Abhijit Joshi interview on customization of trust. One of the leading lawyers in India in acquisition and mergers field
The Firm- India’s First & only show on Corporate Law, Finance, M&A, Regulatory, Tax And Audit Matters has Completed 5 years on Air!
On the 5th anniversary of the show, we asked some of our Long standing Contributors what they thought of the show.
Abhijit Joshi,Senior Partner & CEO of AZB & Partners shares his views
What is it like being Senior Partner at AZB?
As a Senior Partner, one gets juniors coming in all the time with problems related to various cases. So, one is constantly thinking about solutions and how to solve problems. Here at AZB we have an open-door policy, so any one is free to walk in and it’s quite an informal environment to work in. That’s good. When I started here in 2001, we had 12-15 lawyers and now we have more than 250 lawyers. I have enjoyed being part of it rather than being a partner. If you are around for long enough—about 20 years—you end up becoming a partner.
What would you say are the strengths and weaknesses of the Indian legal profession?
One of the main strengths of the Indian legal profession is the Indian mind—it is very sharp and has the ability to find solutions to the most complex propositions. But the flip side of the coin is the challenge—it is not institutionalised, it has not reached economies of scale. You cannot harness talent because there are very few large law firms in the context of the population of India. A large law firm here would have 250 to 600 lawyers whereas a large firm in the UK would have 2,000 to 5,000 lawyers and the Indian population is far larger than Britain’s. But we have a lot of individual lawyers. The centres of excellence, however, are few.
Do you feel that we will see foreign law firms setting up practice here?
I hope the laws will permit foreign firms to set up shop here. After all competition brings best practices and this leads to better quality, which in turn leads to excellence at work.
The Indian legal system is still dominated by paper over technology. Are efforts being made to change this? Yes, with the advancing of technology, the system is using less paper. Law libraries, for instance, are becoming more virtual. Today most of the books are on computer, unlike in the past. In today’s law firms, the present generation does its research on the computer. But, of course, we will never get rid of paper.
Is professionalism growing in the legal system in India?
Professionalism is growing in the legal system through the way people conduct checks and balances. But too many systems can make it a business—there is a very fine balance. There are great Indian lawyers because the Indian mind is very fertile. We have failed in implementation, though our jurisprudence is good. Our implementation is not so good, as various factors are involved such as the population issue, the number of courts, the number of judges, disputes, remuneration and so on. It’s a systemic issue. That is why I prefer out-of-court settlements. Litigation often takes years, if not decades, during which clients end up spending large sums of money. Besides, there is value to peace in life.
Will we see a distinction between management and ownership of law firms in India?
No. In India the profession is very personality oriented unlike in the West, where it is brand-centric. A distinction between management and ownership of law firms is still not on the horizon—personal skill is still very much involved. Management and ownership still needs to get depersonalised and institutionalised.
What are your goals for the future?
I do not have a destination as a goal, I have excellence as a goal. I strive for excellence in my work, my interaction with people, self-evolution—it’s a way of life for me. This is something I aspire for.
Let’s talk about your personal life—how do you relax?
Music relaxes me. I love Indian classical music, though I listen to a whole range of music. I believe music is a matter of mood. At parties I often MIR music—retro and jazz and rock. Music is about mood and genre and beats. The key lies in how to assimilate them. After a few drinks people want to listen to mellow music or music with a dominant beat. I always opt for Indian classical and Rashid Khan and Shujaat Khan are some of my favourite artistes. I remember listening to Indian classical throughout a nine-hour flight to London.
Do you travel a lot?
I have to travel a lot on work. I must have made about 40 trips last year, both in India and abroad. But travel does not relax me.
I like reading Graham Greene and books on management. Unfortunately, I don’t read as much as I’d like because after work, which itself involves reading, I am often just too tired. I was brought up on a vegetarian diet, so I relish vegetarian fare.
We wish Abhijit every success!
On the twenty-third floor of one of the tallest buildings in Mumbai’s business district, Nariman Point, the office of Abhijit Joshi, Senior Partner and CEO of law firm, AZB and Partners, looks at part of the eastern expanse of the metropolis. He can see the grey battleships in the naval dockyard and a landscape dotted by the sprawl of red tiled roofs, the shining white dome of the museum and the dwarfed tower of the Rajabai Clock Tower in the Bombay University complex. All that has significance for him—the university gave him his law degree; somewhere in that landscape stands the building in which he spent his childhood, close to his grandfather’s Gujarati-medium school which his father later ran; and the frigates in the dockyard remind him of a battle-ridden corporate world in which he now makes a living. Inside his office, two canvases by his wife, Neeta, sit beside various accolades that have dotted his career. G2 spent an afternoon with him to find out a little more about this man with a mission.
Did you always want to be a corporate lawyer?
No, I did not. My father passed away when I was nine years old, after which there were the expected family disputes and my mother and I often visited lawyers…I guess I observed a few things, but I never wanted to be a lawyer at the time.
After my schooling at New Era High School, I graduated in commerce from Sydenham College and wanted to do business. So, I ventured into garment exports and failed miserably.
I then began to study law at Government Law College and simultaneously joined a family-11m law firm, Amarchand Mangaldas. I found I was enjoying it and before long was doing 17-hour days.
Amarchand Mangaldas handled a lot of institutional work—companies like IDBI and ILFS. That helped guide me into corporate law.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I entered the legal profession when India was in a most exciting phase, the early 1990s. The economy was opening up. Foreign companies were allowed to return, the first cola war had begun, there was the first GDR issue and the first private power projects were being sanctioned.
But more importantly, technology was advancing rapidly. Within a short span of time we went from telex to fax to computers and email. At the time it was difficult because we did not quite know which law applied to what—the laws were also evolving. Corporate law is especially exciting because it interfaces with a range of aspects of law such as land acquisition and environmental issues. As one grows in corporate law, one is more involved with negotiating large deals—one must weave the commercial interests of clients and the legalities involved. Roles evolve. Now things come to me only when there is a problem but in the early days, we would do anything.
You have been described as an innovative lawyer. Innovation is not what one associates with the legal profession.
Innovation in our field is a rarity. I feel we need to step out of the brief and take a look at the broader picture if one is to pick out a better, more efficient solution to a problem. Once one gets a grip of the law and the spirit behind the law, one can think out of the box. I distinctly remember a question at a law examination, many years ago. The question, which was built on a certain case, went on and on, into two whole pages. Most of the students thought at the time, that the answer should be equally long if not longer. But it turned out that the answer was a simple sentence: Equity cannot be converted into debt and therefore the rest of the argument does not stand.
Who is your role model?
I do not have a role model. I believe that I should strive to achieve my potential. If I can extract my full potential, I shall be happy. My aim is to be true to my conscience and to my job. I don’t want to follow anybody. I believe I am still underperforming.
Visit https://www.apsense.com/article/exclusive-g2-interview-with-abhijit-joshi-part-2.html for second part of this conversation
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