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Ranji Dua founded Dua Associates in 1986, and is also the Senior Vice President of the Society of Indian Law Firms. He talks about his initial years of building Dua Associates, vision, entry of foreign law firms, expansion plans and succession.
Bar & Bench: What prompted your decision to get into law?
Ranji Dua: After graduating with Honours in Economics from St. Stephens College, I completed my Masters at the Delhi School of Economics. At that point, I was to enter the world of academics and was exploring the possibility of going to the US for higher studies. During this time it was at a dinner with an eminent lawyer Mr. Nani Palkhiwala that we discussed the subject of my entering the legal profession. Later I had the good fortune of getting to know Mr. Palkhiwala well and even working with him on many matters. Whilst my father had been on the bench for the better part of my formative years, my early childhood recollection of his practice didn’t catch my fancy. However, within a few days of my dinner with Mr. Palkhiwala I decided to pursue law to the great delight of my father. In hindsight it was the correct decision and I was equally blessed that I joined the firm of Mr. Dadachanji upon entering the profession and co-incidentally Mr. Dadachanji and Mr. Palkhiwala were great friends. Both these great jurists have had a great influence in developing my professional career. I am indeed grateful to them.
Bar & Bench: Talk us through your initial years of building Dua Associates.
Ranji Dua: My working at Mr. Dadachanji’s firm during the mid 70s was an exhilarating experience because in those days his firm was preeminent in Delhi and handled many important and high profile cases. Back then law practice was as it should be and the recognition of a practitioner was not determined solely by the individual’s financial success. Good lawyering was about the knowledge and the practice of law. It was about bringing about ends of justice. There was a strong sense of social and public responsibility, which is very different from the almost sole sense of earning money that seems to have besieged the profession today. For myself I do not see any inconsistency between the desire to achieve financial success and the values under which the practice of Law is undertaken.
Being conservative and media shy but having been driven by the pursuit of excellence in law, within the framework of high ethical standards, meant that the task of building Dua Associates was going to be time consuming and arduous. When I started the firm in early to mid 80s there were not many examples that I could follow. This meant that I had to devise my own path and fortunately I had learnt from my experience at Mr. Dadachanji’s firm of what I ought to do and equally, if not more important, of what I oughtn’t to.
Therefore, I thought young lawyers need a future in India; young lawyers need to be participating in firms as co-owners and as true partners. Unfortunately most of India has not yet grown into the mental psyche of building institutions. Firms today are either individual driven or family driven. Young partners who come in do so with great talks of partnership but become equally individualistic as they grow. So I think my great desire and dream has been to institutionalize the firm. I think we have been successful to a great degree because if you see the depth and the quality of professionals we have, I think it is unparalleled. And again I repeat it is not by the money standard that I judge, but it is by the quality of professionals that we have that must form the basis of judgment.
So building is tough. It requires a lot of work. I have done my 15-18 hours a day for nearly two decades. I am very proud that we have built Dua Associates into a national level firm and we are a well-known brand all over the world since we were one of the first to focus on doing inbound work from overseas. The firm has acted for many of the fortune 100 companies, be it the entry of GE or ongoing advice to General Motors. We have also advised other major corporations such as AT&T, Toshiba and Mitsibushi. It has been a great learning process for us, but more importantly it has also been a great teacher for the professionals within the firm in as much as it has given them the exposure, the insight as to how MNCs work, how big businesses make decisions, how they expect to be serviced, the quality standards and all that comes from dealing with such clients. This is an ongoing process of learning and growth and continues to be so even after twenty five years.
Bar & Bench: What is your vision for the firm now, and 10 years thereafter?
Ranji Dua: I think it’s impossible to talk about a 10 year vision in today’s context. We are a firm that’s very open and transparent, we are a firm that has been very democratic and I think most of our partners determine the direction we will take. Certainly at the moment in this volatile and transitional period, globally and in India, I think we have to wait and see how things evolve and develop. So 10 years from now, it is very difficult to predict what we will be like, I may or may not be here 10 years from now, but that the firm will be here that I can say for certain. I can also say that we have a developing leadership within the firm that will carry on the task and ensure that its objectives are met. How and in what shape it grows is really an evolutionary process. Therefore whilst today I don’t think I would even dare predict what will happen in 10 years, I can strongly reaffirm that Dua Associates is successfully pursuing its vision of being, and enhancing its position as, “A well rounded dominant firm of repute, excellence and integrity that encourages young lawyers to develop the virtues and strengths of a professional”.
Bar & Bench: You are also the Senior Vice President of the SILF. When do you see the entry of foreign law firms into India?
Ranji Dua: My view on the entry of foreign law firms has been the same for the last ten – fifteen odd years, I encourage the opening up to international law firms but with a robust regulatory framework. If we can’t provide a regulatory framework then there will be absolute chaos and we will have a lot of disgruntled people. I think really the prerequisite is for our government to come up with a framework like Singapore did, like other countries have done. The United States has a regulatory framework where within 47 states you can’t practice from one state to the other. So with that kind of framework, I think it is important that we should let foreign law firms in but on such terms and conditions as are appropriate for India and its outstanding pool of young professionals. Again every country has its own stage of economic maturity and development, has its own sociological situations, and we have to really make sure the legal environment confirms to and actually supports what our socioeconomic requirements demand. I don’t think we can blindly follow any global trend today because globalization was a great mantra ten years ago in the west. Today the western countries themselves are tightening up as they suffer from an economic downturn caused by excessive consumption and over consumerism. Globalization is affordable when you are affluent, when you are not affluent, it needs to be considered and reconsidered. So you will see trends that will happen in Europe and in United States as they tighten up. They want to come here, they want our markets but today we should really determine the nature of their participation being mindful of our national interest which should be our first priority as a nation. The problem in India is we have lost the concept of nationhood. We should be proud of India and we should develop India and that nationhood should be number one as is in America. If you take the American way of running any country “Americans first and America first” and there is no reason why India should not be first to my mind.
Bar & Bench: The firm is representing US based law firms in the A.K. Balaji case. Your thoughts on domestic law firms opposing the entry of foreign law firms?
Ranji Dua: We are representing thirteen or fourteen prominent firms from the United States. Our view is firstly that “fly in and fly out” practice is absolutely in conformity with what happens everywhere in the world and there is no law in India that opposes it so that should not be any impediment to any foreign law firm in this regard. Secondly, I think this should provide some impetus to a regulatory framework being brought in. The government has filed an affidavit that they are going to bring in an amendment to the law. I think it is for the Indian lawyers to work on and organizations such as SILF to work with the Indian government to ensure that the Indian professionals’ interests are also taken care of by providing adequate regulatory framework. I think this case in Chennai should help reaching that goal.
Bar & Bench: How has the firm reinvented itself after the setback they received with 9 Partners and almost 60 associates leaving the firm?
Ranji Dua: I think there was a lot of press on this matter and we as a philosophy don’t initiate press publicity. We did issue a statement in January 2010 that was the statement from the firm. It has a little bit of a different twist than what the papers reported. I think all that is history. It’s been over a year. The fact is that in any large firm it is very difficult to satisfy each of the demands of each of the partners all the time. There will be individual aspirations that at a point of time may not converge with the larger/ majority interests of the firm. The official statement of the firm is carried under the firm’s Update of January 7, 2010. It was really much more to do with compliance and it is imperative in a firm of our size that all partners do strictly comply with the partnership regulations failing which, for the firm to maintain its cohesiveness, sensible management must take some steps. It has left the firm a more cohesive partnership. We have since not only grown but our profitability has been higher. Everything looks good and very positive. I think institutions and organizations go on and they grow.
In fact we have also been very fortunate that we have had the benefit of some of our former partners coming back.
Bar & Bench: Partners having left Dua previously have re-joined the firm. What do you think brought them back to the firm?
Ranji Dua: Many of our former partners have come back. I think there is no greater tribute to a firm than the return of its partners I think that it is a great testimony to what Dua stands for.
Dua Associates firmly believes that the lawyer learning process is both within and without and thus the firm accepts individual choices to pursue and learn from outside experiences but encourages – in equal if not greater measure – returning individuals as they bring to the firm fresh thoughts and ideas that only make the firm richer and stronger. Nothing is more satisfying for me, there is no greater sign of happiness than in welcoming them back. I have always told them this is home and it’s great to have you back in the family. We are all having a wonderful time
Bar & Bench: Your Singapore office was started last year. What are your thoughts on expanding in a foreign territory
Ranji Dua: Singapore really came more because I think we were beginning to look east. The Singapore administration had spent a lot of effort in establishing Singapore as a hub, in particular an arbitration hub. But then a lot of our international clients were in the region and we had no basis or means of keeping regional contact with them. So we thought Singapore would be a good idea from three perspectives. One was to keep in touch with our international clients who are based in the region. Second was to try and see how the arbitration practice in Singapore was going to develop and to be a part of it. Third was that Singapore is a sort of easy place to do business in, so having a small representative office makes our coordination better and makes a lot of things easier in many ways. We have to see how it develops and grows. Again, we are a very conservative firm and we are a firm that believes in moving steadily but steadfastly. When we are committed to something we stand committed, it’s like really building a family, taking care of your people and then building on them. We hope Singapore will be successful.
Bar & Bench: Has the best friend relationship with Spanish firm Garrigues been beneficial to the firm at large?
Ranji Dua: We have relationships with several firms across the world. These are all non exclusive relationships. Garrigues is a major European firm, headquartered in Spain and they have dominant practice in Portugal and Spain. Frankly we are very happy and it’s been a very fruitful relationship for us. We hope to be able to reciprocate with client referrals as well.
Bar & Bench: Expansion plans?
Ranji Dua: We never plan for expansion just for the sake of size. We have expanded when we find the right people and clients that need to be serviced. When we went into Bangalore 15-18 years ago we found the right guy so we started, at that time, a practice around him which has since grown. When we went to Chennai we did the same. So that’s really how we have expanded. At the moment we have got eight offices, we are quite happy with these eight offices. Our focus would really be – consolidating our existing offices and growing them rather than just merely expanding. I think we were one of the first firms to have that many offices as a national firm.
Bar & Bench: How do you balance the dual roles of managing Dua as a firm, and at the same time acting as a senior advisor to McLarty Associates?
Ranji Dua: Well it’s not a dual role. McLarty is a well reputed Washington based government affairs firm. They needed someone in India because an understanding of India is important to their clients, so we have developed a good working relationship with them. It is not a whole time engagement, so we work together as matters arise which need joint attention. All relationships are built on trust and working together over the years. Dua Consulting which is engaged in government affairs and regulatory practice is interacting with McLarty regularly.
Bar & Bench: What have been the toughest moments of your professional life and how did you overcome them?
Ranji Dua: I don’t think in professional life one can limit or identify a few tough moments. The toughest moments are only when you have challenges to meet in law or in a matter you are dealing with or in managing the firm. But those are not tough moments, those are exciting moments because they are challenges. I have played a lot of sport, in particular I play tennis. The toughest moments are the most challenging moments. I therefore refer to “toughest moments” in a positive sense because those moments are actually opportunities.
Usually the most demanding time in a young lawyer’s career is at its commencement. I had the good fortune of working with an extremely well respected lawyer and the fact that my father had been a sitting judge made my acceptability in the legal profession a bit easier. However, there is no substitute for hard work and every professional must necessarily pay his dues by putting in the hours. Other than that I think it is more a question of a personal attitude and mine for one has always been positively inclined. That has certainly helped me to take life at each moment in its best step, and I have only been the better for it.
Bar & Bench: How do you unwind?
Ranji Dua: I have many interests. I still play tennis. I enjoy my tennis game as I do music and theatre. My wife Amrita is a housewife and we have a daughter who is 15. We spend as much time as we can together. She is doing the Bharat Natyam under her Guru Geeta Chandran. We do spend a lot of time on classical music, classical dance and at concerts. My mother lives with us so we have a grandmother in the house. So a daughter who is 15 and grandmother who is 89 make it a fulfilling life. It is just fabulous.
Bar & Bench: Who is your mentor?
Ranji Dua: In the profession, of course I owe a lot to Mr. J.B. Dadachanji. He has really been a great influence and guide to me. I had the benefit of working closely with him during my formative years. Of course, I have learnt a lot from all the seniors that I worked with and all of whom have been very kind and well disposed to me. In private life, my mentors have been my parents. Now in my current life, surprisingly my mentor is my daughter Shreya, because you learn so much from children. You tend to lose out on some things as you grow up in the competitive material world and children bring you back to nature and the basics of life. So there are different mentors at different stages of life and for different aspects of life.