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Prem Rajani founded Rajani Associates in 1999. In this interview with Bar & Bench, Rajani talks about his initial years, his vision for the firm, expansion plans and his views on entry of foreign firms.
Bar & Bench: Talk us through your initial years of setting up Rajani Associates.
Prem Rajani: Rajani Associates was set up in the year 1999, a period during which not many new law firms had yet emerged. It was a difficult choice indeed to leave a well-established and leading law firm to start a practice all by myself but thanks to the then dotcom boom, we had a number of assignments from this sector right from our early days. We also worked closely for the traditional sectors such as iron & steel, oil & energy, real estate, infrastructure and a relatively (then) more recent sector, the media. Right from our early on days, we have been able to diversify our practice not only towards many sectors but also towards varied kinds of assignments and which, in turn, has enabled our firm to survive many ups and downs in this profession including the dotcom crash in 2002 and the global melt down of 2008.
Bar & Bench: Why did you choose a career in law?
Prem Rajani: My father was in the real estate business (retired now) and on various occasions, during the late 1980s, while I was still studying for my graduation, I accompanied him to the offices of many acclaimed solicitors. Not only was I highly fascinated by these solicitors, in a way, they inspired me to take up this profession. Two factors that impressed me the most was the elegance with which the solicitors (of yesteryears) conducted themselves while maintaining utmost modesty at the same time and secondly, the manner in which they used to identify problems and come out with solutions. In 1980s, the real estate practice and litigation practice dominated the work of law firms and there was very limited corporate work.
Bar & Bench: You have recently entered into a non-exclusive mutual referral agreement with Australian Boutique firm, Rockwell Bates. Tell us more about this arrangement. Also, how will this benefit the firm?
Prem Rajani: As you have rightly mentioned, we have a non-exclusive mutual referral arrangement with Rockwell Bates. Neither of us is restricted from engaging the services of any other law firm in the jurisdiction of the other. It merely gives both our firms an opportunity to exchange and understand basic laws of the other’s jurisdiction and, in turn, enables us to often provide preliminary and off hand advice to our respective clients. When our client desires to engage a law firm in Australia and likewise when a client of Rockwell Bates desires to engage services of a law firm in India, we do not insist upon our client to use the services of the other and our client is free to engage the services of any other law firm.
Bar & Bench: What is your vision for the firm now, and 10 years thereafter?
Prem Rajani: The Firm has steadily grown over the past 11 to 12 years, with an initial strength of just 5 lawyers to now 37 lawyers (with 9 partners). Our vision is to continue this gradual growth, in terms of number of colleagues (including partners), clients and soon to have few offices across the country. Over the next 10 years – though it can be anyone’s guess what the world would be like then – it is our vision to be amongst the top-10 law firms, not just in terms of head count or number of offices or turnover, but more in terms of quality of work and a great working place.
Bar & Bench: Any expansion plans for Rajani Associates. Do you plan to open offices in other cities?
Prem Rajani: Yes, our expansion plans do contemplate setting up of offices in other cities of India. However, we are very keen to establish fully operational offices in each of these cities (rather than just a concept office or a back office) and are hence being very selective of the cities we wish to open these offices in.
Bar & Bench: Do you think entry of foreign law firms in India is inevitable? If so, when?
Prem Rajani: India has a very successful law practice with very competent law firms to support this practice. While this profession each day witnesses upcoming and budding lawyers (one better than the other, I may add), it is anyone’s guess that entry of foreign law firms in India is ultimately inevitable. While soft entries of these law firms has already started through various best friend relationships that have evolved over the past 4 to 5 years, a full throttle entry may perhaps take place in couple of years.
Bar & Bench: As a firm, do you have anything set for pro-bono?
Prem Rajani: We do render pro-bono services as a firm. However, we do not observe a fixed policy on this and render pro-bono services to deserving persons on a case-by-case basis.
Bar & Bench: Your thoughts on the All India Bar Examination imposed by the Bar Council of India.
Prem Rajani: Over the years the legal practice has evolved to be extremely competitive and is meant for the fittest. While the legal examination still remains simple and passing of this examination is not entirely a challenge in the true sense. The real test of any lawyer lies in his abilities to practice the Law. In my view, there is no other way to test these abilities other than to test the actual working and execution skills of the lawyer. I have briefly studied and analysed the pattern of the All India Bar Examination and while I do believe that the intention is meant well, I think it is a bit too early to state what may be actually achieved.
Bar & Bench: How do you unwind?
Prem Rajani: Needless to add that work occupies most part of my day, day after day. But it would be incorrect to say that it tires me. My work drives me through any given day and its diversity and challenges keep me entertained. But outside work, listening to the old melodies of the golden era (by Mohammed Rafiq, Kishore Kumar, Hemant Kumar, Talat Mehmood) or watching good old movies gives me a sense of calm.
Bar & Bench: Your mentor
Prem Rajani: Undoubtedly, my senior, Mr. R. A. Shah, a senior partner at Crawford Bayley & Co, where I spent 7 years of my life – during the period 1993 to 1999. I was fortunate enough to be under the right guidance and mentoring during the initial years of my practice which have shaped me as the lawyer I am today.
Mr. Shah has great acumen for understanding and resolving commercial issues that often surround a transaction, pragmatically. He is an extremely simple and humble person, making him a very approachable and practical lawyer.