In Conversation with Mr Bharat Anand, Partner, Khaitan & Co
Mr Anand speaks with Krishnendra Joshi on his illustrious legal journey. He also shares his thoughts on challenges law firms are currently grappling with, his greatest learning, India's economic revival and much more in this exclusive interview.
Mr Anand, it is an honour to be interviewing you and I’d like to begin by asking you to kindly take us down the memory lane and share with us what inspired you to become a lawyer? Where were the seeds of this illustrious journey sown and how has it been so far?
I grew up in the shadows of practising lawyers as my extended family is in this field and we lived in a joint family home. However, like my brother, my aim was to obtain a Master’s in Business Administration after completing Economics at Delhi University. By chance, I applied to Cambridge University and some other top universities to read law and also won a scholarship from the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust. So, I concluded that providence has other plans for me, and went ahead with the law.
It is often said that success is easy to achieve but difficult to sustain. What has helped you build and sustain your success over a prolonged period? Did you face any hurdles in the initial years? How did you power through the problems?
One should follow one’s passion and not worry too much about recognition, money or titles. The best advice I received is to treat yourself as “the final frontier” – so if you let a point or mistake slip past you, it’s permanent and will only be used against you. So, be vigilant, passionate and patient. In the early years, that’s all you got anyhow, so you may as well let it shine through and invest in skilling yourself.
You have been an inspirational figure in the legal industry. Who has been your guiding light in your journey and how? Who are the people you have admired and looked up to?
My earliest and most lasting inspiration is my grandmother. She moved to India as a refugee and established our family and wonderful joint-family home. So, I have always found myself more fortunate than her even during times of adversity.
On the work front, I have been fortunate to work with some real legends. These are people whose energy, clarity of thought and intelligence infects one with positivity, strength and makes one a better person. The list is long, and I am sure I have missed out several names but top of the list are Madhav Dhar (who headed up GTI Capital in India) and Sanjiv Bikhchandani of Info Edge. During my tenure at Freshfields, I worked alongside several legendary lawyers, true grandmasters of their game and very decent human beings such as Tim Jones. Mr Pinto Khaitan has infinite wisdom, and its always humbling to interact with him.
What in your opinion has been the biggest change or challenge corporate law firms are currently grappling with?
The nature of the challenges differ depending upon which end of the market one is talking about – but at the very top-end of the market, in my view, marrying culture and growth will be a serious challenge for large law firms in India. It is a fundamental question – are you in the race for money or for client service through a qualitative and challenging professional life? Alignment on this issue can resolve a number of dilemmas and also make management decisions easier.
What does an ideal law firm in the near future look like according to you? Do you see emerging tech like AI, process automation and tactile communication making a significant difference in law firms going forward?
In my view, the ideal law firm is one that is clear about its objectives and purpose for existence. The entire edifice of the firm is then built around this. However, at the heart of it, law firms are in the service business and everything should be about providing clients a better service. You join over zoom or zoom in physically, depending on what clients’ want!
In the near future, I don’t see tech like AI, process automation etc. taking over from lawyers on a day to day basis. The market will arrive at some common denominators for technology and adapt to these driven by time or crisis (e.g. COVID). Some law firms will probably invest in proprietary technology and create an edge. Over the longer term, AI may actually be very effective and weed out the role of some sections of the legal industry that are less innovative and more process orientated – this is a serious possibility and we should be prepared for it that some practices that exist today may not exist in 5 years.
How have client expectations changed amid the global pandemic? How has been your experience with regards to virtual client servicing?
Clients have been accommodating when it comes to face to face meetings and, I suspect, have secretly welcomed the reduction in travel costs. However, clients have become more demanding in terms of availability. With the boundaries between home and office becoming permanently blurred, the summer of 2020 has been possibly one of the busiest I can recall. Challenges will inevitably arise when the industry gets restless and wants to meet in person. So, for example, how do you tell an aviation client you don’t want to travel by air to meet them to discuss their next transaction? It would be interesting to see how the professional services sector responds to such requests.
Which has been your most memorable case or deal so far? What peculiarities did it bring?
One greatest learning, and the deals one thinks of the most, are the ones where things could have gone off better. Often, the test is to ensure that the documentation is sufficiently robust to demonstrate that all the relevant issues were duly considered. So, in the end, the process is almost as important, and in some cases, more important, than the product. Strangely, there is huge gratification when one is able to identify an issue with a structure, the source of funding or the terms of some ancillary transaction which materially impact the deal at hand which others have overlooked. This is where experience and due diligence matters and time can be saved by some advance action and planning.
How has Khaitan & Co responded to Covid? Were there any opportunities disguised as crisis for your firm?
Strangely, Covid has helped in better peer to peer communication and collaboration across all levels of fee earners and management. The crisis has forced the absorption of technology, allowing for better inter-office resource sharing and better leveraging of our scale.
At the inaugural BW Legal World Global Submit, you shared your views on how can legal services contribute to India’s Vision of a 5 Trillion Economy? However, the economy has been hit hard due to the outbreak of Covid. So, how do you see legal services contributing in India’s road to economic recovery?
A robust legal system is essential for India’s recovery and sustained growth. India’s economic revival hinges on both investment and growth. Investment, particularly in the form of FDI, requires certainty and predictability. Mercantilism thrived in England because English courts resolutely distinguished commercial cases from others. Our biggest challenge arises from courts introducing equitable principles into the corporate and commercial arena. This makes enforcement very challenging and adds to return expectations when capital is considering India as an investment destination. For example, the fact that the performance of a bank guarantees can be stayed before an Indian court in anathema to a western investor, and it makes them mistrust India’s common law system.
Your firm won the Environment Law Firm of the Year at the BW Legal World Summit. What according to you has been the hallmark of Khaitan and Co that has made the firm a leading name consistently over the years across diverse practice areas?
Alignment on values, teamwork and putting clients’ interests first would be the firm’s biggest hallmarks. Thankfully, individual glory is not the primary pursuit.
Do you still find time for following any creative pursuits or hobbies? Would you please recommend any book or movie that left a profound impression on your mind?
Yes - I like to meditate, work out, cycle and spend time with the family. For those at law school, Barbarians at the Gate is a must-read. James Crabtree has written The Billionaire Raj. With the recent Netflix series, Bad Boy Billionaires, this media onslaught will hopefully bring about much-needed improvement in the operating, regulatory and lending environment in India as governance challenges become the subject matter of dinner table conversations and lead to positive cultural change.
What will be your one message to young and aspiring lawyers looking to build a thriving career in corporate transactional practice? What are the qualities would you like to see in them?
Invest in yourself. Read as much as you can about the type of document or issue you are about the tackle. Watch some training videos. Invest in some books or an online membership to legal resources. Your knowledge is personal. Test your knowledge on the job. Use it to make rationale arguments and get the feeling of arguing from the vantage of knowledge and rationality. That is ultimately what corporate lawyers do on a daily basis.
Around The World