ALM Properties, Inc.
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J. SAGAR ASSOCIATES: Q&A
J. SAGAR ASSOCIATES ACTS FOR LEADING MULTINATIONAL CORPORATIONS AND INSTITUTIONS SUCH AS PEPSI, WALMART, ASIAN DEVELOPMENT BANK. WHY DO YOU THINK MAJOR GLOBAL CLIENTS LOOK TO ENGAGE YOU ON THEIR PROJECTS?
IN terms of attracting, and retaining, clients, we think that we successfully convey our focus and commitment to keeping ahead of the market. We can show how our practice has evolved from a generalist to specialist offering and we can demonstrate our ability to bring in unique expertise to each transaction. We are a sophisticated firm that can handle various complex transactions.
TO WHAT EXTENT HAVE YOU MODERNIZED YOUR BRAND BY ADAPTING YOUR BUSINESS MODEL TO MEET NEW CLIENT DEMANDS?
From its origins as a solo practice in New Delhi, J. Sagar Associates (JSA) has grown to become a major national law firm in India comprising over 250 lawyers and consultants, including more than 50 partners based across its five offices in New Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.
JSA has made a concerted effort over many years to build an institution that survives its founders. In India, where the majority of firms are family-owned or controlled by one or two senior partners, there are some younger and modern firms that have a more equitable structure. In November 2012 we celebrated the 21st anniversary of the founding of our firm, so we are one of the longest-established in that category.
Our management model is very democratic. We have an executive committee of seven members consisting of 5 elected partners and Co-Chairs Jyoti Sagar, Founder Partner and Berjis Desai, Managing Partner The elected partners each have a fixed term of office and a specific portfolio to oversee specific functional areas: finance; talent; processing and quality control; IT and knowledge management; client development and networking.
We also have a compensation committee that looks at equity partner compensation. We follow a performance based modified lock step whereby every three years we review equity percentage allocations.
HOW DOES BEING A COLLEGIAL PARTNERSHIP SET YOU APART FROM OTHER LAW FIRMS IN INDIA?
One of the issues with Indian Firms that we see is vested interests. Essentially, either family control or presence of senior partners who install their family members or prodigals and this created a glass, or more frankly concrete, ceiling for others. We formed this firm with an important rule to combat that: no family hiring within the firm. We also eschew a policy of incoming capital contributions or goodwill purchase. Instead, we operate a strict meritocracy, where promotion is based on talent alone and existing partners cede equity for the new entrants. We have specific levels of achievement that all associates are expected to reach as they progress to partnership there are no distinctions in terms of lineage, heritage or wealth.
We also have a strict retirement age of 65 to ensure that there will be no vested interests and the baton passes to the next generation of members in the firm.
Furthermore, we have a much flatter equity structure than most Indian firms. Generally speaking, partners own modest amounts of equity (for example, senior partners including myself have less than 7% each, as opposed to extremely skewed equity structures in several firms, in favor of the founders or senior partners). This creates a wide equity spread and ensures that we accommodate aspirations and have stakeholder commitment to the firm and its development and growth.
In short, this is a firm that belongs to all of us and that seeks to perpetuate itself. This fact alone sets us apart from many tightly controlled firms in India.
WHAT BENEFIT DOES YOUR NATIONAL APPROACH GIVE TO CLIENTS?
We maintain a one nation, one firm, one balance sheet philosophy. There is no profit differentiation between our geographical centers and all partners share out of the central firm pot, irrespective of their location. This ensures that we can work efficiently across borders because the partners know that everything we do benefits the entire equity structure. This philosophy enables us to put together capable and experienced teams for every deal across the country, rather than dictating that it is handled by just one office that may not be equipped to resource the deal satisfactorily.
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR YOU TO KEEP REFINING YOUR INTERNAL POLICIES TO ENSURE CONSISTENCY ACROSS THE FIRM?
Consistency is very important to us. We do recruit laterally, but two-thirds of our partnership is comprised of lawyers that have worked themselves up through the firm. We are conscious that we need to constantly review our processes to incentivize our young lawyers and to ensure that we elevate the right people.
We are currently redefining competency expectations so there is more clarity for associates at each level. We also continually look to hone our training framework, to ensure that we introduce the right training at the right level for example technical skills and IT training. Basically, we take a holistic approach to firm management; no detail is too small if it can assist our clients.
A MAJOR FIRM PHILOSOPHY IS NO DEPARTMENT ONLY PRACTICES WHAT DOES THAT MEAN IN PRACTICE FOR CLIENTS?
In the past, lawyers worked on everything that came their way. However, transactions and the regulations have become more sophisticated over the years and one size does not fit all! To combat that, we have consciously built our practice areas and expertise to allow partners to work in one or two specific practice areas. Partners do not stray into practice areas that they do not belong to. That calls for team approach. So, for example, if we work on an IPO for an oil and gas company, the deal will be led by a capital markets partner but will also involve a member of the projects team that has a strong domain knowledge of the oil and gas sector.
We currently have eight practice areas and these are: corporate commercial, M&A and private equity; banking and finance; capital markets and securities; regulatory and policy; dispute resolution; taxation; and projects.
Clients look for practical advice, and our deep knowledge base in these eight practice areas equips us with the tools to provide pragmatic solutions and speedy response and turnaround times.
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR A FULL-SERVICE FIRM TO INVEST IN NICHE PRACTICE AREAS?
There are definite niche areas where our firm shines, for example, the whole area of economic regulation. JSA has a separate regulation and policy practice which no other firm has as a dedicated practice area in that space.
It is also possible that new areas will become more central to the firms spread of practice focuses. For example, at the moment, environmental issues are handled within our regulatory and policy practice but it is quite possible that area could spin off and form a new distinct practice area for us. Similarly, employment currently sits within our corporate commercial practice but as demand grows we may find that there is a need to establish a distinct employment practice. As certain areas grow in strategic importance, we review our handling of those areas to ascertain if we need to build a more dedicated offering.
In addition to our practice focus, we have particular strength in various sectors where partners have domain knowledge. These include construction and engineering; education; energy; hospitality and leisure; knowledgebased industries; media, entertainment and sports; mining; real estate; retail and franchising. These sectors are across-practice strengths and ensure that we are able to resource a wide range of transactions.