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In/dependence / Issue 109

Legally India newsletter
Legally India newsletter

Independence is a quality as prized by lawyers as it was celebrated by India yesterday. But as firms grow larger, they get more dependent on each of their partners while subsuming the individual into the collective.

Trilegal has promoted two Mumbai star partners into its equity lockstep. Read today’s exclusive Legally India primer to Trilegal’s lockstep and the promotions, which are significant for two reasons.

For one, these are Trilegal’s first such internal promotions since the firm lost its maiden batch of internal lockstep partners to breakaway Phoenix. As such it shows that this early trauma and consequent soul-searching, which made Trilegal a lockstep partnership more in name than in practice, are now apparently behind the firm. Second, Trilegal is the first major firm in India that now has a tested and fully operational lockstep, and complete transparency in its equity system.

But Trilegal is not the last. The firm’s progeny Phoenix has inducted two lateral equity partners in Mumbai and opened a new office in South Mumbai to target litigation. This is both the start of Phoenix’s long-planned and overdue Mumbai expansion in corporate and disputes and the first widening of Phoenix’s equity partnership. And the two laterals are understood to be joining on a lockstep too, although the fine print is still being finalised.

Older firms, many of which began as sole proprietorships, have famously been finding it harder to widen their equity membership. Luthra & Luthra is a case in point, having vowed two years ago to implement a modified lockstep. While the honest intentions to somehow share the pie are there, the logistics are proving slow to implement.

With this as a backdrop, Luthra promoted three of its associates to partner last week while five loyal and high-performing non-equity partners were rewarded with a choice of luxury German cars as gifts at the annual internal firm awards party. With competitive remuneration and bonuses this may very well be an effective reward and retention tool but one suspects there is also a lingering doubt at many firms over the real benefits a larger equity model offers; after all even a lockstep does not guarantee absolute loyalty (see above).

As Indian firms grow the concept of pro bono is also finally gaining some traction. There is still a long way to go but a UK legal tech NGO is starting in India and hopes that ultimately doing good will be as much about lawyers’ altruism as about protecting firms’ bottom lines. Abroad some clients already refuse to instruct unless a firm has the corporate social responsibility (CSR) credentials.

Also last week:

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