Zia Mody, Senior Partner of AZB & Partners and a recipient of the Businesswoman of the Year 2010 talks about creating a successful niche as a woman lawyer in India, her journey from Chambers of Zia Mody to AZB today, vision for the firm and legal education.
B&B: You created a successful niche for yourself as a woman lawyer in India. How was it to tread this path and make your presence felt amongst a profession, dominated by men in the mid eighty’s.
Zia Mody: In the mid 1980s the profession was very much male dominated, especially at the Bar. There were very few women who practiced as counsel at that time. So it was a struggle but I took it as a challenge and opportunity.
B&B: Talk us through the initial years of starting Chambers of Zia Mody.
ZM: Chambers of Zia Mody was a young dream when I set up a sole proprietorship and started doing transactional work, mainly assisting multinationals, to enter into India. It was in the early 1990s when India opened up to foreign direct investment and my friends and professional colleagues started sending clients who were interested in commencing operations in India.
B&B: Your journey from Chambers of Zia Mody to Chambers of Zia and Bahram and later AZB & Partners.
ZM: The proprietorship of the Chambers of Zia Mody then morphed into a partnership when Bahram joined us and later became AZB & Partners with Ajay and his team joining us in Delhi. Each stage had its excitement and its challenges. But always a million opportunities.
B&B: What is your vision for AZB & Partners and where do you see the firm 10 years from now?
ZM: Our vision is to see the continued dominance of AZB in the legal market and to be seen as the natural firm to turn to for strategy, with hopefully flawless execution. Ten years from now I dream of a much institutionalized firm, with today’s young partners carrying on the baton and planting the flag at far greater heights.
B&B: You designed your firm with clear partnership tracks for attorneys, can you tell us about the succession plan at AZB & Partners.
ZM: Our attorneys have clear partnership tracks and we have walked the walk and demonstrated our intent with clear actions. Succession at AZB is not complicated. It will be the next set of partners who fill leadership positions in many ways and will chart their future in a consultative manner.
B&B: Any expansion plans for AZB & Partners in the coming months.
ZM: No expansion plans for AZB & Partners in the near future.
B&B: AZB set Bodhi Global with Patni. What vision did you have in mind when you first treaded into the LPO industry?
ZM: We walked into the LPO industry when we were quite clear that there will be a space that would grow exponentially the natural arbitrage between the excellent talented and low cost professionals in India, compared to the US and other developed jurisdictions, especially in the litigation management space. I continue to believe in this strongly.
B&B: What is your take on the issue of foreign law firm’s entry into India?
ZM: I believe the entry of foreign law firms into India is bound to happen, the issue is when! At present, as a matter of priority, the Law Minister is more preoccupied with the clearing of arrears and appointment of new Judges which he believes are probably more pressing issues.
B&B: How can we improve the quality of the legal profession in India and give it the recognition it deserves?
ZM: I think that we need more colleges and national universities which will give quality education and therefore throw many more law graduates every year than today. I believe we have a good system and some national law colleges are just excellent. It is a question of continuous training of faculty giving them better service conditions having faculty and student exchange programmes with foreign law schools.
B&B: Being the daughter of renowned Indian jurist – Soli Sorabjee, was there a constant pressure to be on the top and a thirst to prove yourself?
ZM: No. Frankly, there was no pressure. The drive was always internal i.e. to prove myself.
B&B: Your life at Cambridge and Harvard, as a student.
ZB: I had wonderful years at Cambridge and even better at Harvard. I made great friends and many friendships continue. My exposure both in England and America gave me a perspective which I draw on till today. They were unforgettable times.
B&B: One of your daughters has developed an interest in law. Your thoughts?
ZM: One of my daughters has just about decided that she might take an interest in law. So I am holding my breath. Nothing is yet decided. But hopefully she will make a career of the law and continue her legacy. I have told her it is a lot of hard work and there are no short cuts.