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‘Poised for exponential practice growth’: Trilegal’s new MPs talk troubles, transitions, telecommutes, recruitment, diversity

The future is bright at Trilegal, despite virus, according to its new MPs

Gorthi and Parikh explain how they intend to lead Trilegal through these troubled waters
Gorthi and Parikh explain how they intend to lead Trilegal through these troubled waters

As of yesterday, Trilegal officially has two brand-new managing partners, of whom one is not a co-founder of the firm.

Both are NLSIU Bangalore graduates: Sridhar Gorthi from 1995 and Nishant Parikh from the 2002 graduating batch.

Gorthi had been part of the core team that had set up Trilegal in 2000; Parikh had joined in 2005 as an associate from Andersen Legal (that morphed into DSK Legal), and became a partner at Trilegal three years later, in 2008.

Both are based in Mumbai and part of the corporate team, which Parikh used to head before having been elected to management.

Their predecessors, Mumbai-based Karan Singh and Bangalore-based Rahul Matthan, had been running the firm as co-founders since it had been set up and formally through the management committee after it was set up around 2010 (also including co-founder Anand Prasad until his departure in 2017).

So this could signal the beginning of an end of an era for the firm - the words “inter-generational transition” featured heavily in yesterday’s press release - and in many ways it is a transition none of the large firms in India have really attempted, let alone managed, besides J Sagar Associates (JSA).

We have therefore asked both Gorthi and Parikh some questions by email about their plans for the firm and some speculation about the road ahead.

Outlook: Covid?

Legally India: Congratulations to you both! That said, this is going to be a really hard time to be running a firm. Any general thoughts on that from either of you? For instance, what are going to be the greatest challenges in the next 12 months that the firm / wider Indian legal profession faces?

Sridhar Gorthi: It’s indeed an unprecedented time to be running any business. Every day brings new challenges and we must be nimble in responding and adapting quickly. Thanks to significant investments in technology solutions made over the years, we were able to smoothly transition to work from home well in advance of the Government advisory. We have also been able to continue working seamlessly through the total shut down.

It’s hard to say what any business or profession will look like after events of such global magnitude. We believe the key is to stay close to our clients and be responsive to their needs as strategies and regulations change on a near daily basis to deal with the crisis. It’s far too early to predict a trend or an outcome at this stage.

Best laid plans

LI: Before the full repercussions of COVID had hit, what had been your most important plans and ideas for your tenure, or for the next 12 months at least, in terms of what you want to achieve in the role?

Nishant Parikh: We’ve been given this job for three years, so while the current focus is obviously on responding to the challenges thrown up by COVID 19, we certainly have thought a lot about our vision for the future.

Our emphasis is going to be on energising and enabling our very talented partners to maximise the potential of their respective practices. We will encourage strategic long term thinking in the way we focus on clients and business.

We are getting better organised into cohesive practice groups with top quality leadership to strategically build each of these practice areas. We have spent the last 20 years building a strong platform with a reputation for quality – we believe we are now poised for exponential practice growth in the coming years.

Modelling the future

LI: What do you see as the best recipe to transition a founder-equity-dominated firm, even one with an egalitarian a structure as Trilegal’s on paper, towards a firm that’s run by the second generation, so to speak?

Gorthi: A quick fact check is necessary here. In terms of equity, the founders have been in the minority for many years now - that ‘transition’ happened a very long time back. Founder equity today is a fraction of the total equity base of the firm.

What we have achieved with this initiative, is transition of management with highly motivated and successful ‘second-generation’ partners coming into prominent positions of leadership.

Is the firm ready?

LI: How do you believe is Trilegal as a firm / partnership is placed to weather major economic turbulence / challenges, both financially and organisationally?

Gorthi: Again, it’s quite impossible to predict what sort of challenges we may face in the coming months.

But the experience of the last few weeks gives us immense confidence that we will be able to work efficiently and continue to support our clients through this crisis.

Warning signs?

LI: And have you seen any impact on billings in the last month or so, and what do you think of the pipeline?

Parikh: We have seen no slowdown whatsoever in billings or average levels of busy-ness.

While courts have shut down and M&A deals may have slowed down slightly, number of instructions arising out of distress situations and contentious advice has gone up.

The firm’s performance over the last quarter was exceptional. Our pipeline remains robust and new instructions continue to flow in.

Drawbacks to equity?

LI: An all-equity model such as Trilegal’s has certain appeal for partners, but when times are tougher, it can also cut the other way and hit partners’ pockets directly. Any thoughts on how one can deal with that, as management?

Gorthi: Trilegal has never had to make a capital call on its partners and there is certainly no cause to do so now.

BD in the age of corona?

LI: Trilegal has a lot of international clients. How do you think a likely restriction on international flights will play out here, from a business development and general business perspective?

Gorthi: This is clearly an area that will drive considerable innovation in the near future. Even as lock downs lift, it is quite likely that travel restrictions will continue for some more time to come. Enforced quarantine is teaching us to explore alternatives to physical meetings and there is an increasing confidence that technology can help us achieve a lot without always needing domestic or international travel.

Women

LI: Trilegal has one of the lowest ratios of female to male partners in the industry - any thoughts on what can / will be done to address that?

Parikh: Without commenting on the veracity of that statement, let me just say that we have never shied away from acknowledging the need for greater gender diversity in our partnership and indeed, in our profession. We have 3 strong and experienced women partners in positions of leadership in the firm now and we will keep working hard to improve on this parameter.

No changes planned to recruitment

LI: Have you made any plans yet regarding future hiring and staffing requirements? Since you have been one of the largest graduate recruiters in the industry, what are your plans for law grads joining in 2021?

Gorthi: There are no changes to our recruitment plans. I should point out that in 2009 after the global financial crisis, we were one of the only firms that continued and even enhanced our campus recruitment. We strongly believe that difficult times can present opportunities to the well prepared.

Laterals

LI: Since we’re talking about generational change, what position do you feel lateral partners [of whom Trilegal has hired quite a few in recent years] should occupy at Trilegal, in terms of management and the role they play?

Gorthi: Lateral partners should and very much do participate in the management of the firm. Lateral partners hold important management roles in the firm today. We value the diversity of ideas they bring to any discussion. We have a vibrant and successful cohort of lateral partners who have integrated seamlessly with the rest of the firm and contributed strongly to our growth.

Remote workforce

LI: What are your views on working from home and how that has been going? Has there been a hit on productivity?

Parikh: Our lawyers have stepped up to the challenge with professionalism and discipline. It’s been great to see that productivity has not gone down during this phase. Of course, we would love to meet our friends and colleagues in person, but for now, work is progressing smoothly and efficiently.

Remote management

LI: And finally, are there any specific challenges / advantages to being managing partners of a law firm, remotely?

Gorthi: It’s only been one day, so it’s a bit early to call!

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