Interview with Archana Balasubramanian, Founding Partner of Agama Law Associates

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Archana Balasubramanian is the founding partner of Agama Law Associates. She has versatile experience of over one decade where she has developed profound legal skills and acumen. She started her career under Senior Counsel Mr S. Venkiteswaran. She subsequently worked with Udwadia & Udeshi (now Argus Partners) and AZB & Partners prior to founding ALA.

She has a tactical transactional understanding as well as significant industry expertise across diverse sectors such as manufacturing, logistics, media, pharmaceuticals, financial services, shipping, real estate, technology, engineering, infrastructure and health. She has a process-driven approach that is quintessential for good legal health of businesses right from the initial stages. She is driven by the philosophy that the growth of her clients is fundamental for her firm’s growth.

Archana advises her clients across a whole gamut of transactions essential for the functioning of any organization in the economic-legal environment. She has successfully advised organizations in relation to standardization and negotiation of documents, statutory compliance advisory including employment advisory, corporate advisory, advice on compliance with Companies Act, foreign exchange laws as well as SEBI laws. She also advises clients on dispute strategy and actively represents them in commercial litigation before various courts and tribunals.

She has been identified as one of “The 30 Influential Business Leaders in 2017” by Insights Success Magazine.

She completed her B.L.S, LL.B from Government Law College, Mumbai in 2006. She is a member of the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa and is a qualified non-practising company secretary. Below is the transcript of the interview we conducted with Archana Balasubramanian.

Priyanshi: What motivated you to pursue law? Was law always the career you wanted to pursue? Can you please share with us your law school experience in GLC, Mumbai?

Archana Balasubramanian: As a child, I was always fascinated by the business world (my father getting a lot of credit for discussing his work with me). In the middle of all, that noise were lawyers – they were always highly spoken of and seemed to play a very important role in resolving issues and being solution finders. I was determined as a child to be a lawyer without understanding much about what the profession entailed. I remember thinking that law is everywhere – wherever you turn – whether personal relationships or business relationships or for law and order maintenance. The idea also that for life one has to be a student appealed to me. So yes, was always determined to be a lawyer. My vision of myself as a lawyer has of course greatly changed since then. GLC helped a lot in understanding the legal profession for me.

GLC had an amazing buzz to it with all students busy with moot court activities and committee work. College life and hostel life forced us to interface with many legal professionals and we were always overawed with them. GLC is a true student-led institution and I was privileged to be a part of this. Of course, being so busy also meant not attending lectures. Though I would not advise anyone that anymore – given the amazing external faculty GLC has today.

Priyanshi: You’ve started your law firm Agama Law Associates after acquiring a treasure-trove of knowledge from your work experience of around a decade. Also, you’ve been part and had associations with various law firms previously like, Udwadia & Udeshi and AZB & Partners. What inspired you to think out of the box and start a firm of your own?

Archana Balasubramanian: Law firms actually make you want to read more and more and run with the others out there who are so accomplished and brilliant. I was very lucky to have a great set of seniors and mentors who believed in me and valued my work as a professional. I had a lot of time when I had my first child because after the initial 2 months routine sets in. This is the time the new companies act was about to come up. A lot of buzz in the market (2012-2013).  When I delved deeper into contract law and company law (my two favourites) I realized that the whole idea of becoming a lawyer was to help businesses – so why not start that right away until I get back from maternity. My first client – I met them when I was setting up my blog etc., offered me a retainer and since then I never had to look back. Agama was born.

Priyanshi: You have been identified as one of “The 30 Influential Business Leaders in 2017” by Insights Success Magazine. How did this recognition positively impact your professional life?

Archana Balasubramanian: The Indian business landscape is so vast and the legal landscape is overshadowed by legal giants – individual or firms. This recognition propelled me to further institutionalize Agama. I believed that at this early juncture (and that too just after I delivered my second baby) such recognition can only mean there is huge potential for me and my team. I had become more optimistic and moved towards partnership with my dear friend and current partner Mr. Nitin Jain. The firm is only growing year on year since then and our service offerings have constantly evolved. The recognition came at a time when my practice was very niche and it pushed me to broaden my horizons. Now we have received many recognitions – the latest being the winner of “Private Client Practice” by IBLJ.

Priyanshi: Which among Litigation and Corporate has intrigued you the most in the law field, and why?

Archana Balasubramanian: The journey from a Senior Counsels chamber to the biggest law firm in India has given me the all-rounded legal experience. As a corporate lawyer, I have had the good fortune to practice extensively across all courts as well as do a wide array of corporate matters. The two go hand in hand and no one practice can exist without the other. Which is why even before I started doing litigation matters in Agama (which has significantly grown since Nitin joined) we developed a unique practice of pre-dispute advisory which involved a bit of both. So cannot choose between the two. They are like two sides of the same coin.

Priyanshi: In your view what are the essentials to maintain a beneficial economic-legal environment in any organization?

Archana Balasubramanian: In any organization – the legal function first needs to be understood. It is not always a ‘one-size fits all’ solution. Legal has to be empowered on one hand and the legal team must walk shoulder to shoulder with business and help business take decisions as a partner. Most organizations approach legal only when there is a problem. Organizations where legal input is sought for each new business often do very well because the long term game is risk mitigation. So an empowered and bespoke legal team makes all difference. A lot of work should also be outsourced so that the in-house legal team can focus more on strategy.

Priyanshi: You have great experience in advising clients with relation to standardization and negotiation of documents, statutory compliance advisory including employment advisory, corporate advisory, advice on compliance with Companies Act, foreign exchange laws as well as SEBI laws. What is your view over the e-contracts that are on-trend, have they complicated the situation more or less?

Archana Balasubramanian: There is a lot of material on this in our blog. We have been as a firm always advising clients with respect to e-contracts. The legal intricacies of e-contracts are best left to lawyers – businesses need to know they are widely accepted. E-contracts I would not say have complicated the landscape – if anything has simplified entering into business contracts. Some complications do arise such as place of signing, payment of stamp duty on e-contracts etc. That is because regulatory policies have not moved with the pace of development in business. Indian jurisprudence on various types of e-contracts is also a big lacuna today.

Priyanshi: What would be your advice to the young students at Law School as well as Law Graduates who are yet to step in the field and start their careers? What are the essential qualities and skills required to establish a prospective career in law?

Archana Balasubramanian: Students should know that job of a lawyer is mundane but one has to work in that mundane and routine stepwise manner to achieve the objective for the client. Whether it is getting a deal signed, getting a settlement or an outcome through litigation, the glamour and the sheen is only at the tip – the layers below are all meticulous hard work. The legal field is like an iceberg there is more at the bottom than on the top. So aspire to do the best for your client and the rest will follow. Key qualities would be consistency, being methodical and learning to write coherently. I always tell juniors – spin a story based on the facts before you – get the story verified and you can’t go wrong.

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