"There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you that one day it will be a butterfly, and this is so true of lawyers" Sanjanthi Sajan.
Responding to the pressing need for a professionally managed and dynamic law firm that would cater to large domestic and international clients, Poovayya & Co. was established in September 1996 at Bangalore.
The firm, since its inception, has recruited experienced attorneys and intelligent aspiring lawyers to rapidly grow into a full-service law firm, providing a broad range of legal services to corporates and high net-worth individuals. In areas of Real Estate, Information Technology and Media, Outsourcing, Employment and Dispute Resolution, the firm is ranked amongst the best in the Indian legal industry.
Poovayya & Co., under the leadership of Sanjanthi Sajan – Managing Partner, has blended cutting edge litigation services with large corporate advisory and real estate practices across offices in various cities. The firm is well recognized for its best in class solutions. The firm's attorneys represent clients across the entire spectrum of Courts ranging from the trial courts of the first instance, all appellate fora including various high courts and national tribunals, and the Supreme Court of India.
"The firm's litigators bring complete litigation strategy to the table in every matter they represent. In contentious disputes, merits account for only half the ammunition in the battle. It is strategy that provides for the other half. With the right litigation strategy, one can comfortably win a contentious matter of average merits" states Sanjanthi.
Over the years, the firm has received enormous recognition amongst its peers and clients. The firm and its attorneys have been highly rated in various surveys and indexations, including Chambers and Partners; Asia Law; Venture Intelligence League; Media Law International and IFLR rankings.
MORE ABOUT SANJANTHI SAJAN
After graduating from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, Sanjanthi nosedived into the legal profession. In her legal career spanning 23 successful years, she has been fortunate to have had the opportunity to navigate through a multitude of areas within the law, practicing extensively in constitutional law, corporate and commercial laws, telecommunication laws, banking and finance laws, matrimonial laws and in corporate, commercial and technology litigation.
Apart from her role in the legal profession Sanjanthi multitasks as an agriculturist- a planter (cultivating coffee, citrus, avocados, pepper, and cardamom); and has also successfully promoted ventures in the LPO and hospitality space.
In an exhilarating conversation with The CEO Magazine, Sanjanthi talks about the legal profession, career decisions, breaking stereotypes, clients, re-growth, plans, economy, industrial scenario, and more.
Going back to your early career decision, tell us what factors influenced your decision to be an entrepreneur?
Having graduated from the National Law School of India University, which was then known as the Harvard of the east and has continued to date as the best law school in the country, I was drawn, like many others to the corporate sector. For a few years, I worked in various in-house positions in many industry verticals, including infrastructure, banking & finance, and telecommunications. It is during those years that I realized the existence of a strong entrepreneurial streak in me. Moreover, having imbibed the ethos of the National Law School, I remained uneasy in a regimented scenario.
I was equipped more as a strategist than a conformist. I was fortunate to have realized my areas of interest, strengths and weaknesses at an early stage in my career. Embarking on an entrepreneurial journey was also influenced to a great extent by the fact that Poovayya & Co., by that time was a small but sought after the firm. I firmly believed that infusing further entrepreneurial spirit into it would help grow the firm rapidly. I gave up my in-house positions and joined the firm to build and grow the firm's various practice groups.
A law school can only equip a person with basic knowledge of the law. At best it can ignite passion for the law. A law school only provides you with shoes. Your destination, however, is not dependent on the shoes you wear, but the steps you take!
Who are your clients? How do you ensure the unbreakable faith of your clients?
Our client base is very diverse. We service a wide variety of clients ranging from multinational conglomerates such as Google, Twitter, Microsoft, NetApp, Oracle, VMware, Ericsson, Vodafone, etc., to large Indian conglomerates such as ITC, Adani, Reliance, Britannia, Marico, etc. A whole host of HNIs and domestic realty companies are also our clients. This apart, the firm is proud of having a wide variety of individuals as clients. I firmly believe that servicing corporate clients alone will never be gratifying. The legal profession is not just about the money that one makes; but also about the gratification that one gains. Personal gratification many a time comes from the individual clients that you service. We at the firm make it a point to service as many individual clients as possible and often provide pro bono services to them.
As your firm grew, or re-grew from your pivot, what were the primary challenges?
A law firm's growth cannot be attributed to one individual. Whilst a person can bring leadership to the table, it is collective effort that propels a law practice. Over the years, my role in the firm has been to provide it with the vision for growth; strategy for success; and act as its conscious keeper. One of the biggest challenges for any law firm is to maintain a balance between the 'happiness of its lawyers' and the 'success of its practice'. I continue to focus on the firm's core area of practice whilst growing new verticals, the newest being domestic policy advisory. I am proud that Poovayya & Co. is today known as one of the best litigation practices in the region and its lawyers are known to be the best litigators one can find.
Another challenge was to change the method of practising the law to suit the ever-changing market dynamics of our times. This helped in not only augmenting the firm's revenues but also positioning the firm as a provider of responsive, practical and business friendly legal solutions to its clients. The first thing we do is to understand the business needs of our clients and then provide a legal solution that interoperates with their business goals. The responsiveness and work ethic of the firm's attorneys is what differentiates us from others.
Shed light on your team. What ethos is maintained for the attorneys in your firm?
The partners govern the firm, it is therefore important for the partners to lead by example. The firm's partners and its lawyers are a vibrant group of professionals, highly diverse, well trained and specialized in different areas of the law. We have a strong mentoring regime. We have blended the ethos of a Chamber to the strengths of a Firm. In addition, we also conduct knowledge management sessions to keep up with the march of the law. Our hands are full on most days. We, however, try to strike a balance and unwind around the ping pong table at the office and at times over practice sessions of soccer or cricket or general team outings.
How did you get where you are today, and who/what helped you along the way?
I have over the years accepted opportunities that have come my way. I feel like a river flowing its course. My growth is a result of my perseverance, hard work and resilience. Some amazing people have been my mentors, clients and friends; who have constantly watched out for me and propelled my professional growth. These angels have ensured a continuous flow of work and have consistently recognized our professionalism. The National Law School alumni has been my strongest support all along.
What do you think are the keys to professional and business success for women in India?
In the legal profession, women have traditionally faced barriers. That, however, has changed in recent times. Women now have equal opportunities in the legal profession and, as a result, are excelling in the law. When women focus on their abilities and work with confidence, they are unbeatable. Women are lateral thinkers, and with their capacity to multitask, they build efficient and successful teams that propel businesses to greater heights. We have some outstanding women lawyers, but when you look at it numerically, the proportion of men to women in key legal positions leaves a lot to be desired.
In a society like ours, with its skewed stereotypes, how did you manage to set out on your journey? What were the major challenges?
I defied stereotypes since childhood. I grew up being the lone girl in a boy's cricket team. I choose to pursue law at a time when my friends preferred the stereotypical professions of engineering and medicine. The National Law School itself was not stereotypical; it influenced me greatly.
When the law firm was founded, I funded and supported it from the outside by consistently channeling financial resources and work. I continued to be the rainmaker propelling clients to the firm for years. Strong relationships were established that remain our strength even today. I recollect coming to work barely a week after my first child was born. Where I am today is a culmination of all these factors. The journey has been sweet for the most part. In the firm, a large and impactful institution has been built. Wonderful relationships have been forged. We at the firm not only provide legal solutions but impact lives positively.
What suggestion you would give for law firms on how they can contribute to a more balanced and equal legal industry?
We realize at a point in our professional and personal lives that the greatest satisfaction accrues by giving back to society. I organize my week in a manner that I contribute a day to pro bono consulting. I am very passionate about causes relating to women and children and have practised family law pro bono for many years. The firm offers its services pro bono for the needy on a regular basis.
The firm is indeed an equal opportunity employer. We hire not just from the elite national law schools but also from law colleges in tier two and three cities. Our lawyers come from varied backgrounds. I find that with the right training and mentoring, they bloom to become fantastic professionals. It is a matter of particular pride that half the firm's partners are women.
Please take us to the routine of your day, from the time you wake up to the time you go off to sleep. Also, share your hobbies.
My nickname is 'The Devil'. My home runs 24/7. I have two daughters, one a night person and the other a morning person. When one sleeps, the other wakes up. I love to be involved in their lives, and they are my biggest stress busters. My morning routine starts at 5:00 am. I wake up to play with my two lovely golden retrievers and head for a walk. I enjoy my morning walk in Cubbon Park with familiar faces. I am in the office by 9:00. I have a morning meeting every day to review the cause list and plan events for the day ahead.
The day is spent with clients, reviewing work, strategizing, and taking stock. I love to end my day with an hour of badminton. I am passionate about the game and continue to play competitive badminton at the national level to date. I have won the silver and bronze medals at the National Veteran Badminton Championships. My weekends are spent networking or catching up with friends and family. I love my home and spend a lot of my free time keeping a good home.
What does the future hold for your firm? Kindly share your future goals. What are you most excited about?
Law firms thrive in a difficult economy. We are excited to engage and participate in the ever-growing need of our clients. With the huge impetus to infrastructure projects in the country, we hope to see our infrastructure practice grow. We have a new domestic policy advisory vertical in the firm specifically to cater to the needs of our existing transnational clients. Regulatory changes in the country relating to various sectors have also propelled our regulatory practice group. The litigation practice group is of course, evergreen!
I like to see ourselves as facilitators and solution providers to our clients. To understand business needs and provide business-friendly legal solutions is good law practice, and we hope to do more of that as we go along. Innovation and technology are the future of the law. Going forward, the traditional model of law firms being managed by lawyers alone may not work. It is vital to infuse managerial talent into law firms and make law firms solution oriented.
Mention any awards and milestones that your firm has received.
Chambers and Partners Asia Pacific 2018 – Leading Law Firm in Employment and Real Estate
Venture Intelligence – Top 15 Legal Advisors Mergers & Acquisitions 2017
Asia Law 2017 – Recommended for M&A, Construction & Real Estate, Dispute Resolution & Litigation, IT, Telecom & Media and Employment
India Business Law Journal Law Firm Awards 2015 & 2016 – Leading Law Firm in Labour & Industrial Relations
Global Law Experts Practice Awards Winner 2014 – M&A Law Firm of the Year – India