As we enter the year 2023, and Karanjawala & Co. looks forward to becoming 40 years of age (my wife, Manik and I began the Firm on the 1st of February 1983), I think this is an opportune moment to look back on the legal landscape over the last 40 odd years to see what are the changes that have occurred therein. Since the time I joined the Bar in 1979 till today, there have been to my mind three significant changes on the legal landscape, two of which have already taken place, and one of which, is a work in progress. The First change is obvious to all, namely – that in the last 40 years, the legal profession has had an exponential increase in the amount of fees lawyers charge and the prestige they command.
When I joined the Bar, the top seniors of the Supreme Court would charge not more than Rs. 1,040/- for an appearance, today for the same, Counsels of similar standing, routinely charge Rs. 10 to 15 lacs. The Second change that has taken place is that we have entered an era of specialization, especially post liberalization. Even in so far as litigation is concerned, there are now various Tribunals specializing in the adjudication of different branches of the law, e.g., whilst in the old days everything aggregated in the High Court, today there are more than a dozen Tribunals to enumerate just a few – Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT), the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the Competition Appellate Tribunal (The COMPAT), the Securities Appellate Tribunal (The SAT), National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) etc. These are situated geographically in different places, and as a result, have rotating around them, different bars of their own, and this in turn has led to even at the litigative level, increasing specialization.
The Third change is the one which I am now primarily going to write about. When I joined the Bar, it was the legal firms that ruled the roost and dominated the legal landscape, e.g. Bombay had the blue blooded Crawford Bayley & Co., and the Parsi dominated Mulla & Mulla, at the very top of the heap followed by Little & Co. (when you enter the office of Little & Co., there is a plaque outside pointing out that they had been solicitors to the East India Company) and Kanga & Co. and Gagrat & Co., which came thereafter, after which there were several smaller firms, each of whom controlled a considerable pocket of work. In Calcutta, there was, from memory, Khaitan & Co. and Orr Dignam, and the South of India used to boast of a firm called King and Partridge. In Delhi, the leading Solicitor cum Advocate-on-Record firm was J.B. Dadachanji & Co. followed by my senior P.H. Parekh & Co. and also I.N. Shroff, which became Amarchand Mangaldas. In those days, the litigative profession was controlled by these firms, and it was they, who decided which counsels the clients went to, and in a sense, could and did make or break the careers of many such counsels. That was the situation that prevailed in my view somewhere till the 1990s when slowly the gears shifted and one began to see that in high-stake matters, the clients flocked directly to the counsels’ chambers with their solicitor following suit. This then became an era of counsel domination, and (what was a common practice in the South, namely that eminent counsels had their chambers, to which clients directly came) slowly started percolating towards Bombay, Calcutta and Delhi where now clients chose to single out the counsel they wanted in a particular matter, and it was the counsels, who began to dominate the legal landscape.
You had in the late 80s and early 1990s, at the very top Counsels of universe, like – (i) Mr. F. S. Nariman, (ii) Mr. Soli J. Sorabjee, (iii) Mr. K.K. Venugopal, (iv) Mr. V.M. Tarkunde, (v) Dr. Y.S. Chitale, (vi)Mr. Anil B. Dewan, (vii) Mr. P.R. Mridul, (viii) Mr. K. Parasaran, (ix) Mr. Ashok Desai, (x) Mr. Kapil Sibal, and many others. The loyalty of the client had by then shifted from the solicitors’ firm to the counsels’ chamber, and this was a shift that slowly became noticeable to the trained legal eye over the years.
Now, the question I pose in the title of the article and is a nuanced shift that I have been noticing for the last few years, is that we are slowly entering into the era of the General Counsels. The importance of the General Counsel of a company in America is reflected by his physical proximity to the Chairman, usually his office is next to the Chairman’s office.
As my friend, Mr. Bahram Vakil, Partner of AZB once said to me, the G.C. of G.E. sat on the board with Jack Welch.
If Jack Welch wanted something to happen, but the G.C. overruled it, it couldn’t happen. We in India, of course, are very far away from that particular stage in our legal landscape, but, I have noticed in the last few years, that the voice of the General Counsel of a company is emerging stronger and louder, and now, in matters of conduct of important litigation, theirs is increasingly the voice that is heard, and that is because the General Counsels today come with a high level of legal sophistication in so far as the legal system is concerned, and also possess a deep level of industry knowledge. I therefore see in the coming years, an emerging trend by which the gears of the legal system will possibly once again shift, and perhaps in the years to come, the conduct of a litigation will not be so much under the guidance of either the counsels or the firms that brief them, but in the hands of the General Counsel.
This is of course, as I said before, is still a work in progress and many changes have to be made before they acquire the kind of presence they have in America. The coming year may however well usher in the beginning of their era.

The writer is Managing Partner of Karanjawala & Co.