Dentons’ ‘historic’ India combination goes live

Move sees Dentons becomes first international law firm to combine with an Indian firm

Dentons announced today (15 May) that its ‘historic’ combination with Indian law firm Link Legal has gone live, in a move it says marks the first time an international law firm has combined with a law firm in India. 

Dentons said the move hands it ‘first-mover advantage and a competitive edge in international panel competitions’. Until now the firm had operated India desks from countries including Singapore and Poland but had not had a physical presence in the country, which historically has an isolated legal market. 

“Given India’s prominent position on the world stage, this is an important moment for our firm and for our clients,” said Elliott Portnoy, global CEO of Dentons. “We have always viewed India as a strategically important market and as the first global law firm in India, through our combination with Link Legal, we are now able to connect our clients to talent in the world’s most populous country which boasts a thriving economy and immeasurable opportunities for client collaboration.” 

The combination, known as Dentons Link Legal, adds around 150 lawyers and professionals in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad to Dentons' platform of more than 20,000 professionals in 80-plus countries. 

Dentons Link Legal Indian lawyers will represent clients inside India and Dentons lawyers will represent Link Legal’s clients outside of India, becoming one firm consistent with the rules and regulations of India, Dentons said.  

Link Legal is a full service law firm with more than 40 partners and 130 lawyers practising in areas including infrastructure, corporate, litigation, finance and technology. The firm says it has the third-highest per lawyer percentage of Chambers and Legal 500 rankings in India and counts Air India, the State Bank of India and Rolls-Royce among its clients. 

India’s legal sector remains one of the most isolated of any major market economy as a result of a 1961 law that prohibits non-Indian law firms from practising in the country. 

In March, however, the Bar Council of India (BCI) resolved to allow international law firms to practise foreign law in India, a move welcomed by Portnoy and Atul Sharma, executive chairman of Dentons Link Legal, in an article today for GLP.

‘This liberalisation has been discussed for many years since India’s economy opened up to the world in 1991,’ they write. ‘With the domestic legal market strong enough to compete globally, the time is right for more than “best friend” relationships between foreign and local firms.’

However, while the BCI's move has been widley welcomed as a major breakthrough, some commentators believe it will take a considerable time before the new regime comes into force. 

Sharma, meanwhile, stressed that the ownership of Dentons' new Indian arm had not changed. "The combination allows us to be both global and local while continuing to be wholly owned, controlled and managed by Indian lawyers at Link Legal in India," he said.

Dentons uses a “polycentric” structure based on a Swiss verein that allows it to enter new jurisdictions by combining with local firms and its various arms to operate as mainly separate legal entities under a shared banner. 

The firm has made more than 50 ‘whole firm’ combinations since its launch in 2013 and said that scaling in priority markets continues to be a core part of its strategy. 

The combination with Link Legal follows Dentons announcing a series of tie-ups across Africa and South America over the past few years; becoming the first global firm to establish a presence in Bolivia last spring. 

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