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Wadia Ghandy converts to controversial eat-what-you-kill-style model, as Ashish Ahuja now shares managing partner post

Does eat-what-you-kill yield more meat than hunting in pack?
Does eat-what-you-kill yield more meat than hunting in pack?

Wadia Ghandy has created a joint managing partner post, which managing partner Ashish Ahuja will share with executive committee partner Dhawal Mehta.

Ahuja explained to Legally India that the decision, which was taken around the beginning of this month, was not fundamental, because “we were already working with a committee system”.

The designation of Mehta as joint managing partner, was therefore mostly a recognition of Mehta’s contribution to and interest in management over the last year-and-a-half.

“Dhawal has been playing an active role in management for quite some time now,” said Ahuja. “He has a brilliant mind and some of the best ideas directing the firm emanate from him.”

Some of Mehta’s contributions included in relation to firm growth strategies, recruitment policies, according to Ahuja. “He brought forward ideas that were very very positive, that had blood and life in terms of going forward in the organisation.”

“I'm very happy at the end of the day,” commented Ahuja about how uncommon it was for law firm partners to be interested in taking on law firm management. “At least there is a road that is ahead with someone who is wiling to take it on.”

Mehta could not be reached for comment at the time of going to press.

Update: Mehta said that he would primarily focus on the professional development of the partnership and fee-earners and “cultivate that new breed of lawyers”.

“There’s no strait jacket formula or rocket science in this - turning from real service providers to how lawyers used to practice, to being more [closely and strategically] involved [with clients] in transaction or litigation work, which I primarily do.” Implementing the plan would start in the partnership, said Mehta. “There’s so much of rat race in the profession around billing hours and service and all those things -
we want to go through a lot of discussions, percolate that thought process to all the partners to start with, and through talks and implementation, bringing that to associates.”

Structuring leadership

The firm’s senior partner, Hamid Moochhala, would “mentor” both Ahuja and Mehta and also act as a mediator and casting vote in the case of a deadlock between the two managing partners.

“Whenever there is a deadlock,” said Ahuja, “we sit together and resolve it. At times I end up giving up, or at other times Dhawal, or we convince each other.”

The firm’s management committee comprising partners Bindi Dave, Marylou Bilawala, Farid Karachiwala and Shabnum Kajiji will continue to “guide us in our thinking and decision making process”, according to Ahuja.

Many of the day-to-day management decisions could be taken independently by the managing partners but some larger decisions were historically a “collaborative” process, with the entire management team, including committee and managing partner, being jointly responsible for all decisions.

Overhauling legacy

“How do you live with legacy over a period of time,” asked Ahuja rhetorically, responding on some of the more unpopular decisions made at the firm in recent years.

The firm has now concluded its process of transitioning towards an eat-what-you-kill style model of partnership, where each partner’s remuneration would depend directly on their own performance.

“The concern at the end of the day is to build a commercially viable organisation where because of inefficiencies of one partner, the rest of the partnership should not suffer,” he explained. “Each partner takes responsibility for his or her own actions, and this does not result in one partner coming into a situation of subsidising someone else.”

While the basics of the new mechanism were in place, time would “mould and mould” it further.

“The fundamental principle has been laid down that there is no subsidy,” he said, though individual partners could still at times be allowed to take commercial risks without necessarily risking their own take-home pay.

“But at the end of the day, your performance should decide what you take.” Apart from pure revenue targets, this would also include other factors such as contributions to business development and education, which could all be counted towards performance on a discretionary basis by the entire management team of eight.

Arresting and accepting change

Ahuja confirmed that the changes in the partnership structures have ruffled feathers. “Whenever there is change, and people don’t move out of the comfort zone that they are in, there’s always an impact of any change. The impact of change pushes people to think,” he said, which might lead some to conclude that they’d have to leave the organisation rather than accept the change.

“That has always been the result of any change [and] it will always be, as far as I see it, a part of the natural corollary of the change that we're trying to bring about. We're always trying to arrest it and talk to people, ‘you should take change in a positive manner’, but each person [is an individual] so he or she may not want to accept it, and we don’t [try to force them].”

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