Amarchand in revolutionary move to stay one step ahead

Our story last week about Indian firm Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co hiring two corporate partners set’s Backchat discussion board alight.

“This is a very good move by Amarchand,” says one poster. “This will serve as a wake-up call to all the Indian lawyers in London and New York who have moved there over the past few years – it will help them realise that India is THE place to be at the moment.”

A tad over-egged perhaps, but you get the gist.

As we exclusively reported, Amarchand has recruited Tushar Mavani, a corporate partner from Mulla & Mulla & Blunt & Caroe, and Ashish Jejurkar, head of Luthra & Luthra’s Mumbai ­corporate practice.

Partner moves might be ten-a-penny in the UK, but they’re still relatively rare in the Indian legal market. And those that feature the country’s number one independent firm are rarer still.

But although the comment above ­suggests that Amarchand is making the move from a position of strength, others believe it could be an admission that competition in the local market is ­hotting up.

“The firm has been feeling the pressure and has realised that business as usual is not an option in India anymore,” says Kian Ganz, publishing editor of website Legally India. “Amarchand and many other older firms will have to stay ahead of the curve or face getting punished by more sprightly competitors.”

Amarchand has already suffered at the hands of marauding Anglo-Saxon firms. Last year the firm lost partner Rahul Guptan to Clifford Chance, when the capital markets specialist joined the magic circle’s Singapore office as a ­partner (The Lawyer, 19 August).

The growing influence of Anglo-Saxon firms on the domestic market also appears to be having an impact on the structure of Indian firms.

As The Lawyer reported earlier this year (23 February), Amarchand has overhauled its remuneration system and introduced a lockstep for full-equity partners. There are 15 partners in the firm’s new equity partnership, with seven levels of seniority and a three-to-one spread.

Nick Jarrett-Kerr, the former managing partner of Bevan Ashford and now a consultant at Kerma Partners, advised Amarchand on the overhaul of its lockstep. He said the key part of Amarchand’s move was from an essentially eat-what-you-kill structure to one that is predominantly lockstep.

“In the Indian marketplace, for Amarchand to achieve its strategy of being the dominant independent law firm, the best method is a true partnership approach,” he argues. “A modified lockstep will also do a lot to give the firm’s younger partners confidence that this is no longer a sewn-up family firm.”

Amarchand’s lockstep is modified in the sense that it includes a variety of mechanisms, such as bonuses and super plateau points, to reward its highest-performing partners.

That said, the clear intention of Amarchand’s senior partners is for the new system to be as close to a true lockstep as possible.

The key point is that there is now a realistic jump from fixed-share status to full equity, and that the latter is now attainable for a wider group of partners. This, in the Indian market context, borders on the revolutionary.

A similar comment could be made about Amarchand’s recent decision to begin opening up to the media.

Indian firms – and Amarchand in particular – are known for playing their cards close to their chest. Partly this is due to Indian Bar Council rules, which
prohibit firms from soliciting work or advertising.

As a result, several firms have no website, although many bend the rules by putting disclaimers on their sites.

Amarchand, however, has long fallen squarely into the former category. With its recent announcements and willingness to embrace the media, it appears that the influence of the Anglo-Saxon legal market stretches further than the firm’s lockstep.

As Legally India’s Ganz puts it: “In a market where perception goes a long way, Amarchand is doing all it can to keep its name standing near the top.”