Dentons enters super-restricted market
The largest law firm in the world by lawyer headcount is set to get even bigger following a “historic” combination with a leading Indian outfit.
Dentons announced this week that it is launching a combination with Link Legal, an Indian law firm boasting 130 lawyers in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad.
The deal will see Dentons grow its already massive global footprint to 215 offices across 83 countries.
The tie-up is the first time a global law firm has been able to gain access to the Indian legal market owing to a 1961 law prohibiting foreign lawyers and law firms from practicing in the country.
In the 90’s, India’s central bank had allowed three international law firms including White & Case and Ashurst to open ‘liaison offices’ that were restricted to advising on transactional matters, a decision that was reversed by the Bombay High Court in 2009.
In 2018, the Indian Supreme Court upheld the ban on foreign lawyers and law firms with an exception for foreign lawyers advising on international legal matters on a short-term ‘fly-in fly-out’ basis.
Hopes have been raised that a new trade deal may be reached that would open up India’s legal market to UK firms with the deadline for agreement currently set for 24 October. However, recent friction has seen the Bar Council join calls for the UK government to continue negotiations beyond the deadline in fear that this will not be achieved.
Now, Dentons has struck a deal which its global chairman Joe Andrews says will make the firm “a first-mover in a market that matters to our clients”.
The firm has been able to do this thanks to its Swiss Verein structure in which Dentons’ 200+ offices share the firm’s branding but operate individually without sharing profits. This enables them to be treated as separate entities for regulatory purposes.
Andrews stressed that “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”.
On the deal, Dentons global CEO Elliott Portnoy said:
“India will be the most populous country in the world next year with a fast-growing economy making it an increasingly important market for our clients around the world. This historic combination will allow Dentons to connect clients to leading talent in India and provide a seamless one firm experience in more than 200 locations around the globe.”