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A firm’s history is intrinsically tied to its founders. It is their shared dream made real, guided by commonly held values and a clear vision for the future.

AZB & Partners was officially founded in 2004. In recalling the years prior to its formation, what emerges is a passion for excellence married to an unshakeable trust in each other and the partnership. What drove its founders then, still holds true today.

Ajay Bahl, Zia J. Mody and Bahram N. Vakil, the firm’s founding partners, reflect on the birth and evolution of AZB.

AZB & Partners was officially founded in 2004. In recalling the years prior to its formation, what emerges is a passion for excellence married to an unshakeable trust in each other and the partnership. What drove its founders then, still holds true today.

Ajay Bahl, Zia J. Mody and Bahram N. Vakil, the firm’s founding partners, reflect on the birth and evolution of AZB.


Zia: I’m a lawyer by profession, always wanted to be. I worked with Baker & McKenzie in New York. At that time as a matter of law, India was sheltered – no foreign entity could acquire more than a 40% stake; there was no cross-border M&A so what I had learnt in NY was not useable. For 10 years after my return, I appeared in court every other day as a barrister. When India opened her doors in 1991, all my colleagues and clients wanted to return and that’s when I switched back to corporate law, started with 12 people in the Chambers of Zia Mody, of which half are still with us today.

Bahram: The idea was to set up a completely professional, top-quality firm. In January 2002, Zia and I arrived at what being a top firm in India meant: to be present in 3 cities at least; to grow to 100 lawyers within 3 years; to acquire large, blue chip Indian clients. By 2005, we had 110 lawyers, Bangalore opened first with Vivek Chandy setting up; I had one meeting with Ajay in Delhi, and then we had one meeting with Zia, and it clicked instantly.

Ajay: Bahram and I met and struck up a friendship in the early days of the liberalisation of the energy sector (1994). I still remember a common friend asking if we were partners. Zia and I first engaged on opposite sides of a series of transactions. I enjoyed the very professional approach and it became clear that our working styles, end objectives, client support and client commitment were very similar. Bahram and Zia then got together. ABC was well represented in Delhi, had a good client portfolio and an excellent team. They had the same in Mumbai and Bangalore. One conversation led to another and AZB came into existence. Time flies.

On the Banyan Tree

Zia: The banyan tree’s symbolism resonates – with the elders reaching up to the sky, then the roots coming down, and the young ones taking root and growing further… a constant rejuvenation of talent, professionalism and meritocracy.

Bahram: The associations with wisdom and spirituality, its strong roots and great canopy… these were qualities that we wanted to embody and be known for.

Ajay: Longevity, strength and shade. As the branches, representing our team, find roots, the tree not only grows but also gets stronger. It’s a symbolic reflection of my aspiration and belief that AZB with survive well beyond its founders... The Banyan also provides shade beneath which people (our clients) can freely discuss their issues, look for solutions together and pass on their problems and concerns for us to address.

From Then to Now

Zia: We could talk the talk and understood the risk profile that was acceptable to foreign clients. Our practice from Day 1 was not, ‘We can do everything and tell you anything you want to hear’. It was very much the opposite, ‘We’ll tell you all the problems you have, and try and find solutions to some of them’. We grew; by word of mouth, by being responsive, and working really hard. We were 24x7. From 12 lawyers then to 450 today, with support services, we’re at 650+. Our growth really is, in a sense, India’s growth.

Ajay: I recall the guiding and winding down over a 7 year term of what seemed, at one time, to be the insurmountable tax disputes of a major multinational broadcasting client, where multiple advisors and counsel were involved before we were invited to lead the effort after joining the advisory team. It involved formulating and implementing strategies requiring a deep understanding of income tax, transfer pricing, accounting, corporate laws, including cross border corporate law and tax issues, challenging adverse changes in the law in Indian Courts, revising operating models, approaching forums, filing applications and taking positions that few were willing to consider. Formulating compliant India entry strategies in regulated areas and suggesting operating models that had not, till then, been even used internationally, and then working through the various facets and build out of the model in deep engagement with the client teams… Then, we changed the landscape.

Bahram: We were and are client-driven and a very hardworking firm. We make it a point to get to know the client, and do a deep-dive into the industry to be able to advise the client better… Our absolute USP is cross-border M&A. Before the Lehmann crisis, from 2002-2008, we were well positioned to facilitate most of the major deals between India, and Europe and the US.

On the Future

Ajay: I would see AZB pursue its growth trajectory, with the continued focus on what we do best: committed, differentiated, efficient client service with a consistent quality across team and offices. We have to keep up this relentless pursuit. There was a lot of debate on how legal practice would change owing to the pandemic, new areas would emerge, etc., but our view was and is, that the basic tenets of legal practice and client focus will remain unchanged while its delivery and conduct will need adapt to the virtual world. We expect to see greater domain knowledge so that our commitment to our clients is based on a deep understanding of their business and its nuances. My personal experience over the years is that learning comes from all around; being a specialist doesn’t mean that others cannot contribute ideas to learn from. On the contrary, I have seen that some of the best ideas come from generalists.

Bahram: In addition to our impact work and cross-border M&A super-specialty, I’d like us to focus on green energy, green finance, and other climate change initiatives, where India will be one of the key players. Technology transformations, such as crypto currency, payments, etc., are areas where we need to be at the forefront.

Zia: Law firms in India are very founder-centric, when the move should be towards professionalism, so that the name doesn’t matter. Ajay, Bahram and I, our value-add at this stage is to bring the stardust. We have great lawyers with their own developing market standing that must focus on nurturing an atmosphere of collegiality. The hope is that the Firm institutionalises more, and the dependence on us is less, so that the banyan tree perpetuates.

1995 CZM is formed

2000 Ali Chambers, first office expansion

2002 CZM and Bahram N. Vakil converge into CZB


2002 Express Towers Mumbai expansion

2003 Bangalore office

2004 CZB and ABC merge to form AZB & Partners

2004 Delhi office

2008 Pune office

2009 Delhi Noida Office expansion

2012 Delhi Gurgaon office expansion


2013 Move to AZB House - Mumbai

2013 Sakhar Bhavan Mumbai office

2016 Delhi office expansion

2017 Peninsula Towers Mumbai office

2018 Delhi Noida office expansion

2020 One Forbes Mumbai office

2023 AZB House Chennai office