India’s legal landscape has been reshaped by ‘marriages’ between local and foreign law firms. While some observers are confident that matrimony is the best way forward, others extol the virtues of the single life. Ben Frumin reports

In January Clifford Chance, one of the world’s largest and most prestigious law firms, announced it had found a new best friend in India: AZB & Partners. No money changed hands as a result of the arrangement but the two firms now share a cooperative referral deal.

As Malathi Nayak wrote in the Indian newspaper Mint on the day the deal was announced, “This means if a client of Clifford Chance requires legal advice in India, AZB will provide it and vice versa.”

“What AZB has done with Clifford Chance certainly made everybody sit up and take notice,” says Rohan Shah, managing partner of Economic Laws Practice in Mumbai.

Valerie Demont, a partner at Pepper Hamilton, agrees: “AZB & Partners is a top-tier firm with high-quality lawyers which I perceived as a very independent firm,” she says. “I was surprised by this tie-up and the rationale behind it. It could perhaps be a sign that the formal restrictions on the practise of law by foreign law firms in India, which have been rumoured to be lifted for years, may finally be coming to an end.”

Valerie Demont Partner Pepper Hamilton

Diljeet Titus, managing partner of Delhi-based Titus & Co, also views law firm alliances as a step towards the entry of foreign firms. “Although these tie-ups usually involve mutual client referral arrangements on a non-fee sharing basis, they may prove the stepping stones for the entry of foreign law firms into India,” he says.

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