PEOPLE MANAGEMENT, THE MANTRA FOR SUCCESS: THE CASE OF SINGHANIA AND PARTNERS It was 9:15am on 25 April 2006. An article published in that day’s Economic Times, a leading Indian financial daily, had attracted the attention of both Mr Ravi Singhania and Ms Manju Mohotra. Singhania was the founder and managing partner of Singhania and Partners,1 one of the largest full-service national law firms in India; Mohotra was its chief executive. The Indian legal services industry had been booming since the country’s economic liberalisation, which had started in the 1990s. The exponential growth of this industry was accompanied by an acute talent crunch. The ability to hire and retain talent was becoming a source of competitive advantage, a mantra for success. The news article Singhania and Mohotra read was about the movement of partners between legal services firms. It was yet another testimony to the high attrition rate in the Indian legal services industry. Sitting in Mohotra’s office, the article provoked both Singhania and Mohotra to reflect on the adequacy of their firm’s people practices.
Indian Legal Services Industry
The legal services market covered law practitioners operating in every sector of the legal sphere such as commercial, criminal, legal aid, insolvency, labour/industrial, family and taxation law. Before 1992, a vast majority of Indian lawyers worked in small practices as Indian law mandated that law firms could neither have more than 20 partners nor could they advertise their services. Additionally, Indian corporations preferred in-house legal advisors as they were more economical compared to external counsels, further rendering the creation of large legal firms less likely. The legal services industry had competitive pricing and legal firms were mostly fragmented and competed in niche domains. With the liberalisation of the Indian economy, beginning in the early 1990s, came the foreign investors and multinational corporations. Indian law firms soon realised the importance of 1
Singhania and Partners’ website: www.singhania.net (accessed 20 June 2006).
Preeti Goyal prepared this case for class discussion. This case is not intended to show effective or ineffective handling of decision or business processes. © 2008 by The Asia Case Research Centre, The University of Hong Kong. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise (including the internet)—without the permission of The University of Hong Kong. Ref. 08/380C
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People Management, The Mantra for Success: The Case of Singhania and Partners
providing legal services to these new arrivals. But, only a few Indian legal firms had the expertise to handle commercial work for multinational corporations. Combined with this paucity of expertise was the high demand for it, created by the fact that the legal system in India was very slow and companies preferred arbitration over going to court in settling disputes. These two factors combined to create an explosive demand for legal services in India. In spite of the country’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 1995, the Indian legal services market remained closed to foreign players. Various political parties were opposed to the idea of opening up this sector to outsiders. Hence the Indian legal services industry was protected—the practice of law was restricted to Indian nationals only. Under the Indian Advocates Act of 1961, foreign law firms were not allowed to open offices in India and were prohibited from giving any legal advice that could constitute practising Indian law. This prevented foreign lawyers and law firms from establishing offices in India. International law firms were allowed to function only as liaison offices, or foreign legal consultants. Law firms were...