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Preeti Goyal prepared this case for class discussion.

ussion. 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 meanselectronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise (including the
internet)without the permission of The University of Hong Kong.

Ref. 08/380C


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PREETI GOYAL

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 days 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,
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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 countrys 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 Mohotras
office, the article provoked both Singhania and Mohotra to reflect on the adequacy of their
firms 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).
HKU763
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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 countrys 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
protectedthe 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 people-intensive organisations and their key capability was the skill,
knowledge and capacity of their employees. The high demand for lawyers that came with the
liberalisation of the Indian economy, together with the continued shortage of good quality
lawyers in many areas of law, meant that the industry faced an acute shortage of legal
professionals. With ample employment opportunities in the industry, attrition became a real
concern. Effective human resource management became essential for law firms. The
increasingly competitive labour market required firms to develop creative approaches to the
recruitment and reward of employees. It also brought significant retention challenges. Firms
had to find ways of holding on to their employees and of ensuring that they continued to be
motivated. It was a challenge for firms to create a legal practice which met both the needs of
clients for a high quality service and the needs of lawyers for a sustainable worklife balance.
Typically, firms increased profits by reducing the number of employees and increasing the
workload of the remaining employees.

Global spending on legal services in 2005 was over US$390 billion, and was forecast to grow
to over US$480 billion by 2010, with USA accounting for around 49% of the global value.
2
A
significant portion of this market was likely to be outsourced to fast-growing economies like
India because of the highly qualified, low-cost legal workforce. This area of work opened up
new avenues for Indian legal professionals, creating even more opportunities for an already
scarce high-quality legal workforce. The main focus of legal process outsourcing (LPO)
was in the areas of legal transcription, document review, litigation support, legal research,
intellectual property, contract related services, and secretarial and legal publishing services.
The Indian LPO space was divided into captive centres, third party niche service providers
and third party multiservice providers, with third party service providers dominating the space.
The growth strategy for most service providers was to begin with low value services and
gradually move up the value chain by acquiring and exhibiting domain expertise. The largely
untapped LPO sector was in its nascent stages, providing vast business opportunities in high
volume services like document review and legal publishing, and in high end services such as
intellectual property and contract services.
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Regional competitors like China, Korea etc were increasingly liberalising their legal services
sectors. The Indian government, though concerned by this decision of its regional competitors,
had yet to make any formal decisions about the liberalisation of Indian legal services. If the

2
Datamonitor (December 2005) Global Legal ServicesIndustry Profile.
3
Business Wire (July 2007) An In-Depth Analysis of the Indian Vendor Space along with Profiles of All Major Industry
Players.
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proposed liberalisation of the legal services sector were to go through, and the restrictions on
nationality in order to practice in India were removed, it was expected that India would
witness the entry of many foreign law firms and legal consultants. Meanwhile, even more
foreign investors and multinational corporations were expected to enter India in 2006. This
would further increase competition and legal expertise requirements in areas such as foreign
direct investment, intellectual property rights, infrastructure financing, human rights,
environmental law, etc.
Singhania and Partners
Singhania grew up surrounded by his fathers corporate law and litigation practice in New
Delhi, India. From his formative years, Singhania knew that he was going to be a lawyer and
have his own practice one day. In 1987, while going to law school, he started his legal career
with his fathers firmSinghania & Company.
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He worked on various cases and helped
manage the practice with offices all over India. During these years, Singhania became well
versed with the nuts and bolts of the legal services business. His most important lessons were
that customer is king and his employees his biggest asset.

Singhania was able to capitalise on the demand for legal services created by the liberalisation
of the Indian economy. A lot of work came to the firm from overseas clients, particularly
from the east coast of USA. During 19961997, Singhania & Company felt that in order to
effectively serve clients and gain a competitive advantage, it would be valuable to establish an
overseas office; New York City was the chosen location. In October 1997, Singhania moved
to New York to set up Singhania & Companys office. Through his interactions with other
law firms, he became conversant with the Western style of legal services management, which
had a significant impact on his own management style. In November 1999, Singhania moved
back to New Delhi to set up his own corporate law and litigation practice under the name of
Singhania and Partnersa name very similar to his fathers firm. Singhanias father
encouraged his decision and advised him to take on Mohotra, who had worked with Singhania
& Company, to meet the new challenge of setting up a law firm.

In the beginning, it was Singhania, an associate lawyer and Mohotra in a small office in New
Delhi. While Singhania managed the core legal services aspects of the business, Mohotra took
responsibility for managing the overall business [see Figure 1] and the assignment of
personnel to various projects based on their competencies and availability, in consultation
with senior management. The marketing activities were handled jointly by both Singhania and
Mohotra. Singhanias father sought approval from clients already working with Singhania &
Company to move them over to Singhania and Partners. The first few clients that moved to
the firm were America Online, Fedders Corporation, Standard & Poors and McGraw Hill.

Although the firm did not have any litigation work in hand, Singhania, realising the potential
of a litigation practice, hired Arvind, a litigation lawyer, in early 2000. Sure enough, soon
after Arvind came on board, Daewoo approached the firm with a litigation case, giving the
firms litigation practice a boost. In an effort to better serve its clients, between 1999 and
2002 the firm moved to a bigger office in the same building in New Delhi and set up offices
in Bangalore, Mumbai and Hyderabad. At the same time, it also formed affiliations with
counsels across several Indian states in order to meet its clients need to interact with one face
for legal services across the country. The firm grew from two lawyers in 1999 to 50 lawyers
in 2006, eight of whom were partners. The firms practice areas included tax, corporate and
commercial law, intellectual property, as well as arbitration and litigation. After the onset of
the outsourcing wave, the firm had been approached by potential clients for legal process

4
Singhania and Companys website: www.singhania.com (accessed 24 June 2006).
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08/380C People Management, The Mantra for Success: The Case of Singhania and Partners


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outsourcing. While Singhania and Mohotra agreed that this was a booming industry, they
knew that this was not their core competence and were not sure if they should try to make it
one. So although Singhania and Partners did enter this domain, it did so with great caution
and was extremely selective about the quality of work it picked up.


Figure 1: Singhania and Partners Organisation Chart

The firm gained considerable experience in cross-border transactions in the areas of mergers
and acquisitions, joint ventures, due diligence, technology transfer, as well as in assisting its
clients in establishing wholly owned subsidiaries in India. The practice was built in ways so
as to ensure that the clients could realise value from the firms services. Turnaround time,
accessibility to senior members in the firm, meeting deadlines and providing services in a cost
effective manner were all important to clients and formed the core values of the firm. The
firms systems, in turn, revolved around these core values.

Since Indian law prohibited legal services firms to directly market their services through any
means other than the yellow pages, Singhania and Partners increased business by getting
work through referrals. Singhania knew that this could only happen by providing exceptional
services to clients. He put systems and processes in place and used technology to provide
state-of-the-art infrastructure to serve clients effectively. In order to institutionalise the
systems put in place, the firm sought an ISO 9002
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certification in 1999 itself, which they got
in 2000. Foreseeing tremendous growth in the infrastructure and information technology
sectors in India, in 2001 Singhania and Partners began focusing on these two sectors. In that

5
ISO 9002 is a model for quality assurance for production, installation and servicing developed and maintained by the
International Organization for Standardization, or ISO.
Partners
Litigation and Arbitration
Corporate and Commercial
Law
Intellectual Property Rights
Tax
Legal Process Outsourcing
CEO
Manju Mohotra
Managing Partner
Ravi Singhania
Senior Associates
Associates
Managers
Marketing
Finance
Human Resources
Administration
Staff
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08/380C People Management, The Mantra for Success: The Case of Singhania and Partners


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same year, India witnessed mega infrastructure deals, with the golden quadrangle project
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being announced by the government of India. The National Highways Authority of India
7
was
at the forefront of these projects, and Singhania and Partners, emerging from intense
competition, was appointed its legal counsel.
Are We at Risk?
When Singhania walked into Mohotras room, she was engrossed in reading an article in that
days Economic Times. She asked if he had read the article. The one about J. Sagar?, he
asked.

Yes, attrition seems to be becoming a monster in the industry, said Mohotra and started
reading the news out aloud. Corporate lawyers Dina Wadia, a former partner of Little & Co.;
Nitin Potdar, former partner of Amarchand Mangaldas; and Akshay Chudasama, former
partner of AZB and Partners and Lex Inde have signed up with national law firm J. Sagar
Associates. Do you think we need to worry about our people?

Singhania exclaimed, Id rather look at this now than wait for it to become a problem and
then address it!

Mohotra, answering her own question, said, I dont think we need to be concerned about our
people. I dont think anybody in the industry can provide a better environment to work in than
us. We have always thought of our people as our core asset and have treated them accordingly.
After all, its our people who make us a market leader by providing quality service to clients.
And accordingly we do everything to retain talent.

You are right. When we were looking at outsourcing, the important criteria in accepting
processes was our peoplewe absolutely refused to do processes that required form-filling
sort of work because it would not stimulate our lawyers, said Singhania. You do think they
remain intellectually stimulated, dont you?

We try our best. Apart from the regular work, in the bi-weekly open house we have small
presentations on different topics from different legal areas. Even our junior-most lawyers are
encouraged to present. Its a great opportunity to learn, build confidence and grow with the
organisation!

And if there were any dissatisfaction, I would hope for it to come out in the weekly senior
management meeting or the bi-weekly open house. We encourage these forums to be utilised
for voicing opinions, suggestions, ideas Moreover, given our open door policy, anybody
can walk in to any senior managements cabin for discussions, continued Mohotra.

Singhania said, And the career growth is all merit based. A good example is our first
litigation lawyer who started as an associate and is now a partner. Moreover, we dont just
rely on annual performance reviews for increments; it is done on an as-and-when-needed
basis. And, again, it is all merit based! In fact I remember that recently we increased a new
employees salary by 50% even before he got his first pay cheque, purely because we felt he
provided that kind of value to the firm. He seemed happy.


6
The golden quadrangle project would link the four metropolitan cities of IndiaDelhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcuttavia a
national highway.
7
The National Highways Authority of India was constituted by the Indian Parliament and is responsible for the development,
maintenance and management of national highways in India.
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08/380C People Management, The Mantra for Success: The Case of Singhania and Partners


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Mohotra pondered further, Talking of happiness, I cant forget the staffs excitement when
we go for the annual firm retreats. The first year when we went to Naukuchiyatal,
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it was 3
days full of fun. We played games, had picnics; it was total unwinding time. It was a great
time to bond! And at our most recent camping retreat to Dhanaulti,
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everybody had a great
time. I am already being asked where we will be going this year!

Singhania contemplated, Do you think were paying them enough? Without waiting for a
reply, he continued, I do believe that we are amongst the best paymasters in the industry and
the year-end bonuses are substantial. And like you said, it is all merit based. All the same,
Seth did leave us for more money without even talking to us about it. And he was a good
performer.

You are right, but again, we try our best. We try not to overwork our lawyers. For projects
that require five lawyers, we assign seven whereas others in the industry would like to assign
only three. This is because we feel family life is most important. We have also been able to
provide a stress free environment to work in.

Both of them felt much better than they had felt at the beginning of their conversation. Just
then Mohotras phone rang It was Seth. Putting the call on speaker, Mohotra replied, Good
morning Seth. How are you?

Fine thanks. Do you have a few minutes?

Sure.

Well, its a little awkward, but Ill be straightforward. Would you be open to bringing me
back on board?

Singhania and Mohotra silently agreed. We could talk about it, but I would like to
understand the reasons for your decision.

Well, the foremost reason is that I miss the environment of Singhania and Partners. And
could we meet to discuss?

UmmmI am travelling this week, so, would you like to come to the office sometime next
week and we can chat about it? Say sometime next Tuesday? replied Manju.

Sure Maam. Is 10:00 am convenient?

Referring to her dairy, Manju replied, Yes it is. All right, Ill see you Tuesday, 1
st
May at
10:00 am then.

Thank you, maam. See you then, said Seth, concluding the conversation.

Mohotra and Singhania looked at each other and smiled. Preparing to leave, Singhania
thought out aloud, We seem to be fine for today, but what about tomorrow especially
with all the talk about the entry of foreign law firms into India?

8
Naukuchiyatal is a lake resort in the northern Indian state of Uttranchal.
9
Dhanaulti is a camp resort in the northern Indian state of Uttranchal.
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