India has been billed as the new China for some time now, and although the country's GDP growth has slowed slightly this year, a rate of around 9% is nothing to complain about.
On the downside, the country faces the threat of inflation, driven by rising worldwide food prices. The income gap also continues to widen and the court system remains notoriously slow, with backlogs in many areas.
Proposals to allow foreign firms to enter the Indian legal market have stirred up considerable debate, and international law outfits are closely watching the situation.
Asialaw surveyed India's top firms in the areas of banking, dispute resolution, intellectual property, mergers and acquisitions, and project finance.
The Indian banking sector is regulated by the Reserve Bank of India, which enjoys autonomy and minimal pressure from the government. The demand for banking services is expected to be strong over the coming year.
Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co emerged as Asialaw's top firm in the banking practice area, despite the recent loss of long-serving husband-and-wife team MP and Alka Bharucha.
AZB & Partners, in tier two, boasts four Asialaw Leading Lawyers: name partners Ajay Bahl and Zia Mody, along with Rajendra Barot and Nanju Ganpathy. The firm has over 130 lawyers.
J Sagar Associates is a firm of about 100 lawyers. It was founded by Jyoti Sagar, an Asialaw Leading Lawyer.
Mulla & Mulla & Craigie Blunt & Caroe has offices in Mumbai, Bangalore and New Delhi.
Karan Singh leads the banking and finance practice at full-service firm Trilegal. The firm recently advised the lead arrangers, which included BNP Paribas and Calyon, on the arrangement of a US$200 million syndicated loan facility to Bharat Petroleum.
More and more law firms are building their dispute resolution practices in India, but lawyers say the main challenge is to "consolidate, strengthen and professionalize" in order to improve their cross-border work in particular.
Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co is well-known for handling large corporate litigations. Lead litigation and arbitration partner at the firm is Pallavi S Shroff. The firm has represented Hutchison Telecom International in its shareholder disputes with Essar Teleholdings Limited.
Bhasin & Co is a four-partner New Delhi-based firm, specializing in dispute resolution and corporate law. In a recent case, the firm, on behalf of Caterpillar India, successfully challenged the Purchase Preference Policy of the Central Government given to the Public Sector Enterprise. The firm has recently represented airlines, hotels and a leading hospital group, among other clients.
Karanjawala & Co was established by R N Karanjawala, who has been described by India Today as one of the fifty most influential persons in India. The firm has a team of around 30 lawyers, and handles litigation mainly in the Delhi area.
Mulla & Mulla & Craigie Blunt & Caroe is based in Mumbai and also has offices in Bangalore and New Delhi. D M Popat is a senior partner and an Asialaw Leading Lawyer who works as India's nominee at the International Court of Arbitration of International Chamber of Commerce.
Singh & Associates is headed by Sumita Singh and Manoj Singh. The firm has wide experience of litigation and arbitration in India.
J Sagar Associates has offices in New Delhi, Mumbai (the largest), Bangalore, Hyderabad and Dubai.
Katchwaha & Partners is one of few India firms specializing in dispute resolution. It won a recent case for Netherlands-based Haldor Topsoe in its dispute against Sud-Chemie in which Haldor was being sued for damages for alleged predatory pricing. According to the firm, this was the first time that damages were sought in a predatory pricing action in India.
Sandeep Parekh is an Asialaw Leading Lawyer and name partner at PH Parekh & Co.
It is an exciting time in Indian intellectual property law, with a number of legislative changes and groundbreaking decisions coming through in 2007. These include the recently notified Intellectual Property Rights (Imported Goods) Enforcement Rules, 2007, which protects rights holders against infringement of their IP rights from the import of counterfeited goods.
In tier one is Anand & Anand, India's largest specialist IP outfit: the firm has more than 65 IP practitioners. Its client list includes Microsoft, Colgate Palmolive, GE, IBM and the Walt Disney Company. The firm recently acted for Hilton International Co, in a case where defendant KV Kumar was permanently restrained from using the trademark "Hilten" for his hotel business and ordered to pay damages.
Remfry & Sagar has several practice groups concentrating on IP matters, including trademarks and copyright, patents and designs, and IP litigation. The firm recently acted for Novartis when it challenged the legality and constitutional validity of Section 3 (d) of the Patents Act, 1970 at the Madras High Court. Other clients include Flowil International (a subsidiary of Germany's Siemens) and Carrefour.
Tier-two firm Amarjit & Associates successfully represented claimants to internet domain names - including Red Bull, Mawana Sugars and Sodexho - that had been appropriated by cyber-squatters. The firm also advised Fenner India in applying for a revocation of the registration of Fenner's trademark by its distributor in Turkey.
DP Ahuja & Co is a Kolkata-based IP firm with 30 fee-earners. Clients include Motorola Corporation, Samsung Electronics and the rights holders to the Calvin Klein, Revlon, Hitachi, Goldstar, Citizen and Honda trademarks.
Founded in 1856, DePenning & DePenning is the oldest established IP firm in India. The firm's clients include corporations, research institutions, universities and individuals.
Specialist firm K&S Partners has offices in Gurgaon and Bangalore.
Krishna & Saurastri is an IP firm with about 50 fee-earners in Mumbai led by name partners Sunil B Krishna and Manish Saurastri.
Lall & Sethi is known for its anti-piracy efforts in both Hollywood and Bollywood. Clients include Coca-Cola and AOL Time Warner. Chander Lall is among the firm's best-known practitioners.
Lall Lahiri & Salhotra has three partners, with 19 new fee-earners added in 2007. The firm won all of Exxon Mobil's trademark work when that company consolidated its India trademark portfolio. The firm recently added a corporate law practice and has started undertaking domain name work.
Sumita Singh heads up IP issues at Delhi-based Singh & Associates.
Mergers and acquisitions
In the M&A space, the retail sector has seen "tremendous heating up" recently, according to Luthra & Luthra. "Leading players in the market are entering into tie-ups with various world renowned brands to retail their products in India," says the firm.
Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co again makes Asialaw's tier one. Its clients for M&A work include Ambuja Cements, which it advised in a recent headline deal. Partner Cyril Shroff handled the transaction.
AZB & Partners' M&A practice is led by the highly-regarded Zia Mody who was involved in the firm's advising of Tata Steel on its acquisition of the Corus Group; the transaction was valued at over US$12 billion.
Clients of J Sagar Associates include Anchor Group, Tata Motors, British Gas and the Bangladesh Government.
The clients of DSK Legal include Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, International Finance Corporation and Baskin Robbins. The firm advised Deutsche Bank in its subscription to convertible debentures in RPG Cables. It has also advised and assisted Lupin in respect of several transactions, including the acquisition of Japanese company Kyowa.
FoxMandal Little was the first Indian firm to open an office in London. Last year, it represented Fortune Brands in its deal to acquire more than 20 spirits brands of Allied Domecq, as part of a combined effort by Pernod Ricard and Fortune to take over Allied's business. Other clients include Citigroup Property Investors and The Carlyle Group.
Full-service firm Khaitan & Co has 30 partners working in four offices. It advised Hutchison Telecommunications International in relation to the sale of its stake in Hutchison Essar to Vodafone, for approximately US$19 billion. This was the largest foreign investment in India to-date. The firm has also advised Suzlon Energy, Asian Development Bank and Credit Suisse Maritime Financing.
Luthra & Luthra recently announced the elevation of 12 new partners and eight new group heads, and the addition of a new tax division. In 2007, the firm advised United Spirits on its US$1.18 billion acquisition of Whyte & Mackay, a large distiller of Scotch whisky. The acquisition made United Spirits Group the second-largest spirits manufacturer in the world. Other clients include United Breweries Holding, CapitaLand Retail, and Rothschild Trust.
Trilegal has advised well-known clients including Vodafone, which it advised on its acquisition of a 67% stake in Hutchison Telecom. The firm also counts Travel Guru and United Business Media among its clients.
Power projects are offering exciting opportunities in India. The Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-2012) has proposed a power capacity addition target of 100,000 MW, which is sure to generate many financing transactions.
Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co represented the State Bank of India and others to secure US$1.3 billion for a Petronet LNG expansion project.
AZB & Partners had a very strong year, despite the loss of renowned lawyer Shobhan Thakore.
Trilegal advised a consortium of lenders, led by Citibank, on a Rs5 billion financing of a special-purpose vehicle of Larsen & Toubro India for a build-operate-transfer highway concession.
In September 2007, FoxMandal Little was involved in the project financing of a US$1.14 billion hydroelectric power project by a consortium of eleven banks and financial institutions, led by Rural Electrification Corporation.
J Sagar Associates boasts project finance expert Amit Kapur among its team of lawyers.
Luthra & Luthra assisted HPCL - Mittal Energy with the financing of a large refinery in Bhatinda, with a deal value of approximately US$2 billion. The firm has also represented Kingfisher Airlines, Nagarjuna Oil and Yes Bank.
Name partner Darius Udwadia is a project finance specialist with Udwadia & Udeshi in Mumbai.
Foreign firms cannot practise in India or advise on local law.
Some practitioners are worried about proposals from the Securities and Exchange Board of India to require hard underwriting for IPOs rather than using book builds. "This may be a knee-jerk reaction to deals like the Reliance Power IPO being in the red," says partner John Chrisman of Dorsey & Whitney. "[P]rohibiting book build transactions could end up decreasing the number of companies that would undertake an IPO in India, which could have an adverse effect on the Indian economy."
Ashurst is in Asialaw's tier one, and is the only European firm with an official India office. London-based Ian Scott is a senior consultant to the firm's India group. In early 2008, the firm teamed up with Amarchand to advise on the US$400 million listing of Rural Electrification Corporation.
It is no surprise to see UK magic circle firms Clifford Chance and Linklaters in tier one. Clifford Chance has established a capital markets unit in its Singapore office, which works only on India related transactions. Clients include 3i, Citigroup, Volvo AB and Barclays Capital. Senior partner Stuart Popham was the only representative of the legal profession to be invited to join a recent delegation to China and India led by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Linklaters, meanwhile, operates its India group mainly out of Hong Kong, Singapore, London and New York. US-qualified Arun Balasubramanian is a key partner in the group. Last year, he led the team which advised the underwriters of the approximately US$2.3 billion IPO of DLF Limited, India's largest real estate developer.
White & Case has three partners "who concentrate 100% on India," and lists Nandan Nelivigi and practice head Doug Peel as its key experts; new partner William Kirschner will soon relocate to Singapore. In June 2007, the firm acted as international counsel to DLF for its IPO in Bombay; it is also advising on the SEACOM project which involves the construction of a communications cable connecting South Africa to Mumbai.
Allen & Overy has been involved in two major India deals recently: advising the lead arrangers on the US$3 billion financing for Tata Motors, in conjunction with its acquisition of Land Rover and Jaguar from Ford Motor Company; and helping the State Bank of India with its US$4.38 billion equity rights issue, believed to be the second-largest Indian equity offering to date.
US-based Dorsey & Whitney's five-partner India team focuses on capital markets and M&A. In 2007, the firm acted as international counsel to Power Grid Corporation of India and the Government of India in the US$760 million privatization and IPO of Power Grid.
Herbert Smith's India practice is chaired by Chris Parsons and headed by Nimi Patel. The firm advised Tata Motors on its luxury car marque acquisition, and also represented Essar on its US$13 billion bid for Hutchison Whampoa's interest in Hutchison Essar and its subsequent joint venture arrangements with Vodafone.
In 2007, Latham & Watkins represented an Indian bank in its US$5 billion equity offering, and handled a US$2 billion IPO of a leading copper producer. The firm runs its India practice mainly from Singapore.