New Delhi: Taking cue from their foreign counterparts, top corporate law firms in the country have, this recruitment season, begun offering fresh law graduates 30-50% higher salaries than last year.
They could go up to as much as Rs12 lakh a year, two-thirds more than what is expected to be paid to top talent graduating from the Indian Institutes of Technology, or IITs, but less than the Rs14-19 lakh, on an average, likely to be offered for graduates from the Indian Institutes of Management, or IIMs, in 2008.
Like other professional services, such as engineers and doctors, the legal profession in India, too, is witnessing a shortage of personnel. And the competition for talent has become more acute in the last two years, with international law firms also joining the recruitment drive.
Getting their due: With Indian companies loosening their purse strings, young lawyers such as these at a law firm in New Delhi, are being tempted to stay back in the country and not seek greener pastures abroad. (Photo: Madhu Kapparath/ Mint)
Foreign law firms are not allowed a direct presence in India. But the government is seeking to clear the way for foreign law firms to practice in the country.
“Our work is increasing by leaps and bounds and we need fresh intellectual output. But only few graduates, say two-three, who are exceptionally good and are from top law schools, are being offered these high salaries,” explains Anand Prasad, partner at law firm Trilegal.
Rajiv Luthra, founder and managing partner at law firm Luthra and Luthra, attributes the jump in offers to increasing competition between law firms in India. Confirming that his firm was offering higher salaries, Rs10.8-12 lakh, to fresh recruits this year, Luthra maintained that this was only an increase of 5-10% over what they had offered last year.
“It is what the market asks for,” he added.
There are around 700 law colleges, 400 universities, including those with deemed status, and 13 autonomous universities, such as Bangalore-based National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Kolkata-based West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences and Hyderabad-based National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (Nalsar).
Around 250,000 students graduate from these law schools every year.
According to Roshan Gopalakrishna, a member of NLSIU’s recruitment co-ordination panel, an autonomous body of students that organizes placement drives, hiring by foreign firms from top law schools has been completed and that by their Indian counterparts will begin by April.
Neha Mishra, 23, a final year student at NLSIU, was made an offer by international law firm Herbert Smith Llp. “I’m still considering the Herbert Smith offer. Whether I choose to work in India or abroad, the quality of work will be good both ways,” she said.
With Indian firms loosening their purse strings, students are being tempted to stay back here. If it does pan out, then this would reverse the trend in the last two years, when several young lawyers and fresh law graduates chose to join law firms overseas.
Last year, a little more than one-quarter of students from top law schools such as NLSIU and Nalsar left to join foreign firms overseas after their graduation.
“Even young associates from law firms left to join foreign firms or pursue higher studies abroad,” said Ranbir Singh, vice-chancellor, Nalsar.
According to Singh, the increase in salaries by domestic law firms is a reaction to the loss of talent overseas. “The foreign firms are a forwardlooking people,” he added, drawing a parallel to the scenario when Indian engineers went to Silicon Valley in the 1990s and later relocated to new offices set up in Bangalore and Hyderabad once the markets opened up in India.
Arguing similarly, Prasad believes that Indian law firms are also gearing up to tackle the impact of the entry of foreign law firms. “When some foreign firms come in, they will merge with or acquire Indian firms. Indian firms could also be raising their pay scales to prepare for this,” he added.
Some believe that progressively, top talent from Indian educational institutions offering professional courses, is considered equally employable as their counterparts from international schools.
”There should be a jump in salaries offered to our students since companies consider them at par with graduates from the best business schools of the world,” said P.K. Sinha, chairman (placement committee), IIM Ahmedabad.
According to Vishal Chhiber, head (human resources), Kelly Services India Pvt. Ltd, a global staffing firm, starting salaries for management graduates from leading B-schools in 2008 may range from Rs14-19 lakh a year. For IIT graduates in 2008, starting salaries are projected at Rs7-8 lakh per year, while students from regional engineering colleges can expect Rs3-5 lakh a year.
Nalsar’s Singh, too, believes that like students from IITs and IIMs, students from top law schools are considered as brilliant as the best legal talent abroad.
Corporate lawyers reckon that this increase in salaries for fresh graduates will lead to a revision of fees across the firms and as a ripple effect increase salaries of associates at law firms.
Rajeshwari Sharma contributed to this story.