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Top-Rated TV Show in India Proves Corporate Lawyers Have Talent
The American Lawyer
Ah, Friday night. Time to kick back and relax. Hey, "The Firm" is on. Corporate lawyers talking about corporate law. Great show. Tonight, Jeff Smith of Cravath is talking about SEC rules on climate change disclosure? Excellent."
That imaginary train of thought doesn't come from "The Twilight Zone." No, it's from India, where "The Firm: Corporate Law in India," airing on TV18, is all the rage.
We're not aware of another television show of its kind: a half-hour news-and-discussion program where corporate lawyers talk about the technical details of their work. And despite a steady diet of features like the examination of the public offering by India's biggest power company, the two-year-old show is the top-rated new program in its time slot.
Menaka Doshi, the show's host and editor, attributes the show's success to the relative newness of India's participation in the global deal economy. She still recalls the novelty, in 1999, of the domestic company Tata Tea Group's heavily financed acquisition of Britain's The Tetley Group Ltd. "It was the first time the phrase LBO appeared in Indian newspapers," says Doshi. "Many people weren't sure what it meant." Since then, Tata has become a global player, and interest -- at home and abroad -- in the booming Indian economy has only grown. That surge has been accompanied by debate about what the proper legal and regulatory environment should be. Those subjects are prime topics on the show. "Policy is not as evolved in India," says producer Isha Dalal. "There are a lot more differences of opinion on policy issues."
Comparing Indian laws and regulatory approaches with American or European models is also a staple. And big-name western lawyers, some quite press-shy at home, have eagerly obliged "The Firm" with appearances. Sort of like Harrison Ford advertising Kirin beer in Japan.
An International Bar Association M&A conference held in Mumbai in February gave Doshi a chance to assemble a formidable western panel: Adam Emmerich of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz; Peter King of Weil, Gotshal & Manges; and Christopher Saul of Slaughter and May. They joined top Indian bankers to discuss the outlook for merger activity in the coming year. Emmerich, who also appeared on "The Firm" last year, dished a bit on his client The Simon Property Group Inc.'s $10 billion hostile bid for rival mall company General Growth Properties Inc., but he did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
Other U.S. legal luminaries who have been on the show include former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt and Harvard Law School professor David Wilkins, who turned up to discuss the future of the legal profession. One of the livelier shows aired in December, after the Bombay High Court ordered the closure of liaison offices belonging to three foreign law firms -- Ashurst, Chadbourne & Parke and White & Case.
Smith, the head of Cravath, Swaine & Moore's environmental practice, was contacted in New York in February. Although he had never seen or heard of the show, he was happy to appear. He was taped at CNBC's setup on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Despite his distance, Smith was struck by Doshi's probing, well-researched questions. "It seems they get a much deeper exploration of these issues than we get in this country," he says.
Western lawyers may lend a note of glamour to the show, but Indian lawyers are the staples. A frequent guest is Cyril Shroff, the head of India's largest law firm, Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co. One memorable show featured Shroff, who opposes swift liberalization of the Indian legal market, hashing out the issue with one of his biggest competitors, Zia Mody of AZB & Partners, who is generally more supportive of opening the market. Her firm has an alliance with British legal giant Clifford Chance.
Resources for "The Firm" are scarce. CNBC has an affiliation with the channel, but because of restrictions on foreign ownership of media, it is limited to branding and content-sharing. The show is literally the work of just Doshi; Dalal, a 2007 Haverford College graduate; and a co-producer, Arun Nair. They do all their own legwork and research, then produce the show back at the studio, in Mumbai's bustling Lower Parel district.
"We recognize this is a niche audience," says Doshi. Back in New York, Smith wonders if a similar show couldn't find its niche in the United States. "I think there's certainly a market for it," he says. But he admits that his record for picking popular success is not great. When he heard about "American Idol," he recalls, "I thought, a singing competition? Who's going to watch that?"