Abhishek Dutta and Nand Kishore were poached from BMR to launch HSA’s indirect tax practice last June.

Wilder recommends managing partner Hemant Sahai and partner Aparajit Bhattacharya. “I used a few [law firms in India] many years ago but now only use HSA as they are very reliable and all our international clients including Asian Development Bank, Macquarie Bank, JP Morgan, Rabobank, HP, etc., are very, very happy with them.”

Link Legal was a legal adviser on four of India Business Law Journal’s 10 infrastructure Deals of the Year. Partner Ajay Sawhney was the project counsel to turbine manufacturer Suzlon Energy on its agreement with Mytrah Energy India to develop wind power projects across India. Trilegal partner Charandeep Kaur advised Mytrah on the US$1.28 billion deal. Link Legal also advised a consortium of lenders on a US$937 million loan for Moser Baer Power’s Jaithari thermal project and a US$470 million loan facility for NTPC’s power project in Bihar.

Insurance and reinsurance

Tuli & Co, a 20-lawyer insurance boutique led by Neeraj Tuli, handles exclusively contentious and non-contentious insurance and reinsurance mandates and commercial litigation and dispute resolution matters.

The firm, a pioneer in insurance work, continues to receive instructions on high-value and complex insurance and reinsurance disputes. The firm has been instructed on a directors and officers liability claim arising from litigation in Australia against an Indian company concerning a long-term coal supply agreement. The claim value exceeds US$3.5 billion. It has also been engaged to provide errors and omissions coverage advice in relation to proceedings initiated by a European entity against a major Indian software company for the negligent provision of services. The claim value in this case is around US$100 million.

Tuli & Co has reviewed the terms and conditions of Metlife India Insurance’s products, reviewed its reinsurance treaties and provided general advice on insurance matters. Anil PM, deputy director of legal at Metlife, recommends Celia Jenkins and Neeraj Tuli “for their insurance domain knowledge and quality of work product”.

Praveen Gupta, managing director and CEO of Raheja QBE General Insurance Company, shares a “long-standing and highly satisfying professional relationship” with Tuli & Co. Gupta consults the firm on product development and occasionally on regulations and related claims. He describes his experience with the firm as “exceptional”, adding that its focus, diligence and quality of professional work is outstanding”. Neeraj Tuli, Celia Jenkins and Mrinal Ojha are “great professionals”, he says.

Mumbai-based Desai & Chinoy provides all kinds of legal advice and enjoys a strong reputation in the field of insurance. This is the first time the firm has received an award from India Business Law Journal. Partner Phiroze Mehta is often singled out as an insurance specialist. Associate Bakhtawar Daruvala also focuses on insurance, including litigation matters.

Fellow Mumbai firm Solomon & Co is favoured for contentious insurance work. In addition to handling insurance claims and disputes, veteran practitioner Jonathan Solomon also handles civil disputes, domestic and international arbitration, securities and finance claims and disputes, and regulatory inquiries. His astuteness on insurance matters has been described as “first class”.

Clients speak enthusiastically of their experiences with the firm. “Aaron Solomon’s sound knowledge of legal issues and practical approach made me choose Solomon & Co for legal advice,” says Rachna Singh, senior legal counsel at HSBC India. “I have known Aaron for many years now and it has always been a pleasure to work with him. His solution-oriented approach is his biggest plus point. I have interacted with Solomon & Co on various corporate law-related issues and have always found their service prompt, cost-efficient and of high quality.”

Few firms have a specialized focus on the tightly regulated insurance sector so only five winners were chosen in this category. The other winners are Luthra & Luthra and Mulla & Mulla.

Intellectual property

A more popular niche specialization is intellectual property. India is peppered with dozens of IP boutiques, the oldest being award winner Remfry & Sagar.

Remfry & Sagar owes much of its fame and fortune to senior partner Vidya Sagar who, sadly, passed away last March. A legendary figure among the IP fraternity and one of India’s most formidable IP lawyers, he is remembered as a strong-willed visionary who contributed immensely to the development of IP in India. As one IP lawyer remarked: “What Dr Sagar has built is not just another IP law firm. It is an institution in itself. In the early 1990s, IP in India was only Remfry & Son. Although the scenario has changed, Remfry & Sagar has retained its position as an institution.”

Despite Sagar’s loss, the firm appears to be in good hands with managing partner Ashwin Jhulka at the helm. Last May, the firm secured a favourable decision for client Gorbatschow Wodka, whose trademark rights in the unique shape of a vodka bottle were recognized and upheld. In October, the firm persuaded the Delhi Patent Office to reject three pre-grant oppositions against against a patent application covering retapamulin, an antibiotic developed by GlaxoSmithKline and SmithKline Beecham. The objections raised were based on a lack of inventiveness. The decision is a rare instance where the applicant succeeded in overcoming the opponents’ objections under section 3(d) of the Patents Act.

The firm’s list of clients includes Audi, Sony, Porsche, Procter & Gamble Singapore, Carlsberg India and The Financial Times. Jon Webster, senior trademarks counsel at Bausch & Lomb, praises Remfry & Sagar for being “practical, responsive and creative”.

Among Anand and Anand’s clients are Huawei, Tata Sons, Mars, Abbott Laboratories, Toyota Motors, Philips India and Visa International Service Association. Anand and Anand is keen to develop its expertise in new areas of IP such as plant variety registration and litigation, customs and border enforcement of patent rights, sports law and geographical indications cases.

Last year, the firm obtained ex parte interim injunctions against the defendants in four patent cases: Vifor (International) Ltd v Dr D Mohan Rao & Ors, United Phosphorus Pvt Ltd v M/s Gujarat Pesticides, Yuhan v Ajanta and Dong and A Pharma Co Ltd v Emcure Pharmaceuticals Ltd. The firm has also helped restrain parties from counterfeiting and infringing trademarks for clients such as Ferrero Rocher, Louis Vuitton and Zippo.

Clients describe managing partner Pravin Anand as “articulate” and “by far the best”. “He is a pioneer in IPR litigation,” says Kabir at Strides Arcolab. “All of us owe a lot to how he handled IPR issues and the rulings that help us now.”

Anand and Anand plans to publish an IP comic book this year.

Krishna & Saurastri, K&S Partners, Saikrishna & Associates and Singh & Singh also win awards for intellectual property.

Mumbai-based Krishna & Saurastri has initiated more than 2,500 criminal cases across India over the past 10 years, relating to food, medicine, cosmetics, clothing, footwear, textiles, engineering, electronic goods, automobiles and more. The firm is headed by Sunil Krishna and Manish Saurastri. Krishna counsels a wide range of Indian and multinational clients on the development of IP portfolios, licensing and joint ventures.

The modest K&S Partners is a quiet yet powerful contender for path-breaking IP work. The firm boasts dynamic litigators and effective trademarks, copyright and patents practices. “Experience with K&S Partners, particularly with Mr Ravi Bhola, has been very good,” says Charanjit Sehgal, head of IPR at Arch Pharmalabs in Mumbai.

Charanjit Sehgal Head of IPR Arch Pharmalabs

Another standout firm for IP litigation is Singh & Singh. Led by the driven and vivacious Pratibha Singh, this firm has “done a lot of work on patent litigation, winning most cases” according to one peer.

Noida-based Saikrishna & Associates is a young firm not to be underestimated. Representing the likes of eBay India, Walt Disney, Pfizer and Microsoft, Saikrishna has proved that it has the gumption and talent to win big clients and bigger cases. Despite its heavy workload, the firm makes time to actively assist I-Probono, an online network offering free advice through a network of lawyers. The firm has advised TARSHI (Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues) – an NGO based in New Delhi – on IP and IT laws.

The firm recruited five associates last year taking its head count to 32.

Jacob at Star India has consulted Saikrishna primarily on IP and litigation matters but now uses the firm for all media and entertainment-related legal issues including laws relating to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. “They have outstanding turnaround times, personalized services, highly competent and skilled lawyers with very good legal understanding, not only on substantive laws but also on procedural aspects,” says Jacob. He commends Sidharth Chopra, having worked with him since he first joined the firm. “After eight years of practice he now advises, opines and handles work independently and with great alacrity and proactiveness,” says Jacob.

Deepak Jacob Executive Vice-President and General Counsel Star India

Mergers and acquisitions

The award for mergers and acquisitions is dominated by some of India’s largest firms due to the sheer volume of big-ticket and complex deals channelled their way. For tips and tactics on India-related shopping, these are the firms to call: Amarchand Mangaldas, AZB & Partners, Desai & Diwanji, J Sagar Associates, Khaitan & Co and Trilegal.

The M&A heavyweights bagged roles on a spate of big-ticket deals last year: AZB & Partners on Reliance Industries’ US$7.2 billion stake sale to BP; Khaitan & Co and J Sagar Associates on iGate’s acquisition of Patni Computers; Amarchand on Piramal Healthcare’s stake in Vodafone Essar; Desai & Diwanji and J Sagar Associates on Saint Gobain’s purchase of Electrotherm’s pipe division; and Trilegal and Khaitan & Co on the International Paper deal.

“Khaitan played a stellar role in the iGATE-Patni deal,” says Kaushik at Kirkland & Ellis.

AZB & Partners leads the scoreboard having advised on five out of 12 of India Business Law Journal’s Deals of the Year. “When a deal needs an Indian magic circle name, you don’t get any better than Zia Mody, Bahram Vakil and their team,” says the head of the India practice at a UK law firm.

Policy and regulation

Law firms usually receive either a token fee or no remuneration at all when called on to draft legislation in new and emerging areas. However, these assignments are still attractive. Most lawyers hope that accepting them will sweeten their relationships with ministers and bureaucrats in the long run.

Amarchand Mangaldas, AZB & Partners, Economic Laws Practice, J Sagar Associates, Luthra & Luthra and Trilegal win awards for their prowess in the category of policy and regulation.

Luthra & Luthra has long worked on government policy projects. Mohit Saraf, a senior partner at the firm, was hired several years ago by the National Council of Applied Economic Research, which had been contracted to draft India’s Electricity Act.

J Sagar Associates has advised and acted for BSES Rajdhani Power on a range of policy and regulatory issues related to tariff determination, tariff orders and proceedings before the Appellate Tribunal for Electricity, Delhi High Court, the Supreme Court and the State Regulatory Commissions. “For policy, regulatory and contentious matters before various fora, JSA has given excellent results in having tricky policy issues and precedent-setting matters decided in favour of the discoms [distribution licensees],” says Saxena at BSES Rajdhani Power. “The JSA regulatory and policy practice is perhaps unequalled in thought leadership and expertise on diverse issues related to the electricity sector, their forte being domain knowledge.”

Saxena applauds Amit Kapur and Anupam Varma for “their outstanding contribution and excellent advisory role as well as their handling and arguing of matters for us. Both of them have superb domain knowledge and depth of understanding.”

Private equity and venture capital

The past year has been relatively buoyant from a private equity perspective. India witnessed a healthy dose of new funding in infrastructure, retail, water and wastewater, power, real estate and the automotive sector, among others.

One of the most talked about deals was Hero’s acquisition of Honda’s shares in Hero Honda, funded by BC India Private Investors II, an affiliate of Bain Capital, and Lathe Investment, a subsidiary of Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC). Anil Kasturi, a partner at AZB & Partners, advised Bain, while partners Vishwang Desai and Vihang Virkar and associate partner Shyam Pandya at Desai & Diwanji advised GIC.

“Apart from AZB, we also work closely with Amarchand Mangaldas, who we regard highly,” says Chandra at Bain Capital India. “We have also had some exposure to Desai Diwanji and J Sagar Associates. We think highly of all these firms and would be surprised if they would not be in any list of leading Indian law firms.”

Samir Gandhi, a partner at Sidley Austin, is another fan of J Sagar Associates. “Varghese Thomas from J Sagar Associates worked on the investment by Equity International into SAMHI and was outstanding,” he says.

International clients have been equally impressed with the quality of Khaitan & Co and AZB & Partners, says Kaushik at Kirkland & Ellis.

DSK Legal is also showered with praise. “Raksha Kothari and Nirav Shah at DSK Legal stand out as two outstanding lawyers who are both very humble and knowledgeable,” says Kabir at Strides Arcolab. The firm opened an office in Bangalore last year and moved to new premises in Mumbai and New Delhi to accommodate its expanding practices.

Joining Amarchand Mangaldas, AZB & Partners, DSK Legal, J Sagar Associates and Khaitan & Co in the category of private equity and venture capital is Nishith Desai Associates.

Nishith Desai Associates hired 15 lawyers last year and currently has a headcount of 71 professionals. The firm’s beefy private equity practice draws clients such as Pacific Alliance Group, ICICI Venture, Providence Equity Advisors, Aditya Birla Private Equity Fund, Nirvana Venture Advisors, SEAF Agribusiness Fund, IndiaReit Domestic Fund, Blackstone, Kaizen Private Equity, Sequoia Capital India, Everest Capital and Silicon Valley Bank India. “They were very good, very professional and have the resources to support large transactions,” says the managing director at an alternative investment firm.

Privatization and disinvestment

Disinvestments by large state-owned companies require extensive legal and financial expertise. The Indian government’s disinvestment programme raised ₹221.44 billion in fiscal 2011, including US$3.4 billion raised from the Coal India IPO. Other successful disinvestments include offerings by Power Finance Corporation, MOIL and Power Grid Corporation.

The government’s divestment target for 2012 is an ambitious ₹400 billion. Large public follow-on offerings are expected from Oil and Natural Gas Corporation and other public-sector enterprises.

AZB & Partners and Amarchand Mangaldas both worked on Power Finance Corporation’s US$1 billion FPO – one of the largest FPOs in India last year. It consisted of a fresh issue of equity shares and additional shares, and was marketed in the US and elsewhere under Rule 144A and Regulation S.

The six firms awarded in this category are Amarchand Mangaldas, AZB & Partners, Crawford Bayley & Co, J Sagar Associates, Luthra & Luthra and Trilegal.

In the past, Crawford Bayley has advised the Indian government on its disinvestment in Videsh Sanchar Nigam and its sale of a stake in Steel Authority of India.

Praveen Verma, manager of the legal department at Power Finance Corporation, considers Amarchand Mangaldas, Trilegal and Luthra & Luthra to be among the top law firms in India “as far as the delivery and deal opinions are concerned”.

Restructuring and insolvency

Many lawyers have expressed concerns about whether India’s lawyers have the skills required to undertake the wave of restructuring work expected this year. The firms that have recognized restructuring practices win awards in this category. They are Amarchand Mangaldas, Dhir & Dhir, Kaden Boriss (formerly Kesar Dass B & Associates), Mulla & Mulla, Sibal & Co and Trilegal.

Experienced litigator Vivek Sibal of Sibal & Co is widely acclaimed for his insolvency work, arguing cases for clients before forums such as the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction and the Appellate Authority for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction. Sibal is a member of INSOL India, an affiliate of INSOL International, which is a global federation of lawyers and accountants who specialize in insolvency.

Dhir & Dhir specializes in corporate reorganization, corporate insolvency, M&A deal structuring and corporate litigation. Managing partner Alok Dhir along with Maneesha Dhir, Nilesh Sharma and Purti Marwaha are identified as experts in the field.

Trilegal worked on the restructuring of the debt portfolios of Share Microfin and Asmitha last year. Both companies had diversified loan portfolios and each had raised debt capital from over 30 banks and financial institutions. In addition, both entities had raised substantial equity capital from non-resident private equity investors.

Kaden Boriss, a firm with offices in Delhi and Sydney, is headed by executive managing partner Hemant Batra. Sumant Batra, who leads the firm’s international business advisory work, is lauded for his knowledge of corporate insolvency and restructuring matters. He has advised on high-profile global and Indian insolvencies as well as formal and informal restructurings. He is a member of the Ghana Association of Restructuring and Insolvency Advisors, a member of the insolvency and creditor rights committee of the International Bar Association, the co-chair of the INSOL membership approval committee, and a member of the advisory panel for the American Bankruptcy Institute and INSOL’s global insolvency website.

Hemant Batra and partner Kanisshka Tyagi are also frequently instructed for restructuring assignments. The firm’s extensive client list features Coca-Cola, Philip Morris, Suzuki, Accor, Western Union, Siemens, American Express and Godfrey Philips.

Shipping and maritime

Mulla & Mulla picks up its third award for its shipping and maritime practice. Last year, the firm acted for The Shipping Corporation of India in its acquisition of two 57,000-deadweight-ton supramax bulk carriers for US$29.95 million each. The carriers were purchased from Hong Kong-based Grand Yard Investments, which in turn had purchased them from Yangzhou Guoyo Shipbuilding in China.

Andrea Clavarino, CEO of Coeclerici Logistics in Milan, respects Mulla & Mulla’s trustworthiness, professionalism and “high reputation with overseas investors”.

Andrea Clavarino CEO Coeclerici Logistics

Joining Mulla & Mulla in the winners’ circle are Bharucha & Associates, Bhatt & Saldanha, Bose & Mitra, Brus Chambers and S Venkiteswaran.

Bharucha & Associates, led by the esteemed Zarir Bharucha, is well known for its shipping practice. Bharucha, a Cambridge graduate, is a frequent speaker and writer on maritime law and an authority on maritime disputes.

Bhatt & Saldanha is a leading Indian maritime law firm with an established contentious and non-contentious practice in wet and dry shipping matters. The firm has drafted pleadings and obtained the arrest of vessels in various ports across India, repatriated the crews of vessels detained without cause and defended in cases of wrongful arrests.

Shipping boutique Bose & Mitra is assisting fishermen affected by the MSC Chitra oil spill and the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board in a multimillion-dollar claim against Mediterranean Shipping Company related to the spill, the largest in India to date. The firm’s Amitava Majumdar is involved in the “magic pipe pollution case” before the US District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, on behalf of one of the largest Indian ship owners. Bose & Mitra is also handling several arbitration matters, including a Singapore arbitration dealing with the failure of a tug to perform anchor handling operations, and a London arbitration relating to dredging contracts between private parties and an Indian public-sector undertaking.

Charles Cummings, a partner at Baker & McKenzie in New York, has worked jointly with Bose & Mitra on several maritime matters including a litigation matter in the US. “Bose & Mitra has strong and particular expertise in maritime matters,” says Cummings. “This is a specialized practice that many law firms do not do or do not do well. Bose & Mitra is very good. Both I and our mutual client were highly satisfied with Bose & Mitra’s work.” Cummings works predominantly with Majumdar, and says: “He is a first-rate lawyer and I recommend him highly.”

Charles Cummings Partner Baker & McKenzie

Brus Chambers is advising Global Bunkers on the arrest of the MV Kormel for unpaid bunker dues and acting for Chambal Fertilisers and Chemical on shortlanding of cargo on the Pacific Wind. It is also advising and representing Schenker International Hongkong and Schenker India in relation to a suit filed in Bombay High Court against them pertaining to the loss and damage of cartons and consignments.

With over 40 years of legal practice under his belt, veteran practitioner S Venkiteswaran has extensive experience in port and shipping management and has also been associated with international shipping litigation and arbitrations. He has been credited for his recommendations relating to amendments to India’s admiralty laws.

Structured finance and securitization

Scoring top marks for structured finance and securitization are Amarchand Mangadas, AZB & Partners, Dave & Girish & Co, J Sagar Associates, Juris Corp and Wadia Ghandy & Co.

Dave & Girish & Co is a name synonymous with this practice area. The firm drafts documentation relating to security creation and structured finance, and advises on money market instruments, securities law for both domestic and offshore issues, corporate restructuring, securitization, derivatives, and intricate financial structures for banks and companies. Girish Dave and Mona Bhide are acclaimed practitioners in these areas. “Dave & Girish have been very helpful on banking matters,” says David Dannreuther, a partner at Withers.

At full-service firm Juris Corp, structured finance emerges as one of the strongest practices. Clients assessing their financial options can also benefit from the firm’s strong litigation practice. Juris Corp has advised and represented several banks on the classification of companies as wilful defaulters, in line with a Reserve Bank of India circular. Bombay High Court has held that the wilful defaulter circular would apply to derivative transaction defaulters which have the capacity to pay and deliberately default on their payment obligations.

The firm has expanded with the addition of Mustafa Motiwala and his team of lawyers who specialize in commercial law, dispute resolution, IP and real estate.

Mickey Commar, managing director at QVT Financial Singapore, worked extensively with Sonali Sharma, a partner at Juris Corp, on a ground-breaking litigation matter. “While the firm is known as an expert in the financial services space, in relation to the Wockhardt litigation, based on recommendations from other bondholders it seemed like a good choice given their experience in the banking space and their commercial understanding of matters,” he says.

To ensure full repayment of the monies owed by Wockhardt under foreign currency convertible bonds, the bondholders – including QVT – were challenging the terms of the corporate debt restructuring scheme intended to be implemented by Wockhardt and its secured creditors. ”The strategy for the litigation was virtually run by Juris Corp acting for the bondholders. The ultimate outcome of the Wockhardt litigation and the dedication of the team not only from a legal perspective but also in understanding commercial aspects played a crucial role in obtaining the order from the court. We were delighted.”

Taxation

Taking awards for their tax practices are AZB & Partners, DM Harish & Co, Economic Laws Practice, Lakshmi Kumaran & Sridharan, Nishith Desai Associates and Vaish Associates.

Vaish Associates, which celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, was founded as a tax practice in New Delhi by OP Vaish, who is now a senior Supreme Court advocate. Today a full-service law firm with offices in New Delhi, Mumbai, Gurgaon and Bangalore, Vaish continues to be a pre-eminent firm for tax advisory. Last August, Sachit Jolly, a senior member of Vaish’s tax team in Delhi, relocated to Mumbai to head a new direct tax practice. Jolly has argued cases before the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT), various high courts and the Authority for Advance Rulings in Delhi. The firm is keen to further expand this practice in the coming months.

AZB & Partners receives glowing endorsements not just for its tax expertise. “We interact frequently with Ajay Bahl and Anil Kasturi at AZB in Delhi and appreciate their wide ranging knowledge and good sense,” says Lamprell at Vodafone.

“AZB combines the obvious benefits of dealing with a large top-notch firm – such as track record, geographic as well as product diversity – with the personal attention and time commitment that you would typically expect from a smaller boutique,” says Chandra at Bain Capital India.

Sandeep Deshmukh Company Secretary and Head of Legal Sterlite Technologies

Economic Laws Practice has attracted a spate of tax assignments over the past 12 months. The firm is providing liquor manufacturer Diageo with litigation support services and advice in relation to indirect and direct taxation with a specific focus on transfer pricing and customs in India. In addition, companies in the media, entertainment, real estate, mining, aviation and telecom industries have benefited from huge tax savings as a result of the firm’s advice on tax optimization initiatives.

Deshmukh at Sterlite Technologies considers Economic Laws Practice to be among the best firms in India due to its “personalized attention and strategizing”.

Lakshmi Kumaran & Sridharan has a formidable reputation for tax advice. The firm provides advisory, litigation and compliance support in three categories: direct tax, indirect tax and international trade. This includes guidance on customs, excise, service tax, value-added tax, special economic zones, corporate taxation, international taxation, transfer pricing, WTO safeguards and anti-dumping. Legal luminaries in this field include founder and managing partner V Lakshmi Kumaran, and partners Madhav Rao AR, Nambirajan R, Shivadass G, Seetharaman S and K Swaminathan. The firm recently poached a seven-member team from Khaitan & Co for its corporate law division.

Taxation is an integral part of DM Harish & Co’s practice. Founded in 1957, in the area of domestic tax the firm offers advice on litigation strategies, appeals before the Commissioner of Income Tax and the ITAT, search and seizure, and transfer pricing issues. On the international tax front, it offers guidance on double taxation avoidance agreements, court cases and the structure of cross-border transactions. Partners Anil Harish and Shobha Jagtiani are key advisers at the firm.

Taxation is also an essential pillar at Nishith Desai Associates. The firm offered legal and tax advice to Siemens Project Ventures on the transfer of its 14% stake in Bangalore International Airport to Bangalore Airport and Infrastructure Developers, one of the GVK group’s entities. The transaction was valued at US$125 million.

Technology, media and telecommunications

Nishith Desai Associates collects its final award for its premier technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) practice. The firm was engaged by Reliance Group’s Reliance Broadcast Network on the setting up of its 50-50 joint venture with RTL Group – part of Germany’s Bertelsmann group. The joint venture was formed to launch two English-language TV channels: a reality channel with international content, mainly from RTL Group production arm FremantleMedia, and a channel with action-oriented content primarily targeted at male viewers.

Sharing this award are ALMT Legal, AZB & Partners, DSK Legal, Naik Naik & Co and Seth Dua & Associates.

Hitesh Jain runs ALMT Legal’s entertainment law practice in addition to its dispute resolution and real estate practices. His experience in sports law gave him an opportunity to act on matters pertaining to the Commonwealth Games, the Indian Olympic Authority, the Board of Control for Cricket in India and Hockey India. Garima Bharati Basu joined ALMT Legal last year to bolster the firm’s presence in London following the departure of some of ALMT’s partners and the end of its relationship with Clyde & Co. Prior to joining the firm as a partner, Basu ran her own firm, LCGB, in London and Delhi.

Senior partner Sunil Seth at Seth Dua & Associates is well respected for his knowledge of telecom laws. The firm is an established leader in this area and its winning combination of legal, tax and dispute resolution capabilities continues to attract high-profile clients from India and internationally.

Consistently in the limelight for its vibrant media practice is Naik Naik & Co. A glance at the firm’s client portfolio says it all: Reliance Big Entertainment, Reliance Mediaworks, Shringar Films, Sahara, Warner Bros and Kwan Entertainment & Marketing Solutions. The firm won a landmark victory last year on behalf of Bollywood producer-director Prakash Jha in relation to his film Aarakshan. Jha filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging three state governments for banning or suspending the exhibition of the film. The Supreme Court affirmed that once a film has been certified as fit for public exhibition by the Central Board for Film Certification, state governments would not be able to ban or suspend its exhibition.

“I work with Naik Naik & Co primarily because of their deep understanding and experience in the copyright and filmed entertainment fields in India,” says Madhu Mantena, director at Kwan. “I have worked with various firms in the past but I feel Naik Naik & Co is the best in the country in this field. I have also seen that their response to any query or requirement has been the quickest in the industry. [Our experience has been] extremely satisfactory with a 90% success in our litigation matters alone.”

Madhu Mantena Director at Kwan Entertainment & Marketing Solutions

In December, Naik Naik & Co opened a new office in Delhi with a focus on corporate law. It also strengthened its financial markets and securities regulatory capability through a strategic alliance with PR Ramesh and Yogesh Chande of Prism Partners.

Rohit Dave, general counsel at SRS Investment Advisors, has worked with Naik Naik & Co for the past three years and says Ameet Naik is “very accessible, committed, passionate, offers practical advice and is well-networked. We were pretty impressed.”

Dave has also consulted DSK Legal and is an admirer of partner Satish Kishanchandani’s work. “Satish is very practical,” he says. “He’s very good with negotiations and a very hands-on guy.” The firm has an impressive media practice advising celebrities, production houses and entertainment and media companies on brand management, film financing, broadcasting rights, movie sponsorship and product endorsement agreements, IP management, content regulations, litigation and arbitration.

Rohit Dave General Counsel SRS Investment Advisors

Best new firm

The award for best new firm goes to Clasis Law. With operations in full swing for less than a year, the firm is already wowing peers and clients alike. Its professionalism, vision and ambition are factors that could likely earn the firm a place among India’s top legal establishments.

Admittedly, the firm’s partners are already established legal professionals in India and overseas. Clasis Law is the brainchild of five former ALMT Legal partners: Shalini Agarwal and Sakate Khaitan in London, Vineet Aneja in New Delhi, and Ishtiaq Ali and Renu Parekh in Mumbai. Joined by several associates, they launched Clasis last April, soon after severing ties with ALMT. Clyde & Co, ALMT Legal’s former best friend, transferred its allegiance to Clasis after the split. The firm currently comprises 10 partners and nine senior associates spread across three offices, in Mumbai, New Delhi and London. Clasis offers the full spectrum of legal services with clear strengths in employment and immigration law, corporate law, project finance, dispute resolution, aviation and shipping.

“Sakate Khaitan and Shalini Agarwal have given excellent advice over a long period,” says Dannreuther at Withers.

David Dannreuther Partner Withers

For now, Clasis Law looks set to take India’s legal fraternity by storm. But fierce competition, a proliferation of new firms and growing talent mean it may be forced to raise its game again next year.

Winners at a glance

Winners at a glance2