Abhijit Joshi is a founding partner of Veritas Legal, Advocates and Solicitors, and is also a qualified member of the Law Society of England and Wales. Abhijit graduated in Commerce and qualified in law from Mumbai University. Over the course of his career he has worked at Amarchand Mangaldas, Dua Associates and AZB Partners. In this interview he talks to us about:
- How he selected law and his early career.
- Criteria for selection of associates while recruiting.
- His formative years as a lawyer and his time at Amarchand and AZB.
- Veritas Legal and its rapid expansion as well as advice for our readers.
How did you decide to pursue law as a career option? Were there other lawyers in your family?
My father passed away very young and what is not untypical of Indian families all our properties went into disputes. As a result at a very young age (school days) unfortunately I had to interact with lawyers along with my mother. It probably had a counter effect, i.e. me not wanting to take up law! So while I studied law, I never intended to become a lawyer. After trying my hand at a few things, I realized that the unplanned training I got during my childhood, had probably made me more attuned towards the profession and ultimately I decided to pursue it as a career. There is no one in my family who was ever a lawyer and I was told that this might be a serious impediment. Needless to say, I realized that if you have merit and are willing to work hard, there are no real impediments.
Tell us about your schooling and college life before you graduated. Any fond memories or anecdotes that spring to mind that you would like to share with us?
School days were great, but at the age of nine I lost one of my parents. It had an effect, but I coped well. I then went to Sydenham College for Commerce which was then a premier institution. There are lots of fond memories. I excelled at academics, I excelled at extra-curricular activities, I became the youngest chairperson of the Students Union. I found the love of my life, my wife. I probably learnt my early lessons on the importance of networking at the college.
Were you always interested in corporate work? Did you have other areas of law that interested you? How did you ultimately choose your field of work?
Corporate work has a buzz and I guess a lot of young minds would like to be associated with it. Even today, I see the same trend. I had planned nothing. I had applied to Mr. R. A. Shah at Crawford Bayley as he was the pioneer of international corporate work in those days. I was not accepted. I applied at AmarchandMangaldas and they were kind enough to take a risk on me. There were 5 to 6 lawyers in their Mumbai office in those days other than the family. I quickly realized that destiny had made the right choice for me.Amarchand was at the cutting edge of India’s economic evolution and I got to work on many of the firsts. For example, the first Euro issue, the first Cola war , etc. The firm’s orientation was towards corporate law and I eventually got interested in it and continue even today.
How important is CGPA for a law student? While hiring, are you primarily looking at the academic record of the candidate or other areas like extra-curricular activities too?
This is a good question. When you are judging a candidate by her resume, academics is going to form a lopsided part of consideration. However, I believe that in addition to academics other aspects of the personality of the candidate is what will give him/her the winning edge. I would assume that everyone is going to be hardworking, but it is important to know who has the “spark”. Personal interviews go a long way in getting a “gut” on the candidate. After having recruited for many, many years, it somehow comes to you within the first 5 minutes of the interview whether there is potential or not. But often this has not been fair to the candidate and this has to be validated by more scrutiny. For example, when you see extra-curricular activities, you see whether the candidate has all-round development. I would typically see what games the candidate has played. Is he a cricketer or is he a tennis player? In other words has he/she excelled at team games or individual games, is he/she a team player or a solo player.These are only aides, but I would admit that in a situation where there is not much to judge from, academics will have a very heavy weightage.
You started your career at Amarchand Mangaldas and moved on to Dua before joining AZB. How did your initial years in practice shape your outlook?
My initial years shaped me. My senior Mr. Cyril Shroff has left a deep impression on my work and my style of work as that is what I observed very keenly and closely during my formative years.I remember he once told me to never close the right side of a chart when you are developing options because mentally when you close it, you will feel there are no other options and you will start thinking within the box. He taught me how sound knowledge of law needs to be applied with innovation in thinking. The initial years have left an imprint on me.
You have been associated with AZB for a number of years – you started as one of their first partners before being made CEO of AZB. How do you look back on your time at AZB?
AZB holds a special place in my life and career. I got to observe another giant, Zia Mody. Both at Amarchand and AZB , I was around in their initial days of evolution and therefore I had the privilege of working very closely with both Mr. Cyril Shroff and Ms. Zia Mody. We were around 11 to 15 people when I joined AZB (then known as CZM) and the sheer joy of growth and the adrenaline was unparalleled. Working with Zia and Bahram was delightful as not onlywere they good lawyers, but also great human beings. I look at AZB very fondly. It has shaped me.
Less than a year ago, you left a comfortable job to start out on your own at Veritas Legal. What prompted this move and what role do you envisage for yourself at Veritas Legal?
I can only quote Robert Frost as an answer to this question. “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.” I guess I enjoy the growth phase. I enjoy constructing. Both at Amarchand and AZB, I really enjoyed that portion of the journey. In the last decade of my career I guess I wanted to venture out and feel the excitement once again. My decision has nothing to do with any grievances about the past.It was all about the possibilities of the future. My role at Veritas Legal is dynamic at this stage. However, I do not intend to be around forever. Keeping this in mind, I did not use my name or surname in the firm name.This should never be an issue for senior talent aggregation. We have got very experienced resources. In time, I am sure they will step up and I will ease out. But before that, I would like to implement a lot of what I have learnt- what should be done and equally what should not be done. There are a lot of ideas that float in my mind. A lot of initiatives that I could not take up earlier. I intend to live each one of them. I see cultural integrity as a core part of the value system. I see value systems as the only cohesion at work place. I see that only these values will allow resources to flourish and bring excellence at their work. I hope that these will stay central to our growth and we will make all endeavors to see that these are not compromised at the altar of growth or success.
How did large corporate deals come your way and what do you feel for your firm’s success?
(In its relatively short period in existence, Veritas Legal has already completed around 27 transactions in the field of M&A and private equity. These include transactions for Recipharm in the acquisition of Nitin Lifesciences which is the second largest deal in India in the injectable space and Evonik acquisition of Monarch Catalyst.)
We have more than 200 filings in various judicial fora. These have come from various sources and from all directions. I am more than pleased at the firm’s performance in the first year. But I take cognizance that the 2nd year will be more challenging than the first. We are determined to work hard and stay focused on our beliefs and hopefully better times will follow.
Do you think the firm might perhaps be growing too fast or is hiring based on the amount of work you have to handle?
(From having started with just two members, the firm has grown in strength to over 35 people with 25 lawyers in such a short period of time.)
Yes, I think we have grown faster than we would have liked. However, we have not gone out and recruited anyone. The resources have been referred to us and we have recruited selectively. As matters kept coming, we kept increasing our strength to ensure that there is no burn in the system. Therefore, the growth is more a reflection of the thrust of the economy as opposed to a planned one. In fact, we have no numbers in mind. We have only quality in mind and whatever number is necessary to support the quality will be achieved.
What do you expect from first year associates or interns from law school who wish to work for your firm?
I do not have any eligibility criteria for interns. How do I put criteria on a student who is himself/herself discovering life? There are only basic attributes of hard work and inquisition. I love working with curious minds. I guess this is inherent and if the resource has it, it will show.
Where do you see yourself and your firm ten years from now?
Ten years is a long time. However, I hope that we are known for the job we do. We do not necessarily need to do everything, we do not necessarily have to be a size, but we necessarily have to be a happy place to work in and we necessarily have to be excellent at our work. I have a journey in mind with these values. The destination will reveal itself in good time.
You are a member of the Law Society of England & Wales and qualified as a solicitor in England. How does one qualify as a solicitor in England and what advantages do you think it poses?
Degree as such has a limited value. The knowledge you derive in gaining the degree is invaluable. Having a solicitor’s degree from England to my mind has limited value if you are practicing in India. It is not a “must have”, it is “good to have”.
Finally, what is your parting advice for our readers?
When I started my career, someone gave me a quote which went as under “Don’t learn the tricks of the trade – learn the trade”.I do not think that I can summarize my advice any better.