This piece was first published in Bar & Bench.
In the second entry of this three-part article, Lawfinity highlights the new entrants in the Chambers and Partners rankings and how they made it.
The gold standard in law practice guides has news! A grand total of ‘three’ new entrants have made it in its embellished cadre of 100+ Indian firms this year. But what does that mean and why does that matter?
We discussed in Part I of this three-part series how the Chambers Rankings are pretty much a scenario of 110 royal Yeoman Warders with a stronghold on a large volume of client credits in focus sectors.
Picture this again: A list of 113 firms. Of which 110 are exactly the same as last year. And 106 are exactly the same as the last two years. [Disclaimer: There were 12 firms, between the age of 7-15 years and some much older than even that, who had no public data on their previous Chambers rankings]. Released end-of-year, gatekeeping market dominance when it comes to client endorsement. Sending stress levels shooting amid the at least 300 other firms that failed despite success. Firms, that made it almost everywhere else but the Chambers and Partners (“Chambers”) annual rankings.
Is there any way to break through this Chinese wall as a new star performer? Particularly, as a generalist?
Through the year, we find ourselves sat across the query: “What should be our long-term strategy leading up to Chambers and Partners?” We discuss in this three-part series.
Getting it right, sooner
The three new entrants to Chambers firm rankings this year, by age, were 1.5-4 years as a firm. So at best, they are not more than one-third of the age of most of its lateral competitors according to the Chambers ranking. And yet it can get enough client referrals to show-off the feats below.
The youngest among these has clearly made its sweet little niche in Chambers through its niche focus on competition law where, in Band 4, it shares space with one ‘Big 7’ firm and two firms that have made their presence felt in the market for over a decade. The other new firm has given contest in the Corporate/M&A ‘highly regarded’ cadre to six other established competitors of over a decade old who also rank highly in league tables for their M&A deals. The founding partner and other partners at this firm come from rainmaking legacy at Big 7 and tier 1 firms that consistently rank highly on deal tables.
One other newly ranked firm has secured the Band 5 ranking for its private equity (PE) practice, alongside 11 other PE firms in that band, generally aged between 3-24 years. But two of them are also 123-year and 140-year-old historical legacy firms. Private Equity, as a practice, started catching hold of the global sector in the early 2000s (around the same time that specialist publications such as PEI media, etc. started printing). Eventually Indian first-movers caught on to it, and over the last 5-10 years, old school legacy company law firms have jumped onto the bandwagon as a practice rejuvenation tactic. Those firms have also won for practice areas such as banking and finance, dispute resolution, insolvency and restructuring, aviation, intellectual property, shipping, employment, white collar crime and corporate investigation, and competition law. But inking your name as an advisor on large PE deals looks like the preferred route strong transaction practices are taking to come into the mainstream, without Corporate India’s largest conglomerates on their list of clients.
Five of those firms are what this firm should aspire to next when it comes to its Corporate M&A practice. It is highly regarded, in Band 3, for Corporate M&A – sharing the distinction with three older firms in the same band, but falling behind five of its PE competitors. Those firms have won for that practice in higher bands and for a higher (Elite) category as well.
Five other firms stand out, of course, as practice giants in PE and Corporate M&A per the latest Chambers rankings: Desai & Diwanji, Quillon Partners, K Law, Samvad Partners and Dentons Link Legal are all Band 1 ‘highly regarded’ firms in Corporate/M&A. Three of these are also in Band 1 for PE, but one of these has exactly the same ranking for PE as the new entrant – Band 5. Other than the Octagenarian Desai & Diwanji, the others are young firms under 25 years of age.
One ‘Big 7’ firm that did not even rank for private equity Band 1 (but made it Band 2), acted on 3 of the 10 biggest private equity deals that took place in India this year (Temasek-Manipal Health, BPEA EQT-ChrysCapital, BPEA EQT-Indra IVF).
Of course the “Elite” firms for Corporate M&A are the undisputed absolute leaders for years: AZB & Partners, Khaitan & Co, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas, Trilegal – all Band 1 Elite firms. The relatively newer arrival (as compared to this list) Phoenix Legal is the other ‘Elite’ firm in this practice area, but in Band 4. The “Big 7” league participant that is missing from a Corporate/M&A ranking is JSA, which leads with its projects, infra and energy practice.
Four other firms in this year’s list, showcased comparable fireworks last year, when they broke into Chambers firm rankings for the first time.
The League of New Entrants
Chambers swears by client referees as integral to its ranking process. How far does a conversation between Chambers researchers and law firm clients go? Does it cover for weaker positioning in other areas of the submission?
Picture this: One new entrant in Chambers has left behind the top 3 transaction practices on the Venture Intelligence deal tables (going by deal counts), to gain a PE ranking on Chambers. The top 31 most deal-active law firms are not part of the Chambers PE rankings. The top 10 firms amassing deals worth the largest value, that sit in the top 50 of the VI rankings for the year so far, have also not made it into Chambers for either PE or corporate practice.
This new Chambers league firm is ranked for a grand total of ‘one’ deal worth less than $20m, and sits in the bottom 100 of the firms on the deal table for January – September 2023.
The firm has indeed made it to the IFLR rankings as well – another highly acclaimed directory for deal firms – by sitting in the lowest of its bands as a “Notable” firm.
It is a Legal 500 Tier 5 firm (the last of the tiers) for private equity and investment funds practice, and it is also a “Notable” firm according to Asia Law which also recognises it in its sector rankings, for the tech sector (Technology and Telecommunications).
The four firms who broke into Chambers for the first time last year had similar credentials to their name across the four top directories (including Benchmark Litigation).
So who speaks for them
This year’s first-timer in the rankings boasts of clients such as Amishi Consumer Technologies, DSM and IPL Tech Electric in its Corporate M&A and private equity practice. We noticed some notable names in its tech sector, healthcare and education segment clients. The firm is 5 years into existence and its ranked practices are helmed by partners from firms which have been ranking higher up in the same practice area for at least 16 years.
Last year’s have a similar rolodex. Picture clients such as Krazybee Services, Ulink Agritech, Chiratae Ventures, Changejar Technologies, GoFundMe, Gymshark, Orange, Pladis Global, Azalp Technologies, Bizcon Fintech, Arcadia IP, Borsam IP and Waterwala Lab, and lead partners from firms such as Trilegal and K Law, and ages in the range of 5 to 22 years.
What else can you do
Our sector is often touted as a individual-reputation led business. The buy side’s views are often divided on preferences. Is it always organisation brand name loyalty, or is it partner face time comfort that clinches mandates?
But when we go by the 37 firms who made it to the list without making it to the list, we have partners to credit for the feat.
400 ranked individuals in 21 categories, across 150 law firms also have client voices on their side. And 37 of these individuals are from 37 unranked firms.
That does say something about the weightage of individual facetime in the business. Head over to our blog to address the final clue to the puzzle.
If you’d like to speak to us about the full data of the last 3 years Chambers rankings and how it correlates to the other 5 top rankings in the sector, reach out at: email@example.com