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HSA adds principal associate designation as grooming rung, adds Reliance in-houser Kunal Rajpal, will promote more

It is smarter to give top-notch lawyers a 1-2 year leg room to adapt to the task of nurturing clients, and hence the PA designation before associate partner, finds HSA

HSA joins the league of law firms with the PA designation, Kunal Rajpal first PA hire
HSA joins the league of law firms with the PA designation, Kunal Rajpal first PA hire

HSA Advocates has added the principal associate (PA) designation as the seventh rung to its career ladder, which culminates in equity partnership. Former Reliance ADA Group in-house lawyer Kunal Rajpal has joined the firm as its first principal associate.

CLC Delhi 2006 alumnus Rajpal worked at law firms Vaish Associates, J Sagar Associates (JSA) and Amarchand Mangaldas and in-house at Viacom 18 Media before joining Reliance as its additional vice president – group legal in August 2015. The addition of Rajpal heralds a three-month long process at HSA to fill up the new rung through internal promotions, said the firm.

A firm spokesperson commented: “Creating a principal associate position is not a cosmetic change but is meant to elevate and groom our performers for taking partnership responsibilities which essentially means abilities and skill-set to hand-hold and manage relationship with the firm’s clients.”

“As far as the legal acumen is concerned fee earners who get elevated to the principal associate position are right up there though perhaps just a step away from taking on complete and independent responsibilities for managing and hand holding a client relationship, all on their own. It is a bit challenging sometime, in terms of transitioning a lawyer who has been in execution role at a senior associate position straight-away to a client relationship management position.

"So the idea was to have a in-between designation whereby it recognizes your intellectual prowess and legal acumen, at the same time it is a grooming position where one can get adequate time and opportunities under the mentorship of senior leadership team of the firm as well as external HR coaching to hone your soft skills to become a successful partner.”

The designations, in order of seniority, at HSA now are:

  • trainee associate,
  • associate,
  • senior associate (SA),
  • principal associate,
  • associate partner (AP),
  • retained partner,
  • equity partner.

Until this year, SAs at the firm were directly promoted into partnership but from next year the natural progression will be from PA to AP.

HSA said that the PA designation was not intended as a “placeholder or a stop gap arrangement” and did not increase the time taken to become a partner at the firm because the upper limit of post-qualification experience (PQE) for an SA has been reduced in this round of internal restructuring.

As part of the revamped attorney/PQE hierarchy, there are overlapping bands to enable rewarding of exceptional performance (and not to keep them constrained to one band/designation on the basis of PQE). Earlier a lawyer between five to seven years of PQE could be an SA at the firm but now a lawyer between three to six years of PQE can be an SA, whereas another lawyer within the firm even at a five year PQE may become a PA, provided s/he has the requisite skill-set.

The new PQE band for PA is between 5 years to seven years at HSA.

HSA now follows the model of “partnership by invitation” whereby to make an associate partner, salaried partner or an equity partner at the firm, lawyers at HSA are invited to defend their candidacy - through unanimous voting - before the management council which currently comprises six equity partners including the firm’s founding partner, Hemant Sahai and managing partner Amitabh Sharma, said the firm. To hold HSA’s equity, a lawyer should hold a 10 year PQE as a minimum requirement, according to the firm.

JSA also introduced the PA designation to its career track last year, and had immediately promoted 16 lawyers across various offices of the firm to PA.

According to the firm's press release:

As part of the Firm’s Vision 2021 strategy, HSA Advocates (HSA) has undergone several changes over the last year, and has significantly expanded its geographical presence and capacity. HSA has also undertaken significant institutional restructuring to further strengthen the existing robust framework that had been assiduously built over the last 13 years. The restructuring is aimed at facilitating and enabling the transformational growth that HSA is undergoing consistent with its vision 2021.

The ongoing restructuring eschews mere cosmetic changes and creates opportunities for internal growth and competition. After careful deliberation, one such measure is the re-calibration of the hierarchy of our fee earners so that there is real as well as perceptible growth in individual careers and creates aspirational opportunities amongst them. The re-calibration includes, inter alia, creation of the Principal Associate (PA) designation, which is intended to elevate our performers and groom them for a future partnership role.

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