Zia Mody is Founder and Managing Director of AZB & Partners, one of the most prominent law firms in India. Founded less than 25 years ago with 12 lawyers, the firm has now grown to more than 450 lawyers practicing in offices in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, and Pune. In this interview with Asia Law Portal, Mody outlines the history of the firm, opportunities for foreign investors in India, her thoughts on the country’s competitive legal market and how law students might prepare for a future legal career.
You’re Founder and Managing Director of AZB & Partners in Mumbai. Tell us about the firm and your practice in particular
AZB & Partners is a law firm with a wonderful story. It started less than 25 years ago with a set of 12 young lawyers, all excited about the opening up of India to Foreign Direct Investments (FDI). It has grown into one of India’s top firms with over 450 lawyers. I believe the driver which makes us stay best in class is our passion to excel.
India’s economy is growing rapidly and has become a major focus of interest for foreign companies. What opportunities and challenges exist for foreign companies in India?
India is set to become the third largest economy in the world. This is, in part, because of its growing aspirational middle-class and it is unbelievably attractive demography. The opportunity to harness the youth to generate credible sustaining jobs on such a large scale is an opportunity very few emerging markets can offer. Foreign investors find this extremely attractive. Sectors like healthcare and education are about to explode, given the state of play India is at. Private equity has a significant dry powder of funds waiting to find their way to India. Sectors looking for stressed assets find India an incredible sweet spot. Looking at the opportunities that are coming to market as a result of India’s recent Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, if India does not perform to global expectations, this is an opportunity which is only ours to lose. There are our significant pain points which continue to exist in context of doing business in India. We keep talking about the ease of doing business having improved, but the ground reality is different. The ability of companies to actually increase growth and invest in real manufacturing and kick-start large new industrial projects has not happened in any meaningful manner. This needs to be tackled so that the attractiveness of India as a destination is not only a must from a consumer market point of view, but the sentiment to enter with excitement is equally important.
Much has been written about the competitive climate in legal services in India. How did you build a successful law practice in India and what future goals do you have for AZB & Partners?
Legal services and client expectations have undergone sea change in the last 10 years. The legal landscape has become far more competitive. Clients have become far more exacting and demanding in both the quality and timelines of delivery. There is far more fee pressure. What can sustain you in a polar position is only your obsession with quality. The future goal for AZB is simply put to be the best and to stay that way so that we attract talent, retain it and build the leaders to the future. We live to be responsive to clients and ensure they think of only you.
What advice do you have for law students looking to a future career in legal practice in India?
The law student today has a mindset which is not necessarily committed to being a lawyer forever. In a law firm, lawyers often test their options such as going in-house, working with private equity, contemplating alternate careers, and entering business. So the only thing that helps a lawyer stay a lawyer all her life is her passion and not let the curiosity of learning ever dampen.