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Ex-Amarchand Suhaan Mukerji starts law / policy firm with 3 partners; Will do ‘ethical lobbying’ & pro bono

Suhaan Mukerji, who left Amarchand Mangaldas Delhi in June to advise the prime minister’s office, has started up a law firm with part of his former Amarchand team and three other lawyers as partners, which will offer legal and public policy and legitimate lobbying services to clients and NGOs.

The firm is called PLR Chambers – short for Policy, Law and Regulation’ – according to legal website Bar & Bench, which first reported the news.

Three other partners, who specialise in transactional work and niche litigation, have agreed to join from other law firms between January and April 2014, Mukerji told Legally India.

He said: “I think advisory has to be looked at through the prism of policies – it’s not a silo-ed blinkered approach any more. You have to have a pulse on what’s happening around the corner and where the industry is going, and where the entire structure of economy in the country going, because people are largely having more and more complex issues as our economy becomes more sophisticated.”

The key to PLR would be to make such an understanding “intrinsic” to the institution and for every lawyer within it to be trained for recognising such awareness, said Mukerji.

He is joined at PLR by former Amarchand principal associate-designate Aditya Prakash Rao and Sudhanshu Roy who, said Mukerji, was on the cusp of becoming a senior associate before he left Amarchand in May 2013. Sowmya Rao, who was a trainee solicitor at Clifford Chance before joining the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy in Delhi in 2012, has also joined, while external consultants would also assist on tax laws for the firm, which has begun operating out of an office in Delhi’s Nizamuddin East area.

The firm’s public policy work would include analysis and research of the implications of Indian laws and regulatory frameworks on behalf of clients, explained Mukerji, while the “advocacy” side of his practice could involve acting on behalf of a client to prepare arguments and to appear before various bodies or forums, such as a government’s roundtable discussion or a ministry or government department.

“We’re sticking to the administrative structure,” he said, when asked about whether PLR would directly approach politicians, but that the firm might act in cases such as ministers who were initiating industry consultations, as when Kapil Sibal recently held an industry consultation in Delhi.

However, Mukerji said that such an advocacy practice should not be described as lobbying in India, despite the practice potentially carrying that name in other jurisdictions.

“If you look at the way that people react to the word [lobbying in India], it is a dirty word,” explained Mukerji. “The fact is when you say ‘lobbying’, people will put you into a different category, that you are not applying professional skill.”

In India, he said, ‘lobbying’ was generally looked at as “under the table political funding” and the like, which he and PLR would obviously not get involved in, whereas in the US the practice was regulated and included the funnelling of political donations.

“Unethical [lobbying] is anything that is linked for a quid-pro-quo [or is lobbying] other than on the merits of the ideas you are discussing,” Mukerji said. “It’s about impropriety and the good thing about it is that you [as an advocate] are a regulated profession under the Advocates Act, and that’s what distinguishes [you potentially from others who are not lawyers].”

The firm’s policy and advocacy-cum-lobbying practice would focus on sectors such as technology, food and retail, pharmaceuticals, defence and nuclear power, as well as the not-for-profit sector.

As the founder and former partner in charge of Amarchand Delhi’s pro bono initiatives, Mukerji said he also integrated pro bono at PLR and was continuing to advise a number of NGOs pro bono.

Mukerji will continue as expert advisor to Sam Pitroda, Office of Adviser to the Prime Minister of India on Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations (PIII), where he had joined from Amarchand. He was promoted to Amarchand’s partnership in 2010.

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