What is the best way for a law firm to manage the exit of a star partner? Six senior lawyers share their views with Vandana Chatlani

With the global economy firmly in the grip of the covid-19 pandemic, one could be forgiven for assuming that the retention of key talent is not at the top of the list of issues keeping law firm managing partners awake at night. Lawyers would surely be grateful to have any job at the present time and be unlikely to go out in search of greener pastures.

But such an assumption may be misguided – and dangerous. While attrition rates among senior lawyers have certainly fallen since the onset of the pandemic, high-profile departures continue to rock established law firms.

AZB & Partners, for example, lost partner and A-list lawyer Madhurima Mukherjee, who in June took up a consultancy role with J Sagar Associates and became the mentor at charity IDIA, which works to promote access to legal education for people from underprivileged backgrounds. Similarly, Ajay Raghavan, a sought-after partner in Trilegal’s employment practice, and also an A-list lawyer, left the firm earlier this year to set up a climate change NGO.

Law firms are aware of the danger, and the fact that so many have continued to roll out partnership promotions and other retention measures, even as they reel from the effects of the pandemic, demonstrates their fear of losing star performers. AZB & Partners, HSA Advocates, IndusLaw, J Sagar Associates and Trilegal are among many firms that have announced partnership promotions in the midst of the crisis.

India’s legal market traditionally had very low attrition levels, with lawyers often staying with one law firm for the majority of their careers. This began to change in the early 2000s, when it became commonplace for lawyers to switch between competing firms, opt for in-house roles, join peers to launch their own firms, or leave the profession to pursue different avenues altogether.

The nationwide recruitment market churned in 2015, when India’s largest law firm at the time, Amarchand Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co, split into two firms – Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co (SAM), and Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas. Both of the new firms embarked on aggressive hiring sprees at all levels, with knock-on effects that reached just about every major law firm in the country.

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