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How Trilegal founders aim to hand over to the next gen, starting with new chiefs, 3-year elections

New management committee of Sridhar Gorthi (l), Nishant Parikh signify generational handover in progress at Trilegal
New management committee of Sridhar Gorthi (l), Nishant Parikh signify generational handover in progress at Trilegal

Trilegal’s founding partners are to take a step back from management, albeit gradually, with the firm’s partnership having decided to appoint a new management committee (MC) of partner Nishant Parikh and as well as co-founding partner Sridhar Gorthi.

The MC will officially take up work from 1 April with Parikh also stepping down from his role as head of the corporate practice, with a replacement for him to be identified before then.

The management reshuffle, as first reported by Mint, sees yet-to-be-fully-constituted supervisory board (SB) oversee the operations of the MC, which will be responsible for day-to-day management of the 55-partner firm.

Co-founding partners Rahul Matthan and Karan Singh had been running the MC together since the departure of co-founder Anand Prasad in 2016.

Both Matthan and Singh will now sit on the SB, also likely with co-founding partner Akshay Jaitly, and another four non-founder partners to join in due course.

“We’ve always wanted to do this generational transition but it’s actually - it always felt that we can’t become a de facto family run firm, where the founders always run the firm,” Matthan explained. “It’s always been the intention to create extended leadership.”

Following J Sagar Associates (JSA), Trilegal would be the second large Indian law firm that would have democratic partnership elections for its most upper levels of management.

Democracy is hard

The current transition has been in the wings for a long time, though planning for the new governance structure started in earnest over the past six months, according to Matthan.

A Big 4 consultancy firm had even been appointed to oversee the first democratic partnership election to the MC and make sure it is kosher and impartial (the founders themselves had never been elected into the MC roles) though the Big 4’s role eventually proved to be a more limited one. “We were planning to do a full-blown election,” recounted Matthan.

However, while Mumbai-based Parikh had volunteered to run for the MC, there had been no other takers so Gorthi eventually also stepped up to make up the quorum of two, for uncontested appointments.

“We didn’t have very wide number of people who stood and quite frankly that’s the reason that Sridhar was also part of it [the MC],” explained Matthan, since the plan had originally been to make it a completely non-founder partner MC. “But the partners felt that to jump into entirely non-founder management, without any transition even though we ran the process, people leaned on us to say this [Parikh and Gorthi] would be a good combination.”

Even if not fully democratic yet, the appointment process was robust. “We had a very very large committee,” said Matthan. “Anyone who [wanted] to be part of it can be part of it, and we spent a lot of time trying to thrash out the issues.”

The new MC will formally take charge from 1 April, and the MC’s term - and first election - would happen in three years and every three years, thereafter.

Each MC member is limited to two consecutive terms.

Breeding management depth

Law firm management, herding cats, poisoned chalices or whatever you wish to call it, can be a gig where partners blame you when things go wrong and ignore you when things are fine.

“As glamorous as it sounds, it’s not a rewarding role at the end of the day,” agreed Matthan. “You have the title, but half the time you have to do stuff, it’s hard work, this job. And a lot of partners are young and still fee earning.”

Another issue in handing over the reins, especially for a firm such as Trilegal that has had a relatively lean management structure, will be to create the next generation of leaders.

Apart from the MC so far, the main other formal management roles in the firm have been:

  • Sitesh Mukherjee as head of disputes,
  • Akshay Jaitly as head of projects,
  • Nishant Parikh as head of corporate, and
  • Nisha Kaur Uberoi, as head of competition.

“We are a 55-partner firm, it doesn’t make sense to half the partners in partnership [in management],” said Matthan. “We want to keep it lean.”

Nevertheless, gradual expansion of management is going to happen at the firm.

One of these might be the appointment of regional “office head” positions, who would be responsible for coordinating the affairs of fast-growing offices in each city (Delhi-Gurgaon, Bangalore and Mumbai).

“That would be another opportunity to demonstrate leadership,” said Matthan.

The visions behind supervision

The supervisory board (SB) is one new management function that may also act as a breeding ground, potentially, for new future MC members, once it reaches the full quorum of seven partners.

“The idea is to give more partners who want to get involved in management the ability to participate in a management body,” according to Matthan. “Part of the confidence in electing a non-founder management, even in the next election, will be how has that person performed when they were in a position of responsibility and authority.”

“We want to give more partners the opportunity to demonstrate that and to get the experience of the board.”

Day-to-day, the SB members would act to “apply a little bit more of the checks and balances that company boards have”, said Matthan. “The board’s role is really to ask appropriate questions”.

It would also oversee the larger decisions concerning the constitution of the partnership, which the MC could not do on its own but required substantial authority from the wider partnership.

The SB, with three co-founders’ presence, would also provide a bit of continuity from the co-founders, which had been a request of the wider partnership - “it’s important to do a sensible transition”, explained Matthan.

“We are very much still part of the firm and part of the management and fingers’ crossed, I hope this goes well,” added Matthan about the handover. “It’s been a very long time in the making.”

“Lots of people have tried, we are working to try and hopefully get it right,” he added about the historical attempts at transition in the Indian corporate legal industry from a founder-driven law firm model.

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