Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas will become the first law firm in Asia to use artificial intelligence in its operations, said Managing Partner CYRIL SHROFF in an interview with SHAJI VIKRAMAN and KHUSHBOO NARAYAN, as he reflects on the 100 years of the storied law firm which has rapidly expanded its practice across several segments and has a roster of blue chip and other companies in the country across sectors. Edited excerpts.
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Your firm is celebrating 100 years of its existence. How has the transition been especially post liberalisation for the firm and the significant changes which have taken place during this period?
It is a truly remarkable legacy of 100 years and not many organizations survive that period of time and remain relevant. But the core of service proposition of serving the clients with integrity and competence is still there today. We have been nimble and adapted to the time. With every changing era we have been able to spot the opportunities, reorganized ourselves and led the change. The idea of modern law firms was invented and led by the Amarchand Mangaldas legacy and we drew a lot of inspiration from the global scene.
In the last two decades a lot has changed, first the entire approach to talent has changed and second the idea of creating a scaled up scaleable organisation. We in the early 1990’s were some 25-30 lawyers as a combined firm and now even after the split Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas is 625 lawyers. The use of technology is another area where we are constantly upgrading. We are soon going to be the first law firm in Asia to use of artificial intelligence for legal work. A lot of our mergers and acquisition diligence will be done through this. Obviously it will have to be supplemented with human effort as well.
How has the split of Amarchand Mangaldas impacted the firm?
We are prospering. See our league tables. The split was a short blip and now it is an ancient memory. The firms brand and market cache has not been affected at all. We opened a large new office in Delhi and it is also settled down. In Mumbai and South there is no impact. Everything happens for the best.
What are the changes you have seen in the Indian legal system since modern law firms came into existence in the last 25 years?
Since then the nature of legal work itself has changed from traditional disputes and conveyancing it has moved to a completely different environment with global standards whether it is how capital is raised through initial public offers, how cross border mergers and acquisitions are done or how large projects are financed. So the nature of lawyering has had to also significantly adapt to all the new offerings that has been made possible because of the economy opening up to the world. The nature of disputes have become far more complicated.
One of the disquieting things which has been voiced by many investors is contract resolution and which after the Vodafone ruling took a knock. And after that now people are again talking about demonetisation. How much of it is a worry because you engage with so many companies and clients?
Legal uncertainties continues to be a worry and it is sort of linked also to enforcement. But Vodafone and demonetisation are two very different issues. In Vodafone the issue was retrospective taxation and not respecting the judgement of the Supreme Court , despite the fact that you sort of went through the whole system and succeeded. The international community sees it almost as in bad faith. In demonetisation there is no such anxiety. From a contract enforcement point of view the international and domestic clients do not see it from the same (Vodafone case) lens. Actually they are seeing it as a positive move towards formal economy.
How much of a challenge even now is in policy implementation or execution and enforcement of contracts?
First, I would say conflict resolution and contract enforcement. Second in terms of clarity of law making and regulations. A lot of problems actually arise from ambiguous grey areas. If we do make progress in creating a better environment for doing business for both domestic and foreign, the quality of law making will have to go up. We need to pay far more attention to law making. Actually we have been quite shoddy.
This government had promised a more stable tax regime but there has been flip flops on the tax front. What do you think is the problem?
There seems to be a disconnect between the revenue administration and the political class. So the senior political leadership is gearing in a particular direction which is trying to create a more stable environment but there is a philosophical disconnect. The revenue administration and the politicians are not aligned otherwise this can never happen.
Now that a date has been set for the GST roll out, as a law firm advising many firms how do you view the new taxation regime and the level of preparedness among companies?
It is a big advisory opportunity for us especially because it is evolving on a regular basis. And there will be a lack of clarity for sometime till a new normal is found. There will be a lot of mistakes along the way so by trial and error we will get there. But GST is the game changer which will change the investment cycle.
Given the current slowdown, how is the M&A scenario?
It is quite robust. On the sell side it is stressed asset pressure and for buy side or foreign investors India continues to be a bright spot and an opportunity. And on the domestic front on the buy side some industries are particularly seeing this as an opportunity to consolidate.
The recent corporate boardroom battles have again fuelled concerns about corporate governance in Indian firms and the role of independent directors. Being an advisor to many firms, how do you view this development?
I see a lot of changes in the corporate governance atmosphere in the country. Events of last few months have forced the conversation to move to another level. For instance, independent directors now are more conscious of their roles. The role of the promoter itself is also being examined. So I think we are moving to corporate governance version 2.0 and it is a good thing. Actually now we are seeing the practical application of things like the Companies Act 2013. There is also a renewed emphasis on family governance alongside corporate governance.