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Family ties / Issue 23

The Ambanis yet again dominated the national headlines as the multi-billion dollar dispute between brothers Anil and Mukesh began limping through the Supreme Court.

Then, as though there was not nearly enough drama in the saga, one of the three judges discovered that his daughter was a partner at AZB Bangalore.

This was a problem because AZB is as good as family to Mukesh, with AZB co-founder Zia Mody's husband being related to Mukesh's wife.

AZB lawyers are well-known for acting on Reliance Industries Limited's choicest mandates and less well-known to be helping Mukesh on the litigation behind the scenes.

After finding out about the various family ties, the judge promptly stood down from the case, which will mean the first six days of submissions will have to be re-heard.

Surprising then is an official statement from Mukesh's side, which appears happy to blame AZB for the whole affair.

In all fairness AZB is probably not at fault, although it could have been content to absorb the flack for its client on this one.

For one, AZB's merger in Bangalore only recently brought on board the judge's daughter, making it likely that the family connection was genuinely and honestly missed. And it is also not something that standard conflict check procedures would have necessarily caught.

But the interesting part, which several practitioners privately agree with, is that the AZB family ties may very well have offered a welcome strategic play to the Mukesh camp.

Anil Ambani's counsel Ram Jethmalani charged that the judge was removed because he was asking "inconvenient questions".

If the allegation is true, the revelation of AZB's judicial family ties will have been just another missile in a court battle that has been as sophisticated as it has been messy.

And the companies' share prices do not seem to have suffered, though shareholders may be hurt by the legal costs.

Add your thoughts to the discussion here.

In other news, the extended Linklaters family has expanded in India, with two partners resigning to join its best friend Talwar Thakore & Associates in Mumbai.

Talwar Thakore has also made up two partners, converted to lockstep and leased enough new office space to enable it to double in size.

Luthra & Luthra too has outgrown its venerable home in Delhi and taken on another floor in the office block.

And finally, one of Luthra's senior partners is running for election to the Bar Council of Delhi in a bid to increase the representation of law firm lawyers in the body that is dominated by litigators.

Question is, can Mr Sondhi get enough law firm friends out to vote for him?

Judging by our poll, almost 60 per cent of law firm lawyers have never voted, do not intend to or ask, "what is the point?"

Only 10 per cent of respondents have always voted. But, in a shimmer of hope for Indian Bar democracy and Mr Sondhi, almost a quarter have never voted before but will do so in future.

Perhaps the Facebook campaign has been working.

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