The Indian legal industry is seeing young lawyers making their mark in the market by setting high standards and achieving results for their clients, even during the pandemic. ALB profiles 10 lawyers who have upped the ante and have been making an impact in the Indian legal scene.
LEKHA DINESH BAPNA, 28, senior manager, corporate legal cell, Aditya Birla Management Corporation
Bapna is a charted accountant and a lawyer who specialises in taxes, white-collar crimes (money laundering, benami, anti-corruption) litigation and arbitration. She also works on SEBI and IBC (2016) related matters. She advises multinational and domestic companies across a range of industries in the areas of GST, VAT, service tax, excise duty, customs duty and foreign trade policy. Bapna is actively involved in policy advocacy with the government on various sectors like ﬁnancial sector, research and development, express industry, etc. She has been involved in training and development initiatives and collaborations for innovative technology globally as well as handling of litigations from commissioner level to the Supreme Court. Additionally, she is involved in international disputes and cross border sanctions, anti-dumping duties and safeguards.
Bapna has over seven years of experience with Ernst & Young (EY) as an indirect tax account & project manager, technical trainer and content developer on GST laws, e-way bills, other indirect taxes. She is currently working with the central cell of Aditya Birla Group since October 2018 where she specialises in innovation and start-up collaborations, economic offences, business impact and legal academy. She has authored a book on economic offences in India.
Dhrumil Vasaiwala, senior manager, tax and regulatory services-indirect taxes, EY, says: “Lekha has worked on multiple sectors. She has been of great assistance for the organisation with her commitment, hard work and zeal to learn new things have had a positive outcome on her as well as the organisation.”
ADITYA CHOPRA, 31, managing partner, Victoriam Legalis, Advocates and Solicitors
A real estate, corporate and commercial lawyer, Chopra has eight years of experience in the legal industry. Chopra was part of the team that was responsible for securing the bail of Subrata Roy, promoter of Sahara India, in the Supreme Court of India. He has successfully closed transactions for more than 150 billion rupees ($2 billion) and successfully represented production houses against claims made on several feature ﬁlms. In addition, Chopra successfully represented shareholders in oppression and mismanagement matters as well as successfully represented investors by recovering 100 percent investments made in various projects and also successfully prosecuted and defended many high-stake matters at various forums.
Chopra and his team have advised one of India’s largest entertainment conglomerates. Besides this, his clients range from individual artists, music labels, actors, production houses, event management companies, publication houses, hospitality sector, investors, etc.
A client of Aditya says, “He is a young and enthusiastic professional who has a distinguished style of dealing with each transaction.”
“I have had the pleasure to work with Aditya for the last six years now on various assignments. He is a ‘prodigy’- given his age and the qualities he demonstrates; it is truly satisfying in nature for any client engaging him. He is an awesome professional who listens well, reasons well, demonstrating deep understanding of his ﬁeld and delivering the best, with mostly out of the box thinking,” says another client of Chopra.
SHASHANK JAIN, 36, head legal, Vistara
Jain, who has over a decade of experience in the legal industry, focuses on aviation and banking and ﬁnance. He is one of the youngest persons to be appointed as general counsel of a Tata group entity. He is the founding member of Aviation Working Group (a group involved in the implementation of Cape Town Convention in India).
Jain has drafted and participated in negotiation of transaction documents in connection with several financing transactions, including in a 6.25 billion rupees loan facility, a bridge loan facility which rolled over into a long term loan facility and facility which comprised of both term loan and unlisted NCDs aggregating to 3.5 billion rupees. He has also drafted and assisted a foreign investor’s $425 million subscription to compulsorily convertible debentures in an Indian company engaged in the real estate sector. The funds were utilised by the investee to subscribe to onshore secured bonds issued by its subsidiaries. The on-shore bonds and the security attached acted as indirect security for the cross-border debentures.
In addition to this, he has advised on ﬁnancing of two B-787-9 aircraft by TATA SIA Airlines from DBS Singapore; leasing of 37 A320- family aircraft by TATA SIA Airlines from GECAS, ALC and Avolon: purchase of 10 (including four options) B787-9 aircraft by TATA SIA Airlines from the Boeing Company; and purchase of 16 A320-family aircraft by TATA SIA Airlines from Airbus.
Jain advised and reviewed transaction documents in connection with an offshore facility secured by a guarantee provided by the borrower’s Indian parent in a $400 million deal.
ADITYA JHA, 35, partner, Trilegal
An asset management and investment funds specialist, Jha started his prac-ice in 2008 with the London ofﬁce of the legacy SJ Berwin, where he worked across multiple practice areas, including funds, private equity, M&A, and insolvency. In 2012, Jha relocated to India intending to build a sustainable practice of his own.
Jha spent a few years at the erstwhile Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A. Shroff & Co. (Amarchand) and AZB & Partners, where he had the privilege of working with some market-leading practitioners. At Amarchand, Jha executed fund closings.
In August 2018, Jha moved to Trilegal, where, alongside partner Ganesh Rao, he built the ﬁrm’s asset management and funds practice. In just two years, the practice advised on commitments above $11 billion to funds investing in and around India, with the targeted and committed capital aggregating well over $20 billion.
Among his noteworthy work, Jha has advised on an investment by International Finance Corporation (IFC) and funds managed by IFC Asset Management Company in multiple private equity fund III of up to $70 million.
Nitin Khakee, executive director at Morgan Stanley, says: “Aditya has been instrumental in our ﬁrm’s realisation of its business strategy in India; tirelessly leading complex legal negotiations with large institutional investors. In the time that I have known Aditya, he has proved time again to be both savvy in his strategic observations and commercial in his legal advice. Most important, however, is that Aditya is a man of great integrity and has become a trusted adviser.”
SHRUTI KANODIA, 35, founder, Sagus Legal
Kanodia, who has over a decade of legal experience, specialises in public and private M&A, distressed acquisitions, investments, restructuring, banking and finance, insolvency and bankruptcy, regulatory advisory and white-collar crime. She left Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas last year to set up Sagus Legal.
Among her noteworthy cases, she has advised Tata Power in connection with its takeover of Central Electricity Supply Utility (CESU) of Odisha. Kanodia has also counselled a major Indian corpo-rate group on debt recovery proceedings for an aggregate amount exceeding 10 billion rupees by one of the largest private banks in India. In addition, she has acted for the issuers, in connection with the investment by KKR and L&T in unlisted debentures issued by Avantha Holdings and its subsidiary for 14 billion rupees.
Besides this, Kanodia has advised several clients on regulatory issues related to foreign exchange management act and notices by the enforcement directorate.
Navneet Raghuvanshi, head legal and secretarial, Jindal Stainless, says: “I have been dealing with Shruti for the last three years when she was a part of Shardul Amarchand and later when she started her own practice. Her two standout qualities are client commitment and domain knowledge. She is your go-to person in case of any crisis with a belief that she will come up with a solution. I have seen her handling matters with a full team of lawyers on the opposite side and more often than not she has been able to convince the other side in accepting our position.”
SHEETAL SAWHNEY KAPUR, 36, director legal, India, South Asia and ANZ, Netflix
Kapur is well-versed with laws, rules and regulations governing the information technology, data privacy and protection, payments, other ﬁnancial services and e-commerce and has extensive knowledge of the payments and ﬁntech industry in India.
She has advised APG Strategic Real Estate Pool N.V., an entity ﬂoated by a Dutch pension fund manager, in acquiring approximately 49 percent stake in Lemon Tree Group, a Delhi based mid-market hotel group operating under brands such as Lemon Tree Hotels and Lemon Tree Premier. The transaction was valued at 6.5 billion rupees. She also advised Stichting Depositary APG Strategic Real Estate Pool in connection with the commitment to invest 7.7 billion rupees in Indian residential real estate projects.
Besides this, she led the demerger of PayU and Ibibo Group as part of a strategic restructuring initiative as well as led the discovery, design and integration phase post PayU’s acquisition of Citrus Payments in a transaction valued at nearly $130 million.
Kapur has also been a part of product launches including LazyPay and GPay.
Ashish Anand, assistant vice president, global solution sales and treasury and trade solutions, at Citibank, says: “Sheetal not only has deep payments domain knowledge but also exhibits the rare ability to interpret legal matters in the practical realm of the business environment. Her understanding of business situations in respect of each contract is admirable as she persistently works towards getting an insight into the technological aspects of the same.”
SHIVLI KATYAYAN, 37, associate director and head of legal, Policybazaar Group
Katyayan is a general corporate, fintech and e-commerce specialist with over a decade of experience. She was a ﬁnalist for the Woman Lawyer of the Year (In-house) at the 2020 ALB India Law Awards. She advises on matters including insurance, mutual funds, regu-latory compliance, intellectual property rights and fundraising. She has advised and trained stakeholders on compliance-related risks and requirements and was responsible for tracking and implemen-tation of new laws, regulatory developments and checklists.
Katyayan participated as a member of the core team for Series E & F funding rounds with active participation in management of legal due diligence, drafting process and closing. She also supported all legal aspects of growth strategy, including acquisitions, struc-turing and reorganisations. In addition, she drafted, reviewed and negotiated legal documents for various business lines including web aggregation, insurance, mutual funds, payments, IPR, service agreements, RFPs and more.
Besides this, Katyayan is leading the trademark litigation on misuse of trademarks via the Google AdWords program, and on access to credit information by ﬁntech companies.
“At a very young age, Shivli has set up and lead the Legal Function from scratch for the entire Policybazaar Group and its sister concerns (like Paisabazaar, Quick Fix Cars and Docprime),” says Alok Bansal, chief financial officer, Policybazaar Insurance Brokers . “She helps in ensuring that a tech-based business keeps in tandem with the law. She is committed to making business happen.”
TUSHAR MEHRISHI, 35, senior counsel, South Asia, Airbnb
With nearly 15 years of legal experience, Mehrishi is one of the youngest lawyers to act as senior legal counsel in Airbnb. He is also heading legal for Airbnb India Airseva, a 1000-member-strong capability centre of Airbnb.
He has put multiple legal compliance processes in place, including but not limited to a more robust process on cases pertaining to sexual harassment in the workplace and other issues and a more robust labour compliance process among others. He has led the diversity and belonging efforts for APAC along with three other colleagues.
Mehrishi was the lead counsel on Airbnb’s investment into Oyo. He is also supporting the transition of Airseva from a pure-play customer support centre to a global capability centre. He supported the trust and safety team at Airbnb to make the ﬁrst of its kind host veriﬁcation process more robust and played the role of a thought partner along with being the legal counsel.
Talking about his plans and career ambitions, Mehrishi says that he wants to be a dependable and trusted inhouse lawyer.
Daksh Ahluwalia, partner at J Sagar Associates, says: “I have worked with Tushar since he joined Airbnb in July of 2018. We have collaborated on several projects and its great working with him. Tushar is a master of managing expectations and ensuring he gets the best out of external counsels. He has a prac-tical approach, clear thought process and balances the commercial interests with legal risks very effectively. One of the brightest young GC’s in India. He is also fun to work with.”
ARKA MOOKERJEE, 37, partner, J Sagar Associates
Mookerjee, who is well versed in capital markets work, has been with JSA for 14 years, and currently leads the ﬁrm’s equity capital markets practice. He advises primarily on equity capital markets issuances which covers a wide range of products such as initial public offerings, rights issues, and qual-iﬁed institutions placements.
Mookerjee was part of a team which advised on the ﬁrst-ever qualiﬁed institutions placement in the country as well as part of the team for the ﬁrst-ever public issue of non-convertible debentures of Tata Capital. He advised Axis Capital and ICICI Securities in relation to the IPO of Rossari Biotech and also represented Tata Sponge and Iron’s rights issue.
Some of Mookerjee’s clients include IRB, L&T, Dilip Buildcon, ICICI Securities, Axis Capital, Citigroup Global Capital markets, IIFL, Credit Suisse and HSBC. He was recently named as one of India’s Super 50 Lawyers for 2020 by Asian Legal Business.
“Arka is a dynamic and talented partner who leads our equity capital market practice. He has evolved over the last 14 years into a force to recon within the capital markets space. He is an excel-lent team leader who has mentored and built a talented pool of attorneys dedicated to the capital market practice. The capital market team at JSA is highly regarded in the industry,” says Vivek Chandy, joint managing partner of the ﬁrm. “Over a period, he has become the go-to counsel for under-writers who rely on his advice in marquee fundraises. He has also steadily earned the conﬁdence of promoters and CEOs who trust him with their fundraising plan.”
POONAM VERMA, 39, partner, J Sagar Associates
Verma, a disputes specialist, has spent 14 years at JSA. She spearheads JSA’s civil aviation practice and has been a part of several land-mark cases in the aviation and power sectors since 2007. Verma has been consistently advising and representing Federation of Indian Airlines and Inter Air Transport Association amongst individual airlines on legislative, policy and regulatory issues.
Verma has been regularly representing the India’s corporate, government institutions and industry associations on several landmark and sectoral issues arising in power and aviation transport. She has been regularly dealing with issues arising out of power purchase, concession, transmission service, operations, maintenance, development, state support agreements based on model public-private partner-ship (PPP), and such relevant agreements issued by the concerned minis-tries of the Government of India.
Among her noteworthy cases, Verma has successfully represented Adani Power before the Appellate Tribunal for Electricity where for the ﬁrst time the rate circulars issued by Ministry of Railways have been recognised to have the force of law.
Ujjwal Dey, director of the Federation of Indian Airlines, says: “I have witnessed Poonam taking up challenging issues with ease and conﬁdence not only in the board rooms but in the courtrooms too. She comes prepared, equipped with the in-depth knowledge of the subject and carrying a very pleasant aura around her, which helps in creating the environment conducive to achieve the desired goals.”
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