“Trust yourself the most and have the resilience and faith to shape your career based on your ambitions.” – Tanvi Khanna Agarwal, Founding Partner at TSM LEGAL

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

You’ve had an impressive journey from graduating at Symbiosis Law School to becoming a Founding Partner at TSM Legal. Could you share some insights into how you started your career and the pivotal moments that led you to where you are today?

I graduated in the year 2013 and that was the start of learning and understanding how business and legal go hand in hand to scale up an organization. I started working as a Legal Officer at Jyothy Labs. Like any fresh graduate out of college, I was very enthusiastic to start a job at such a well-known FMCG Manufacturing company. As a Legal Officer, I worked on several legal areas such as commercial contracts, intellectual property rights, employment laws and compliance. It was a great learning experience.

Even today, I still remember and keep in mind the things I learned while working at Jyothy Labs. The General Counsel at my time at JLL is still my mentor and I look up to him for guidance and solutions. Jyothy Labs is the place where I learned that maintaining long-lasting relationships with people is the most important thing, business and money are dynamic. 

This was my main focus when I started TSM Legal in 2018; to help people forge stronger organizations, build relations, and grow together. Working as an in-house counsel, and then, consequently, in a law firm, helped me understand the gap in the industry. Start-ups and many other companies do not have their own legal teams and it is a challenge for them to avail quality yet affordable legal services. On the other hand many law firms are unable to act as an in-house counsel for a business without the necessary business background. TSM Legal was thus started with the mission to bridge this gap, where we provide affordable solutions being your “external in-house counsel” based on our seamless blend of legal and business knowledge. 

Could you highlight some key learnings from your previous roles at companies like Tech Mahindra Limited and Legalogic Consulting that have significantly influenced your perspective as a legal professional?

My next job after Jyothy Labs was at LegaLogic Consulting in Pune. This was my first job as an external counsel at a law firm. For me, working in a company as an in-house counsel and working at a law firm are two sides of the same coin; the coin here being legal knowledge and an in-depth understanding of the business that you are supporting. However, just like two sides have different perspectives, I feel that the same is reflected in these two roles. Working at Legalogic was, perhaps, one of the most significant decisions of my life. I got to experience how a law firm functions, how roles are divided, and of course, not to forget, the urgent TATs! Nevertheless, I learned to work efficiently, quickly and manage timelines for different clients across time zones simultaneously, which is a very important trait for any external lawyer. 

After working at LegaLogic for 2 years, I knew it was time to transition back to an in-house role, which is how I joined as a Legal Counsel at Tech Mahindra. Tech Mahindra was definitely a step up in my career and working here is an experience of a lifetime. I got the experience of working on high value deals across geographies. Working in a conglomerate, you have to understand the many facades of how a company is run. For me, this is where I learnt how to manage business expectations, facilitate a dialogue amongst all stakeholders (Because, trust me, there are a lot), and provide quick legal solutions to not hamper the revenue generation.  

Given your extensive experience in dealing with marquee companies in sectors like information technology, e-commerce, and fintech, could you share some unique challenges you’ve encountered and how you navigated through them?

Running a law firm has been an incredible journey filled with unique challenges and marquee rewarding experiences. One of the toughest hurdles I encountered when I started TSM Legal was acquiring and retaining clients. Of course, I did have the support of some incredible people, and of course my family’s constant motivation. 

By working with all kinds of clients- whether solo entrepreneurs, SMEs or MNCs and prioritizing quick and seamless closures of documents, I kept growing my network which expanded the trusted client base of the firm. 

Another hurdle I encountered was making business owners/company management understand the importance of the legal function. It is said that ‘Legal is an Obstacle’, but that’s definitely not the case. This is arguably one of the most substantial aspects that will make or break a business. The firm tries to provide a suitable solution but not everyone is ready to take on the essential legal aspects that will protect their business in the long run. Hence, we need to ensure that all organizations and their owners understand the evident need of legal consultation to secure their interests.  

Moreover, maintaining a harmonious work-life balance has emerged as a continuous challenge, while being the mother of a toddler at one hand as well as meeting the demands of a growing law practice and building a solid team. Despite these challenges, the journey of building and growing my law firm has been incredibly fulfilling, and I’m abundantly grateful each day for the lessons learnt along the way. 

After completing your law degree, your first job was with Jyothy Laboratories. How did you decide that you wanted to pursue an in-house role, and what advice would you give to new entrants on choosing their career paths?

An in-house lawyer is multi-faceted and gets to experience and practice many areas of law without being limited to any one specialization. Specialization of course is important, but I believe diversification and learning about different practice areas is equally, if not more important, at the start of your career. This helps to understand in depth what skills are required to be a great lawyer (which I have covered in detail in the last question). As a fresher I got to understand how a big company/business operates, the ins and outs of finance, sales, marketing, compliances and what is expected from the legal team of the Company. As an in-house lawyer you are expected to facilitate quick closure of contracts to enable revenue generation, facilitate compliances and internal audits, while also ensuring that the Company’s legal rights are protected at every step.

In your opinion, what are the most significant legal challenges facing startups today, and how do you tailor your services to help them overcome these hurdles?

Startups today face a myriad of legal challenges that require tailored solutions for success. From safeguarding intellectual property to navigating complex regulatory landscapes, legal service providers play a critical role in helping startups overcome these hurdles. One of the initial challenges that Start-ups may face is ensuring that they enter into robust founding documents. Partnership agreements, founder’s agreements, shareholders’ agreements and such are crucial legal frameworks that define the foundation of any organization. Lack of such documents can create crucial problems in the future, at the time of funding or IPO. Another important aspect that the start-up owners fail to recognize is the presence of strong employment documents. These documents protect the intellectual property, client confidential information and ensure the employees and consultants of an organization adhere to their obligations.

By offering specialized expertise in areas such as intellectual property, employment laws, regulatory compliance, and contract negotiation, TSM LEGAL guides startups and even established companies through the intricacies of aggressively protecting their ventures. Additionally, providing startup-friendly pricing models, educational resources, regular newsletters and strategic business-friendly advice enables TSM LEGAL to support startups at every stage of their journey. By offering customized legal solutions and strategic guidance, we empower startups to navigate legal complexities effectively, mitigate risks, and achieve their business objectives while remaining compliant with applicable laws and regulations.

What role do you think corporate social responsibility (CSR) should play in the legal strategies of companies today, and how do you incorporate CSR considerations into your advisory work?

Incorporating corporate social responsibility (CSR) into the legal strategies of companies today is imperative for several compelling reasons. Firstly, CSR initiatives play a pivotal role in enhancing a company’s reputation and brand image by showcasing its dedication to ethical business practices, social causes, and environmental sustainability. This fosters increased customer loyalty, heightened employee engagement, and augmented investor confidence. Secondly, integrating CSR into legal strategies aids in risk management by mitigating the potential hazards associated with non-compliance with social, environmental, and ethical standards. Proactive engagement in CSR endeavors can minimize the likelihood of legal disputes, regulatory scrutiny, and reputational damage. 

Moreover, addressing stakeholder expectations is crucial, as customers, employees, investors, and communities increasingly anticipate companies to address social and environmental issues beyond profit generation. Lastly, prioritizing CSR can confer a competitive advantage in the marketplace by differentiating companies from competitors, attracting top talent, and accessing new markets. Thus, integrating CSR into legal strategies not only enhances a company’s competitive positioning and market value but also promotes social progress and environmental stewardship. This integration involves various key approaches, including legal compliance and risk assessment, policy development and implementation, stakeholder engagement and collaboration, due diligence and supply chain management, etc. By embracing these approaches, companies can demonstrate their commitment to responsible business practices, elevate their reputation, and contribute meaningfully to sustainable development.

Outside of your legal career, what personal hobbies or interests do you pursue, and how do they contribute to your professional life?

I am really fond of reading- both fiction and non-fiction books. It really helps me expand my thinking capabilities, thereby making me more knowledgeable and confident. Apart from reading, I am a budding artist and have taken up Acrylic painting on canvas since the last 3 years. I am in the process of exploring new painting mediums as well. Painting provides me with the much needed break and peace of mind from work. It is like meditation for me, from the complexities of corporate work, just thinking about the colors and how they blend beautifully on the canvas to create a distinctive piece of art. Lastly, I love swimming as it gives me the stamina and discipline to juggle the various aspects of my life with precision- being a corporate lawyer and entrepreneur working odd hours to support my clients across geographies.

My hobbies of reading, painting, and swimming contribute to my professional life by promoting stress management, enhancing creativity and problem-solving skills, improving communication abilities, maintaining physical health, and fostering work-life balance.

Reflecting on your journey thus far, what valuable lessons or insights would you share with aspiring lawyers or entrepreneurs looking to make their mark in the legal industry?

I believe the most important lesson for any aspiring lawyer or entrepreneur is self-belief and the fait that you can move mountains. Trust yourself the most and have the resilience and faith to shape your career based on your ambitions.

  • Develop Strong Communication Skills: Effective communication is fundamental to success in law. Aspiring lawyers should focus on honing their written and oral communication skills, including clarity, persuasiveness, and the ability to tailor their message to different audiences.
  • Cultivate Critical Thinking and Analytical Skills: Law involves analyzing complex issues, identifying relevant facts, and applying legal principles to reach sound conclusions. Aspiring lawyers should practice critical thinking and analytical reasoning through activities like solving legal problems, engaging in debates, and reading case law.
  • Develop Resilience and Adaptability: Legal practice can be challenging and unpredictable. Aspiring lawyers and entrepreneurs should cultivate resilience and adaptability to navigate setbacks, failures, and changes in circumstances. Developing a growth mindset and the ability to learn from setbacks is essential for long-term success in the legal profession.
  • Develop Time Management and Organizational Skills: Legal practice often involves managing multiple tasks, deadlines, and priorities. Aspiring lawyers should develop effective time management and organizational skills to stay on top of their workload, meet deadlines, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
  • Cultivate Empathy and Interpersonal Skills: The ability to understand and empathize with clients, colleagues, and adversaries is crucial in the legal profession. Lawyers should cultivate strong interpersonal skills, including active listening, empathy, and conflict resolution, to build rapport, negotiate effectively, and resolve disputes.
  • Stay True to Your Values and Passions: Finally, aspiring lawyers should pursue a legal career that aligns with their values, interests, and passions. Choosing a practice area that resonates with them and allows them to make a positive impact can lead to greater fulfillment and success in their legal careers.

By embracing these lessons, aspiring lawyers can lay a solid foundation for a successful and fulfilling career in the legal profession.

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