I recently interviewed Rajiv Maheshwari. Rajiv is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Anand and Anand, the leading intellectual property firm that has been recognized as one of the most innovative firms in Asia-Pacific for each of the last 5 years. Rajiv was a part of the Director’s Merit List from Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Bangalore and a Chartered Accountant (CA). He believes in treading on a journey of life-long learning. I was amazed to know that he has learnt and implemented Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other technologies to create solutions that have won the prestigious Financial Times (FT) Innovative Lawyers Award in Asia-Pacific.
LS: Our readers would be keen to know about your professional journey from a CA and MBA to CEO at Anand and Anand. Could you please tell us about that?
RM: Sure. I started my professional journey as a CA and started working exactly 25 years ago. I was always fascinated by the idea of running a business since I come from a business family and went on to study management from IIM Bangalore. Subsequently, I worked with Accenture and WNS in a wide variety of leadership roles including Strategy, Operations, Process, Technology, Outsourcing, Business Development and Consulting. Thereafter, I joined Anand and Anand as the CEO and have been enjoying this role for the last 8 years.
LS: That is quite a unique path- CA, MBA, Consulting, Technology, Outsourcing and now a law firm. What have been your drivers for these changes?
RM: Yes, indeed. A lot of people find my journey unconventional and unique. However, the way I see it, there are three common threads and drivers of my journey.
Firstly, both my starting role and current role have been associated with noble professions. Both a CA firm and a law firm are much more than merely a business, as they also have an obligation to the society and to the respective professions. I believe that one needs to be tied to a purpose beyond the commercial aspects of running an organization.
The second common thread is the service industry. I have been associated with services- accounting, advisory and consulting, outsourcing, technology and now legal services. It has been very helpful because there are several lessons that can be applied from one industry to another. Most of the disruptive innovations are triggered by experiences or people from outside the industry. It is always a good idea to look for inspiration from diverse experiences of other industries and connect the dots.
This brings me to the third driver- innovation and creativity, which cuts across my entire journey. I have pioneered business models and created several innovative frameworks in my earlier experience. The idea of working in an intellectual property firm that deals with innovation at its core resonated with me and I have taken to it like fish to water. I am privileged to have the opportunity to build upon the legacy of one of the most creative and pioneering firms in Asia led by the Managing Partner, Pravin Anand, who has also been awarded the Most Innovative Lawyer in Asia-Pacific.
LS: The dots do connect. So, tell us more about your role at the firm.
RM: Our core philosophy is that our lawyers should excel at providing legal services, helping our clients and the legal system to keep pace with the disruptive world order. However, managing the firm; with an ecosystem of around 400 people from diverse backgrounds and several thousand clients with billions of dollars’ worth of their intangible assets under the able custody of our teams; is quite a complex affair.
I leverage my experience of Strategy, Technology, Process and Operations to manage the firm. The typical management concepts and the bouquet of management approaches, tools and solutions need to be curated carefully and thoughtfully to be effective in a law firm. For instance, collaboration and consensus are the keys to achieving success and an approach that does not recognize this ground reality will not take you too far. The implementation approach requires a lot of creativity and customization, as compared to the typical change management initiatives in a corporate setting.
LS: What are the shortcomings of the traditional law firm governance model? How does the CxO model overcome those shortcomings?
RM: The traditional wisdom has been that the top lawyers in practice will rise to the occasion and start managing the firm over a period of time. They may or may not continue to devote time to their practice, depending on the individual and organizational context.
This may work up to a certain scale or level of evolution of the law firm. That’s why most international law firms have a CxO structure in place. Beyond the threshold level, several shortcomings start appearing on the surface without such structures.
First of all, in the words of Marshall Goldsmith, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”. The best lawyers don’t necessarily make the best managers. Fundamentally, the attributes required to be a successful lawyer and a successful manager are quite different. Depending on the size and complexity of the law firm, appropriate organization structure should be put in place.
Secondly, the key to success in business is to optimize the utilization of the resource that is the bottleneck. There is absolutely no doubt that in a law firm, the time of the topmost legal experts is indeed the constraint and cannot be substituted, at least not in the short to medium term. Consequently, it is a flawed model to divert this precious resource away to the management of the firm, which can be taken care by specialists.
Finally, let us look at the environment around us. We are living in a Volatile Uncertain Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world and law firms are not immune to the external environment. For instance, dealing with technology, security and managing and leveraging the information architecture and systems are all different specialized tasks. The fields of Finance, HR, Knowledge Management, Communication and Analytics are all changing very rapidly too and these require expert skills, which also need to be upgraded dynamically.
Our firm has reaped the benefits since the Managing Partner, Pravin Anand and other Senior Partners had the foresight to put the CxO model in place ahead of time.
LS: What are the vital factors to build a successful law practice?
RM: Like any organization, a law firm has to take care of all stakeholders and manage all aspects of running the firm. However, in my opinion, the following three factors are most critical for success, irrespective of the practice areas of the law firm.
First and foremost, the firm needs to attract the highest quality talent and provide an environment for the team to build their careers. All of our 30-odd partners have been groomed from within and this is pivotal to our success. We also place a lot of emphasis on recognizing and appreciating loyalty. For instance, one of our team members has completed 50 years of service!
Secondly, success in the profession is predicated on the expertise that comes from knowledge, experience and a solution-oriented approach that is practical, not merely academic. While generalists do exist, I believe that one can become a truly world-class professional services firm only through specialization.
Last and certainly not the least, is client service orientation. At the end of the day, it is a services organization and despite the cliché, the Client is and will remain the King!
LS: Tell us about your views on:
RM: My views are based on my hands-on experience of learning AI and other associated technologies, and going on to conceptualize and develop several AI, Machine Learning (ML) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) based solutions that have been recognized for Innovation in Asia-Pacific by Financial Times.
In a nutshell, I would say two things:
- Put functional and business needs at the forefront. AI is as much a tool as Word or Excel were when they first arrived on the scene. Don’t get emotionally swayed by discussions around AI replacing humans.
- AI is here to stay and so are lawyers. Antagonism and denial will not lead us anywhere. Certain tasks will get eliminated and pragmatic lawyers will graduate to value-added tasks while the naysayer will live to see a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In any revolution, whether it was the mechanization of agriculture or the Industrial Revolution, some tasks have become redundant and at the same time demand for the new age skills have risen through the roof. The only way out is a path of continuous learning and upgradation and this is also true for lawyers and AI.
Billable Hours vs. Flat Fee Structures
RM: Like all service industries, the focus needs to be on value delivered to the client. The commercial structures also need to be aligned according to the client’s perception of value, not the perception of value by the service provider. The hourly billing model has a limited role to play in our firm. Since we have expertise in our areas of practice, we are able to provide a flat fee structure in most cases to our clients.
LS: How does the firm attract and retain talent? What is the work culture at the firm like?
RM: We are united by our core purpose of helping clients protect, enforce and monetize their intellectual property and other intangibles. These core principles have helped us create a very strong IP culture and we look to continuously enhance our gene pool.
Our strong brand and market leadership position ensures that we attract several thousand applications from top quality candidates. We have even built AI and NLP based tools to help us zero down on the right candidates, based on the requirements. Once the candidate joins the firm, the IP ecosystem ensures that creativity and innovation are the cornerstones of our operations and if the people align with our core purpose, they find their work meaningful.
This interview is a part of ‘Law Firm Leaders‘ series in which we feature senior business unit leaders, chairmen and chief officers from top law firms.