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Bhumesh Verma is a Corporate Lawyer and Partner at PKA Advocates based in New Delhi. He graduated in law from Delhi University in 1994. In 2000, he was selected as one of the scholars under the British Chevening Scholarship for young Indian lawyers. Under this scholarship, he studied at the College of Law at York and worked with Ashurst in London.
His areas of practice include advising on legal and regulatory issues concerning foreign investments in India, representing clients for regulatory approvals from government authorities, financial and technical collaborations, joint ventures and other business transactions, corporate and securities laws, M&As, Private Equity deals, drafting of commercial agreements, due diligence and legal opinions / documentation in these areas.
Let’s know from him about the life of a lawyer.
- Why do you think law is a viable career option?
Since liberalization of Indian economy in 1991, law has become a promising career option. Earlier, a lawyer was perceived only to be an argumentative person in Court (as you would have probably seen in movies) primarily required when one got into trouble with law, be it civil or criminal side. No one ever wanted to be in the company of a lawyer or a doctor, as it meant damage control. The perception has changed now. Lawyers are now needed both in case of agreements (at the initiation of new projects, joint ventures, commercial relationships, etc.) as well as at the time of any disagreement. The volume of work and need for lawyers has undergone manifold increase.
Further, last 2 decades have seen phenomenal increase in many new practice areas like cyber laws, intellectual property laws, sports laws, media laws and so on.
Corresponding to the volume of work and professionalism, the working environment has also changed and the profession brings much more remuneration and recognition today.
As a composite result of these changes, legal profession has moved on from its hereditary nature to a much broad based one – the percentage of first generation lawyers we see today must be the highest in the history of the profession. Earlier, legal profession was first choice only for students whose parents (mostly father) were in the profession and last choice for other students – I am glad to note the matrix is changing now !
- Being at this position, surely you are enjoying your professional life. Can you share that Eureka moment when you realized that you were born for this? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
It’s a funny thing. Since childhood, I would never take anything on its face value. However irritated they may be, my parents were supportive of my inquisitive nature and endless questions, so I had it in me from very beginning. So, it’s difficult for me to point out a particular moment.
On a serious note, in 1980’s, the trend was that by default, toppers of class 10 took up science stream in class 11, a notch below them took commerce and those who couldn’t get either took (or were given) humanities stream (it was called Arts then). Any deviations were more of exception than the norm.
I was determined to take up commerce stream in class 11 despite being a school topper and teachers and family were sort of surprised. While studying commerce stream subjects, I got interested in corporate laws and this affair continued while I was doing graduation in Commerce. This prompted me to seek law as a career.
- Are there any certifications or soft skills required to excel in this profession?
In addition to a recognized law degree, there are many specialized courses, certificates and diplomas that are awarded by different institutions – a student may undertake the subjects of her choice.
As far as soft skills are concerned, the basics are being a good communicator (a good listener and a good speaker, in that order!), having a good memory and being up to date with statutory provisions and latest judgments. Logical reasoning and common sense help in understanding a lot of subjects one may not be too well versed with. You also cannot underestimate the virtue of patience in India where litigation takes long. One should be receptive and accommodative to others in negotiating on behalf of a client – the emphasis should be to arrive at an amicable and early solution, even if it means accommodating someone more than you had initially made up your mind for. The time and energy you save by an early resolution can more than compensate for the perceived immediate loss.
- Is there an organized career path in your profession?
Earlier, the legal profession mostly consisted of individual practitioners. Now, the trend is towards institutionalization – in the sense that law firms are getting bigger and more professional. These firms have parameters for a fair appraisal and promotion mechanism. You join a firm at the starter level as a trainee or associate and climb the ladder on the basis of your performance. Today, even a non-family, non-founder lawyer can become a partner, even the managing partner of a firm. The same process goes for in-house lawyers with corporate houses. Many in-house counsel are on board of directors in their companies.
- What are the excess perks you enjoy?
Besides being remunerative, this profession has given me a chance to know so many businesses, cultures and people. I enjoy travelling, meeting new people and talking to them, apprising them about India’s potential as a wonderful investment destination.
I have travelled a lot for work, seminars and guest lectures and have made friends from the fraternity all over the world. For example, I was in Milan for 2 weeks in September 2014 for some work. Not even one day did I eat alone nor did I miss my office environment as I would work from some or the other law firm’s office only. The same goes for other big cities be it London, Paris, Singapore, Sydney or Tel Aviv.
Further, I feel this profession has given me the chance to do something for my country, albeit in a very small way. In last 2 decades, we have facilitated a lot of foreign investment and joint ventures in India (representing the Indian or foreign party) and dispute resolution for many international commercial issues.
- Since you have lived through many ups & downs of this profession, what advice would you like to give to the newbie who wants to be a lawyer?
Legal profession is not a bed of roses. If you are just impressed by how much appearance fees a senior advocates charges today or how high placement offers have been made at particular law schools, this profession is not for you. Like every profession, it demands hard work, patience and sincerity on your part and rewards and recognition follow. You have to keep putting in your best despite the odds that you may be facing at times. Clients appreciate you only by the quality of your work and not by your designation, remuneration, fancy cars or software systems. There may be temporary imbalances, but ultimately only deserving and meritorious people get successful in the long run.
- Does this industry face PESTEL (Political, Economical, Social, Technological, Environmental, & Legal) challenges?
Legal profession isn’t immune from such challenges. For example, the private equity, capital market and M&A deals dry up during recession in the economy and only restructuring deals pick up during this period. Similarly, if we have a strong decisive government at the Centre, the foreign investment related work witnesses a surge and goes dull when the government takes any retrograde step. However, the profession is dynamic and and we keep evolving with the changes in the environment.
- How did your social circle react? How do they contribute to your success?
20 years back, it was very difficult to explain to someone as to what a ‘corporate lawyer’ meant. A lawyer who did not go to Court (went to an office instead), did not wear the black and white uniform, did not have court holidays, used to read Economic newspapers and not case law, was a different breed. No landlord would lease his house, no bank would give a loan or credit card and no one would marry his daughter to such a lawyer. However, I feel a lot has changed now and the new lot has a much easier life and recognition as lawyers, particularly on the corporate advisory side!
I am by and large a self-made professional. However, we need family support to excel in every field. My family has been very understanding and supportive in all my endeavors including long days away on business trips. If your social circle consists of business community or NGOs, they can help in feeding some business, recognizing and recommending you. Social media is a very effective tool for lawyers these days.
- What does your profession mean to you? Or What is law according to you?
Law isn’t a profession for me, it is a passion. Unless you love what you do, it is meaningless and just another job. However, I am no workaholic and strive for a reasonable work-life balance.
Law according to me is a set of guidelines for ‘what to do’ and a solution for problems, if ‘what to do’ is not followed.
10. Do you have a role model or mentor? What inspired you to be in this profession or what keeps you motivated?
I did not know any lawyer before coming to this profession as I am a first generation lawyer. I met all lawyers whom I worked with ‘on the job’. However, I have had the privileged to work with some of the best lawyers in India – including Mr. Ajay Bahl, Ms. Lira Goswami and Mr. Pinto Khaitan (in chronological order), in a way you could call them my mentors. I learnt a lot from them and try to imbibe some of their values and follow their professional ethics. Similarly, my interaction with many international lawyers taught me a lot of good practices and attitude.
Newer challenges keep me motivated. Law is a very dynamic subject, be it rules and regulations or case law so one needs to keep updating every now and then. Further, contrary to general perception, every new assignment or transaction has a new dimension, there is almost nothing repetitive in any two transactions, so one needs to handle it differently. I enjoy coming back to work every Monday.