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Associate Editor, Raghul Sudheesh spoke to European Law Firm, Noerr’s, India Practise Head, Dr. Gerald Reger. Gerald is a German qualified attorney ‘Rechtsanwalt’ and a partner in the corporate group of Noerr. He qualified from various well known universities and institutes in Tübingen, Munich and Geneva and the Max Planck Institute.
Gerald joined Noerr in 1999. He founded the India Desk formally at Noerr in 2006 and has been heading it ever since. He specialises in fields of international M&A transactions, company law as well as capital markets transactions, in particular public takeovers and squeeze-outs. He has assisted several Indian companies in establishing themselves in Germany.
Bar & Bench: Talk us through your experience in assisting Indian companies?
Gerald Reger: Noerr LLP (then known as Nörr Stiefenhofer Lutz) has had a fairly long association with India. Well, at least for a decade now. The firm was rebranded in 2009 to Noerr LLP. I believe the history of the law firm will help me explain its Indian engagement better.
The law firm was founded in 1950 in Munich. Following liberalisation of the German legal market, Noerr opened offices across Germany and the Central and Eastern European region. Today, Noerr has five offices in Germany (Berlin, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich), 7 offices in Central and Eastern Europe, i.e. in Poland (Warsaw), the Czech Republic (Prague), Slovakia (Bratislava), Hungary (Budapest), Romania (Bucharest), Russia (Moscow) and Ukraine (Kiev), as well as offices in London, New York and Alicante (Spain). The firm is the exclusive Lex Mundi member law firm for Germany.
The firm has a multi-disciplinary practice approach, ranging from corporate & commercial, tax, IP, labour and employment, regulatory to dispute resolution, in advising on local issues in these locations. In Alicante where the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market is based, a dedicated IP team advises clients on European IP matters especially IP litigation, strategic trademark management and the management of international trademark and design portfolios. London and New York offices naturally attract clients for advantageously offering as a next door German/CEE law office. Like the India Desk, Noerr has – following its BRIC focussed strategy – established Brazil and China Desks too. The Desks, which have locally qualified lawyers as well as German lawyers as members, together with a full fledged Russian office, make our international strategy more focussed on emerging economies.
The firm’s India Desk has dedicated lawyers to look after both, outbound and inbound assignments, for our Indian and European clients. The India Desk works closely with leading Indian law firms on such cross border matters. The India practice of the firm, which draws our experts from different practice areas and groups on matters, has had valuable experience in assisting Indian clients on their market entry and operations in Germany and the CEE region on a range of matters from M&A, JVs, setting-up of business and companies to labour and employment, IP, tax and public subsidies as well as commercial and litigation.
Some of the issues we have been able to identify while advising Indian companies on their European assignments are access to potential targets, identification and retention of key personnel, suppliers and customers, many a times high operational costs and last but not the least, cultural integration. Noerr’s India Desk understands the cultural sensitivities that Indian companies face while negotiating contacts/transactions and then doing business in Europe. It is highly experienced in hand holding its Indian clients through their journey. We enjoy working with them very much. It is amazing to see how an excellent opportunity is never let away by Indian companies and entrepreneurs.
To give examples, some of the very well known Indian companies that Noerr has assisted in Germany and CEE region are Kalyani Group, Ashok Leyland, Ranbaxy Laboratories, Tata Industries, NIIT Technologies, Suzlon and Ruia Group.
Bar & Bench: Indian legal market – How do you view it? Your views on liberalization and entry of foreign law firms and Madras High Court Judgment?
Gerald Reger: I think the Indian legal market is extremely vibrant. Everyday there are breakaways, tie ups, co operations, expansions, diversifications and innovations. I must admit, it is hard to know what is really happening on a day to day basis. This is why I think a platform like yours is doing an excellent job. All in all, I see a healthy competitive environment in the Indian legal market. There is something for everyone.
So far as liberalisation is concerned, I think much has been discussed. I think the Indian legal market will be liberalised at some point but I agree that the decision should not be a hasty one. When the market is ready overall, everything should fall in place.
I feel the Hon’ble Madras High Court has given a reasonable judgment. We have always been compliant and do not need to change any strategy in view of the judgment. However, I do feel that there is still some amount of uncertainty on certain issues like what the “fly in fly out” period is and how often this could be done in the interest of the client. I understand that an appeal has been preferred by the Bar Council of India in the Supreme Court. Hopefully, this whole issue is sorted out soon, if not entirely at least in phases.
Bar & Bench: How big is the India legal team? Can you help us understand how is the India team structured and are there any plans of hiring more people for India practice group?
Gerald Reger: The core India team has 4 senior German lawyers and an Indian lawyer. This team is responsible for practice and matter management to and from India. Of course, the core India team does not advise clients entirely. They, rather, derive experienced lawyers from Noerr’s multi-jurisdictional and multi-disciplinary practices to assist clients. Increasingly, we have felt the need to focus on the cultural integration aspect in cross border transactions or assignments. This is where we can rely on our Indian colleague Sarika Raichur who is based in our London office. She is an experienced Indian corporate lawyer who understands the Indian market well and also assists on cross border transactional work involving India. She is building up her existing German language skills and also understands European culture fairly well.
Currently, we are focussing on growing our India practice. As a matter of fact, our China Desk was established first amongst the international desks. It is growing and we now have 2 lawyers from China in the team. As for now, I can say that we envisage following a similar pattern with the India Desk.
Bar & Bench: How has your experience been working alongside Indian law firms? How do you rate Indian law firms’ competitiveness and quality?
Gerald Reger: We have worked with some leading Indian law firms. In a word I could say ‘excellent’. In our experience, working with Indian law firms does not involve business only. You naturally tend to make friends while you work. They always make you feel at home. It has always been a pleasant experience, both for us and our clients.
They are prompt, very well approachable, competitive, friendly and highly motivated. The quality of work is unquestionable. They are extremely good negotiators. Some of the law firms we have known have always been the leaders but some others have evolved dramatically. They certainly understand the need to be a little balanced when it comes to being specialists or generalists.
Bar & Bench: What is your take on the Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO) as an evolving area of business? How do you think law firms modify their businesses in the view of changing dynamics?
Gerald Reger: The LPO business is very lucrative. In view of the current economic scenario, it certainly makes sense to cut down costs as much as possible to rationalise business. There is a continuous need to adopt such measures in order to provide cost efficient and outstanding services to clients. I would think the legal world is quite confident about the Indian capability of handling outsourced legal work like legal research, documentation, litigation back up etc in terms of quality, cost effectiveness and confidentiality. Many are already considering outsourcing very seriously.
For us it works a bit differently though. Being a multilingual firm, where business is conducted in local languages in each jurisdiction, it might be a very complex proposal for us. Also, firms practising in common law jurisdictions are more amenable to outsourcing currently. However, we could see a change in pattern in the near future. Having said this, our firm has been quite flexible and prompt when it comes to taking measures for growth and stability.
Bar & Bench: With your vast experience, where do you see India in 2012?
Gerald Reger: Dynamics are changing. The western world has been looking upto China and India as growth engines for the world. Noerr achieved an 11% revenue increase during 2011. In order to keep up the growth pace, we are increasingly focussing on the emerging economies to rebalance our strategy. No doubt there have been some factors like the increasing number of corruption scandals, policy paralysis, inflation, weak rupee, increasing deficit, uncertainty in policies and legal and tax systems, which have slowed down economic growth. However, India’s vast markets and its economic position in the world today are something that will not be ignored by investors in the long run.
I would like to believe that a few urgent policy measures can restore India to its old position. Overall, I think 2012 should see some restoration for India.
Bar & Bench: Should Indian law firms establish offices abroad?
Gerald Reger: I think in this world of global integration, Indian law firms should seriously consider seizing opportunities beyond Indian borders. This is especially because more than 50% of the work of major Indian firms is international work. Establishing offices in a particular jurisdiction does not necessarily translate into rendering local advice. I would quote our own example. We have been working in greater harmony with our British and US law firm friends ever since we established the London and New York offices. The result should be better services, cost and time efficiency for clients.