The brightest stars of 2019. Rebecca Abraham reports

The challenges and opportunities of the past 12 months have driven home the need for skilful lawyering and astute legal advice. Lawyers around the country have vied for the work generated by India’s new insolvency and bankruptcy regime, which has emboldened creditors to act against errant companies and also sent M&A deal values to an all-time high of US$ 99.9 billion, according to Mergermarket data.

Add to this legal work triggered by the increasingly complex legal and regulatory environment of India, and headline-grabbing disputes such as that between the promoters of Ranbaxy and Daiichi Sankyo, and the picture that emerges is that of a market where specialist lawyers and law firms are much in demand.

Yet the downward pressure on fees and brutal competition between law firms continues. Companies looking for legal advice in India are assured of quality services at competitive rates.

This is the scenario in which we present India Business Law Journal’s 2019 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 22 practice areas) we have seven winners of equal standing. In the Best new firms category we honour three 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 2018 and early January 2019, 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
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co

The past year has seen the cementing of Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co’s (SAM) place at the top of the legal market. This is a remarkable feat for the firm, which emerged in May 2015 from the embers of Amarchand Mangaldas with 300 lawyers and plans to build a team of 400 to 450 lawyers. The firm currently has 550 lawyers including 111 partners, 26 of whom are equity partners.

Yet this is not unexpected given the credentials of its founders, managing partner Pallavi Shroff and executive chairman Shardul Shroff, who are identified as India’s top lawyers for litigation and arbitration matters, and corporate matters, respectively. Their ability to nurture talent is also evident and clients are impressed.

A case in point is Shahana Chatterji, a partner in the firm’s policy group, whom Nitza Agrait Vilá, senior attorney, commercial legal lead for Microsoft India, describes as “exceptional”. Chatterji was promoted to the firm’s partnership in 2017 and has since built a team of young lawyers, several of whom are women.

“The firm has invested in the training of fantastic young lawyers and it’s working hard to keep them … I also think it’s great that SAM gives opportunities to female talent,” says Agrait Vilá, who adds that Chatterji is her trusted advisor on these matters and there is potential for her and the team to become “bigger and better”. “SAM is my go-to law firm for industry regulatory issues and policy matters, such as financial services, health, and public sector,” says Agrait Vilá.

Lateral hires made over the past couple of years — including that of Amit Khansaheb and five other partners and 32 lawyers from BMR Legal in 2017 — have also been significant.

As a result SAM has been involved in several of India’s most complex transactions and dispute resolution cases in the past year. The f

irm’s briefs have included advising Walmart on its US$ 16 billion acquisition of a controlling stake in Flipkart. It also advised a committee of creditors on what was the first of India’s big insolvencies in which Tata Steel acquired a 72.65% controlling stake in Bhushan Steel, and is currently representing Punjab National Bank as it tries to recover from a US$3 billion fraud involving jeweller Nirav Modi, who fled the country.

SAM’s capital markets team, which prides itself on its “focus on quality execution over volume”, advised on six IPOs that raised more than US$1 billion, and also in the filing of 20 draft offer documents with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). The firm has also acted in and advised on high-stakes cases before the Competition Commission of India (CCI), including appearing for Uber, which was absolved of contravention of India’s antitrust regime. WhatsApp and Facebook, which face various legal issues on account of the change in WhatsApp’s privacy policy, have also sought out lawyers at the firm.

“I rank [SAM] very highly in terms of their quality of service and responsiveness,” says Vidyut Gulati, director of legal at Bharti Enterprises, which is currently using the services of SAM’s banking and finance, capital markets, M&A and policy teams.

The firm reports it has recently developed expertise in fintech, advising industry leaders in the world of technology-driven financial products. Lateral hires in 2018 have included Sugandha Asthana, a former partner at AZB & Partners, and Nivedita Tiwari and Harsh Kumar, both of whom crossed over from Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas (CAM).

SAM was the leading Indian law firm in Mergermarket M&A rankings for 2018, having advised on 104 deals valued at US$52.11 billion. The firm was also legal counsel in 11 of India Business Law Journal’s 2018 Deals of the Year, and receives nine practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

BEST OVERALL LAW FIRMS

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

Despite the increasing competition and pressure on fees in the legal market, there have been no new entrants within the space at the top of the market as yet. Anecdotal evidence suggests that India’s top law firms are mindful of the changing needs of their clients and so have widened and deepened their offerings. The nimbleness of these law firms is vital to their continued success in view of the growing reservoir of expertise within in-house legal teams.

The winning firms in the Best overall law firms category for 2019 are: AZB & Partners, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, J Sagar Associates, Khaitan & Co, L&L Partners, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co, and Trilegal.

With more than 400 lawyers and seven offices, AZB & Partners, which routinely advises on many of India’s most challenging transactions and matters, is a force to reckon with, having long occupied a place at the top of the market. While the firm is recognized for the depth of its experience and expertise in diverse practice areas ranging from M&A and banking and finance to intellectual property rights, its position is due in no small part to the quality of its founding partners Zia Mody, Bahram Vakil and Ajay Bahl.

The firm’s clients in 2018 include: Tata Steel, when it acquired a controlling stake in Bhushan Steel though the insolvency and bankruptcy process; IDFC Bank on its US$1.5 billion merger with Capital First and creation of IDFC First Bank, and Walt Disney in its US$71.3 billion acquisition of Twenty-First Century Fox, which required the approval of India’s antitrust regulator.

“What is most creditable is that AZB makes the effort to better understand the commercial and business nuances and then provides sensible, practical advice,” says Mukesh Bhavnani, group general counsel at Bharti Airtel, of the firm’s corporate and commercial practice. He commends founding partner Bahl and partner Gautam Saha, who he says are “very good lawyers with a deep understanding of commercial implications” and “fully dependable”.

An international client who did not want to be named singles out senior partner Akhilesh Rai, who he says “consistently produces work of excellent quality”. Rai, who heads the firm’s IP practice in its Delhi office, is praised for providing advice that is “practical and strategic” and understanding “the expectations of non-Indian clients”.

Another client who is represented by AZB & Partners in an ICC arbitration says the firm’s team, which comprised partner Rajendra Barot, senior associate Anshika Misra and associate Prabhav Shroff, “exceeded our expectations in several instances”.

Brotin Das, chief manager of legal at Siemens, singles out partner Nohid Nooreyezdan for leading a team that worked seamlessly, so that “in the journey of the transaction we forgot [about] them being our external counsel and it almost felt that they were a part of our in-house team … their focus was on doing the transaction to the best of our company’s interest.”

AZB & Partners was second in Mergermarket’s M&A rankings for 2018, having advised on 99 deals valued at US$48.76 billion. It also advised on 10 of India Business Law Journal’s 2017 Deals of the Year. This included the US$23.3 billion merger of Vodafone with Idea Cellular, which was the largest M&A transaction by deal value in India; and an US$672 million IPO by Bandhan Bank, which was the largest IPO by an Indian bank to date and was oversubscribed 14.63 times. AZB & Partners also picks up nine practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, headed by Cyril Shroff, is India’s largest law firm, with more than 650 lawyers and offices in six cities. The firm continues to be well regarded by Indian and international corporate clients, and routinely advises on many of India’s most complex and challenging transactions involving both domestic and international companies.

Clients in the past year have included: Mumbai International Airport Authority in an arbitration where it received an award on an adjudication regarding aspects of revenue sharing calculations under an operations, management and development agreement; International Finance Corporation in several transactions including with regard to connection with external commercial borrowing to Aditya Birla Finance; Tata Sons in relation to the sale of equity shares it held in Tata Consultancy Services; and Flipkart, when India’s antitrust regulator investigated and absolved it of abuse of dominance.

“CAM has made an effort to understand our business and any advice provided to us is practical, contextual and succinct,” says Bharat Vansh Bahadur, associate general counsel at InterGlobe Aviation, which uses the services of the labour and employment practice at CAM. Commending Ritika Rathi and Richa Mohanty for their “practical and well thought-through advice”, Bahadur says: “CAM’s timely advice has helped us avert any potential disruptions in our business.”

Commenting on the firm’s banking and finance practice expertise, Purva Chadha, senior counsel at International Finance Corporation, says it “is unmatched by any other firm”. Chadha singles out partner Pranav Sharma, whom she describes as extremely hands on: “He is undoubtedly my go-to person for all my banking and finance work.”

CAM was legal counsel on eight of India Business Law Journal’s 2018 Deals of the Year. This included: a simultaneous but unlinked US$1.9 billion rights issue by Tata Steel, India’s biggest steel maker; and a US$649 million IPO by Hindustan Aeronautics, India’s largest defence public sector enterprises. The firm receives nine practice area awards in Indian Law Firm Awards.

J Sagar Associates has consistently won a place among India’s best law firms in the past few years. That this is despite a change of guard at the top of the firm and some exits is commendable. Clients who use the firm’s services speak of lawyers who can be expected to go above and beyond what is asked and expected of them.

“JSA provided thoughtful, practical advice on Indian laws and regulations in multiple areas in connection with a recent acquisition,” says Leigh P Ryan, chief legal officer and chief compliance officer of Teleperformance Group. “The entire team was very strong across all disciplines.”

Ryan commends partners Vaibhav Choukse and Amitabh Kumar, in the competition law practice, whom he says are supported by a strong team of associates, and partner Tony Verghese, in the corporate department, who “was extremely helpful – responsive, experienced, knowledgeable, versatile, practical”.

Amit Ray, regional director at LOT Polish Airlines, which recently commenced flights to India, used JSA for “aviation regulatory preparation work” and says: “The quality of the responses, the timelines which have been met and the professionalism have been outstanding.” He is all praise for partner Poonam Verma for her “collaborative approach, commitment, strategic thinking, and overall professionalism”.

A lender who has long used the services of JSA’s banking and finance practice, and recently used it for a restructuring transaction, says the firm has “a very robust risk identification culture”, which he says is a key attribute for a legal adviser in this area.

In the past year, the firm has worked on several high-profile and complex matters including: filing for insolvency for Aircel and its subsidiaries, which was the first instance of a company in the retail business filing for insolvency under the new regime; and being the sole instructing firm for a French shipping services and maritime transportation company, Louis Dreyfus Armateurs, in a bilateral investor treaty arbitration that involved complex jurisdictional and legal issues, and the provisions of the India-France bilateral investment treaty.

Recent lateral hires include Farid Karachiwala, a disputes specialist who joined JSA as an equity partner, and Maneesh Upadhyay, a corporate law specialist who joined as a partner. Both work at the firm’s Mumbai office. From 1 January, the firm has two new joint managing partners — Amit Kapur from its Delhi office, and Vivek Chandy from its Bengaluru office.

JSA was legal counsel in six of India Business Law Journal’s 2018 Deals of the Year and receives seven practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

The depth and breadth of expertise at Khaitan & Co ensures that it continues to be among one of India’s most sought after firms. The 573-lawyer firm, with 130 partners and directors, advised Flipkart when Walmart acquired a majority stake in the company. This was a long-awaited exit opportunity for Flipkart’s many global investors, and Khaitan & Co says its “mandate was to fully hand-hold Flipkart and all its subsidiaries, while balancing shareholder interests”.

Other clients report a similar confidence when working with the firm.

“Not only do we get wise guidance, but also hand-holding for each case and all procedural issues,” says Utpal Bhattacharyya, president for regulatory affairs and corporate services at RP Sanjiv Goenka Group, who uses Khaitan & Co for its energy projects and infrastructure expertise. He commends managing partner Haigreve Khaitan for facilitating “extremely cordial relations with a human touch, which is rare in today’s business world”.

Rakesh Bhartia, CEO of India Glycols, reports that the competition and antitrust team at Khaitan & Co is exceptional. He commends the team for providing “practical strategies that are not short-sighted but come out of deep understanding of issues that could protect the business interests from unforeseen threats in the long run”.

He also commends partner Manas Chaudhuri for “getting his strategies right every time”, and partner Sagardeep Rathi, whom he describes as a “confident and new-age, sharp lawyer with incisive thoughts on complex legal problems.

“Even on the most vexed legal issues we have found their advice to be top-rate, practical and timely,” says Bhartia, who used the firm’s expertise to successfully establish the existence of a cartel of sugar mills.

“We have a longstanding association with Khaitan and have been extremely satisfied with the services provided by the firm,” says Aakansha Bhambani, special projects – legal at Reliance Jio Infocomm. The firm’s data privacy experts, says Bhambani, are “well equipped to handle complex data privacy-related problems” and are “methodical in their approach to assignments, proactive in responding to queries and efficient with their time”.

She singles out partner Supratim Chakraborty, whom she says “is not just an outstanding lawyer” but also “meticulously looks into the entire business idea behind each assignment and provides solutions which are legally tenable and commercially viable”.

Ashika Daga, senior executive, legal, at Vikram Solar, similarly used the data privacy expertise at Khaitan & Co. She reports that the company had sought out a few other law firms but had been unconvinced of their competence, but Khaitan & Co had exceeded expectations.

“Khaitan and Co is extremely structured in its approach to assignments and proactive in responding to our queries,” says Daga. She strongly recommends Chakraborty, who has “a sound knowledge not only of the relevant legal framework but in also giving practical knowledge”, and is always available.

Key lateral hires in 2018 include: Tomu Francis, a capital markets partner; Indruj Singh Rai, a direct tax partner; Avnish Sharma, a real estate partner; and Rahul Singh, a competition law partner.

A highlight of the past year has been steps taken to improve the work environment at the firm’s four offices. This has included allowing a number of work-from-home days, flexible working hours, and time off to compensate for stressful and long periods at work.

Khaitan & Co was legal counsel on five of India Business Law Journal’s 2018 Deals of the Year and receives seven practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

While L&L Partners has undergone a rebranding in the past year, it has continued to draw in clients that require its expertise in areas ranging from structured finance and technology to capital markets, where the firm says its “understanding of the jurisprudence and direction of regulatory change helped pioneer first-of-its-kind innovation”.

Its recent clients have included the book running lead managers and underwriters of large capital market transactions such as a qualified institutional placement (QIP) for Idea Cellular and an IPO for Fine Organics; GMR Hyderabad, which it represented during a US$350 million issuance of rated listed secured bonds; and CommScope, an international telecoms antenna technology provider, which it successfully represented in a patent infringement suit.

The Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI) used the expertise of the firm’s competition law lawyers to obtain interim relief, which it says “is quite rare”. In doing so, CREDAI had shifted to L&L Partners from what it says is a good law firm that appeared to lack competence. “With L&L we were very happy with the quick and prompt response,” says Salman Akbar, joint secretary at CREDAI.

A client that used the firm’s IP expertise commends it for being “good at working within our budgetary constraints”, and “adept at navigating the challenges of working with the Indian Trademark Office”. The firm has said its rebranding is a statement of it being “an institution that is larger than the sum of its parts” and an effort to recognize the “contributions of its founder, partners, associates and support staff in creating a leading institution”.

L&L Partners was legal counsel on four of India Business Law Journal’s 2018 Deals of the Year and receives four practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

With 44 partners and four offices across India, Trilegal continues to enjoy a place among the best law firms in India. The firm has grown the depth of its expertise in several areas in the past year. This has included: Competition law, which has grown from three lawyers in mid-2017 to 21; private equity and venture capital, which added two lateral hires — Ganesh Rao and Aditya Jha; real estate, which hired GV Balasubramanya; and litigation, which saw the relocation of a partner to Mumbai and so increased its team size in that city.

The firm’s banking and finance practice, headed by Ameya Khandge, prides itself on being part of several first-of-a-kind transactions. While commenting that the practice is “well versed” in the regulations and is solution-oriented while also having strong drafting capabilities, a client who wishes to remain anonymous commends Khandge for his “intricate understanding of client’s commercial objectives” and ability to resolve stalemates.

“They are able to commit resources to handle big deals at short notice,” says Nicholas Lim, legal counsel at Wilmar International. He commends partners Harsh Pais and Kunaal Shah, and associate Sanjam Arora, for their good teamwork, hard work and good drafting.

The firm’s competition and antitrust practice, headed by Nisha Kaur Uberoi, acted for UltraTech Cement in its acquisition of Binani Cement, which was India’s first contested merger under the new insolvency and bankruptcy regime. Its clients include ANI Technologies (Ola), which it defended against predatory pricing allegations before the antitrust regulator, and subsidiaries of LafargeHolcim in an alleged cement cartel matter.

“Their experience in merger law filings and getting the most complicated and challenging merger law filings approved is unmatched,” says an international client who wished to remain anonymous. The client adds that the firm’s “expertise, guidance and strategy” in winning cartel and abuse of dominance cases is also unparalleled.

Other clients are similarly impressed by Uberoi and her team. Uberoi “ably and very proactively handled a demanding client like me”, says another client. Arguing for seeking out Uberoi he says: “You don’t want her to be on the opposite side of your brief.”

Commenting on the firm’s technology practice, a client at a leading technology company, says: “Trilegal as a firm has ensured that they have the expertise to advise on the latest, and even emerging, technology areas even while businesses are contemplating rolling them out. This makes them stand apart from other technology law firms.” He singles out partner Nikhil Narendran for his “in-depth understanding of developments in technology, and ability to understand business needs, expectations and constraints”.

Trilegal was legal counsel on two of India Business Law Journal’s 2018 Deals of the Year and receives seven practice area awards in our Indian Law Firm Awards.

ARBITRATION & ADR

WINNERS
Arista Chambers
AZB & Partners
Bharucha & Partners
Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas
Kachwaha & Partners
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co
Tuli & Co

This is the first time India Business Law Journal’s Indian Law Firm Awards are honouring firms for excellence in this practice area. Parties in India have long favoured ad-hoc arbitrations, but this is set to change with the country attempting to re-invent itself as a hub for institutional arbitration, and clients opting for this more structured format for resolving disputes. Law firms across India are developing expertise in the area.

Three of the firms honoured for this practice area are winners of our best overall law firms awards: AZB & Partners; Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas; and Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co.

Arista Chambers is a small Bangalore firm that is headed by Promod Nair. The firm has built a reputation for representing clients in arbitrations with domestic and international seats.

Bharucha & Partners is recognized for its arbitration experience. Senior partner MP Bharucha anchors the firm’s dispute resolution practice and has made a name for his arbitration expertise. The lateral hire of Karthik Somasundaram has added to the firm’s expertise in the area.

Bharucha & Partners has 10 partners and 70 lawyers. Its clients have included Idea Cellular, which it advised when Idea merged its shareholding in Indus Towers into Bharti Infratel to create a US$14.6 billion entity, and before that during its US$23 billion merger with Vodafone.

Kachwaha & Partners, based in New Delhi, is routinely sought out for high-stakes arbitrations and related litigation. Matters the firm has acted on in 2018 include mounting a successful defence of an international commercial arbitration award of more than US$197 million won by an international client that was being challenged before Delhi High Court.

Managing partner Sumeet Kachwaha was amicus curiae before Delhi High Court in a high-profile dispute between Vodafone and the government of India in a bilateral investment treaty matter. While laying down seminal law, the May 2018 decision generously acknowledged Kachwaha’s contribution and assistance.

Tuli & Co, which has made its name for its insurance and reinsurance expertise, is also being recognized for its dispute resolution practice. Lawyers from the firm routinely work on complex, multi-jurisdictional disputes, many of which are or arise from international commercial arbitrations and investment arbitrations. The firm, which works closely with Kennedys’ network of international offices, reports that it receives instructions in high-value disputes from a diverse set of clients which include private equity funds, commodity suppliers, and insurers and reinsurers.

Sanjeev Tripathi, senior manager of legal at Reliance Capital, has used the firm’s disputes practice and says he has not “an iota of doubt” that the firm is a leader in this area. He recommends partner Naval Sharma and senior associate Saket Satapathy, whom he says “are very good at strategizing”.

Tuli & Co also wins an award in the Insurance and Reinsurance category. In this regards, an international client says partner Celia Jenkins, who heads the firm’s corporate insurance practice, knows the ins and outs of “not just the legal and regulatory framework of matters, but also the practical aspects of many industry practices and unwritten rules”.

AVIATION

WINNERS
Advaya Legal
Dua Associates
Gagrats
J Sagar Associates
Link Legal India Law Services
RNC Legal
Tyabji Dayabhai

J Sagar Associates, honoured as one of India’s Best overall law firms, is a winner in this practice area. Others with reputed aviation practices are described below.

Mumbai-based Advaya Legal is recognized for its aviation practice. The full-service law firm, headed by Ramesh Vaidyanathan, who is a former general counsel of Mumbai International Airport, represents airlines, airport operators, lenders, general aviation operators and others, and advises on diverse areas including airport bids and development, and modernization of airports. The firm’s clients include the GVK Group and Tata SIA Airlines (Vistara).

Dua Associates, a full-service law firm with eight offices across India, has a widely recognized aviation practice. Partner Sita Khosla and her team have been consistently commended for the depth of their knowledge and the quality of support they provide clients.

Key briefs for 2018 have included advising a client in relation to a contract for maintenance, repair and overhaul of the aircraft engines of Air India.

Gagrats, a Mumbai-based law firm headed by Rustam Gagrat, is once again recognized for its aviation work. Its past clients have included Jet Airways.

Link Legal India Law Services, a 180-lawyer full-service firm, has a robust aviation practice that provides a wide range of advisory services, including services pertaining to the lifecycle of an airport project, and litigation representation.

The firm’s clients typically include: SpiceJet, which it has historically advised when it bought aircraft engines, represented it in arbitrations before India’s antitrust regulator, and defended it in a bankruptcy petition; Bangalore International Airport on the tender processes for selection of a contractor; and GMR Airports in relation to the competitive bidding process for selection of concessionaire, among other briefs.

“Link Legal has an experienced team which has been handpicked from the best institutions and organizations across the country … [and] provides partner-driven services to clients,” says Sameer Manchanda, chairman and managing director of Den Networks. Managing partner Atul Sharma and partner Anand Srivastava head the practice.

RNC Legal is recognized for its aviation expertise. The firm’s managing partner, Ravi Nath, reports that the firm has been active in drafting and proposing suitable changes to existing legislation and rules, which are expected to be amended to bring them in line with the Cape Town Convention.

At Tyabji Dayabhai, partner Nimish Vakil is recognized for his proficiency in aviation transactions and litigation.

BANKING & FINANCE

WINNERS
AZB & Partners
Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas
J Sagar Associates
Khaitan & Co
Phoenix Legal
SNG & Partners
Trilegal

The seven firms honoured here win awards for this practice area for the second year running. Five are from the ranks of the large full-service firms that win Best overall law firms awards, and two are smaller firms that have won the respect of peers and clients.

Phoenix Legal is recognized for its banking and finance expertise, and has developed specialized offerings in diverse areas. Lawyers from the firm typically act as lenders’ legal counsel and advise both banking and non-banking clients. Clients are impressed by the level of commitment and quick turnaround time.

“The firm is able to provide sufficient partner time for each mandate,” says Suprio Bose, associate principal of legal at Piramal Capital and Housing Finance, adding that the firm is “able to find solutions and achieve closure on sticky issues in the structured real estate debt space”. Bose commends partner Siddharth Hariani for his “sound knowledge of the real estate sector”, and says “he is always available to take calls and resolve issues”.

Having used the services of Phoenix Legal for an M&A transaction, Allan Colquhoun, senior IP counsel at Volaris Group in Canada, says lawyers at the firm are excellent as they “push for points and do not concede when the points are important … Also, they are very adept at navigating the regulatory challenges of fixing historical corporate mistakes or problems, and seem to have strong connections in government agencies to help.”

SNG & Partners, headed by Rajesh Narain Gupta, is recognized for its expertise in this extremely competitive area. Its clients include Standard Chartered Bank, for which it has acted as lender’s counsel, and public sector banks. It was also lender’s counsel for a syndicated construction finance transaction.

The firm has been in expansion mode and has added offices in three locations in Mumbai. It has also made lateral hires: Ashok Sathyanathan, who joined the firm as a partner in Mumbai after many years with financial institutions in India and overseas; and Subrata Mukherjee who joined as an associate partner in the real estate practice after 15 years of in-house experience.

CAPITAL MARKETS

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

That there is only one change within the ranks of firms being honoured in this category is testament to the fact that companies take few chances when they need a capital markets lawyer, and tend to seek out India’s largest and most reputed full-service firms. Six of the firms on this list are winners of our Best overall law firms. Only one is a smaller firm, but it has long occupied a place within this list.

S&R Associates routinely acts on some of the largest capital market transactions. With offices in New Delhi and Mumbai, the mid-sized firm has 75 lawyers. Its clients in 2018 have included: book running lead managers in the ₹86.9 billion (US$1.2 billion) IPO of HDFC Standard Life Insurance Company; Bertelsmann India Investments, which it advised on diverse investments; HT Media, when it acquired a 10% stake in Editorji Technologies; and IndusInd Bank in its acquisition of IL&FS Securities Services.

It also advised Vodafone in a proposed merger of Indus Towers and Bharti Infratel, valued at US$14.6 billion, and Iron Mountain in its ₹70 million acquisition of the records management business of ABC India.

COMPETITION & ANTITRUST

WINNERS
Chandhiok & Mahajan
Economic Laws Practice
Khaitan & Co
P&A Law Offices
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co
Talwar Thakore & Associates (Vinod Dhall)
Trilegal

With the Competition Commission of India (CCI) augmenting its reach, companies seek out and need the services of lawyers with good antitrust expertise. The larger firms with M&A transactions on their radar have deep experience in the area. As such, our list of top firms includes three firms that are also winners of our Best overall law firms award. The remaining four include niche operators that have built a reputation with teams of highly skilled lawyers.

Chandhiok & Mahajan is on this list of firms for the second year running. The competition law practice at the firm, which is headed by founding partner Karan Singh Chandhiok, recently represented Panasonic Energy India when it was absolved of wrongdoing in a cartelization case before the CCI. The firm has also represented Indorama, Hyundai and Indiabulls Housing Finance.

Economic Laws Practice is a 50-partner firm that is recognized for its work in this practice area. Managing partner Suhail Nathani and partner Ravisekhar Nair lead the practice, which has represented clients in a wide range of sectors including IT, ports, and automotive components. ELP’s competition and antitrust expertise has been sought out by both complainants and parties that need defending.

Its clients have included: Mankind Pharma, which was exonerated in an anti-competitive agreement case filed before the CCI, and for which the firm advised on all aspects; and APM Terminals Management and APMT India, which the firm successfully represented before the CCI and its appellate body.

“The ELP team had assisted in creating a winning legal strategy,” says Ravi Gaitonde, chief operating officer at APM Terminals Mumbai, who adds the firm is very good at selecting senior counsel who are perfect for the job, and briefing them. He commends partner Ravisekhar Nair, whom he says is very reliable and capable in terms of strategies for handling the matter, and the dynamics at the CCI; and Deeksha Manchanda, who “ensures implementation and execution of the strategy”.

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 include Amazon, when it bought Aditya Birla Group’s food and grocery retail chain More, along with Samara Capital.

The firm represents companies before the CCI, the National Company Appellate Tribunal and the Supreme Court of India in matters relating to mergers, cartels and abuse of dominance. The firm’s clients have included Sony Pictures and Super Cassettes Industries.

Talwar Thakore & Associates (Vinod Dhall) was a sought after antitrust practice run by Vinod Dhall, a former chairman of the CCI. The clients of the practice included Sanofi Pasteur and WhatsApp.

In January, Vinod Dhall parted ways with Talwar Thakore & Associates (TTA). P Ram Kumar, a long-time deputy of Dhall who was recently promoted to the TTA’s partnership, heads its competition practice.

CORPORATE & COMMERCIAL

WINNERS
Argus Partners
Crawford Bayley & Co
Dua Associates
Fox Mandal & Associates
Indian Law Partners
Samvad Partners
Veritas Legal

Argus Partners takes pride in having a client list that includes companies from the Tata Group, HDFC, Volkswagen and Citibank. The firm recently advised the resolution professional for Monnet Ispat & Energy, when AION Capital-JSW Steel acquired the company through the insolvency resolution process. Insolvency and corporate restructuring is a practice area that the 14-partner firm, which is headed by Krishnava Dutt, had added in 2017.

Argus Partners is a fantastic law firm … we have found them to be very responsive, up to date on legal matters and with sharp focus on technicalities,” says a director at a leading private equity firm.

Crawford Bayley & Co is a full-service Mumbai firm of about 150 lawyers that is recognized for its corporate and commercial expertise.

Dua Associates’ network of eight offices in India and one in Singapore makes this full-service firm particularly attractive to clients.

Fox Mandal & Associates, headed by Shuva Mandal, is recognized 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.

An international client who wishes to remain anonymous used the firm for support with commercial agreements and says: “The firm is able to understand the business reasons behind the agreements and was able to use legal tools so that we could achieve our business goals.”

In 2018, the capital markets practice was carved out of the general corporate commercial practice. The firm says it also gained clients for its M&A, real estate, intellectual property and corporate compliance practices.

“The practitioners blend real world knowledge with the workings of various IP protection laws to help the client get complete understanding and value,” says Kaushik Murali, president of medical administration at Sankara Eye Foundation India, who used the firm for its IP expertise.

Indian Law Partners, headed by Gopika Pant, is recognized for its corporate and commercial expertise.

In the past year, the firm has doubled the number of its fee earners and added a litigation team comprising experts in trial work, corporate matters and competition law. The firm reports it has upgraded its technological capabilities and its lawyers can work from home when required. The firm has a non-exclusive best-friend referral arrangement with international law firm Ashurst.

The firm’s clients include BlueScope Steel, Royal Equipment, Wells Fargo, Nippon Paper Foodpac India, and Fujitsu General.

“ILP may be a smaller firm compared to SAM, CAM, Khaitan, etc., but their professionalism, knowledge and strong network through Ashurst … definitely make them one of the leading law firms in India,” says Siddharth Bhaiya at SB Indo Advisors.

Samvad Partners is recognized for its corporate and commercial expertise. With demonstrable expertise also in private equity and venture capital, its expertise in negotiating and fine-tuning documents, and in corporate advisory, it is well recognized by peers and clients alike.

The firm’s clients have included food delivery platform Zomato in which Ant Financial invested US$210 million, and Etechaces Marketing and Consulting, which is the promoter of online insurance seller PolicyBazaar, in which Softbank invested US$238 million.

Veritas Legal, headed by Abhijit Joshi, is recognized for its corporate and commercial expertise even as it continues to establish itself as a force to reckon with in the legal market. The firm has 45 lawyers, which includes seven partners, and says it has done more than 80 M&A and private equity transactions and 400 litigation filings since it was established in 2015.

Clients have included Glenmark Pharmaceuticals when its US$90 million orthopaedic and pain management business was sold to private equity firm True North, and the Indian unit of Finnish packaging company Huhtamaki in its US$15.5 million acquisition of Ajanta Packaging (India).

ENERGY, PROJECTS & INFRASTRUCTURE

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

Excellence in this practice area continues to be found in the larger full-service firms. Four of our winners are honoured as Best overall law firms. Three mid-size firms honoured here have won the respect of their peers and clients for their expertise in this area.

HSA Advocates prides itself on being “a powerhouse of legal, regulatory and transactional matters in the entire infrastructure space”. The firm’s clients have included: Chhattisgarh InfoTech Promotion Society (CHiPS), which is the nodal agency for propelling IT growth and implementation of IT plans in Chhattisgarh, and for which it drafted tender documents and advised on several aspects; International Finance Corporation and Inland Waterways Authority of India, which the firm advised on the applicable legal and policy framework; and Canadian Solar, when it bid for projects in Sri Lanka.

“They provide top-notch advice both on legal topics, but also, more generally, on negotiation tactics, and are always very fast and reactive,” says Marc-Elie Bernard, group senior vice president at Altran. He says the company has used the firm for several transactions and “they have systematically proven accurate, reliable and timely”.

Having used the firm’s litigation expertise for disputes that involve complex technical, contractual and cross-border commercial issues where the stakes are high, YC Pandey, consultant legal at ONGC Videsh, an Indian multinational oil and gas company, is all praise for founding partner Hemant Sahai.

“[Sahai is] an astute and exceptionally competent professional with the rare skills and qualities of providing legal advice with a clear understanding and appreciation of the business impact of such advice,” says Pandey. He is similarly appreciative of Pragya Ohri, who assists with court-related disputes, and Rajdeep Choudhury, who assists with ADR.

An international client who used the IP services of IndusLaw says: “Their level of professionalism, expertise and implementation is second to none, and I would gladly recommend that they receive an award as an outstanding law firm.”

The firm made two lateral hirings in 2018: Sudipta Routh and Swapnil Khatri, who joined as partners from Samvad Partners and Wadia Ghandy, respectively.

INSURANCE & REINSURANCE

WINNERS
AZB & Partners
Khaitan & Co
Khaitan Legal Associates
Majmudar & Partners
Phoenix Legal
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co
Tuli & Co

As the Indian insurance market grows, lawyers with expertise in the area are actively being sought out. Three firms honoured in this area are winners of our Best overall law firms awards. Others are niche players that have developed valuable and much-in-demand experience and expertise in this practice area.

Khaitan Legal Associates continues to be recognized in this area, with its services ranging from advising on M&A joint venture agreements for the sector, to advising on regulation. The firm’s 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. The firm has offices in Mumbai and London.

Majmudar & Partners is recognized for its insurance and reinsurance expertise. Managing partner Akil Hirani was Indian counsel to Cigna on its US$67 billion merger with Express Scripts. Hirani had previously represented Cigna 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.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ENFORCEMENT

WINNERS
Anand and Anand
Fidus Law Chambers
Inttl Advocare
K&S Partners
Mason & Associates
Saikrishna & Associates
ZeusIP

Many of India’s top IP enforcement firms are based in New Delhi as Delhi High Court is the centre of the vast majority of the action in this regard.

Anand and Anand continues to be India’s most highly rated IP firm. Its clients include: Philips, which it has represented in a patent infringement matter that was India’s first standard essential patents litigation; and Louis Vuitton Malletier in a counterfeit products matter that morphed into a contempt of court matter. While both are longstanding clients the firm reports that important orders in both cases were made by courts in 2018.

The 100-lawyer firm is equally sought out for its IP prosecution expertise. It recently obtained a patent for a vaccine developed by Wyeth in the face of two pre-grant oppositions. Reviews of the decision are pending.

“Every matter, be it relating to infringement, management of IP in India and foreign jurisdictions, partners at Anand and Anand show great skill and insight,” says Chetan Nage, a senior manager of legal at Tata Sons.

“We believe Anand and Anand is clearly the leading IP litigation firm in India,” says Patrik Hammaren, director of patent licensing at Nokia. He is all praise for managing partner Pravin Anand, who he says “is instrumental for setting up winning processes”, and “has built a strong core around him”.

Clients commend several other lawyers including: partner Safir Anand, who it is said has unparalleled knowledge; Shantanu Sahay and Saif Khan, who are described as “effective and efficient”; and partners Achuthan Sreekumar, Swati Sharma, Gautam Razdan and Pankaj Pahuja.

Fidus Law Chambers is a 20-lawyer firm that appears to be punching above its weight. The firm says it has taken on six lawyers this year. It says it used an IP lawsuit to act against a domain used in a phishing operation, and so shut down more than 100 bank accounts used for fraudulent transactions in six banks.

Managing partner Shwetasree Majumder regularly receives praise from clients who have described her as a terrific lawyer and savvy counselor.

Inttl Advocare is a 45-lawyer firm headed by Hemant Singh with offices in New Delhi and Mumbai that represents several international and domestic brands. Its clients include Novartis, Dabur and LG Electronics India.

“We have been able to favourably deter infringers, cyber-squatters and questionable applications with their assistance,” says Amit Rai, director of legal at the Times Group, adding that their success rate with Intll Advocare is the highest.

He commends managing partner Hemant Singh, whom he says “possesses a rare combination of skill and business acumen, which reflects in his drafting and arguments before courts”. He also commends partner Mamta Jha, who “brings in hard work and great research”.

K&S Partners is an IP boutique that has more than 100 lawyers and offices in five cities across India. The firm is the IP affiliate of J Sagar Associates.

The firm’s clients include Valagro, which it has represented in a trademark infringement matter, and Gilead Pharmasset, which it represented in litigation against the grant of a patent.

Mason & Associates is a New Delhi-based law firm that is headed by Neel Mason. The firm’s clients include Hungama Digital Media Entertainment, which it defended in a claim to a right to royalty for a non-live performance, and Google, in a copyright infringement claim against its Play Store. The firm had earlier defended Google in a right to be forgotten on the internet case.

Saikrishna & Associates, headed by Saikrishna Rajagopal, is recognized for its expertise in IP enforcement. The firm says it added several new and prominent clients in 2018, including: Musically, owned and operated by the Chinese venture, Bytedance; and Audible Singapore, an affiliate of Amazon engaged in producing and licensing audio-based productions.

The firm is representing the Motion Pictures Association of America in an ongoing litigation where seven Hollywood studios have come together to file copyright infringement actions against approximately 30 torrent websites.

An international client who did not want to be named says the firm “provides a high level of expertise in the local television industry” and also handles a high volume of its work “in very short turnaround times”. He commends partner Monica Dutta, whom he says is “is very knowledgeable and respected in Delhi and Mumbai, and provides practical solutions to difficult negotiations”.

The firm has taken on more office space to accommodate its growing numbers in New Delhi and in Noida.

ZeusIP is a small IP boutique firm based in New Delhi. The four-partner firm has about 20 lawyers.

“We are highly satisfied with ZeusIP methods of enforcement,” says David Lopez, head of the intellectual property department at SICPA Holding, a global provider of security inks, authentication and traceability solutions and services.

Lopez says the firm demonstrates “the highest level of local expertise in all areas of IP law/practice, excellent communication skills, solid counsel and competitive rates, which clearly sets them apart from other firms we historically worked with.”

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY PROTECTION

WINNERS
Anand and Anand
Chadha & Chadha
Krishna & Saurastri Associates
LexOrbis
Rahul Chaudhry & Partners
Remfry & Sagar
SS Rana & Co

Chadha & Chadha is a newcomer to these awards. The six-partner firm has 10 offices across India and is headed by Chetan Chadha. Its recent clients include Sarine Technologies and Technion, both Israeli companies that it represented when they were granted patents.

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

LexOrbis, which is headed by Manisha Singh, says it increased its patent prosecution practice group in 2018 by hiring 17 patent attorneys, and now has more than 54 patent attorneys. In 2018, it drafted more than 850 new patent cases for inventions originating from India, and successfully prosecuted more than 2,000 patent applications.

Rahul Chaudhry & Partners (formerly Lall Lahiri & Salhotra), headed by Rahul Chaudhry, currently has 55 lawyers, including nine partners, with offices in Delhi and Gurugram. The firm recently introduced 100% automated IP management systems to manage client data, and statutory and internal deadlines. Its clients have included Novartis, MetLife, Cheminova India, Hyundai and Kia Motors.

Remfry & Sagar is among India’s largest IP firms, with 100 lawyers (and other professionals) including 14 partners and clients in over 70 countries. The firm prides itself in its low attrition rate and says 10 of its 14 partners have remained at the firm for more than 10 years, which it says results in “stability and continuity of service” for clients.

Remfry & Sagar reports that it has hired 40 new lawyers and support staff in the second half of 2018. It also opened an office in Bengaluru and moved to a larger office in Chennai. The firm’s clients include Diageo and United Spirits, both of which selected Remfry & Sagar as trademark agents in India and South Asia, and various jurisdictions worldwide, respectively, after a rigorous review of various other Indian law firms.

A lawyer at an Italian law firm that uses the services of Remfry & Sagar applauds its quality and responsiveness. “I have never heard complaints from our paralegals about Remfry & Sagar (which is not the case with other Indian IP firms),” says Corrado Fioravanti, senior partner at Jacobacci & Partners. He commends partners Ranjna Mehta-Dutt and Samta Mehra for their expertise with patents in the fields of life sciences and trademarks, respectively.

SS Rana & Co, headed by Vikrant Rana, has performed well in IP protection. The firm’s current clients include Starbucks, and has included Golds Gym and McDonalds.

LABOUR & EMPLOYMENT

WINNERS
ALMT Legal
Bhasin & Co
IndusLaw
Kochhar & Co
Nishith Desai Associates
Singhania & Partners
Trilegal

ALMT Legal is headed by senior partner Aliff Fazelbhoy and partner Kruti Desai. Its clients include an IT and data storage solutions company that it advised on provisions of the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961, in relation to termination of employment of women employees during pregnancy, and provisions relating to crèche facilities.

A client who used the services of the firm’s banking and finance expertise says: “They have a very strong team and are very good when delivering holistic advice across practice areas.”

Bhasin & Co, headed by Lalit Bhasin, continues to be recognized for its experience in this practice area.

Kochhar & Co is a full-service firm with offices across India and two international offices. Partners Debjani Aich and Vijay B Ravi are recognized for their employment law expertise. Managing partner Rohit Kochhar is similarly an expert in labour law matters.

The labour and employment law practice at Nishith Desai Associates is headed by Vikram Shroff. Clients include Investcorp, when it acquired the private equity and real estate business of IDFC, and Vulcan Global, when it sold its capital stock of Susquehanna Capital Acquisition to Lydall. It is currently advising several clients including Uber, Airbnb, Facebook Netflix, and Softbank.

Singhania & Partners, which is headed by Ravi Singhania, opened an office in Gurugram in 2018. Its clients include McGraw Hill Companies, Punj Lloyd and Oxford University Press.

LITIGATION

WINNERS
Agarwal Law Associates
Bharucha & Partners
DMD Advocates
DSK Legal
Karanjawala & Co
P&A Law Offices
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co

Litigation – and dispute resolution in general – continues to be the one area where companies need the support of lawyers other than those in their in-house teams. This is an area where independent lawyers flourish. Corporate law firms across India have scrambled to build strong expertise in the area, and only one firm in this list is a winner of our Best overall law firms awards.

Agarwal Law Associates continues to be recognized for its expertise in this area. The firm is led by brothers Mahesh and Rishi Agarwal. While the former has an established Supreme Court practice, Rishi’s practice is in Delhi High Court. Both are recognized as competent, and with excellent networks and access to all-important senior counsel.

DMD Advocates is a full-service firm with offices in New Delhi and Mumbai. Its clients have included: Vodafone, which it recently successfully defended in a suit relating to an investment treaty arbitration that the company had initiated; Vedanta, which it successfully represented in Delhi High Court with regard to obtaining an extension of a production sharing contract; and Delhi International Airport, for which it obtained orders from Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court for enforcing a decision to shift part of the operations of three domestic airlines between terminals.

“They have been our go-to Indian litigation counsel for more than 10 years now,” says Nick Vidovich, group legal director at Vodafone Group. “They are smart, very experienced and tactically astute … They are extremely responsive, and work well with co-counsel from other countries.”

The firm is led by Anuradha Dutt and Fereshte Sethna, who are managing partners of the New Delhi and Mumbai offices, respectively.

DSK Legal is recognized for its litigation practice, led by managing partner Anand Desai. In 2018, the firm represented clients in some high-profile disputes, including: a matter regarding the succession of the head of the Dawoodi Bohra community; an issue of stamp duty for advertising, where the firm represented the WPP Group; land disputes in which the firm represented the state of Maharashtra; and disputes involving Bollywood film production companies that were successfully represented.

The firm is also recognized for its real estate expertise and Anand Vardhan, president of legal at Piramal Capital and Housing Finance, who used the firm’s services in that area, says: “They are adept at advising on complex transactions involving technical nuances. The team has deep domain knowledge of real estate and are well versed with local market practices.”

Karanjawala & Co is recognized for its litigation services by peers and clients alike. Headed by Raian Karanjawala, the firm has both commercial clients and others, with all tending to be involved in high-profile disputes. Ruby Singh Ahuja, a senior partner at the firm, has been praised for demonstrating commitment to her clients and for taking ownership of the client’s case.

P&A Law Offices, headed by Anand Pathak, is recognized for its litigation expertise. Clients have included Daiichi Sankyo, which the firm represented when both Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court recently gave the go-ahead for the enforcement of a ₹35 billion (US$500,000) arbitral award against the founders of Ranbaxy, brothers Malvinder and Shivinder Singh.

MEDIA & ENTERTAINMENT

WINNERS
Anand and Anand & Khimani
DSK Legal
J Sagar Associates
Kochhar & Co
Naik Naik & Co
Nishith Desai Associates
Saikrishna & Associates

Anand and Anand & Khimani was formed in 2017 through the merger of Anand and Anand’s Mumbai office and Khimani & Associates, headed by Priyanka Khimani, and has represented several Bollywood professionals. The merged firm is recognized for its expertise in entertainment law.

Naik Naik & Co, headed by Ameet Naik, is recognized for its expertise in media and entertainment. Its clients include Viacom 18 Media, for which managing partner Naik appeared when the Supreme Court dismissed applications to intervene in a petition that had cleared the screening of Padmaavat, a Bollywood movie that various organizations opposed. The firm has a referral agreement with international law firm Gowling WLG.

MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS

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

Mergers & acquisitions expertise is typically to be found within the larger full-service law firms. But there are some exceptions, and Platinum Partners and S&R Associates are testament to this.

Platinum Partners is a mid-sized firm of 50 lawyers led by Karam Daulet Singh. The firm has advised on many of the most complex transactions and is recognized for its M&A expertise. Its clients in 2018 have included Arysta LifeScience in its US$4.2 billion acquisition by UPL Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of agrochemical solutions provider UPL.

POLICY & REGULATION

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

As the uncertainty of changing policy and regulation is a key factor of doing business in India, lawyers with expertise in the area are sought out. This is often the value-added provided by India’s largest full-service firms, with key partners sitting on government committees. Firms such as PLR Chambers and Hammurabi & Solomon are recognized almost exclusively for expertise in this area.

Hammurabi & Solomon, headed by Manoj Kumar, provides what are often invaluable insights into policy and regulation. The firm recently set up an office in Gurugram. Its clients include a tobacco company that faced challenges on account of illegal manufacture and trade of cigarettes in India, which the firm worked to mitigate through the policy and regulatory framework.

A client who recently sought out the firm says: “Their contribution was valuable for submissions before government committees, which culminated in preparing submissions to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs and other government committees.”

PLR Chambers, headed by Suhaan Mukherjee, specializes in public policy and regulatory affairs. The firm represents clients before various ministries and departments of the government regulators and various law enforcement agencies. Mukherjee has served on government committees and assisted with drafting of legislation.

PRIVATE EQUITY & VENTURE CAPITAL

WINNERS
AZB & Partners
Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas
IndusLaw
J Sagar Associates
Khaitan & Co
Samvad Partners
Vertices Partners

Despite the intense competition for work in this area, there is little change within the ranks of the most sought-after firms. Vertices Partners, headed by Vinayak Burman, is a newcomer to this award category. It routinely acts for investors in transactions such as Rubix Data Sciences raising an angel investment round of about ₹99 million.

REAL ESTATE

WINNERS
Anup S Shah Law Firm
DSK Legal
Hariani & Co
Kanga & Co
Krishnamurthy & Co (K Law)
Vidhii Partners
Wadia Ghandy & Co

Real estate expertise is typically found in small and mid-sized specialist firms. The largest of the firms are in Mumbai and Bengaluru.

Anup S Shah Law Firm is recognized by its peers and clients in this practice area. The firm’s clients include the Embassy Group, Puravankara and Salarpuria Sattva – all with a sizeable presence in Bengaluru.

Hariani & Co, a Mumbai-based firm headed by Ameet Hariani, takes pride in having executed several innovative transactions in real estate including real estate financing transactions, advising on the legal and regulatory aspects of foreign investment in the Indian real estate sector, and structuring joint ventures for real estate development.

Kanga & Co is also a Mumbai-based firm with expertise in real estate transactions and advisory. Real estate partners at the 50-lawyer firm include Kishore Vussonji, Shales Vaidya and Rishiraj Bhatt.

Krishnamurthy & Co (K Law) is a 65-lawyer firm headed by Naina Krishna Murthy. Its clients include: PNB MetLife India Insurance, for which it conducted an extensive due diligence exercise; IL&FS Energy Development Corporation, for which it did a legal due diligence and title scrutiny; and KNS Infra, which it assisted on an acquisition.

Vidhii Partners is a newcomer to these awards. Headed by Manish Desai and Sowjanya Menon, the full-service firm is recognized for its expertise in real estate.

Wadia Ghandy & Co is a full-service firm recognized for its real estate expertise. Its clients have included the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust in the redevelopment of Bhendi Bazaar, a 6.7-hectare area in the heart of Mumbai.

Arjun Arikeri, vice president at Multiples PE, who used the firm for its private equity expertise, says: “Its team is able to understand and appreciate viewpoints of both negotiating parties and work towards bridging the gap in an amicable manner – which is valuable.”

RESTRUCTURING & INSOLVENCY

WINNERS
Argus Partners
AZB & Partners
Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas
Dhir & Dhir Associates
Khaitan & Co
Phoenix Legal
Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co

In the past year, action triggered by the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016, has shaken up corporate India. Law firms around the country have tried to get a slice of the work being generated, and the top firms have built up sizeable teams. As such, four of the firms being honoured in this category are also winners of our Best overall law firm awards. The rest range in size from small to mid-sized, but all excel in this practice area.

Dhir & Dhir Associates is a full-service firm with about 70 lawyers. Led by Alok Dhir, the firm routinely advises on financing of term loan facilities for repayment of existing loans. Its clients include L&T Finance and three other related companies, when they provided a term loan facility to Vena Energy and ACME Solar Holdings, among others. The firm recently hired Sarbasuchi Das as a partner in the firm’s Bengaluru office.

SHIPPING & MARITIME

WINNERS
ALMT Legal
Bhatt & Saldanha
Bose & Mitra & Co
Brus Chambers
Mulla & Mulla & Craigie Blunt & Caroe
Singhania & Co
ZBA

Bhatt & Saldanha is a Mumbai based firm. Managing partner Adil Patel represents ship owners and P&I clubs.

Bose & Mitra & Co is another Mumbai firm that is well regarded in this area. Managing partner Amitava Majumdar reports that in 2018, the firm added lawyers and now has 15 fee-earners.

A European client who did not want to be named says: “We receive careful, comprehensive and timely advice on legal issues and [Bose & Mitra] provides clear insight in possible ways forward and expected constraints/results.”

Adds Clayton Pinto, executive director at Seven Islands Shipping: “Amitava Majumdar has established himself and his firm to address any issues that concern any matter in shipping, and has consistently delivered as committed for almost a decade with us.”

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

Mulla & Mulla & Craigie Blunt & Caroe is a full-service firm of about 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 protection and indemnity (P&I) clubs.

Singhania & Co is a newcomer to these awards. Managing partner Krrishan Singhania has expertise in shipping and maritime law.

ZBA (formerly Zarir Bharucha & Associates) is led by Zarir Bharucha, and the firm’s maritime practice is praised by clients and peers. It is active in litigation and arbitration, including high-value ship arrests, mortgage enforcement and cargo-related disputes. ZBA is also known for its ship financing capabilities and regularly acts for leading international and domestic clients, including financial institutions, shipping companies and P&I clubs (non-profitable mutual association of marine insurance providers). They are also active in courts across India, including the Supreme Court.

“He is very professional and took time to keep us updated from time to time, and pursued our case vigorously to ensure our interests are best served,” says Chakradhar V, general counsel at Godrej, who used Bharucha’s services for a litigation matter.

STRUCTURED FINANCE & SECURITIZATION

WINNERS
AZB & Partners
Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas
Jerome Merchant + Partners
Juris Corp
L&L Partners
SNG & Partners
Talwar Thakore & Associates

The winners of this category are firms that have strong banking and finance practices, including three winners of our overall firms awards.

Jerome Merchant + Partners is a Mumbai firm. Managing partner Vishnu Jerome and partners Shameek Ray and Murtaza Somjee have expertise in the practice area.

JurisCorp, led by Jayesh H, is recognized for its expertise in structured finance and securitization. The firm’s clients include JM Financial Group, Investec Bank, and VTB Capital. The firm has also advised lenders in relation to financing made available to companies that are being restructured under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016.

Talwar Thakore & Associates is a Mumbai-based firm that has a highly rated finance practice, sought out for its expertise with complex structured lending transactions. Partners Sonali Mahapatra and Rahul Gulati are highly rated by their peers and clients. The firm has a best friend relationship with Linklaters.

TAXATION

WINNERS
Advaita Legal
Ashok Dhingra Associates
BMR Legal
Economic Laws Practice
Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan
Nishith Desai Associates
Vaish Associates

Expertise in this practice area is much sought out and often found outside the large full-service firms.

Advaita Legal, a mid-sized firm, is recognized for its taxation advisory and litigation practice. Ghosh is an indirect tax specialist.

Ashok Dhingra Associates is a newcomer to these awards, and has built a reputation as a go-to firm for indirect tax litigation and advisory services. Headed by a former chair of taxation at J Sagar Associates and former bureaucrat, Ashok Dhingra, the firm is applauded for resolving tax disputes on behalf of clients including an offshore installation contractor.

BMR Legal continues to be recognized for its taxation expertise. Managing partner Mukesh Butani heads the 15-lawyer, two-partner firm.

Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan is a full-service firm with a widely recognized taxation practice. Managing partner V Lakshmikumaran leads the practice that offers both advisory and litigation services.

Vaish Associates has a well-established practice for both direct and indirect taxation that receives praise from clients and peers alike. Partner Shammi Kapoor heads the indirect tax practice.

TECHNOLOGY

WINNERS
J Sagar Associates
L&L Partners
Naik Naik & Co
Nishith Desai Associates
Spice Route Legal
TechLegis
Trilegal

This is a practice area where new entrants to the legal market are snapping at the heels of the larger, more established firms.

Testament to this is the rise of Spice Route Legal, which was founded in 2016 by Praveen Raju and Mathew Chacko. It has since set up offices in Mumbai, Bengaluru, New Delhi and, in the past year, in Kochi.

The technology practice, which is headed by Chacko, reports that it is working with eight banks on licensing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, data privacy, blockchain and regulatory issues. Spice Route Legal says it has two-way referrals with leading international law firms such as Dentons and Sheppard Mullin. Clients are impressed.

Akash Gehani, founder of Instamojo says he is “very happy” with services provided. “There were a few cases around cybercrime issues where they have been very efficient at resolving issues,” says Gehani, adding that interactions with the two founders and associate Aadya Misra have been good.

TechLegis was similarly set up in 2016, and has since built up a reputable practice. The firm is led by Salman Waris and its clients include: Voxbone, a Belgium company which provides IP-based communication services, which it helped with the structuring of its proposed India business; Quintiles IMS Holdings, an American multinational health information technologies and clinical research company, when it acquired AC Nielsen’s India business as part of a major global acquisition by IMS of Nielsen’s pharmacy data aggregation business; and ZTE, on a day-to-day basis, in its India business and various telecom agreements and contentious telecom matters.

BEST NEW LAW FIRMS

WINNERS
Anoma Legal
RegLaw Chambers
Vashi & Vashi

In this category, our editorial team considers law firms that have been set up during the past two years. We believe the number of winning firms in this category can be indicative of the mood of the market. This year, we have three winners – one down from the previous year. This perhaps suggests optimism, albeit tinged with caution, in the market.

Anoma Legal was founded in May 2018 by seven former Krishnamurthy & Co (K Law) partners. The firm has grown from an initial team of 19 members to more than 30. While it is early days, clients are impressed.

“We appreciate the kind of advice and input which was provided to us by Anoma … the turnaround time and speed are appreciated,” says Rajiv Choubey, general counsel at ACC Cements, who used the services of the firm for advice on a solar energy project. He commends partner Nilesh Chandra, whom he says is “one of the best lawyers I have worked with on energy and infra projects”.

A lawyer who used the firm for its private equity and venture capital services, and wishes to remain anonymous, says: “I have found them to be extremely diligent, knowledgeable and responsive in all the matters where I have worked with them.”

He recommends partner Abhinav Singh, who heads the firm’s Bengaluru office, “for his expertise in corporate law and his ability to give pragmatic and commercially sound advice”.

RegLaw Chambers was set up in April 2018 by two former lawyers at J Sagar Associates: Mansoor Ali Shoket, a former equity partner, and Nitin Kala, a former salaried partner.

Vashi & Vashi was founded in October 2017 by Vivek Vashi, a former partner at Bharucha & Partners. The firm has expanded to a team of 20 lawyers across two offices in Mumbai. Its clients include: the Lodha Group, which it represented before the National Company Law Tribunal in relation to applications filed by financial creditors and operational creditors under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016; and Enercon, a German wind turbine maker, which the firm represented before the Bombay High Court against its Indian joint venture partners in India.