Interview with: Rajesh Begur, Managing Partner

ARA LAW | View firm profile

This year ARA LAW completes 20 years, take us through the initial years of starting the firm and your journey so far.

We began as a small firm with a handful of members in early 1996, and I am proud to say that today we have risen up to stand tall amongst the best firms in the country, as a unique boutique law firm practicing niche areas of law. We started out with the knowledge that our vision was not failsafe, but we took the plunge anyway. At that time, we had no strong backing in terms of a father figure or a known name within the firm itself; just a belief in our expertise in the subject matter and a passion to learn. The most interesting aspect of our 20-year-old journey is that we knew that our strength lay in an innovative concept – boutique corporate law firms were even more uncommon then than they are now, and we constantly reinvented and innovated our practice and kept ourselves on our toes. We were always on the lookout to do better and be better – be it our consultation services to our clients, adopting in-house best practices, new age technology, participating in external legal and business events, educating ourselves with the latest developments in law and revisiting our growth plan and strategy regularly, we only pushed ourselves to perform better and sustain a steady growth. The journey, I would say, has been one of constant learning – of course in matters of law but also in the nuances of running your own practice and what that means.
Completing 20 years does feel like a real milestone and we need to keep innovating to offer even higher levels of service to our clients. This journey though is dedicated to the people who have supported us throughout our remarkable 20-year history- our lawyers, clients and colleagues in the industry. Our journey of learning continues!

Was it a strategic decision to position ARA LAW as a boutique law firm with niche expertise?

Right at the outset we realised that it is better to be a specialised and focused firm than being a jack-of-all practice areas. Given that desire and vision we stuck to our core competencies and developed our own processes based on our experience and brought the requisite expertise, wherever required, in such transactions. Our aim had been to become the best boutique firm in the country in our niche areas of Private Equity & Venture Capital, Mergers & Acquisitions, Alternative Investment Funds, Banking & Finance, Real Estate and Capital Markets. We believed in sustaining a lean team with quality lawyers providing exceptional and timely services to all our clients and we have continued on the same path.

What do you see as the main points that differentiate ARA Lawfrom your competitors?

Every matter at the Firm gets individual Partner time and attention throughout the transaction. A dedicated team of associates with the relevant legal and business experience is assigned to each matter. This has earned us a reputation for promptness and great turnaround time, while at the same time not losing sight of the quality of our work. The quick turnaround time has also been greatly aided by the investment we have made in putting in technological aids as well as providing state-of-the-art infrastructure. As a boutique firm with a primary focus on some of the specialized areas of law – Private Equity, Venture Capital and Investment Funds, we have become a one stop shop for our clients in these niche practices. Our 360-degree approach in these practice areas – advising major investors, financial investors, financial institutions, offshore and domestic private equity houses and funds on the entire cycle of formation of investment funds, to making investments in diverse industries till their exit including structuring, regulatory advise and post transaction support, is a key differentiator.

Which practices do you see growing in the next 12 months? What are the drivers behind that?

I believe in the next few months the practice areas we will really focus on are Real Estate, Debt and M&A. The factors are internal rather than external – we’ve had a great set of senior, experienced professionals join us in these practice groups, so we’re very excited about expanding our work in these practices. As I had mentioned before, we do not believe in spreading ourselves too thin, but the talent and experience we have added to these teams is fantastic, and we’re looking forward to doing some good work. However, we will continue to strengthen our other focused practices and cater to our clients.

Which area or aspect of law do you enjoy the most and why?

PE & VC, M&A and Investment funds are dear to me personally, and hence the firm’s focus has been on these practices. The reason is simple – I’m an entrepreneur at heart, and these practices give me a chance to come across and interact with other entrepreneurs with set ups of all sizes, from start-ups to conglomerates. We are given an opportunity to act alongside them as business partners and enlighten them on legal issues and assist them in negotiations and quite often even on certain strategic business related issues. Advising entrepreneurs with vast experience and achievements in their fields on legal aspects gives me great personal satisfaction.

Can you share with us some of the strategies you have employed that have worked for the firm in the recent past?

The nature of our core practice and our clientele rightly prompted us to move to a larger, state-of-the-art office space in Bandra Kurla Complex – the commercial hub of Mumbai, as well as to open a second office in Bengaluru. Client satisfaction is the cornerstone of our firm’s work culture and our energies are focused on taking care of the legal support of our clients in the most innovative manner that aligns with their specific business goals.

Is technology changing the way you interact with your clients, and the services you can provide them?

As I mentioned before, we had invested in making sure that we are growing and adapting as technology develops further and further, and adopting the latest technology available to make our work more efficient and convenient for the lawyers as well as the clients. Client data security is our top most priority. We have adopted technology in all means of communication and storage of all confidential client informative and intellectual property. Lately, we have modernized our teleconferencing and video conferencing facilities to better interact with our clients on a real time basis. We have also implemented a new legal management solution software to enable efficient time keeping, practice management and billing.

Along with easy access to finance and the ability to laterally attract talent because of higher pay scales, technological advancement is the major reason I believe western law firms have traditionally had an advantage over us, so I am going to change what I can!

Are clients looking for stability and strategic direction from their law firms? Given the large share of international clientele that ARA LAW has, how different is client servicing between domestic and international clients?

The number of law firms has multiplied manifold over the past few years, and we recognise that there has been a significant churn in the legal market, which I believe has not been entirely beneficial for companies. I have been practicing for nearly 30-odd years now, and from what I know from the market as well as from friends who run successful businesses, is that clients prefer to have continuing engagements with their law firms and have stability in professional relationships. At the end of the day, they clearly realise that having someone on their side who understands every single aspect of their business is undeniably an advantage that they do not want to lose out on.

We have had the good fortune of having seen very little client attrition in all these years, and this may be for any number of reasons, including the niche practice and the expertise we have built or the quality of our deliverables, but over the course of time the biggest factor has been that we have emerged as trusted advisors to both our domestic and international clients.

The aim for any professional services firm has to be, to always go one step further than the assignment on hand and deliver more then what was expected from us and work towards building a long term relationship that benefits everyone.

As legal advisors we have never differentiated between our international and domestic clients. But if I were to draw differences, International clients generally have higher expectations with respect to substance, processes followed  as well as the approach of the firm. However, domestic clients concentrate more on the final solution and lesser on other aspects.

However, frankly speaking, no matter whether the client is international or domestic, we concentrate on providing them with the highest level of service we can, and our systems and processes for delivery remain the same.

Your thoughts on Indian legal industry and how the legal profession has evolved over the years.

The Indian legal sector has mirrored the growth trajectory of the country, as can be seen by the clear cyclic shifts in profitable practice areas during different phases of India’s growth. In my opinion, the recent past has witnessed a flurry of activity across sectors and perhaps the legal sector has not fully caught up. This presents a tremendous opportunity for all law firms, not only to increase their business, but also contribute to the growth of the nation’s economy.

As has been witnessed across the world, lawyers and law firms have historically become an integral part of the business community, and I believe that is our natural progression. As commercial lawyers, our advice has commercial implications and thus promoting the economy is a duty, not just a work profile.

To sum it up, the Indian legal sector is poised to take off and it is up to us to ensure that it reaches the next level of its evolution.

What has been the management philosophy of ARA LAW?

Honesty and integrity, coupled with a conscious decision of not being a part of the numbers or size game, can help you go a long way. Satisfaction of each and every client is important and all lawyers must believe in not just making deliverables but in having contributed to the benefit of the client. It’s pretty much as simple as that and everything else just ties in with this line of thought.