India Business Law Journal reveals the top 100 India-focused legal experts outside the country. Putro Harnowo reports
As the second-biggest economy in Asia, India actively attracts investment and generates offshore work, transactional financing, advisory and taxation, along with multinational disputes. More and more international law firms are keeping a close eye on India and, although a complete opening up of the market still seems beyond reach, the Supreme Court in 2018 made a positive decision by allowing foreign lawyers to practise on a “fly in, fly out” basis for a set number of days each year.
Such a concession forbids foreign lawyers to set up an office in the country, but they can enter on behalf of clients and act in international arbitrations. Foreign firms that have set up Indian desks in jurisdictions such as Singapore, London and Hong Kong have been known to be regularly involved in headline transactions and matters.
Reactions among the legal community on the issue has been mixed, and there has been debate, speculation and disappointment about the proceedings. Yet India’s place as one of the world’s fastest growing economies remains attractive as a priority market for foreign investment.
Last year, private equity investments in India reached a 10-year high, at US$17.3 billion, according to financial data provider Refinitiv, growing by 60.5% from US$10.8 billion in 2018. The country also jumped 14 spots in the 2020 World Bank’s ease of doing business report to 63rd position among 190 countries.
Within the highly regulated market, international lawyers have been building close relationships with clients, law firms and local advocates. From a glance at the website of just about any international law firm, one can see the names of numerous partners and associates who have experience working on India-related matters.
But of the hundreds of lawyers around the world who claim to be India experts, which ones are leading the field? To find out, India Business Law Journal sought answers from a large number of professionals, mainly experienced lawyers at Indian law firms and India-focused in-house counsel around the world. We asked these professionals to recommend the lawyers that they consider to be among the top legal experts for advising on the international aspects of India-related matters.
The analysis that follows provides highlights of the International A-List, including endorsements of many of the recognized lawyers by those who nominated them. Space did not permit us to include editorial coverage of every A-List lawyer, but the full list of all 100 International A-List lawyers follows this article.
Singapore centre of gravity
Singapore was the largest source of foreign direct investment for India in the 2018-19 financial year. The city-state is also the place where the largest number of India-focused international lawyers are located, with 39 International A-List lawyers, ahead of the UK, which has 31. This year, many capital markets lawyers have received recognition from their clients.
Iqbal Khan, a senior partner at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co, recommends Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom counsel Parveet Singh Gandoak as an “excellent lawyer by all standards, [who] really understands the Indian legal landscape and its related issues. By far, he is one of the most accomplished foreign lawyers when it comes to the Indian market.”
Gandoak also received a high commendation from Devottam Sengupta, a senior legal counsel at Louis Dreyfus Company Asia in Singapore, who described him as “one of the best Indian lawyers in the international market, and certainly a huge asset on India deals. Gandoak combines his knowledge of the Indian regulatory landscape with a killer work ethic and a commercial mindset. He’s on any sensitive or difficult transaction we consider for India and has the ability to take everyone along to get a deal done.
“We’ve worked with him on potential M&A transactions, as well as regulatory and financing matters, and have found his advice very relevant and commercially sound,” adds Sengupta.
In a similar vein, he also praises Allen & Overy partner Pallavi Gopinath Aney as “a must-have on any DCM [debt capital markets] deal in India. Pallavi has been an Indian DCM star at every firm she’s worked with, and has the experience and regulatory connect that can shorten any structuring discussion by a lot.”
Sunil Rai, a partner at Dentons Rodyk & Davidson, wins high praise from his client. “We found Sunil to be very knowledgeable on international and India-related legal matters. He knows the right solutions for legal problems, and has apt and quick answers to address the same. Very reliable and trustworthy,” says Ashish Tanna, the COO & co-founder of Aureus Analytics.
Ankit Kashyap, a partner at Sidley Austin in Singapore, is praised by Manan Lahoty, a partner at IndusLaw, for being “almost always available and detail-oriented. He has done very well over the past few years to create his network and brand in a fairly cut-throat market.” Lahoty also recommends Singapore-based capital lawyer Manoj Bhargava, a partner at Sidley Austin, as “highly competent and practical”.
Rajiv Gupta, the head of India practice at Latham and Watkins, is recommended by the chief legal and regulatory affairs officer of Tata Sky, Himavat Chaudhuri, for his “vast experience of working on Indian capital markets and M&A deals and … his experience across multiple jurisdictions is a key deciding factor.”
Expert London lawyers
The UK is home to the largest Indian diaspora in Europe, and London hosts the second-largest number of international lawyers in the world for Indian legal expertise. Taylor Wessing partner Laurence Lieberman is a “seasoned litigator who knows the Indian pulse and has been cultivating a set of prestigious clients in India over the years”, says the managing partner at Advaya Legal, Ramesh Vaidyanathan. “His knowledge of the Indian market and its peculiarities makes him a ‘go to’ person for Indian clients when they need legal help outside India.”
Lieberman is also described as “very active in India with a focus on arbitration and investigations” by Alipak Banerjee, a leader in the international dispute resolution and investigations practice at Nishith Desai Associates. “We have worked on several mandates in the recent past. What sets him apart from the others is his ability to drive solutions for the client. Always approachable, and someone who has been in the market for several years.”
Banerjee also recommends Norton Rose Fullbright’s head of India practice, Sherina Petit, for her “vast experience in international arbitration. She usually gets instructed in complex and high-value disputes. She is very approachable with amazing subject matter expertise.”
Rabindra Jhunjhunwala, a partner at Khaitan & Co, recommends London-based Nimi Patel, the director of India practice at Squire Patton Boggs, for being: “Always available and appreciates [Indian] clients’ demands, which can be challenging.” He also recommends another London-based lawyer, Gautam Bhattacharyya, a partner at Reed Smith, as an “old India hand who knows his way around and a top-tier disputes practitioner”.
Germany is the second-largest country in Europe in terms of seasoned India expertise. Here, Heuking Kühn Lüer Wojtek’s head of India desk, Martin Imhof, has established his reputation as “one of the most recognizable and trusted names in Indo-German matters”, according to Avik Biswas, a partner at IndusLaw. “Martin’s clients trust him implicitly, and what really stands out for us is that he is very reliable, consistent and fair, whether we represent the same client or are on opposite sides.”
Vikas Kumar, a partner at LexRidge Partners, agrees. “Martin Imhof is well acquainted with Indo-German matters and has an abiding interest on Indian cross-border regulatory issues. He has great attention for detail.”
In Hong Kong, David Cameron, capital markets lawyer, partner and co-founder of the India practice group at Dorsey & Whitney, receives many recommendations for his work. “David is an old hand in capital markets transactions globally and in India, in particular,” says Abhiroop Lahiri, a partner at IndusLaw. “Over almost two decades, David has worked on numerous securities offerings in Asia, including on some of the largest Indian IPOs and QIPs. Apart from his equity experience, David is one of the most knowledgeable high-yield lawyers in the subcontinent – the depth of his experience in debt transactions is staggering and his command over the product is almost effortless.”
Brajendu Bhaskar, a counsel at Trilegal, gives a similar recommendation. “David is an experienced practitioner in capital markets in Asia and provides quality advice to both issuers and underwriters on complex securities offerings. He has especially made his name in the Indian markets, having advised marquee clients over the years.”
Another Hong Kong-based lawyer, Morrison & Foerster partner Amit Kataria, received high praise from the founding partner of IndusLaw, Avimukt Dar: “Amit is, out and out, the best international M&A lawyer I have interacted with. He is the lawyer you want on your side as a client. Always.”
Ravi Mahto, a senior counsel at Uber in India, has this to say about aviation specialist Dhruv Paul at Watson Farley & Williams in Dubai: “I have rarely come across a lawyer who is so available to meet clients’ requirements and his ability to multi-task is unparalleled. Having spent significant time now, both in India and Dubai, he has also acquired the best skills to cater to India-bound work with his knowledge of Indian law and best practices from a global law firm.”
An ocean or two apart, the managing partner at K&L Gates in Seattle, Pallavi Mehta Wahi, is commended for “her reputation as a competent litigator” by PM Thimmaiah, founding partner at MD&T Partners. “Her efforts at diversity and inclusiveness have been tremendous, and a source of pride for aspiring lawyers from the South Asian region.”
On a similar note, Thimmaiah also praises Kelley Drye & Warren partner, Deepak Nambiar: “I have had the good fortune of working with him on a cross-border transaction and have known him to be both extremely competent and a very good person.”