Haigreve Khaitan, the senior partner of Khaitan & Co, talks to India Business Law Journal about how his firm has been tackling the ongoing pandemic, its impact on deal values and his views on instituting long-term flexible working arrangements.
Q: What was the impact of the pandemic on the firm and what is the strategy for 2021?
A: When the pandemic started in India, we really felt the effect in March last year. We start our financial year in April. We thought that it’ll really be a year, which will be a complete loss. A year where, we will have a lot of difficulty because things were very uncertain. We started off the first three months with a lot of difficulty. I should say the first quarter for the last financial year was difficult. Our focus was the safety of our people, taking care of the people, and seeing that everybody and their families was taken care of. I think that was our priority during the first quarter.
From the second quarter onwards, we were very busy. M&A/PE was very busy, financing was very busy. Distress, refinancing and restructuring was very busy. Capital markets was very busy. The capital markets team at the beginning of the year thought that look, “we will have a complete washout here.” But I think that they had the best year ever in the last financial year.
So overall, I think the firm in the last financial year managed exceedingly well. We ended up with record financial results, but financial results are just a result of good work. And I should say that the firm did exceedingly well across practices during the pandemic year.
Q: What is the outlook for M&A, private equity and deal values this year?
A: I think the outlook, remains very positive, very good. Everybody seems to be very active. Notwithstanding that the pandemic is continuing. Everybody’s braced this, both externally and within the firm, that look, “This is something we have to deal with, but it doesn’t mean life has to stop. In fact, we have to work harder.” With that. I see that there is very good activity all around. And that we also learned a lot during the pandemic in terms of a lot better team play, amongst partners and colleagues, a lot more sharing, ease in sort of exchanging information and doing meetings digitally. It’s been a huge transformation and a very positive transformation.
Q. Khaitan recently advised on the Renew Power SPAC. What are your views on Indian companies taking the SPAC route to get listed?
A: It provides the opportunity to have an international listing, provides an exit to investors, provides an opportunity to also diversify and invest abroad. I think it’s a great opportunity. SPACs, as we see here, have been very successful in the international market. And I think more and more Indian assets could go that way. There are some structural and tax issues. So, some may opt for it and some may not opt for it because of structural, regulatory and tax issues.
Q. How has the firm’s experience been with lawyers working from home? Do you plan to make any long-term changes once things get better?
A: To be honest, working from home has had a mixed reaction. I should say the experience has been mixed. So, positive in a way, because we’ve been able to actually not let work suffer and work from home. I should say negative because the physical interaction amongst us and with the clients and with other participants, that is really missing, and it can’t be replaced by just working from home and these digital sorts of meetings. Also, what has happened is that work from home has not been most convenient for everybody. Many of us have small homes, where the families are all working from home, studying from home. It’s not been that easy.
I’d say on a long-term effect, what it has taught us is that yes you can work from home. If there can be a good combination of working from home and as well as the office, but I think that will be later. It will give us the flexibility; it will give us the ability to work when we want to work from home or when we have to work from home, without letting work suffer. So, I think that yes, we are thinking of some flexible model going forward with some flexibility lawyers will have and professionals will have to work from home. Now, whether it is now some days in the week or some time, time will tell. We haven’t really formed that up. But it looks like this flexibility will do good for all of us.