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MSM does Shardul Amarchand: ELP & other merger rumours, family, plus minor headline howler

Shardul Shroff, speaking for the first time to media since November 2014, had lined up a string of interviews yesterday with the mainstream media (MSM) and trade press, on the day of formally announcing the launch of his new firm to media and several days after his brother Cyril completed his round of interviews with the press.

[On that note, do read Legally India’s in-depth interview with Cyril Shroff, which was published in Mint today.]

Business Standard asked about the new management structure where Shardul Shroff is executive chair with three regional managing partners, and a family-minority management committee, as first reported by Legally India yesterday.

Is this structure based on any global model?
Shardul: We evolved it based on what we felt were our shortcomings. This is a blend of our own ideas and what we have seen in successful organisations. We need to have an agile board.
How important was it to move away from the perception of a family-run firm?
Shardul: We want to immunise the firm from any family issues. We are putting in a lot more effort into institutionalising the firm. We want to be an independent institution.
We want to play by an institutional framework, and not a family framework.

The Economic Times (accidentally but slightly hilariously if you’re a law firm geek) headlined a Shroff interview with an utterly impossible partner number (one of the world’s largest firms, Clifford Chance, had 587 partners in 2014):

While Shardul Shroff is targeting 600 fee-earners by 2017, it looks like the headline writing department got a little over-excited at the ET, as it correctly reported in the body:

We are now about 60 partners, and new partners are coming in Mumbai. We are in the process of bringing in people in Bengaluru, and will be 70-80 partners by the next two-three months — that's the plan. The firm is about 380 moving forward, and it is a sizeable firm, notwithstanding the split. We will easily surpass 400-450 by the end of the year.

ET also asked about the perennial merger rumours:

We keep on hearing names of various firms in talks with you in Mumbai. How far talks have progressed on acquiring a firm here?
There's lot of speculation. Everybody has associated me with every firm possible, so you have to discount all that. This shows that market is looking at this as a disruptive and opportunistic event, they want to come together and consolidate. If it happens, it's good, if it doesn't, it's alright. I am not talking to anybody as this point of time.

While CNBC-TV18’s Menaka Doshi pushed Shardul Shroff harder on a specific and very persistent merger rumour:

Q: The freshest rumour doing rounds and this one is a higher probability is that you and ELP might join hands in Mumbai. Would that be true?

A: In terms of ELP, that is not the only rumour making the market, there are so many more rumours in the market and speculation is not something that I would like to comment on.

Q: Is there no chance of ELP and you coming together?

A: No, that is. You said there is no chance, whereas I said that there is always a possibility and life is full of uncertainties.

Q: But if you are not in talks right not, at least in the near-term there is no chance of the two of you coming together, right?

A: It is a process. These things take time. And who knows tomorrow they may want to speak to us. And it will go on that way.

Q: Is it your intent to maybe expand in Mumbai or across the country by coming together with a large firm? I do not mean small acquisitions of the type that you may have already done or maybe considering to practice in one specific city. I mean, coming together with a firm that ranks among the top-10 or the top-15 in the country on order to build size?

A: It is always a possibility. As I said, anything which gives me culturally a good feeling, a feeling of a good fit, a feeling that look this individual is great, fits with my cycle, or even a group if it fits the psyche of the firm, or even if firm fits the psyche of the firm, we will look at it.

A brief history of SAM merger rumours and the current status

Legally India first reported that in December 2014 that Shardul Shroff was in talks to merge with a firm in Mumbai and re-reported that this remained Shardul’s strategy in February. In April Legally India exclusively reported that Shardul would acquire the chambers of Radhika Pereira, called Dudhat Pereira & Associates.

Legally India understands that Shardul Shroff’s side has initiated merger talks with at least six, probably more, Mumbai-headquartered firms (though a business paper most probably wrongly reported that Shardul was looking to tie-up with Bharucha & Partners, which the firm categorically denied).

Bar & Bench reported in late April that “Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas may be on the verge of pulling off a major merger of sorts if the rumour mills are to believed”, “eyeing a hundred-lawyer firm based out of Bombay to mark his entry into the Bombay legal market”.

As mentioned in a comment by us at that time, none of those talks had progressed into final stages, which remains the current status quo as confirmed in Shardul Shroff’s interview with Legally India as of yesterday and the above interviews published today.

Discussions with two of Shardul Shroff’s largest Mumbai merger targets, including ELP, were not continuing, Legally India had confirmed from several authoritative sources during the last fortnight.

The write-up of Legally India’s interview with Shardul Shroff will be published later today. In the meantime, do read Legally India’s in-depth interview with Cyril Shroff about his plans, which was published in Mint today.

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