‘We should welcome foreign lawyers into India’

Priyanka Pani N.S. Vageesh Mumbai | Updated on November 25, 2017

Pradip Khaitan, Senior Partner, Khaitan & Co

The fears are largely misplaced as they will not focus on the day-to-day cases but only the crème-de la crème litigation.

Lawyers’ offices bring to mind book-laden shelves, strewn papers and black coats hanging in the background. Khaitan & Co, which completed its centenary celebrations two years ago, provides a striking contrast to this preconceived image. Its spacious, clean and brightly lit offices in Lower Parel, downtown Mumbai, provide a cheerful atmosphere. From humble beginnings in 1911 as a Marwari legal firm in British-ruled Kolkata, Khaitan and Co., has today transformed into a 'full service' legal services firm with 58 partners and 325 lawyers. Along the way, it has seen every thing from petty family litigation to international cases related to mergers and acquisitions, and expanded its range of loyal clientele.

The firm’s senior partner, Pradip Khaitan, or Pinto, as he is fondly called by his fraternity, spoke to Business Line about the firm's future plans and the challenges faced by the profession.

Excerpts from the interview:

What are your views on the entry of foreign law firms?

We have always taken a view that we should welcome foreign lawyers into India. We feel they will bring the talent pool, knowledge and method of doing work. Indian lawyers will benefit greatly by this experience. Ultimately, they will have to work through Indian firms and the lawyers here will get an opportunity to work on cross-border transactions and earn better pay.

To some extent some of the aberrations that come because of the lack of skills will be removed. Some of the fears are misplaced as they will not focus on the day-to-day cases but only the crème-de la crème litigation.

Do you mean the foreign players will only focus in corporate-related litigation instead of civil cases?

No. They can contribute in other arenas also, such as standardisation of real estate transactions.

Are you in talks with any foreign firms for an alliance?

They have made preparations to come to India by having a group of Indian lawyers, who work on the referrals made to them.

There are a large number of firms from Germany, Australia, the UK and, of course, the ‘Magic Circle’ from the US.

No, at present we are planning to have very friendly relations with foreign lawyers. As it is they are anyway referring cases to us and we are also referring some to them. If the order of the day is that you need to be part of a larger organisation which has offices in America, the UK and Singapore, we might as well join them and become one of their offices in India. Why not?

Which kind of cases do foreign lawyers refer usually?

It is mostly related to private equity investments, mergers and acquisitions.

Your law firm has completed 100 years. How has the litigation pattern changed in these years?

Every five years or 10 years, and some times even less, the pattern changes. In my 50 years, I have seen suits being filed over partitions, dishonour of hundi, and enforcement of loan payments. Then people challenged through writ petitions on government decisions. Now disputes are over intellectual properties, trademarks suits, and joint ventures partners quarrelling among themselves.

In terms of your law firm itself, how has it expanded?

Ten years ago we were about 50 lawyers between four cities. Now we are about 325. Our disposal of work has gone by tremendously. What the 50 lawyers were doing, now 20 lawyers are doing because we have adopted technology.

What are your views on the new Companies Bill that is likely to get implemented in a year?

Unfortunately, the Companies Bill has been in the making for more than 10 years now. So the thoughts that they are trying to modernise and improve on are already outdated. It’s like buying a car of 1990 model now. Ministers have also changed in this period. But I have a few points of concern – for instance, concepts like responsibility of directors in a company, where they are making a director liable for everything. In such a case no one will want to become a director.

Another thing that worries me is that they are introducing the concept of Class Action. As it is, it is an abused provision in the US. The provision for moving all cases to the national tribunals is also worrisome. Most of the tribunals are understaffed. It is not going to help.

How do you see the current M&A space in India?

There is no doubt there has been some slowdown but still India is an attractive destination. But to some extent policy uncertainties become a deterrent. Many countries have passed anti-corruption laws and in India things don’t move without bribes. Strong policies are required.


Published on June 30, 2013

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