27 May 2004
Ramblings of a former Amarchand Associate

Introduction – A little bit about myself!

Hi! Many of you may know me as a madman who came to NLS for a week in May, as one who was rude to Professor Visalakshi in the first-year class, as a person some of the LL.M students believe “threatened to thrash” Bishwarup, as one who walked around campus with a menacing grimace and a not-so-pleasant disposition! Some of you may remember me as a pleasant bloke with a lot of angst – Aditya Jha, Shinoj Koshy, Manu and a few others. At the outset, let me apologize to all those who felt threatened, scared and got upset by my behaviour. My intentions were noble, my method a little harsh.

No, I did not threaten to thrash Bishwarup, and yes, I was rude to Professor Visalakshi but the reason was the complete degradation of contract law (which I believe to be the foundation of commercial law).

Who am I? My name is Ashwin Mathew. I studied at what I believe is one of the finest institutions in this country, NLS, from 1993 to 1998. I did well and was recruited on campus by Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A. Shroff & Co. I worked at Amarchand for 6 years. I left at the end of January 2004.


What struck me when I visited NLS recently, was the unidirectional focus on a career at Amarchand. Students of NLS often asked me about myself. What seemed to impress them was not that I was a former student but that I worked at Amarchand for 6 years. I was saddened by such reactions. I hope what I write down in this essay makes you guys think about your futures and your goals. As Pablo Picasso said “If you know what you are doing and why you are doing it, don’t do it. Try something else!”

Let me also clarify (for the “cynics”, “unbelievers”, die-hard fans of Amarchand) that this essay is not a critique of Amarchand or an attempt at venting my angst against a venerable institution. I merely provide a perspective from someone who’s been there and done that! Advice, they say, is easy to give, it costs nothing. To which I add, advice is easy to dismiss, it too costs nothing! The choice is yours…

What does NLS give you?

Have any of you wondered what expertise NLS gives you?

At the end of my 5th year, I too believed I had the world at my feet, that I had tremendous legal acumen and that my breadth of legal knowledge was incapable of challenge. After a couple of months at Amarchand, I realized a bitter truth – I was a seedling in the vast legal field filled with the garbage of deceit, incestuous back-rubs and wily litigators on the one hand and banyan trees of knowledge, understanding and compassion on the other! I had no experience in practical application of legal theory. I was dismissed as verbose and pedantic. I was crushed. My confidence hit a low.

It was time to think, to ponder…NLS gave me the gift of articulation, the ability to research a legal issue thoroughly and (for those who were diligent) the basics of law.

Law to me is about people and their relationships. Law balances conflict since every human relationship is founded on the propensity towards conflict. Therefore, law is vital to human harmony and discipline. Corporate law is no different.

Amarchand – A counter

Amarchand – the name sends shivers down your spine, makes you imagine the pinnacle of achievement, makes you strive towards an elusive partnership at this august institution. Your eyes light up – aah, yes, Cyril has done his job well. He has made believers out of most of you. He attracts the finest NLS has to offer…

But stop, Do any of you know the pain that Piyush Joshi, Cyrus Bharucha, Aazmeen Kasad, Tushna Thapliyal and myriad others faced as a result of this great organization. Have any of you thought about why Vinati Kastia left the organization after making partner? Have any of you wondered why Rajesh Marralla, Sandeep Farias, P. Sunil, Kajal Bhardwaj left Amarchand?

How many people make partner at Amarchand? How many people are Senior Associates? How many are from NLS? Do the math, the numbers will startle. They are but a miniscule drop in the ocean of talent that Amarchand receives from NLS every year. Probably, a little more than 5%.

The mantras

Mantra 1 – Negative Oppression – Amarchand thrives on negative oppression. Take a brilliant mind, oppress it with negativity, constant criticism, uncertainty and transform such brilliance into craven commercial greed.

Mantra 2 – Create commitments – Cyril’s favourite associates are all married to one another – Ashwath & Nimisha, Rahul & Runa…They may love one another but an invisible hand did push them together! Cyril’s economic largesse ensures loans to Amarchand associates to chain them to him till they are economically capable of repaying him. A loyalty bonus is payable for those who have spent 8 years in the organization. To alleviate the cost of living in Mumbai, Cyril re-imburses each Amarchand associate a fraction of the actual cost. To live in a 1BHK house in a decent part of Mumbai with a car costs a minimum of Rs. 25,000 a month. Otherwise, settle for a PG and suffer!

Mantra 3 – Ease out ineptitude – All those considered inept are not shown the door immediately. They are eased out. Take Ranbir Singh, Tushna, Aazmeen.

Mantra 4 – If you are not from NLS, make sure you are connected – Most non-NLS recruits in Amarchand are well connected. Be it a judge’s son or a top Chartered Accountant’s, be it the daughter of ICICI Bank’s Executive Director or the daughter of a top executive at the Aditya Birla Group. Another thing, know this, all non-NLSites at Amarchand generally dislike NLS students. Amarchand ensures that they must do much more to succeed. A classic example is Shaneen Dastur, partner of Amarchand. It took her 9-10 years to make salaried partner after being a qualified solicitor. Understandably, she dislikes NLS students who can make equity partner in 7 years.


The Positives

Positive 1 – Brilliant Partners – Amarchand is blessed with some of the finest partners in India. Cyril is the foremost commercial lawyer in the country with good reason. M. P. Bharucha is the foremost litigating solicitor in the country and has a decent non-litigation practice. Alka Bharucha’s articulation and people skills are tremendous. Shardul & Pallavi are brilliant legal minds. Umakanth and Vishwanath are leaders in their respective fields and wonderful human beings.

Positive 2 – Great Work – The work in Amarchand is superb. You would feel pride when you pick up an economic daily every day and find one your deals mentioned as a headline. Invariably, Amarchand advises the top dealmakers.

The Negatives

Negative 1 – Vitiated Working Environment – The famous adage, “protect me, not from my enemies of whom I know of, but from my friends of whom I know not” applies to the Amarchand environment. The work-stations are arranged like an assembly line in a car workshop or a seamstress factory. The noise levels are terrible. The A/C is switched off at 7 PM (there is no cross-ventilation). Better off working in a sweat-shop in Thailand!

Negative 2 – Vandana Shroff – Spend a week in the Amarchand dining room! Also, note the names given to each loo – Raja & Rani, Romeo and Juliet, Mardana & Zardana. Also, note the reserved parking spots. Also, note Valencia, Sripat and Ramesh (the informers!). Also note, the allocation of work. Also note, Deepak Jobanputra (fondly called D Jo), the IT expert! “Res Ipsa Loquitur”!

Negative 3 – Horrible IT resources – Amarchand does not have a database. The IT support is pathetic. A lot of time is wasted in re-inventing the wheel.

Negative 4 – Big Ideas, No Implementation – Cyril has vision but does not have the administrative capabilities to implement them. M. P. Bharucha has the administrative capabilities but cannot work with Cyril since their working styles are totally different.

Negative 5 – The Evaluation System and Bonus – There is no transparency in evaluations and very often evaluations are done by a partner who has not seen a single day’s work by the Junior Associate being evaluated. And, please consider your first evaluation as a good indicator of where you will be slotted. Also, as far as the Bharucha’s go there is no co-relationship between the evaluations and the level of bonus. While your entitlement may be large, know this, what you finally get is a fraction of your entitlement. Sometimes as low as 55% of your bonus entitlement.

Negative 6 – Delhi and Mumbai follow different policies – If you work in Delhi chances are you will go up the Amarchand ladder quicker than Mumbai. Double promotions happen in Delhi, not in Mumbai (except Nimisha). The policies are completely different and so is the work culture. Promotions in Delhi are also based on the level of billings. In Mumbai, that is “irrelevant”.

A Final Word

Join Amarchand for experience. But prepare yourself for 16-hour days, no food, no life outside Amarchand and a constant sense that you will never be good enough. Ask yourself this, what makes you happy? The desire to get up early and enjoy the day or the dread of what the day may bring you? In Amarchand, most likely, the latter will apply.

Those of you who want to experience the angst I went through after Amarchand, please read my play “The Soul of Law”. Some people in NLS have a copy.

For those who still dream of being an Amarchand partner, I wish you luck…Just a caution, when you feel used and exploited, get out.

I end with a few lines from my favourite verses:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance well run…

How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?

How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky?

How may associates will it take to be known that too many NLSites have died!

The answer is in you…

Best wishes and Good Luck,

Ashwin Mathew

NLS Batch of 1998.
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