Global firm Dentons has announced plans to combine with a major Indian firm, Link Legal, in an historic breakthrough for the restricted Indian market. ’This is not a joint venture, not a “best friends” relationship, not a “referral agreement,” but a combination as Dentons has done around the world,’ Dentons global chairman Joe Andrew said. 

The combined firm would have a first-mover advantage and a competitive edge in international panel competitions, the announcement said. 

India’s legal sector remains one of the most restricted of any major market economy. The UK Department for International Trade last year published a table of ’trade restrictiveness’ showing that legal services is second only to rail freight transport in being closed to non-Indian suppliers.

Dentons said the breakthrough was possible because of its ’polycentric’ structure, based on a Swiss verein model. This allows it to combine with firms across the world while respecting the legal and regulatory requirements of each jurisdiction. The deal with Link will give it 215 offices across 83 countries.

Link Legal, established in 1999, has offices in New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai and New York. The firm said Dentons Link Legal Indian lawyers will represent clients inside India and Dentons lawyers will represent Link Legal’s clients elsewhere.

’We approached Dentons because we recognised that a combination between our firms would help us meet and exceed the needs of our clients who are increasingly becoming global,’ said Atul Sharma, Link Legal managing partner. ’Importantly, the combination allows us to be both global and local, helping us to connect our clients to leading legal talent around the world while continuing to be wholly owned, controlled and managed by Indian lawyers at Link Legal in India.’ 

The announcement coincides with Dentons’ tenth anniversary. If approved by the partners, the combination is expected to launch in the coming months, the firm said. 

Opening the legal market is among the targets of the UK’s proposed free trade agreement with India. However legal services is not covered by any of the 11 free trade agreements that India has reached, mainly with other Asian countries, over the past two decades.