Interviews: "We would like to go deeper as opposed to wider", Abhijit Joshi on four years of Veritas LegalMay 20 2019
Four years ago, AZB & Partners Senior Partner and CEO Abhijit Joshi left the firm to start his entrepreneurial journey with Veritas Legal. Having been part of the growth of two top law firms, Joshi was best equipped to know the Dos and Dont's of how to run a new firm. When we spoke to him four years ago, he had said: "If we try to be like the large firms, we will fail". And now, four years later, Bar & Bench speaks with Joshi to find out the journey of the firm so far, the hits and misses, deal mandates, work culture and much more.
It has been four years of Veritas Legal. Have things gone as per your expectations? Are you where you thought you would be in 4 years?
We had a journey in mind, not necessarily a destination. The journey has been more than rewarding in every way. The destination is a shifting goal post. Having said that, we can say that we have no complaints of how the last four years have gone, as we have been more than fortunate. Our eyes are firmly on the future and where we may have reached today is only a pit-stop.
What have been the hits and misses in these four years?
I would not call it “hits and misses”, but certainly, there have been “learnings” on the way. Our belief in culture being the cohesive force in any service firm has deepened and enhanced. However, it would not be fair to the team if I did not mention some of the positive things that have happened in the last four years. Our league table positioning has been consistently improving within India and internationally in 2018, and Veritas Legal ranked amongst the top 10 legal advisors in the league tables for Q1 2019.
As a start-up firm, how do you compete with the bigger, more established law firms in terms of attracting the best talent? Have you altered the salary structure in order to do so?
On an average, we are observing that in 4 out of 5 matters, the counter party is being represented by one of the larger firms, so I would think that in terms of quality of matters, the exposure we provide is not materially different than the larger firms. Of course, the evolution to better quality of service is a constant endeavor and to that extent, it will always be a work in progress.
Coming to remuneration, how each firm lands up at the end of the year in terms of CTC [cost to company] remains to be seen, but we believe we will be highly competitive. Having said that, attracting and retaining the best talent is an intriguing subject. If money was the only criteria, nobody would have left a top paying employer, but this is not the case. Therefore, talent, attraction, and retention are a combination of many factors. We feel that in the long run, culture will carry the greatest weightage for talent retention, all other factors being equal.
"We feel that in the long run, culture will carry the greatest weightage for talent retention, all other factors being equal."
On the topic of competing, have you made a conscious effort to ensure that Veritas stands out from the rest?
I would not say there is any conscious effort to distinguish us from the rest. It would not be correct for anybody to say that they have better lawyers than others. However, we have remained focused on practice areas that we know best. So, while we have grown in other practice areas such as Real Estate and Bankruptcy and Insolvency, we have dug much deeper in areas of M&A, Private Equity, and Dispute Resolution.
Ultimately, quality and availability of senior bandwidth for matters will distinguish one from the other. We have been ruthlessly disciplined about these aspects. We have sacrificed growth at the altar of quality and will continue to do so. As I have said earlier, we would like to go deeper as opposed to wider and be true to our value system. The rest will follow.
What model are you following when it comes to equity sharing with the partners?
There are no models to follow here. At the heart of it, it is a simple matter. When someone becomes an Equity Partner, he or she squarely shares the profit based on the percentage. You sink or sail with the firm.
In your earlier interview, you said, “The first curve by definition is easy as it starts from ground zero. Scaling up is the challenge – a few will succeed, and a few will fail.” Have you reached the scaling up stage?
As I said before, the destination is a shifting goal post. Till we remain hungry, our scaling up will continue. The question is what is "scaling up"? We do not believe that size is the sole criteria of scaling up. Quality, depth of experience, availability, and great client satisfaction along with employee satisfaction, to our mind, are all criteria of scaling up. We will continue to endeavor to climb this scale over and over again.
The firm has got quite a few big mandates and has even featured in the league tables. How easy or difficult has it been to get big mandates? How does a newer firm get to work on bigger deals?
To be frank, when we started (and we had not gone too far), whilst people knew us on a personal level, Veritas Legal and its ability to handle large and complex transactions was still being viewed with skepticism. However, we knew that it was only a question of time as we were confident of the quality of service that we were and are providing.
It is heartening to know that the market is increasingly trusting us with larger and more complex transactions. This again is a journey. Little successes tend to accumulate, and good quality work speaks for itself. When this happens, mandates, big, small and complex will follow. We are not in a hurry; we will do it right. I think I have answered how newer firms can get bigger deals. This is not rocket science. Consistent quality and hard work pays, and yes, patience is a virtue!
Veritas Legal recently won the Employer of Choice Award. What is the work culture at the firm like?
There are awards and awards, but this one we are particularly proud of. While awards do not define us, at some level, an award like this does speak for itself. As I have mentioned consistently right from the time we started, culture continues to be the cornerstone of our philosophy. It is for this reason that we were studied by final year students of IIM, Ahmedabad for the course on professional services. Participation and transparency are important pieces for us at all levels.
There are several initiatives that we have taken ranging from the Pro Bono initiative to the Health initiative, where the firm provides free of cost counselling for all firm members and their respective families.
"Individuals can discuss their concerns with a trained counsellor in a private, confidential, non-judgmental and supportive setting."
Views at Veritas is a popular initiative where eminent speakers from industries other than law are invited to give a talk. Movie screenings with a take-back, is another initiative to provide inspiration and guidance on various aspects of life.
What are your expansion plans?
As I have said earlier, we will continue to go deeper as opposed to wider. Having said that, expansion, if any, will follow talent. If we get a good person with similar value system, we may choose to expand with that person. We will not expand as a stand-alone strategy and then look for talent.
You said in your earlier interview, “All I can tell you is that I won’t be around in the next 10 to 15 years. I like the theory of redundancy.” Does it still hold true?
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