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End of an era? Luthra, AZB launch proper websites with partner names, last holdout SAM could follow soon

Luthra’s new website: Very animated
Luthra’s new website: Very animated

L&L Partners, formerly known as Luthra & Luthra, has re-launched its website to now include a list of partners in each practice area, after it had for a long time maintained a fairly basic online presence (excepting its activity on Facebook, of course).

The new site, still hosted at www.luthra.com, may not be singing but it’s certainly dancing, with different swooshy stylised animations on each page, as well as having been updated to reflect its new brand identity.

(It also contains an Easter egg, of sorts, for those wishing to hunt for it: a tiny @ icon at the bottom right of the page launches a “Life at Luthra” gallery with pictures of the firm’s more fun side).

More importantly, it includes for the first time a list of partners in each practice areas (although links to partner profiles don’t currently seem to be working - we understand from a Luthra source that the website is still a “work in progress” at the moment, so those bugs are likely to be ironed out soon).

The move is significant, following several months after AZB & Partners also launched its first proper website with partner profiles in November 2018, and in light of the regulatory timewarp the legal profession has long found itself in.

AZB’s new website contains a “knowledge bank”, an alumni network, careers, accolades as well as a searchable list of its partners.

Its previous incarnation was barely more than a visiting card placeholder.

AZB 2.0
AZB 2.0

This also means that Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas (SAM) is now the only remaining major Indian law firm without a proper website.

However, we understand from SAM sources that it too is considering relaunching its placeholder website in the coming months, presumably to include more useful information.

Luthra, AZB and SAM each declined to comment when contacted.

End of an era

In some ways, this marks the end of an era. Indian law firms, particularly eminent Society of Indian Law Firms (Silf) members, had long pointed to the bar councils’ quasi-ban on advocates having websites (beyond virtual business cards), as a reason for opposing the entry of foreign law firms (which suffer from no such restrictions).

But besides that, not having a proper website has been a bit of an anachronism in the Indian legal profession and a barrier to client service who might want to contact a specific partner.

It also doesn’t help any potential recruits (including students) who may want to know how to apply for a job at a firm or find out more about it before sending off their CV.

It is understood that AZB decided to launch a proper website in November for precisely those reasons, as well as showcasing its knowledge resources to clients.

Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas had launched a proper website shortly after the break-up of Amarchand Mangaldas. Trilegal, Khaitan & Co and J Sagar Associates (JSA) have also had websites with partner information for a while now.

The regulations

In part, law firms’ reticence is understandable.

In 2008, the Delhi bar council had allowed law firms to have very limited websites with an amendment stating that advocates would be allowed to furnish “website information as prescribed in the Schedule under intimation to and as approved by the Bar Council of India” - i.e.: publishing advocates’ contact details, qualifications and areas of specialisation.

But in 2010 the Delhi bar council piped up again, as it had done in fairly regular intervals, threatening to punish law firms with websites (that threat was eventually withdrawn or disappeared).

In 2012, we had published an analysis by Raghul Sudheesh of 100 Indian law firm websites, which revealed that most were nevertheless prima facie in violation of the rules containing far more information than the 2008 amendment allowed, calling on the BCI to either censure those firms or amend its rules.

BCI chairman Manan Kumar Mishra promised in 2014 that the BCI would totally amend Rule 36, Section IV in its rules to allow law firms to have websites, but unsurprisingly not much has happened on that front (perhaps because, as an issue, it is closely linked to liberalisation of the legal market to foreign firms).

Nevertheless, while any clear and present danger of sanctions seems to have now passed sufficiently for law firms not to worry much any more, in an apparent nod to the archaic regulations, pretty much every law firm website also includes boiler-plate before letting you into the main site.

Luthra, mirroring the language of most others, notes:

Current rules of the Bar Council of India impose restrictions on maintaining a web page and do not permit lawyers to provide information concerning their areas of practice. L&L Partners is, therefore, constrained from providing any further information on this web page.

The rules of the Bar Council of India prohibit law firms from soliciting work or advertising in any manner. By clicking on ‘I AGREE’, the user acknowledges that:

The user wishes to gain more information about L&L Partners, its practice areas and its attorneys, for his/her own information and use; [...]

AZB’s website uses similar language, adding:

By clicking, “I Agree” below, the user acknowledges that ... There has been no advertisement, personal communication, solicitation, invitation or inducement of any sort whatsoever from the Firm or any of its members to solicit any work or advertise through this website

Shardul Amarchand, by contrast, currently still remains publicly more conservative in its readings of the restrictions, with only a list of offices and a few email addresses.

A footnote at the bottom of the page states:

Current rules of the Bar Council of India impose restrictions on maintaining a web page and do not permit lawyers to provide information concerning their areas of practice.

Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co is, therefore, constrained from providing any further information on this web page.

A tiny piece of legal industry history, preserved
A tiny piece of legal industry history, preserved

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