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Khaitan hits 501 fee-earners, remains largest partnership • CAM still headcount king • SAM, AZB fastest growing • Most de-lever

The majority of large firms in the last 18 months grew lawyer numbers by double digit percentages

The rapid growth of law firm headcounts
The rapid growth of law firm headcounts

The seven largest law firms in India have grown their headcounts by an average of around 20% in the last one-and-a-half years. Of those, the fastest-growing such as Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas and Khaitan & Co, had expanded fee-earner headcounts by 45% and 35% respectively, while others such as AZB & partners’ partnership ballooned by 75%.

Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas was the only firm where headcounts at associate and partner numbers actually decreased to 557 and 81 respectively, when compared to figures supplied by the firm in a May 2015 interview (which included upcoming graduate recruits). That said, in May 2015, Cyril Amarchand had already completed record lateral hiring growing to around 590 and a partnership of 91.

But despite the break-up of Amarchand Mangaldas Suresh a Shroff & Co and CAM’s reduced numbers this year, it remains India’s biggest law firm by fee-earner headcounts, though Khaitan & Co has the largest number of partners at 106 and has just become the only other firm to have crossed the symbolic threshold of 500 fee-earners across offices.

Khaitan had circulated an internal email to staff on Monday, 7 November, noting: “Today is a landmark day in the storied history of our firm – we touch the magic number of ‘501 legal professionals’!! We were a ‘100’ (legal professionals) in 2005, ‘300’ in 2013 and ‘501’ today (2016)! Our growth has been incredible! We are like the proverbial river that flows from the mountains and continues to gain speed, strength and volume as it progresses on its journey to the sea!”

Compared to the figures supplied by the firm in April 2015, Khaitan has grown by 35% in terms of total fee earners, but only 8% in terms of total partners.

In March 2015, Khaitan became the first Indian law firm to reach a partner count of 100, prompting us to examine in April 2015 how leverage varied across India’s top law firms and why.

Plans of Amarchand 3.0, CAM & SAM

In 2012, Amarchand Mangaldas had famously vowed to grow to 1,000 lawyers and 100 partners by 2017 under a strategy that was dubbed Amarchand 3.0.

Since then, of course, the break-up has happened, at which point in May 2015, SAM had more than 300 lawyers and around 60 partners, according to SAM chairman Shardul Shroff at the time. Shardul Shroff had also vowed that by 2017, SAM would reach a headcount of around 600.

That hasn’t quite happened with a headcount of 434 fee-earners and 87 partners Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas’ (SAM); nevertheless, the total partnership and fee-earner headcounts grew by 45% each at SAM, exceeding nearly all of the other Big 7 firms (except for AZB in the partnership stakes).

But ironically, with CAM’s aggressive growth leading up to 2015 and SAM’s major lateral hiring in 2015-16, both firms together would have hit their ambitious joint four-year-old target early: a hypothetical merged CAM-SAM entity would now be 991 fee-earners and 168 partners strong, with two offices in each of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai.

AZB

AZB & Partners had the highest partnership growth rate after SAM and CAM, at 75%.

Luthra

It is understood that Luthra & Luthra’s total headcount is at around 330 fee earners and partner count is 60, though the firm did not respond to several requests for official confirmation since Tuesday.

In 2015, consultancy RSG India had pegged Luthra at around 292 fee-earners and 42 partners, which would have given the firm a efe-earner growth rate of around 13%, and a growth in its partnership of 43%.

JSA

Other than Cyril Amarchand, J Sagar Associates (JSA) grew the least – 3% in terms of total headcount and 15% in terms of partner count, after a year marked by retirements and a continuing exodus led by former partner Akshay Chudasama (who joined SAM).

Trilegal

Trilegal was near the middle with its figures, tied up with AZB at 23% for total fee earner growth and a 38 per cent partner growth.

A question of levers: Most firms deleveraged

The last 18 months also saw major changes in the leverage of law firms – the ratio between partners and non-partner fee-earners at a firm (click here to learn more about leverage).

SAM’s leverage stayed slap-bang at 4.0 fee-earners per partner, while at CAM the leverage increased slightly from 5.5 in 2015, to 5.9 in 2016.

Khaitan too increased its leverage from 2.8 fee-earners per partner to 3.7.

However, all other firms reduced leverage in the last 18 months, with JSA now boasting the lowest number amongst all the large firms: only 2.3 fee-earners per partner (down from 2.7 the previous year).

AZB and Luthra both followed similar strategies with respect to leverage, starting out at 1:6.5 and 1:6.0 respetively, but now having shifted to 4.3 and 4.5.

Trilegal too reduced its leverage to 5.1 from 5.9.

While a decreased leverage can impact profitability, it can also result in higher billings per partner who are expected to work with clients more directly and can therefore try to command higher rates.

Of course, de-leveraging can also be a side-effect when promoting many internally to protect against attrition.

The numbers

Law firm

April / May 2015
fee-earners
(incl. partners)

April / May 2015
partners
(equity & non)

2015
Leverage

November 2016
fee-earners
(incl. partners)

November 2016
Partners
(equity & non)

2016
Leverage

2015 to ‘16 
fee-earner growth
(%)

2015 to ‘16
partner growth
(%)

Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas 590* 91* 5.5 557 81 5.9

-6

-11

Khaitan & Co 372 98 2.8 501 106 3.7

35

8

Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas 300** 60** 4.0 434 87 4.0

45

45

AZB & Partners 300 40 6.5 370 70 4.3

23

75

Luthra & Luthra 292*** 42*** 6.0 330*** 60*** 4.5

13

43

J Sagar Associates (JSA) 292 78 2.7 300 90 2.3

3

15

Trilegal 179 26 5.9 220 36 5.1

23

38

TOTALS 2325 435 4.3 2712 530 4.1

17

22

Amarchand Mangaldas
Suresh A Shroff & Co (before May 2015 break-up)
700 84 7.3   n/a n/a n/a  
Hypothetical combined CAM-SAM entity 890 151 4.9 991 168 4.9

29

50

All 2015 figures, unless otherwise indicated, based on April 2015 analysis of law firm leverage. All 2016 figures provided from the firms on request, unless otherwise indicated.

*CAM 2015 figures based on May 2015 interview.

**SAM 2015 estimate based on unreported statement in May 2015 interview that firm had 300+ fee-earners and around 60 partners, and August 2015 press release that firm had 350 lawyers and 65 partners.

*** Luthra 2016 figures based on unofficial sources; 2015 figures, are approximate based on RSG India 2015 report

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