Have you ever wondered what it takes to be one of India’s elite lawyers? India Business Law Journal polled all 150 of India’s A-List Lawyers and Legal Icons to find out. We asked them to share the daily habits, practices and rituals – both personal and professional – that they believe helped to facilitate their rise to the top of the legal profession. The findings are insightful and offer some valuable tips to those aspiring to be the next generation of legal leaders.
Here are the 10 most popular answers, grouped into broad themes and presented in reverse order.
While most of India’s top lawyers are no longer in the first flush of youth, they understand the importance of never getting set in their ways.
“Think out of the box for providing legally tenable solutions,” says Daksha Baxi, the head of international tax at Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas (CAM).
Vinayak Burman, the managing partner of Vertices Partners, advises: “Consistently connect with people who think differently. Don’t let the established way of doing things come in the way of what you can contribute to your venture.”
Ashwin Julka, the managing partner at Remfry & Sagar, credits his wife with helping him remain open to new ideas. “Sharing my ideas with her, hearing a different perspective – I value that very much,” he says.
“Early start for the day,” concurs Jyoti Sagar, the chief mentor at J Sagar Associates (JSA).
Many more of India’s elite lawyers cited being an early riser as an enabling factor of their success. For Marylou Bilawala, a partner at Wadia Ghandy & Co, getting up early allows her to get more out of her day, “both personally and professionally”, while for Darshika Kothari, a senior partner at AZB & Partners, the early start gives her time to spend alone with a cup of tea. “It helps me reflect on things and helps in maintaining my equilibrium,” she says.
Whether through prayer, meditation, yoga, mindfulness or other activities, practising spirituality in one form or another is highly recommended by many of India’s top lawyers.
Zia Mody, the managing partner of AZB & Partners, says she starts every day with a prayer, while at Kanga & Co, senior partner Preeti Mehta finds that meditation helps her enjoy “simplicity devoid of unnecessary materialism and frills”.
Other lawyers point to spirituality as a means of expressing gratitude. “I end my day with a small prayer of gratitude for all that I have,” says Patodia at Dua Associates. “This small routine trains your brain to see the world with a grateful heart. It is always humbling to acknowledge all that one has been endowed with.”
Whether achieved through spirituality or other means, many top lawyers stress the importance of a positive mental attitude. “Emphasize the importance of being positive and focused,” says CAM partner Avaantika Kakkar, while Rabindra Jhunjhunwala, a partner at Khaitan & Co, says successful lawyers should “always be positive and see the glass half full”.
While extensive reading is often a fundamental requirement of legal work, it is easy to overlook the importance of reading outside of office hours. Suhaan Mukerji, the founding partner of PLR Chambers, recommends “at least one hour of non-work reading” per day.
Akila Agrawal, a senior partner at CAM, is a prolific reader of fiction. “It helps me understand human behaviour,” she says.
Abhishek Tripathi, founder and partner of Sarthak Advocates & Solicitors, believes that reading a wide repertoire of material is important for lawyers. “I read newspapers, magazines, articles, literature, fiction and just about anything,” he says. “It gives me insights into the people and the world around me, which is a must-have skill for a lawyer.”
Phoenix Legal partner Abhishek Saxena also recommends “reading on diverse topics”, while other top lawyers prefer their non-work reading to have a connection to their professional needs.
“Every day I take time out to read works in areas like economics, climate change, technology and public policy related to my area of work,” says Amit Kapur, a joint managing partner at JSA. Gowree Gokhale, a partner at Nishith Desai Associates, says she reads every day about law and the industries she focuses on, while JSA partner Dina Wadia prefers a mixed diet of legal and non-legal material. “I try to read something new every day, both legal and non-legal it gives me a wider perspective,” she says.
Singh, at Phoenix Legal, reports having an insatiable hunger for knowledge. “Read, read, read,” he says.
In these testing times of remote working, fostering a team spirit and supporting the professional development of all employees is more difficult than ever. Despite this, India’s elite lawyers are acutely aware of the importance of investing in people. Lawyering, after all, is a people business, and with no tangible products to sell, and in many cases no bricks and mortar to fall back on, the value of a law practice is simply the sum of its people. Recruitment, retention and staff development are therefore among the most important activities of any legal leader.
Hemant Sahai, the managing partner of HSA Advocates, reports spending 60 minutes every morning with his key management team, while Nusrat Hassan, co-managing partner of Link Legal India Law Services, lists among his top priorities “investing in building a team” and “creating a positive work environment”.
There are many ways of doing this. Vivek Chandy, joint managing partner at JSA, advocates “inculcating a sense of discipline and ownership into the team”, while V Lakshmikumaran, managing partner of Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan, says he treats his employees like members of his family.
“Trust your team,” is the advice of Karan Singh Chandhiok, a partner at Chandhiok & Mahajan.
“Take time to relax and pursue your hobbies,” says ALMT Legal senior partner Aliff Fazelbhoy, in a statement that is echoed by many of India’s top lawyers. There is widespread agreement among senior members of the profession that a good work-life balance is important for effective stress management and maintaining a rounded personality, both of which are essential traits of top lawyers.
What constitutes the “life” side of a work-life balance varies from lawyer to lawyer. Julka, at Remfry & Sagar, enjoys “time spent gardening amongst nature, in the company of my dogs after a hard day’s work”, noting that it’s an effective way for him to destress and recharge his energy.
“[My hobby] was playing tennis, which I pursued despite work pressures,” says Ranji Dua, the managing partner of Dua Associates.
“I have a life outside law,” says Wadia at JSA. “It makes you a more rounded and engaging person.”
For most lawyers, family is the overriding priority when it comes to work-life balance. “Family is the core of my existence,” says Shuva Mandal, the managing partner of Fox Mandal & Associates. “Wherever I am, I stay in touch with my wife, my children and my parents.”
Despite ever-increasing client demands and the intrusion into our lives that modern electronic devices facilitate, a balance must be found that protects the most cherished aspects of lawyers’ personal lives from professional encroachment. Zarir Bharucha, the managing partner at ZBA, has found one strategy for achieving this: “I don’t check my phone until I finish breakfast,” he says.
And for those not yet convinced of the value of making time and space for a fulfilling personal life, these sobering words from Jhunjhunwala at Khaitan & Co: “At the end of the rat race, you will still be a rat. Follow your passions outside of work. It will keep you happy and energized. Work hard, but party harder!”
Even lawyers at the very top of the legal profession must not rest on their laurels. The value of continuing professional development at all stages of a legal career should never be underestimated. This is clearly understood by the elite members of India’s legal profession, all of whom are well aware that professional development was not only a factor that facilitated their rise, but is also what keeps them relevant and empowers them to retain their positions at the top of the market.
Anoop Rawat, a partner at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co (SAM), describes painstakingly keeping himself updated on all the latest developments, and regularly checking legal updates from multiple sources.
But professional development goes further than simply keeping up with new laws. Krrishan Singhania, the managing partner of K Singhania & Partners in Mumbai, says he regularly attends seminars, on both legal and non-legal matters, to gain a wider knowledge of the business challenges facing his clients.
For Shwetasree Majumder, the managing partner of Fidus Law Chambers, the key is “educating and updating my tech skills, and staying on top of latest tech advancements that enhance professional service delivery”. Shardul Thacker, a partner at Mulla & Mulla & Cragie Blunt & Caroe, highlights a more literary path.
“Developing a rich vocabulary in English is a must for communication, both written and verbal,” he says.
Sagar, at JSA, says he strives for constant learning. Quoting Apple founder Steve Jobs, he stresses the importance of “staying hungry for improvement and staying foolish”.
The often overlooked skill of time management comes in at number three on our list. A large number of India’s elite lawyers mentioned this as one of the enablers of their success, with many of them emphasizing the importance of that tried-and-tested productivity tool, the to-do list.
“Tick on the things-to-do list,” says Phoenix Legal partner Manjula Chawla. “Maintain a diary and a to-do list,” says Sameer Tapia, founding partner at ALMT Legal. “Clear the to-do list for the day,” says Ajay Bhargava, a partner at Khaitan & Co. Mody at AZB & Partners, meanwhile, “finishes each day by making a to-do list for the next day”.
But to-do lists are just the start. Harry Chawla, founding partner of Atlas Law Partners, focuses his time management priorities on “adhering to timelines set by the clients”, while Mehta, at Kanga & Co, takes the three pronged approach of “disciplined routine, time management and teamwork”.
Hiroo Advani, managing partner of Advani & Co, manages his time by restricting his engagements. “Accept only one hearing a day, therefore always be prepared,” he advises.
Of course, the reason that time management features so highly on this list is that any lawyer who is unable to keep pace with a client’s schedule will very quickly find themselves falling out of favour.
“Never miss a deadline,” warns Fazelbhoy, at ALMT Legal, “except in an emergency.”
“Walking,” says Sumeet Kachwaha, the founding partner of Kachwaha & Partners. “Walk in the evening,” says Advani, at Advani & Co. “Start and end the day with a walk,” says Alok Dhir, managing partner of Dhir & Dhir Associates. “Daily nature walk,” echoes Manoj Kumar, the managing partner of Hammurabi & Solomon Partners. “An hour-long morning walk helps sweep away mental cobwebs and brings clarity to thinking,” says Mandal, at Fox Mandal & Associates.
However you do it, walking is obviously in vogue with India’s top lawyers, with a large number of them citing it as an enabling factor in their success.
Other forms of exercise were also frequently cited, with yoga, running and gym workouts all featuring prominently. CAM partner Yash Asher has been training for marathons, and credits this with helping his mind and body in a variety of ways. He recommends “running or exercising daily” and “focusing on health consistently”.
Many of India’s elite lawyers also mention the importance of healthy eating as a facilitator of their success. Gokhale, at Nishith Desai Associates, advocates “regular eating habits and a focus on healthy food”, while Asher at CAM also stresses the importance of “healthy nutrition”.
Mody, at AZB, meanwhile, focuses on powering up. She recommends “eating a hearty breakfast as fuel for the day”.
A lawyer is nothing without clients, so quite naturally the ability to service clients at the highest possible level comes in at the top of our list.
“Understand the commercial intent that the client wants to achieve,” says Rajendra Barot, a senior partner at AZB & Partners. “Whether it is a contentious matter or non-contentious matter, this principle is most critical.”
“Understand the client’s business,” concurs Ravi Singhania, the managing partner of Singhania & Partners in Delhi.
There must be a “relentless focus on client interest”, says Vinod Dhall, a senior adviser to Touchstone Partners.
Responsiveness was mentioned by many elite lawyers as a crucial area of client service, while Rawat, at SAM, stresses the importance of good “communication with clients”.
Fereshte Sethna, a senior partner at DMD Advocates, advises lawyers to “ensure consistency and fortitude”, while LexOrbis managing partner Manisha Singh points to the holy grail of client service, “effective turnaround time”.
Excelling at client service requires the mastering of a range of disciplines, with the understanding of clients’ needs, responsiveness, communication, fortitude and effective turnaround time being just a few. On top of these, successful lawyers require highly developed legal knowledge combined with a talent for practising the law.
These skills and aptitudes combine to give high-achieving lawyers the talent to keep key clients happy. And it is perhaps the lawyers who can master this unique combination of abilities, as well as embrace the other performance-enabling practices identified on this list, who will emerge as India’s next generation of legal leaders.
Timely warnings from elite lawyers Jhunjhunwala and Lakshmikumaran, who both caution that despite what you may have read in this article, there is no substitute for hard work. And Prasad at AP & Partners has this top tip for up-and-coming lawyers: “Don’t forget to enjoy yourselves.”