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Ashurst has formed a best-friends relationship with India Law Partners (ILP), a four-month old start-up established by a team that broke away from Mumbai firm DSK Legal.
The news comes a year and a half after Ashurst was forced to close its Delhi liaison office in the wake of the Lawyers Collective case (19 February 2010).
Ashurst India head Richard Gubbins told Indian legal website LegallyIndia.com that the relationship with ILP will remain non-exclusive, in line with Indian regulations, with the two firms referring work to each other on a preferential basis.
ILP is led by former DSK partners Gopika Pant and Piyoosh Gupta, who set up a firm under the same name after leaving Amarchand Mangaldas in 1999, but merged that business into DSK in 2004.
Pant, who is dual qualified in New York and India, said that their firm is focused on a few practice areas such as corporate, M&A, corporate commercial, and a little bit of equity capital markets work.
Pant said: “We’re a boutique firm but we want to provide more effective services for our clients and provide a global reach. We’ve known Ashurst for 11 years and the clients they’ve referred are still there with us.”
Pant added that she and Gupta had partnered with 12 Ashurst offices on cross-border transactions and she viewed Ashurst as being a “long-term player” in India.
Gubbins said the fact that Ashurst was forced to close its own Delhi liaison office had allowed the firm to focus on its India strategy, adding that it had been a long-held ambition of the firm to enter into a best-friends relationship.
“Gopika and Piyoosh were at the top of that list, although other names were considered,” said Gubbins. “But as hard as we thought about it we kept coming back to [them] because we really trusted them in terms of looking after our clients and giving quality legal advice in the Indian environment.”
Gubbins said that no plans had yet been made for Ashurst to merge with ILP as and when the Indian markets allow foreign firms to set up offices in the country.
“I get more and more pessimistic by the day about the markets liberalising - I think it’s a long way off,” he said. “And when markets do liberalise I certainly envisage it to be a stepped change. Ashurst may be able to set up an office in India, which is step one. That wouldn’t change the relationship [with ILP].
“Step two, maybe another three or four years later, we’d [be able to] enter into a joint venture or alliance with another Indian law firm. At that stage we’d ask ourselves the question: should we form an alliance with ILP?”
“And step three, [which would be a full merger], will probably be long after I’ve retired from Ashurst.”