Building the Largest Law Firm in India

Question: How did you build your law firm?

Cyril Shroff: Well, I think the history of from goes back a long time, we are more than 90 years in existence and right till the early 90s, we are essentially a boutique shop we specialize in a few areas including financial services. We are very well reputed but and more punching way above our weight but we were small in terms of the size of the operation.

The main growth has occurred in the last 15 years. That’s been driven primarily by I think three factors. First and foremost the market group. The Indian economy really started globalizing and getting more liberal from the early 90s after the policies that the government pursued so that gave us firstly that large amount of transactional work on the basis of which you could build a large corporate firm. So the market opened up.

The second important factor was the availability of high quality employable law graduates from universities that were being set up using a slightly different model. The national law schools, which you have sort of based on management institutions, they changed the format in terms of legal education, so the availability of high quality law graduates allowed us to recruit and fuel this expansion

And the third factor, which is sort of more personal to us was a more entrepreneurial, more western oriented management culture. Our law firm is structured very similar to many western organizations. We have formal career tracks, practice groups, and we’ve tried to use best practice in terms of structuring our organization more institutionally.  

Question: What kind of leader are you?

Cyril Shroff: I think I inspire trust and a lot of the young generation has believe in the vision that I have spelled out for them. I have been very open in terms of communicating what my vision for the firm as well as the vision for the Indian legal industry has been, a firm believer that India’s independent law firm sector has got enormous potential and there are a lot who believe in that vision and follow me.

Question: What challenges do global law firms face?

Cyril Shroff: I see basically two models of law firms in the world. One of the global law firm they go by the name of one-stop shops, which will open an office, everybody see and opportunity and will also practice the local law of that jurisdiction.

That’s a successful model as well but that’s not the only model. And the other model is those of independent law firms, national champions like ourselves which have some unique strengths as well and I think both have their strengths and weaknesses. For practicing a cutting edge work in a jurisdiction I think the latter model is infinitely superior because you have the best lawyers and the best expertise that is available. 

We are seeing also the impact of the financial crisis for instance on the former model. The former model is driven largely by following financial sector clientele across the world and when the financial sector itself, the leading global banks, and investment banks they themselves come under pressure. The natural impact on this law firms is also where they feel the pain with them as well and like the banks themselves are shrinking so are the law firms.  Whereas firms like ours and in different other jurisdictions they somewhat more insulated.                       

Question: Should foreign investors worry about intellectual property rights in India?

Cyril Shroff: There will always be some amount of nervousness not because we do not substantially recognize those rights but enforcement can be somewhat slow and patchy but for a diligent American corporation which is willing to pursue its intellectual property rights and protect them, India will still deliver the end product and a number of corporations have experienced that, for instance companies like some of the leading technology players in the world--I don’t want to name them--or even drug manufacturers, they’ve had eventually, they have been able to achieve justice. 

Recorded on: April 29, 2009

Cyril Shroff describes his firm’s success and his own leadership.

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