If your equity structures are not robust, your firm is never going to grow: Bithika Anand and Nipun Bhatiaa of Legal League Consulting

In this interview, the pioneering duo of law firm management speak to Bar & Bench on their journey so far, what it took to build the trust of law firms over the years, and more.
Bithika Anand and Nipun Bhatiaa
Bithika Anand and Nipun Bhatiaa

It has been 12 years since Bithika Anand and Nipun Bhatiaa began their journey with Legal League Consulting (LLC), a pioneer in the field of law firm management in India.

Founder and CEO Anand is a well-reckoned name in the legal industry. She is also the Principal (India) at Edge International, one of the consultants to the largest law firms in the United States.

Bhatiaa, who is President - Strategic Legal Management at LLC, is a qualified lawyer and a Chartered Accountant.

In this interview, the duo speak to Bar & Bench on their journey so far, what it took to build the trust of law firms over the years, and more.

The Beginning

Speaking on what prompted the idea of setting up a law firm management consultancy in India, Anand said,

"Many years ago, when I was just completing 11 years in Amarchand Mangaldas as COO & CFO, I wondered if this is all I have to do or if there is something else in my life I need to do...I thought about all the areas of management that I covered in my role at Amarchand and wondered why not replicate the same thing for other law firms in India? There were also no such organizations who were doing this. The idea also came from knowing Garima Partners, Edge International, etc - because these organizations are there in the USA and in Europe, but we didn't have it in India. So I thought it would be a good idea to start law firm management consultancy in India. It was totally non-tested…I felt that I could help a lot of law firms grow to the next level, manage their firms better, become more efficient and proactive."

Challenges faced along the way

Both Anand and Bhatiaa highlighted that initially, it was very difficult to convince law firms of their commitment to maintain absolute confidentiality.

"The first and foremost challenge was convincing the Managing Partners of various law firms on the aspect of confidentiality. They would often pose the question that when I will be working for so many law firms, how can they trust us with confidentiality? I had to tell them, like the way they do their work where it is sometimes conflicting to work with two organizations and two corporates, they keep their confidentiality. In the same way, I would do it because I'm also professional like a lawyer," Anand said.

Bhatiaa added that even though this aspect was difficult in the beginning, their work over the last 12 years has gained them ample goodwill amongst law firms.

"The amount of work we have done for so many organizations, the ethics, the integrity, and the confidentiality is something that LLC stands by, and as more and more people saw the kind of work that we did and our commitment to upholding confidentiality, the trust factor increased manifold and people started engaging with us more," he said.

He elaborated that in order to allay such apprehensions, LLC set up a system of signing non-disclosure agreements which the team members adhere to, without exception.

"In order to give comfort to the clients, we sign non-disclosure agreements with all our clients. All the people who work within LLC also sign non-disclosure agreements...We are privy to a lot of information that happens within law firms and since many youngsters stay in clusters, we sensitise everyone that they're not supposed to be discussing anything whatsoever as a policy," he clarified.

Speaking about some other challenges that LLC faced, Anand said,

"The second challenge was that they didn't know whether what we were offering would benefit the firm. They didn't realize it because this was never done in India before. The third challenge was that I didn't have too many people who did this to be able to service the clients and firms, and it was difficult because there were not people who had experience in this kind of work."

The advantage of being Chartered Accountants

Both highlighted that the financial knowledge that they bring to the table gives their work more credence.

"If you have financial knowledge, it really helps your management contribution...but if you are not financially attuned to whatever you are telling them to do, it is not vetted financially. Financial knowledge, whether you are CA or CFA, or whether you have done any course, always helps. Just giving instructions without the backing of financials attached to it, nobody buys it. This is applicable to other corporates as well, not just law firms who resort to consultants to help them grow," Anand said

Adding to this, Bhatiaa said,

"We force Managing Partners to think financially by showing them graphs, how the trend has been, what kind of projections they can make, how can they make their budget, how they should be drawing up their growth plan - to partner-wise or practice area growth or geography-wise growth.

As CAs, we are trained to project and play with numbers and that has added a huge value because when we show them graphs of trend analysis, decision-making becomes easier, more informed and quicker. At the end of the day, we want them to run a profitable and healthy practice which also considers their bandwidth and resources, and to also have a financial concern to pay their people well - that is the gap we have been able to fill, being Chartered Accountants."

Vision for the future

"The next decade for LLC is to become more innovative with added services and more products with the upcoming evolution of law firms...To understand the dynamics of the whole industry and to be able to cope up, you need to keep innovating...This is one of the most important things that LLC really needs to do to sustain."

Bhatiaa sees LLC leading the way in the field of law firm management. He says,

"In the last five years, the number of professionals doing law firm management has increased significantly...From a time when law firms were hesitant to get a human resource development person on board today, the trend of having a CEO, CFO, and CIOs on board - the law firm management profession has also gained a lot of traction. Going forward, because LLC has been the pioneer, we also want to create a community or a forum which will comprise all law firm managements across the country and from abroad.

As for thought leadership, we will be looking at writing books on cutting-edge topics concerning law firm management - not just human resource development or administration or finance - it will also include technology, artificial intelligence. LLC would not only be seen in those areas, but would also be leading by example just the way we were the first ones to set up this practice in this country."

A field that is gaining momentum

Sharing insights on why law firm management continues to gain momentum, Anand said,

When corporate practice came into being, the way law firms started working was a little different; then they became more accepting of the fact that they will have to follow certain business practices...When you begin looking at it as a business, it is important whether you’re maintaining time sheets, whether you’re pitching the mandate right, whether you’re making a profit on that mandate. These aspects are important in partnership structuring, which we have done for many firms.

Six to seven years ago, when I went to meet with firms, I found out that they were just stagnating because their equity structures were not robust; if your equity structures are not robust, your firm is never going to grow. So, you have to have people who think differently for the firm and have a different acumen than just being a lawyer. It is very important for law firms to strategize and to grow because there are management principles that they need to apply to their firms.

Adding to this, Bhatiaa said,

“Because there are so many lives associated with running a successful practice, it is not just about making a profit; you also have to ensure good financial health. If you have good financial health, you pay your people well, you’re retaining them well, and also helping them be a part of the growth story of the firm. Sound financial health is important for any firm’s longevity, continuity and sustenance. Law firm management pushes you in a direction where you are addressing the entire checklist: how your people are recruited, retained, kept well, and how they grow with the firm, how your facility management or premises management is done, how are you reaching out to potential clients, how is your brand being perceived in the market, how are you forging more alliances or doing more collaborations in the field, how are you also ensuring that your own house is in order in terms of understanding between the partners.”

Qualities necessary for a career in law firm management

On the qualities he looks for in individuals when hiring, Bhatiaa said,

"What we look out for in people is one single point of dedication - whether they are interested to follow law firm management as a career calling. If one is doing it as a stop-gap arrangement, you will always have the fear of missing out... You may grow much faster or slower depending on what your commitment to law firm management is...The only questions I ask anyone showing interest to law firm management are:

  1. What is your understanding of law firm management?

  2. Why have you chosen this path?

  3. How do you want to stay committed to it?

  4. How do you ensure that there isn't going to be a fear of missing out when you grow into this profession?

...If you can build your dreams while helping others build theirs, that is the true test for me while expanding the team at LLC."

Given that law firm management is a relatively new and emerging field, Bhatiaa spoke of the trend of law students being drawn towards off-beat opportunities.

"The popularity and awareness of hiring the business support functions has increased. We have seen times when law firms would say that they don't need an HR, to today's time when there is a full team of knowledge management, HR administration, business development, etc. On an everyday basis, I connect with three to four students who do not want to go the traditional lawyering path. The legal industry has evolved so much today that there are niche jobs for legal journalism, legal research, legal knowledge management or business development... Today the options that law students have are enormous, and that's how we have also been able to grow our team," he said.

A day in the life of a law firm management professional

“Little bit crazy, trying to be sane by the end of the day,” Anand quipped.

Elaborating further, Bhatiaa said,

The word 'multitasking' was invented for law firm management professionals. At any given point in time, you’re battling several battles...Bithika and I are devoting a lot of our time to strategic guidance to the partners...The team is more on-ground, fighting the battles, and implementing all that is being done...

A typical day looks like early morning calls, e-mails, ensuring that all the drafts, policies, circulars, written suggestions and advisory pieces go out on time with review from the senior most people, and ensuring that one of us remains reachable to all the clients...We might be working with multiple clients, but they look to us as their only consultant. At any given point in time, the mantra that LLC follows is, we have to be hands-on with what is happening.”

[Watch video here]

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