Harminder 'Harry' Chawla recently merged his law firm Atlas Law Partners with Luthra & Luthra Law Offices and took over as the Managing Partner of the merged entity..Chawla has had a career in law for over three decades, the formative years of which were spent under the mentorship of the late Rajiv Luthra, who founded the firm he now heads.In this interview with Bar & Bench's Pallavi Saluja, Chawla speaks about what he learned from Luthra, the decision to merge his firm with Luthra & Luthra, growth plans and much more..Edited excerpts follow..Pallavi Saluja (PS): You worked with Rajiv Luthra for almost five years from 1995-2000, and now you are the Managing Partner of the firm he founded. How does it feel? You have some pretty big shoes to fill..Harry Chawla (HC): It’s good to be back at the firm where I learnt a lot in my formative years. The firm was also growing at that stage. I learnt a lot especially because it was a smaller organization and I got to spend a lot of time with Mr Luthra, who had time to mentor, coach, teach and actually tell us how to do things. This was the pre-internet era. Today, you can Google anything. Those days, if somebody said something, you had to really struggle to find what it meant, how to go about it. But somehow, he would always sit there and say “I know what it is. I’ll tell you how to go about it.” That made things easier. He was larger than life. I think filling those shoes will always be a challenge. I’ll do what I can..PS: What are some of lessons you learnt while working with Mr Luthra?.HC: Quite a few things. One was that "No challenge is insurmountable". Any question which is thrown at you, if you do not know the answer today, by tomorrow, you need to become an expert on that. Research, study, find out the answer, pick up the phone and call your fellow colleagues.His motto was to never give “no” for an answer to a client. Say, “I’ll come back to you” and figure it out and go back to him. Keep learning. That was a very useful and important thing and I’ve always held that even when I mentor my youngsters now. That’s what I tell them. Don’t tell me “I can’t find the answer.” Find it. .PS: What prompted you to merge your law firm with Luthra & Luthra?.HC: I’ve always kept up with Mr Luthra even when I left and set up my own office. At that time, he came and gave me a very nice gift. Quite a warm person. He also, from time to time, referred matters to me where he was conflicted. We would meet socially and otherwise, but we always stayed connected.For the last couple of years, he and I have been having a serious discussion of working together. His firm was doing okay, we were doing fine, so there was no rush or emergency. We took our time and always believed there was enough time to deal with this. Unfortunately, he left. Then, a reach-out happened, a discussion happened. Since the discussion had been going on during Mr Luthra’s time, it was easier, and this time, we said, “Let’s conclude it fast.” It had to be a merger. I could not come alone, I have to bring my team and if I’m bringing my team, I’m bringing my entire practice. Therefore, it was a merger. Mr Luthra and I had been discussing it for a few years. We had discussed a merger - how to do it, how not to do it, what are the pros and cons, what would be the consequences for me, for him, long term - all of those were in discussion. One major change was that there was no Managing Partner role at that time. I would have been as a second-in-command because he was there. That was a shift. Most of the other things we had discussed. .PS: What are your immediate plans for the firm?.HC: One of the first few agendas is to get to know everybody in the firm. When I left, it was a much smaller firm and Atlas was a smaller firm of course. In a smaller firm, everybody knows everybody. That’s the culture I want to bring into the large firm. I want to meet every person in the office. I know that is what Mr Luthra also practiced. He would keep his door open at all times. So even I’m following his open-door policy. I’ve been meeting them, a lot of people have walked up and a lot of them I’ve reached out to. Second, I know some things about the legacy of this firm, the culture, but given that I was out for almost 20 years, things have changed. It has grown much larger. So I need to understand the legacy and culture as it stands today. The third is to preserve the legacy. Yes, there is continuity in change. Unfortunately, he’s no longer with us and we need to continue his legacy. These are the things I’m focusing on during the initial few months..PS: We understand that Luthra & Luthra has an Executive Committee and the Luthra family is also involved in running the firm. How will the decision-making process work now with your coming in?.HC: As things stand today, we are maintaining the process, the governance structure which Mr Luthra established. We will follow that. The firm has already engaged with certain external consultants, shortlisted one, we are engaging with them very, very soon. They will help us understand, discuss and see whether the same governance structure works or whether we need a different one, as well as several other things in terms of development and going forward, the vision of the firm.The external consultant will come to meet. I will meet with him, the other Partners, the Executive Committee, the family, all of us. I don’t want to do anything ad hoc. For now, we are maintaining the same systems. Going forward, let’s see how things pan out. I do not think the consultant is going to spend years on this. It’s a matter of months and we don’t need to do everything together. He can keep making suggestions, we can keep rolling them out, to the extent we think they are necessary..PS: How has the senior partnership accepted you at the firm?.HC: Frankly, a lot of the partners here have been welcoming and supportive. That’s why I’m reaching out and sitting with each of them to understand what they think, how they think the firm should move from here, especially with Mr Luthra gone. Things have changed for everybody...We’re all in discussion. Everybody is digesting all the events which have taken place during the last few months. It is a partnership, so it’s a collaborative approach. There’s only one way to go forward - together. .PS: In the recent past, the firm has seen the exit of partners and the passing of its founder, and has been mired in litigation surrounding its ownership. How does a firm like Luthra & Luthra emerge from the turmoil?.HC: Since I was speaking with Mr Luthra for a long time, I’ve looked very closely over the last couple of months and I’ve been in serious discussions with the family. Actually, there was turmoil, yes. There was change, yes. But the firm has stayed stable. The work has continued. There are lots of old partners who have stayed on. Yes, some have gone, I understand that. But the firm and its work has been fairly stable over the last couple of years, including the last three months. The people, the Partners, have maintained stability. It’s not really that I need to do a lot to change, there may not be too many things that I would need to change because the systems are already there… So while the perception of the outside world is that the firm is taking a beating, it’s far from the truth. If you also look at the deal flow of our firm, the deals have continued. The firm has been consistently doing big-ticket transactions and litigation. The perception between clients and lawyers may be different. The firm continues to get good business. Over the last few days after the announcement came out, I have gotten so many calls from clients who are so happy and have said they will continue to work with us.We did lose people and I will not say that no client has gone out. Maybe some have, but it is not such a major impact. .PS: Will Ritu Bhalla head the litigation practice at L&L? .HC: No such announcement has been made. There is no “Practice Head” concept in our firm. There are people who specialize in practices, but no such formal designations. If we decide to change the policy going forward, in consultation with the Partners, then it will not be limited to just litigation, it will be for all practices. So far, that is not the structure in the firm..PS: How do you view the imminent entry of foreign law firms? How will it affect the Indian legal market? What is the strategy of the firm in the face of liberalisation? .HC: I’m sure there will be an impact on the Indian legal market, sooner or later. We will see how things pan out.As of now, we have not started any discussions about tie-ups with foreign firms. That’s not on an immediate priority list. When we need to, we’ll talk with the partnership and see how to take that forward..PS: Attrition remains a bane for most top law firms in the country. Do you have any plans focused on talent retention?.HC: At my small law firm, I followed the model which I had learnt at Luthra many years ago. In the 90s, when I was there, attrition was not a concept we knew in this firm. In all the 5-6 years I stayed here, maybe 1 or 2 people left. Most people stayed on because it was a happy place. Mr Luthra treated it like an extended family and I believe that’s a model to follow. That’s what I followed in my small firm. Beyond that, I don’t think one can do much, but keeping it a happy place will help. We want this place to be a place where everybody wants to come and stay.