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Darshan Upadhyay, Gaurav Nair, Nidhish Mehrotra

Compared to some years ago when the Indian legal market was dominated by big names, we are now seeing the emergence of cutting-edge boutique law firms that are rivalling the former expertise and client service. Leaders from three such firms speak to ALB about their firms’ strategies, the impact of the pandemic and their future plans.

 

ALB: Can you tell us about your firm? When was it founded, and how has the journey been so far?

DARSHAN UPADHYAY: Stratage Law Partners is an acutely specialised, solution-oriented, and value-driven law firm. Our areas of practice are private equity, M&A, litigation (shareholders, governance-related and regulatory disputes), insolvency and real estate. We also do niche and select advisory work with family offices on their succession planning and wealth management.

We started last year and are now five partners and a team of over twenty professionals. Bhavin Gada, Shyam Pandya and Amit Manubarwala are founding partners, my colleagues and also friends for many years. Each of them bring subject matter expertise and experience of over 15 years.

In a short span of time the firm has been recognised as one of the top 50 law firms in India by Forbes in their Legal Power List 2020; Debutant Law Firm of the Year 2020 by Venture Intelligence; ranked in the top 25 PE & VC lawyers by Refinitiv, an LSEG business, in the Global Private Equity and Venture Capital League table rankings for 2020; and has gained recognition in many leading publications. I have been recognised by Chambers and Partners in the private equity space in India for 2021. Bhavin Gada has been featured in the ALB India Super 50 Lawyers list for 2020 and ALB India Rising Stars of 2021.

We are thankful to all our clients, friends and colleagues for their support.

GAURAV NAIR: Founded in the year 2016, Saga Legal is a multiservice law firm operating across jurisdictions in diverse areas of practice. From pursuing conventional and alternate dispute resolution assignments to providing support to organisations on a day-to-day basis, addressing concerns emerging from their affairs, the firm provides manifold legal solutions to its clients under one roof. In a short span of time, the firm has been engaged by a diverse set of clients in a bid to realise their objectives. Truthfully, despite all the trials (pardon the pun) and tribulations that come with being a developing law firm on the ascendancy, it has been an incredible journey thus far. The endeavour has been to develop all that the firm commits to in a result-oriented manner. Moving forward, we aspire to build a firm that is recognised to be steadfast in adversity and adherent to a cause.

NIDHISH MEHROTRA: ANM Global is a full-service law firm established in 2009. The firm enjoys a pan-India presence, with offices in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. We have a highly trained team of professionals, specialising in diverse areas of law who have acquired vast experience in their respective practice areas operating across diverse industry segments and practices including litigation, alternate dispute resolution, corporate law, media and entertainment, intellectual property, infrastructure, power and energy, real estate, information technology, mining and environmental law among others. It has been an exciting and a terrific journey for the firm having showcased exceptional growth in terms of the numbers, clients and high-profile projects over the last few years and we strive to continue the momentum.

ALB: What are the advantages that you feel smaller firms like yours have in India’s legal market? And how do you look to overcome the disadvantages?

UPADHYAY: I think the general counsels are now involved in business matters and have more freedom to take decisions on legal matters; clients are willing to consider other factors whilst choosing a law firm (and not only the brand); the number of individuals joining the legal profession are increasing every year and in fact many individuals (and teams) from large law firms are breaking away to establish new law firms. As such our relations with the promoters and the general counsels will be an added advantage in our journey.

We have been successful in attracting talent with the adopted culture of training professionals to be 360-degree lawyers. A lean team, dedicated practice areas and focused approach helps us to better navigate in these unprecedented times (considering the current pandemic) with far more agility.

NAIR: It is implausible to imagine that today’s clients would have any other yardstick to compare firms against than the delivery of qualitative assistance. Not to take anything away from the availability of vast resources that a larger firm may have amassed over the years, the nonconformist in one would like to believe that a client can see past quantity, in favour of quality. It’s the equivalent of today’s client’s willingness to engage relatively younger legal professionals meritocratically, than based on the number of years spent at the Bar. We, at Saga Legal, have built the firm around the “First Client, Client First” principle. It is to remind ourselves of our modest beginnings and treat each client’s assignment as if it was our first. Client prioritisation, situational adaptiveness and convenience of access are some of the characteristics that have been defining in our trajectory. Our focus is squarely on sustaining the attributes that have held the firm in good stead thus far, irrespective of our size. In time, there may come a day that we are thought of as Goliath in the fight; on such a day, we hope to continue acting like David.

MEHROTRA: Considering the fi rm’s team, clients, presence, exponential growth and range of services offered, it is unfair to treat ANM as a small firm. However, in my opinion, firm structures like ANM, are tightly knit and have a more direct, resolve-oriented, cost-effective and innovative approach toward the clientele requirements and industry needs.

ALB: Apart from of course the revenue/profits, what are the other ways you are measuring your firm’s success?

UPADHYAY: Apart from revenue, I think human resource and clients are the most important elements for any firms success.

As far as team is concerned, the seniors in the firm invest time to nurture the young talent and in addition, we are able to offer opportunities to meet aspirations of our team members, and flexibility to work in more than one practice areas. I think because of the aforementioned factors, our firm has been able to attract quality talent which has resulted in retaining and developing clients. Personally, I am very pleased to see Bhavin, Shyam and Amit receive accolades for their work and to be featured in various rankings.

NAIR: We have consciously invested in the placement of building blocks that speak of the culture at the firm, right from inception. In our formative years, a true measure of success is the acceptance and implementation of certain ethos that we wish to encourage and inculcate at the firm. We believe it is imperative, not just for the sake of sustainability but overall progress. We are entirely dedicated to growing and sustaining a culture centred around team-building at Saga Legal, with an eye on the future. With a focus on creating a nourishing environment at the firm, we are committed towards contributing to the growth and skill sets of individuals, thereby ensuring the holistic development of the firm.

MEHROTRA: That’s a good question. The numbers are obviously very important for any business to be commercially viable and successful. However, at ANM, along with the numbers we measure the success by assessing our clients and teams’ satisfaction and diversity in practice areas. We are building an organization with a deeper focus on creating an identity for ourselves and a brand that brings together highest standard of services, professionalism and ethics in a cost-effective structure.

ALB: How has the pandemic impacted the operation of your firm?

UPADHYAY: It has definitely impacted everyone around us. It has reduced our ability to have in-person interactions with the clients and team, and slowed down the business development efforts, while travel restrictions are making it difficult for many firms to integrate their different offices. However, we also see this as an opportunity: It has provided more time for training the young talent, reduced travel time, recalibrated the time spent for negotiations and has made us realise that with the technology available today you don’t need large real estate space and can rationalise many other costs the benefit of which can be passed on to the team members. Overall I would say till the time you have quality matters to work on and support a dynamic team – it’s easy to navigate any operational difficulties.

NAIR: Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the firm added strings to an already existing paperless practice bow. Over the last 12 months, the firm streamlined and transitioned the processes of its practice that needed minimalistic physical interfacing to evolve into an entirely electronic medium. It has ensured that we future proof the way our team practices going forward, being less dependent on physical mediums, and more reliant on interfaces that are a click away. From entirely overhauling protocols at the workplace to tweaking individual practice mechanisms, the attempt has been to turn the pandemic into something positive and robust, able to withstand the test of time and eventualities alike.

MEHROTRA: Like every other organization and industry across the world, the legal industry gravely suffered due to the lack of time to adapt, looming uncertainty and for most businesses, conducting commerce became a tread in uncharted territories. As for ANM, at the outset, we had forward planned to expand our services into newer practice areas, however, with the unprecedented times due to the pandemic, we have put temporary brakes to the expansion plans and are focused on stabilizing the ship till we come close to going back to the “normal.” In terms of the impact, yes, the work for a lot of our practice areas suffered but we were quick to adapt and balance.

ALB: What are your plans for growing the firm from here on?

UPADHYAY: In this financial year, we would like to have an office in Delhi to support and further our litigation practice and continue to grow the team with focus on the niche practice areas I highlighted above.

NAIR: The firm is keen to expand by having a more client-centric approach. While we have done extremely well in catering to client requirements in a more conventional manner, we believe that there is innovation yet to be arrived at in finding more customisable solutions. The plan, moving forward, is to implement mechanisms that create an effective ecosystem of data-driven solutions, technological infrastructure and multi-disciplinary expertise to meet our clients’ business requirements.

MEHROTRA: As mentioned earlier, our primary goal is to be able to expand and establish newer practice areas, within the next two years, most specifically in (a) technology laws which will include legal services delving into artificial intelligence, crypto and block-chain technologies etc. (b) sports laws which will include services foraying into e-gaming, online fantasy gaming, traditional franchise-based sporting leagues etc., and (c) banking and finance laws; and of course be able to further strengthen our core practices like the litigation, alternate dispute resolution, intellectual properties and media and entertainment practices.

 

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