After surviving months of economic turbulence, Indian lawyers are priming themselves for the legal market’s resurgence and the chance to lead distressed clients to safety. Vandana Chatlani reports

The Indian legal market is buzzing with talk of an imminent upswing following 12 months of struggle. Some firms have thrived on recent challenges while others have kept a low profile, waiting for work to return.

Most agree that law firms in India have not suffered as much as their overseas counterparts. “We’ve benefited due to our size,” says Abhishek Saxena, a partner at 10 month-old Phoenix Legal. “There hasn’t been a great amount of slowdown, it’s mostly anecdotal,” he adds. “When you’re riding the wave, you become blasé about any bad news.”

“India’s story is not that bad,” agrees Ravi Nath, a partner at Rajinder Narain & Co. “Our banking system is intact, we have a healthy consumer base and producers in India are less dependent on exports.”

“Any sector that has potential in the rural areas was not affected,” says Sunil Seth, a partner at Seth Dua Associates. For example, “most telecom companies are expanding their businesses in India and are actually looking at going down to the grassroots level and spreading to smaller towns”.

Others say that maintaining a general practice has insulated their firms from the effects of the crisis: “We never relied on a single branch and instead handled a variety of matters such as IP, M&A, property matters, litigation and dispute resolution, so we felt no effect,” says Vikram Trivedi, managing partner of Manilal Kher Ambalal & Co, a century-old Mumbai firm.

Vikram Trivedi Managing Partner Manilal Kher Ambalal & Co

Costs and benefits

“The downturn helped us in diversifying our revenue streams and recruiting new talent,” says Rajat Sethi, a partner at S&R Associates. For Phoenix Legal, the downward spiral was also a blessing in disguise. “We were able to have the undivided attention of senior executives who would otherwise have been too busy to listen to us communicate our vision as a law firm,” says Sawant Singh, a partner based in the firm’s Mumbai office.

While the ebulliant mood at most law firms in New Delhi and Mumbai suggests that India is on the road to recovery, others say the worst is not yet over. “Work has risen, but it doesn’t mean revenue has,” says Ranjeev Dubey, managing partner at N South. “You can’t make money off people who are broke.” Dubey’s firm was previously known as NDLO South and was affiliated with New Delhi Law Offices. However, it changed its name earlier this year when New Delhi Law Offices was reorganized after the departure of PS Dasgupta, one of its main partners.

“The final phase of recession is yet to come,” agrees Manoj Singh, managing partner at Singh & Associates. “I’m already being defensive. We’re conscious about new costs and we are cutting costs. We’ll hit rock bottom in six to 12 months.”

Firms relying on transactional work have certainly felt the impact of the slowdown. “Work has been dull,” admits Shobhan Thakore, a partner at Talwar Thakore & Associates. “We’re operating at hardly 50% of our capacity, although luckily, because of our size, we’ve had no layoffs and we haven’t really suffered.”

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