Best Service Provider to Legal Sector | In Conversation with Bithika Anand & Nipun Bhatia | Legal League Consulting | BW Legal World Global Legal Summit and Legal Leaders Awards 2020
Ashima Ohri, our Managing Editor speaks with Ms Bithika Anand, Founder, Legal League consulting, and Nipun Bhatia, President, Strategic Legal Management on their illustrious journey in law, diverse and inclusive workplaces, Legal Tech tools of the future. They also shed light on what has helped them emerge as a market leader in the law firm management & consultancy space.
Many Congratulations on winning the BW Legal World Global Legal Leaders Award for the year 2020. How was your experience interacting with the Jury and of the event?
Bithika: I am delighted to receive this award! I think awards give people recognition for their contribution and work in their respective fields. It allows the public to become aware of the contributions of the award winner, which would not be highlighted otherwise. Being recognised and appreciated for the work one does add to the satisfaction of the award winner. The jury, comprising of stalwarts and icons from the legal field, praised our efforts for bringing change and evolution to the legal sector, which was a humbling moment for me. The interaction with the jury was truly a memorable one!
Nipun: I believe awards and recognitions serve as a motivation factor to constantly redefine one’s own benchmarks of performance. They also confer the recipient with a certain degree of credibility and recognition, which acts as a catalyst in enhancing the faith and belief of not just the existing clients, but prospective clients as well.
Rewinding time: please allow us a peek into your illustrious journey in law. Where did this journey begin, who were your mentors, and are there any goals that remain to be achieved?
Bithika: My journey actually began outside the legal field. I started as a Chartered Accountant working with S.B. Billimoria & Co. and KPMG. Thereafter, I worked for 11 years with Amarchand & Mangaldas (as it was back in the day) as their CFO and later COO as well. It was at Amarchand that the idea for Legal League Consulting was born. During my stint there, I used to extensively interact with foreign consultants who would advise us for our business strategy and development. During these interactions, I realised that there is no one offering such consultancy for law firms in India. After 11 years at Amarchand, I decided to take the leap of faith and start my own unique and niche business. And I haven’t looked back since. When I started off in this unchartered territory, I did not have any mentors per se. I was doing was the first-of-its-kind venture in India. However, a couple of years into the business I developed synergies through my association with Edge International, a US-based law firm consultancy firm. Overall, my journey has been exciting, filled with ever-evolving challenges and has been deeply fulfilling. With respect to any goals left to be achieved, I believe that there is no limit to the goals one can set and achieve. The goals I started with 10 years ago are not the same today and won’t be the same 10 years from today. Also, given the increasing complexities of our world, there is a constant need to innovate and bring in new dimensions to our work. For me, there is no end to achieving goals and my mantra is to constantly strive to improve and grow and thus that reflects in my goal setting as well.
Nipun: My journey started around 2009, the year I completed my dual qualifications of being a Chartered Accountant and a Lawyer. My journey into the legal field began after my first job as a Finance Manager. Thereafter, I worked with the boutique IP Law Firm, Lall and Sethi, where I handled the entire operations - from Accounting and Finance to Human Resource Development, Administration, IT & Software, and brand development. After a 2.5 years stint of working with Mr Chander M. Lall (then Managing Partner of Lall & Sethi; now a renowned Senior Advocate), I found my mentor in Bithika Anand, who I was truly inspired by and who I look up to, in the truest sense. Bithika gave me the opportunity to work with her. Working with her gave me the opportunity to replicate my learnings for several other law firms. Ever since, I have not looked back and am proud to have taken a path less travelled, especially in a field like law firm management. Bithika has literally hand-held me through each phase of my professional journey and I owe who I am today to her. There are several goals left to be achieved as I believe at any point no matter what we’ve achieved, we’re only at the beginning of doing so much more. It has been 11 years since Legal League Consulting has come into existence and it feels like we’re just getting started!
What would you say has helped you emerge as a leader in your industry and what advice would you have for others who want to set off in a similar direction?
Bithika: I believe an essential quality for a leader is to stay ahead of the curve. People who are ahead of the curve dictate the direction the industry moves in and how the practices evolve. One quality that has helped me emerge and remain as a leader is the ability to constantly reinvent myself from time to time. Change is the only constant and I have been quick to adapt, learn and grow my approach over time. The advice I would give to people would be to have a deep sense of commitment, persistence and resolve in your pursuits. That also comes along with having a strong belief in oneself and the confidence to push against the odds when it gets tough.
Nipun: I would definitely attribute the “first-mover advantage” to our success as leaders in this niche practice area. We were the first ones to start the trend of law firm management and consultancy and that definitely helped us lead from the forefront. Having that advantage has also allowed us the opportunity to work with over 500 clients in a span of the last 11 years. The expanse of our diverse clientele is evident from the fact that we have worked with firms that have a few hundred lawyers on one hand, and on the other hand, we have helped scale up boutique practices and law firms with less than 5 lawyers! The range of clients has greatly helped us customise our approach and refine our services. The advice I would like to offer would be to ‘follow your heart’. In today’s dynamic and rapidly evolving world, there are several new and alternate fields emerging within the legal industry itself. If you do not see yourself undertaking the conventional lawyering path, then don’t be afraid to explore and try new opportunities out! Always follow your heart, know your strengths and accordingly take a chance at something new because you never know where that might take you!
How has the legal services industry transformed in the past year? What have been your key learnings from the year past and what are your predictions for the future?
Bithika: The past year has been an upheaval for all industries, including legal services. ‘Work from Home’ has been a major change and a game-changer. Law firms and legal practitioners have had to increasingly integrate technology into their everyday life (more than ever before!). Meetings and client-facing are now digital whereas pre-pandemic it was all in person. The key learning from the past year has been the reminder of how necessary it is to adapt and overcome our obstacles. We, humans, have the knack to find a way to survive and I think that really came out in the past year. COVID disrupted everything and pushed us to innovate further. It also reminded us to be conservative of our resources and made me realise how so much expenditure on an office space is not really necessary. It also taught me how to prioritize better and truly separate what is important and not. For the future, I see that people will adopt the best of both worlds - being work from home and work from the office. I also see virtual hearings and physical hearings as the systems of the future and they are here to stay for good.
Nipun: Needless to say, all industries including legal services have undergone a sea change owing to the pandemic. Prior to COVID, we were pushing our clients to bolster their online presence, of which not all were quick to respond! However, post the pandemic, it was heartening to see firms, independent practitioners and members of the legal fraternity adapt quickly and beautifully to the disruption. Another thing key change I noticed was the emergence of the human side of the law. The legal industry stepped in to help all other industries to cope with several commercial and humanitarian challenges that emerged during such testing times. I personally know of how firms proactively reached out to their clients to offer legal advice and assistance without immediately demanding fees. In an industry that is usually very cut-throat, I was happy to see the human side of law emerge. Key learnings from last year would be to know how it is important to pivot, adapt and overcome our challenges.
What role can a law firm/an individual play in making workplaces truly diverse and inclusive?
Bithika: I think that law firms have to encourage thought leadership and ideation. Each person is unique and has their own way of thinking and therefore encouraging ideation for all aspects of work is really a gamechanger. I also believe that this comes along with creating an environment and culture which is extremely open and does not restrict one’s expression. I personally do not constrict myself from hearing the views of anybody at the firm no matter how junior or senior they are. That allows a space where people can blossom and truly grow. Moreover, I also believe that entrepreneurship should be encouraged at the workplace. I believe everybody innately has the potential to innovate and come up with new ideas and things constantly. Therefore, at Legal League, we encourage entrepreneurship and allow people the autonomy to act thereby making the workplace truly diverse and expansive.
Nipun: I think for increasing diversity and inclusivity, it is paramount that we break the stereotypes that have been at the workplace for so many years. To date, I have experienced hesitancy by employers in hiring woman employees who are newly married or new mothers. In 2021, it is time we break the age-old stereotypes and adopt new beliefs. I believe this will be possible by educating workplaces of the deep-rooted biases and prejudices that may exist and create an open conversation around the same. It’s important to also sensitise people over the fine line between what is acceptable and what is construable as harassment or bullying. Lastly, I believe having gender-neutral and progressive policies must be adopted so as to prevent any bias or discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation or the likes.
An experience, case or person that left a lasting impression on you.
Bithika: I would say my time and experience at Amarchand Mangaldas made me who I am today. The kind of freedom and autonomy I was given there was empowering and allowed me to take bold decisions and blossom. It also gave me a thorough exposure to the functioning of the legal industry (as I had no prior experience in this field!). My 11 years at Amarchand set me up perfectly to create my current ventures and I am thankful for my time there.
Nipun: Undoubtedly as I stated earlier, the person who has left a lasting impression and continues to impact me is my mentor, Bithika Anand. In all the years I have had the fortune of knowing and working with her, I have learned more from her than I can put in words. One key thing I have observed from her is how client satisfaction is the most important thing and holds the final word. That has led us to adopt the approach of measuring our success not in terms of the money and fees we charge, but the feedback we get from those whom we serve. She continues to be the most driven and passionate member of Legal League Consulting, with palpable and contagious energy!
Law firm practice of the future: LegalTech tools that are transforming the traditional methods of legal practice in India.
Nipun: The message is clear that technology is here to only be further embraced and integrated and the workplace. The quicker we are to change, the faster we can grow. In the future, I see the industry heading to a more evolved way of functioning. Hybrid hearings and work from home are here to stay. I also see people heading towards increasingly adopting technology for greater cost efficiency and development.
What keeps you busy when you’re not working? Any favourite book or movie/series that you'd like to recommend to our readers.
Bithika: Prior to covid, I actually did not do much outside my work as I am a workaholic and absolutely love my work. However, post-lockdown I started watching a lot of movies and TV shows on Netflix. A recent favourite which I would recommend would be Money Heist. I’ve also finally got a chance to re-live my old passions like gardening, working out and resuming my classical dance practice.
Nipun: Outside work, I am an avid reader. A genre that I find myself gravitating towards is the law of attraction and manifestation. One of my favourite books in that regard is “Ask and it is Given” by Esther and Jerry Hicks. It is a book that has changed my life since I have read it and I urge everyone to give it a read! I follow quite a few authors – Gabriele Bernstein, Louise Hay, Rhonda Byrne, Napoleon Hill, and Dr Wayne D. Dyer – who’ve done phenomenal work in the field of law of attraction.
Any other thoughts, message to our readers. What other than hard work is a mantra to success?
Bithika: Through my years of experience, aside from hard work I believe emotional intelligence is an absolute must. The ability to understand other people, be compassionate, sensitive to their needs and problems and respect their feelings is underrated. This allows trust to be built between two people and trust is the foundation of any relationship and subsequently business. Lastly, I also believe keeping a positive mindset is key to be able to thrive at anything.
Nipun: One thing that has always helped me through the ups and downs of life is finding a way to deliberately stay happy. Focus on abundance and gratitude, rather than lack. The Universe gives you more of what you’re devoting your thoughts and attention to. If you can stay smiling through the greatest of adversities, then Universe will find more ways to keep you happy. Practising this mindset has been integral to my growth over the years.
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