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Nishith Desai hires ex-Paul Weiss chair and US diplomat for BOTA

Nimetz: Trusted advisor
Nimetz: Trusted advisor
Exclusive: Nishith Desai Associates (NDA) has appointed Matthew Nimetz – US diplomat and former chair of US law firm Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison – to its internal board of trusted advisors (BOTA) that meets up to three times yearly to decide on firm strategy.

Until late 2011 Nimetz was the chief executive officer (COO) of General Atlantic Partners – the “crown jewel client” of NDA, according to the firm’s founder Nishith Desai – as well as counsellor of the United States Department of State under US President Jimmy Carter in 1977. He continues serving as a United States diplomat. He accepted his appointment to the BOTA in December of last year.

Other BOTA members are Vijay Raval, PricewaterhouseCoopers partner in the US of more than two decades, and former chairman of European law firm Loyens & Loeff Philip Van Hilten, who is now partner at a specialist tax firm called No More Worries in the Netherlands.

All three met with Desai for one day in January, followed by two days with around six other partner-level members of the firm.

“BOTA is like an independent board of directors of a company,” explained Desai. “They provide strategic guidance and mentorship. Just as internally we are accountable to our firm members, externally we are accountable to BOTA.”

“We talk of everything including plans for 2013 – strategies – and we also discuss what are the new trends that are emerging (and) how do we respond to these trends.”

The BOTA is also involved in the internal management process of the firm.

“Generally (…) 65 per cent of decisions we think should be taken unanimously by all the associates of the firm, not only higher or senior level,” said Desai. Around 25 per cent of decisions would be taken by majority vote, while 10 per cent of decisions would be made by “minority wisdom” of just senior members of the firm.

However, Desai retains a veto right on any decision, which he said he had exercised around three times in the last three years. “If I have to use my veto right then I have to go back to BOTA and persuade them and get their buy-in. Sometimes they don’t agree - then I would always go with them.”

Legally India reported this week that two senior NDA partner-level members – Siddharth Shah and Bijal Ajinkya – had left NDA and will join Khaitan & Co this month. The firm promoted three other senior members in response to fill their Shah and Ajinkya’s practice management responsibilities.

Structure

“I am basically a sole proprietor but run (the firm) like a public limited company,” explained Desai about the NDA’s internal structure. “Many of the partnerships (in Indian law firms) today are glorified employments… Until LLP (limited liability partnership) comes, we are running as a proprietorship… Ultimately what is more important is the substance.”

He said converting to an LLP model was still not feasible because of tax issues and because the Bar Council of India (BCI) had not taken a stand on whether law firms would be allowed to convert, as reported by Legally India in 2010.

A traditional partnership also had the drawback of sidling partners with “huge liability”, according to Desai. “People don’t realise that as a partner or proprietor we have huge liability so we have to buy huge insurance,” he said, adding that 90 to 95 per cent of firms in India did not have insurance. Legally India reported on the rising popularity of malpractice insurance in March 2012.

Amarchand Mangaldas has a management committee that, alongside three “promoter” family member partners and four non-family partners, also includes outsiders: ex-Slaughter and May partner George Goulding and ex-Boston Consulting Group (BCG) partner James Abraham.

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