India Business Law Journal reveals the top 100 foreign lawyers for India-related matters
The arrival of covid-19 brought about a need for agility among international lawyers – to adapt to a reality where the “fly-in, fly-out” model through which overseas lawyers work on Indian matters had become impractical. Travel restrictions shut down movement, and yet reinforced the need for face-to-face interactions with peers and clients to preserve bonds and relationships, albeit virtually.
The pandemic was hard on India, bringing business to a standstill due to government-mandated lockdowns. But amid the gloom, there was one deal that kept many foreign law firms busy. Davis Polk & Wardwell, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Hogan Lovells and others advised on the US$20 billion investment in Reliance Jio by 13 global technology investors in the middle of 2020. The mammoth deal comprised nearly a quarter of India’s deal value for the year.
With economic activity increasing, and vaccines giving rise to hope that there is finally light at the end of the tunnel, the government is seeking to re-energize the economy, revive demand, and reverse lagging GDP numbers. It is overhauling disinvestment plans and opening doors to foreign investors to invest in state assets in the oil, gas, ports, airports and power sectors. Foreign lawyers will play a critical role in guiding clients to participate in the country’s post-covid recovery efforts.
But of the hundreds of lawyers around the world who work on India-related matters, which ones are leading the field? To find out, India Business Law Journal turned to a large number of professionals for answers – mainly experienced lawyers at Indian law firms and India-focused in-house counsel around the world.
In terms of the qualities that define an International A-List lawyer, clients say lawyers must provide commercially savvy solutions, be excellent negotiators, have a pragmatic approach to problem solving and be calm in the face of adversity. They also benefit from strong familiarity with India and its laws, as well as good connections with the legal community in the country.
London: A wealth of India expertise
As the guiding force behind the global Indian practice of Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), Chris Parsons, a partner and chair of the India practice in the firm’s London office, is one lawyer lauded for his India-related knowledge. “Chris has a very good understanding of the Indian market, and has deep ties with local in-house counsel and law firms,” says Vivek Mittal, a regional counsel at Danaher Corporation.
His view is supported by Vijayshyam Acharya, the global head of legal and company secretary at engineering company QuEST Global, who says: “Chris has great knowledge of India as a country, Indian culture, Indian business houses and legal issues faced in India. He has spent a lot of time in India to obtain an in-depth understanding of the complex structures out here.”
Piusha Bose, counsel at Freshfields’ London office, has “an unmatched work ethic,” according to Sridhar Gorthi, a partner at Trilegal. “She has considerable experience working in India on domestic and cross-border deals, which gives her an edge.”
Among her significant achievements in the past year, Bose advised BP on its US$1 billion fuel and mobility joint venture with Reliance Industries, which became operational in July 2020.
Dipali Sahni, a general counsel at Demica, says: “[Bose’s] wealth of India-related experience and her extensive international experience, particularly in New York and London, make her uniquely placed to advise on complex, international corporate transactions.”
“She has a strong know-how on the subject and an ethical approach to issues,” adds senior counsel Aditya Sondhi.
Other clients and peers recommend Bose for her can-do attitude in the face of unforgiving deadlines and relentless pressure, as well as her ability to have an eye for the larger picture of a transaction.
Parmjit Singh, a partner and the head of the India business group at Eversheds Sutherland in London, has a “great knowledge of how Indian GCs work”, says QuEST Global’s Acharya. “He has a speedy response and fixes the right resources for the right requirement.”
Philip Boeckman, a partner at Cravath in London, is “absolutely a pleasure to work with”, says Iqbal Khan, a senior partner at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co. “He is one of the oldies who has worked on some of the largest transactions in India,” says Khan. “He is considerate, responsive, strategic and has a great understanding of the Indian landscape. Absolutely the first choice if money is not an issue.”
Peter Goldsmith, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton in London, has a “sound understanding of the law and the client’s requirement”, says George Pothan, an advocate at the Supreme Court and a legal consultant at the Ministry of External Affairs.
Singapore: A perch for legal eagles
Ankit Goyal, a partner at Allen & Gledhill in Singapore, is “totally updated with Indian laws. He is business-friendly and goal-oriented,” says his Indian counterpart, Avikshit Moral, who is an equity partner at Juris Corp.
Pallavi Gopinath Aney, a partner at Allen & Overy in Singapore, is described by Devottam Sengupta, a legal director at Greensill Asia, as a “pre-eminent expert at bond and debt capital market issuances by Indian companies. Pallavi’s strengths are her intense work ethic and her ‘no problem too big to solve’ attitude.”
Aney has been part of some interesting and complex bond issuances from India. In the past year, she advised Adani International Container Terminal on its inaugural issue of Rule 144A/Regulation S US$300 million, 10-year senior secured bonds. Aney also advised Suzlon Energy on the restructuring of its US$540 million step-up convertible bonds, and IPO managers Bank of America Securities, HSBC Securities and others on the US$1.3 billion public listing of SBI Cards and Payment Services.
“Pallavi has very good technical knowledge of Indian regulations,” says Rajat Sethi, a partner at S&R Associates. “This is combined with the skill set of a partner at an international firm – a winning combination.”
Babita Ambekar, a partner and head of the India desk at CMS in Singapore, is a “prominent India practice lawyer” who focuses on supporting Indian companies on international matters, says Sunita Jagtiani, general counsel at Comviva Technologies. “We have consulted her on a number of occasions and have found her to be knowledgeable, prompt, responsive, well networked and cost-effective, providing practical solutions on complicated matters.”
Ambekar joined CMS in November 2020, leaving her role as partner and global head of India practice at DWF. The move followed DWF’s announcement of the closure of its Singapore and Brussels offices due to the adverse impact of covid-19 on profits. As part of the cost-cutting measures, the firm also closed its India practice.
Kabir Singh, a partner at Clifford Chance in Singapore, is “one of the finest legal minds”, says Ajay Bhargava, a senior partner at Khaitan & Co, who adds that Singh is his “go-to lawyer” for cross-border disputes. “His hands-on approach is par excellence, and his commitment to a case is very inspiring,” says Bhargava. “He should surely be on the A-List of lawyers.”
Jamie Benson, a director at Duane Morris & Selvam in Singapore, is “very hands-on and pays attention to detail”, says Vishal Yaduvanshi, a partner at IndusLaw. “Jamie highlights any risks to the client upfront and is able to meet tight timelines.” Benson, who is also the head of the India practice, has advised on more than 100 securities issuances, many of them by Indian
companies, with total proceeds of US$22 billion.
Hong Kong: Beyond the call of duty
David Cameron, the principal and recent founder of David Cameron Law Office in Hong Kong, is commended by Raja Venkatasubramanian, the CEO of SBI Capital Markets (SBICAP) Singapore. “I had worked with David on many issuances by Indian issuers,” says Venkatasubramanian. “His knowledge of the subject was excellent.” SBICAP is the investment banking subsidiary of the State Bank of India.
Cameron is currently in a transitionary phase, having launched his firm in February this year after leaving Candy Pang & Co. Known as a capital markets practitioner, he has expanded his practice to include corporate trust work and general corporate advisory. Among his notable work, he advised on State Bank of India’s US$2.3 billion qualified institutional placement in 2017, and helped to develop the India International Exchange in GIFT City.
Rakesh P, the group president of YES Bank, describes Cameron as “efficient on timelines”. “He deserves to be in the A-List,” adds Avijit Banerjee, the CEO and managing director of Argon Capital Advisors. “David always weighs in a fine balance between fundamental and technical/legal parameters, while structuring a legal solution for the client’s business. Above all, his camaraderie has struck a friendly chord among us that goes beyond the professional commitment and call of duty.”
Sharad Moudgal, a partner at Khaitan & Co, describes Abhishek Krishnan, a partner at Goodwin Procter in Hong Kong, as “an excellent lawyer” who has consistently performed above and beyond his client’s requirements. “He has been a consistent and standout performer during his career, which is evident in the speed of his elevation to partnership at an international law firm such as Goodwin,” says Moudgal. “His practical and solution-oriented approach to matters makes him the go-to partner of choice for several large financial sponsors, especially in the tech space, and he serves them on an exclusive basis in their transactions across Asia, including China and India.”
Arjun Sinha, a partner at AP & Partners, agrees. “Krishnan is a commercially focused and amiable lawyer with a strong India-focused team.” Krishnan represented Goodwin in advising internet investment firm DST Global on its investments in Swiggy, Udaan, Olacabs and Car24. Separately, he has also advised Falcon Edge Capital on its investments in Dailyhunt, Ola, Bounce and the National Stock Exchange.
Ryo Kotoura, a partner at Anderson Mori & Tomotsune in Tokyo, is described as “the preferred lawyer by Japanese clients on Indian matters” by Rudra Kumar Pandey, a partner at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co. “He is a very sound lawyer on India matters and understands the client’s needs very well.”
Similar qualities are exhibited by all the lawyers who made it onto the International A-List, and while space doesn’t permit us to mention every lawyer in this analysis – or print all of the thousands of comments and endorsements we received – each one comes highly recommended by his or her clients and peers. The pages that follow contain details of all the lawyers who made it onto the 2021 International A-List. A detailed description of the methodology used to compile the International A-List can be found below.
To identify the top 100 international India experts, India Business Law Journal turned to hundreds of lawyers at Indian law firms, as well as thousands of India-focused in-house counsel within the country and around the world, and asked them to tell us which lawyers should make the cut, and why.
Nominations were made by professionals at a wide range of Indian and global companies, and Indian law firms, including: Anand and Anand, AP & Partners, Argon Capital Advisors, Axis Bank, AZB & Partners, Bank of America, Bharti Airtel, Citigroup, Cognizant Technology Solutions, Comviva Technologies, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, Danaher Corporation, DBS Bank, Dhir & Dhir Associates, Dua Associates, Fullerton India Credit Company, Goldman Sachs, Hindustan Petroleum, HSA Advocates, ICICI Bank, India Exim Bank, IndusLaw, InterGlobe Aviation (IndiGo), J Sagar Associates, Khaitan & Co, Ministry of External Affairs (Government of India), Remfry & Sagar, S&R Associates, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co, Silver Spring Capital, SITAC Group, Siti Networks, SMBC Nikko, Society of Indian Law Firms, Standard Chartered Bank, State Bank of India, Supreme Court of India, Trilegal, YES Bank, and many more.
All lawyers based outside India who advise on the international aspects of India-related matters were automatically eligible for inclusion in the nominations process and, as always, there were no fees or any other requirements for entry. Lawyers at non-Indian law firms were not permitted to make nominations.
The final list reflects the nominations received and the justifications provided for them, combined with the India Business Law Journal editorial team’s more than 30 years’ collective experience in documenting and analysing the global market of India-focused legal services.
All A-List lawyers were also given the opportunity to enhance their listings with the addition of biographies and contact details, for which a publishing fee was charged. However, the list itself is the result of independent editorial research. Biographies, where provided, were written by the lawyers themselves and have not been independently verified.