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“Thought leadership is integral to staying ahead in the legal field. While it requires dedication, the impact of sharing insights and generating discussions outweighs the challenges. It’s about giving back to the profession and shaping its future.” – Divi Dutta, Partner – Private Client & General Corporate at Khaitan & Co.

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

Your journey from college to becoming a Partner at Khaitan & Co. has undoubtedly been filled with challenges and achievements. Can you share with us some pivotal moments or challenges you faced during your college years and after graduation, and how you overcame them to reach where you are today?

A little-known fact about me – before joining law, I worked with Raell Padamsee as part of her theatre group. I moved into law subsequently. I graduated in law in 2005 from the Government Law College, Mumbai and since then it has been an exciting journey. I worked in one of the oldest law firms in India – Crawford Bayley in its Mumbai office. I had the opportunity to train under Mr. Sanjay Asher for almost 6 years which shaped my understanding, interest and aspirations in the field of corporate law. Subsequently, I moved to Delhi in 2012 and joined the then Amarchand Mangaldas Suresh A Shroff & Co., the unified firm. Subsequently, post the split in 2015, I continued with Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co (SAM).

However, the most pivotal decision in my journey has been to take up the challenge and set up the private client practice which was relatively unknown at that time under the aegis of Shardul Shroff. This was unchartered territory for me as hardly any law firm had a dedicated private client practice at that time and there were no set precedents or background on this practice. We had to develop our own understanding of issues, create drafts and reach out to other limited experts in the field. Despite the initial struggles and the teething problems, I can proudly say that foraying into the private client practice has been the most significant professional decision I have made in my life. This practice has been both challenging and rewarding at the same time. After spending almost 12 years in SAM, I recently joined the private clients practice group in Khaitan & Co. This move was not easy given my long association with SAM but I am excited and raring to go and make this next journey even more memorable and fruitful.  

I feel tremendous gratitude for the opportunities I have had and the support and guidance I received from Mr. Shardul Shroff. I am also confident that my association with Khaitan & Co. will only further my passion for the private client practice and give me a platform to take my journey to greater heights.

Your work often involves delicate matters related to family dynamics and wealth management. How do you approach building trust and rapport with your clients, especially when dealing with sensitive topics like family disputes or succession planning?

I treat every client as family. Most family matters need to be dealt with extreme sensitivity and confidentiality. You need to be a friend and confidant of your client first to enable them to trust you and open up to you. The legal aspect of these issues comes much later. Additionally, in a practice like this, the relationship does not end once the mandate has ended. The rapport that gets developed in these matters transforms into the relationship as there is a certain internal trust that gets built with the client. I continue to have a great relationship with most of my clients even if I am no longer advising them on legal matters and they keep reaching out to me for personal as well as professional assistance on other matters from time to time.

Besides your legal expertise, you seem to have a flair for writing and thought leadership. How do you balance your professional commitments with your passion for writing, as seen in your contributions to various publications?

The legal field is constantly evolving and the laws keep getting amended basis changing circumstances and other practical challenges. I feel that it is very important to be aware and keep oneself updated with the latest developments, especially in your area of expertise. It is equally important to create awareness amongst clients and peers as well. Therefore, while it is difficult to remove time and create a balance between professional commitments and making contributions, I look at these contributions more as a way of giving back to society, mentoring juniors, exchanging information amongst peers and generating business for my field of work. Further, given the nature of my practice, the reach of legal articles relating to succession planning, inheritance and wealth management is pretty wide.

Your involvement in setting up operations for foreign companies in India is impressive. What are some key challenges these companies face, and how do you navigate the regulatory landscape to ensure smooth transitions?

Most foreign companies are not aware of the regulatory regime in India and often question the requirement of providing documents/information. The regulatory regime in India is cumbersome to comply with in the initial stages of set up and the maximum time and effort is usually spent on collating the right documents/information from the foreign clients, explaining the submission criteria and requirements of the authorities and managing timelines. Fortunately, the current regime has streamlined a number of these processes, and it has now become easier to set up operations for foreign companies in India. Additionally, foreign clients are now more aware of the Indian system and are usually more cooperative now than before in supporting us in the set-up.

After dedicating more than 11 years to Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co., you made the transition to Khaitan & Co. as a Partner. What motivated this move, and how do you envision your role evolving in your new firm compared to your previous experiences?

My 11 years in Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas were very fruitful and I am extremely thankful to Mr. Shroff for welcoming me into the firm. I have learnt a great deal from my experience in the firm and I take back fond memories of my time in the firm with me. I am very excited at this stage in my life and I am eagerly looking forward to my role in the Khaitan & Co. family. Khaitan & Co. has the largest private client practice in India and I intend to expand the practice to even greater heights and have an extended outreach in every corner of India through my association with Khaitan & Co. Mr. Haigrieve Khaitan is already very well known in this field and I am confident that with his support and guidance, my journey will be even more successful, enriching and rewarding than it has been so far.

As a Partner at Khaitan & Co., what do you find most rewarding about your role, and how do you foster a collaborative and supportive environment within your team?

The most rewarding aspect of my role in Khaitan & Co. is the confidence that the Khaitan family has reposed in me. They are always ready to support me, collaborate with me and have been extremely welcoming. They have done everything possible to provide me with a platform and resources that I can only grow to greater heights from here. The environment at Khaitan & Co. is one of extreme support and collaboration and I have naturally imbibed that thought process. The best aspect about Khaitan & Co., apart from its legal competence and a brilliant team, is its culture. 

Beyond your professional endeavors, do you have any hobbies or interests that you’re passionate about? How do you balance your personal pursuits with your demanding professional commitments?

I am an out-and-out foodie and I love to try new places, new cuisines and new food items, be it a new restaurant, a new café or a new dhaba. I also love watching movies. Some of my food interests are shared by clients and colleagues as we try new places together. I try and watch a late night movie on most Fridays after a long week of work. Other than this, I enjoy playing table tennis and swimming.

For aspiring lawyers looking to build a strong foundation, what kind of internships would you recommend they focus on? Additionally, what are your views on gaining experience through internships with tier 1, tier 2, or tier 3 law firms?

I think it is very important to intern under different law streams such as litigation, corporate, banking & finance, competition etc. to figure out where your interest lie. If you don’t like what you do, you will never be able to do it for long. I also feel, tier 2 and tier 3 law firms provide an overall experience as most of them do not have segregated practice areas and one would be able to gain a lot of experience in these fields. So one should definitely do a few internships in tier 2 and tier 3 law firms before moving on to tier 1.

For students aspiring to specialize in private client practice or general corporate law, what advice would you offer to help them navigate the complexities of the legal profession and build a successful career in these niche areas?

Nowadays most law firms conduct webinars, training sessions and interviews on important topics under general corporate and private client practice. Additionally, there are lots of articles and publications that are authored by partners and other associates from various law firms. There is a huge library of material in the digital space on every aspect of these practices. Every aspiring student should read and grasp this material as it really helps them to get an understanding of the practice and it also creates an edge for them in interviews and interactions with other legal professionals. Most lawyers also take guest lectures in law schools and once should try and interact with these professionals to understand their approach and seek guidance from them. These few aspects can really help any student in generating an interest in the profession. This should of course be coupled with sincerity and hard work as there are no shortcuts in any profession.

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