Rising to the occasion

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Priya Mehra began her career at Ajay Bahl & Co, then moved to Singapore with Jones Day, and later to Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, where she helped build the India practice. Now the general counsel at IndiGo Airlines, she talks to Vandana Chatlani about mentors, motivations, motherhood, music and making law firms lift their game

JOINING THE LEGAL PROFESSION

What inspired you to become a lawyer?

Becoming a lawyer was never something that I dreamt of. After graduating in political science, my dad, who always wanted me to be a professional, was keen I do law. And at that time corporate law had just taken off and it was exciting to think of being part of a law firm, so I applied to study law at Delhi University. Corporate law culture had become more sophisticated, particularly on account of the increase in deals by multinational companies coming into India. That’s really what drove my enthusiasm.

How would you describe the early years of your career?

I started my career at Ajay Bahl & Co, now AZB & Partners, and spent five years there. At college, I interned there as well as at J Sagar Associates (JSA) and other firms. When I graduated, I chose AZB because I liked the feel of the firm after working closely with partners Probal Bhaduri and Anil Kasturi. There were so many deals and we were such a small team that we were thrown into everything. We didn’t have to go through layers and levels before seeing a client. It was thrilling, but of course exceptionally tough, with many late nights spent working. It really paid off, because if you can have that kind of perseverance at work, it comes in handy much later on.

What was the transition like from Ajay Bahl & Co to AZB & Partners?

When the merger happened, there was a lot of apprehension about how the
culture would change. The Delhi office had its own culture and we were all very comfortable. We suddenly went from a team of eight or nine to about 40 lawyers. We now had a different set of eyes looking at us and we feared a change in culture.

But in reality, it gave us a completely different perspective and an exposure that was great for both firms. We learned a lot from how the Mumbai office worked and vice-versa. We continued to work quite independently, but the merger definitely helped us secure more assignments. And the merger played out very smoothly … we didn’t feel any negative effects of it at all.

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