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Who are India's 

Emerging Leaders?

experience: broad and international

India’s emerging leaders have broad and international experience. Nearly a third (30%) of the 90 longlisted individuals have spent time working outside India. Of the 20 who made the private practice shortlist, that proportion doubles to 60%. The majority worked for an international law firm, predominantly in the US, UK or Singapore.

Nearly a third (30%) of the shortlist has experience working in professions other than law. These non-traditional career experiences mark these individuals as particularly adventurous, curious and open to new ideas.

The Indian legal market is benefitting from the ‘returners’, lawyers who took advantage of the spate of international law firms who from 2007 onwards offered bright, young Indian lawyers’ placements in their businesses. Now with a decade of experience, these returners are having an outsized but positive impact on the Indian legal market. Lawyers such as Kartick Maheshwari, a partner at Khaitan & Co, are a case in point. “I used my experience of working in an international firm to focus on high quality precedent usage, to minimize turnaround times and increase client efficiency,” he says.


When asked about their career highlight, nearly a third (31%) of the longlisted individuals cited a specific case or transaction. A fifth (20%) mentioned more general industry recognition for their subject matter expertise and slightly fewer (18%) said that recognition by clients for their work or expertise was their highlight. The next most common career highlight was a significant promotion (usually being made partner).

By contrast, in the emerging leaders shortlist, the equal most common career highlight (alongside a specific case or transaction) was a time when they had taken a big risk and succeeded. These risks included moving to a new country, starting a new firm or building a practice area from scratch. Some in this list are perennial risk takers. Take Pratibha Jain at Nishith Desai Associates for example: “I have worked in New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Mumbai and Delhi. I started with structured finance, then moved to capital markets and started working in the foreign offices of US firms, and then moved in-house with Goldman Sachs in Mumbai. Changing practices and jurisdictions has always been challenging but most challenging was moving back from in-house to private practice and moving from Mumbai to Delhi, which is not the financial hub of India. I set up the Delhi office for my firm from scratch.”

Career highlights:

Taking a risk and successful legal work



Problem solving and learning new things

Asked what they were most passionate about in their work, over two-fifths (41%) of the longlisted individuals gave answers that related to the process of solving problems and thinking critically. Nearly a quarter (23%) are motivated by the opportunity to learn new things and embrace change, often relating to the use of technology in their firms.

Interestingly, the emerging leaders shortlist was twice as likely to mention law firm management and strategy as aspects of the job about which they were passionate. They were also more likely to be driven to have a lasting impact on the profession or society.

The shortlist was less likely than average to find acting as a ‘trusted advisor’ to a client motivating. On the other hand, shortlisted individuals were more likely to say they were passionate about meeting and working with people in all contexts, whether these were clients, collaborators or colleagues.

“Negotiations are often like a puzzle, you may know where the piece goes but you also have to time when you place the piece in the puzzle so as to let others help you complete it.” - Aarthi Sivanandh, J. Sagar Associates

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Improving the quality of legal services

and work cultures

The change in the profession that the emerging leaders longlist would most like to see is improvement in the quality of legal work. They say that this could be achieved either through better legal education and training or through increased competition with Indian and foreign firms. Approximately a fifth (21%) want to change the workplace culture at law firms to make it more meritocratic and less status-driven, and more focused on employee well-being.

Other changes the emerging leaders longlist want to see include greater diversity, more efficient courts and greater accountability for lawyers through tougher regulation.

Individuals in the shortlist were more likely than average to mention workplace culture, accountability and law firm governance.

“[There is a] misplaced sense of pride in spending long hours at work.  It is often a necessity, but it is glorified so younger lawyers feel they are not good enough if they are not spending nights at work. This comes at the cost of their physical and mental health.” - Emerging leader


Emerging leaders on liberalisation


The future generation of India’s legal leaders are unphased by the idea of liberalisation and would positively welcome an opening up of the market to foreign law firms. Of the longlisted emerging leaders, 93% said that they were in favour of liberalisation of the Indian legal market, allowing the entry of foreign law firms. Only 4% were not in favour, while 4% were unsure.


Over two-thirds (69%) of emerging leaders anticipate liberalisation will lead to a higher standard of legal services, partly through the lessons that can be learned from international firms, but more commonly through enhanced competition in the market.

The other outcome predicted by a majority (64%) is that it would provide better opportunities for lawyers to work across a variety of more interesting practice areas. Some also believe it will increase opportunities to work in the law for a more diverse field of lawyers.

Just under a fifth (19%) of the emerging leaders believe that liberalisation will improve workplace culture, through improved law firm governance and more meritocratic and institutional practices. A smaller percentage (15%) of lawyers also mentioned the benefits of economic growth, including more employment opportunities, more foreign investment, law firm consolidation and opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Those who opposed liberalisation were concerned that a more competitive market could have a negative impact on the culture in the profession and put young lawyers at a disadvantage.

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Leadership: Nurturing influencers

Asked about how they approached developing their team and junior lawyers, the majority (65%) of the shortlist said the best way to develop teams was to provide quality training and mentoring. Two-fifths (40%) talked about delegating responsibility and over a third (35%) said that being available to answer questions, offer feedback, and give support was important.

“A leader is someone who brings out the best in you, someone who knows what you’re capable of even before you do.” - Emerging leader

A quarter of the shortlist said they contributed to developing their teams by improving workplace culture. This related both to creating a less hierarchical office culture and looking out for their employees’ well-being.

“I am clearer on what leadership does not mean (to me) - it does not mean being aloof; coming from a position of power; asserting authority; controlling people; and getting bogged down by smaller details but missing the bigger picture.” - Emerging leader

Some of the shortlist (15%) wanted a more thoughtful approach to recruitment and wanted to contribute to the development of a wider pool of candidates from outside the top law schools. A small proportion (10%) also said that their international perspectives and knowledge were helpful in developing junior lawyers.

“Leadership done rightly is a reinvention process – a continuous discovery that informs your mindset, new skill sets and aptitudes.” - Emerging leader


The emerging leaders were asked about what leadership meant to them. Leadership has many meanings to the shortlisted individuals, but most agreed (75%) that leadership involved nurturing activities, such as training, mentoring and providing opportunities to their teams.

“Empathy has to be the hallmark of leadership, without which merely vision or strategy or culture alone will take none to the holy grail.” - Emerging leader

Half of the shortlist said having influence and charisma was fundamental to be a good leader.

“I prefer being one amongst the crowd and I don’t necessarily define leadership by seniority, job title, or organizational hierarchy. I believe the ability to successfully influence behaviour that makes people do something they normally wouldn’t do, is the test of leadership.” - Emerging leader

Just over a third (35%) of the shortlist considered humility to be an important quality in a leader, while slightly fewer (30%) cited integrity and mastery respectively as important facets of leadership.

“…leadership is about humility and gracefulness to stand up for the right cause at the right time and never to waver from intellectual integrity and personal rectitude.” - Emerging leader

Other important abilities include having a vision of where the market is heading, named by a fifth of individuals, and the strategic thinking needed to understand how to take the firm there, named by a quarter.

“…a leader needs to have a transformational impact. This involves looking to the future and embracing change, rather than just reluctantly acknowledging it.” - Emerging leader


RSG researchers collected nominations from Indian law firms, domestic and multi-national purchasers of legal services and foreign law firms. These nominees were then invited to complete a comprehensive questionnaire with specific questions about their careers and their approaches to leadership. The quantitative and qualitative data in the report was gathered from the 90 responses received from nominees.

In order to select the shortlist the RSG research team assessed the individuals based on their career achievements, the feedback given by clients and foreign law firms, and the quality of their questionnaire responses. Each individual was blind-reviewed, so the RSG team did not have sight of names or organisations against 6 scoring criteria. The scores along with the number of nominations each individual received were amalgamated and the 25 individuals featured were the best performers against these metrics.

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