Associates, In-House Counsels & Advocates

Anupam Sanghi, Founder, Anupam Sanghi & Associates, on Competition Law, her pro-bono work, and plans for the future

Anupam Sanghi graduated in law from Nagpur University in 1997. She then went on to pursue her Masters in Competition Law from Kings University, in 2010. Anupam is the Founder & Managing Partner of Anupam Sanghi & Associates (ASA) and heads the TMT, Competition/Antitrust & Regulatory Practice. She has pioneered in these areas for the last eighteen years of practice, advising MNCs and SMEs on every aspect of legal & regulatory strategy, M&A transactions, compliance & training, intellectual property rights and dispute resolution / arbitrations. She is also a frequent writer, speaker and presenter at national and international conferences and seminars.

In this interview we speak to her about:
  • Her experience in competition law
  • Her pro-bono work
  • Starting independent practice

How would you like to introduce yourself to our readers? 

Hello Superlawyers, to all those who consider themselves so! My first choice of profession was to be a CA, and law was right below that in the list. But it’s turned out to be the best choice I’ve made. I find the legal profession exciting and creative as it has the potential to transform society and move us towards a growth trajectory.  

What motivated you to take up law? 

I am actually a third generation lawyer. My grandfather, Late Vishnu Kumar Sanghi, was a leading lawyer, practising at the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court during the period of 1940 to 1990. and my uncle, Late G.L Sanghi, was a Senior Advocate, practising in the Supreme Court of India between 1957 and 2006. My grandfather motivated and inspired me to study law. He wanted me to pursue law even if I didn’t intend to practise it in the future. Though I had enrolled in the CA/CFA programme initially, I decided to pursue law soon after. As a final year law student, I worked in the chambers of Mr. Rajiv Nayyar where I got a chance to learn drafting Intellectual Property and Commercial Litigation matters. Once I started to work, I was more and more inclined to making this my career and soon found myself jumping into it like a fish takes to water.

Did you take part in co-curricular activities while in college?

As a student, in school as well as college, I was interested in co-curricular activities and participated in music and sports. I am trained in Indian classical music. I have participated in table-tennis championships. My love for sports made me play other games like squash and lawn tennis. In my opinion, co-curriculum is a very important aspect in a student’s life. These activities have helped in shaping my personality as a person who loves to take challenges and never gives up. A very important life lesson that sports teaches one is to accept defeat and to keep the spirit to improve alive. The defeats have in fact motivated me to do better. I feel it is a must for students to be part of co-curriculum, to take challenges and to realise that winning and losing is part of the learning curve. Engaging in sports, debates and other hobbies would certainly help students and fresh graduates to get a holistic perspective of life, deal with their pressures more positively and not get overwhelmed with the competitive atmosphere they face.  

 

What books, judgements that you have read would you say have played an integral role in shaping your legal philosophy?

In the beginning of my career I had picked up Nani Palkivala’s We The People. His speeches on the Indian economy were illuminating. He elaborated on advantages of de-control and modernization in his budget analysis. I feel the fundamentals of capitalism discussed by him in the book are relevant in today’s time as well and would definitely benefit entrepreneurs. He dedicated his time meticulously to work, as best exemplified by his success in the case of Keshavananda Bharati, one of the landmark matters he  argued in the Supreme Court. Interestingly, a man of such sharp intellect, he also enjoyed reading self-improvement books (especially those  by Peter Drucker).

The other legal luminary who has immensely inspired me is Soli Sorabjee. Besides the books he has authored, I used to be thrilled to read “Soliloquies”, his column which  used to be published in the Indian Express. The way he made even inane matters seem humorous left me in awe of his staggering wit. 

My Uncle, Late GL Sanghi, who was a Senior Counsel in Supreme Court also had a very powerful mentoring effect on me. He was deeply perturbed by the the rampant human rights violations all around. However, he was always optimistic and truly believed that the legal profession would play a significant role in finding a solution. He thought deeply about the role of law societies ( Like LAWASIA where he was a past President ) in these changing times. He also encouraged me to attend seminars from the very beginning of my career. I have been part of various seminars, in India and overseas, and am an active member of LAWASIA. At the LAWASIA conferences, I have met various brilliant jurists from all over the world who are like family to me today.

In practice, all my seniors have played a crucial role in shaping me, both as an individual and as a professional. I was fascinated to meet Mukul Rohatgi, who was my first senior. He would argue in fifteen to twenty matters one after the other. Working with him, I learnt court craft and brevity. I am still learning how to be precise and make sharp arguments as he does. After about a year I joined my dream firm, the erstwhile Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co. At the Firm, I was drafting and handling clients and court matters, dealing with senior counsels, billing, and so on. I was a part of all the activities required to run a practice. I was fortunate to handle big litigation matters in emerging areas like Telecom and Arbitration. I single handedly worked on the matters, used to report to Pallavi Shroff or Ritu Bhalla. They were extremely demanding as bosses and they brought out the best in me. For me, every day was a new test and a new incarnation of she-who-must-excel. I would have never learnt so much if I would have stayed under the family umbrella. In AMSAS, I also got a chance to work with Shardul Shroff in a couple of advisory matters and it was at this firm that I harboured dreams of one day setting up my own practice independently.

In order to further polish my skills as a practitioner, after three years in AMSAS, I joined the chambers of Neeraj Kaul when I was also appointed as a Counsel for the Central Government. With him, I learnt court strategy and how to think on my feet. Besides sharpening my skills as a litigator, he made me take inspiration from my work and to work harder rather than questioning the sluggish legal system.

 

Could you tell us about the internships you took up?

Before I graduated as a lawyer, I interned with EY and learnt accounts, cost auditing and also a fair bit of accounting standards. I also worked in the Chambers of the present Attorney General, Mukul Rohatgi. There I learnt court strategy and case research. In those times research wasn’t as convenient as it is today. We didn’t have sites like SCC online and Manupatra to assist us. In order to get the relevant judgment, one had to understand the proposition to be argued and also the applicable legislation and provisions. Today, even non-lawyers can mindlessly do a keyword research and get relevant judgments. Knowing the exact point in issue is an art, which I learnt while working in the chambers of Mr. Rohatgi. I consider myself very lucky to have had such an opportunity.

 

From a law student to a lawyer, how will you describe the transition?

A part of me is still a student. It keeps my enthusiasm and the eagerness to learn more alive. To be a good lawyer, its imperative to be a good learner. My journey has been very fulfilling and enriching. I took the learning path by first joining the chamber of a senior counsel to know and understand the law well, then a law firm to apply the law and to learn to manage a legal practice, then I went on to develop myself as a professional and as an independent arguing counsel and finally as a specialist in niche areas. My transition has been enlightening and I hope I can inspire my juniors to find their niche practice and polish their knowledge and skill sets in the same.

 

Given the dynamic nature of the field you practice in, how do you keep yourself updated about the latest developments in the law?

I wake up early morning for a walk and before going to courts or meetings, I must sit and read some case laws or articles on current issues for an hour. In the beginning of my career, I inculcated the practice to read a lot and to reflect the same in my work.

I have been sharing my insights on new developments in Competition law on various social media platforms like Linkedin, Facebook, etc. It has the advantage of getting responses and knowing the viewpoints of others.

I have been part of the LAWASIA network since 2003 where I participate in seminars on different areas of law every year. Since the enforcement of competition law in 2009, I have had the opportunity to speak in antitrust / competition law events organized by other forums around the world.

What are the causes you feel strongly about? 

I like to guide and support senior citizens with their legal issues and wills, especially when they are torn between their children who are too busy in their lives to care about their parents. Another segment which I think needs help is juvenile delinquents. I have been involved in working for them, whether it’s relating to their legal issues or overall development. I am also part of Project Abhimanyu where we provide free guidance and mentoring to law students. Lately, I have been involved in guiding the young Indian entrepreneurs who lack awareness of legal and regulatory matters for their startups. I truly believe that it is not possible to have a sustainable business in an unsustainable policy environment. All business models rely on certain external conditions. Most important among these are a country’s economic policy and regulatory framework.

There is a yawning communication gap between the government and businesses. With the right mindset, this gap can be bridged and doing business can be made as easy as it appears difficult today. The economy needs to grow steadily to ultimately alleviate disparity and poverty as well. Creating a competition culture by proper enforcement of competition law will surely enable this.

 

Tell us about your early professional experiences at the Amarchand & Mangaldas. 

Before I joined AMSAS, I was already working till midnight in the chambers of my uncle who was a Senior Counsel (Late Mr.GL Sanghi) in the Supreme Court. I used to be delighted to work along with him., I would read and research with him till late night, post dinner. I used to enjoy getting an insight into issues that came to his mind at real time. However, in senior counsels chambers Friday evenings were sacrosanct and there was always a pre-planned dinner or outing with other lawyer friends.

Though I already had long working hours, at AMSAS, the pressures were different – it was more about client handling, team work, drafting and filing matters. I had to give up on Friday evening plans and even work through weekends. But at the end of the day I was happy and satisfied with the work, so the long working hours never bothered me.

What were the challenges and learning opportunities that you faced in establishing Anupam Sanghi & Associates?

One major challenge that I faced while developing my clientele is that managers in the corporate sector often look at small term solutions. Although I would show them the importance of looking at a long term solution to mitigate legal and regulatory risks, they cannot look beyond temporary corrective measures. If stakeholders appreciate the need to seek strategic advise, follow compliances before legal issues arise, a lot of knee jerk litigation can be avoided resulting in smooth functioning of their business plans. It gets very challenging to explain this to some business managers, especially those managing the Tech Start-Ups who need to safeguard their investments the most. However, they are beginning to see the benefit of my approach with the funding drying up and fire fighting not helping them in their litigation strategy.

Also, the legal field is getting so competitive that we lawyers tend to get caught up with the rat race. Since I was finding this frustrating, I focused on developing my practice in few niche areas. Thankfully, I could overcome this challenge as I resisted the rat race and stayed focused in specializing in niche areas, like competition & regulatory law.

Building a team was also difficult as a hard task master. Now, I can say I have been lucky enough to work with a dedicated and hardworking team who enjoy working on emerging issues. I feel in this day and age of social media distractions, it’s important for budding lawyers to be disciplined to be molded in thorough professionals from the very beginning of their careers.  The attractive salary packages being offered by big law firms also pressurizes them to target on earnings while they loose their formative years of knowledge building.

Can you tell us about your experience interacting with legal stalwart Prof. Richard Whish?

(Prof. Whish’s book on Competition Law is followed as part of the curriculum in almost every college, globally, and Anupam has had the opportunity to attend training sessions by him.)

While doing telecom litigation, I would be looking for solutions to bring about a level playing field as DoT & PSUs like BSNL / MTNL got policy benefits more easily compared to the private players who were sinking in huge funds only to be at risk in an uneven playing field. I found that competition law did have the solution as it can be a great leveler. I enrolled at King’s College for their Postgraduate Diploma in EU Competition Law to add to my knowledge base. Prof.Richard Whish made the subject so easy and interesting that I would not blink in the entire session from morning 9 AM to evening 5 PM. The course was never ending as the latest case until the date of examination had to be studied, analysed and applied. Even for a lawyer, competition law as a subject  is not easy to understand theoretically. However, I treated Prof.  Richard Whish’s book like the Bible and what seemed like a complicated subject with more of economics became interesting. The college does have a great faculty, the other professors who took some modules were also quite good and made the subject interesting for us. I think I would never be able to understand the real philosophy behind competition law if I had did not gone through the program. It has helped me to wear two hats – one as a lawyer and the other as an economist.

I used to enjoy studying  macro economics and costing while studying CFA ( from ICFAI ) prior to law. So, I think I found what was closest to my heart by studying competition law at Kings, London.

How do you feel about the present competition law regime in India? 

The Competition Regulator, Competition Commission of India (CCI) has created an impact in several sectors by fining for anti-competitive business conduct. For instance, the CCI has imposed a penalty of around Rs.6300 Crores on the cement cartel for price fixing, Rs.250 Crores on the LPG cylinder cartel for bid rigging, Rs.2500 Crores on car manufacturers for exclusive dealerships, Rs.630 Crores  on DLF for abusing their dominance by unilateral agreements and so on. The CCI has also come down heavily on the PSUs, such as Coal India for abusing their dominant power by forcing one sided terms in their Fuel Supply agreements with SEBs.

These are record breaking fines making headlines since 2011 and by now CCI has created a fear amongst managers who are conscious of getting under the CCI scanner.

Some of the other Giants under CCI investigation are Ola, Google, Monsanto & Ericsson. In the last seven years, CCI has made its presence felt well. Though there is still a long way to go as most of these orders imposing penalties are challenged before the Delhi High Court, questioning the jurisdiction of CCI, the appellate tribunal COMPAT has remanded back cases to CCI to comply with principals of natural justice. Few matters are also before the Supreme Ccourt on issues regarding CCI’s jurisdiction and to decide on the method of calculation of the penalty. So, the courts would hopefully further evolve the law enabling in creating a competition culture. The characteristics of online markets are quite different compared to the traditional markets and free pricing / predatory issues arise. So, although the key prohibitions that violate competition law would be the same, the market data has to be analysed with a different approach as technology has changed the way the market works. Due to lack of sophisticated market definition and economic analysis, in the earlier years, CCI has passed some inconsistent and / unreasoned orders.  with two different approaches to market definition in similar markets. Advocacy for a level playing field at the policy level, following international jurisprudence and trends set by competition authorities from developed jurisdictions would help develop this sector.

On what parameters do you choose the projects you work on?

I have been focusing my work on evolving regulatory issues in the TMT space. So, I consciously developed a practice around Telecom, ICT / Technology sector. Competition regulation is an overarching law. Further, as a complete / holistic lawyer, it’s imperative to deal with dispute resolution. Therefore, I have developed a corporate / commercial law practice involving litigation & advisory in niche areas.

 

How do you manage your time between your professional and personal interests? 

Work does keep me wired in all the time but I do snatch out time for my love for concerts and music jams, going to the sports club on weekends, reading good humour by witty authors like  PG Wodehouse and Oscar Wilde, Bill Bryson who depicts his traveling so hilariously. There is no other way but to somehow squeeze in these activities in my agenda.

 

Where would you like your career to take you five years down the line?

I would like to contribute to the development of competition law as a practitioner and academically as well. Actually, I wou like to spend more time visiting universities sharing practical guidance with students and corporate managers, organize more events for students as a mentor in Project Abhimanyu.

Hopefully, I will be working on a Artificial Intelligence (AI) project to further simplify my legal practice.

 

What advice would you like to give our readers, who are inclined to developing a proficiency in Competition Law?

Competition law is an emerging field. It is going to take some time before every firm develops a particular Team for Competition law. Lawyers / freshers who want to develop a career in competition law will have to be patient to get work opportunities. It is imperative to focus on learning and research and finding solutions to every grey area in the field. Also as competition is a niche area the cases are limited as compared to general litigation. Having said that, every year the practice is evolving and is becoming more demanding. It is important for the lawyers to be focused / at this stage, as this field will certainly gain an edge over other practices.

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