“Misalignment often arises when lawyers within law firms fail to grasp the significance of commercial imperatives or when in-house counsel overlook the critical importance of legal compliance.” – Shiju PV, Senior Partner at IndiaLaw LLP

This interview has been published by Namrata Singh and The SuperLawyer Team

Can you walk us through your journey from when you decided to pursue a career in law? What inspired that decision, and how did you navigate through the process? 

In the realm of academia, my interests gravitated towards disciplines such as social science and political science. Consequently, the prospect of pursuing law as a career naturally appealed to me. Although I harbored a passion for journalism, I made the deliberate decision to pursue law instead.

During the inception of my professional journey, our economy underwent a significant transformation with the liberalization of global capital. This ushered in a wave of foreign investment, acquisitions, and various forms of financial activity. Following a brief stint in litigation, I transitioned to Nishit Desai Associates, where I specialized in matters pertaining to funds and foreign investments, thereby gaining valuable exposure in areas such as FDI, private equity transactions, fund structuring etc.

Subsequently, I further honed my expertise through engagements with several other prestigious law firms, focusing particularly on the corporate, infrastructure and real estate sectors. These experiences culminated in my tenure at IndiaLaw LLP, where I have found my niche and established myself within the legal landscape.

Considering IndiaLaw LLP celebrated 25 years last year, how do you envision the future growth and development of the firm?

The practice of law is characterized by perpetual evolution, demanding a continuous process of learning, unlearning, and self-reinvention. The landscape is replete with examples of centenarian law firms rendered obsolete due to their inability to adapt to changing times. As a first-generation law firm, we have navigated through the nepotistic tendencies prevalent in India’s legal sphere by fostering a culture of innovation.

Central to our ethos is a steadfast commitment to client service, underscored by the establishment of a dedicated client service team—an uncommon practice within our industry. Anticipating the pivotal role of technology in the legal profession, we took proactive measures by developing a proprietary, in-house software tool in the early 2000s, seamlessly integrating our operations under a unified interface. Presently, we are diligently working on harnessing technology to prepare ourselves for the future trajectory of the legal landscape.

With a strategic presence in key Indian metropolises, our firm has now set its sights on international expansion, laying the groundwork for overseas ventures that align with our vision and values.

You’ve been instrumental in building up a non-litigation practice at IndiaLaw LLP. What challenges did you face during this process, and how did you overcome them?

Led by our Founder and Managing Partner, Mr. K.P. Sreejith, an esteemed dispute resolution lawyer, our firm was initially established with a primary focus on litigation and arbitration. Presently, we boast a comprehensive portfolio encompassing a wide spectrum of litigation matters, ranging from civil, corporate, and commercial disputes to property, banking, and insolvency litigations. Additionally, our expertise extends to both domestic and international arbitration proceedings.

The expansion into non-litigation areas transpired following my joining, representing a strategic pivot for our firm. Despite encountering formidable competition from well-established counterparts, we surmounted these challenges through our dedication, innovative strategies, and commitment to client satisfaction. Presently, our non-litigation practice is helmed by distinct partners, each overseeing specialized verticals within the domain.

In a testament to our growth trajectory, we recently inaugurated our second office in Mumbai dedicated exclusively to our non-litigation practice, underscoring our commitment to providing comprehensive legal services to our clientele.

You have been in legal practice, especially in the corporate and transactional laws, for almost two and half decades? You are involved in various committees related to legal services and corporate laws, how do you see the evolution of the Indian legal and regulatory regime over the years and how do you perceive the future landscape of corporate law practice evolving in India?

The legal landscape is currently experiencing significant transformation driven by rapid technological advancements, notably in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). AI stands poised to revolutionize corporate law practices by enhancing efficiency and productivity. Leveraging AI-powered tools enables expedited analysis of extensive legal datasets, thereby simplifying research processes and affording lawyers the opportunity to delve deeper into analysis and strategic deliberation.

Moreover, AI facilitates the streamlining of contract analysis and due diligence procedures, enabling swift identification of pertinent issues and empowering legal practitioners to allocate their time towards critical thinking and decision-making endeavors. The integration of AI is poised to fundamentally reshape the legal profession, particularly within corporate law practices.

Those who proactively embrace AI technologies stand to gain a competitive edge in their professional endeavors, positioning themselves favorably within the legal landscape.

With your expertise in M&A transactions, what do you believe is the key to a successful negotiation in this field?

Achieving successful negotiation outcomes hinges upon a clear understanding of your objectives, whether advocating for the acquirer or the seller. It is imperative to delineate non-negotiable terms and areas open to flexibility. Given that M&A transactions are collaborative endeavors, thorough deliberation with clients and fellow advisers prior to entering negotiation proceedings is essential.

Conducting comprehensive due diligence, whether from the perspective of the seller or the acquirer, is paramount to gauging the strengths and weaknesses of the target entity. This informed assessment facilitates a nuanced understanding of one’s negotiating position. Moreover, adopting a collaborative stance, as opposed to an adversarial approach, is pivotal for transactional lawyers, fostering constructive dialogue and conducive negotiation environments.

As a corporate lawyer, you often work closely with in-house lawyers. Could you share insights into  how the role of a lawyer differs from law firm and inhouse?

The responsibilities of a lawyer remain largely consistent, whether operating as an in-house counsel or within a law firm setting. The hallmark of success for a corporate lawyer lies in their ability to perceive their role as a facilitator of business objectives rather than a mere impediment. Misalignment often arises when lawyers within law firms fail to grasp the significance of commercial imperatives or when in-house counsel overlook the critical importance of legal compliance.

Irrespective of the organizational context, a corporate lawyer’s duty is to strike a delicate equilibrium between business imperatives and legal mandates. By doing so, they empower the business to operate within the confines of the law while concurrently pursuing strategic objectives.

Considering your extensive experience in Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) since its inception, what is your evaluation of the progress of this law?

The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) commenced with significant momentum as the Reserve Bank of India directed chronic defaulters, responsible for a substantial portion of non-performing assets (NPAs) in the nation, to the IBC framework. Our involvement in numerous such cases, representing diverse stakeholders, underscored the pivotal role we played during this period of transition.

Preceding the implementation of the IBC, India’s insolvency laws were characterized by fragmentation; the IBC consolidated these disparate statutes under a singular framework. However, the abrupt initiation of the IBC exposed several inadequacies within the legal framework, compounded by the unpreparedness of National Company Law Tribunals (NCLTs) to manage the influx of cases. Although the legal landscape has evolved considerably since then, infrastructural deficiencies persist, impeding optimal efficiency.

Nevertheless, the impact of the IBC is palpable, evident in the fostering of a more prudent credit culture across the country. Promoters now exercise greater caution when seeking financing, cognizant of the potential ramifications of losing control over their enterprises.

With your extensive experience advising clients across various sectors, what suggestions would you give to the current generation of aspiring lawyers in deciding between working for law firms or in-house legal departments at companies? What criteria or considerations should they prioritize in making this decision?

As previously mentioned, the fundamental responsibilities of lawyers remain consistent regardless of whether they operate within a law firm or serve as in-house counsel. However, the role of an in-house lawyer presents unique challenges, necessitating a comprehensive understanding of the company’s business operations—a facet often more demanding than that required of a law firm lawyer. Moreover, an in-house lawyer must function as a generalist, whereas their counterparts in law firms often benefit from specialized expertise.

Nonetheless, law firms afford invaluable opportunities for first-hand experience in executing legal transactions, thereby providing a solid foundation for burgeoning legal practitioners. Therefore, I advocate for aspiring lawyers to commence their careers within a law firm to acquire essential skills and exposure before contemplating a transition to an in-house role, should they desire to do so.

Beyond the professional realm, what’s a hobby or interest you have that might surprise people?

That’s rather unsurprising. I have a penchant for literature, cinema, and indulging in travel experiences.

Could you walk us through what a typical day looks like for you as a Senior Partner at IndiaLaw LLP? And on that note, what aspect of the daily job of being a lawyer interests you the most?

With a robust presence spanning eight offices across major metropolitan areas, encompassing a diverse range of practice areas and a substantial team of legal professionals, our firm caters to a clientele comprising major corporations and High Net Worth Individuals (HNIs) known for their exacting standards. As a result, a considerable portion of my time is dedicated to firm management—a responsibility that brings forth distinct challenges on a daily basis.

One aspect of legal practice that particularly captivates me is its tendency to present continual surprises and challenges. Despite believing that matters are well in hand, unforeseen circumstances often arise, capable of derailing even the most meticulously laid plans. In such instances, the primary approach is to innovate by leveraging all available resources and meticulously referencing legal precedents to realign our strategy. This perpetual cycle of adaptation underscores the reality that law is an ongoing educational journey, necessitating a perpetual commitment to learning in order to remain relevant in the legal profession.

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