‘To succeed in India, one has to be very patient and vigilant’
Shardul Shroff of Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co looks back at his proudest career achievements and advises aspiring lawyers that the secret of success is hard work
As an Asia Best Lawyer 2020 for India, what do you consider to be the greatest achievements of your career?
There have been several pioneering moments in my 40-year career as a lawyer. In the early days, my first challenge was, in September of 1980, to set up, establish and grow the first branch office of Amarchand & Mangaldas Shroff & Co. My parents had enormous faith in my future and career, and in my administrative and legal acumen. At the age of 24, with barely any litigation experience, I was thrown in at the deep end with a practice almost 100% focused on litigation matters and court cases. Within the first four years of my transfer to New Delhi as the head of the Delhi branch, I achieved my first milestone of successfully managing a complex legal practice in New Delhi from the young age of 24.
I always had a vision to grow the firm in a modular and gradual way by accreting newer and newer practices on a bi-annual basis. In 1991, when the Indian economy moved away from a fully controlled state regulated “License Raj”, I was the first at the New Delhi office to plunge into new practice areas. In 1991, I set up several new divisions at our New Delhi office which had not been part of our original Delhi practice; these included project finance, corporate law, M&A and joint-ventures. Between 1991 and 1994, we outgrew our first office and I opened a new office at Abul Fazal Road and that gave me the opportunity to build further. After 1994, we expanded our dispute resolutions practice by growing the arbitration practice and other specialised tribunal dispute resolution cases within the firm.
We grew from one office to three offices very rapidly, doubling our number of lawyers by 2000. We occupied our interim large other office for only two to three years (2000- 2003) and moved out to our current gigantic New Delhi office in 2003. We grew in geometric progression at our current office, establishing and stabilising 10 major and 14 minor practice areas over the next 15 years.
I achieved my first milestone of successfully managing a complex legal practice in New Delhi from the young age of 24
From May 10 2015, the original firm split upon the death of my mother and we started afresh as Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co. In just five years we have again doubled our strength and multiplied our firm’s revenues by establishing offices in six other cities - Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata and Gurugram - to service clients in the golden quadrilateral of India (North - West - South– East).
There were two other watershed moments in my career. In 2009, I was the recipient of the Hon’ble President of India’s National Law Day Award. The award commended me as a “leading corporate lawyer” for my “unique contribution to the field of corporate law and leadership in its practice” and for being “instrumental in the advancement of India’s corporate law practice at international standards”. In 2012, I had received the Chambers Award as an “Outstanding Contributor” to the legal profession in the Asia-Pacific region.
In the very first year of our newly established firm of Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co, in 2015, we were nominated as the Best Law Firm by Chambers & Partners. In 2017 and 2020 we were the proud recipient of the Chambers Asia Pacific National Law Firm of the Year and the India Business Law Journal Law Firm of the Year, as well as named by MergerMarket as the Winner and Number 1 in deal value and count for the India League Table 2019, the National Firm of the Year 2019 by Who’s Who Legal and the Most Innovative National Law Firm of the Year 2020 by IFLR. These achievements have been very satisfying to me as the leader of the firm and as its executive chairman.
I am also very proud of my continuing contributions to the making of the laws of India. I remain a member of the Company Law Committee and the Insolvency Law Committee of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs in India, which are dedicated to the continuous modernisation and modification of the Companies Act, 2013 and the Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code, 2016; two public engagements of which I am extremely proud. They enable me to return some of my learnings back to society and to help build the country’s national laws.
Having proved myself as a visionary developer of a large firm and as an able people manager, I wanted to plunge back into the study, practice and nitty-gritty of bankruptcy law in India. As part of my personal achievements in the insolvency law space, where I head the firm’s insolvency & bankruptcy practice, I and my colleagues have been responsible for path-breaking jurisprudence and for establishing a new practice based on a totally new law enacted in 2016. This has been one of my greatest recent personal achievements.
The firm represented the committee of creditors or resolution professionals in eight of the 12 “dirty dozen”, which were the largest non-performing accounts of India, which the Reserve Bank of India had identified. Essar Steel’s insolvency resolution, where we acted for the committee of creditors and where we guided the litigation through all its vicissitudes, has been personally very satisfying. We have received regular awards as the best insolvency & bankruptcy practice in India. We have just been recognised by the IFLR1000 India Awards for the best insolvency and restructuring deal of the year, for Essar Steel’s restructuring.
What advice would you give to lawyers in junior positions to encourage them to work towards success?
My fundamental advice to lawyers in junior positions is to work hard, work hard and work hard. The legal profession consists of 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. There are no shortcuts.
My second mantra to junior lawyers is to keep things “simple and stupid” so that any and everyone should understand your case presentation, your explanation of the law and your case solution. Young lawyers should crisply state their case and help in the appropriate and clear enunciation of the law for the benefit of future generations.
What do you feel are the biggest obstacles for young lawyers in your country?
The biggest obstacles for prospective lawyers is access to quality work. The best work tends to gravitate to the best ranked and best led firms, which are trusted advisers to clients and have the best quality talent pool and a reputation for being solution providers. The legal education system is still oriented towards academically graded education and is practically aloof from providing day-to-day solutions to the day-to-day problems faced by clients. For young lawyers to come up with correct and appropriate solutions without “googling” them is critical. This is where industry and research, and depth of knowledge of law, are keys for success. Application of mind, certainty of advice, hard work, continuous further study of law, the ability to handle clients as a practitioner versus academic solution providers; neglecting these qualities are obstacles to growth. Consequently, only two or three out of the hundred students that become lawyers progress and succeed in law. The success rate for excellence in law is low.
Generation X, Y and Z pursue balanced life goals and are some way short of the zeal and zest required to be the best in their field. Perhaps Covid-19 will repurpose these three generations, as the resulting unemployment and scarcity of jobs will necessitate a fight for excellence and bring out the best; as was the mantra of prior generations.
What does your firm do to nurture and promote talent? Do you think it compares well to others in your market?
Our firm does a lot to encourage and develop talent and facilitate human resources to be truly rewarded. We have established a Metamorphosis Academy (AcMet), which makes a special effort to train newcomers to our law firm and tutor them to be fit for practice. Newcomers selected for such a programme are inducted into the learning and development aspects of the firm’s training modules well before they actually join the firm. With continuous legal education and relevant practical knowledge - provided on an anywhere, anytime basis - we nurture solution providers right from the first day of their legal careers.
The legal profession consists of 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. There are no shortcuts
Some other select initiatives we have taken include our “Path to Partnership” programme, which helps lawyers hone their qualities in different areas that are an absolute essential for progressing to a partnership in the firm.We hold secondments and training workshops for our lawyers at international organisations, because as the business environment across the globe converges and integrates, it is important that our lawyers are world citizens with an international outlook, with an ability to work with clients from across diverse cultures. We engage several internationally acclaimed and external consultants for facilitating a holistic development of our lawyers.
We have taken measures to nurture female talent in terms of having policies concerning women safety, work-life balance, sabbaticals and remote work options. These policy interventions are a cornerstone of ensuring the success of our diversity agenda. After all, beyond the intent, practical steps are crucial to determining its success.
We also recognising the need to ensure the mental wellbeing of our lawyers.Given the stressful schedules, employee welfare initiatives including mental wellness sessions, motivational talks and health camps are important parts of an ongoing programme.
If you could introduce one policy across the entire legal profession, what would it be?
To generate opportunities for lawyers and promote excellence in the practice of law, I would advocate a programme of “each one hire one”. This could facilitate a geometric growth and progression among good lawyers and develop a pool of talent which is needed for India, as a country, to progress its laws and be an excellent commercial law jurisdiction that entices the world of commerce to India.
Are there any initiatives in the firm to help your clients deal with the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic?
Clearly, the pandemic has been radically disruptive and has severely impacted all industries and life in general. It has brought in its wake a whole host of challenges for our many clients. We have stayed engaged with our clients to help them decipher the challenges stemming from this evolving environment, through a slew of diverse initiatives. Some of these include: special legal papers on crucial concepts like force majeure, the impossibility of performance, discharge of contracts, and their applicability to Covid-19 cases; direct engagement with clients through webinars; customised literature on Covid-19 developments; sharing opinions in mainline media; and participation at industry platforms.
Given the current business environment in India, what would you consider to be the market outlook over the coming year? What kind of work do you expect will keep you busy over the next 12 months?
The economic situation prior to the pandemic and its weakening, due to the lockdowns enforced by countries affected by Covid-19, has created a bleak outlook. Nations are lacking in national confidence and this has affected all service professionals including lawyers. There are a few “exceptional bet your company litigations” and transactions which are still happening, despite the general doom and gloom. Firms are still on searching for these quality matters and looking to bag these assignments for their teams of lawyers. We expect to remain in the elite group of Indian firms over the next 12 months.
Are there any upcoming regulatory changes or initiatives that investors should be aware of?
The tense situation between India and China due to territorial disputes has resulted in India changing its foreign direct investment policy with countries with which it shares a common land border. Almost 200 new investments from neighbouring countries, including China, are in a state of suspended animation pursuant to the Indian government’s Press Note 3 of the 2020 series. This is an important regulatory change that investors must be cautious of, especially if the investment originates or can be traced to a beneficial owner citizen of such a country. Only approvals automatically granted prior to making of such investments are considered valid since April 2020.
What do you feel is the biggest misconception others have about your market?
While there is a general perception that the Indian market in consumer goods and white goods is very deep and broad and manifold times the European or other Asian markets, there is a big misconception on the price point at which Indians can be tempted to buy. Unless there is a clear understanding that India is a mass market at very low prices, India is a difficult market to pierce or enter.
India is also a luxury market at the high end, namely at the ultra-top end of high net worth individuals.
What is the one thing you think the IFLR’s international audience should know about how to successfully do business in your market?
To succeed in India, one has to be very patient and vigilant, and conduct thorough due diligence before being associated with a local partner. Such an approach should ensure that an investor can conduct their business while keeping on the right side of the law. Local partners must be able to provide wide marketing networks for goods manufactured in India. Good supply chains are needed for fast movement of goods made in India. Cutting corners in India, either in the short term or in the long term, will create problems.