If we try to be like the large firms, we will fail – Ex-AZB Partner and CEO Abhijit Joshi

If we try to be like the large firms, we will fail – Ex-AZB Partner and CEO Abhijit Joshi

Pallavi Saluja

A graduate of Mumbai University, Abhijit Joshi has been part of the growth story of the two biggest law firms in the country.

He started his career at Amarchand Mangaldas Suresh A Shroff, working with Cyril Shroff in Mumbai. He later moved to Dua Associates for a while before joining Zia Mody in 2001 as a Partner. He joined the Chamber of Zia Mody when there were about 12-15 lawyers. When he left, 14 years later, there were more than 250.

So what prompted him to leave?

The decision to set up his own firm ‘Veritas Legal’.

“I like to be a part of emerging stories. Apart from the normal push and pull reasons, I wanted the challenge of building from all that I have learnt over the years. It’s an evolution and I do not know what the destination will be but the journey is beautiful.” 

Veritas Legal – Growth and Verticals

We move on to talk about his new firm – Veritas Legal, its growth plans and verticals.

He says,

“Growth in terms of number is a deceptive criteria. Top line and bottom line are two different concepts. We are laying the foundations as of now. We are building a culture that is congenial and conducive, but at the same time challenging people to think and work beyond the shackles of constrained thinking.”  

Nandish Vyas
Nandish Vyas

Abhijit Joshi is clear that they don’t want to do everything.

“As of now, we have M&A (including corporate commercial and PE), litigation and some real estate. We want to have Banking and Finance, but only when a right person comes along.”

The Veritas team

Rahul Dwarkadas
Rahul Dwarkadas

Rahul Dwarkadas and Nandish Vyas are the other two partners in his firm.

“Both Rahul and Nandish are solid lawyers. They have great temperament. They are team players. If I am not around for a matter, clients won’t miss me with them being around.

About our lawyers, they all had options without exception to stay at larger firms as they are good lawyers. They could have got better money and better work at least in the short run. But they made a choice.  

This is the differentiator between good and the best. My aim would be to give them and others who join an opportunity to rise to their fullest.”

If we try to be like the large firms, we will fail

Abhijit Joshi was at AZB for 14 years. And when we ask him how different his firm would be from AZB or any other big law firm, he says,

“Very very different. If we try to be like the large firms, we will likely fail. By definition, we have to be all that the large firms are not. Over the years I have learnt a lot about what to do and also learnt what not to do. It would not be correct of me to dissect anyone’s practices.”

Instead, Abhijit Joshi talks about the practices that they want to follow.

“Character, knowledge and ability to generate (in that order) is how we will recruit. Partners will take decisions in consultation and not unilaterally. If we get the culture right, then there will be no need to look into anything close to the ‘eat what we kill policy’.

Lastly, we will encourage each resource to be innovative. All five fingers are not the same but often there are people who don’t get constrained to think within boundaries but can think of solutions for the client with a sound base of law. If there was a destination for each of our lawyers that would be the one.”

Space for start-ups

In the last few years, quite a few partners at big law firms have left to start their own firms. Some have been successful and some not. So does Abhijit Joshi think there is space for start-ups?

“It is said that 70% of new businesses fail. But that does not mean people should not make an attempt. In the segment that we operate in, I think we are under-lawyered compared to the west. 

Coming to your specific question, yes there is space but it will be a very difficult space to survive. Those who are able to take the second curve will succeed. First curve by definition is easy as it starts from ground zero. Scaling up is the challenge – a few will succeed and a few will fail.”

No longer carrying AZB tag

Abhijit Joshi is an expert in mergers and acquisitions and private equity and has been involved in very high-profile deals over the years.

Ask him how would he manage to bag big M&A mandates considering he no longer carries the AZB tag with him and he says,

“A tag is no doubt a very powerful tool. Effectively, we have started in February 2015 and have already closed about 11 deals. We are around 24 people with 17 lawyers.

If we provide quality, if we are able to tell the client “why us” in a crowded space and in the presence of big boys, then yes, over a period we can get big mandates.”

But Abhijit Joshi dwells on the allure surrounding “big mandates”.

“I have done many, many deals over the years which have caught the headlines. Large does not mean complex and small does not mean easy. Each deal is unique and if we do it well the next will follow but I don’t think we stand or fall at the altar of “big mandates”.”

Impact of the Amarchand Mangaldas Split

There has been a lot of movement in the legal market with the biggest law firm of the country – Amarchand Mangaldas splitting. Talking about the impact, Joshi says,

“The dust will settle in time. Talent wars are inevitable with or without the event. Competition is good. It brings out the best. It’s a cycle when you are small you want to become big, when you become big you swell in size, when you swell you need more matters to keep everyone busy. When that happens there is pressure on price, when there is pressure on price there are concerns on quality. But for the profession at large the event brings more opportunities.” 

I started with a salary of Rs 1,500 per month

Abhijit Joshi has been in the profession for 22 years and he has seen the profession evolve.

“It’s a whole new place now. My generation is in a way blessed and in a way stressed. We had to cope with the old and the new. The march of technology changed the world. When I started we had cyclostyle (my daughter may think it’s French), then fax, then emails. The birth and evolution of national law schools. Change in compensation. I remember I started with a salary of Rs 1,500 per month or so. 

India was evolving in certain areas. I have seen first power project, first GDR, first cola war. The hunger for knowledge, the reading of law and grounding still produces good lawyers as they used to do earlier.” 

Should young lawyers choose a small firm/start up or a big firm?

With an option to join a firm like Veritas Legal or a big law firm, sometimes it is a difficult question or choice to make for young law graduates. Abhijit Joshi says,

“It depends on the mindset of the person. Type A personalities will like large firms. The quiet kind may like smaller firms. Both have their advantages, assuming both have good work. In a smaller firm, they will get exposure to a larger spectrum compared to larger firms in the initial years. On the other hand, larger firms may have bigger matters and if the young lawyer is allowed to get involved, they may experience a wider horizon. There is no one size fits all solution.”

I like the theory of redundancy”

Ask him about the vision for his firm for the next 10-15 years, and he says,

“All I can tell you is that I won’t be around in the next 10 to 15 years. I like the theory of redundancy. Every lawyer should aim to be redundant in relation to the job he or she is doing in few years.

Only then can that person think of the next step and do something better, bigger and more interesting in the organisation.”

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