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Best of friends

A new alliance between Clifford Chance and top Indian law firm AZB comes as moves toward liberalisation of India's legal industry gain steam

Global law firm Clifford Chance and AZB, the second-largest law firm in the Indian market, have agreed to establish a “best friends” relationship intended to mutually strengthen their positions in providing legal services to foreigners investing in India or Indian businesses raising capital overseas. The deal is the latest of several similar alliances in the past two years between UK and Indian law firms.

As part of the deal Clifford Chance will give priority to AZB when referring clients requiring legal advice in India, while AZB will refer international work to Clifford Chance. The alliance will also give AZB access to Clifford Chance's resources and global network of 30 offices, while the London-based firm will have a preferred local partner in India whose client list includes the Tata Group, Barclays, Microsoft and Warburg Pincus.

“This is a logical development of our growing Indian practice, which has been advising clients on Indian-related matters for over 50 years,” Clifford Chance senior partner Stuart Popham said in a statement. The firm's India practice comprises 195 members in 12 countries, while it recently established a dedicated India team in Singapore headed by partners Ed Bradley and Rahul Guptan.

Though it does not practice India law, Clifford employs nearly 50 Indian lawyers, including several former partners of leading local firms. It also has more than 350 lawyers in Asia alone, operating out of its regional offices in Bangkok, Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and Tokyo.

Last year UK-based Allen & Overy formed a similar referral alliance with Indian law firm Trilegal, while Linklaters entered into a relationship with Mumbai-based Talwar Thakore & Associates in early 2007. Following the announcement of the Clifford Chance-AZB deal, the Bar Council of India (BCI) scheduled talks to discuss whether international firms should be allowed to practice in the country.

The BCI is currently giving its input on the Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) Act, which was passed by parliament near the end of 2008 and which could lead to liberalisation of the India legal industry. Indian legal firms cannot have more than 20 partners under current BCI rules.

Despite recent falls by its capital markets, India is seen as an attractive market especially as its central bank is putting together guidelines expected to be ready by February that are intended to spur private equity investment in the country. The new rules would allow government-owned banks to invest directly in private equity, while the government is also relaxing regulations on private equity investments to make capital more available to Indian businesses.

Actis lawyer joins O'Melveny
Dean Collins, previously an in-house counsel at emerging markets private equity firm Actis, has joined the Asia practice of O'Melveny & Myers as a partner and a member of its investment funds and securitisation practice group. He is resident in the firm's Singapore office. Collins was a director at Actis, heavily involved in all of the firm's fund raisings. Actis closed its third global fund on $2.9 billion last year. Collins also worked as a lawyer at an international law firm in the fund formation practice area, advising clients on investments, exits, spinouts, joint ventures, fund secondaries, and a range of other corporate finance matters. He has also worked as a consultant for UBS Capital, Merrill Lynch International and a number of private equity-backed businesses. “Dean consistently proved himself to be a world-class fund formation lawyer whilst at Actis,” said Actis partner Jonathon Bond. “Through his impressive knowledge of market terms, his negotiating skills and his ability to think completely outside the box, Dean has made an immense contribution to the success of Actis to date. We are pleased that Dean has joined one of our principal relationship law firms, and look forward to strengthening our relationship with O'Melveny in the future.”

Paul Hastings poaches seven from Cadwalader
Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker has added seven new partners to its London office, “significantly strengthening” the firm's European operations, the firm said in a statement. The new partners are Michelle Duncan, Justin Jowitt, Christian Parker, Charles Roberts, Karl Clowry, Conor Downey and Tom O'Riordan. The team specialises in restructuring and insolvency, litigation, structured finance, investment funds and real estate finance. All are currently partners with the London office of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. Duncan focuses her practice on international commercial litigation, restructuring, insolvency and regulation.

Magisters opens offices in UK, Belarus, Kazakstan
CIS-based law firm Magisters has opened a representative office in London. The office will serve as Magisters' conduit to service multinational clients investing in CIS markets and for CIS blue chips with interests in the EU market, the firm said in a statement. More than two-thirds of Magisters' clients are multinationals of European and US origins. The London office is led by Andriy Hunder, who serves as the firm's international business development director. Partner Andrew Mac will direct activities of the new office, making regular visits to London. Commenting on the London office opening, Mac said: “The London office will allow us to discuss more regularly with our clients the rapidly changing investment and legal environments in our region relevant for their investment plans. To this end, I will be regularly present in London and Andriy Hunder, a native Londoner, with over a decade of hands-on experience in the CIS, will be based full-time in London.” The firm also recently opened an office in Astana, Kazakhstan and Minsk, Belarus.

Kirkland takes lead on Bain deal
US-based law firm Kirkland & Ellis is taking the lead financing role for Bain Capital and Clessidra Capital in their €550 million acquisition of Italian business information company Cerved in one of the largest LBOs since Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. London finance partner Neel Sachdev is heading the team, including corporate partners Jim Learner and Matthew Hurlock, that is advising the firms. As part of the deal Bain Capital will take control of 80 percent of the company while Clessidra will control the remaining 20 percent. Among private equity firms Kirkland also represents Madison Dearborn Partners, Sun Capital Partners, Towerbrook Capital and CCMP Capital among others, while earlier in 2008 it represented Apax Partners in its $1.4 billion going-private acquisition of The Trizetto Group, one of only six going-private transactions in excess of $1 billion that had closed by August last year.

McDermott cuts back staff
McDermott Will & Emory, which has more than 1,100 lawyers throughout its 15 US offices, has laid off 60 associates and 89 staff members, joining the ranks of Linklaters, Clifford Chance, Ashurst, SJ Berwin and other law firms that have reduce staff recently. “We are not immune to the continued deterioration of in market conditions,” Chairman Harvey Freishtat said in a memo to employees. “The business of our clients has slowed and this has affected our own levels of activity, particularly in the transactional area.” While the job cuts only affect the US offices, the firm has launched a redundancy consultation with nine members of its staff in its London office and told London-based associates that pay reviews will be pushed back by two months. At the same time, McDermott also recently expanded its San Diego office, which will be led by John A. Hankins, co-vice chair of the firm's intellectual property, media and technology department.

Cadwalader appoints restructuring head
Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft has appointed John Rapisardi co-chairman of the firm's 65-member financial restructuring department. Rapisardi has more than 25 years experience in domestic and international restructuring in sectors including telecom, retail, healthcare, real estate and manufacturing, while he has been a regular bankruptcy columnist for the New York Law Journal for the past decade. The U.S. Treasury Department recently hired Cadwalader to evaluate several scenarios, including a government-funded bankruptcy, regarding the restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler, with Rapisardi and his co-chairman Deryck Palmer leading the effort. The firm also recently appointed Bob Link to head its London office following the departure seven partners. Cadwalader has offices in New York, London, Charlotte, Washington and Beijing, and serves clients in more than 50 countries.