Football, cricket and long drives are some of his passions. A fourth generation lawyer and one of India's finest, Bar & Bench converses with the man who is the driving force behind FoxMandal, Som Mandal.
A fourth generation lawyer, Som Mandal enrolled in the Bar Council in 1988. After having started his practice in Calcutta, he later moved to New Delhi in 1989. The Delhi office was then 3 lawyer-strong. He is one of the finest lawyers in the country, and the driving force for the several FoxMandal offices and the merger with Little & Co. in Mumbai. Bar & Bench, in conversation with Som Mandal.
Well, I think the law firms in India have great potential. Indian lawyers have always been held in high esteem around the world. As you have seen many of the young lawyers from the Indian universities have been recruited by international law firms, which go to show that Indian lawyers are very talented. I think, if the law firms in India organize themselves in a proper manner, they law can grow substantially and compete with international law firms.
On Foreign Law Firms:
We were the first major firm in India to support the entry of foreign law firms in India. I have personally written letters to the Attorney General of India and the law minister 4 years back, saying India should open up to foreign law firms. We have consistently maintained over the last few years at several forums and in letters to authorities that foreign firms should be allowed into India. In view of the severe opposition from several large law firms in India, we can probably phase the entry in stages, as against a onetime entry. The foreign law firms may be allowed to start practicing the law of their country in India. For example, if a British firm sets shop, they should be allowed to practice only UK law.
On the Bombay High Court Judgment:
I think this judgment is not made in the right perspective. There are certain points, in which the court is perhaps right, but there are distinguishing factors between the practice of corporate advisory law sitting in chambers and litigation practice in the courts. I thinks the court failed to take into consideration the intentions of the framers of the Advocate’s Act which could not have perceived that the practice of law to include the practice of foreign law in India. When the Advocates Act was enacted there were hardly any example of lawyers from one jurisdiction practicing in another jurisdiction. Even the Rules Framed under the Advocates act permits court to allow at their discretion , a foreign lawyer to argue in courts in India. Therefore our Advocates Act and the rules framed were mainly targeted for Litigation lawyers as there was no concept of lawyers practicing out of chambers only. I disagree with the court’s finding , that the practice of English law in India fall under the practice of law under the Advocate’s Act.
Apart from that, the law has evolved over the years due to globalization. Giving advise in India under English law or other Laws and Drafting of Contracts in India cannot be held to be practice of law . When the Framers used the words ‘practice of Law’ they have only taken into consideration Indian law and not law of other countries. Then why should the court try to stop something that is the natural progression of things..
On Learning Opportunity:
The entry of foreign law firm will open door for learning amongst younger lawyers in India. The best practices adopted by International Law firms would teach young Indian lawyers something that they cant learn in Universities. With globalization and complex international transactions happening often in India training at international law firms will certainly help since most of such transactions have been done by these International law firms. I understand that most of the International law firms who wants to enter India wants to practice corporate law and not litigation. Since 95 percent of Indian lawyers practice litigation, it would result in increased opportunities for them if International Law firms are allowed to open offices in India since their clients can go directly to the Indian lawyers for litigation work. Unfortunately members of our Bar Council do not understand that they are chopping their own hand by opposing International law firms from coming to India.
If you seek a poll amongst the students in the Indian law universities regarding the entry of Foreign firms, I can say for sure that they would want entry of International law firms in India which will be good career opportunities for them.
On Cash Flow, Breakaways:
Rumors are always abound when you are doing well. The fact that people are talking about us shows that we are important players in the market. Our Delhi office which is only one-third the size of the entire firm, had some cash flow issues because we didnt get our invoices paid on time. FoxMandal is a century old firm and a few months of cash flow problems will not change or affect our business. When the cash flow problems were there, certain delays in the billing cycle existed, but it was never the case that our lawyers weren’t paid for a long time and now all these issues have been resolved.
Breakaways are nothing new for any Law firms either in India or Internationally.Partners have left from firms like Amarchand, Luthra etc, and but the firms moved on. Partners have the right to move around wherever the opportunities are better . It has happened in India for long as well but since there were no legal magazines such as yours these facts were never ever covered. Further, if a Partner moves on and starts their own venture we feel happy and proud that we have trained them so well that they can move on to their own firm. A lot of partners have also joined our firm recently as well. Wrong, calculated statements were made against us by our detractors to undermine us which clearly shows that they were threatened.
When firms grow, there is always some issue, not just in India but anywhere in the world as well. The problems we are facing have been faced by the International firms of today at some point of their growth. Banks in most countries around the world, support the law firms by giving them some form of credit either OD or advances against invoice , so they don’t depend on their invoices coming in to pay their lawyers. The support of the Banks are crucial for Law firm growth as much like any other business. The Indian law firm needs to spend a lot on their IT systems and software and knowledge management. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen in India. In order to grow like International law firms and compete with them Indian law firms needs to grow and they need support from the banks . Banks in India don’t support since they don’t see law firms as potential sector of growth for their business. Until recently, most banks even refused to even give credit cards to lawyers.
On International presence:
We have two offices abroad, one in London and the other in Dhaka. In Dhaka, we had gone there on a large project relating to the re-structuring of the Central Bank of Bangladesh, and there was a low presence of corporate law firms in Dhaka. Now we are doing substaintial business in Bangladesh.
We have been in London for two years. The first year took a little time for us to set up and in the second year we recovered our cost, which is a big achievement considering that London is the most expensive city in the world. Although a lot of our competitors made fun when we opened office in London but our move to open in London which is now the financial capital of the world has been a right move. Directly we have benefited from our presence in London and even indirectly, it has helped our Indian offices and has helped the image of the firm immensely.
On expansion plans:
We continue to be one of the leading firms in India and are looking to expand some of the areas of practices which other firms in India may not have given much thought such as Environment. We are looking to expand and strengthen some of our existing areas of practice such as Infrastructure, finance , M&A, competition law, capital markets practice wherein we have made lateral hires. We are also looking to going into other niche areas of law. In the next 5 years, we hope to open more offices in other parts of the world.
As the oldest law firm, we obviously had a very large Indian clientele, but over the years, we were actively looking towards corporate law and due to that we were looking towards international clientele and actively pursued and built up our base of foreign clientele. With changing world scenario it is equally important for us to pursue Indian companies now and we will do that more in the near future.
On family tradition:
I think law was in my blood. I’m a fourth generation lawyer and the firm was started by my great grandfather. Everybody on my father’s and mother’s side are lawyers, so I had grown up seeing and being around law. We are three brothers and despite our parents’ wish that we all do something different, all three of us ended up being lawyers.
I don’t think any parent, after watching the movie 3 Idiots, would force their children to choose a career! But personally, I would never force any of my children to choose law. However, my daughter, has just started her legal education and after finishing her studies, if she decides to practice law, then she would be a fifth generation lawyer in our family.
For me work is my passion, if I work more I unwind more. I really don’t have too much free time and a lot of my free time goes in making plans for the growth of the firm. Other than this, I play a little bit of golf and I like going on long drives. Also, I like to spend time with my family since I travel a lot and have such little time for them , so that’s important to me. I also like to play table tennis and cricket. Having said that been a Calcuttan by birth and heart I still love football and follow Indian Football closely and am a big supporter of Mohun Bagan and Churchill Brothers.