Interview with: Rashna Imam, Managing Partner & Reshad Imam, Partner

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What do you see as the main points that differentiate [law firm name] from your competitors?

Based on client feedback over the years, what differentiates Akhtar Imam & Associates from other firms is the personal attention we, the Partners devote to each matter despite our busy schedules.

Our clients also benefit from the extensive networks we have created and the industry knowledge we have acquired over 40 years of law practice in Bangladesh. The firm was founded in 1980 by our Senior Partner, Akhtar Imam. He is now a Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh and regarded as one of the best legal minds in Bangladesh.

In addition, the wide range of legal services that we offer, make us a one-stop firm for our clients. Our firm is one of the very few firms in Bangladesh that excel in both corporate advisory work and dispute resolution (litigation and arbitration). Even though we do not specialize in criminal law, we have referral arrangements with leading criminal law firms to cater to the criminal law needs of our clients.

Last but definitely not the least, we have the experience of leading landmark constitutional law and company law cases and advising on multi-million-dollar Mergers and Acquisitions. We regularly drive law and policy reform through public interest litigation, advocacy and engagement with stakeholders at all levels of the Government, NGOs and private sector as evident from the wide media coverage our court cases enjoy.

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

We see our Mergers and Acquisitions, Fintech and Foreign Investment practices growing in the next 12 months.

M & A activity is steadily on the rise. 2017 saw major mergers in the power and telecommunication sectors. 2018 saw a major acquisition in the Tobacco industry. With many of the industries reaching saturation, consolidation through mergers and acquisitions is the next inevitable phase. We feel ideally suited to handle the workflow given our advisory role in various mergers and acquisitions over the years, including, acquisition of Sheba Telecom by the Egyptian Telecom Giant, Orascom to form Banglalink (one of the largest telecom operators in Bangladesh), proposed acquisition of the passive telecom infrastructure of the second largest telecom operator in Bangladesh, merger of the different entities of Marie Stopes International in Bangladesh, and our advisory role in the proposed acquisition of the tobacco business of Akij Group (one of the biggest conglomerates in Bangladesh) by one of the largest tobacco multinationals.

Bangladesh is currently moving towards a cashless society. The pandemic has further increased our reliance on cashless transactions. We have noted tremendous interest in the Bangladeshi market from foreign Fintech companies of late. In 2020 itself, we have set up a liaison office in Bangladesh for Visa Worldwide Singapore Private Limited (a concern of Visa Inc., a long-standing client of the firm) and incorporated several subsidiary companies in Bangladesh of foreign Fintech companies. We believe, this trend will continue over the next 12 months.

Bangladesh is the second fastest growing economy in South Asia. It is one of the few countries in the world that secured a positive GDP growth despite the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, we expect a continued flow of foreign investment into Bangladesh across diverse sectors, and given our expertise in legal and regulatory compliance issues relating to foreign investments, we expect our foreign investment practice to flourish.

What’s the main change you’ve made in the firm that will benefit clients?

We have started holding regular training sessions for all our associates and interns in order to build their capacities, expertise and industry knowledge to serve our corporate, finance, and dispute resolution clients better. These training sessions are conducted by the Partners themselves and customized to enhance the skills and expertise that are most in demand from our clients.

Although this is not a change that has been introduced recently, it is worth mentioning that we continuously update and add to our rich law library created over a span of 40 years. It is undoubtedly one of the best law firm libraries in Bangladesh and greatly enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of our legal research team which ultimately benefits our clients. We also subscribe to various online international legal databases to further enhance the efficiency and thoroughness of our legal research.

We have recently digitized Legal Knowledge Management to ensure that prior work produced and accumulated expertise gained over a period of 40 years are not lost and are easily accessible by all our lawyers when solving legal problems of clients.

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

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased reliance on technology for all industries in Bangladesh. This is especially the case for the legal services industry. The first lockdown in Bangladesh was accompanied by a complete lockdown of justice for a month or so when the courts did not function at all.

Our Partners played an important part in the movement that led to the historic launch of virtual courts in Bangladesh. They spoke up in different social media platforms on the need for virtual courts and the need to train our lawyers, judges and court officials for smooth functioning of virtual courts. They actively engaged with members of the higher judiciary and UNDP Bangladesh (Bangladesh’s development partner in this regard) to make virtual courts a reality.

Our lawyers are all well versed in conducting virtual court proceedings and participating in virtual meetings and webinars. Despite the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued to and are still serving our clients through various virtual means. We believe that technology enabled legal services is here to stay in Bangladesh. Given massive traffic congestions in all metropolitan areas, virtual meetings with clients have proved to be much more cost effective over the course of the last year.

Can you give us a practical example of how you have helped a client to add value to their business?

Our lawyers are trained to keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice. This has proved extremely beneficial for our retainer clients over the years. For example, recently we have helped a leading e-commerce platform (a long-standing client) avoid risk of criminal liability by advising them to take down a nationwide consumer offer they had launched in view of a recent High Court Judgment. Our client was unaware of their exposure to criminal liability and greatly appreciated our proactive approach which helped them avoid criminal liability, associated costs and reputational damage.

We also add value to the businesses of our corporate clients by helping them deal creatively and effectively with regulatory and compliance issues. This we do, not only by advising when instructed, but also by proactively holding highly interactive training sessions on corporate compliance, knowledge sharing sessions on desired or necessary areas of law or on implications of latest amendments to existing laws. Our clients have always found these sessions very useful in understanding their legal responsibilities, managing risk and lessening the impact of complex regulatory regimes on their transactions or day-to-day operations. We have recently held training sessions for a leading fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) multinational on Advertising Laws of Bangladesh to help them come up with legally compliant yet effective, from a marketing perspective, claims for their products.

Another way in which we add value to the businesses of our clients is through our deep and extensive industry networks. For example, recently we set up a liaison office for an international payments company (a long-standing client) in Bangladesh. Following that, when our client tried to open a bank account with a foreign bank in Bangladesh, they were told to produce a trade licence first, even though a liaison office does not need a trade licence (not being able to engage in any kind of commercial activity). When our client approached us for assistance, we leveraged our strong networks within the bank to resolve the issue expeditiously.

Our strong relationships with regulatory authorities and members of oversight agencies coupled with our equally reputed corporate and litigation practice enable us to give our clients, when advising them, a fully informed perspective.