With India back in the limelight, and now the world’s fastest growing major economy, we reveal the top international law firms for India-related work. Vandana Chatlani reports

The past 12 months have been a roller-coaster ride for global politics. The UK’s shock decision to leave the EU sent markets tumbling, weakening the pound and dampening investor sentiment. What are the implications for Indian companies operating in and outside the UK?

The British government’s position on various matters under the EU charter such as trade, immigration, customs, tax and banking hangs in the balance, with the walls crumbling around Prime Minister Theresa May, after her ruling Conservative party lost its majority in this month’s UK election.

The UK government said at the end of 2015 that Indian companies were investing more in the UK than in the rest of the EU combined, and many Indian lawyers remain convinced that the India-UK relationship will remain strong despite the current political chaos. However, will India continue to use the UK as a springboard to invest in other economies around Europe, or will its route to those markets change?

Calls to close borders echoed across the Atlantic when Donald Trump defeated Democratic rival Hillary Clinton to become the 45th US president. Trump has pledged to erect an “impenetrable”, “powerful” southern border wall between the US and Mexico, and to “buy American and hire American”, saying that “policies that allow business to be ripped out of the United States like candy from a baby” should be stopped.

But what does this mean for India? Trump has called Prime Minister Narendra Modi “a great man” and applauded him for being “very energetic in reforming India’s bureaucracy”. He also promised that if he became president, he would guarantee that “the Indian and Hindu community [in the US] will have a true friend in the White House”. But will such sentiments hold true a year from now? Given Trump’s tendency to contradict himself and backtrack on policy viewpoints, any optimism with regard to India should be viewed with caution.

Last November in India, businesses faced the sudden onslaught of demonetization – the overnight withdrawal of ₹500 and ₹1,000 notes from India’s banking system. The government’s intention was to streamline economic policy and curb black money, but while some viewed it as a bold political act, others slammed it for hurting businesses and trampling on India’s vast informal economy, which depends predominantly on cash payments.

The prime minister then turned his attention to attracting foreign investment, by relaxing requirements and lifting caps in sectors such as civil aviation, defence, food products and pharmaceuticals, restoring vigour and renewing interest in India’s domestic market. Keen to play down India’s poor standing in the World Bank’s ease of doing business index, Modi tweeted that the reforms made India “the most open economy in the world for [foreign direct investment]”. All of this is reflected in the buoyancy of India-related deals over the past 12 months, despite global political uncertainty (see Bustling market). According to data from deal tracker Mergermarket, law firms and in-house counsel closed 388 India-related deals worth US$64 billion in 2016 – US$30 billion more than the total in 2015.

RIGOROUS ANALYSIS

With fast-moving political events requiring close attention, companies will continue to rely on international lawyers to grapple with political, economic and regulatory changes in and outside of India in order to steer their businesses in the right direction. To help inform their choice of international advisers, India Business Law Journal recognizes the India-related accomplishments and activities of law firms around the world. Our report, now in its 11th year, draws on an analysis of more than 600 law firms from every continent that have documented deals and cases with an Indian element in the past 12 months. To maintain objectivity, our results are based on rigorous research, in-depth editorial experience, and wide consultation with corporate counsel, Indian law firms and a burgeoning network of contacts.

As in previous years, we received hundreds of submissions from law firms and carefully examined public and other records, along with reports in Indian and international media, to ensure the accuracy of our information.

Based on this research, we are pleased to present our selection of the top 10 foreign law firms for India-related work. We also recognize 15 firms that are considered key players for India-related deals, and an additional 20 firms are seen as significant players.

As always, we pay close attention to regional and specialist firms in key economies such as Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan and Singapore, and emerging regions such as sub-Saharan Africa. We highlight 15 firms in this category that are committed and capable of fielding India-related assignments.

We further feature 25 “firms to watch” and 15 firms to watch in the regional category. Some of these firms provide a full spectrum of legal services in multiple practice areas spread across a geographically diverse network of offices. Other firms offer niche specialties to help India-centric clients with their investments, funding and disputes. We believe, on the evidence available, that these firms are dedicated to India and keen to attract India-related work.

All of the lists are in alphabetical order. The law firms in our top 10 table are equipped with a depth and breadth of expertise across practice areas to serve India-focused clients. Due to their sheer size, multi-industry capabilities, geographical spread and fine-tuned relationships with Indian companies and law firms, they are consistently reined in as counsel on complex and high-profile transactions involving Indian parties. The names in this category rarely change but some thriving firms in the “key players” and “significant players” categories could give established law firms a run for their money, creating even further competition as firms jostle for position at the top.

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