5th December 2023
As businesses mature and enter uncharted territory, they need specialists to handhold them through the complicated regulatory ecosystem. That’s the phase TN’s businesses find themselves in. And that’s where corporate law firms come in.
The state, especially Chennai, is now on the radar of national law firms. Homegrown boutique law firms too are reaping the benefits of a changed business culture. Law firms and legal practitioners TOI spoke to say the state’s conservative, promoter-driven businesses, which used to typically hire individual counsels/auditors, have now begun to seek specialisation.
Business from the state has picked up and, in the past few months, two top national law firms have moved in. Marquee corporate law firm AZB & Partners opened a Chennai office in July to be led by senior partner Aarthi Sivanandh. “We have always wanted to be in Chennai, which is a nuanced, sizeable and growing market for corporate work at many levels,” Zia Mody, managing partner of AZB, said in a statement. Sivanandh, who co-founded her own law firm in Chennai in 2010, says more TN companies now seek “on-point, nuanced and experienced” corporate advice as they have national and global aspirations. “The state is also seeing an influx of interests in EV technology, chip manufacturing, technology transfers, joint ventures, and growth of financial services players. It’s the perfect time to start, expand and stay invested in this market even if the current calendar year may see sluggish growth,” she adds.
Similarly, Chennai-based Commercial Law Advisors last week merged with national law firm JSA, which has more than 480 professionals across seven offices in India.
“Premier national law firms typically operate at a certain scale and price point and that they are now active in Chennai is a sign of market maturity and potential,” says C Venkat Subramanyam, founder, Veda Corporate Advisors. “Simultaneously, local firms need to enhance breadth and depth of services, hire quality talent and get their pricing and branding strategies right,” he adds.
Headquartered in Mumbai, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas has a 10-member office in Chennai and is expanding. Rashmi Pradeep, partner and head of the firm’s south offices, says a shift to next generation in family businesses and rise of professional management in many companies of TN has accelerated restructuring and M&A services here. “Recently, there have been a quite a few global conglomerates seeking to establish captive centres in TN. Thus, investor confidence is also expected to play a key role in driving the growth outlook,” she adds.
Vivek Sriram, partner, Khaitan & Co, a firm that set up Chennai in 2021, says TN has traditionally been a closed market but is changing. “We have seen significant inflow of work across M&A, PE and VC deals, real estate and dispute management in our Chennai offices,” he says. Khaitan & Co’s clients include multinationals, domestic conglomerates, family offices, high net-worth individuals, and foreign corporations. “We see our Chennai office as a strategic base to expand deeper into key markets in the southern region, including Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala,” he adds.
The change has also inspired entrepreneurial action within the sector as enterprising lawyers have set up boutique law firms. Peritum Partners is one such full-service law firm. “We have tripled our growth year-on-year in the last three years as startups and mid-size companies are getting more professional in compliance, and with a growing focus on corporate governance,” says its co-founder Karthik jayakumar.
While growth is creating more opportunities for younger lawyers, there is a demand-supply mismatch. “Talent in corporate law is small base with more students focusing on litigation,” says Shiva Shankar, owner of Chennai-based VNS Legal. Jayakumar from Peritum Partners observes young professionals moving from other metros to Chennai for opportunities. “Our team is just around 30% Chennai native; the rest moved from other locations,” he says.
The long work hours of corporate law are often cited as a put-off, but students today realise that the more the risk, the more the reward, says another partner at a law firm.