India Business Law Journal reveals the country’s top lawyers and legal icons in 2019

The fourth annual edition of the A-List is a continuation of India Business Law Journal’s efforts to recognize India’s most outstanding lawyers. This year, in order to acknowledge the grandees of the legal profession, as well as recognizing our regular 100 A-List of highly talented practitioners, we identify 35 legal “icons”.

As in previous years, the A-List is based on nominations and supporting information provided by law firm clients, as well as India-focused lawyers at international law firms. As such, it provides a snapshot of current sentiment and identifies the lawyers who in the eyes of the market have performed the strongest and received the greatest prominence in the past 12 months. There are many outstanding lawyers who have not made it onto this year’s A-List, and their absence should not be seen as a denigration of their skills or expertise. However, the lawyers who appear on the A-List have received critical acclaim from their clients, peers and other observers, and their inclusion is an achievement of which they and their law firms can feel justifiably proud.

More details of the methodology can be found below. The analysis that follows provides highlights of the 2019 A-List, including endorsements of many of the recognized lawyers by those who nominated them. The full list of all 100 A-List lawyers and 35 legal icons can be found here.

What makes an A-List lawyer?

A look at the qualities that clients and international peers value most in A-List lawyers shows it is not only their skills in particular areas of law, but also their attention to detail, trustworthiness and entrepreneurial approach to working with clients.

Abhishek Saxena, a co-founding partner at Phoenix Legal, pays “personal attention to all deals he manages” and has “super negotiation skills”, according to Sahil Vohra, the head of business and legal affairs at National Geographic & Fox Networks. Vohra commends Saxena for his “ability to delve into minute details and not lose sight of the larger scope of a transaction”.

Rabindra Jhunjhunwala at Khaitan & Co is “always responsive, hands-on and 100% reliable”, says Philipp Behrendt, a partner at Taylor Wessing’s office in Germany. Behrendt calls him “our go-to lawyer for all international clients”.

Anand Jalan, an investment director at Edelweiss, says Jhunjhunwala “is an asset to have on your side”, adding he always offers proactive and sound advice.

Feroz Dubash at Talwar Thakore & Associates is praised by Neeta Sanghavi, the general counsel at investment bank Avendus for being a “sharp lawyer and very articulate”. “[He is] one of the best corporate lawyers I have come across, possessing a deep knowledge of the law and market practices.”

Meanwhile, Shuva Mandal, managing partner at Fox Mandal & Associates, is described as “an excellent corporate lawyer” by Indrajit Majumder, the managing partner of Reed Smith’s Dallas office. “His team and he are very efficient and are one of the go-to teams in south India.”

Nisha Kaur Uberoi, the national head of the competition law practice at Trilegal, is strongly recommended by Chetan Chopra, the head of legal at United Breweries. “I can say without any hesitation that Nisha is the best antitrust lawyer in the country,” says Chopra. “I worked very closely with her in my previous organizations and it was a great experience. I keep telling my peers in other organizations that if you are involved in an antitrust matter, please work with her, because you don’t want her on the opposite side.”

Another competition lawyer who receives high praise from clients is Gurdev Raj Bhatia, a partner at L&L Partners who was also the former additional director general of the Competition Commission of India (CCI). Rajiv Bakshi, the group general counsel of JSW Steel, calls Bhatia a “sound antitrust lawyer”. He says due to Bhatia’s experience at the CCI, he has an insight into the thinking of the commission, even when it may remain a mystery for clients.

Steven Cherry, a partner at US-based law firm WilmerHale, says: “I have worked closely with Bhatia and his team on a number of cartel matters over the past several years, and have found them to be excellent lawyers. They are very knowledgeable about Indian competition law, and very responsive.”

Hemant Singh, managing partner at Inttl Advocare, is credited for providing “outstanding advice in patent matters, and in defending and enforcing pharmaceutical patents”, by Peter Roth, the head of patent litigation at Novartis in Switzerland. Dhwani Rao, the senior legal counsel at Nestle India, calls Singh “extremely effective”.

Poornima Hatti, a partner at Samvad Partners, is recommended by Suraj Moraje, a senior partner at McKinsey in Bengaluru. He recommends her for being “a very committed and knowledgeable lawyer who has accomplished a lot at a young age”.

Rashi Dhir, a senior partner at DMD Advocates, receives praise from a number of clients in India and the US. “Rashi is definitely A-List worthy,” says Shradha Suri, the managing director of Subros auto air conditioning company. “[He] is by far one of the most professional and knowledgeable lawyers that we have interacted with.”

Kishore Jayaraman, the president of Rolls Royce India and South Asia, says, “[Dhir] brings out the best in case matters through his neutral and honest positions that lead to timely solutions.”

a-listThe icons

This year’s A-List identifies the legal icons among A-List lawyers. These are the most recognizable names in India’s legal profession, the titans who have built firms and become enviable legal brands in their own right. Their level of direct involvement in the legal mechanics of complex deals may vary, but their mere presence is often sufficient to placate clients, open doors and bring matters to fruition.

“Zia [Mody – founder and managing partner at AZB & Partners] gets into each detail and addresses the crux of the matter at hand,” says Harshbeena Zaveri, the vice chair and managing director at NRB Bearings, an auto parts manufacturer. “She is a business process partner who helps bring value to your business via her legal advice and documentation. Her advice is both practical and legally sound, and that ensures peace of mind.”

David Cameron, a Hong Kong-based partner at Dorsey & Whitney, describes her as “a leader in her field and an inspiration to the next generation of lawyers”.

Nipun Gupta, the co-head of the India group at Bird & Bird, has high praise for Pallavi Shroff, managing partner at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co, saying she “continues to lead a disputes capability front and centre, and gives substance on dispute resolution matters that is difficult to match”.

a-listFellow icon Cyril Shroff, founder and managing partner at Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, is described as the country’s “best legal mind and legal adviser” by Roddy Martin, a partner at Herbert Smith Freehills in London, while Ajay Dcruz, the vice president of legal and secretarial at ISS India credits his “strong sense of ethics”.

Manish Kiri, the managing director of Kiri Industries, has worked with Anand Desai and his team at DSK Legal for a litigation case in Singapore since 2015. “We have a very good experience working with them,” he says.

Hemant Sahai, founding partner at HSA Advocates, meanwhile, is applauded for his “excellent knowledge base” and “can-do attitude” by Rohan Raichaudhuri, the regional general counsel at Sigfox Singapore, a communications service provider.

V Lakshmikumaran, founder and managing partner at Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan, is described as “the best customs lawyer anywhere – be it India or the world,” by Yves Melin, a Brussels-based partner at Steptoe & Johnson.

a-listInternational praise

Many of this year’s A-List lawyers have earned the appreciation of their peers at international law firms, who have been happy to vouch for them and recommend them to clients.

Rukshad Davar, a partner at Majmudar & Partners, is commended by partners at a number of US-based law firms. His advice is “precise, timely and creative,” says Robert Sills, a partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman in New York. “I have worked with Rukshad on several very challenging cross-border matters. He is also an excellent draftsman, a pleasure to deal with, and has been a critical member of our team. I have recommended him to a number of colleagues in the US, and they all have formed a high opinion of him and his work.”

Similarly, Robert Ouellette, a partner at Ice Miller in Columbus, Ohio, calls Davar “a pleasure to work with and a trusted adviser” to the firm’s clients.

Marylou Bilawala, a senior partner at Wadia Ghandy, is described as an excellent and very knowledgeable lawyer by Peter Callanan, a senior vice president at Irish financial services company SMBC Aviation Capital. He says, “it feels like you have a real ally in your corner,” and describes her as “a real friend” of the company.

Gopika Pant, founding partner at Indian Law Partners, is commended by Nihat Fadil Erten, the CFO at Turkish fabrics company Soktas. “We completed an important project with Gopika in 2019, which was the sale of 100% of our Indian subsidiary’s shares to a prominent business group in India,” he says. “Gopika’s contribution to the process was very valuable in all respects.”

Mukesh Butani, managing partner at BMR Legal, is commended by Robert Jan Vlug, the managing director at Accenture, for possessing a “helicopter view” and being able “to stand back and see the bigger picture”. He calls Butani a “big influencer and
excellent practitioner”.

Interesting anecdotes

Gautam Khurana, founder and managing partner at India Law Offices, is described as an “absolute gentleman with very strong ethics” by Ashis Guha, the CEO at IT company RAH Infotech. “Gautam helped me in a very complicated dispute resolution and, based on his effectiveness, professionalism and commitment, I use his services regularly. The best thing about him is that he always gives a very true picture, and no false promises.”

Gagandeep Jolly, the president at Solitaire Logistic, has worked with Khurana’s firm for more than 10 years. He credits Khurana and the firm for their “excellent support and service”.

Varoon Chandra, a partner at AZB & Partners, is hailed as “one of the top capital markets lawyers in India” by Jamie Benson, a director at the Singapore office of Duane Morris & Selvam. Debolina Saha, a senior associate at Dorsey & Whitney in Hong Kong, says Chandra is “very well regarded” in the debt capital markets sphere.

Vineet Aneja, the managing partner of Clasis Law, receives vocal support from clients in other jurisdictions for his ethical and diligent nature. “Vineet Aneja was a godsend for us as we opened, and then needed to close a sourcing arm in India several years later,” says Victoria Donati, the general counsel and senior vice president at US furniture company Crate & Barrel Holdings. “He made sure we knew about all of the necessary rules and protocols, and helped us with a very practical approach to achieving our objectives,” says Donati. “The expertise that he brought to bear, and the leadership he provided to us and to his team, were extremely valuable for us.”

Nothing less is expected of an A-List lawyer.

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Compiling the A-List

To identify India’s A-List lawyers and legal icons, India Business Law Journal contacted thousands of in-house counsel in India and around the world, as well as hundreds of India-focused partners at international law firms, and asked them to tell us which lawyers should make the cut, and why.

Senior counsel, independent chambers, in-house counsel and Indian lawyers working in other countries were not included in the process, but all lawyers currently associated with Indian law firms were automatically eligible to be nominated.

Nominations were received from professionals at a wide range of Indian and international companies, law firms and other organizations, including: Accenture; Aditya Birla Finance; Aditya Birla Sun Life; Afri Life Insurance; Airbnb; AirIndia; Amazon; Anderson Mori & Tomotsune; Apollo Hospitals; Ashokleyland; Ashurst; Asiatic Gases; Aurobindo; Automotive Tyre Manufacturers Association; Avendus; Axis Capital; Axis Securities; Bechtel; Bennett Coleman & Co; Bharti Airtel; Bharti AXA Life Insurance; Cleary Gottlieb; Clifford Chance; CLSA; CMS; Commerzbank; Cummins; Daikin Airconditioning; Deloitte; Dentons; Deutsche Post DHL; Diageo; Dorsey & Whitney; Duane Morris & Selvam; DuPont; Essar Global; Evalueserve.com; Eversheds Sutherland; Everstone Capital; Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA); Ford; Fortum; G4S Corporate Services; GE Healthcare; Go Airlines; Government of Goa; HDFC Bank; Herbert Smith Freehills; Hilton; Hindusthan Music Publishing; HSBC; ICICI Bank; ICICI Prudential Life Insurance; Imperial Capital; IndiaFirst Life Insurance Company; Indian Oil; Indo German Chamber of Commerce; InterGlobe Enterprises; International Water Management Institute; John Deere; JSW Steel; Kotak Mahindra Capital; Larsen & Toubro; Latham & Watkins; LG; Mahindra & Mahindra; Max Life Insurance Company; Mizuho Bank; Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu; National Geographic & Fox Networks; Nestlé; Novartis; Pernod Ricard; PETRONAS; Petronet LNG; Plantronics; Ramco Systems; Reed Smith; Reliance Nippon Life Insurance Company; Rolls Royce; Samsung; Signify Innovations; Stephenson Harwood; Supreme Court of India; Suzlon Energy; Tata Chemicals; Tirupati Graphite; United Breweries; Varun Beverages; Vodafone idea; WH Smith; Yukti Securities, and hundreds more.

The final list reflects the nominations received combined with India Business Law Journal editorial team’s more than 30 years’ collective experience in documenting and analyzing India’s legal market.

The names and photographs of all 100 A-list lawyers and 35 legal icons are published on the pages that follow. Each A-list lawyer was also given the opportunity to include their biography and contact details, for which a publishing fee was charged. It is important to note that while the compilation of the A-list was based solely on independent editorial research, the biographies and contact details that appear alongside many of the listings have been written by the participating lawyers and the content has not been independently verified by India Business Law Journal.

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