Ashima Ohri

A business economist, lawyer, and writer.

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"There is no secret sauce. One must work hard, set goals, create a strategy and execute." Manisha Shroff, Partner, Khaitan & Co

Shroff talks about her illustrious journey in law, her mentors, array of work she handles at Khaitan & Co; and much more in this exclusive interview with Ashima Ohri, Managing Editor, BW Legal World.

Manisha, would you please tell us where did this illustrious journey begin and at what age did you decide to study law. Please walk us through your early years of education and the decision of becoming a lawyer. 

I am not so sure about the “illustrious journey” part but I come from a family of lawyers in Kolkata. My parents were always keen for me and my sister (who is also a lawyer) to be academically proficient and therefore apart from normal schoolwork, we were exposed to small and inane legal work like dictation, filing, list of dates, typing or numbering etc. While then, it seemed mundane but I feel, subconsciously the seeds of becoming a lawyer were planted then.  

I was fortunate to get into NUJS, Kolkata through the all India entrance exams, during my final year at school and I enjoyed law and college life in equal measure. Law as a subject and the way it was taught in NUJS was fun and challenging. So, that is how it all started. 

Who have been your guiding North Stars and the biggest inspiration in this journey? 

There is not one single person whom I can say is my mentor. Obviously, my parents initially. They always supported me in my endeavors. In my first job with Amarchand Mangaldas, Mr. R. Vedsagar and the late Mr. S.H. Bhojani, taught me the basics of banking and finance and I always feel that has moulded me into a debt financing lawyer, which is my chosen specialisation. In my present firm, Khaitan & Co, I have always got tremendous support and mentorship from Mr. Haigreve Khaitan and Mr. Sudhir Bassi who have both taught me nuances about being a partner, stepping into the leadership role and running a law firm practice.  

Would you please tell us more about the array of work you handle at your firm? 

At Khaitan & Co, I divide my time between two practice areas, which also complement each other as both relate to fund raising and debt i.e. (i) Debt Capital Markets and (ii) Banking & Finance. This covers the whole gamut of financing products including general corporate finance, cross border lender, acquisition finance, project and construction finance, fund raising through debt instruments and debt listings both nationally and internationally (bonds, CPs, CDs) structured products, derivatives, private credit and restructuring and insolvency. 

Would you please summarily tell us the current status of the sectors of the economy your work in, the roadblocks in our path and the way forward? 

The Banking sector was one of the sectors to be accorded the “essential services” status once the Covid-19 pandemic began and while it has been resilient, various reports have come forth that the pandemic has affected the best of companies and businesses that were otherwise viable before the outbreak. The status of the economy is currently low and various sectors which were flourishing prior to pandemic have been hit, therefore the banking sector is rallying to help these customers and sectors whilst simultaneously trying to bring reforms that ensure liquidity and ease of business in these times.  

The aftermath of this pandemic would be a possible and very likely rise in the number of bad debts across small & medium businesses as well as large enterprises that did not anticipate inactivity for such a long period of time. Experts across the sector are anticipating a steep rise in the number of non-performing assets that banks will have to declare.  

Though the silver lining is that businesses are getting back on track in the “new normal” and for us as legal service providers as well, it has been a learning experience to adapt the documentation and the process of successful completion of transactions factoring in the pandemic and remote executions.   

Over these few months the Banking sector has had to reinvent itself. It has concentrated on how to develop and have sustainable business continuity models in place and has adapted to embrace the digitalised and socially distant way of banking.  

What in your opinion has been the biggest change or challenge looming over the legal landscape of India amid COVID-19?  

The overall effect on the economy has definitely affected the legal industry. While the entire industry has had to deal with moving to the virtual world of conducting transactions and providing legal advice online, the banking industry has been hit by the suspension of the insolvency code, the suspension of court proceeding or limited availability of virtual courtrooms and increasing defaults in the lending transactions due to the borrowers being affected by the pandemic. 

What can law firms do today to ensure they survive in an era of disruption? How is your firm staying futuristic? 

In order to ensure that law firms survive in this era of rapid disruption, law firms need to invest in technology and digitization. Traditional forms of business development for law firms through in-person meetings, conferences and networking has had to adopt to the “new normal” where this has been substituted by video calls and meetings. Quality of legal work being the best despite the lower revenues in such times is the key to maintaining and building client relationships.   

One of the important factors that has helped Khaitan wither the Covid-19 period has been a dedicated IT infrastructure that has enabled seamless remote working for all the lawyers of the firm, many of whom are in their hometowns. Anticipating the crisis and ensuring business continuity, has kept the firm, one step ahead. Further, we also have a dedicated Covid-19 resource centre, wherein the updates in law and other fields due to the impact of the virus are collated in an easily accessible form for all on our website.  

Other than work, what else keeps you busy? Would you please share your other interests and hobbies with our readers. 

I love to travel and try out new cuisines. If I am not sleeping during my time off, you will find me either painting, cooking or binge-watching British series or reading.  

Many Congratulations on joining the BW Legal World Elite 40 Under 40 Club of Achievers 2020. What to your mind has helped you get to where you are and what advice would you have for others who want to set off in a similar direction? 

It may sound cliched but there is no substitute for hard work. I firmly believe that law literally is not “rocket science” and there is nothing that cannot be achieved by hard work and constant reading. Also having sound fundamentals will always help you, be it as an associate or as a Partner.  

What’s the secret sauce to becoming a good lawyer? How can a lawyer from a non-ivy - league college tip the balance of success in his/her favour.  

There is no secret sauce. One must work hard, set goals, create a strategy and execute. It is as simple as that. This holds true for a lawyer from non-ivy league college as well. There are numerous examples of lawyers from non-ivy league colleges who have done exceedingly well.  

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our lawyers of the future, any golden piece of advice from the treasure trove of your experiences in the industry? 

As a law firm partner, we get a wide variety of matters and I would like to share that while we all have our specialization, we should always be prepared for new challenges. Don’t close your mind to new areas of law just because the issue is not within your area of specialization.  

As a final note, would you please recommend to our readers your favourite book or movie/series that left a lasting impression on you. 

“The Crown” and “Downton Abbey” series are favourites and I keep going back to it again and again. 


*The interview was published in October 2020.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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