The Legal Wedlocks – Ready for the Knot?

This article was first published in Lex Witness November 2016 issue.

With the ongoing talks of the Indian legal market liberalization, it is only apt to discuss the various elements law firms, both domestic and international, should consider while exploring partnerships.

What A Domestic Law Firm Should Look For?

Reputation – when partnering with an entity, who is foreign to your home turf, it is important for a domestic firm to conduct proper due diligence of the foreign firm. Check on the reputation of the firm, not just basis their clientele, but also what their existing employees and alums have to say about them. It is easy to get carried away by the allure of a prospective partnership with a foreign firm, but it is equally important to ensure that the match is compatible to the existing culture of your firm, and something that can help to grow as a firm.

Cultural Respect and Acceptance – every country has its own work ethics and style. So is true for the strengths and challenges of each culture, which necessarily doesn’t make one more superior than the other. So, when partnering, be sure to establish a mutual respect for each other’s working principles and styles, while being open to learn from each other on what works in the Indian market that can take the joint brand to newer heights.

Commitment – if and when the market opens up, India will become an existing testing ground for new players. While exploring partnerships, it is crucial to test each other’s commitment to the partner. A successful partnership entails a relatively long term commitment. Of course it is important to set targets and milestones, and adequate measurement tools in place. However, while the country adjusts to the shift, both from regulations as well as business perspective, it will be important from partners to stay and work together through the thick and thin.

What An International Law Firm Will Look For?

Specialization – an international firm while exploring partnership with an Indian counterpart would ideally look for the most symbiotic relationships. Whether a full service or a boutique firm is being explored, for the international firms, it is important to identify prospective Indian partners have practice specializations and are not just ‘jack of all trades, but master of none.’

Strong Connects – international law firms will be more inclined to partner with firms who are entrenched into the industry, and have solid connects with the regulators, law makers and other relevant industry partners. This will only help the foreign firms to gain a strong foothold in the market through their Indian counterparts, versus treading the unsteady waters.

Adaptability – for an international firm interested exploring Indian firms for prospective partnerships, will be keener to consider firms who have an open to changes which can benefit the overall partnership. Of course, this does not mean that the Indian firm will have to completely overhaul themselves. However, a partnership with a foreign entity on both parts will entail finding common grounds via trial and error basis, and adapting things which works best for both.

Nice to Know

When partnering with international law firms, it is very important to tick off the following on the checklist at the Indian law firm’s end:

Professionalism – whether it has to do with conflict checks or ethical billing in terms or Partner vs. Associate hours, maintaining a higher standard of professionalism is the key! In a nut shell, the key anthem for a law practice should be open and ethical communication. Whether it is with your clients, other involved parties in the process of servicing your client’s best interest, or for that matter your own firm’s associates; communicating effectively and being responsive is crucial.

CLEs – various sophisticated legal practices across the globe, including the US and the UK, have a minimum requirement for CLE hours in the practice. All practicing lawyers in these countries have to complete the allocated number of hours in order to remain qualified as a lawyer under their state/country Bar Regulations. Although the same is not mandated by the Indian Bar, it is pertinent that we ensure the baton holders of the institution of law in a country like India, is effectively equipped to serve their responsibilities without any compromise. The need to adopt CLEs as a part of the practice, and not an extra-curricular activity is now!

Branding – branding and positioning initiatives to establish a “brand” identity for the firm is essential. Hire a branding & growth strategist, and methodically work towards identifying your specialty areas and start building a niche for yourself. The more your firm’s reputation grows for its work, the more attractive you become for prospective international partner. Also, a branding & growth strategist will be in one of the best positions to be your sounding board and advise you in the best possible manner on prospective partners you may be interested in or are courting.

So, are you ready for the knot?

I am the Principal Consultant at the Lex Witness Strategic Counsel Desk, an invitation based initiative, which caters to various entities who seek to create and improve their brand and undertake market activation strategies in the Indian legal market space. Much beyond the space of the magazine, the Strategic Counsel Desk aspires to provide a holistic framework for the firm’s positioning and business growth, primarily focusing on the strength in the Indian legal industry.

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