The dissolution was a comma, not a full stop – Cyril Shroff
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The dissolution was a comma, not a full stop – Cyril Shroff

Pallavi Saluja

Three months after the split, Cyril Shroff has unveiled the logo of his firm Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, a firm with 600 lawyers and 91 partners. The launch of the logo coincides with the birth anniversary of his father, Suresh A. Shroff, which will now be the firm’s founder’s day.

Along with the new logo, Cyril Shroff also announced the creation of a ‘strategic advisory board’ whose members include Narayana Murthy, Deepak Parekh, Uday Kotak, Janmejaya Sinha and Umakanth Varottil.

In an interview with Bar & Bench‘s Pallavi Saluja, Cyril Shroff shares his vision for the firm, talent wars, and more.

What is the need for an advisory board?

According to Cyril, this advisory board will make the difference between success and tremendous success.

“Even without the board, we are reasonably successful, but with a board like this, it will take us to a different level.”

“Their inputs are from the market perspective, so they have a different angle. They also make sure that you fuel your ambition and you set your goals high enough.”

It is an advisory board that has some of the biggest names from India Inc.

“These are people with whom we’ve had long relationships, so we wanted to build on that comfort level. They are no-nonsense people who will call a spade a spade.”

“I have treated the dissolution as a comma and not a full stop.”

Once the country’s largest law firm, Amarchand Mangaldas Suresh A. Shroff was dissolved on May 9 this year. Two days later, the Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas was officially announced.

Cyril Shroff says that he wants to carry the legacy of the old firm into his new firm.

“I have treated the dissolution as a comma and not a full stop. I see it as a reincarnation of the old firm; as nothing has changed on the ground for us, except in Delhi. It is similar inasmuch as it has got all the old values and traditions and many of the people and the clients are the same.”

“However, it is different inasmuch as it is less subject to internal restrictions of any sort. The new firm has been able to reset its goals and ambitions in a much sharper way. The governance is also different with the single leader model and the advisory board.”

“Our initial targets in Delhi have been met”

Cyril Amarchand’s Delhi office opened in the first week of June, marking the firm’s first foray into a market that was Shardul Shroff’s jurisdiction in the erstwhile Amarchand Mangaldas. Shroff is optimistic about the future.

We are offering all services in Delhi, with additional emphasis on two areas – Dispute Resolution and Government Relations. For instance, we have Pradeep Kumar Bagga who helps on the Government Relations side. I think the Delhi practice will be 75-80% similar to Mumbai and 20-25% different because of the nature of the market.”

As regards how difficult it will be to break the Delhi market, he says,

“I don’t think there is enough data to judge, but all our initial targets to meet with clients have been met with. In a year or so, we will be at full steam. Every new market or venture takes at least a year to fully settle. I don’t think we’ll face any problems if we keep our values and our quality.”

The Delhi office is not only young, but has been built through an aggressive cross-firm hiring spree.

“I’m quite amazed at how fast the integration has happened. It was like the first day of school for everyone, there was a new culture that was being set. There are a lot of friendships that have been formed. There are no issues at all.”

I’m quite amazed at how fast the integration has happened. It was like the first day of school for everyone, there was a new culture that was being set.

Another important facet of the Delhi office is that there has not been official “head” of Delhi operations yet. And this is unlikely to change anytime soon.

We haven’t declared a head and don’t see that happening in the near future. It will be a group of people in charge. In my view, there are more minuses than pluses of having a single head at Delhi. Eventually, we might have one, but not right now.”

The Delhi office will also see a fourth generation Shroff, Rishabh Shroff joining the team. Is this part of a larger succession plan?

The idea is to allow him to grow a little bit away from me. He will be starting from his level up. He will climb up the ladder just like anyone else.”

And how does Shroff plan on integrating the Delhi office with offices in Mumbai and Bangalore?

“We are working hard on practice integration along national practice lines and how each support function will work as one. We are in the process of finalising things.”

But he makes it clear that in the next 2-3 years, they plan to treat all three offices equally.

A single-leader model allows for greater flexibility

Cyril Amarchand is a single leadership model with Cyril Shroff as the Managing Partner.

“The reason behind having a single leader model is to have flexibility and agility. This way, we will all be focused on external issues and not on internal ones. That was why the ‘political power’, if I may say, has been concentrated in the hands of one person.

The same model is used in many firms; a lot of them don’t have a Partnership Council or a Managing Committee. We will move to a Managing Committee model in the sixth year, as mentioned before.

We will announce details about practice heads and internal committees sometime in September.”

The reason behind having a single leader model is to have flexibility and agility. This way, we will all be focused on external issues and not on internal ones.

Recently Shardul Shroff hired JSA Partner Akshay Chudasama along with his entire team, a clear sign of Shardul’s Mumbai ambitions.

On his part though, Cyril refuses to be drawn into a debate about Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas.

“Everybody is a respected competitor and my strategy is not benchmarked against anyone.”

War for talent, and market liberalisation

For Cyril, the short-term challenge is “the war for talent” and the long-term challenges are “liberalisation and technology”.

And when it comes to to liberalisation, Cyril does consider this to be a challenge of sorts given that this Government seems to be seriously considering opening up of the legal market.

“There is an inevitability of this, so we will see it as an opportunity. All the initiatives we are taking, including the advisory board and their strategic inputs, are part of the preparation. I think the foreign firms will come in phases, which is part of SILF’s plan.”

When talking strategy Cyril Shroff is very clear that even if the market opens up fully, we will always be trained to be one of the indigenous firms who will do very well and we are aiming for that slot; we will actually do much better.

“We will not go the merger route; our strategy is based on independence.”

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