The Indian legal sector is going through a transformational phase, with an increasing number of SMEs seeking legal services, according to New Delhi-based GRIP member Ahlawat & Associates (A&A). The full-service law firm was established in 2012 and recently joined the Global Restructuring and Insolvency Professionals (GRIP) Asia-Pacific network.
According to Ms. Tania Ahlawat (Partner, A&A), SMEs based in India are recognising the need for good legal advice as being imperative for their growth. “However, these SMEs are also financially conservative and as a result prefer to work with firms that understand their position and can assist them accordingly,” Tania says. “This is providing many opportunities for new and upcoming law firms to prove their mettle and, if successful, retain and build a relationship with these clients. The next few years are going to be extremely interesting in the legal sector for this reason.”
Ms. Sheena Ogra, Senior Associate with A&A, adds: “SMEs are looking for a more personalised approach; they are happy to work with smaller and mid-sized firms where they can receive quality legal services with a client-centric approach, at a price that is tailored to suit their needs. This approach helps in establishing long-lasting business relationships between the law firm and its clients.”
Ahlawat & Associates has four partners, including the Founding Partner, Avnish Ahlawat, who has been practising since 1978, as well as 25 lawyers. The firm’s head office is in New Delhi and it also has offices in Haryana, Chandigarh and Mumbai. It specialises in corporate and commercial, transactional advisory, insolvency and bankruptcy and employment and HR advisory services, and handles many cross-border matters. The majority of its clients are in the agritech, manufacturing, industrial, IT and healthcare sectors.
How GRIP helps extends reach
The GRIP network means local insolvency practitioners are able to provide their clients with even greater capabilities and resources to handle cross-border matters. COVID-19 has led to a greater demand for international expertise and experience in the insolvency and restructuring sectors. Tania says joining the GRIP network will greatly benefit the firm.
“Our firm has grown at an exponential rate in terms of client and staff numbers,” adds Sheena. “We expect to enter more international markets in coming years and feel that having a prominent network of law firms, which GRIP provides, will be a huge help. We also aim to provide valued, practical, and strategic legal solutions combine with highest global standards and local expertise to serve clients operating in Indian jurisdictions from fellow GRIP members.”
While the pandemic is presenting many challenges to the region, Sheena says another for the Indian legal fraternity is “remote working and digitalisation”. The introduction of technology became essential to ensure continuity of legal work, while Court proceedings were made virtual.
“Previously, technological support in law was far from unanimously accepted, but it has been an immense boon for the functionality of the judiciary as well as other practice areas of law,” Tania explains. “It is incredible to see how different generations now acknowledge that the way to thrive in our respective areas of practice is through the amalgamation of age-old knowledge and modern work culture.”
Tania says the workplace has changed and so employment law will grow to include more cases, such as workplace disputes over working from home capabilities, safe working environments back in the office, and employer’s duty of care when it comes to potential waves and future pandemics.
Sheena adds that in India, manufacturing, hospitality, aviation and travel and real estate and construction sectors have been hardest hit. “Working from home is very difficult if you’re a manufacturer or in real estate, as they are industries that require manual labour,” Sheena says. “Shifting gear to a survival mode and reworking the best way to manufacture and retain clients without losing traction is very challenging. With so many travel restrictions across the borders, the aviation and travel industries are facing massive struggles. While this did ease, due to sudden rises in COVID cases, the situation was turbulent again.
The legal industry of India has witnessed several changes post the pandemic. “After the first lockdown, law firms began reworking the way they ran their businesses to come up with the most effective ways to service their clients,” Tania says. “For a service industry that thrives on face-to-face communication, not just in court but also with clients, this task was very challenging. It was one of the toughest challenges to ensure that the quality of legal support was not compromised in the absence of huge revenue.”
Tania says the first wave of COVID unfortunately resulted in many firms leaving the industry, but those that were able to adjust and adapt have equipped themselves to face the worst – and they continue to do so.
To help it cope during these tough times, A&A has introduced a “work from home” policy for its team to ensure everyone’s well-being is being looked after. “We are continuing to promote this work culture as it is demonstrating greater productivity. However, with the hybrid model combing remote working and office time, it is the time to recognise the importance of proper cyber security as well,” Tania says.
“We are also encouraging young legal talent belonging to batches of 2020 and 2021, through our paid traineeship program. The program provides formal legal training to selected candidates and gives them an opportunity to showcase their talent with a view to joining our team as associates, especially at a time when the employment opportunities are at low pace.”