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Indian firms have had the campus field almost to themselves this year, as international firms have considerably decreased their recruitment of Indian law students.
Last year UK law firms sparked an all-out salary war as they hit the campuses of India’s national law schools in droves, luring students with double the salaries they could expect back home (The Lawyer, 14 April 2008).
This year it is much quieter on the western front and Indian firms have already snapped up final-year students on five-year courses with so-called pre-placement offers (PPO) - the Indian equivalent of training contracts.
Indian law schools are often alleged to be old boys’ clubs, with the national law schools still the preferred hunting grounds of law firms.
Since the National Law School (NLS) of India University, Bangalore, set up in 1987, national law schools throughout the country have modernised - and dominated - Indian legal education. Many partners were educated at NLS so the network reaches deep into most law firms. Notably, at most law schools it is the students themselves who organise recruitment rounds and invite law firms onto campus to interview, often through existing alumni contacts.
Allen & Overy’s Indian best friend Trilegal started the race this year by hiring 14 students from the National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS), Kolkata, and the National Law University (NLU), Jodhpur.
Trilegal began its campus campaign in July, which was almost half a year earlier than in the same recruitment round last year. The firm has now almost filled its quota of new joiners, who will start in 2010.
Trilegal co-founding partner Anand Prasad said: “A lot of other competing firms started hiring people one year before [they finished the five-year course]. Basically we were responding to that and we thought it useful to get people early.”
The same pressure is on across the board. Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co has made offers to a total of around 40 students for its Mumbai office. The firm has filled its quota for the year after most recently hiring nine students from NUJS Kolkata. Amarchand has also visited NLS Bangalore and Nalsar University of Law, Hyderabad.
Luthra & Luthra, meanwhile, has made placement offers to nine students from NLU Jodhpur, Nalsar Hyderabad and NLS Bangalore.
“Is this an indication that we should be hoping to have a better year this year?” asked one student.
The overall domestic numbers are certainly better than last year and a relief to many students, who have seen the big pay-cheques from the leading UK and US firms all but disappear. Magic circle firms Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters said they had not made any hires directly from Indian law schools this year.
Although Linklaters and Herbert Smith still have their internship programme for Indian law students, with the latter currently conducting interviews in India, for this year at least Indian law firms are safe from the onslaught of foreigners - thanks in the large part to market forces rather than lack of progress on the liberalisation front.