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Legal Market Overview

The latter half of 2021 and start of 2022 saw a continuation of India’s strong economic expansion, with GDP growth of between 5-6% forecast for the next decade as a result of the country’s emergence from the dark days of early 2021’s Delta wave of Covid, as well as the ongoing liberalisation of the economy by the Modi government. Key sectors have maintained their strong expansion to the benefit of the country’s strong independent legal market.

International law firms are unable to operate in India, meaning a host of major domestic names dominate, including Trilegal, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co, Kochhar & Co. and AZB & Partners, while other challengers, ranging from full-service offerings to boutiques and city-centric firms, including Samvad PartnersMajmudar & Partners, and Phoenix Legal, are also present in what is a highly competitive legal market. Many firms enjoy partnerships with global firms and networks, thus allowing clients to access strong domestic and international expertise.

The Indian M&A market was brisk during the latter half of 2021, with the jurisdiction’s high volume of mid-market transactions continuing but has slowed going into 2022 and a number of listings did not go ahead.  Due to the country’s restrictions on foreign law firms operating in the jurisdiction, leading Indian M&A practices handle significant elements of both domestic and cross-border transactions with many M&A teams reflecting these demands through foreign-qualified expertise at senior levels. Practitioners at market-leading firms such as AZB & Partners and Trilegal remain optimistic that the market will continue to flourish, however, with valuations instead returning to the mid-market norm of previous years. Foreign direct investment, particularly in the form of private equity, continues to drive an increase in valuations, which has seen a number of billion-dollar deals, though global economic headwinds relating to rising Federal Reserve interest rates and the Russia-Ukraine conflict have led to a general downturn in deal activity.

The life sciences and healthcare space has continued to flourish, with India’s status as a major global vaccine producer only consolidated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Alongside vaccine production, other drivers of activity for firms include drug development, production, and approval. Firms active in the Indian life sciences and healthcare sectors tend to combine transactional, regulatory, and IP expertise so as to provide a full service to clients, with standouts including Spice Route Legal and Nishith Desai Associates, while other leading full-service firms also have a footprint in the space.

The antitrust and competition landscape in India is undergoing rapid change as major legislative changes are expected to come into force with The Competition (Amendment) Bill 2022 in September; firms will continue to ride this regulatory wave into the coming year. During 2021 and 2022 massive cartel proceedings were initiated against beer and big tech giants with Trilegal representing Flipkart and Heineken; Economic Laws Practice representing Google opposite AZB & Partners; and Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co representing Facebook and Carlsberg India.

Emerging gaps in the legislation have become apparent in two main areas as regulators continue to play catch-up after the implementation of the IBC 2016. With the advent of a new cross-border insolvency regime in the works, a legislative gap remains, which new jurisprudence attempts to bridge. Jurisprudence continues to develop concerning the pursuit of personal guarantors by creditors; having being notified in 2019, and its constitutional validity challenged and resolved in early 2021, numerous novel cases have been filed and are in the process of being resolved

The major news in terms of firms was the move of several lawyers from Luthra and Luthra Law Offices India to DSK Legal. This was most keenly felt in the litigation practice with DSK boosted by the addition of H.S. Bobby Chandoke. Arbitration is becoming increasingly important as at least a part of most major disputes, especially cross-border work.

In tax, the government is trying to encourage the domestic manufacturing market by increasing customs duty on imported Chinese equipment for renewable energy plants. There has also been increased strictness in tax authority investigations of Chinese and other foreign business operations in India, however, generally the country is being seen as a friendlier area for tax.

The country’s data protection legislation is still going through the courts so advice in that area is complicated, needing assessment of GDPR and predicting what the government is likely to implement in future. In IP, technology protection is a key issue as India has shifted to digital working during the pandemic. Multinational portfolio holders have also become more strict in shutting down small infringers that previously they would have likely ignored.

In labour and employment, post-Covid changes to methods of work have resulted in issues such as data privacy and the restructuring of work forces which has prompted the government to prepare new labour laws and establish new labour courts to deal with such issues. The number of investigations is increasing, particularly HR investigations. IndusLaw, Khaitan & Co., Kochhar & Co., Nishith Desai Associates, and Trilegal are the top firms in this section.

During 2021-22, new models of fraud –  and whistle-blowing complaints have increased. A zero-tolerance policy is now in the picture, resulting in an increase in corporate investigation by government authorities such as the SEBI, ED, and CBI. Leading in this area are AZB & Partners, Bharucha & Partners, Khaitan & Co, Kochhar & Co., MZM Legal, Advocates & Legal Consultants, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co and Trilegal.