There's a Need for a Vibrant Contract Enforcement Mechanism and Speedy Enforceability of Rights—Seema Jhingan, Founding Partner, LexCounsel Law Offices—TMT Law Firm of the Year
Ashima Ohri, our Managing Editor speaks with Seema Jhingan about her success in law, monumental legislative changes in recent years, and her thoughts on winning the 'Technology, Media and Telecommunications Law Firm of the Year' at the BW Legal World Global Legal Summit and Legal Leaders Awards 2020.
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?
I was impressed by the rigour of the process for the awards and details sought by the Jury during the elevated pitch basis the information provided. The Jury sought clarifications on many areas covered in the documents submitted which meant that they have taken the time and effort of carefully reading each of the entrants’ details. It is always great for the team to be recognised for all their hard work in an open forum by legal luminaries and senior Supreme Court judges.
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?
I started my career as a young lawyer in 1994 with Singhania & Co., when there were fewer women lawyers and corporate law firms. After a year in litigation, I found my true calling in corporate, commercial, and transactional law which I greatly enjoy to date. I was mentored by late Mr. J. K. Gupta who guided me in the art of advocacy and encouraged me to focus on the core of the legal issues among varied and often conflicting facts and issues. It was an exciting time as India was on the cusp of economic liberalisation post the new 1991 industrial policy. This gave us extensive opportunity to work with foreign investors on cross-border transactions. From foreign collaboration to joint ventures/technology agreements to shareholders agreements, exchange control regulations, minority protection, foreign exchange remittance and regulatory investment approvals, I got great exposure in core corporate and transactional matters. Challenge of supporting large clients in their investments in India, ensuring correctness of opinions to briefing seniors was exciting as well as daunting.
After a long stint with Singhania & Co. and Titus & Co, we started LexCounsel in 2004 as a small firm with little resources, no support or affiliations, no clients or premises/infrastructure but since then our Firm has grown in size, clients, team and reputation. However, there are many miles to cover yet including creating more offices of the Firm across India to create accessibility for clients to avail quality legal services locally at cost-effective rates.
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?
Self-Belief, consistency of effort and attention to details helped me shape my initial years of practice. In the subsequent years, my deep interest in law practice and passion of keeping the client’s interest at the centre of our services shaped my career.
Young lawyers will need to combine unrelenting hard work with attributes such as persistence, ability to read, interpret law and convince, focus on quality work etc. Short cuts in law practice seldom works. Bring passion and purpose to your work regardless of whether you are pursuing litigation or corporate practice, and client referrals and success will not be far behind. Also, for young women lawyers, never bring or let others bring gender to your profession. For instance, since beginning, I used to see myself as an advocate and never as a woman advocate (even during the times when there were fewer women lawyers). Majority of the barriers and roadblocks are in our minds and when we do not get defeated by them, others are also forced to give way.
We have seen a spate of legislative changes in recent years that have been monumental in reforming India's legal framework across all sectors. Would you please highlight a recent development concerning your practice area that has positively impacted the industry?
Ease of doing business needs uniform licensing process and labour-friendly laws. The recent consolidation of registration processes under a single-window under the Companies Act 2013 is a welcome step. The evolving bankruptcy/insolvency landscape in India is an exciting legal development that is enabling debt-ridden companies to re-structure. Proposal to consolidate data privacy and protection laws and the new labour law codes are steps in the right direction. However, more is needed as the industry needs a vibrant contract enforcement mechanism and speedy enforceability of rights. Introduction of mediation process before litigation and establishment of commercial courts are intended to bring ease of enforcement of commercial and contractual rights.
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?
2020 has been a phenomenal year in the learning curve and adjusting to new dynamics. Practices such as virtual courts, virtual meetings and conferences, online research and delivery, and most important work from home (which was unthinkable in 2019) become a reality overnight. Most organizations, law firms, and legal services on a whole re-adjusted to the new paradigm rather efficiently. Going forward, legal teams would continue to follow a hybrid model of work from home and office, online delivery, virtual and face-to-face meetings considering the ragging pandemic.
What role can law/law firm/an individual play in making workplaces truly diverse and inclusive.
Each of us has the responsibility of making workplaces diverse and inclusive but it starts from the top in most organizations. For instance, our Firm is gender-neutral and sharing of opportunities is based on performance and competency rather than social, economic, gender, or for that matter ‘which law school’ extraneous considerations. From the partners to senior lawyers to staff, each of us attempts to ensure that biases are avoided. Teamwork, sensitivity, and collective growth promote harmony at workplaces.
An experience, case or person that left a lasting impression on you.
Mr J K. Gupta, partner at my previous firm made a lasting impression on me for his wisdom, his accuracy and efficiency in dealing with complex legal issues and his compassionate personality. Also, challenging professional situations has been a great teacher and I have grown the most through those difficult situations. Each hardship brought a new resolve and calmness within and thus the ability to deal with them.
Law firm practice of the future: LegalTech tools that are transforming the traditional methods of legal practice in India.
The Firm is equipped with advanced technologies, management resources, updated library systems and other dedicated support systems to ensure timely delivery of legal services. From online research tools to cloud hosting, the Firm has a robust support system. The litigation team uses apps to support case tracking, feedbacks and status.
What keeps you busy when you’re not working? Any favourite book or movie/series that you'd like to recommend to our readers.
Keeping some downtime for self and with family is important. I enjoy unravelling different cultures and people, their stories, history, and lives and therefore travelling comes on top of the list. I read a lot (both fiction and non-fiction) but the ‘Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle is an all-time favourite. I enjoyed the series ‘Crown’ on British royals on Netflix and like watching documentaries. Yoga/exercise and meditation are another stress buster.
Any other thoughts, message to our readers. What other than hard work is a mantra to success?
Each individual creates his or her own mantra for success based on personal attributes and choices but one common thread among most successful people is their passion and sense of purpose to their work which is generally combined with the need to be of service to others in pursuit of personal goals.
Personally, my focus on striving excellence and service to clients has never disappointed me.
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