Candid conversation with Mr. Aaron Solomon, Managing Partner of Solomon & Co., a premier law firm in India with a remarkable legacy of 109 years in India Mr. Aaron Solomon specializes in transactional work including mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, exchange control regulations, competition laws, banking, investment funds, private equity, capital markets and securities laws. In this interview we asked him about what inspired him to practice law, the evolution of the Indian Legal industry, challenges of managing a law firm and some tips and guidance for aspiring lawyers.
What inspired you to attend law school and practice law?
I joined the Government Law College in 1992 following my great-grand-father’s and fathers footsteps, and I instantly fell in love with the subject. I was fascinated with the challenges and complexities of law. I was amazed with the historical tradition of law, and stories of legendary judges and lawyers. I enjoyed debating and moot-courts. I topped the solicitors exam in 1996 not because I studied harder than my colleagues, but since I enjoyed legal studies which in turn helped me to learn and retain knowledge. Spending endless hours reading the law was never a chore, and possibly more enjoyable that reading a fictional novel. Law is based on logic, and every legal case is a different story.
What were your early years in practice like and how does it compare to the practice for young lawyers today?
I qualified as a lawyer in 1995 and as a solicitor in 1996. This was immediately after liberalization of the Indian economy in 1991, and cross-border Mergers & Acquisitions and Joint Ventures was emerging for the first time as a new and exciting practice area. Global IT biggies were entering India, and the telecom licenses were being tendered by the Government. This was exciting and new work, and it was easy to work long hours and see immediate results. It was also an even playing field since the experienced lawyers were also facing the new regulations for the first time, and hence it was easier to succeed as a young corporate and finance lawyer.I had the opportunity of working on a significant number of high-profile transactions and ventures and was ranked among India’s top corporate lawyers before I turned 30.
Today, young lawyers face a legal market that is saturated with corporate and finance lawyers, and have to compete for the prestigious assignments. Given the increased cost of living and social media pressures, they have to resist the temptation of choosing a simpler path which provides immediate results and quick money. This is resulted in a lesser number of young lawyers choosing litigation or real estate as a practice area, since these areas require a minimum of 7-10 years of training and hard work before independently handling an assignment. However, there are opportunities for a good candidate to be employed with a good firm for a reasonable salary. There are internships, training and promotion structures, which did not exist while I was a student.
Solomon & Co. was established in 1909 and has witnessed some of the significant developments in the Indian legal. The Firm has grown and evolved along with the changing times. Given the Firm’s invaluable experience in the Indian Legal sector, we would love to hear your thoughts on how do you think that the Indian Legal Industry will evolve in the next 10 years?
The path the Indian Legal Industry would take over the next 10 years depends on when and how the Foreign Law Firms are allowed to set up their presence in India. If the Foreign Law Firm do not enter India, the evolution would be gradual with continued growth of the existing large firms and emergence of new practice areas. I believe that smaller and mid-sized firms would need to consolidate with the larger firms in other to stay active on the larger transactions and litigations.
On the other hand, if the Foreign Law Firms do enter India, I believe that there will be a significant and immediate effect on the Indian Legal Industry, similar to that faced by Indian accounting firms on the Big-4 accounting firms setting up their branches in India. The existing Indian law firmsmay find it difficult to compete against the Foreign Law Firms, especially when it comes to corporate and finance work. This could also have a positive effect on the Indian Legal Industry since it will provide organization to what is essentially an unstructured profession, it will provide training and higher salaries to young lawyers, and it will enhance quality of work and advice.
I also believe that over the next 10 years we will see Indian lawyers succeeding in other parts of the world. Indian doctors, engineers, software developers and other service professions have already gained tremendous reputation and success globally. I believe that this success will soon be replicated to the Indian legal profession, and Indian lawyers will establish themselves in developing parts of the world such as Middle East, Far East, Africa and South America.
You have been successfully managing Solomon & Co. for over 10 years. What are the most important lessons you have learned over the years about managing people and strategic leadership?
As Managing Partner of Solomon & Co. over the past decade, the learnings have been endless and continuing, and its difficult to pick one or two.
The success of a law firm depends primarily upon the quality of its lawyers, and the firm with the best lawyers will always be the best firm. Marketing, office infrastructure, technology and other resources help, but do not supplant the fundamental premise of quality legal skill and knowledge.
A single lawyer, howsoever skilled and experienced, cannot fulfill the requirements of a modern day client. Today, you need teams of lawyers to serve a client, since transactions are complex, litigations are large, and practice areas are diverse. To succeed as a lawyer, you have to be a good team member or team leader.
It is important to have a variety of clients, ranging from international clientele to domestic business, to individuals. International clients provide high profile work with certainty of billings. Domestic businesses provide a greater volume of work.Individual clients provide stability and a steady source of work even when the economy is sluggish.
Do you think it is important for lawyers to specialize in a particular area of practice in their formative years?
I continue to believe that the Courts are always the best starting point for lawyers. All legal work eventually depends upon their enforceability in a Court. Quality legal advice involves not expressing the lawyers views, but anticipating how a Court is likely to view the issue in question.
It is also important for young lawyers to gain wide knowledge, rather than specialized knowledge, during their formative years. Knowledge of multiple areas of law provides a practitioner a greater array of possible solutions to an issue. A recent example is that of the recent bank defaults by Indian businessmen, where the legal actions initiated are criminal law actions and not lender enforcement proceedings.
During the formative years of a young lawyer the focus should be to utilize every opportunity to gain knowledge – read books, precedents, pleadings, newspapers and statutes; work on everything you can, however big or small.
For lawyers who enjoy their work and would like to be involved in the profession as long as you have, do you have any words of advice?
Despite the lawyer jokes and bad publicity we lawyers tend to attract, I believe that the legal profession is the most honorable profession. To succeed as a lawyer, you need to have the highest proficiency in the fundamental human skills – such as intellect, writing, speaking, listening, logic and problem-solving, willingness to help, ability to make friends and influence people and tremendous knowledge. To be a good lawyer you first need to be a good human being.
Also, the smartest persons do not necessarily make the best lawyers. Very often, the persons with the highest intellect are impatient to succeed. Succeeding in law involves long hours of work spread over many years, discipline and ability to work in a team, and a willingness to put your client’s problems before your own. It is those persons who enjoy the subject of law, who love a good legal battle or negotiation, and are willing to take the long path to success, that I have seen succeed as lawyers.