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Rajiv K Luthra founded Luthra & Luthra in 1990 and has over 25 years of experience in advising clients. He is also the Senior Vice President of the Society of Indian Law Firms. He talks about his vision, management decisions, pro-bono and succession plan at Luthra.
Bar & Bench: Tell us about how you conceived the firm and its initial years.
Rajiv K. Luthra: I founded Luthra & Luthra Law Offices in 1990, with the idea of providing legal services to MNCs and foreign investors looking to do business in India. Without any relatives in the profession, I knew it would be an uphill task establishing a reputation and building a clientele in this profession, but I also sensed that things were changing very fast. Those were exciting times, and the economic reforms which began in 1991 presented one with immense opportunities, which I decided to seize completely. Starting out advising on a few areas of law such as foreign investment and project finance, we quickly expanded to become a full service firm as the needs of our clients grew along with their businesses.
Bar & Bench: Why did you choose a career in law?
Rajiv K Luthra: Mainly because the competition was low; in spite of how many lawyers there are in India, there are very few good ones, and I thought it would be a cake walk to establish myself as a good lawyer quickly! But jokes apart, I truly enjoy and am passionate about the practice of law, and that is the only real reason that I am a lawyer. Besides, how many other professions can boast of no retirement age, and let you continue to work and grow in repute for as long as you remain in possession of your faculties?
Bar & Bench: In less than two decades you managed to build a firm of international repute. What are the significant reasons for success of L&L?
Rajiv K Luthra: I am a utopian, and believe in building castles in the sky before bringing them down to Earth. We have always striven to provide world class levels of service, right from the word ‘Go’. That, coupled with building enduring relationships with our clients based on trust and performance, is why we are in this position today. All of that is possible, though, because of the excellent work done by everyone who is, and has been, part of the Firm, which is helped by the fact that all of us here enjoy our work immensely.
B&B: What is the vision of your firm? Where do you see yourself personally, 5 years hence and where do you see the firm 5 years from now?
Rajiv K Luthra: The long term vision is to build the ultimate ‘go-to’ law firm for both clients and lawyers, no less and no more. In five years I see the firm cementing its international reputation, and handling even more headline deals. As for myself, I foresee myself doing exactly what I am doing now – helming a leading, world class law firm as we overcome the challenges of the second decade of this millennium.
Bar & Bench What is the next big plan for L&L?
Rajiv K Luthra: We are currently implementing a number of internal projects, including technological upgradation and overhauling of various internal processes, which are aimed at consolidating the gains that we have made in recent years. I call this reinforcing the foundations, so that we have a strong and integrated organization ready to rise to the next level.
Bar & Bench: How do you manage to attract the talent that has gone abroad, to come back and re-join the same firm?
Rajiv K Luthra: I’m sure you have already heard the old tropes of the world’s shifting economic centre of gravity and the great work that we are doing here, so I won’t repeat them. I would explain the return of talent by saying that ‘home is where the heart is’ – I am referring not only to returning to India, but returning to Luthra & Luthra. At the firm, there is a great work environment, and every alumnus has warm memories of the time spent with the Firm and the experience they had, which is an important factor while making that decision to return.
Bar & Bench: How are the management decisions at your firm taken? Is it a democratic process where partners make decisions for the firm or do you make most decisions in consultation with your partners?
Rajiv K Luthra: The management of the Firm is a completely democratic process, and all decisions are deliberated upon at length at one of our regular partners’ meetings – the most recent one was just two weeks ago in Delhi. Although in theory, as Managing Partner of the Firm, the final decision would be mine, I am happy to say that in two decades every major decision has been through a consensus (apart from some minor squabbling over the colour of the carpeting in our new offices, when my proposal of bright green, to remind me of what is important in life – playing golf – was shot down in favour of a more sedate shade).
Bar & Bench: Is there a plan or strategy that you have put in place for succession of the firm?
Rajiv K Luthra: Succession planning is definitely one of the things at the top of my mind, and I believe that it is something which is important at every level. Our endeavour is to build an organisation where everyone is unique but no one is indispensable, and where transitions take place seamlessly. In the firm, people are continuously moving up the ladder, and it must be ensured that there are always people capable and willing to assume the responsibilities earlier borne by that person. This philosophy extends from the associate level right up to the top.
Bar & Bench: Any expansion plans for Luthra offices, other than the current three locations?
Rajiv K Luthra: Yes, we have a number of expansion plans which are at different stages of planning and we are evaluating a number of cities in India and abroad.
Bar & Bench: As a firm do you have anything set for pro-bono?
Rajiv K Luthra: We regularly do a fair amount of pro-bono work, and I would say that in the last five years we would have averaged about 3000 hours a year of pro-bono work. Most recently, along with NDTV we assisted with the Save the Tiger Campaign, and also advised Médecins sans Frontières. We have advised an ambulance service in Gurgaon which recently became operational, and have also assisted writers and lyricists with legal issues connected to the redrafting of the Copyright Act. In my personal capacity, some time ago I founded an organization called LIFE (Leading India to a Fresh Environment) along with some eminent people, which highlights issues of national concern and advocates environmental causes. We are also members of ‘ Trustlaw’, a Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to pro-bono work.
Bar & Bench: Do you think entry of foreign law firms in India is inevitable? If so, when?
Rajiv K Luthra: I believe it is inevitable, as we are members of the World Trade Organisation and signatories to the General Agreement on Trade in Services. The services sector has to be opened up just like any other. The way the world economy is structured, and considering India’s aspirations, it is not possible to wall an area off against globalization. However, for us to be a truly global player, a fair number of changes are required to some of our laws to bring them in consonance with those found in many other parts of the world. While it is hard to put a time line to it, I think we will see foreign law firms entering India within the next 3-4 years.
Bar & Bench: What are the reasons behind SILF (Society of Indian Law Firms) opposing the formation of a Legal Services Board under the Legal Practitioners Bill?
Rajiv K Luthra: SILF is opposing this proposal because it does not see the need for a super-regulator above the Bar Council of India, which already regulates all the State Bar Councils. Everyone’s efforts would be better spent in finding solutions for the problems currently faced by the Bar Councils and strengthen systems and procedures, rather than adding a new layer of unelected bureaucracy in the hope that this will somehow fix issues.
Bar & Bench: Your thoughts on the All India Bar Examination imposed by the Bar Council of India.
Rajiv K Luthra: The Bar Exam is a good idea. There is a lack of standardization of legal education in India, this is definitely a step in the right direction, and should also be complemented by initiatives in the realm of continuing professional education, which does not exist even as a concept in India. At the same time, the bar exam should be carefully implemented to ensure that no one is unfairly disadvantaged by the exam itself, or the manner in which it is conducted.
Bar & Bench: Your views on value of web-based legal news portals for lawyers and non-lawyers.
Rajiv K Luthra: The mainstream media in India does not always do a good job of covering news of interest to us lawyers, and there is definitely scope for the development of outlets dedicated to news and analysis for the legal community. Coupled with the fact that the news media is slowly but surely shifting from the physical to the electronic medium, I think that an online legal news portal is the way to go.
Bar & Bench: Your mentor?
Rajiv K Luthra: Strictly speaking, I can’t really say that I have had a mentor in the true sense of the word. The figure who comes closest would have to be Fali Nariman, although it is more of an Eklavya – Dronacharya relationship, because I have tried to imbibe from afar the values, ethics and commitment to the profession that he embodies.
Bar & Bench: How do you maintain work-life balance?
Rajiv K Luthra: I don’t know how to answer that question, because I can’t really think of a single day when I felt I had spent too much time working, or that I had neglected other aspects of, or people in, my life. At the risk of sounding terribly clichéd, the Firm is also like family, and in my mind there isn’t a strict barrier between what I see as my personal and professional life.
Bar & Bench: Other than collecting art and playing Golf, how do you unwind?
Rajiv K Luthra: I am an avid student and am currently passionate about learning Urdu, and I try to get in a game of chess on my iPad or Blackberry as often as possible. I usually relax to classical music, as well as film songs (both Hindi and English) from the 50s and 60s. When it comes to movies, I must confess that I am partial to light comedies and feel good films.
Bar & Bench: How has your life changed with two new children?
Rajiv K Luthra: Rather than the more routine changes that one expects, and at the risk of sounding a bit philosophical, I think the biggest change for me has been in the way I view the world. I catch myself thinking much more these days about the kind of world that my children and their generation will take over from us, and how important it is for us to make things better for all of them by paying heed to the long term consequences of our actions.