Gunita Pawha is Joint Managing Partner of India’s S&A Law Offices. In this interview with Asia Law Portal, Pawha outlines the firms’ unique services offer and geographic footprint — and the efforts to innovate its practice amid market challenges including the entry of foreign law firms.
You are joint Managing Partner of S&A Law Offices. Tell us about the firm and your practice.
S&A Law Offices (S&A) is a full-service law firm with a strength of 300+ professionals, including lawyers (with in-house advocacy expertise) and chartered accounts, company secretaries, etc. We have five practice groups: Arbitration and Litigation, Contracts and Transactions, Corporate Insolvency and Tax, Intellectual Property, and Indirect Tax Customs & Trade.
In India, our offices are in Gurugram, New Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru. For more details about us, please visit our website: https://sandalawoffices.com.
Arbitration is our core and niche practice area. Our team comprises in-house arguing counsels who have expertise in arbitration and litigation. We advise and actively represent our clients both domestic and international arbitrations at ICC, SIAC, LCIA, etc., and matters relating to the enforcement of domestic and Foreign Awards in India.
We at S&A have been focusing on safeguarding our clients’ interests and on the upkeep of their businesses. We have always been available round the clock to our clients for legal assistance in supporting their businesses.
S&A believes in diversity, the firm has engaged professionals and support staff from all parts of India, diverse in culture, race, caste, ethnicity, religion, and community and manages them under the same HR policy. Such diversity brings different perspectives, experiences and opinions to the table enriching the experiences for the clients as they see their issues being identified, addressed, and resolved effectively and efficiently with more innovative ways, creativity and collaboration.
The firm conducts periodic due diligence to determine the effectiveness of its diversity programs. Furthermore, the Firm allows Continuing Legal Education (CLE) for its professionals. The Hiring, Retention, Pro Bono, Internship and CLE policies are designed and implemented to identify and retain diverse professionals who would be available to serve clients in a better way using their diverse experience, skills, and qualifications. The focus of the firm is on quality service and retaining quality resources, without compromising on diversity & inclusion.
What are the most important legal issues corporate leaders should keep in mind when doing business in India?
In law, the maxim ‘ignorantia juris non-excusat,’ or ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse,’ implies that a person cannot claim ignorance of the law as a defence to escape liability. Therefore, compliance with the legal obligations that the law of the land demands is paramount.
Primarily, compliance with corporate governance regulations, taxation law, employment, and labour laws, IPR laws and regulations, regulatory compliances, environmental protection etc., are paramount for the companies operating in India.
However, requirements of legal compliance depend on various factors, such as the nature of the business, industry-specific regulations, turnover, number of employees, etc. Therefore, it is important to understand the specific obligations applicable to a company based on its individual characteristics.
Further, it’s important to note that the legal landscape in India is evolving constantly. New laws and regulations are being introduced all the time, so it is important for corporate leaders to stay up to date on the day-to-day legal developments. By understanding the legal issues, corporate leaders can help to mitigate the legal risks and ensure that their businesses are compliant with the applicable law.
What unique opportunities and challenges exist in Indian infrastructure development?
To meet India’s goal of reaching a US$ 5 trillion economy by 2025, a US$ 40 trillion economy by 2047, and to be reclassified from a developing economy to a developed economy, the development of infrastructure is paramount.
The Union Budget 2023-24 is testimony to the government’s commitment to accelerate infrastructure development. The thrust of the Budget is on infrastructure development through higher capital expenditure, which now stands at Rs 10 lakh crore (up 33 per cent from last year), laying the foundation for achieving the goal of a US $ 5 trillion economy by 2025.
Now the question is, why does infrastructure matter? In economics parlance, multiplier effects accrue to the economy through infrastructure spending. This means that not only does the project contribute immediately through increased demand for labour, and construction materials, but also through the second-order effects.
For, infrastructure, the studies by the Reserve Bank of India and the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy have estimated the multiplier to be between 2.5 – 3.5. This means that for every rupee spent on creating infrastructure, GDP gains worth Rs. 2.5-3.5.
The Government of India from time to time has taken several initiatives to improve the economic situation and for the development of Infrastructure such as the introduction of the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme in fourteen (14) sectors, National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP), National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP) and India Industrial Land Bank (IILB) etc. Further, the Government of India has taken up infrastructure developments of huge magnitude under Public-Private Participation (PPP).
It cannot be denied that the infrastructure projects involve a lot of uncertainties during the implementation stage, therefore, dispute between the employer and the contractor is unavoidable, however, delay in resolution of dispute is an area of growing concern. The slow dispute resolution process is keeping foreign investment at bay. Therefore, it is important to take steps to facilitate quick enforcement of contracts, easy recovery of monetary claims, reduce the pendency of cases in courts and hasten the process of dispute resolution. For the purpose of speeding up the dispute resolution process, alternate modes such as Arbitration, mediation, and conciliation should be explored as the first option for resolution of any dispute.
Further, the issue of Land acquisition is one of the biggest challenges in building physical infrastructure, as it often involves resettlement of people, environment clearance and compensation issues. The problems in land acquisition have repeatedly led to project delays and cost overruns.
Despite these challenges, India is making progress in infrastructure development. The government has implemented a number of initiatives to attract private investment and improve the efficiency of infrastructure projects. With continued commitment and investment, India can overcome these challenges and build a world-class infrastructure network.
What are the unique challenges you face as joint Managing Partner?
As a Joint Managing Partner, I face several challenges on a day-to-day basis as follows:
- Attracting and retaining top legal talent: The competition for skilled lawyers is fierce therefore, attracting and retaining top legal talent is an ongoing challenge and essential for the stability and growth of the firm.
- Practice Area Diversity: Managing a law firm with diverse practice areas, such as corporate law, litigation, arbitration, intellectual property, and more, requires effective allocation of resources and ensuring expertise across all areas.
- Technology Integration: Embracing and integrating legal technology into our firm’s operations can be challenging. Staying abreast of the latest legal tech trends and ensuring data security are ongoing priorities.
- Work-Life Balance of Lawyers: The demanding nature of legal work can lead to exhaustion, and it is important for lawyers to have work–life balance. Ensuring the appropriate Work-Life Balance of Lawyers along with meeting the demands of the profession are very unique challenges.
- Client management and development: Continuously developing and expanding our client base is crucial for growth. Building and nurturing client relationships requires dedicated effort and a strategic approach.
To address these challenges, I continually learn for effective leadership, strategic planning, and adaptability. Staying informed, fostering open communication with, and upholding unwavering commitment to ethical and professional standards remain at the core of our approach to navigating these challenges successfully.
What initiatives has the firm undertaken in technological or marketing innovation?
Although Covid-19 pushed many legal professions to re-consider their relationship with technology, however at S&A Law Offices, on account of our foresight of being technology centric, COVID -19 disruptions did not disrupt our work, or commitments to clients.
At S&A Law Offices, we pride ourselves on robust technology, and delivering innovative solutions to challenging complex legal issues. S&A Law Offices had already digitalized its entire operations.
In addition, during COVID -19, we further strengthened our teams with various innovative tools/software which helps our professionals to provide time bound and effective services.
S&A publishes a monthly newsletter, Indian Legal Impetus or ILI, which is circulated via email and is also available on the firm’s website. The publication of ILI started in 2008 and is still going strong. ILI is an in-house monthly publication comprising of articles, write-ups, case analysis, etc. prepared by S&A professionals.
Other in-house publications are:
- Insolvency Round Up on insolvency & bankruptcy laws.
- S&A IP Tech providing updates in intellectual property and technology laws.
- S&A Pharma Newsletter on recent developments in pharma and healthcare sector.
- S&A Indirect Tax Newsletter bring together the newsworthy developments in the arena of indirect taxation.
S&A Law offices through its members have the memberships as below:
- Bar Council of India
- Supreme Court Bar Association
- Delhi High Court Bar Association
- Society of Indian Law Firms
- International Bar Association
- International Trademark Association
- Inter Pacific Bar Association (IPBA)
- Alliance of Business Lawyers
- Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India
- Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb)
- Confederation of Indian Industries
- Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry
- Indo-American Chamber of Commerce & Industry
- Indo-China Chamber of Commerce
- Indo-French Chamber of Commerce
- Indo-German Chamber of Commerce
- Indo-Italian Chamber of Commerce & Industry
- Indo-Japan Chamber of Commerce
- Institute of Company Secretaries of India
- New York State Bar Association
- The Council of EU Chambers of Commerce in India
- The United States Commercial Service
S&A regularly participates in various international and national conferences and panel discussions. S&A has also played a vital role in sponsoring various conferences such as Legal Era, Legal 500 GC summit, etc.
India recently permitted the entry of foreign law firms. Will this pose a challenge to S&A Law Offices?
I am of the view that entry of foreign law firms will not pose any challenge to S&A Law Offices. New rules to permit foreign law firms and lawyers to practice in India may open new avenues for S&A Law offices to forge new alliances and scale up our global operations. At the same time, I also strongly feel that entry of foreign law firms in Indian market should take place in phased manner, with proper regulations and guidelines to ensure a level playing field for all.
The change in the Indian legal industry is inevitable, but we should not ignore the advantages and challenges that may come with it. Therefore, this change should be regulated and controlled by ensuring the principle of reciprocity in a well-defined manner. This will ensure smooth transition and help build a strong and sustainable legal ecosystem in India.
How can clients and referral sources reach you?
Clients and referral sources can reach me on my official email ID which is email@example.com. Also, they can reach me on 0124-4666400. For more details about us, please visit our website: https://sandalawoffices.com.