New Delhi: In 2005, Lee Miller and Francis Burch Jr., his partner who oversees the litigation practice, merged Piper and Rudnick with California-based Gray Cary and Nigel Knowles’ DLA in the UK to create a global firm that currently has more than 4,000 lawyers.
With offices on every continent, it made DLA Piper one of the world’s largest law firms and, Burch, their global chairman, with Miller and Knowles taking roles as joint chief executive officers.
DLA Piper worked with Delhi-based Luthra and Luthra to facilitate Coal India Ltd’s initial public offering (IPO), the country’s biggest thus far, in October. In a recent interview in New Delhi, Miller, who is based out of DLA Piper’s Chicago office, spoke about his firm’s growing interest in India, but maintained it’s not lobbying the Indian government or the Bar Council of India for entry into the country. Edited excerpts:
What brings you to India?
We really are on a mission to really understand what is going on in India and to talk to a number of people, talk to a number of corporations and to talk about the opportunities both in India and around the world.
Who have you been meeting?
Large corporations, Reliance, Mahindra and others. The philosophy of the firm has been simple from day one. We’ve expanded through the principle of globalization, consolidation and convergence. And we’ve used those basic business principles to wrap ourselves around clients.
Going back to your first question: If you think why we would be in India, we’ve wrapped ourselves around the G-20 countries and around the Bric (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries and the emerging markets across the globe. ...law is part of the economy. And so what better way to understand the economy than to talk to the leaders of these corporations?
From your meetings thus far, what’s your understanding of the Indian legal market?
Our focus is not as necessary on the Indian legal market; we want to really understand what’s being done here and not necessarily what the regulatory framework is. We will comply with whatever the regulatory framework is in the Indian market. We’re not looking for local Indian work. We’re really looking for the opportunities that derive through that and the entrepreneurship—a major focus of our firm is business and technology. And this is a real centre for business and technology.
Are there any plans to enter the market if the government allows it? What’s been your role in persuading or lobbying the government?
We’ve stayed out of the role of trying to persuade anybody of anything and tried to fit in to the regulatory framework wherever we’ve gone across the globe. This year we opened up operations in Brazil and Turkey and complied with the regulations in each one of those jurisdictions. As far as our focus and our plans for the future, of course, with a country where the GDP (gross domestic product) is growing at the rate that India is growing, we would always want to be able to explore that opportunity and so we’re very, very interested in the Indian market. In fact, we do a lot of work derived through the Indian market as we speak; in the recent IPO of the Coal (India) deal, we were the issuer’s counsel in that transaction. So, we’re very active in international arbitration, in international merger and acquisition work, etc.
What have been the main challenges while working with partners in this country?
There really have not... because of the way the firm is circumscribed, we really made a point of not creating any one headquartered city. The largest office of the firm is in London and that’s 450 lawyers.
The largest office in the US is New York and that’s 240 lawyers. And so what we’ve made a point across the world (is) to really adopt to the local culture and to come in and really work with the people in that individual culture and that’s the way the law firm’s gone.
Seventy percent of the law firm’s business has been the business from the local jurisdictions and then 30% has been the global overlay. So we’re not a US firm, we’re not a British firm, we’re not an Italian firm, we’re not a German firm. But we’re really a combination of all of it to get the energy of all the people across the world and the diversity of the experience. That’s sort of been the glue of the whole firm. India is really exciting with that—where you see the entrepreneurial initiative and the people and what is becoming... and how India’s grown.
What do you believe US President Barack Obama has in store for law firms like yourself when he comes to India next month?
I don’t think it necessarily has anything in store, but I think President Obama has tried to reach out his hand and to show the world that we really care about the world, that we want to really understand the world. And again, we want to understand the cultures of the world. We’re not trying to bring US culture to India, but we really want to understand the Indian culture, and the only way you can do that is to do it first hand. And I think what he wants to do is get on the ground, meet with leaders of industry, meet with leaders of government, understand what’s on their mind and to express to them what’s on his mind. And what’s on the United States’ mind.
Do you see the US and India ever entering an agreement to allow their lawyers to practise in each other’s territories?
If that happened... I don’t know. I don’t have an opinion one way or another. I think commerce being what it is, you know... we have a global economy and as we move forward, I think impediments to that will disappear over time, maybe. It depends on each individual government and what they’re most comfortable with.