In conversation with Piusha Bose on the UK-India legal sector
Can you tell us about your career journey to your current role?
I began my legal career at Freshfields and spent nearly a decade working in the firm’s London and New York offices, before moving to India where I worked at two different law firms. In 2019, I returned to Freshfields as Counsel and Co-Head of the firm’s India Focus group.
My practice covers a broad range of corporate transactions, particularly complicated cross-border transactions and public and private M&A, corporate governance, reorganisations and joint ventures.
Has the impact of COVID-19 on the Indian legal sector differed to what we have seen in the UK? What is the situation now?
The situation in India is similar to what we’ve seen in the UK throughout the pandemic. Most Indian law firms switched to remote working in March 2020, and courts have moved to virtual hearings, with the most urgent cases prioritised. As in the UK, I understand that the majority of lawyers continue largely to work from home.
Are there backlogs of outstanding cases in India like there are in the UK?
There are backlogs of outstanding cases, although I understand the Indian courts have been making enormous attempts to hear as many cases as possible.
Technology has been embraced and, similar to the UK and elsewhere, has enabled many hearings to be conducted virtually, including in the Indian Supreme Court.
I understand that there is currently a moratorium on filing under the Insolvency & Banking Code, the Indian equivalent of the UK’s Insolvency Act, so the general expectation is that there will be a surge once that is lifted.
What are the challenges and opportunities for practising during the pandemic?
COVID-19 brought about a need for agility and meant Freshfields became a virtual firm practically overnight. It was the first time in the firm’s 277-year history where almost all our offices went remote.
Multi-jurisdictional signings and closings have proceeded seamlessly, and our people adjusted to working remotely brilliantly, embracing collaboration tools on an unprecedented scale. The pandemic brought much more face-to-face interaction internally and with clients, albeit virtually.
It has been a turbulent time for everyone, but we try to make a real effort to look out for each other and ensure the whole team feels well cared for, and the firm has been brilliant at ensuring we all have access to great mental health and wellbeing support.
With people working away from the office, it’s been essential to focus on ensuring we maintain a team spirit, and that we continue to operate in a way that is equally inclusive for everyone, so people remain connected in these times. In a way, the situation has connected us more – allowing us a glimpse into people’s homes and lives.
In terms of challenges, on a personal level I’ve missed seeing colleagues in the office and missed the productivity and joy that collaboration in-person brings.
What is the potential impact of Brexit on the UK-India relationship in the legal sector?
There are potentially enormous India-UK opportunities post-Brexit, particularly around trade between the two countries, which has been rising steadily since 2005 and, remarkably, despite Brexit uncertainty and exchange rate fluctuations, the number of Indian companies doing business in the UK increased in 2019 as compared to the previous year.
Post-Brexit, the UK will look for new global partners, new supply chains, new markets, cheaper labour and other cost-efficient opportunities. Brexit could therefore present an opportunity for the UK and India to define and enhance their future relationship.
There are numerous areas of opportunity, for example, technology (including AI and digital healthcare), trade and investment, industrials, petrochemicals, healthcare, renewable energy and infrastructure development.
There will likely be a corresponding impact on the legal sector, which will be integral in helping clients and governments achieve their desired goals.
What are the benefits and challenges of working in different countries such as India?
Working in different countries I think makes you a more flexible lawyer. It helps develop a more nuanced understanding around risks and how best to assess and seek to mitigate them for your clients. It gives you a wider perspective on the issues you’re dealing with, and the ability to approach them in different ways.
You can use your experience from other jurisdictions to develop creative solutions to situations, to help resolve deadlocks, and ultimately get deals done.
It also helps when you can explain issues to clients using examples that they are familiar with and that resonate with them. Understanding different cultural norms and the impact of that in transactions, particularly negotiations, is also invaluable.
Are there increased UK-India opportunities in the current scenario? What are these?
As I mentioned earlier, I do think there are huge opportunities, as indeed demonstrated by prime minister Boris Johnson’s intended (but now to be rescheduled) trip to India in January 2021.
India is among the top four investors in the UK. Despite Brexit, Indian companies have increased their business in the UK over the last few years.
However, interestingly, the UK Foreign Affairs Committee noted in 2019 that trade with India is “lagging behind its potential” and that although UK-India trade has “grown rapidly” in the last two decades, India’s global trade had grown three times faster. I do think therefore there are potentially tremendous opportunities.
Are there any other related points that you wish to raise regarding India’s economy?
India is in a period of potential transformational change across the business landscape, and as you probably know, the Indian government wants India to have a $5 trillion economy by 2025 and be the world’s third largest economy by 2030.
To achieve these aims, the Indian government will need to re-energise the Indian economy, particularly post-COVID, and continue to make it easier to do business and maintain a stable, investor-friendly business environment.
The hope would be that if the Indian government continued to push to revive growth, that may lead to more business-friendly reforms and investment opportunities in the country.
We would like to thank Piusha Bose and the team at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer for their contributions to this piece.
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