Engendering self-belief at all levels

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Confidence in India’s growth story needs to come from within

Arecent report by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund entitled “Ending poverty and sharing prosperity”, emphasizes the need for policies aimed at ensuring that all members of society share in the benefits of economic growth. There is a general consensus that changes being made and contemplated by the Indian government will move the country forward, but is enough being done to share prosperity? Policies that signal intentions to do so will go a long way towards engendering self-belief, which in turn will attract investors keen to take part in India’s growth story. For nothing masks the potential of India more the current inequalities that plague large sections of the population.

leaderThis issue’s Cover story focuses on the Indian legal market, an area not known for any shortage of self-belief. Here, a recent resurgence of talk of opening the market to foreign lawyers has grabbed the attention of many observers. And with Lalit Bhasin, the president of the Society of Indian Law Firms and a long-standing opponent of such moves, apparently moderating his stance on the issue, hopes have been raised that liberalization may be forthcoming.

We ask what difference any opening of the market would actually make to international law firms, many of which already operate in India on a fly-in, fly-out basis. As our coverage reveals, it may come down to what form the liberalization, when it does come, takes.

“If liberalization simply means an ability to open an office and practise foreign law, then … we [already] do much of what corporate India wants us to do by being there regularly,” says Chris Parsons, the chairman of the India practice at Herbert Smith Freehills. Yet with Indian companies steadily extending their global footprints, some in-house counsel are calling for foreign law firms to have a permanent presence in the country. This would not only increase the availability of such firms’ services, but may also enable them to charge lower fees.

Will this happen any time soon? Opinions are clearly shifting and there is some evidence that the inertia which has gripped this deeply emotive issue for the best part of two decades has finally been broken. Bhasin wrote in the inaugural issue of India Business Law Journal in June 2007 that an influx of large foreign law firms “would play havoc with India’s legal profession”. He now speaks of a “phased sequential approach” to the entry of foreign law firms in “around five years”. Some observers see this apparent U-turn as the strongest signal yet that change may finally be afoot.

As we look forward to a new year, what other changes should stakeholders in India’s legal and business professions be anticipating? Writing in this issue’s Vantage point, six prominent figures from the country’s in-house counsel community share their predictions of what to expect in 2015.

Reassuringly, all are optimistic. Anubhav Kapoor, the general counsel and company secretary at Tata Technologies, predicts that in 2015 India “will become a more friendly country in which to do business”. Sheela Vadavalli, a vice president and the chief compliance officer at Mylan Pharmaceuticals, foresees “significant clarity emerging in legislation and jurisprudence”. Both stress that 2015 is a year in which expectations of India’s new government will be high. “The country’s 15th prime minister now has to walk the talk,” says Kapoor.

Walking the talk is something that comes naturally to the in-house lawyer profiled in this issue’s Spotlight. Reema Arora is the senior legal manager at Havells India, a US$1.3 billion company. In 2007 Havells acquired Sylvania, and with it came intellectual property rights in numerous jurisdictions for a brand that traces its roots back to 1901. This IP portfolio had been managed by a UK-based rights management company, but was brought in house over the past two years. In that time, Arora and her small team based in Noida have taken on the day-to-day management of the entire portfolio and the oversight of countless IP firms around the world. Unfazed by the challenges this has entailed, Arora says: “Sitting in India handling 100 law firms with a remote control has to be done with a few tactics”.

Tactics are on display in abundance in this issue of India Business Law Journal as we showcase and celebrate the most significant deals and disputes of 2014 (Deals of the Year).

The winning deals were chosen subjectively by our editors, not only for their size in monetary terms, but also for their complexity, innovation and any precedents that were set. Our coverage analyses the significance of each deal and reveals the law firms and lawyers who guided them.

In addition to working on commercial cases and deals, many Indian lawyers have been devoting time to philanthropic initiatives. In The gift of giving we take a look at some meaningful projects that have been assisted, and in some cases made possible, by pro bono legal work.

What’s in it for the lawyers involved? Pooja Dodd, a partner at LexOrbis, has done pro bono work since 2010 for an indie fusion band that seeks to keep folk music alive. “Music is very close to my heart so I enjoy working with them,” she says.

Meanwhile at Khaitan & Co, executive director Daksha Baxi and associate Shabnam Shaikh have been assisting a company that helps people in remote and rural areas access affordable healthcare. The duo advised the company on setting up a stock-linked product aimed at incentivizing its employees. “Enabling the company to achieve this and to empower its employees was an excellent way in which we could make a small contribution to the cause,” says Baxi.

Assisting projects that engender self-belief in some of the most vulnerable sections of Indian society is a commendable way to go into the new year.