December 7, 2021

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Luthra co-founder Saraf & Partners confirmed to open doors today with warchest & corporate hitters Jhawar, Kakkar, probably others

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Saraf and Partners to begin imminently…

L&L Partners co-founder Mohit Saraf, who had won a Rs 77 crore-value settlement in a protracted arbitration and Delhi high court dispute and separation with fellow co-founder Rajiv Luthra, will announce the setting up of his own rival firm today, we understand according to multiple market sources.

Saraf’s firm will be called Saraf & Partners, and will include at least two of L&L’s few remaining corporate heavy-hitting long-time corporate partners, Bikash Jhawar and Vaibhav Kakkar, according to two authoritative sources. Jhawar, a 2003 NLSIU Bangalore graduate had been with the firm since 2007 after leaving ICICI Bank, while Kakkar, had worked at the firm since graduating from NLU Jodhpur in 2006.

According to our league tables, both of those names have been the highest-profile and busiest in L&L’s remaining corporate practice, with Jhawar having acted in 2019-20 on 7 deals worth $4bn, including a number of huge insolvencies; Kakkar having led on nine deals worth $208m that year, including often with the firm’s late senior corporate partner Sundeep Dudeja.

Those two have been some of the most hotly tipped and, according to some of the transcripts of internal firm discussions submitted in court, also vocal supporters of Saraf’s vision of opening up the equity of the firm in a different manner from Rajiv Luthra’s.

However, we believe that other L&L partners will also be joining, we have not been able to authoritatively at this time confirm the other names that will be part of the Saraf & Partners starting line-up, but will update this story when we hear more.

We have reached out to Saraf, Jhawar and Kakkar for comment but neither have responded.

We have also reached out to Luthra for comment.

Long time coming

But for the name, the fact of Saraf & Partners starting will surprise very few people in the market, which has witnessed the break-up of the firm since we had first begun reporting bitter and very open internal fights in late 2020.

Since then, at least seven partners – including many of whom were homegrown at the firm – had quit the firm, in addition to mass departures such as nearly the entire top-rated capital markets team previously to IndusLaw.

That said, despite the heavy attrition and losses of talent that he might have hoped to entice into his new endeavour, he does start out with a warchest of Rs 52 crores in cash from Rajiv Luthra after the litigation, and a bank guarantee of Rs 25 cr from the latter pending the final outcome of the arbitration.

Luthra down in numbers but not out

During the Delhi high court dispute, Rajiv Luthra has attempted to plug some gaps with hires – somewhat complicated by the fact that the Delhi high court had imposed a moratorium on any hires, which had therefore purportedly been made unilaterally by Rajiv Luthra on his personal book rather than the firm’s.

These include the re-joining of AZB & Partners Mumbai-based banking partner Piyush Mishra into L&L’s depleted Mumbai office and insolvency team, according to Bar & Bench (the NLSIU 2002 graduate had left L&L in 2007 and 2015 after three and near-six-year stints respectively, bracketed and interposed by roles at erstwhile Amarchand Mangaldas, Allen & Overy and Cyril Amarchand after moving to AZB in 2018). Bar & Bench also reported that L&L was looking to expand its office space to entire 20th floor of an Indiabulls building, though we have not been able to confirm precise details.

Another Luthra alum, Abhishek Mathur, would also be rejoining L&L in Delhi, according to B&B. Mathur had been running ABM Law Associates his own firm since leaving Luthra & Luthra, as it was then called, in 2008 after having begun his career at Luthra’s in 2003 after graduating from NLSIU.

We also understand that in the latter stages of the dispute, at least since May 2021, Rajiv Luthra had hired the 2016 to April 2021 Trilegal chief-operating officer, Sabiana Anandaraj, as part of his personal team to help him in managing the firm.

The hire makes sense, as of course, managing the firm on an operational level had previously effectively been Saraf’s role, despite Saraf’s prior official job title having been senior partner and Luthra’s that of managing partner, which Luthra retains at the continuing L&L firm.

We have not been able to confirm Anandaraj’s official title at L&L.

The Luthra & Luthra of the future

What exactly the future structure of L&L will be, is not clear.

For one, negotiations to extricate Saraf from the separate litigation and other partnership he has a stake in, are presumably still ongoing and were not included in the Delhi high-court sanctioned settlement.

What is known, is that during the midst of the dispute, Luthra had infamously ousted Saraf and opened up a side pot of equity, appointing two partners – Delhi-based Harish Kumar and Mumbai-based Aniket Sengupta – into this new equity pot.

We understand that the exact percentage of his equity that Luthra had opened up at the time was equivalent to 0.25% of Luthra’s 66.6% profit share at the corporate partnership firm (Luthra had not responded for comment to this figure back in January 2021).

If that figure is correct, and if taking a high-point profit of Rs 43 crore at the corporate firm, according to claims that had been made by Saraf, that would equate to around Rs 7 lakh of annual equity profits available for distribution to equity partners other than Luthra (and Saraf, back then).

Presumably Luthra has been busy trying to come up with a more workable equity model since then – since it was the most public bone of contention that finally led to the fundamental disagreement between the two – though no firm announcement or commitment has yet been made internally.

Likewise, the equity structure of Saraf’s firm is not yet known either.

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