India Business Law Journal names the outstanding law firms of 2017-18

Rebecca Abraham reports

By all accounts, the past year has provided both opportunities and challenges for law firms across India. While large general practice law firms continue to dominate the market in many practice areas, the country’s increasingly complex legal and regulatory environment has created the space for a growing number of specialist lawyers and law firms. This positive development has been tempered somewhat by a continuing downward pressure on fees and a widening of the market that has translated into increased, and sometimes brutal, competition. Yet companies looking for legal advice in India could not have had it better.

This is the scenario in which we present India Business Law Journal’s 2017-18 Indian Law Firm Awards. As in previous years we identify one law firm of the year. In all other categories (best overall law firms and 20 practice areas) we have seven winners of equal standing. This is one more than in previous years, which we believe is appropriate to reflect the growing size of the market. In the best new firms category we honour four firms.

THE JUDGING PROCESS

India Business Law Journal’s Indian Law Firm Awards have been presented annually since 2009. As in previous years, the winners were selected based on votes, references and qualitative information received from in-house counsel and other legal professionals in India and around the world.

A voting form was posted on our website between December 2017 and early January 2018, and thousands of in-house counsel, lawyers at international law firms and other India-focused professionals were invited to vote. At the same time, Indian law firms were asked to make submissions in support of their candidacy for awards. These submissions, combined with research by India Business Law Journal’s editorial team, played a supporting role in the judging process.

All Indian law firms were automatically eligible for inclusion in the awards process. As always, there were no entry fees or any other requirements for entry.

LAW FIRM OF THE YEAR

WINNER
AZB & Partners

The past year has been good for AZB & Partners, which has long been regarded as one of India’s most respected firms. Headed by Zia Mody, Bahram Vakil and Ajay Bahl, the 400-lawyer firm of around 85 partners advised on several headline-grabbing and challenging transactions in the course of 2017.

This included the US$120 billion merger of six small banks with India’s largest lender, State Bank of India, which took effect in April 2017. AZB’s experienced corporate partner Ashwath Rau was legal counsel to State Bank of India for the merger, which according to all accounts was unique. According to Rau it involved “a process that had not been prescribed under any law,” and which had to “stand the test of constitutionality”.

Similarly AZB & Partners was counsel to Bain Capital when in November 2017 it made a 68.5 billion (US$1.06 billion) investment in Axis Bank, in what was one of the largest private equity investments in the Indian banking sector. Describing the firm as one of Bain’s “key legal partners” in India, Amit Chandra, managing director of Bain Capital Advisors, says: “What makes AZB special is the availability of each of the three senior most partners, with their names on the door of the firm, to provide guidance to complicated issues whenever needed”.

Amit Chandra Managing Director Bain Capital Advisors

Input from clients suggests that it is the stellar reputation of the three named partners that sets AZB & Partners apart. The firm has also worked to beef up its capabilities across practice areas in recent years with some valuable lateral hires. This has included Ashwath Rau, who moved to the firm in June 2016 along with his team; Ami Parikh, who joined in June 2017 and is set to develop the firm’s transaction support group; and litigation expert Anoj Menon, who was hired in April 2017.

The firm’s top clients typically include companies of the Tata group that it advised on several transactions, global investment firm KKR, Reliance, Max India, and companies of the Mytrah group.

AZB & Partners says it has put together expert teams to service the needs of the rapidly evolving fintech industry and for matters to do with the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016, which has brought about a sea change in insolvency resolution in India.

AZB & Partners was the leading Indian law firm in Mergermarket M&A rankings for 2017 having advised on 72 deals valued at US$34 billion. It also advised on 13 of India Business Law Journal’s 2017 Deals of the Year. This included the listing of the BSE in January 2017, which was a first for a stock exchange in India, and an IPO by SBI Life Insurance, which was the largest IPO for a life insurance company in India.

AZB & Partners also picks up nine practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards below.

BEST OVERALL LAW FIRMS

WINNERS
AZB & Partners
Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas
J Sagar Associates
Khaitan & Co
Luthra & Luthra
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co
Trilegal

It has been two and a half years since the emergence of Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas and Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co. Yet the aftershocks of the demise of their parent firm, Amarchand Mangaldas, are yet to subside. This has not only increased competition between India’s top law firms, but as feedback from clients suggests, the firms themselves have upped their game as they fine-tune and widen their offerings.

The winning firms in the best overall law firms category for 2017-18 are: AZB & Partners (as described above), Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, J Sagar Associates, Khaitan & Co, Luthra & Luthra, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co and Trilegal.

Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, headed by Cyril Shroff, has grown to be India’s largest law firm with 630 lawyers, which includes around 100 partners and six offices across India. The firm continues to be well regarded by both Indian and international corporate clients, and, thanks to its formidable depth and width of expertise, it routinely advises on many of India’s most complex and challenging transactions involving both domestic and international companies.

Clients over the past year have included Hindustan Construction Company, when it converted a part of its debt into equity under a newly devised scheme of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI): the S4A scheme for sustainable structuring of stressed assets; the Rural Electrification Corporation, when it issued green bonds on the London Stock Exchange, which was a first for an Indian public sector company; Flipkart, when it raised US$1.4 billion through a complex transaction that it used to acquire eBay India; and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, when it made its first investment valued at US$246 million in a retail real estate venture.

“CAM stands at the very top of the legal profession in India across all areas,” says an international client who did not want to be named. The client went on to describe the firm as “collaborative, but nevertheless strong advocates for their clients’ position”.  The client singled out tax partner SR Patnaik for advice that “was timely, concise and clear, which is enormously valuable in the context of a fast-moving, complex transaction”; partner Shishir Vayttaden for “his calm, precise advice [that] gives us a great deal of confidence operating in the Indian business environment”; and partner Abhinav Kumar and associate Bhartendu Singh, for “constant and careful explanation, and strong advice on negotiations and legal requirements”.

Pramo Selvaratnam

Commenting on the firm’s capital market practice, Pramo Selvaratnam, president and head of business development and strategic alliances at Aditya Birla Capital, says CAM is “the first name that comes to mind in anything related to capital markets”. Selvaratnam praises partner Yash Ashar in particular for “his balanced and prompt advice”.

CAM was legal counsel on 12 of India Business Law Journal’s 2017 Deals of the Year and receives nine practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

J Sagar Associates (JSA) retains its place among India’s top law firms despite a recent change of guard at the top of the firm. The firm, which has over 300 lawyers across eight offices, is reputed for its full-service offering, and feedback suggests that its lawyers can be expected to go over and beyond what is asked of them. This has won them the respect of clients.

Rajesh Bagga General Counsel Reliance ADA Group

Rajesh Bagga, group general counsel at Reliance ADA Group, is impressed that three lawyers from JSA constantly stayed with the in-house team as it worked non-stop for two weeks on a transaction. “That is commitment,” says Bagga. Having used JSA in an M&A transaction, Bagga commends joint managing partner Dina Wadia for being “very accessible and responsive” and partner Manav Raheja for understanding business needs and for his swift delivery.

“They are quite focused on the value we want to secure from the transaction and do act in complete sync with us,” says Bagga.

Hemant Kumar, group general counsel at Larsen & Toubro, describes the firm as “excellent, diligent and result driven”. JSA assisted the company in a couple of arbitrations and Kumar praises the lawyers involved – partners Dhirendra Negi and Ananya Kumar and senior associate Pragya Chauhan. “Their research, the manner of dealing with the arbitration forums, was extraordinary,” says Kumar.

Meanwhile Praveen P Thomas, director and senior legal counsel at SSG Advisors, says the firm is “cost efficient” and that its banking and finance practice is led by “solution-oriented partners”. He commends Aashit Shah, partner and chair of JSA’s banking and finance practice, for developing “a strong team … in a market where banking and finance specialists are difficult to find at junior levels”.

Having benefited from JSA’s aviation expertise, M Shivkumar, a vice president at Jet Airways, says of partner Poonam Verma that “it’s very rare to find someone more dedicated,” and that her “techno-commercial knowledge, considering that she is a lawyer, is extremely good, [which] makes the life of the client easy”.

Over the past year, JSA’s clients have included also Hahn Air, which it represented in a dispute over an agency agreement; IRB Infrastructure Developers, which sought its services for forming and registering India’s first infrastructure investment trust; Tata Power, which it helped in obtaining a parallel electricity distribution licence; and Flipkart, when it raised US$1.4 billion from eBay and two other investors for the acquisition of eBay India.

In September 2017, JSA became the first law firm to open an office at the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT), a special economic zone. It was legal counsel on three of India Business Law Journal’s 2017 Deals of the Year and receives six practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

Khaitan & Co continues to be sought out for advice and representation in many of India’s headline-making transactions. The 550- lawyer firm with 113 partners and directors across its four offices, was the sole legal adviser on a mammoth transaction that was implemented with surgical precision: the redistribution in March 2017 of a little over one-third of the share capital of Reliance Industries, valued at 1.5 trillion (US$23.7 billion), among its existing promoter group entities.

Khaitan & Co was also legal counsel to Chinese pharmaceutical company Fosun Pharma when it acquired a majority stake in Gland Pharma in a long-drawn-out transaction that was the largest acquisition of an Indian company by a Chinese buyer.

Amar Misra, an executive director at RPG Enterprises, says he is “very happy with the services provided by Khaitan”, and that its lawyers are “very quick to respond” and “efficient and know the subject”.

“The advice received from Khaitan is precise, practical and technically sound,” says Anish Bhatnagar, India general counsel at BT India and CBS, commenting on advice provided by the firm’s technology, media and telecommunications practice. He adds, “The fact that the partner [Harsh Walia] understands technology and IT business goes a long way in getting relevant and practical advice”.

Sachin Kalra Head of legal Bharti AXA Life Insurance

“The firm’s approach towards work and clients has been proactive and exceeds expectations,” says Sachin Kalra, head of legal at Bharti AXA Life Insurance.

Suyash Valanju at Novartis commends the IP practice at Khaitan & Co for its “dexterous negotiation” that resulted in the successful conclusion of a specific matter. He recommends counsel Shailendra Bhandare and associate partner Nishad Nadkarni, for facilitating “outcome-based decision making”.

Commenting on Khaitan & Co’s competition and antitrust practice, Rajagopal Venkatakrishnan, senior vice president legal at Reliance Industries, says it is “one of the best in the country”. Singling out partner Avaantika Kakkar, he says the firm “helped some of our key initiatives during the year 2016-17 covering strategic purchase of assets and action against cartelization and abuse of dominance”.

Other clients have included NTT DoCoMo, which the firm represented before Indian income tax authorities and during proceedings to enforce the arbitration award of over US$1 billion it won against Tata Sons; Phoenix Mills and Island Star Mall Developers, in their investment partnership with Canada Pension Plan Investment Board; GIC Re, on its US$1.73 billion IPO; and Hitachi High-Tech Corporation, on the Indian employment law aspects of its acquisition of Oxford Instruments.

Lateral hires made in 2017 include associate partner Nawneet Vibhaw, an environmental advisory and dispute resolution specialist; associate partner Nalina Mayegowda, an experienced litigation practitioner who joined the firm’s Bengaluru office; and associate partner Abhimanyu Ghosh, who joined the firm’s New Delhi office and advises on electricity sector-related issues.

Khaitan & Co was legal counsel on 13 of India Business Law Journal’s 2017 Deals of the Year and receives eight practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

Luthra & Luthra returns to a place among India’s top law firms following a strong performance in 2017. The firm reports that its team of 25 capital markets lawyers “led frenzied and innovative deal making” that included IPOs by HUDCO, which provides loans for housing and urban infrastructure; New India Assurance, the largest general insurance company; and Matrimony.com, which runs an online matchmaking business.

Clients are appreciative of the firm’s work and feedback suggests Luthra & Luthra is equally sought after for a range of its services from competition and antitrust to energy, projects and infrastructure, and employment and industrial relations.

Faizur Rehman Senior Corporate Counsel & Company Secretary Fortum India

“For our upcoming JV [joint venture], we were struggling to meet all the parties’ expectations with regard to risk taking and returns. Luthra & Luthra helped us in providing solutions to meet everybody’s requirements within the legal framework,” says Faizur Rehman, senior corporate counsel and company secretary at Fortum India. He commends senior partner Mohit Saraf, who he says is “unmatchable in [the] energy sector,” and partner Pallavi Bedi for her “great experience and knowledge of the power sector”.

A client who did not wish to be named is all praise for Luthra & Luthra’s competition and antitrust practice, which he says is ably led by partner GR Bhatia. A second client who similarly did not want to be named commends litigation expert Prashant Pakhiddey, who he says is “someone who one can rely on in a tight spot, eyes blindfolded”.

Ken Monteiro, vice president, secretary and general counsel at Ford Foundation, who has used the services of Luthra & Luthra extensively, commends partner Vaibhav Kakkar who he says is “excellent, smart, responsive and strategic”.

Other clients have included Religare, when it sold its 80% stake in Religare Health Insurance; Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India, when it was appointed as the resolution professional in various cases under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016; and Nokia’s Indian subsidiary, in its ongoing litigation over settlements under voluntary resignation schemes triggered by events that followed the 2013 acquisition of Nokia’s mobile devices unit by Microsoft.

Luthra & Luthra was legal counsel on five of India Business Law Journal’s 2017 Deals of the Year and receives five practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co (SAM), headed by Shardul Shroff, has quietly gone about taking into its fold key lawyers and their teams as it worked to widen and deepen its expertise.

Key lateral hires in 2017 have included M&A expert Amit Khansaheb, who joined the firm in May 2017 along with a team of five partners and 32 other lawyers from BMR Legal. In August 2017, banking lawyer Veena Sivaramakrishnan joined the Mumbai office of SAM after leaving JurisCorp. She has joined the firm’s banking, restructuring and insolvency, and bankruptcy code practice. Then in October 2017, capital markets lawyer Nikhil Naredi joined the firm’s Mumbai office after crossing over from CAM. The next month, the firm promoted 11 fee earners to salaried partners and raised its partnership strength to 102.

Vidyut Gulati Director Legal, Bharti Enterprises

“SAM provides relevant, customized advice that is practical and legally sound,” says Vidyut Gulati, director, legal, at Bharti Enterprises. She adds that the firm’s M&A, policy and competition law teams “are particularly top class and render on-time, on-point, viable commercial solutions” that ensure value for money. Gulati commends in particular competition partner Naval Chopra for his “market expertise, global leadership and commercial soundness,” and partner Shahana Chatterji “for her policy-related, cutting-edge work and practical legal advice”.

Manish Nayyar, AGM legal and company secretary at Mitsui & Co India, commends senior associate Sourav Nath in the real estate team for being “very good and proactive in listening to the needs of clients and trying his best to get the same done within agreed timelines”. For corporate commercial work, which he says is “exceptionally good” at SAM, he is all praise for partner Amit Kumar, who he says “is very helpful in understanding the requirements for a Japanese client perspective”.

The firm’s clients include Alok Industries, when it was raising interim finance under bankruptcy proceedings; HSBC India, when it was extending a syndicatable rupee term loan to Alstom Bharat Forge Power to refinance its existing term loans and inter-corporate loans; Eris Lifesciences on its IPO, which was the largest by a pharmaceutical company in India, and one of the largest private equity exits by way of an IPO; and Tikona Digital Networks, which it advised when the company was acquired by Bharti Airtel.

The firm was legal counsel on eight of India Business Law Journal’s 2017 Deals of the Year and receives nine practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

Trilegal retains its place among India’s top law firms following a year in which it made significant lateral hires and won marquee clients such as SAAB Group, Allianz, Macquarie, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Fosun Group. This was in part made possible by adding to its partnership competition law expert Nisha Kaur Uberoi, who joined Trilegal in June 2017 from AZB & Partners along with her team. Uberoi is described by a client who moved with her to Trilegal and wished to remain anonymous as “the star among very accomplished antitrust lawyers in India”.

In August 2017, Trilegal hired banking lawyer Kannan Rahul, who joined from JSA. More recently the firm hired a new head of business development: Anand Ramaswamy a former director of business development and marketing at Baker McKenzie. In the course of the year the firm also promoted four lawyers to its partnership and now has 40 partners in all.

Feedback from clients suggests they are impressed at the direction the firm is taking.

Commenting on Trilegal’s private equity and venture capital practice, Sunil Popuri, principal counsel in the legal department of the International Financial Corporation, says its lawyers are “extremely responsive, very constructive in their advice on structuring and negotiations, and make themselves available on a 24/7 basis if needed to get the deal done”. He is all praise for partner Ravindra Bandhakavi, who he says is “very astute in his advice and commercially very sound”, “very good at highlighting what should really matter to an investor” and “extremely hard working and drives the deal without requiring any sort of prompting”.

Harshitha Thammaiah General Counsel Xiaomi

Harshitha Thammaiah, general counsel at Xiaomi, uses the firm’s technology, media and telecommunications practice and says: “What differentiates Trilegal from other law firms is that they understand technology effortlessly and apply their expertise of law to best suit fast-evolving and dynamic technology companies like Xiaomi”.  She commends partner Rahul Matthan in particular, who she says has a “deep understanding of technology law and offers practical solutions as opposed to hypertechnical ones”.

A second client, who wishes to remain anonymous, says the firm’s lawyers “are always available to address our queries and provide legal solutions even in the tightest of time frames, which makes their service quality quite commendable”. The client praised partner Neeraj Menon for not only having superb knowledge about the energy sector but also for his client management and interpersonal skills.

A client who uses the firm’s competition and antitrust practice says partner Nisha Kaur Uberoi “is the one lawyer you want to have on your team when dealing with a challenging transaction or competition law case”. He adds that Uberoi “has one of the biggest and best teams of competition lawyers in India”.

The firm’s clients include Idea during its US$23 billion merger with Vodafone; Ricoh, when it filed a company petition in the National Company Law Tribunal alleging financial mismanagement in its Indian subsidiary Ricoh India; and Marriott, which turned to the firm for advice on various employment law issues following its merger with Starwood Hotel.

Trilegal was legal counsel on four of India Business Law Journal’s 2017 Deals of the Year and receives eight practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

AVIATION

WINNERS
Advaya Legal
Bhasin & Co
Dua Associates
Gagrats
J Sagar Associates
Link Legal India Law Services
Tyabji Dayabhai

Advaya Legal is a Mumbai-based full-service law firm that is recognized for its aviation practice. The firm is headed by Ramesh Vaidyanathan, a former general counsel of Mumbai International Airport and in-house lawyer at GVK Group.

Bhasin & Co, a firm with offices in Delhi and Mumbai, has long been regarded as an aviation law specialist. The firm is headed by Lalit Bhasin.

The aviation practice at Dua Associates is rated as one of India’s top practices. Partner Sita Khosla and her team are applauded by a client who says: “They know the aviation business, and their responsiveness, diligence and support is outstanding”.

Manoj Jain General Counsel Wipro Enterprises

These sentiments are echoed by Manoj Jain, general counsel at Wipro Enterprises, who has worked with the firm for the past decade, when he says: “The depth of knowledge and maturity that lawyers at Dua Associates display, and their opinions on how to handle a particular legal issue, is remarkable”.

Gagrats, a full-service Mumbai firm, continues to be recognized for its aviation expertise. The firm has provided services to Jet Airways since the airline was set up.

Link Legal India Law Services, a full-service law firm that continues to reap the benefits of its 1 January 2017 merger with DH Law & Associates, is well regarded for its aviation practice. The 155-lawyer firm’s clients include low-cost airline SpiceJet, for which it says it provides advice on all corporate and litigation matters. This has included advising the airline on its US$22 billion acquisition of aircraft from Boeing, and representing it in an international arbitration and also before the Competition Commission of India in an investigation into alleged cartelization of passenger airfares. The firm also advises GMR Airports, which has been developing an airport in Goa, and involved in the expansion of Hyderabad airport among other projects. Managing partner Atul Sharma and partner Anand Srivastava head the practice.

At Tyabji Dayabhai, one of Mumbai’s oldest firms, partner Nimish Vakil continues to be recognized for his proficiency in aviation transactions and litigation.

BANKING & FINANCE

WINNERS
AZB & Partners
Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas
Khaitan & Co
Phoenix Legal
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co
SNG & Partners
Trilegal

While the largest full-service firms continue to dominate the banking and finance practice arena, two smaller firms have won the respect of peers and clients.

Phoenix Legal, recognized for its banking and finance expertise, has developed specialized offerings in areas including syndicated lending and acquisition finance, and routinely advises on
complex transactions. Clients include ICICI Bank, ANZ and Standard Chartered Bank, where it has advised on external commercial borrowings and overseas direct investment transactions with Indian clients. Feedback suggests that clients can expect lawyers to be proactive, argue forcefully for clients, and provide pragmatic, to-the-point advice.

The firm has been in growth mode through the past year. It merged with the highly rated tax practice ASC Legal, headed by Aseem Chawla; added a partner and two others from Seth Dua & Associates; and strengthened its Chennai office with the addition of a former Kochhar & Co partner.

Clients are impressed. “I went through four law firms in India, all recommended by colleagues I knew and trusted, before I found Phoenix Legal, who understood what we needed. They have remained our primary Indian firm since,” says a Singapore-based client, who commends partner Abhishek Saxena as very prompt and concise “without overworking the issue”.

SNG & Partners, headed by Rajesh Narain Gupta, continues to hold its own in this extremely competitive practice area. Clients include IndusInd Bank, which it has also represented in a trademark dispute. Partner Anju Gandhi heads the firm’s banking and finance practice.

The firm was recently sole adviser to the government when it did a disinvestment through an exchange traded fund: Bharat 22 ETF. Partner Amit Aggarwal led on this transaction.

CAPITAL MARKETS

WINNERS
AZB & Partners
Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas
J Sagar Associates
Khaitan & Co
Luthra & Luthra
S&R Associates
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co

Clients typically seek out India’s largest and most reputed full-service firms when they require a capital markets lawyer.

S&R Associates, with offices in Mumbai and Delhi, is the exception. It was sought out by, among others, Vodafone for advice on the US$23 billion merger of its subsidiary Vodafone India and Idea Cellular. This headline-making transaction has been described as “a rare and classic case of a large and complex deal” that was done in a short time. Other clients have included the Qatar Foundation Endowment, which the firm advised on a 96 billion bulk sale of 5% of the paid-up equity share capital of Bharti Airtel; and the book running lead managers in the 4.9 billion IPO of Matrimony.com.

Having grown its partnership through internal promotions, S&R Associates made its first lateral hires in the first half of 2017, when two lawyers joined the firm’s offices in Mumbai and Delhi respectively, along with their teams.

COMPETITION & ANTITRUST

WINNERS
AZB & Partners
Chandhiok & Associates
Khaitan & Co
P&A Law Offices
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co
Trilegal
Talwar Thakore & Associates (Vinod Dhall)

Experts in India’s antitrust laws have become increasingly sought after, not least because of the high stakes matters that routinely come up before the Competition Commission of India (CCI). The larger firms that have large M&A teams have put together teams of highly skilled lawyers.

Chandhiok & Associates, headed by Karan Singh Chandhiok, is a newcomer to this award category. The firm has reported a manifold increase in its competition practice, which had doubled between 2015 and 2016. It continues to represent Indorama, most recently when it acquired a plant of Tata Chemicals through its subsidiary IRC Agrochemicals. The firm has also represented Hyundai and Indiabulls Housing Finance.

P&A Law Offices, headed by Anand Pathak, is recognized as one of India’s top firms in this practice area. The firm’s clients have included Sony Pictures and Super Cassettes Industries.

Talwar Thakore & Associates (Vinod Dhall) continues to run a much sought-after team of antitrust lawyers that is headed by Vinod Dhall. A former chairman of the CCI Dhall acted for clients including Sanofi Pasteur, which the team successfully represented in the Supreme Court, the appellate tribunal and the CCI after the company was penalized for bid-rigging by the CCI; WhatsApp, following allegations of predatory pricing; and a Hyundai dealer, when the CCI imposed a 870 million fine on the Korean car maker for anti-competitive discounting of its cars.

CORPORATE & COMMERCIAL

WINNERS
ARA Law
Argus Partners
Hammurabi & Solomon
HSA Advocates
IndusLaw
Krishnamurthy & Co
Talwar Thakore & Associates

This practice area often provides the bread and butter of law firms, yet clients tend not to seek out the larger firms.

ARA Law, headed by Rajesh Begur, is well respected for its expertise in corporate commercial matters. It routinely works with clients in drafting and fine-tuning commercial contracts, agreements and other documents, and provides opinions on structuring investments and efficient exits as well. Clients are impressed by the depth of expertise, turnaround time and quick thinking.

Bharat Banka Partner Fideliment Ventures

“ARA Law, as a firm, was really focused on generating and providing workable solutions,” says Bharat Banka, a partner at Fideliment Ventures. He commends Begur for his “deep knowledge and practical solutions and availability at all hours”.

Argus Partners, headed by Krishnava Dutt, has forged ahead of its competitors and is recognized for its overall excellence. It has added two practice areas in the course of the year – financial regulation, and insolvency and corporate restructuring. The firm advised Edelweiss Asset Reconstruction when it acquired Adhunik Power after the successful restructuring of its US$507 million debt.

Hammurabi & Solomon, headed by Manoj Kumar, is sought out by both government-run companies and others, and has made a name for itself in the niche areas for which it provides services. Clients have included Apollo International, which is part of the Apollo Group, when it acquired an international company. A former vice president legal and secretarial at New York Stock Exchange-listed Azure Power, Pathik Arora, recently joined the firm’s partnership and is expected to strengthen its corporate commercial practice. Clients are impressed.

Rajat Kalra, company secretary and legal head at Dr Lal PathLabs, praises the firm for the “availability of their team, even at odd hours of the day, to hear and provide solutions to various legal issues”.

HSA Advocates continues to be sought out even as it has shaken up its internal structures over the past year. The firm has added offices in Bengaluru and Kolkata, grown its partnership and done an internal restructuring, which it says is “to further strengthen the existing robust framework that had been assiduously built over the last 13 years”.

HSA Advocates has established itself as a go-to firm for project finance and infrastructure transactions. Its expertise in negotiating and fine-tuning documents, and in corporate advisory, is well-recognized by peers and clients alike. Clients have included Mumbai Port Trust, the Sovereign Wealth Fund of the Sultanate of Oman, JSW Infrastructure, Tata SIA Airlines Limited (Vistara), and the International Finance Corporation.

IndusLaw has been steadily adding to the depth and breadth of its many practices. The firm has over 120 lawyers across its four offices and 23 partners, of which eight joined in 2017. The firm is recognized for its corporate advisory services.

IndusLaw has advised on several headline-making transactions, including the acquisition of Locon Solutions by Elara Technologies. This was a complex transaction in which eight law firms advised on the deal. The Singapore-based parent company acquired a majority shareholding in Locon Solutions, the company that operates the Housing.com portal. Elara already operates the Proptiger.com and Makaan.com portals.

Krishnamurthy & Co, a respected mid-sized firm headed by Naina Krishna Murthy, is reputed for its M&A and capital markets practice and is sought out also for its corporate advisory services. Clients include Tata Realty and Infrastructure, Edelweiss Finance, Marico, Royal Orchid, and BASF India.

Talwar Thakore & Associates is a small Mumbai firm that is sought after for its M&A expertise. Along with this comes its highly rated corporate advisory services. A client who recently used the firm says advice received was “sharp and effective” and that, as a result, the transaction in question could be closed on schedule.

Clients have included Voltas, when it recently entered into a joint venture with a subsidiary of Arçelik, a Turkish company, to enter India’s consumer durables market; Schneider, on the global reorganization of its group entities; and New York Stock Exchange-listed John Deere Group, on the Indian leg of its US$5.2 billion acquisition of a privately held company that manufactures road construction equipment.

DISPUTE RESOLUTION

WINNERS
Agarwal Law Associates
Bharucha & Partners
Dua Associates
Kachwaha & Partners
Karanjawala & Co
Khaitan & Co
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co

As has often been said, dispute resolution continues to be the one area where companies seek out external counsel. As a result, corporate law firms across India have scrambled to build credible dispute resolution practices. Despite this, the top firms in this practice area remain pretty much the same each year. Two – Khaitan & Co and Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co – are winners of our best overall law firms awards.

Agarwal Law Associates continues to be highly rated by clients and peers alike. This small New Delhi firm has two dispute resolution stalwarts in brothers Mahesh and Rishi Agarwal. A client who has used the services of both lawyers says, while Mahesh has an established Supreme Court practice, Rishi is the star of Delhi High Court. However, both are “very competent, always available for their clients and also flexible with their fees schedule”.

Bharucha & Partners is similarly highly rated for its dispute resolution expertise. Senior partner MP Bharucha heads the practice, which recently lost litigation partner Vivek Vashi, who left with his team of 15 associates to set up on his own in November 2017. The firm’s clients have included Idea Cellular during its US$23 billion merger with Vodafone, and during the sale of its telecom towers business to ATC Telecom Infrastructure.

In October 2017, Bharucha & Partners merged with Arthe Law, a New Delhi firm with a corporate and commercial litigation, competition law, technology, media and telecommunications, intellectual property, and white collar litigation practice. It now has 12 partners and about 80 lawyers.

Dua Associates has a substantial dispute resolution practice that is headed by senior partner Shiraz Patodia. Its clients include an international oil and gas company that it is representing in arbitrations against ONGC. It also represents Osram, Whirlpool, Dow Chemical International and others in proceedings in the Supreme Court and other courts, and in mediations and arbitrations.

Kachwaha & Partners headed by Sumeet Kachwaha is well recognized for its dispute resolution expertise. The firm’s clients include a state-owned Qatari company that it successfully represented in an international commercial arbitration and an Australian company that it represented in an ICC arbitration against an Indian public sector company. In November 2017, Delhi High Court appointed managing partner Sumeet Kachwaha as an amicus curiae to assist it in a Vodafone Group matter that was before the court.

Karanjawala & Co receives accolades aplenty for its excellent disputes practice. Its clients include various companies in the Tata group, including Tata Sons, which the firm represented (along with Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co) in the battle against Cyrus Mistry, the erstwhile chairman of the company; DLF, in various matters including trading infringement; and Yes Bank, in a matter about loans that went bad. It is also representing Hoffmann La Roche in a dispute over biosimilar drugs with Biocon and another party.

EMPLOYMENT & INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS

WINNERS
ALMT Legal
Bhasin & Bhasin
Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas
Kochhar & Co
Luthra & Luthra
Nishith Desai Associates
Trilegal

Employment and industrial relations is a domain where niche law firms excel alongside some of the major players.

Bhasin & Bhasin, headed by Amit Bhasin, is recognized in this area. The firm advises companies in the aviation, automobile, hospitality, information technology and services sectors on employment and industrial relations matters.

ALMT Legal receives recognition for its outstanding practice in this area, which is headed by senior partner Aliff Fazelbhoy and partners Kruti Desai and Junia Sebastian. Its clients include a global outsourcing firm and its Indian subsidiary, for which it did a review and analysis of all their employment and human resources policies.

Kochhar & Co is a full-service firm with offices across India and two international offices. Partners Debjani Aich and Gagan Verma are recognized for their employment law credentials.

Nishith Desai Associates receives many plaudits for its employment work. It recently assisted with employment and corporate law issues related to several major acquisitions and is currently representing Infosys in a high-profile arbitration against its former CFO.

ENERGY, PROJECTS & INFRASTRUCTURE

WINNERS
Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas
HSA Advocates
Khaitan & Co
J Sagar Associates
Link Legal India Law Services
Phoenix Legal
Trilegal

With India working towards improving its infrastructure and energy availability, expertise in this niche practice area is greatly valued. The large full-service firms are typically best equipped to handle these matters, but several medium-sized firms such as HSA Advocates, Link Legal India Law Services and also Phoenix Legal also excel.

HSA Advocates has emerged once again as a go-to law firm. The practice is headed by founding partner Hemant Sahai, and senior partner Anjan Dasgupta. Projects that the firm has worked on include providing advisory services and conducting legal due diligence in relation to the acquisition of special purpose vehicles set up to develop ports; assisting Mumbai Port Trust in putting together a policy for waterfront development; and drafting and fine-tuning documentation for the design, construction, finance, operation, maintainance and transfer of high-impact street lights for the Pune Municipal Corporation.

Link Legal India Law Services is seen as one of India’s top law firms in this practice area. It routinely provides services that cover the entire project life cycle, and has strong regulatory, disputes, claims management, financing, restructuring and M&A practices advising in the infrastructure sector. Clients include the developers of urban rail systems and airports in several cities, both in and outside India, and developers of wind and solar power and waste-to-energy projects.

Phoenix Legal wins a place among the top law firms in this category. Its clients have included listed public company Petronet LNG, when it acquired an equity interest in an LNG ship owning company incorporated in Singapore; and Leighton India Contractors, when it obtained an interim injunction against the invocation of high-value performance bank guarantees provided in an engineering, procurement and construction contract.

INSURANCE & REINSURANCE

WINNERS
Clasis Law
Khaitan Legal Associates
Luthra & Luthra
Majmudar & Partners
Phoenix Legal
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co
Tuli & Co

The past year has seen headline-making transactions in the insurance sector. Lawyers with expertise in this niche area have been in great demand and firms have built up specialist teams. This is likely to continue, with news of the possibility of new licences in non-life, health and reinsurance making the rounds.

Clasis Law, headed by Vineet Aneja, is recognized as a top law firm in the area. It routinely advises on insurance regulations and wording of policies for international clients, including a title insurance company and health insurance provider, both of which were looking to enter the Indian market.

Khaitan Legal Associates continues to be recognized for its practice in the area. Both senior partner Sakate Khaitan, a former founding partner at Clasis Law, and Prabodh Chander, a consultant to the firm, have expertise in the area. Chander is a former executive director of the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India.

Majmudar & Partners is recognized for its expertise as an adviser on investment in the sector. Managing partner Akil Hirani represented Axis Bank, which owns a stake in Max Life Insurance, during a recent unsuccessful attempt to merge Max Life Insurance and HDFC Standard Life Insurance. Hirani also represented Cigna Corporation, when it increased its stake in its insurance joint venture in India, CignaTTK Health Insurance, and in the proposed replacement of TTK Group as its Indian joint venture partner.

Phoenix Legal routinely advises clients on insurance coverage and represents them in disputes. The firm also works on the restructuring of insurance companies and intermediaries, often as a result of the progressive opening up of the insurance and reinsurance sector. Clients have included Iffco Tokio General Insurance, Sundaram Finance, and Apis Partners, a private equity investor.

Tuli & Co is a specialist insurance practice that wins accolades year after year. Headed by Neeraj Tuli and Celia Jenkins, the firm advises on various regulatory, compliance and claims-related matters. It has recently added M&A expertise and advised a foreign investor when it acquired a minority stake in an intermediary.

Tuli & Co. has in-depth understanding and expertise in the insurance sector and their turnaround time is highly appreciable,” says Lokesh Sharma, assistant vice president, legal, at Max Life Insurance.

Praveen Gupta Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Raheja QBE General Insurance

“Things get done without [them] having to be reminded,” says Praveen Gupta, managing director and CEO at Raheja QBE General Insurance. “They make the extra effort to ensure that not only do our underwriters benefit from specific claims experience but also that the contracts are robust”.

A client who wishes to remain anonymous commends partners Celia Jenkins, who he says is “unflappable and delivers sound commercially focused advice,” and Shubhangi Pathak.

“They are responsive, precise and also help you identify and understand issues that you may not have thought of,” says Agnipushp Singh, general counsel and director board affairs, PNB MetLife India Insurance.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY – ENFORCEMENT

WINNERS
Anand and Anand
Inttl Advocare
K&S Partners Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan
Mason & Associates
Remfry & Sagar Saikrishna & Associates

Firms that are highly regarded for their IP enforcement skills continue to be sought after as IP awareness becomes more widespread.

Anand and Anand is India’s most highly rated IP firm. Its clients include IP innovators such as Nokia Technologies Oy, the company it worked with to obtain patent licences for Nokia’s cellular standard-essential patents with the largest Indian handset manufacturers; Tata Communications, in a domain name dispute; CNN, in a trademark dispute; and Koninklijke Philips, in a standard-essential patent infringement case.

The 100-lawyer firm is equally sought out for its IP prosecution expertise. It successfully obtained a trademark for the distinct design and image of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai.

Inttl Advocare is headed by Hemant Singh, an IP litigation expert. Clients include Nestlé, Pernod Ricard, and Eli Lilly. The firm has offices in both Delhi and Mumbai.

K&S Partners has long been recognized as a go-to firm for IP enforcement and prosecution. The firm has 113 lawyers and other professionals. It has several high-profile clients for which it has been filing cases against patent infringements, challenging maintainability of writ petitions against granting of patents, filing writ petitions challenging orders of specific patent offices refusing clients’ petitions, and other such critical work.

Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan continues to be recognized as one of India’s top firms for IP services. The 375-lawyer firm has around 48 partners and several have expertise in the area. Chennai-based principal partner R Parthasarathy heads the firm’s IP practice.

Mason & Associates headed by Neel Mason is a newcomer to this category of awards. The New Delhi-based firm’s clients have included Super Cassettes Industries, which it defended against charges of copyright infringement. The firm also obtained an injunction against a television channel that was broadcasting songs without a licence, and advised and represented an intermediary on keyword advertising issues.

Remfry & Sagar has similarly been a go-to firm for IP rights matters. The firm has 95 lawyers (and other professionals), and reports that it currently serves more than 8,000 clients in over 70 jurisdictions and that “about 15–20% of all inbound IP work found its way to the firm”. Clients include Organ Needle Company, a Japanese company that sought out the firm’s services to target counterfeiters operating in India.

At a New York Stock Exchange-listed company that uses the services of the firm for “almost all” of its patent filing and prosecution in India, the chief IP counsel says that the company has been “happy with their quality services for years”. The counsel, who did not want to be named, commends, in particular, partner Samta Mehra as “always very responsive to my inquiries”.

Saikrishna & Associates headed by Saikrishna Rajagopal is recognized as one of India’s top IP enforcement firms. Its clients have included Micromax, which it represented in a standard-essential patents matter, and more recently Saregama India.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY – PROSECUTION

WINNERS
Anand and Anand
K&S Partners
Krishna & Saurastri & Associates
Lall Lahiri & Salhotra
LexOrbis
Obhan & Associates
Remfry & Sagar

Krishna & Saurastri & Associates is recognized for its IP prosecution work. While Sunil Krishna has valuable expertise in trademark prosecution, Manish Saurastri is the go-to partner for both patent and trademark prosecution, transactions and litigation.

Lall Lahiri & Salhotra, headed by Rahul Chaudhry, is recognized among the top firms in India for IP prosecution work. The firm reports that it continues to see a “huge consolidation/transfer of matters/portfolios from both existing and new clientele”. Clients include Novartis and its Alcon division, MetLife, Cheminova India, Hyundai Motor Company, Kia Motors, and Lego, for which it obtained a well-known trademark order.

LexOrbis is once again recognized for its IP prosecution work. The firm, which is headed by Manisha Singh, has been in expansion mode. It expanded its practice in Mumbai, Bengaluru and New Delhi, and began providing “search and analytics based services, global IP prosecution, IP watch services, invention mining, technology scouting, commercialization, partner identification and regulatory compliance” in its New Delhi office.

The firm says it has filed over 700 new patent applications for first filing in India or in the US, for inventions originating in India and related to a wide area of technologies, and that it has filed more than 2,000 new national phase patent applications in India, and has over 550 new patent applications before the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the European Patent Office, the Japan Patent Office and the State Intellectual Property Office in China. Clients are appreciative.

Murali Krishna Company Secretary and Head of Corporate Legal Nuziveedu Seeds 2

LexOrbis is very good in timely delivery of services,” says Murali Krishna, company secretary and head of corporate legal at Nuziveedu Seeds. He says that in the two and a half years that Nuziveedu Seeds has used the firm, “they never failed in meeting timelines”.

Obhan & Associates, headed by Essenese Obhan, is a newcomer to these awards. The firm is recognized for its expertise in patent, trademark and copyright prosecution and has experience working with clients in the mechanical, pharmaceutical, software and telecom sectors. Obhan & Associates has an office in New Delhi and another in Pune.

MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS

WINNERS
AZB & Partners
Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas
Khaitan & Co
Platinum Partners
S&R Associates
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co
Trilegal

Lawyers with mergers and acquisitions experience are typically found in the largest law firms. However, smaller firms such as S&R Associates and Platinum Partners have also built up formidable teams that are challenging the dominance of the larger firms.

Platinum Partners is recognized for its M&A expertise. The firm has advised parties to some of India’s most complex transactions. Its standing in the market may change after a founder partner, Nihar Mody, exited the firm in October 2017.

POLICY & REGULATION

WINNERS
AZB & Partners
Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas
Dua Associates
Hammurabi & Solomon
J Sagar Associates
PLR Chambers
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co

This is a key practice area with clients looking to minimize the uncertainty and risk with regard to changing policy and regulations. India’s top firms have particular expertise in this area. Smaller firms such as PLR Chambers and Hammurabi & Solomon are recognized for their particular skills.

Hammurabi & Solomon takes great pride in its expertise in identifying and accessing the right government officials and also providing an inside perspective on how the government operates and how its actions can affect the clients. The 100-lawyer firm’s “government relations practitioners” understand how issues arise within specific statutory and regulatory frameworks.

The firm maintains strong ties with executive agencies, decision makers and opinion leaders.

PLR Chambers, headed by Suhaan Mukerji, has built up expertise in policy research, legal analysis, legislative drafting and advocacy. Lawyers at the firm have worked with government-appointed committees and working groups, in sectors such as transport, finance, technology, international trade, and law enforcement. Clients include state governments, which it has worked with to draft policy documents, as well as companies that have sought its advice on regulatory compliance or obtaining licences. The firm was recently empanelled by the central government to advise on disputes arising out of bilateral investment treaties.

PRIVATE EQUITY & VENTURE CAPITAL

WINNERS
AZB & Partners
Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas
IndusLaw
Khaitan & Co
Nishith Desai Associates
Samvad Partners
Veritas Legal

The top firms for this practice area have remained almost unchanged over the past couple of years. While most are from within the ranks of India’s largest firms, the presence of Samvad Partners and Veritas in this list suggests clients value smaller firms.

IndusLaw added three new partners to its practice in this area in the course of 2017. The firm’s clients include Oyo Rooms, when an approximately US$250 million investment was made into it from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Sequoia Capital, SoftBank Vision Fund and two others; PropTiger.com, in relation to investment into it by SoftBank and realestate.com.au; and PayU Group, when it invested in PaySense Services India.

Nishith Desai Associates is recognized for its expertise in this practice area. It prides itself on putting together structures for fund investment with a focus on repatriation of profits and exits. The firm’s clients have included Spandana Sphoorthy Financial, a microfinance company that recently raised over US$100 million in equity capital and an additional US$170 million in debt capital; Viteos, when it was recently acquired by PE investors; and healthcare provider Radiant Life Care, when it agreed in July 2017 to a US$200 million investment in it by KKR.

Samvad Partners has built up a reputation as a go-to firm on private equity and venture capital transactions. The firm has 64 lawyers, including 12 partners. Its clients have included Arpwood Partners, which it advised on its limited partners agreement when it acquired the small business portfolio of non-banking finance company Karvy; and online insurance seller PolicyBazaar, and its owner Etechaces Marketing and Consulting, when it raised US$79 million in a fresh round of investing.

Veritas Legal, headed by Abhijit Joshi, grew to six partners and 33 lawyers in 2017. It says that it has been involved in over 50 M&A and private equity deals since setting up in 2015. Clients have included K Raheja Corp Group, when it sold 15% of its commercial real estate portfolio companies to Blackstone; and TPG’s Rise Fund, in its acquisition of a significant minority stake in Dodla Dairy and significant stakes in two medical equipment firms.

Yusuf Khwaja Hamied, former chairman of Cipla, is all praise for Abhijit Joshi, who he says has been his “adviser, mentor and confidant” for the past 10 years.

REAL ESTATE

WINNERS
Anup S Shah Law Firm
AZB & Partners
DSK Legal
Fox Mandal & Associates
Jerome Merchant + Partners
Kanga & Co
Wadia Ghandy & Co

Our list of the top real estate practices includes firms that have offices in Mumbai and Bengaluru, both cities where real estate values are high and development has happened at a frenetic pace.

Anup S Shah Law Firm continues to be south India’s go-to real estate practice. Clients have included Golflinks Software Park, which it assisted in a lease transaction; Puravankara, in a part acquisition and part joint development project; and Salarpuria Real Estates in the preparation of due diligence and title reports.

Over the past year, the firm has added one partner, one principal associate and 18 associates as the firm has worked to “ensure efficient and timely delivery”. Clients are impressed.

Bijay Agarwal Managing Director Sattva Group

“We [have been] associated with Anup S Shah Law Firm for more than 25 years and we are extremely happy and satisfied with their service, advice and expertise,” says Bijay Agarwal, managing director, Sattva Group. “Our satisfaction [with] the firm has increased with the passing of every year as the firm constantly makes an effort to improve its knowledge and … experience in real estate.”

DSK Legal has a highly rated real estate practice that is led by partner Sajit Suvarna. Clients have included the Shapoorji Pallonji Group; Piramal Finance, which it advised on a debt funding transaction; Shivam Developers and Shivam Megastructures, in a development management agreement for a slum rehabilitation project; and Adani Capital, in a loan transaction with a real estate developer.

Joseph Banerji, head of legal, real estate investment business at ICICI Prudential Asset Management, commends Sajit Suvarna for his “in-depth knowledge on real estate and RERA [the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act]”.

Fox Mandal & Associates, led by Bengaluru-based Shuva Mandal, is recognized for its real estate expertise. Clients have included a large Chinese company, which it advised on a JV development in Chennai; along with Edelweiss Financial Services, L&T Financial, and Piramal, which it advised on funding reputed developers.

A client who used the services of the Fox Mandal & Associates taxation practice believes that the firm is “one of the best law firms in the country” on account of its “very competent lawyers and professionals,” and says the firm’s lawyers “are able to anticipate potential business threats and risks and … alert you in advance”.

Jerome Merchant + Partners, led by Vishnu Jerome, is a Mumbai-based firm. Senior partner Kalpana Merchant has long-standing experience and expertise in real estate. Clients include Omya India, a chemical manufacturer, which the firm advised on the purchase of agricultural land and its conversion to non-agricultural use.

Kanga & Co is also a Mumbai-based firm and recognized for its expertise in real estate transactions and advisory. Real estate partners at the 50-lawyer firm are ML Bhakta, Kishore Vussonji and Shales Vaidya.

Wadia Ghandy & Co  a full-service firm with offices in Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad and Delhi  is recognized by its peers for its real estate expertise.

RESTRUCTURING & INSOLVENCY

WINNERS
AZB & Partners
Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas
Dhir & Dhir Associates
Luthra & Luthra
Phoenix Legal
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co
Trilegal

While the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016, has changed the legal framework for insolvency resolution in India, the top law firms with expertise in this practice area are the larger full-service firms. Yet exceptions exist.

Dhir & Dhir Associates is a mid-sized firm of around 70 lawyers that has long excelled in this practice area. Managing partner Alok Dhir has extensive experience in handling complex and high-value restructuring and bankruptcy matters. Clients have included the Rural Electrification Corporation, a government of India-owned company, when it took over the management of a borrower, Facor Power, which had defaulted in repayment of a loan.

SHIPPING & MARITIME

WINNERS
Bhatt & Saldanha
Bose & Mitra
Brus Chambers
Crawford Bayley & Co
Menon & Pai Advocates
Mulla & Mulla & Craigie Blunt & Caroe
ZBA

Bhatt & Saldanha, based in Mumbai and headed by Adil Patel, is viewed by clients as a go-to firm for shipping and maritime matters.

Bose & Mitra is another Mumbai firm that is well regarded in this area. Amitava Majumdar, who heads the firm, is known for his experience in admiralty matters.

Brus Chambers, headed by Shrikant Hathi, has built a reputation for maritime law expertise.

Crawford Bayley & Co is a full-service Mumbai firm of around 150 lawyers that is recognized for its maritime law expertise.

Menon & Pai Advocates is a newcomer to these awards. A full-service firm based in Kochi, it has a maritime law practice that routinely advises ship owners and protection and indemnity clubs (P&I clubs). Senior partner EK Nandakumar recently represented 23 foreign nationals who were acquitted of charges under the Arms Act, 1959, by Madras High Court. They had been on board an anti-piracy vessel that entered Indian waters in October 2013.

Mulla & Mulla & Craigie Blunt & Caroe is a full-service firm of around 100 lawyers. It is recognized for its shipping and maritime experience and for its ship finance work. Partner Shardul Thacker heads the practice and represents many ship owners and P&I clubs.

ZBA (formerly Zarir Bharucha & Associates) is another Mumbai firm that is recognized for its practice in this area. A former banking partner at Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, Niloufer Lam, joined the firm in October 2017.

STRUCTURED FINANCE & SECURITIZATION

WINNERS
AZB & Partners
Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas
J Sagar Associates
Juris Corp
Luthra & Luthra
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co
Trilegal

Among the winners in this category, AZB & Partners, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co and Trilegal also receive awards for banking and finance.

Juris Corp is recognized for its expertise in this area, which is headed by managing partner Jayesh H, and partners Nand Gopal Anand and Pratish Kumar.

The firm was legal counsel to the lenders of a bank guarantee extended to two JSW Steel companies. It also assisted and advised Clix Finance India Unlimited in relation to the documentation for a term loan facility extended to the promoter of Barbeque Nation Hospitality. It has also advised Barclays Bank and DBS Bank on the purchase of trade receivables from its customers and debts owing respectively; and on the sale of an Asian bank’s non-performing assets portfolio to an asset
reconstruction company.

Stanley Park, managing director and head of legal for Asia Pacific at Scotiabank’s global banking and markets division, is all praise for Jayesh H, who he says “brings an exceptional amount of experience and gravitas to the table”.

TAXATION

WINNERS
Advaita Legal
Economic Laws Practice
Khaitan & Co
Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan
Nishith Desai Associates
Nitya Tax Associates
Vaish Associates

Expert lawyers in this practice area were particularly in demand after the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST). The list of winners reveals the re-emergence of top-class boutique tax law firms.

Advaita Legal, headed by Sujit Ghosh, is recognized for its tax practice. The firm recently added to its ranks Atul Dua, a co-founder of Seth Dua & Associates, who has expertise in tax advisory. Clients include DataCore (India), which it represented when the company won a landmark ruling on transfer pricing; a consortium comprising of Reliance Industries, British Gas and ONGC, which it is representing on a service tax matter; and ReNew Solar Power, in a writ petition on an anti-dumping duty matter.

Jose Kuruvilla, vice president, commercial, at Shapoorji Pallonji Infrastructure Capital, who uses the Advaita Legal team for infrastructure project matters, commends the firm’s “quick response time, and clarity and accuracy of advice”.

Economic Laws Practice (ELP) is a 180-lawyer firm that has grown its highly rated direct and indirect tax practices over the past year with four lateral hires at partner and associate partner level. Clients have included Otis Elevator, Voltas, Reliance ADAG, Inox Group, and several others that it assisted with the implementation of GST. Other clients include Juniper Networks India, which it advised on the possible restructuring of its supply chain for tax optimization under GST; GE India Industrial; and Ericsson India.

A Singapore-based client who used the dispute resolution services of ELP says: “They have a large team [that] provides good support in circumstances when such resources are needed, especially by foreign clients like us [who] lack resources in India”.

Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan has more than 300 lawyers and 11 offices in India, as well as offices in Geneva and London. Managing partner V Lakshmikumaran specializes in all areas of taxation, including international taxation and transfer pricing.

Nitya Tax Associates is a young firm that has built up a reputation as a top indirect tax firm. It is headed by Puneet Bansal. Partner Poonam Harjani heads the indirect tax practice. Clients include a leading original equipment manufacturer that it supported on obtaining an important credit claim that arose out of the
introduction of GST.

Clients are impressed. Describing the team as “very talented”, RC Gupta, head of taxation at GlaxoSmithKline, commends Puneet Bansal and Poonam Harjani for being “technically very strong” and understanding business and operational needs. “Their opinions are quite balanced and easy to implement,” says Gupta. “All their opinions are [based on] detailed study of provisions of law and corresponding judicial pronouncements”.

Vaish Associates is a full-service firm with offices in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. It is a recognized as a leading direct tax firm.

TECHNOLOGY, MEDIA & TELECOMMUNICATIONS

WINNERS
DSK Legal
J Sagar Associates
Kochhar & Co
Naik Naik & Co
Nishith Desai Associates
Saikrishna & Associates
Trilegal

DSK Legal’s Technology, media & telecommunications (TMT) team is led by managing partner Anand Desai. The firm has a wide clientele in Bollywood. Clients include Aamir Khan Productions, when it granted video streaming rights for a recent film to Netflix; and Salman Khan Ventures, when it agreed an exclusive digital rights arrangement with Amazon Prime Video, and for the production legal work for a film. DSK Legal has also advised the international advertising agency Dentsu Aegis Network on its acquisitions of companies in India.

Kochhar & Co is a full-service law firm with 109 lawyers, including 52 partners. The firm’s TMT practice is highly rated. Bengaluru-based partner Stephen Mathias co-chairs the practice.

Naik Naik & Co, which is headed by Ameet Naik, is recognized for its expertise in media and entertainment. The practice has widened its scope to digital platforms, sports and gaming laws.

BEST NEWCOMERS

WINNERS
Neeti Niyaman
Rajaram Legal
Spice Route Legal
Vertices Partners

In this category, our editorial team considers law firms that have been set up during the past two years. Finding winners for this award is very satisfying. The number of winning firms in this category can be indicative of the mood of the market. This year we have four firms, which we believe signifies a certain confidence in the market that has prompted entrepreneurial lawyers to set up on their own.

Neeti Niyaman, set up in April 2017 by Sakya Chaudhuri, Avijeet Lala and Anand Shrivastava – all ex-HSA Advocates and Trilegal – is one such firm. It recently opened an office in Mumbai. Clients have included the West Bengal government, which the firm represented in a public interest litigation at the Supreme Court; Tata Power Trading, which it represented in a matter involving allegations of illegal gains; and Sterlite Transmission, which it advised on restructuring of transmission assets in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir states.

Rajaram Legal is headed by Archana Rajaram, a former senior associate at AZB & Partners. Clients include Nexus Venture Partners, IDG Ventures, Myra Medicines and Chumbak. The firm advised Lenskart Solutions, when it recently invested US$1 million in a US startup, Ditto, which develops 3D graphic models for Lenskart’s virtual trial feature.

Archana Rajaram is the independent general counsel at a US$700 million dollar fund, Matrix Partners, where she advises on its investments, exits and portfolio management; and at Unilazer Ventures, where she advises the board of directors, and also manages and guides Unilazer’s in-house team of legal advisers.

Spice Route Legal, set up by Praveen Raju and Mathew Chacko, has offices in Mumbai and Bengaluru, and recently expanded its footprint to New Delhi. The full-service firm says it has seen a 100% growth over the past year in its four key practice areas: M&A and private equity; technology, media and telecommunications; defence aeronautical and aviation; and energy and natural resources. Clients include Teabox, Agami Infrastructure, LT Foods and Centrum Capital.

Mayukh Choudhury Co-founder and CEO Milaap.org

Mayukh Choudhury, co-founder and CEO of Milaap.org, a crowdfunding company, says Spice Route Legal is “overall a perfect firm for VC [venture capital] funded companies seeking quick solutions and fast growth”.

Vertices Partners is a boutique law firm set up in 2016 by three former Economic Laws Practice lawyers: Vinayak Burman, Amit Vyas and Archana Khosla. A fourth lawyer, Jeet Sen Gupta, joined the firm in January 2017 from Juris Corp. He heads the firm’s structured finance, special opportunities and banking practice.