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In this exclusive interview with Bar & Bench, Shardul Shroff shares his thoughts on the division of Amarchand Mangaldas Suresh A Shroff, and the structure of the country’s newest law firm – Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co.
Shroff, who is the Executive Chairman of the firm, also outlines his growth strategy in new jurisdictions, and some of the challenges in the forseeable future.
Bar & Bench: Did you ever think this day would come?
Shardul Shroff: I didn’t ever think it would, frankly. But you sometimes have differences of opinion over causes that are not related to you. It happens and that’s how life is. It has happened and we have moved on.
Bar & Bench: What pushed you to make it a public battle by taking it to the Bombay High Court?
Shardul Shroff: I was also the executor of [Bharati Shroff’s] will. If there is interference in the property of a dead person, it’s a wrong. Though I requested Cyril for over a month, the event was not reversed, and therefore I had to go to court. Otherwise it would have been a breach of my duty. I knew that once a process like this is initiated, there is bound to be some amount of conciliation. The courts also would not want two brothers to really fight it out in courts. But since it was not getting bilaterally resolved, it had to go to a third party, which had to be the court, and no one else.
Bar & Bench: What has been the most challenging aspect of dividing the firm?
Shardul Shroff: I think we’ve done it pretty smoothly and without a lot of noise. It was difficult to share the brand, but we found a good solution by prefixing it with our names. Otherwise, it would have been difficult to decide on the brand. We didn’t want to bury it, we wanted to honour our ancestors. So, that was one of the major decisions.
The rest was pretty smoothly done, in the sense that we proposed to do it on operational lines. Cyril was in charge of Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad and I was in charge of the other four cities. We have stuck to operational lines and wherever we need to open, we will open offices and he will open wherever he needs to. I think that’s a fair way of going forward because then there are no employee choices to be made, you don’t need to pull people from one place to the other.
Bar & Bench: From running the country’s largest law firm together, you are now going to be competing with each other.
Shardul Shroff: Once you are a different firm, it’s a free market. I don’t want to focus on Cyril as my only competitor. In terms of the market, what I think will happen is that some of the clients both of us know will have to make a choice. They may have to work with both of us in different spaces. Ultimately in the profession, it’s the client’s choice that matters. It’s not about what I want or what he wants, its what the clients want. So these issues will be resolved by the client’s choice and the ability to do a first-rate job.
Bar & Bench: Speaking about clients, given the split, do you think that they might be tempted to take their work to another firm?
Shardul Shroff: Why would they go to another firm? They’ve seen our quality and the levels of service. They have confidence in the way we deliver. I personally don’t see this resulting in some other firm getting the work. The clients will have a choice to make now that we will be operating in the same markets as we were in different terrains. That choice will depend on who is offering a better deal or a better product.
Bar & Bench: Is there any non-compete or non-poaching agreement in place?
Shardul Shroff: No, we don’t have a non-compete because we are clearly competing firms nor do we have a bilateral non-poach agreement.
Bar & Bench: So anybody from Cyril’s firm can come to yours and vice-versa?
Shardul Shroff: Whether we will take that person is another question! But there are no restrictions. It’s a personal choice. It’s a question of our culture and how we behave sensibly.
Bar & Bench: Can you tell us more about the consent terms?
Shardul Shroff: It was a settlement and the mediators have told us not to speak on the settlement, it’s confidential. Whatever the mediators wanted to say, they have said in the press release. It’s basically about how the offices will be split. The rest is about how the wealth will be shared, etc. That’s not a public issue in any case.