US firms likely to eclipse UK players in race to conquer Indian market

Lower fees and exclusive tie-ups mean US firms could steal a march on their UK counterparts when it comes to gaining a firm footing in the Indian market.

Research from RSG Consulting has revealed that while UK firms are still the most visible in India, the amount of US investment in and out of India has meant that US firms, like Davis Polk & Wardwell and Sullivan & Cromwell, are becoming increasingly prevalent, making up 53 per cent of all firms mentioned by Indian firms.

“There are now far more US firms involved in India,” said RSG managing director Reena SenGupta. “There’s a fat head of magic circle firms but then a long tail of large US firms, because it’s a bigger investment destination. They also prefer to work with US firms because they think they’re cheaper.”

Exclusive alliances between UK and Indian firms, like the one between Clifford Chance and AZB & Partners, also play a role as firms are reluctant to pass work to rivals.

US originated Baker & McKenzie is the firm that has most improved its presence in India, behind Linklaters, Allen & Overy and Clifford Chance.

“There’s a large level of interest in the US, but there’s also emerging interest in South America, China and Australia,” said Baker & McKenzie global India head David Jacobs. “I do think dominance of the UK has reduced, but not just in favour of the US.”

The report estimates the value of the Indian legal in 2010 to be $800m (£521.97m) – half of which will be spent with foreign firms with Indian practices – but with 82 per cent of the sample group of corporates predicting a 69 per cent rise in legal spend over the next five years, the legal market is expected to top $1bn in three years.