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The Power of One? / Issue 57

Legally India newsletter
Legally India newsletter
Is India a success story because or in spite of democracy? Compared to China, for example, hundreds if not thousands of different vested interests have made Indian reform painfully slow, if not impossible.

But in the legal sector someone is clearly trying to force a leapfrog. 

"I would be a fool to let go of this opportunity to usher in all the changes I have been dreaming of for the last 30 years," solicitor general, Bar Council of India (BCI) chief and bar exam architect Gopal Subramanium tells Legally India in this week's candid interview. He also floats a plan of introducing ethics rules for lawyers and effectively closing down more than 80 per cent of India's 913 law schools, of which many are commonly acknowledged as being sub-par. But the webs of interests and politics are bound to run deeper than just to the promoters of such colleges.

While the opportunities for change Subramanium has available are unprecedented, the avowed reformist believes - perhaps rightly - that it will take pure force of will to push the changes through, compromises and popularity be damned.

The only major fall-out so far has been around the bar exam. Another writ petition - at least the seventh - was filed against it yesterday in Maharashtra at a hearing attended by almost 300 students as local state Bar Councils are investigating and all the cases are likely to be clubbed into the Supreme Court by next month.

For the moment, Subramanium does not blink, maintaining that it would be "disastrous" to postpone or water down the exam, although other options are being considered.

Certainly no one can predict where things will go with only a two-year term in which the BCI head can realise his dream of creating a modern and ethical legal profession. Nevertheless you can bet that whatever does happen will be worth watching.

Most Indian law firms of course have long been successful mainly because of single, strong personalities who take charge, responsibility and the benefits.

In Kolkata the leadership music has been playing for more than a year but now it appears to have stopped and everyone has found their chair. Khaitan & Partners has replaced its Kolkata office head position, which was left vacant by a departure to Amarchand, which in turn had plugged a hole after a defection.

Meanwhile Kochhar & Co has hired a non-India qualified Manchester lawyer and PIO as a partner and consultant to start up a fraud and ethics practice.

Other foreign lawyers increasing their profile in India this week were Allen & Overy, together with Trilegal, who will take their finance course that started at NLSIU Bangalore across India in coming years.

Foreign direct investments in education has been almost as difficult as legal practice, although recent legislative changes could help according to the latest Legal Opinion.

Finally, big deals for AZB and Desai & Diwanji on a $300m private equity investment in two Tata Power companies, while the same two firms and others, including a large number of foreign firms, have dominated the M&A league table for the calendar year so far.

Comment of the week

"One of the biggest changes that a lot of people in the profession (young and old) would like to see is the remuneration / retainers given to young lawyers in litigation," mooting an interesting suggestion to Gopal Subramanium on how to solve juniors' pay at the bar.

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