Magic circle firm Clifford Chance has overtaken Linklaters as India’s highest ranking foreign law firm as international lawyers start to take advantage of the ‘fly-in, fly-out’ licence granted by India’s Supreme Court last year.
According to a ranking system devised by research firm RSG Consulting, Clifford Chance is now the top foreign law firm in India, with a score of 64.8 out of 70. It had the broadest reach of any foreign firm, with activities in mergers & acquisitions, capital markets, project finance and private equity.
Allen & Overy came a close second with a score of 62, and was found to have the best reputation in India, while Linklaters fell from first place in 2017 to third; Freshfields fell from second place to 14th.
International firms’ ability to practise in India is currently very restricted. With certain exceptions, foreign lawyers are not allowed to have an office in India, cannot practise law in India and cannot give Indian legal advice.
Last year, however, India’s Supreme Court made a limited concession, formally allowing foreign lawyers to practise on a ‘fly-in, fly-out’ basis, meaning they can work in India for a set number of days each year.
Yasmin Lambert, senior partner at RSG Consulting, said firms like Clifford Chance optimise the time they are allowed to practise in the country, and also provide a great deal of international legal advice.
Formal partnerships between international and local firms are less common than before, however. Lambert said: ‘Everyone was saying that the market would open up but that clearly hasn’t happened yet…It’s better, given the size of the market, to have more than one option.’
While Linklaters still has a ‘best friend alliance’ with a local firm, the other magic circle firms have terminated exclusive arrangements with Indian firms.
On India’s legal market, Lambert said: ‘One thing that was talked about [after Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014] was opening up the market to foreign firms. The Bar Council all believe that is something that will happen. But it may happen in stages as it did in Singapore.’
She added the process was not top of the government’s agenda and could happen ‘very slowly’.