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This article, like many others, was first published exclusively for long-term supporters, 3 hours before everyone else got to read it.

Khaitan ‘releases’ Comp star Avaantika Kakkar to CAM after only 1 month • SAM’s Akila Agrawal possibly bound for CAM, not so lucky...

Kakkar productive again mercifully quickly, after Khaitan only insists on 1 month of notice
Kakkar productive again mercifully quickly, after Khaitan only insists on 1 month of notice

Khaitan & Co had initially been loathe to let partner Avaantika Kakkar leave the firm to Cyril Amarchand, when we first reported her move on 14 April.

But we understand that Kakkar has now joined Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas (CAM) on 16 May, after serving (only) a month’s of notice at Khaitan, which had officially accepted her resignation on 16 April.

Kakkar confirmed: “The team has hit the ground running with some exciting mandates - this has helped settle us down very quickly.”

“It is great to work alongside my colleagues and friends, [CAM partners] Anshuman Sakle and Bharat Budholia,” she added.

Kakkar was joined at Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas by Khaitan’s Dhruv Rajain and Kirthi Srinivas as senior associates and one associate, growing CAM’s competition team to a total fee-earner headcount of around 24, including 4 partners (Budholia, Kakkar, Sakle, and TMT partner Rahul Goel who primarily focuses on technology, media and telecoms).

On notice

Khaitan executive director Amar Sinhji explained about her one-month notice period that the “average notice period” at partner level was three months, and one month for non-partners.

“The reasoning behind the notice period is to allow sufficient time to ensure a proper handover of all matters and to enable us to inform clients and also ensure transition of relationships,” he said. “If all this has been completed, we see no reason to hold back any individual who has clearly decided to move on. It is then in the best interests of the firm and the concerned individual to move on at a mutually agreed date and on a positive note.

“No logical purpose is served by holding a person to a contractual period, if all commitments under that contract have been completed.”

Meanwhile, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas (SAM) appears to be pushing for long-time corporate partner Akila Agrawal to be settling in for a longer wait: possibly a combined notice period and garden leave of up to 4 months.

We had first reported that Agrawal was leaving on 24 April, which would mean she would only be free to start working again by August.

While we could not authoritatively confirm Agrawal’s eventual destination, we understand from SAM and market sources that the firm is proceeding on the assumption that she will be joining rival Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas (CAM).

Agrawal and SAM did not respond for comment. CAM declined to comment when asked about Agrawal potentially joining the firm.

Noticing trends

Of course, SAM is not alone in insisting on long notice periods.

CAM has a potential maximum notice period of 6 months for equity partners, which was considerably shortened to between six weeks and two months after negotiations with AZB & Partners: the former’s Mumbai team headed by Ashwath Rau moved, while AZB Delhi had agreed to release partner Percy Billimoria from his notice early, in exchange.

And then-CAM partner Nisha Kaur Uberoi had served 9 weeks of notice, before moving to AZB in 2016.

In 2014, what-was-then Amarchand Mangaldas Mumbai had threatened to hold partner Abhimanyu Bhattacharya to a full six months of notice, but eventually allowed him to leave for Khaitan & Co after four.

Update 2 June 2018: As pointed out by a reader, the record may be held (or possibly co-held) by Nikhil Naredi, whom Cyril Amarchand late last year had vowed to hold to 6 months of gardening leave, before being allowed to join Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas. We are trying to confrm when he actually joined SAM.

The case for less notice

The case for shorter notice periods in the industry, may not just be an argument of logic. Although very few if any law firms or partners are ever likely to challenge long notice periods in court as unfair restraint of trade, according to several lawyers spoken to, notice periods extending beyond a few months begin to tread on thin ice, legally speaking.

Another possible counter-argument is that keeping legal professionals out of the market for longer periods of time, deprives the legal market of much-needed talent: after all, it is still generally believed that India is an underlawyered market, at least at the top end.

Finally, as Khaitan’s Sinhji hinted, the value of partners leaving on positive notes can be invaluable (after all, it’s not unheard of for exiting partners to re-join firms). Long notice periods can have a number of unexpected negative knock-on effects in areas such as:

  • morale of teams remaining (and work product) can theoretically be affected when a partner is continuing to work in a firm while one foot is already out the door,
  • clients may get confused or upset about which partner is handling their matters or that their preferred partner has been taken out of the market on garden leave,
  • partners at firms with long notice periods may think twice about being honest about future career plans, or feel that a firm is treating them unfairly as professionals,
  • lateral hires may think twice about joining firms enforcing long notice periods.

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