In Conversation with Shri V. Lakshmikumaran, Managing Partner of Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan Attorneys
Shri V. Lakshmikumaran talks to BW Businessworld about running 15 km of the marathon on alternate days, working at the Indian Revenue Service for nearly 11 years, developing government policies that impact masses, and creating a niche in his legal practice in his formative years. He tells him about his perspective on leadership, contraction of the economy, and many more. Read the interview to know more.
New Delhi, India: Shri V. Lakshmikumaran is the Founder and Managing Partner of Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan. He established the law firm Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan (L&S) in 1985 and has developed the practice in Tax, International Trade, Intellectual Property (IP), and Corporate laws. The firm has over 350 professionals and offices in eleven cities across India. Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan (L&S) is well-known for its high ethical standards, quality work, and transparency in all its business dealings.
For over 30 years, He has handled several high profile litigations and has led the firm in representing clients in over 40,000 litigations before the Supreme Court of India, High Courts, tribunals, and quasi-judicial authorities. He has played a pivotal role in the development of jurisprudence relating to customs and excise laws in India. His clients include many well-known Fortune-500 companies and leading Indian corporates.
He talks to BW Businessworld about running 15 kms of marathon on alternate days, working at the Indian Revenue Service for nearly 11 years, developing government policies that impact masses, and creating a niche in his legal practice in his formative years. He tells him about his perspective on leadership, contraction of the economy, and many more. Read the interview to know more.
Interviewer: Looking back at your career, do you find connecting dots between how you started out and where you are now? Do you look back and find certain milestones that you have had?
Shri V. Lakshmikumaran: I cannot pinpoint any specific case. If you're asking for connecting dots, there are definitely several milestone cases that are even today quoted as one of the leading judgments. But I would say that for a lawyer, these things are coming in the stride. And I don't think that I can say any particular case catapulted me to this level. It is the collective way of working as a team over the years.
Interviewer: I'm sure that so many young lawyers will be listening to this interview to understand that if there are certain characteristics that they need to develop in themselves in order to pursue a career in law. So what advice would you have for them? Are there certain habits and practices which you have in yourself, which you consistently have been following since your early years?
Shri V. Lakshmikumaran: Yeah, one thing I follow is the highest form of ethics. I still believe that the shortest distance between two points is still a straight line. The easiest thing to do in life is to defend the truth. I think that should be the first and foremost thing for the lawyers to adhere to. There will be several shortcuts to succeed. But this will not stand in the long stride. Secondly, youngsters must try to create a niche, creating the conditions is very very important.
In fact, when I started the law firm, I asked myself what am I going to pursue. Even 10 years of court practice may not lead to any progress if you do not have a plan. Then I asked the question, what lawyers are not comfortable with and I got an answer - technology and science. They are very good at contract law, civil law, etc. However, when you talk about high-end technology, they are not comfortable with it. I love it because I did mathematics along with physics and chemistry. And I love technology. I said, OK. Let me practice that branch of law where law and technology intersect, law and science intersect, law and economics intersect, law and accounting intersect.
So, therefore, I created a niche and then ultimately you work on it day in and day out. I'm telling you, I work 18 hour, 24 hours, 72 hours without sleep continuously for many days. And that hard work is necessary for this profession. Don't deviate from that, even an inch, people may say, be practical, so much is unnecessary. But you have to stick to your ideals. The ethical standards are non-comprisable, period. You must stand up for it.
Interviewer: Shri V. Lakshmikumaran while I am listening to you, you are a classic case of making your hobby your profession, and you don’t have to really work. You love what you do. Over the last 5 years promoters, CEOs, CFOs, that I interact with the most time, attention, energy, went in compliance. Give us some thumb rules or shall I say free advice on how you can see its audience. How can promoters, CEOs, CFOs have a playbook for compliance? Is there a playbook for compliance?
Shri V. Lakshmikumaran: You see, society has become more and more complex. Industries have come up with newer technologies and business methods. Ten years back, Did you ever imagine that a person not having a single car will run the biggest taxi company in the world? Think of it. You never thought so, but these are the technologies available today and the existing law is not able to cater to these types of new business methods. Therefore, you will extend the laws, stretch it, and try to put this on the hold till the time the legislation is amended. The fun part is how can you stretch the law to cover new business methods and new technologies that have come up. So the solution is the adaptation of the legal community to the newer dimensions of business that are operating.
Interviewer: Are there legal luminaries you look up to in India. They can be your contemporaries, the people who you usually work for. If there are, we would like to know who these are and why do you look up to them?
Shri V. Lakshmikumaran: In my professional capacity, I have the highest regard for Shri K. Parasaran, Shri K.K.Venugopal, Shri Fali S. Nariman, Shri Soli Sorabjee. I have worked very closely with them. The first judge who influenced me mentally was Justice Bhagwati. He was so alert in the courtroom it was phenomenal. I would definitely put Shri Harish Salve, Shri Arvind Datar, Dr. A.M. Singhvi, Shri Gopal Subramaniam, and our friend Shri Mukul Rohatgi. These people work very hard. They understand the briefs.
Interviewer: So what is the common thread across all these people, if you look at three or four qualities that were common across?
Shri V. Lakshmikumaran: Well, basically the power of grasp. These people whom we are talking about have the ability to absorb the contents of their brief in an osmosis phenomenon. They can recall what happened. They have a different tendency in the courtroom. I don't think they are arguing to only win a case. They are arguing to make a law point in front of others. They help the court develop new doctrines, interpreting law in new context. And that becomes the precedent for others to follow. So these are the people who think what is not in the brief, and go beyond the brief. They are the people who helped the courts to lay phenomenal doctrines.
Interviewer: We learnt your technique and mindset. What is Shri V. Lakshmikumaran’s leadership style? At the end of the day, you are the pivot around which the whole practice goes on. How do you work with your people? What are the rules you follow?
Shri V. Lakshmikumaran: I think I follow a very simple formula. From the day they join the firm, from that time, I have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that they progress professionally every day. Whether they want to continue in my office or they want to leave it to start their own practice, it makes no difference to me. But so long they are with me, I must make them a better lawyer everyday. This brings everything into proper perspective, as we speak of the joy of not just sharing wealth, but also time and knowledge. In fact, I would be the happiest person when I'd see my junior doing better than me. I have no problem whatsoever. So therefore, I don't say I'm a leader, but rather I'm a pleader.
Interviewer: You must be seeing a contraction in the economy because you work with very large companies, the government, and legal fraternity where you look at the revenue, tax sides, etc. What are your views on how to revive this? Is there a contraction?
Shri V. Lakshmikumaran: As far as the economy is concerned, definitely there will be a contraction. I must tell you one thing, I'm a marathon runner. Even today I run. I'm not able to go because of this restriction. Otherwise, every alternate day I would run 15 kilometers or so. But one thing I noticed when I run, if I stopped in between, taking some glass of water to start again, is difficult.
The same is the case in the economy. As long as the economy is running continuously, there is a cycle going on. If you stop it and restart it, it will be a tremendous effort. If you look at it, there are certain sectors that are really, really difficult.
I said that there's a demand for healthcare and pharmaceuticals because everybody realizes today that health is important. There are certain sectors in the economy that are not that affected and are already running. But there are certain sectors of the economy that have stopped. So restarting is going to take time. The Indian economy will come back to the position it was in or do better, depending upon how the government plays its card. But 2020, is going to be a tough year.
Interviewer: What should the government do on the fiscal side? On the policy side?
Shri V. Lakshmikumaran: I would say one thing. Don't do anything. Just keep quiet. Let the existing law remain as it is. Look at the things in the proper manner. We have to understand how to build the flip of the economy by wealth, luxury incentives for increased production, new goods that actually lead us to things. Indian economy will thrive and our entrepreneurs will do better.
Interviewer: You worked for 11 years at the Indian Revenue Service. How was your work experience and what was your role there? What kind of subject matters were you involved in? Tell us a little bit about that.
Shri V. Lakshmikumaran: First of all, I joined in 1974 and I left in 1985. I enjoyed every day of my work there. While I was there in Chennai at this particular time, then I was implementing the policy of the government in a fair manner. I worked very hard 18 to 20 hours a day. I enjoyed passing judicial decisions to the parties. I was a judge in the fiscal policy and in charge of the taxation policies.
I learnt how Government policies affect the common man and the economy, how the economy reacts. That is great learning for me. And I had excellent bosses during that time who taught me. I learnt a lot from them and got inspiration. They gave me the freedom to think, to draft legislation, staff proposals, and organize it. Every day, I enjoyed my stay in the government. Leaving was a tough decision for me.
Interviewer: You worked a lot with the general counsels, and personally know many of them. Have you seen a change in how GCs approach issues in the last 10 years?
Shri V. Lakshmikumaran: In the past, the whole concern of the GCs was like an attorney general to the government. Basically, they were the conscious keeper of the company and they reported to the board. Their job is basically to handle litigations. They give their perspective to the company with regard to emerging laws. But now 10 years down the line, so many changes have taken place in law. These changes are so frequent that the GCs find it difficult to keep track of what's happening in different fields of law. They are supposed to be in charge of the entire thing, the defense, litigation, manage all the legal, give their legal opinion to the clients and their bosses, etc. So today, their responsibilities are many, many more.
Interviewer: Your firm is already at the peak of its practice. So at this stage, what is the roadmap and how are you planning ahead for the next 10 years for the firm?
Shri V. Lakshmikumaran: Well, younger leaders are there so they will take it to a higher level. All they need to do is not stop. I don't have to put a damper on their spirit of growth, so I need to encourage them. They are so empowered and good. So I don't have to worry about that. I am looking forward to the team to take this ahead.
Interviewer: Last but not the least, what is the message that you have for young lawyers who are starting out in their careers?
Shri V. Lakshmikumaran: Concentrate on the subject that you like most. Try to be a specialist in more than one discipline. Stick to the truth and ethical standards. Work very hard. And it is a profession to which you have to dedicate your life.
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