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Global law firms eye India

December 28, 2004 09:36 IST

Several top international legal firms are scouting for business in India.

Rated highly in the Legal 500 list, big names like Vinson & Elkins, White & Case and Morrison & Forrester, all from the US, and Norton Rose and Linklaters of the UK, are known to have got in touch with leading Indian corporates and law firms in the past few months, according to sources.

These companies are not allowed to practice in India. But Indian companies, as well as the Indian government, have been doing work with overseas legal firms for several years now.

Of late, Indian corporates have started engaging the services of top-end legal firms that can charge up to $1,000 per hour in consultation fees and are staffed with top law school graduates.

"The overseas deals involve hefty fees and some of the companies have paid $2-3 million a session. As Indian companies are willing to pay such high fees, international legal firms are seeing good business opportunities here," Anand Prasad, partner, Trilegal said.

For example, ONGC Videsh Ltd, for its Sakhalin exploration and production projects in Sudan, hired Akin Gump Strauss Hauer of the US as its legal consultant.

Akin Gump has nearly 23 offices in Europe and has a strong presence in the CIS countries. Reliance hired Vinson & Elkins and Davis Polk Wardwell during its acquisition of Flag Telecom for Rs 1,000 crore (Rs 10 billion).

UK-based Richards Butler has done business with leading Indian corporates like Wockhardt (when it acquired CP Pharmaceuticals in Wales for $17.9 million), ICICI Bank, RPG Group and HCL Corporation. And Ranbaxy hired Norton Rose, one of the top five firms of London, for some deals in Europe.

And it is not just transnational Indian companies. Various state governments are also hiring such firms for consultancy.

An international legal body, CMS Cameron McKenna, has advised several state governments in India on restructuring the power sector. Gujarat State Energy Company had engaged the services of international law firm Denton Wilde Sapte.

The global legal firms are also aware that a large number of Indian corporates are either eyeing acquisitions or want to get listed overseas in order to create additional acquisition currency. This is the segment most of these firms are targeting.

"Some of them are even willing to do small infomation technology deals of just a few million dollars as they want to show that they have an exposure to India," Prasad added.

"The oil and pharma companies are a big catch for such firms. Companies like GAIL have operations in Egypt and are opening offices in Singapore to handle investments. Also, the pharma firms requiring technical consultations on patents and other laws are willing to shell out money. This is attracting the big firms to India," a senior partner at Amarchand Mangaldas said.

Some of the firms also have informal tie-ups with Indian firms. India Law Service has a tie-up with White & Case, while the UK's Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has an association with with some Mumbai-based law firms. Jones Day has a tie-up with P&A Law offices in all major cities.

Legal action

  • International law firms are not allowed to practice in India. But Indian companies, as well as the Indian government, have been doing work with overseas legal firms for several years now
  • Of late, Indian corporates have started engaging the services of top legal firms that can charge up to $1,000 per hour in consultation fees
  • Global legal firms are targeting the segment of Indian corporates that are either eyeing acquisitions or want to get listed overseas
  • Some of the firms also have informal tie-ups with Indian firms. India Law Service has a tie-up with White & Case, while the UK's Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is associated with some Mumbai-based law firm

Ankita Sarkar in New Delhi
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