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Trilegal Partner, Rahul Matthan recently featured in Mint Asia’s ‘Twenty five people who matter in Indian E-Commerce’. Bar & Bench‘s Aditya AK spoke with the head of the firm’s TMT practice about the impact that the e-commerce boom has had on law firms, the changes required in laws governing e-commerce transactions, and more.
Aditya AK: You have recently been named in Mint Asia’s ‘Twenty five people who matter in Indian e-commerce’ list. Your reaction?
Rahul Matthan: Its an honour to be included – the other people on the list have some pretty impressive credentials. Lawyers tend to get ranked on lawyer specific lists so its good to be included among a broader spectrum.
Aditya AK: How has the emergence of e-commerce startups over the past year or so affected law firms in India?
Rahul Matthan: For one I think it has forced law firms to focus more closely on technology law and all the related regulations. Every law firm today has a TMT practice or at least a few lawyers who focus on technology law and that has improved the quality of advice that clients are receiving.
In general I think companies are becoming more discerning. They are looking for law firms that can really add value. Showing up to an e-commerce acquisition with a team of corporate M&A lawyers no longer cuts it. The team must have lawyers who understand technology law and all the issues that could apply.
Aditya AK: What are your thoughts on the current valuations that some startups receive?
Rahul Matthan: If you are asking me whether these valuations are justified or not then I can’t really comment. I am a lawyer and have no expertise at assesing the commercial value of businesses. However, the fact that Indian tech companies are receiving such high levels of investor interest is good for the sector. It is a sign of a greater confidence in the India story and that will have a knock on effect on all other areas of enterprise.
Aditya AK: What changes would you like to see with respect to the laws governing e-commerce transactions in India?
Rahul Matthan: The biggest restriction that the e-commerce industry faces today is with FDI. It will be good if that could be liberalised. As currently drafted the policy also contains many little nuances and complications that are hampering the growth of the sector for no obvious policy rationale. It will be good if those can be ironed out or explained.
Aditya AK: Any interesting startups that you have come across in the legal field?
Rahul Matthan: Lawyers aren’t the best entrepreneurs but there are a few that I have come across. Lexplosion is a startup that has put together an excellent technology solution to address the challenge of compliance. There are others that have been designed to make due diligence transactions easier by crawling government databases (such as the ROC) for information and then organising them into useful reports. Termsheet.io offers an interesting option to the classic fund raising cycle for startups.
Aditya AK: How are Indian law firms gearing up towards liberalisation when it comes to use of technology?
Rahul Matthan: Lawyers, in general, tend to be the last to adapt to technological changes. In the early days it was a huge challenge to get lawyers to start using Blackberries. Today lawyers are probably the only people who still use Blackberries after the rest of the world has moved on.
Having said that most Indian law firms have some technology solution or the other. Whether it be just a billing and time recording software or more complex knowledge management systems. I think we all have a long way to go but the situation is certainly much better than when I first started practicing. There are also a number of companies that are looking at technologies specifically designed for law firms.