This article is written by David Varghese Thomas, Government Law College Trivandrum.
Speaker: Ms. Bithika Anand is the Founder and CEO of Legal League Consulting – India’s first management consultancy for the global legal industry. She brings THREE DECADES of extensive experience and in-depth knowledge about the business functionalities of legal organizations. She is also the founder of the global talent search organization, Human Elevation, which provides comprehensive solutions to legal and corporate entities across all sectors. Human Elevation offers a varied and affordable on-demand recruitment solution suited to each client’s specific needs. As an Honorary Consultant to the Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF) and Member of the National Advisory Board of Indian National Bar Association (INBA), she works with the organizations and its members, advising and assisting them complying with best industry practices.
Host: Ramanuj Mukherjee is an alumnus of the National University of Judicial Sciences, Kolkata. He is the CEO of LawSikho and co-founder of iPleaders. His previous work experience includes being part of the Private Equity and M&A Team at Trilegal, Mumbai.
Has the management of law practice picked up and what is state of the art right now? Could you also state some of the proud moments you had as the founder of Legal League Consulting?
The management side of Legal practice has picked up a lot in the last ten years. I still remember the day I was working with Amarchand and left, and I thought that whatever I did, there could be replicated for all the Law Firms in India. At that time, the fraternity was not prepared. The focus was mainly on transacting law or practising law. The other aspect like the management of practicing law like from where the businesses will come, how to retain clients, how to maintain employees etc. were not given importance; however, I have seen that in the last ten years, a tremendous change. We introduced this concept among law firms, and now you see them hiring people for their business support functions, which was not the case earlier. Some of the larger firms appoint CEOs and even COOs, which we never saw ten years back.
There is a significant amount of importance to the management side of law firms because lawyers who work in the firms are well qualified to practice law; however, they are not professionally qualified to manage their organizations. Earlier it was mostly litigation-based law firms. However, with the emergence of corporate law in the late 1990s, things have changed, and there was a massive rise in the number of corporate law firms.
To talk about the proud moments, we had seen firms grow right in front of us when we started providing them with our services. We helped them with their initial marketing when nobody had LinkedIn or any other social media. We made the law firms understand why Human Resources are so important. Partnership structuring is something I would say is a proud moment for us as we have done equity partnership structuring for quite a few law firms. This is a susceptible and critical area because you have to make sure that nobody is affected wrongly due to the equity structure, which is about sharing profits and decision making powers in the firm.
How many Law firms have you worked within the last ten years? When you look at all those firms, what do you feel stands out among the high performing firms? firms which you think are high performing?
We have worked with over 500 law firms dealing with different areas of law. The firms which are high performing are the ones that introduced corporate law in some way. I’ve seen those firms who have focussed on professionalizing their business support functions or giving more important marketing and business development have also grown. I’ve also seen the firms which are specialized to have better growth. Ten to fifteen years earlier, there was a big concept of full-service firm which is still there, but because of the age of specialization, a lot of sophistication is required for various advice you give. Those firms that are sticking to specific niche areas and not trying to know everything and anything under the law do perform very well with proper management.
According to you, where do you think things are headed for law firms post COVID?
When it comes to survival, obviously, the lean firms, which have some reserves with them, will survive for a long time, but that is also not forever; it will only be for an interim period; post which everybody will be in the same situation. It also depends on how the owners think. Some owners want to bring in their savings to make the firm survive while some may not. If a firm can survive through this challenging time, it is a growth. The challenge is keeping the firm together and going until all of this ends.
Are there are some Law firms or Law practices that are seeing growth during this time, and what are the causes of this growth?
Growth can happen both intrinsically and extrinsically. Law firms have always wanted to be more technology savvy, but it was not made practicable until now. Virtual hearings have made it a necessity for a lawyer/law firm to be technology savvy. The kind of efficiencies bought in because of work from home determines the growth of a firm to a great extent. Focus on the things that can make an impact on the future of the firm. For example, build relationships, look at new prospects, improve your network on social media, and connect with people whom you used to work with or work for. If you have not called somebody in a long time, now would be a perfect time to pick up the phone and talk to them. So many people write very well who can write a book, make a paper, do legal analysis. All of this can lead to internal growth during this time when you practice all of that. It is not going to go away. For example, people who have a taste of having a remote office will probably not want to go back to the physical office. A lot of costs can be saved over there. The same value can be put in some other part of your form.
In the light of COVID, people are thinking out of the box to survive. During the most challenging time of your life, you will unleash the best in themselves. If one continues this, even after the COVID crisis is over, it can lead to maximum profitability.
As a law firm or lawyer, you have to go where the money is. In that way, there is a lot of work increasing as well as, and a lot of work decreasing. Can you throw some light on that?
I think courts have opened up for limited hearing. The moment the court hearings are going to go up, we see that there will be a lot of litigation on contracts and agreements because of the inability of people to perform the contractual obligations. But when whatever new area comes in, the competition rises, pricing becomes an issue, part, and parcel of any profession. I don’t see a lawyer not having work. Even in 2008, during the recession, I was still working in Amarchand, and we still had a lot of work when the market was down. Certain areas like litigation had picked up at that time, and the law firms who didn’t have a litigation team had lesser work, but these law firms later diversified to areas which are recession-friendly.
Is it a good time to start a law firm right now, or should one wait?
I think if one wants to start a law firm now, they should go for it. If one starts the law firm in his most challenging times, chances are he/she will be very successful when the times are over. He/she can do all the base work required to start a law firm during this time. I think it’s a fantastic time to do it because you will come out stronger than ever.
As a service provider, where do you see a surge in demand from law firms?
Digital marketing is one skill set that can help you better yourself. Efficient systems like archiving your designs, getting the help of technicians, etc. can significantly help you become more efficient. Another way of reaching out to people is through webinars.
Which sector in law firms do you think will be in demand the most?
You can’t say a name for sure because if you look at the current scenario, we can see that specific sectors like aviation and tourism face a hard time right now, which might revive its glory later on. Lawyers are never going to be out of work. Litigation, renegotiation, arbitration, and mediation will be of very high demand in the days to come. M&A activities are happening right now, and which will continue to happen, then there is the banking sector which would have work. There are specific sectors that are perennial, and one such sector is IPR. Though there are certain areas we can see growth, generally, the work has gone down, the billings have gone down at least 50 to 40%.
How is recruitment going to be back?
There are no recruitments right now. In the very few sectors were recruitment is happening, it does not include legal recruitment. So I think people should retain the jobs they have unless they have a very miserable work life. You have to prepare yourself for a very dark job market in the future.
Can law firms work remotely? there be remotely working law firms?
Yes, Definitely! After what we are going through, there are already foreign law firms going remote/virtual. This concept works very well with self-motivated people. In today’s scenario, this is not a choice but a necessity. But tomorrow, when it becomes a choice, then it is going to be a better alternative as a lot of positives are there in working remotely and virtually.
What is your advice to Junior lawyers who have been got laid off?
If they got laid off, they could apply to other law firms as there is a chance of them getting the job because they don’t have many junior lawyers. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for junior lawyers to start something on their own on a very small scale. Most Importantly, upskilling is very important. If you got laid off, then think about why you got laid off and try to work on that. Educate yourself, get an MBA, or an LLM. I know many people during recession times who go back to education, and then they come back. It’s possible to write articles, networking, they can work on their brand, themselves, or can even work on their social media. There are a whole lot of things which you can do to come out stronger out of this.
What will be the impact on salary and bonus?
There will be an impact if the situation does not improve in the near future. People won’t have deep pockets to give the same salary to their employees. But if your performance in the firm or company that you work for increases, then the chances of your employee decreasing your salary can be reduced considerably.
Would it be a good time to engage a consultancy firm to revive the existing brand position of a law firm?
Yes, I think it’s a perfect opportunity because most of the times, the managing directors are so busy that they barely have enough time to talk to us, but now they have all the time, and it’s always a good thing to get them involved in the process as it can do wonders.
Any parting message?
You will continue to evolve. The evolving doesn’t mean externally only. There is an evolving process from within the organization. It would help if you focused more on it. This process will go a long way in the future i.e. COVID world. People should not stress out on the low income/ salary, keep up the hard work, and don’t lose hope.
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