The firm that is currently attracting the most attention for its lack of an Indian best friend is Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, the only magic circle firm not to have signed an allegiance in the country.
While the firm is seen as being particularly close to Platinum Partners and Bharucha & Partners, Freshfields denies that it is wedded to any one firm in India.
In a statement the firm says: “We currently work with a number of different lawyers at various firms in India […] Our clients’ interests are the primary consideration and this approach gives us the flexibility we need to obtain the best team for our clients.”
Platinum, which is widely viewed as Freshfields’ closest ally in India, would not confirm or deny the closeness of its relationship with the magic circle firm.
Platinum joint founding partner Karam Daulet-Singh told The Lawyer: “We’re not ready to discuss our plans with the press as yet.”
DLA Piper also has close ties to one Indian firm in particular, although its relationship with J Sagar Associates (JSA) does not have best friends status.
Like Freshfields, the firm is reluctant to be seen to favour one Indian firm in particular.
“India is a very important market for us and we remain committed to providing our clients with the best possible assistance in this country,” reads a DLA Piper statement. “We share a good working relationship with a number of Indian law firms, including JSA.”
JSA executive committee member Shivpriya Nanda also denies that there is a close relationship between the two firms, saying: “We’re not in talks with DLA or any other firm. We have relationships with a lot of law firms. We’re not in any way near to signing up with anybody.”
The firms’ reticence in acknowledging monogamous love for each other is unsurprising – a certain courage and revolutionary spirit is required, even for such ultimately non-committal tie-ups as the ones between AZB and Clifford Chance, Trilegal and Allen & Overy and Talwar Thakore & Associates and Linklaters.
As Luthra & Luthra managing partner Rajiv Luthra says, the biggest problem with such tie-ups is that, while they are technically allowed by the letter of the law, he does not believe they are permitted by the spirit of the law.
“Those are certainly the noises that have been made to me by the Bar Council [of India] chairman,” he says.
Despite this situation, firms have certainly formed relationships that are based on more than simply working together on single deals.
One of Platinum’s co-founding partners, Nihar Mody, happens to be Freshfields alumnus. And Bharucha & Partners was formed less than a year ago by a husband and wife equity partner team from Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co, which is known to have close relationships with individual Freshfields partners.
That said, Alka Bharucha also claims the intensity of her firm’s relationship with Freshfields has been distorted by market rumours.
“Going by our own experience and our so-called tie-up with Freshfields, a number of people in the City, despite our denials, seem to think otherwise. I think there’s just a lot of speculation at this stage,” she claims.
However, in spite of denials by the players, the rumours are likely to continue.
After all, the majority of business in India comes down to personal relationships.