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Jyoti Sagar on Why Law Firms Need to Professionalise

In the age of sophisticated markets, teams have to work in tandem, Jyoti Sagar, founder of law firm J Sagar Associates, tells Forbes India

Published: May 4, 2013 07:09:28 AM IST
Updated: May 3, 2013 04:44:56 PM IST
Jyoti Sagar on Why Law Firms Need to Professionalise
Image: Amit Verma

Jyoti Sagar
Founder partner, J Sagar Associates
Bachelor of Law, University of Delhi; BA (hons) in economics
Founded J Sagar Associates on November 1, 1991. The firm now has over 250 attorneys and consultants and has offices at Gurgaon, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad

Q: You are retiring five years ahead of your retirement age; what do you plan to do with your free time?
Well I don’t know how much of free time I’ll have because I have professional responsibilities. We have our affiliate firm K&S partner, which is an IP firm, and I will continue to be a senior partner of that firm. And then I have the chairman and founder role at JSA, which is more on mentoring and training, where I will hopefully spend more time with younger members of the firm and do different things within the legal sphere. Plus, there is the voluntary sector work that I hope to do more than I have done in the past.

Q: When you say mentoring, what do you mean?
The idea is at two levels. One, professional organisations have to be learning organisations, which means there has to be constant interaction between seniors and juniors. So how do you make mentoring as part of the structure of any organisation where you have mentor-mentee relationship of value and are powerful. Second, people have different areas they require mentoring. At a junior level, what you need to understand and absorb is different from what you need at higher level.

Now you have a much larger organisation, where you work with people in different times zones or different projects. So it is to have a real understanding of mentoring and how one can work with colleagues at different levels at their professional progression and how you can help them get to the next step.

Q: The move to professionalise JSA: Was it ahead of its time? Did JSA lose an aggressive look because of this structure?
Professional services can’t be proprietary in nature. They can’t be run as family-owned businesses because the construct of the organisation has to be seen as very different in this day and age where a lot of sophistication and specialisation is required. You need structures that can accommodate some of that.

If one person spearheads 1,000 accounts, there’s a problem. Everybody can’t be at every place, for every client, for every event, for every matter. If I’m specialised in 50 areas, that is an oxymoron.

The point is how you work collaboratively, as teams. In a way you put forward your best team for that matter, for that domain to the client. Now, if every person believes one individual is best placed to do everything, if that’s called aggressive, I don’t know what professional delivery is because the market is increasingly getting sophisticated. I can’t do an IPO today, the best litigation tomorrow, power project on the third day, fourth day PE, and fifth day speak to a regulator. It’s impossible to do that.

Q: What would your advice be to someone in a position similar to you when you started JSA?
One thing that has changed from 1992 to now certainly, there’s more competition. At that time, the very interesting circumstances was the economy opening up, tonnes of foreign investment coming, so there was a big opportunity for people to set up a business.

Currently, that environment is not suitable because the competition is more than it was 20 years ago. So for young people, who think ‘I can do better on my own’, they require a lot more deep thinking, introspection: what will I do, where will I get my clients, what office set-up will I have, what areas of law I will practise.

Over a period of time, you are seeing much more specialisation. In the good ol’ days, we did whatever came our way, but today, a lot of law firms don’t handle personal work; law firms don’t handle divorces. People do one or two kinds of work, for example, only banking and finance. Specialisation is much ahead than the past.

(This story appears in the 17 May, 2013 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)