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Tech lawyers Samuel Mani, Utham Chengappa and Neil Mathur are the newest entrants to the world of Indian law firms with Mani Chengappa & Mathur (MCM), a Bangalore-based law firm. All three have worked at IT major Infosys with Samuel heading the legal department. In an e-mail interview with Bar & Bench, Samuel, Neil and Utham tell Bar & Bench about the reasons behind starting their own law firm, the challenges and changes they face and the way forward.
Bar & Bench: Your very own law firm. How many years has this been in the making?
MCM: All of us greatly enjoyed our time at Infosys where we got to do diverse and interesting work in many countries. We had spent time in very senior positions at Infosys legal and were faced with the question of what next. Each of us started thinking about what we wanted to do next at different points in time but we started discussing the subject as a group about 10 months ago. It did not take us very long to decide that we wanted to start our own firm and Mani Chengappa & Mathur is the result of that decision.
Bar & Bench: Given your professional background, all three of you worked with Infosys, is there going to be any particular area of focus? Also what is the vision for the firm?
MCM: Businesses typically consume legal services both on the strategic side, such as mergers and acquisitions related legal services, and on the operations side, such as commercial transactions, privacy and employment law matters.
For example, employment law advisory can be at the strategic level when a business is deciding to change its’ organizational structure which impacts all or many of its employees. The advice the client needs at that time is whether the proposed reorganization will result in large level employee dissatisfaction as a result of which claim activity will increase. If that is possible, what are the most likely areas where claims will arise and what can be done to minimize the risk. Once this analysis has been done and the decision made to proceed with the reorganization, the client will need to operationalize the plan which may require new employment contracts, changes to HR policies and preparation of change management collateral.
We have a lot of experience in helping businesses as they consider strategic options, make choices and execute strategies at the operational level. Our vision for the firm is to be known as a firm that provides effective advice to our clients on strategic and well as operational needs in our areas of practice.
This brings us to the areas of focus. Our backgrounds have a significant amount of technology and BPO service experiences. Today’s business increasingly rely on technology as a key input to their activities. Our experience in the technology space together with our understanding of how businesses work in general means that our functional capabilities in commercial and outsourcing transactions, employment law, mergers and acquisitions, privacy and dispute resolution can be equally effectively applied to a retailer as they can be to a technology product company. Hence, it is fair to say that we are a law firm with an affinity for technology and business operations.
Bar & Bench: From in-house counsel to something akin to proprietorship, what are the changes that you find as most striking? In the sense what are the responsibilities that you now undertake which you did not have to while being an in-house counsel?
MCM: There are two different elements to the change. The first is a functional element. As in-house counsels our client set was pre-defined which meant that we had a fairly high degree of predictability about quantum and type of work. Today, the clients and prospects we meet are far more varied in what they do. Since we are at a very early stage, the predictability is very low but we are meeting a much more diverse set of people which is quite refreshing. The type of work is similar to what we did at Infosys. We find ourselves applying both the business knowledge and the legal skills we have developed over the years in much the same that we did while at Infosys.
The second element to the change is one of ownership. At Infosys, we were employees – senior employees but employees all the same. This meant that we did not have to concern ourselves with a number of operational issues. It also meant that our ability to define our functions was circumscribed by the overall policies and requirements of the company. As equity partners at the firm, we have a far greater level of responsibility and authority at every level.
Samuel: I have spent a large part of the last couple of months setting up our office and getting the business organized. While it has taken a fair deal of effort, it has been extremely invigorating. We are discovering firsthand what it means to own and run a business. A lot of it is interesting and some of it is very sobering.
Bar & Bench: Again, early days, but any advice for people who are looking to branch out on their own?
Samuel: It is very early day so all I can say at this time is that we are enjoying what we are doing.