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Legal firm’s century of laurels

Khaitan & Co. is 100 not out and going strong.

The city-based legal firm, one of the best in India according to the International Legal Alliance Summit & Awards and multiple other agencies, celebrated its century at a programme at a star hotel on Friday.

Debi Prasad Khaitan, one of the seven members of the Constitution drafting committee, had founded the firm in 1911. On Friday, his grandnephew N.G. Khaitan, a partner in the firm, stressed the importance of “personal sacrifice” in the 100-year journey.

“When I joined the firm in 1970, my father (Kishan Khaitan) told me on my very first day in office that if I ever have a disagreement with any of the partners, I should quit and not do anything to break up the firm. It is this attitude that made the firm survive a century,” said N.G. Khaitan.

“One of our main strengths lies in how we have professionalised this organisation, a process that began nearly two decades ago. Today, out of the 58 partners, only five, including me, are members of the Khaitan family,” added N.G. Khaitan, currently the president of the Indian Council of Arbitration.

The firm’s journey has been traced in the book Amicus Curiae Khaitan & Co is 100 by Aditi Roy Ghatak.

Former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee, who has written the foreword of the book, spoke about the firm at the programme.

“This firm is almost as old as me. Its high standards in the legal profession make it what it is today, a century after. I won’t be there to witness its future progress, but I do hope it will continue to brandish the banner that it has done so proudly over the years,” said the 83-year-old Chatterjee, a barrister.

“It’s a momentous occasion for Calcutta. Very rarely in history does a law firm get to celebrate its centenary. It’s a great feeling, that a Calcutta-based firm is doing that here, today,” Chatterjee added.

Starting off at 10 Old Post Office Street, the firm shifted to its current address, 1B Old Post Office Street, in 1928. Known as Emerald House, the five-storeyed pistachio green building adjacent to the high court has been at the centre of countless cases spread over areas like corporate and commercial law, mergers and acquisitions, capital markets, intellectual property, banking and finance, real estate, dispute resolution and taxation.

Though its interiors have been modernised extensively, some elements — like the antique wooden nameplate that adorns the entrance — preserve the charm of a century ago.

The firm, which has 300 lawyers in four offices across the country, is looking to expand further.

“We opened our Delhi office in 1970, our Bangalore office in 1994 and our Mumbai office in 2001. Very soon, we intend to open offices in Hyderabad and Chennai,” said N.G. Khaitan.

Partners of the company, which represents the Birlas in the Birlas versus Lodhas case, have been inducted as directors into companies such as CESC, Electrosteel Castings, Saregama India, Mahindra & Mahindra, Ceat, JSW Ispat Steel, Jindal Steel & Power and Harley Davidson Motor Company.

“The firm’s dedication and devotion to the field of law and the superlative quality of its services, which it has been able to sustain over a century, have made it so special. It is a colossal presence in the country,” said Harsh Neotia, the chairman and CEO of the Bengal Ambuja group, which is one of the firm’s clients.

Sumantra Banerjee, the managing director of CESC, echoed Neotia.

“Over the decades, the firm has been exemplary in the standard of ethics and the high quality of legal counsel,” said the spokesperson for CESC, also a client of the firm.

For its “excellence in service”, the firm has been rated as the third largest full-service law firm in the country for the last three years by the UK-based RS Consulting, a legal strategy consultancy body.

“Our ambition is to be a respectable law firm providing efficient and courteous service, to act with fairness, integrity and diligence and to be socially responsible,” said N.G. Khaitan.