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Newsletter: Tectonics / Issue 5

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It's a must-read for every lawyer in or near India.

AZB's best friend Clifford Chance officially ceased being the world's largest law firm this week, falling several places behind Freshfields, Skaddens and Baker & McKenzie. And Linklaters is still to announce its results today.

For better or worse, law firm turnover competitions do not take place in public in India despite Clifford Chance blaming AZB a tiny bit for its turnover drop. Things could be changing though.

Surprising many, Amarchand wants to publicly file its accounts by becoming a limited liability partnership (LLP) as soon as it is able.

The first step will be this Monday's Union Budget, which is expected to clarify LLPs' tax position. The second will be the Bar Council of India (BCI) signing off on law firm LLPs.

And that is unlikely to happen without a spat. Only this week the regulator faced considerable flak from law firm lawyers commenting in droves on our interview with BCI chairman SNP Sinha.

Some called for Sinha's resignation and worse, while others felt there should be different regulators for litigators and law firms. But if there is one conclusion you should draw from this debate, it is never to call a transactional lawyer a "clerk". Ever.

We have contacted the BCI and are awaiting its response. Indeed, many sensible parts of the BCI's mission could have been missed amongst the noise.

"[Sinha's] overriding concern is to improve the justice delivery mechanism by having better lawyers joining the bar and the bench," translated one reader. "It is with this objective the National Law Schools were set up and now the lure of lucre has drained all talent from these institutions to the law firms. So, he wants to fix that problem first by ensuring life blood to the bar.

"He feels allowing foreign law firms has no apparent benefit on this mission."

Another name which is not unfamiliar to foreign firms is the Lawyers Collective. The NGO won a fundamental High Court victory for Indian gay rights yesterday, forcing the judicial re-interpretation of a homophobic law from colonial times.

But some firms will quake when the Lawyers Collective is mentioned. In fact, counsel for Ashurst, Chadbourne & Parke and White & Case are due to meet the organisation again today in a Bombay High Court case that has been crawling along since 1995.

We will be there to report on the drift of things.

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