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“You are as good as your last email” AZB Partner, ET’s 40 Hottest Leaders under 40, Shuva Mandal

“You are as good as your last email” AZB Partner, ET’s 40 Hottest Leaders under 40, Shuva Mandal

Pallavi Saluja

Shuva Mandal has made it to Economic Times India’s 40 hottest Under 40 Business Leaders, the only lawyer on the list. He is pleased to receive the award but also clarifies, “I am not an awards person. I have never attended an awards ceremony even once.”

For him as a professional what matters the most is “the client recognition and client experience”.

A law graduate from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, he joined the profession in 2000, after an internship in the Chambers of Zia Mody in 1999. In 2009, aged just 32, Shuva Mandal was made an equity partner. For a lawyer who has been involved in some of the biggest transactions in the country, making partner was simply a matter of time.

I wanted to be an Investment Banker

If not a lawyer, Shuva Mandal would have been an Investment Banker. He says,

“That’s all I wanted to be. In my early days, in 2000, I did a lot of work with DSP Merrill Lynch and that tribe of superlative bankers underlined the urge even more.” 

Five years at NLSIU

Five years at NLSIU were the best years of his life.

“It was a great learning experience not just from the legal perspective but also from a people perspective. I was lucky to be taught by some of the best law teachers in this part of the world. NLSIU has gone a very long way in giving India some of the finest young legal minds. My seniors/peers in Supreme Court, Delhi High Court and in the law firms here in Mumbai are just the best lawyers I can think of.” 

A career of several small steps

“My career has been several small steps on a daily basis. I learn off my clients and so long as that learning never stops, the career rolls. But I did have some fantastic opportunities to work with some of the finest Promoters in India. Somewhere in 2004/5, I started working with a few Indian companies like Reliance, UTV, Future Group and STAR TV. Those experiences helped me gain invaluable insights into the world of law and business.” 

Successful corporate lawyer

Shuva Mandal says to be a successful corporate lawyer, what you need in addition to knowing the law, is the ability to apply the law to the business. He says,

“Understanding the business has become key and this requires specialised knowledge in areas like pharma, media, retail, oil and gas etc.”

Another very important aspect is understanding the client, and winning the absolute trust of the client.

He says,

“Absent trust, the best lawyers can fail. It is also important to remember that past success means nothing. You are as good as your last email or conference call. For any advisor, humility is important. It’s important to remember that it’s the not the advisor that makes the deal, it’s the client that makes the deal.” 

I don’t negotiate, I communicate

“I have never negotiated. I just communicate. Convincing my own client is always more challenging than convincing the counterpart. Clients will ask for the moon, but it does not mean you set out getting the moon for the client. It is important one corrects their client and one manages the client expectations. Deal discussions are not about scoring goals or winning. It’s about getting the deal done with reasonable protection.” 

Most interesting/challenging deal so far

For someone who has executed over 50 M&A and private equity deals, (worth USD 15 billion), over the last five years, there would have been quite a few interesting deals.

Shuva Mandal mentions about one of his such transactions.

“I represented this family of 34 members defending their company from being taken over by a large corporate in a hostile takeover situation. I initiated 9 litigations across the country. I lost all 9 litigations. But at the end of it, the threat of the appeal was so painful, that the large corporate did a settlement by buying my client out at 3 times the market value. We achieved what we wanted. It’s the end that matters in deal making.” 

Mentor/Role Model

Ask Shuva about his mentor and he says, “It’s a difficult question. I learn from so many people.”

Zia Mody has played a big role in his career. He adds, “My fellow partners and lawyers, with whom I have spent years at AZB, have taught me several nuances to law and more importantly – life in general.  They have played a huge role. Additionally, I have learnt a lot from some of my clients – prominent founders, entrepreneurs and just the organisation as such teaches you a lot. As advisors, we spend so much time with clients that their thinking and values tend to rub off on us.” 

Advice to young lawyers entering law firms

After nearly 15 years in the profession, Shuva Mandal does have some advice for those in their early years at a firm.

“Work hard and work smart. The rules of the game have changed dramatically over the last 3-4 years. Knowing the law is just not enough anymore. One needs to spot the business issues, the financial implications, the governance issues, and all at the same time.”

Shuva Mandal explains at law firms, a lot of the work is about smart execution – and the law is just a tool. He advises on building multiple skill sets. He says,

“People management is important, both internally as law firms grow bigger and externally with clients, as they get more demanding. It’s not a daunting task – it just requires some focus. Most importantly, it’s a profession and not a job and one has to be flexible. It’s not too complicated or tough being a lawyer.” 

Retaining talent in Law Firms

Retention of talent is a huge challenge for law firms today considering the recent movements in the law firms with the biggest law firm Amarchand Mangaldas splitting.

Shuva Mandal agrees that talent retention is challenging because lawyers are generally “Type A” personalities.

“The key aspects to talent retention is making lawyers generally feel important, and recognising and rewarding their work. A few firms have started the 360-degree review process and this will make a difference since younger lawyers will find their voice in law firm managements.  This will automatically focus law firm managements to orient their practices towards rewarding and recognising talent.”

Talking about compensation structures and HR practices, Shuva says,

“Compensation structures in Indian firms are also focussed on rewarding Partners, often missing the invaluable contribution that young associates and senior associates make to the Firm. Additionally, not enough is spent on good HR practices by Indian law firms. So while they recognise that lawyers are their most valuable asset, they often don’t walk the talk.”

Space for breakaway firms in Indian market

In the last few years, quite a few partners at big law firms have left to start their own firms. But do we have space for these breakaway firms? Shuva says,

“Clients in India are still finding their space with law firms and their cultures. So there is some room left for clients to work with breakaway firms provided they offer better knowledge experience and individual attention. So in that sense, there is space for breakaway firms. At the same time, clients need a platform of high quality resources. Breakaway firms find offering the platform of junior lawyers challenging and that makes clients shy of them.

There is of course space for 2-3 more large law firms in India. There is so much more work to go around.

Additionally, there is a lot of room for specialist law firms in areas like anti-trust, compliance, Media etc. Break-away firms that focus in such niche areas will do very well.”