Indian law firms have not traditionally shared the globetrotting ambitions of their British and American counterparts. Spurred on by client demand and other strategic considerations, many are now establishing offices overseas. George W Russell reports
King Street, a short stretch in the historic city of London, is at the heart of the British capital’s legal district. The full spectrum of English justice, majestic or otherwise, is seen in the area: from the Royal Courts of Justice and Chancery Lane wigmakers to the myriad legal aid offices helping the indigent and overawed.
The surrounding “EC” postal zone is home to dozens of famous legal names. These include global firms such as Allen & Overy and Berwin Leighton Paisner; prestigious domestic names like Beachcroft and Goodman Derrick; the London outposts of US giants such as Dewey & Leboeuf and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton; and foreign firms with international ambitions, like Australia’s Mallesons Stephen Jaques.
But one signboard in EC2 stands out from the rest. The firm isn’t English or American, Canadian or Australian. At 39 King Street, sharing space in Windsor House with a florist, an employment agency and a banking software provider, is the London office of FoxMandal Little.
“We feel there’s a huge market for international and UK-based companies in need of advice in India,” Ajit Mishra, a resident partner at FoxMandal’s London, told the media early in 2008 when the office opened. “Clients will feel comfortable walking across and getting advice in real time, not waiting for a call back the next day.” London also offers a more convenient time zone to discuss matters with US clients, he added.
FoxMandal is no stranger to English law: many of its partners are dual qualified in England and India, and the firm receives referral work through an agreement with Eversheds. A well-publicized launch party featuring snake charmers and belly dancers was followed by the hiring of a retired high court judge, Sir Gavin Lightman, as a consultant.
Of course, FoxMandal is not alone in its international aspirations. On the other side of Hyde Park, Mumbai-based ALMT Legal hosts a London office at 210 Shepherd’s Bush Road, Hammersmith. (ALMT was actually founded in London in 2000, as Agarwal Ladwa Mitter & Tapia, by a breakaway group of Singhania & Co partners already posted there). Singhania & Co also maintains an office in London.
Foreign lawyers say the wave of foreign office openings is part of a plan by Indian law firms to position themselves abroad, not only to pick up foreign clients and Indian companies operating internationally, but also – they hope – to catch the first wave of mergers and takeovers when foreign law firms finally get the go-ahead to open in India.