This article on top ten corporate lawyers in India is written by R. Anupam Pillai pursuing M.A. in business law from NUJS, Kolkata.
India being one of the biggest avenues for business has been a suitable place for billion dollar investments. Business environment being conducive has also provided proper opportunities to various business models alike. In the present scenario, legal environment has developed by leaps and bounds and has also garnered much-touted attention by investors. There is growth in mergers and amalgamations which evolved various business opportunities and that there is a paradigm shift from dispute resolution mechanism to more impetus on dispute prevention techniques.
In this case, lawyers play a very important in India, to bridge the gap between corporate giants by providing quick solutions to each and every problem they face in day to day business. Corporate lawyers have niche expertise on a specific limb of corporate law such as mergers and acquisitions, private equity, venture capital, etc. Further in order to provide consultation for legal issues there is a general corporate team that looks into multiple aspects involved in any transaction.
Due diligence or legal compliance is another aspect of corporate law which requires vast experience to study nitty-gritties of corporate law to have a check on all the necessary legal compliance which any entity needs to be comply at the time of incorporation or prior or post any commercial transaction. Lastly, there are various corporate litigation lawyers who have specialized to resolve high stake corporate disputes before various tribunals. In India, there is a catena of lawyers that have expertise on various subjects of corporate law. This article is a humble attempt to have a brief overview on profiles of few of the most illustrious corporate lawyers in India. There is no dearth of doubt about all of them being at par with each other in terms of work expertise and timely service they provide, and hence there has been no ranking as such as it would simply render this article without any purpose. Therefore, this list is based on various aspects such as rankings by various firms/organizations, popularity amongst legal fraternity, client reviews etc.
Mr. Bahram Navroz Vakil needs no introduction when it comes to most reliable project finance and infrastructure lawyer in India. With being in industry for over 35 years, he has garnered all the reputation by being one of the founding partners of AZB & Partners. He is the second generation in a family of lawyers. His father Mr. Naval, held the position of senior partner of India’s oldest law firm Little & Co., died early but he gave Zia Modi’s father Soli Sorabjee, his first brief.
Bahram has completed his LL.B from University of Mumbai and then he went on to get his LL.M degree from Columbia University. He was associated with one of the oldest law firms in India, Little and Co. as project finance specialist for over 20 years before joining hands with Zia Mody to form AZB & Partners (formerly known as CZM). He said “When I joined, naturally I said CZM should become CZB,” who studied with Zia in nursery before heading for Doon School.
Bahram also specializes in power and infrastructure and has advised clients in relation to various infrastructure projects in India in the power, oil and natural gas, telecommunications, mining, airports and port sectors. He is one of the few infrastructure lawyers in the country who has been involved in five of the eight fast track power projects and has been acknowledged as a leading project finance lawyer by most international publications for over a decade.
The World’s Leading Lawyers for Business mentions that Bahram Vakil is a gregarious and hard-headed lawyer according to clients who value his “smart, reliable and practical advice”. His finesse in negotiations is especially singled out. “He adds value in negotiations, ensuring both parties see the other’s point of view” states Chambers Global.
Apart from holding position as a Founding Partner of AZB & Partners, Mr. Vakil has been an Independent Director of Voltas Limited since September 1, 2014 and Trent Ltd since June 25, 2012. He served as an Independent Director of Larsen & Toubro Limited since March 16, 2015 until August 1, 2016. He served as an Independent Non-Executive Director of Accelya Kale Solutions Limited (also known as Kale Consultants Ltd.) from July 7, 2011 to July 1, 2013.
Bahram has extensive experience in Mergers & Acquisitions, Private Equity and Project Finance and has won plaudits for his work in the project finance space. He is set apart from other lawyers in India is because of extensive knowledge and expertise in the field of project finance and infrastructure which is dynamic in itself and demands wide experience to cater needs of various sectors. Hence he has been acknowledged as the “King of the Power Sector” by Chambers & Partners.
Mr. Ajay Bahl, is a name of the most experienced lawyer that deals with various taxation aspects of business and M&A practice at AZB & Partners. He is a son of a doctor and is a rare amalgamation of chartered accountant and lawyer. He qualified as a chartered accountant in 1979 and as a lawyer in 1985. He was persuaded by politician N.K.P. Salve to study law. Salve also recommended him to intern with Soli Sorabjee. After the internship, Ajay began practising from his garage in Malcha Marg in Delhi, while founding his firm Ajay Bahl & Co. He recollects “Little did I know that 20 years down, Soli’s daughter’s and my paths would be joined,” while later he accepted Bahram’s proposal to merge Ajay Bahl & Company with CZB to form AZB in 2004.
He has been associated with various important leading tax rulings, including a recent widely reported one, involving a US satellite company, in which the Indo-US double taxation avoidance agreement was analysed in detail and distinguished from domestic law. Ajay’s areas of expertise include Mergers & Acquisitions, Securities Regulations, Foreign Exchange related advisory work and Taxation including Taxation Litigation.
He is visionary and has a long-term plans to improve better business impacts in India. What makes him stand out is his strategies to deal with intricate issues of M&A with his expertise being a CA for 7 years and then having a rich litigation experience as well.
Zia Mody is undoubtedly one of the finest corporate lawyers in India. She founded AZB &Co. which is one of the premier law firms in India. For Zia, law was not new as it was her childhood dream to become a lawyer and follow her father’s footsteps, Soli Sorabjee, India’s former Attorney General. It is interesting to know that eventually, she was in a dilemma to become the air hostess rather than a lawyer for a short period of six months, but later she chose the latter and now she is undeniably the best lawyer in the industry with high reputation amongst clients known for her effective solutions.
She pursued her L.L.B at Selwyn College, Cambridge University in 1978 and then an L.L.M from Harvard in 1980. She then joined one of the world’s largest law firms in New York Baker & McKenzie. In 1984 she moved back to Mumbai and married, and then she started her litigation practice under the name Chambers of Zia Mody (CZM).
She’s said that the Indian market was a different terrain compared to work at a big New York firm. According to her, the turning point in her career was when she won her first case. But even with her background she often says that she’s had to work hard to prove the fact that as a woman lawyer, she was as good as any male attorney.
She’s tagged as a workaholic by her colleagues and even rivals, while clients agree that her quick response time is one of her big assets. Zia is said to be addicted to her Blackberry and to send opinions till the wee hours of the morning – around 4 am is her normal bedtime. Nowadays, Zia Mody is less well-known for her litigation days but her successful transactional practice, although her father, Soli Sorabjee, has said that he wishes she had continued with her litigation practice, as she has great argumentative skills.
She is also a follower of the Bahá’í faith and serves as a member on various Bahá’í organisations in the field of education and empowerment of rural women, though she’s often said that she wished she could do more for the community.
Mody, who turns 60 in July 2016, has three daughters. The second, Aarti, has decided to pursue law while the other two have studied design and mass communication respectively. Zia agrees that work did take a toll on her personal life but she attended every single parent teacher meeting of her children and functions in which they performed. She also adds that she was blessed with an extremely supportive mother-in-law and a best friend for a husband.
She plays safe with her investments and says would invest in mutual funds-debt instruments. She is also extremely fond of jewellery and cars. If she ever won the lottery jackpot she would give most of the chunk in charity, she claims.
Few accolades in her name are as follows:
- Business Today listed Mody as one of the 25 most powerful business women in India several times since September 2004.
- She is a recipient of the Financial Express Knowledge Professional of the Year Award.
- She was also named one of India’s 100 Most Powerful CEOs by The Economic Times in 2004 and 2006.
- She is also the recipient of the Economic Times Awards for Corporate Excellence as the Businesswoman of the Year, 2010. The awards are given out every year and are seen as the foremost authority in recognizing excellence in the Indian corporate market.
- The American Lawyer has identified Zia Mody as being one of ‘country’s leading stars’.
- She has been featured in Asian Legal Business’ 2009 edition as one of Asia’s top 25 M&A Lawyers.
- The Asia Pacific Legal 500 & Chambers Global has ranked Zia Mody as among the leading individuals in the Merger & Acquisition sector, Private Fund, Private Equity, Litigation and Infrastructure Sectors.
- AZB & Partners was nominated as the best Indian National Law Firm 2006 by the International Financial Law Review and received the National Law Firm of the Year Award for India from The Chambers Asia Awards 2010.
Zia Mody has been known to have a most visionary plan for growth of her firm apart from maintaining best relations with domestic as well as international clients. It is her vast expertise and her knowledge at policy as well as implementation level that makes her stand out as undoubtedly best transactional as well as corporate advisory lawyer in the country.
Shardul S. Shroff
In India, the biggest law firm called Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A. Shroff & Co. was recently split into two law firms, known as Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co. and Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas & Co. Thereby, the former is managed by Shardul S. Shroff and the later is managed by Cyril Shroff.
Shardul S. Shroff used to manage the New Delhi headquarters of AMSS & Co. He is known for the sharp legal acumen and intelligent strategic decision making which helps him to win various accolades in the meanwhile. He completed his B.Com.Hons. from Sydenham College, Mumbai and later did his LL.B from Government Law College, Mumbai. Later he went on to get himself enrolled with Bar in 1980 and thereafter he started managing New Delhi office of AMSS & Co. He is married to Ms. Pallavi Shroff, who is daughter of former judge, Justice P.N. Bhagwati.
He has held various prestigious positions such as JJ Irani Committee to amend Companies Act, 1956, Dr. Amit Mitra Committee for changing license policy for privatization of radio in India by Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, M. Damodaran Committee for Corporate Governance, etc. to name few.
Shardul Shroff has been the finest of corporate lawyers in the country by proving his mettle to manage one of the biggest law firms in India and to carry forward the legacy of the same.
After the split of AMSS & Co., the later entity Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas & Co. is managed by Cyril Shroff. He completed his LLB from University of Mumbai in 1982 and got himself enrolled with Bar in 1983. Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas & Co. His clientele includes big MNCs and domestic corporate giants such as Reliance, Etihad Airways, BNP Paribas, Wipro, Standard Chartered etc.to name few.
He also holds directorial positions in various companies such as Grasims, Apar, IDBI Capital Market etc. and in past he has held positions in Marico, ACC Ltd. etc. He was also member of prestigious Rakesh Mohan Committee, Dahanukar Committee, Committee established by Ministry of Finance, Central Board for Corporate Restructuring etc.
He has proved his mettle by retaining the most talented lawyers in his team and has worked relentlessly to retain good clients. His perseverance and patience inspires all the law students and professionals alike.
Harish Salve is not just a lawyer but an institution in itself. He is undeniably the best taxation and corporate litigator in India. Born in a Maharashtrian family hailing from Chindwara, Madhya Pradesh, law was not a foreign subject for him. He is son of renowned politician N.K.P. Salve and great-grandson of former munsiff, Mr. P.K. Salve.
After completing his Chartered Accountancy he completed his law and later moved on to practice law at J.B. Dadachandji & Co. Under the tutelage of great taxation lawyer, Mr. Nani Palkhivala, he received best of knowledge in his former years. He also assisted Palkivala for famous Minerva Mills Case and was later designated as Senior Counsel at High Court of Judicature of Delhi.
He was later appointed as a Solicitor General of India and served at the office from November, 1999 till November, 2002 for a short period of three years. He has appeared as amicus curiae in famous Gujrat Riots Case as well. He is best known for Vodafone Case which has revamped the Taxation regime in India apart from other famous cases such as Salman Khan Hit and Run Case, Ambani Brothers Fiasco over Krishna Godavari Case, to name few.
He is also one of the most expensive lawyers in India with a fee of charging over 30 lakhs per appearance and which goes upto 15 Crores for an entire matter. On the other hand, he is also known for having a fleet of expensive imported cars. He also loves music and plays piano as a hobby.
The fact that he is so thorough with the tax implications and litigation strategies for complex matters, he is set apart from the others in the list. In court, he is the “devil advocate” that scares the opposition the most and makes in confidante for elite clientele to represent their complex matters. Lastly, he always appears as a first counsel and not second to anyone else which sets him apart as the best litigation lawyer in the country for commercial matters.
Mr. Jyoti Sagar has laid the stepping stones for the success of his law firm, Jyoti Sagar & Associates (JSA). He started JSA in the year 1991 when the liberalization opened up avenues for international markets. He has handled various transactions pertaining to M&A, PE and Commercial disputes. Eventually, in the year 2013, Jyoti Sagar handed over all the stakes and retired from the firm. He has been mentoring JSA since then and has been spearheading training and other advisory roles in the meanwhile.
Berjis Minoo Desai
JSA has been managed by Mr. Berjis Minoo Desai, B.A. (Hons) L.LB. (Bom) L.L.M. (Cantab), B.Com. He has been the Managing Partner of J. Sagar Associates, Advocates & Solicitors since 2003. Mr. Desai serves as an Advisor to many financial organizations, Fll’s and broking houses. He is an expert in Corporate and Mercantile Laws. He served as a Managing Partner of Udwadia, Udeshi & Berjis from 1997 to 2003. With his expertise JSA has spread over 250 employees and has retained its position as most reputed law firm to work in India.
Sajan Poovaya, an NLSIU alumini has been the best lawyer down south for handling complex commercial litigations. He practices at High Court of Karnataka and has served as Additional Advocate General in Karnataka HC and that as a Senior Advocate at Supreme Court.
He did his LLB from NLSIU and later did his masters from London School of Economics. He started his career under the guidance of his father, Mr. M.K. Poovayya and later under Former Advocate General of Karnataka, Mr. Vijay Shankar.
Sajan is known for his sharp legal acumen and voracious argumentative skills. He has represented in many commercial matters and what sets him apart is his confident argument and persuasion in the courtroom. He is best known for commercial dispute resolution and corporate advisory.
Rabindra Jhunjhunwala, graduated from NLSIU in the year 1999. With his humble beginning at Khaitan & Co., he has certainly come far by setting high standards for providing professional services and managing big clientele at Khaitan.
He started his Mumbai office of Khaitan in the year 2002 and thereafter it has grown by leaps and bounds. What makes him stand out in the crowd, is his managing prowess and legal acumen to tackle complex corporate litigations and transactions pertaining to PE, VC etc.