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Legal eagles take wing

Lawyers ride an M&A tailwind.

Virat Markandeya | Print Edition: June 15, 2008

The opening up of the economy has galvanised the oldworld profession of law. Going beyond the thrust and parry of courtroom litigation, it has led to the rise of the corporate lawyer, now being spoken of in the hushed tones usually reserved for MBA whizkids. And the demand will continue to hold.

Legal career gets rewarding
Legal career gets rewarding
Within corporate law, capital markets, private equity, infrastructure and project finance are the areas where the demand is red hot, while corporate practice in debt capital markets, convergence law and competition law promise to be areas of growth.

Says Vishnu Jerome, Senior Associate with Mumbai-based corporate law firm AZB & Partners: “M&A and PE deals in India have become even more significant given the current volatility in capital markets since such deals represent more stable investments in the India story.”

The average size of acquisitions by Indian companies has risen 10-fold over the past few years, according to another corporate law firm FoxMandal Little, and law firms have been the big winners. In April, corporate firm Khaitan & Co (which handled the Hutch sale) was ranked as Asia’s fourth-biggest legal advisor for M&A deals in 2007.

“The key role played by major Indian law firms in such deals is to structure transactions within the existing foreign investment regulatory regime (which has become increasingly complex due to regulatory concerns over unchecked inflow of hot money into India) and bring a reality check on the nature of instruments and structures under which investments are made,” explains AZB’s Jerome.

 Fact box

Who’s hiring: Corporate law firms like Amarchand Mangaldas, AZB, FoxMandal & Little and Trilegal, among others

Who’re they hiring: LLBs from top law schools at the entry level. For middle and senior levels, lateral hiring from in-house counsels of companies, investment banks and even Indians returning after stints with foreign firms.

At what levels: At fresher, middle, senior levels

At what salaries: Typically, an associate at a top law firm will get Rs 12-14 lakh p.a., Senior Associates Rs 25-45 lakh p.a. while a partner could take in Rs 80 lakh-Rs 1 crore p.a.

What are the numbers like: There are about 3,000-5,000 corporate lawyers at present and demand could rise to 7,000-8,000 over the next two years.

Complexity is the operative word here. Firms bill by the hour and not transaction size. Nikhil Chandra, CEO, Rainmaker T&R, makes another point: “While India provides 70,000-80,000 law graduates every year, only a small percentage have the required skill sets and exposure to move directly into non-litigation based work.”

Foreign firms swooping into top law colleges is another factor sending salaries—at least at the entry level— soaring.

At Bangalore’s National Law School, for example, more than onefourth of the batch this year was offered jobs by London firms like Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith and Linklaters at salaries around £35,000 (Rs 29.75 lakh) per annum.

With salaries going up exponentially and foreign firms still knocking at the gates, this is one Legal career gets rewarding space to watch.

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