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Interview: Why and how Lexygen decided to donate Rs 1.1 cr of free legal work to start-ups, Covid NGOs (after Rs 50L drive last year) [UPDATE-1]

We asked Lexygen founder Vijay Sambamurthi more about the firm
We asked Lexygen founder Vijay Sambamurthi more about the firm

Bangalore-based private equity boutique Lexygen, set up in 2006 by Vijay Sambamurthi, has pledged to donate $150,000 worth of free legal advice to start-ups hit by the pandemic and NGOs (especially those in the healthcare and health-tech space) on a first-come-first-serve basis.

We have reached out to Lexygen with several questions and will update the article if and when we hear from them (responses received, see below).

The offer will be open for three months from 17 May 2021 until 16 August, and the firm is envisaging spreading this free legal advice across 20 to 25 organisations or companies.

Advice would primarily span corporate, FDI, contracts, labour, start-up issues, “legal metrology issues” (which is the “the application of legal requirements to measurements and measuring instruments” apparently), commercial disputes and resolution strategy.

Fee-earners (or “Lexygenians”, as referred to in the Facebook and LinkedIn post announcing the initiative) would still be able to bill the hours and would get “full billing credits”.

Update 18:08: Questions asked, answered

We have received a response from Vijay Sambamurthi to several questions, which we have set out below.

He said that the firm had had a “a lot of thought and brainstorming around (especially this year)" whether the firm should instead run “a ‘Lexygen COVID Relief Fund’ and collect donations from Lexygenians and from others and so on”.

“However, we felt that too much of our time and mindspace would get taken up with matters like regulatory registrations, compliance, audits, marketing efforts to spread the word and so on, which would frustrate the expediency of our efforts,” he said. “We all felt that our contributions through the Lexygen COVID Pledge would be far more effective, as we learned from unsolicited feedback received from appreciative Service Recipients from 2020. Further, we decided that Lexygenians would be better off making individual donations to causes and fundraisers that we each have comfort with and preference for, rather than the approach of pooled donations.”

How did last year go?

Sambamurthi confirmed that last year the firm had helped “around 32 companies in a similar initiative, delivering a total of Rs 50 lakh of legal services.

LI: What kind of organisations took part last year? Did you get a lot in the health-adjacent space?

VS: “Last year, the Service Recipients were primarily startups and a few later-stage/mature companies, who felt the need to take our help under the Lexygen COVID pledge due to the sudden uncertainties thrust upon them by the lockdown.

“There were no NGOs at all last year, nor did we specifically list out a preference for healthtech/healthcare startups last year, as the focus was not so much on pandemic-relief but on the economic aspect alone, as that was the need of the hour in the early stages of the pandemic.

“This year, on the other hand, we have added NGOs and funds being set up for COVID-relief work and R&D initiatives as eligible Service Recipients, as that is also the dire need of the hour with the second wave.”

A cynical question

LI: Without wanting to be cynical and while an unequivocally wonderful initiative, there’s obviously also a potential marketing element also. I.e., are any of the start-ups or NGOs you advised last year now also paying clients?

VS: “Our primary and most important objective behind both editions of the Lexygen COVID Pledge is quite simply to help, without any expectations, startup companies, mature businesses and other entities that have been either badly effected by the pandemic or who are doing great work in relation to alleviation of the pandemic.

“There certainly is an aspect or possibility that some of these Service Recipients may subsequently take up our services on a paid basis, and some of them indeed did so last year.

“But I’d call that more of a goodwill-generation element rather than a ‘marketing element’. The goodwill generated by the great advice and help provided by us pursuant to the Lexygen COVID Pledge may possibly benefit us in the long run, but that is not our key priority now - the key priority is to help these guys without any tangible expectation of a payback. We do not require, for example, that Service Recipients should mandate us on a paid basis for anything at all. The ones that have done so have done so of their own free accord.”


LI: Will it create quite a bit of additional work?

VS: “Most certainly it will, especially as we have (fortunately!) been very busy with deals and other billable advisory work during 2020 and in 2021 as well, and we hope we stay as busy or get busier.

“Our Lexygen COVID Pledge commitment therefore, will undoubtedly, add to the workload of our hardworking team (though not too much at an individual level), and could place some stress on their mental/emotional wellbeing. To help address this, we have announced that all work done by Lexygenians on the COVID Pledge matters will get them full billing credit as if they were working on a fully-paying billable matter. In addition, we will also be welcoming some new colleagues this year, and that should help our team with our rational workload management policy.”

Original announcements

The Facebook post by Lexygen was first reported by Bar & Bench.

The full Facebook and LinkedIn post by the firm reads:

Last year, when the pandemic hit India and a national lockdown was announced, we at Lexygen were one of the very first Indian law firms to do our bit for the alleviation of stark difficulties caused to Indian businesses, by announcing our Lexygen COVID Pledge, under which, over a period of 3 months, we donated approximately USD 70,000/ INR 50 lakhs worth of top-quality legal advice to a mix of startups and later-stage Indian businesses, that were helped a lot by the timeliness and strategic utility of our advice when they were facing much financial pain.

While our whole nation was hoping for a quick recovery from the pandemic in 2021, we have all been hit instead with a second wave of the pandemic that has been more virulent, and far more fatal than the first. While we as a nation grapple with the deep emotional damage caused by the innumerable deaths of friends, family and dear ones, this second wave also direly threatens India’s economic progress, which would even more massively dent our already hurting society. In our view, it is important to protect from the pandemic the fragile sections of our entrepreneurial ecosystem, as they are not just value-creators, but also job-creators.

Therefore, after much discussion, we at Lexygen are pleased and HONOURED to present the Lexygen COVID Pledge 2.0! We all agreed that given the circumstances, we should substantially increase from last year the amount of free legal advice that we’d provide. Below are the key features of the Lexygen COVID Pledge 2.0:

1. For a period of 3 months, from May 17, 2021 till August 16, 2021, Lexygen will offer, on a ‘first-come, first-served’ basis, an aggregate of up to USD 150,000/ INR 1.10 crores’ worth of legal advice FREE OF COST, to the following categories of entities/persons (“Service Recipients”) who seek our help:

• Any and all Indian startups are welcome as Service Recipients. However, startups that are engaged in healthcare/health-tech businesses with a strong COVID-related focus would be given priority.

• Legitimate not-for-profit organizations that are undertaking or plan to undertake high-impact work in any of the areas relating to COVID-relief – access to hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen etc., rehabilitation of COVID-ravaged families are good examples.

• Special funds that are being set up to raise structured capital for research & development, for direct sourcing of vaccines etc. and other similar COVID-related initiatives.

• Any other entities/persons as we may determine in our discretion.

2. In order to ensure that the Lexygen COVID Pledge 2.0 has a broader impact, we will spread the USD 50,000/INR 36 lakhs per month worth of free legal advice across 20-25 Service Recipients per month. We may at our discretion, increase or reduce this allocation to maximize impact.

3. The broad areas of law on which we would provide advice under this Pledge would be corporate laws, FDI laws, contracts, labour laws, startups-related issues, legal metrology issues, commercial disputes resolution strategy, and so on.

4. Whoever wishes to avail of our services under this Pledge may do so by sending us an email to . We will do our best to respond to all such emails within 2-3 business days.

5. To generally streamline enquiries and requests under this Pledge, we may make and implement necessary rules at our absolute discretion.

6. We will keep confidential and not make any announcements of the names of any Service Recipients who avail of our services and advice under this Pledge, unless they specifically agree to allow us to do so.

7. An integral part of our Pledge is that we will strive to deliver the same very high “Lexygen Quality” work to Service Recipients under this Pledge as we provide to our paying clients!

8. Lastly, and very importantly, we are well aware of, and sensitive to, the added workload and stress that our undertaking of the Lexygen COVID Pledge 2.0 places on all Lexygenians in these already busy times. To help alleviate this, we will give all Lexygenians contributing their time and expertise pursuant to this Pledge full billing credit for their time as if they had spent all such time on a fully billable matter!

We urge all of you eligible Service Recipients out there who believe you need our help under this Pledge to write to us ( ). We keenly look forward to serving you and hopefully, helping you to emerge stronger from this situation! Thank you!

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