Khaitan poaches India head and senior associate from Ashurst

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In a move that has bucked the trend of international law firms recruiting Indian lawyers and taking them out of the country, Khaitan & Co has hired two senior lawyers from the London office of Ashurst and brought them to India.

Murali Neelakantan and Kalpana Unadkat have relocated to Mumbai to take up partnership positions with the Indian firm. Both are qualified in India as well as in England and Wales. Neelakantan was a partner at Ashurst and head of the firm’s India practice. Unadkat was a senior associate.

Murali Neelakantan and Kalpana Unadkat
Murali Neelakantan and Kalpana Unadkat

The hires take on additional significance, coming amid the growing shortage of legal talent in India (see Surviving the talent crunch, page 26). International law firms and legal process outsourcing companies are competing fiercely with domestic firms and corporate legal departments to attract and retain the best lawyers. Indian firms have often been the losers, with many reporting acute difficulties in hiring middle and upper-level lawyers, high attrition rates and spiralling salaries.

According to Neelakantan, it was Khaitan & Co’s “unprecedented progress” and ambition for growth that lured him away from Ashurst after just a year with the UK-based firm. Before joining Ashurst, he was a partner at US firm Arnold & Porter.

“The culture of [Khaitan & Co], the quality of its people and clients and the excellent work that seems to fill the firm, together with the vision for growth and the determination to maintain the momentum, make it an exciting platform,” Neelakantan told India Business Law Journal.

Khaitan & Co’s managing partner, Haigreve Khaitan, believes the hires will allow the firm to offer its clients a combination of Indian expertise, international experience and a global outlook. “That we have been able to attract Murali and Kalpana from a leading international law firm in London is a vindication of our efforts in fulfilling our vision,” he said.

“This is part of our bigger plan to be ready before foreign firms are allowed into the country,” explained Rabindra Jhunjhunwala, a partner at the firm. “We’re investing not only in our infrastructure, but also in our people.”