Two of India’s top lawyers, Shardul and Cyril Shroff, brothers who run the law firm Amarchand Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co (AMSS) could find themselves in a protracted legal battle over the assets and ownership of the law firm.
Shardul, the Delhi-based elder brother and one of the two managing partners of the country’s largest corporate law firm, has approached the Bombay High Court seeking a direction to implement his late mother Bharti Shroff ‘s will.
The petition, which was filed on Friday, is the denouement of a dispute which has simmered for months and had become common knowledge in Mumbai’s corporate, banking and legal circles.
Two of India’s top bankers and a number of top industrialists are said to have acted as mediators in an attempt to resolve the matter. These attempts appear to have failed, at least for now.
When asked about the case in the high court, Cyril Shroff said he was yet to decide whether to accept the will. “I will never initiate any legal action which is public in nature, as it impacts the family and firm’s name. I have not yet decided as to whether I am accepting the will or not. We are more focused on our clients, partners and people working with us, and for them there will be business as usual,” he said. He declined comment on the details of the dispute.
“This is an internal family matter and we do not wish to comment on such issues,” said Radhika Garg, head of corporate communications at the Delhi operations of Amarchand Mangaldas, headed by Shardul Shroff. Senior advocate MP Bharucha, whose law firm Bharucha & Partners is representing the elder brother in court, declined comment.
In the will which is at the heart of the dispute, Bharti, the wife of Suresh S Shroff, father of Cyril and Shardul, has willed her equity in the law firm and her personal wealth to elder son Shardul, a move that creates ambiguity in the ownership structure of the firm that was till her death run jointly by Cyril and Shardul. Currently, the Shroff brothers own around 60% in the firm with the rest being held by non-family equity partners.
Will Contradicts Family Pact
People privy to the developments say the will contradicts a 1994 family agreement under which Bharti Shroff ‘s ownership stake was to be equally divided between the two brothers. Further, her share in Amarchand Tower Properties, a partnership that owns properties in Delhi, has also been willed to Shardul Shroff.
The ownership dispute has been discussed by members of Amarchand Mangaldas’ management committee, according to people familiar with the matter. Two independent members (the committee has seven members in all), George Golding and James Abraham, recently moved a resolution that there cannot be ambiguity in the ownership of the firm and on principle of equality, Bharti Shroff’s shares should be distributed equally between the two managing partners.
They also contended that family matters should not have any consequence for the firm. Sources said the resolution, which was circulated over email earlier this week, was passed 5:2 in Cyril Shroff ‘s favour. Cyril declined comment on the resolution.
AMSS is the country’s largest law firm with over 600 lawyers and more than 80 partners. The firm has gone from strength to strength in the past decade fuelled by a M&A and banking finance boom, and Amarchand’s next phase of growth was chalked out by consulting major BCG with the aim to reach a Rs 1,000-crore turnover, along with a bench strength of 100 partners and some 1,000 lawyers.