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This article, like many others, was first published exclusively for long-term supporters, 48 hours before everyone else got to read it.

2018’s 50 busiest Supreme Court AOR law firms • Khaitan leads in Big 7 with 213 filings • JSA, SAM also 100+

Only Khaitan, SAM, CAM, MV Kini, Dua, DSK operate AOR firms amongst larger full-service firms

Data crunching 2018 SC orders reveals first-ever look into law firms’ disputes practices
Data crunching 2018 SC orders reveals first-ever look into law firms’ disputes practices

It is well known that nearly every Supreme Court case is in want of an advocate-on-record (AOR), and several lawyers and law firms have made this a core part of their Supreme Court practice. After analysing more than 120,000 of the Supreme Court’s daily orders from 2018, we have now compiled a list of the busiest advocate-on-record (AOR) firms in the apex court, according to the number of orders mentioning their names.

Of the AOR firms, Agarwal Law Associates is a powerhouse, entirely via the AOR practice of its founder and AOR EC Agrawala, who was responsible for 645 matters in 2018. Partner (and EC Agrawala’s son) Mahesh Agarwal told us last year that a sizeable number of instructions came directly from lawyers, with around 50% of the firm’s AOR work coming from states such as Maharashtra and Gujarat, with a particular focus on work in power, telecoms, ports, insolvency and bankruptcy.

Next up is SM Jadhav & Co, which in its own name and that of AOR Shivaji M Jadhav, has more than 292 unique entries (including, however, as Mr Jadhav as an advocate, rather than an AOR, though this information is not always consistent in the SC orders).

Coming in third is litigation powerhouse Karanjawala & Co (which has handled at least 255 AOR filings in 2018 via its in-house AOR practice), also including AOR filings by partner Manik Karanjawala (who usually files via the firm, but sometimes also in her own name), as well as appearances by some of Karanjawala’s lawyers.

Managing partner Raian Karanjawala said: “Frankly we started our practice in the Supreme Court – I was born in that court, so was my wife – so we had to be everything in house, we couldn’t farm out our practice to others. We started in the Supreme Court and stayed there for many years.”

“In 1990, I got Indian Airlines as a client, and because Indian Airlines doesn’t have so much litigation law but labour disputes and consumer forum [cases], that is what made me expand. That is what really grew our practice,” Karanjawala explained, about how the firm’s practice expanded to consumer forum, high courts and trial courts. In any case, at the Supreme Court “money is not in the filing, we do the whole matter”, he added, although we understand that some other full-service firms also instruct Karanjawala as its AOR.

Other AOR firms in the top ranks by volume are PLR Chambers & Co (249 filings), Lawyers Knit & Co (222 filings) and Parekh & Co (218 filings) alongside hundreds of other firms.

Update 27 April 2019: Fourth-ranked PLR Chambers & Co is the AOR firm that is part of PLR Chambers, which was started by former Amarchand policy partner Suhaan Mukerji in 2013. “I am focusing on litigation as the next phase of growth after setting up the firm because litigation compliments a regulatory and policy practice very well,” he explained, noting that the firm had cases in the Supreme Court for clients such as Tik Tok. “Also given our regulatory practice has an all India footprint we are able to also cover litigation down to the district level across India. The development of the litigation practice all India has been driven by me and Astha Sharma, Harsh Gursahani, Amit Verma and on the criminal and white collar crime side by Ravinder Singh and Chitralekha Das, all of whom are supported by their teams.”

Update 01 May 2019: PLR acted for the state of West Bengal 321 times, out of a total of 613 Supreme Court appearances in 2018.

AORs can charge anything from Rs 5,000, with fees often increasing for more complex or high-value matters up to Rs 40,000 per AOR filing for a few more expensive AORs firms (such as Karanjawala, according to several law firm litigators we spoke to).

At the cheaper end, it is also a well-rehearsed complaint at the Supreme Court that some AORs simply “lend out their name” for filings, without being actively involved in a matter (which is technically not supposed to happen according to the AOR rules).

The full-service AOR firms in the Supreme Court

But besides near-pureplay AOR filing firms, many of the full-service corporate firms have also registered as AOR firms, which in some cases handle nearly 100% of the firm’s filings in the Supreme Court.

Of the large firms, Khaitan & Co was the busiest, at 7th overall rank out of all AOR firms: its captive AOR firm, under whose name nine Khaitan in-house AORs file matters, had its name attached to 213 separate case numbers in the Supreme Court.

Next up was Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas’s (SAM) AOR practice, which operates under the AOR firm practice of its chairman SS Shroff. His name is attached to 109 Supreme Court matters, putting it in 15th place out of all AOR firms (J Sagar Associates (JSA) is tied with SAM here, though its number could actually be higher - see below).

The next largest AOR practice, out of fuller-service firms, is MV Kini & Associates, to which 88 cases were attached in the Supreme Court in 22nd place.

Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas - a relative newcomer to Delhi after it’s split from SS Shroff, which had handled all of erstwhile Amarchand Mangaldas’ combined matters - is also now running its own AOR firm, and has managed to rack up a considerable 87 filings, putting it in 23rd place out of all Supreme Court AOR firms.

Other big firms operating AOR practices in their own name also include:

  • Dua Associates (54 matters)
  • Gagrat And Co (40 matters)
  • DSK Legal (26 matters)

The advantages for a firm to register as an AOR in its own name were manyfold, one law firm disputes partner told us. “When you put your name behind [a client] as an AOR, the client gets consistency and continuity.” Another advantage is “visibility”, both with judges and other advocates, who will see the firm’s name in orders.

Finally, “whatever notional cost you pay to the AOR, you can absorb” as a law firm, he added.

The non-AOR big firms

Notwithstanding the above, that’s not the whole story, and some firms are happy to continue filing in the Supreme Court with both internal and external AORs (one reason may be that some clients will have pre-existing relationships with third-party AOR firms and are happy to continue using them).

The list of AOR firms has several notable gaps, such as J Sagar Associates (JSA), L&L Partners (Luthra), AZB & Partners and Trilegal, which all use a mix of internal and external AORs (who also file for other firms or people) for their own Supreme Court cases, so it is not possible to get a complete picture of their activity merely from mentions of the firm’s name in Supreme Court orders.

However, we have compiled tallies for those firms by aggregating the appearances by each of those firms’ disputes partners (fuller details in the table below).

Nevertheless, the figures of those firms are therefore likely to be understated (as well as those of a number of others on the list, for whom we have added individual partner names, such as Bhasin & Co’s appearances of managing partner Lalit Bhasin, and several of HSA Associates’ partners):

  • J Sagar Associates (JSA): 109 matters (via in-house AORs Dheeraj Nair, Sidharth Sethi and Divyam Agarwal, as well as individual partners).
  • L&L Partners: 70 matters (via in-house AORs Faisal Sherwani, Tarun Dua and Akhil Anand (who had joined from Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas in 2017), as well as other of its lawyers’ appearances).
  • AZB & Partners: 42 matters (purely aggregated by individual lawyers’ appearances).
  • Trilegal: 26 matters (including in-house AOR Syed Jafar Alam, as well as including several other of its lawyers who appear before the SC).
  • HSA Advocates: 23 matters (purely by including several partner names)

If there are any partners or associates in law firms with sizeable Supreme Court appearances in 2018 missing from the table, please let us know in the comments or Contact Us and we will update the table.

Methodology and next steps

A brief note about how this data was put together and some of the potential pitfalls in this. First, Supreme Court orders contain a multitude of creative typos, mis-spellings and formatting errors, which means the process of parsing out lawyer names is not perfect.

Furthermore, if two Supreme Court advocates share the same name, it may not be possible to separately account for each practice (though most with bigger practises tend to differentiate their names from namesakes). There could also be double-counting in some cases: while we have counted each unique case number only once, sometimes several connected matters may be filed under separate case numbers (despite being essentially the same litigation).

And finally, this is just the beginning: our database currently contains nearly 50,000 individual lawyer names, and we hope to be publishing more deep-dives into the Supreme Court appearances of advocates soon. And, as ever, we would be delighted to hear your ideas in the comments.

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