Ques: : Can you tell us about the initial years of setting up Advani & Co.?
Ans: I started my career as a counsel and practised for around 10 years. I probably drifted into the legal profession because of my father who as a prominent counsel in Maharsahtra. In the meantime, several major American companies approached me for work and encouraged me to set up a law firm. I thereafter started representing foreign companies in arbitration claims against ONGC etc. Then I started doing M&A work. Lehman Brothers was one of my main clients and my work in M&A slowly started increasing. I studied in Pune and so also set up a Pune office with a friend although later on our friendship broke. The Pune office deals with clients mainly in the software industry. Advai & Co.’s clients include a mixture of foreign and Indian companies. Larsen & Tourbo gives a lot of arbitration work to the firm. Also several government companies such as Jawarhar Lal Nehru Port Trust amongst others prefer to work with us than a government law officer who they feel are more court oriented. Recently, we won a case for the most valuable property which is the Centaur Juhu hotel.
Ques: Can you tell us your view on the future and success of arbitration in India?
Ans: : In India somehow the trend is different from what it is globally. Nobody likes to arbitrate since it is a slow process where the arbitrators appointed are mainly retired Supreme Court or High Court judges. Courts tend to interfere a lot with the arbitration process which is why most business deals prefer a seat of arbitration outside the country. Moreover, even government companies have started doing arbitration overseas in jurisdictions such as Singapore, London etc. The last three Union governments i.e. both the NDA and UPA governments had major road shows about amending the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 to overcome the aforesaid bottlenecks but nothing has been done so far. According to me one of the major amendments in the arbitration law should be that courts should not grant stay of an award and if a party wants a stay, then 100% of the money of the arbitration award should be deposited in court. However, Indian companies are being forced into arbitration and some smaller companies are finding it cost effective to afford Indian law firms.
Ques: What is your take on the entry of foreign law firms in the country?
Ans: In my opinion, presently foreign law firms should not be allowed to enter India. Indian firms are not yet ready to face competition. However, at the same time, their entry is inevitable and eventually they will enter the country. Indonesia is one such country as well where foreign law firms are not allowed to enter. If foreign law firms do enter especially the larger law firms, they will be financially too powerful for the Indian law firms to match.
Ques: Can you tell us something about the decision making process of the firm?
Ans: I call the shorts and run the firm while also taking all the financial risks involved. We are a small law firm and have never grown beyond 30 lawyers and am not sure where we will grow. I would also not mind in tying up with a foreign law firm. Presently, we also jointly run an LPO with AZB & Partners called Bodhi Global and have a 15% stake in the venture.