The changemaker

The changemaker

Sonam Chandwani, a youngster in her 20s, is determined to fight injustice and lawlessness. Chandwani, founder, KS Legal & Associates — a Mumbai-based legal firm which offers solutions to corporates — believes that being a lawyer gives her an opportunity to change people’s lives and society. Here’s chatting her up:
What is the role of a lawyer in society?  
There are about 1.3 million lawyers in our country but many do not have access to justice, nor do they have enough money. In places like Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, the number of lawyers is very high, but other regions do not have enough lawyers — only one in every 1,000 Indians pursue law. We need more lawyers, and have to ensure quality, affordability, accessibility and open mindedness in embracing technology in the legal space. Indian legal regulators and politicians must recognise the prevalent flaws and work towards reforming it. From my personal experience, I can say that lawyers come across convoluted situations on a daily basis which heightens one’s maturity, patience and persistence in handling matters of significance. In other words, it makes you a realist.

How do you manage a team of lawyers in your firm?   
The real challenge is to remain on top of everything. Delegation is essential, but you have to maintain a grasp of all the issues relevant to each transaction. Essentially, my role involves delegation without any sense of abdication. I have a constant dialogue with the associates and trainees in my team. 
Mentoring a team is very important for retaining the best people. I need to give my team of associates the right kind of work, both in terms of quantity and quality. The work they do has to be stimulating, demanding and important to them, to retain them.

What are the attributes of a good practising lawyer?
You need to develop strong technical skills and have a real interest in law. You also need good people skills. Clients tend to choose people that they enjoy working with. India is a very competitive legal market and to win clients, you need to be able to impress and gain a client’s respect. And finally, you need to have the right work ethic. When you’re a partner you have a range of other responsibilities such as marketing, recruitment and mentoring besides your legal work. You need to have the right mentality as well as an ability to juggle a variety of different responsibilities. That’s what’s exciting though! It allows you to shape a demanding, but rewarding, career.

What is that one piece of advice you offer to your clients?  
I am a lawyer who doesn’t encourage litigation and rather explain clients that litigation is extremely expensive both emotionally and monetarily. It is also a slow process so it’s in the best interest of the parties to settle it amicably and out of court.

What is your message for law students and/ or new lawyers?
Build yourself as an authority figure in something — it can be your practice area, a niche practice area, a hobby, a skill etc. If you become the go-to person for a specific subject matter, you will begin to build your personal brand and ultimately, attract clients, referrals, and business. You can do this through blogging, making videos, using social media, and other platforms.
Another important trick is to expose yourself to as much experience as you can — extern while in law school, volunteer at local legal aid clinics as a new lawyer, participate in pro bono services, do whatever you can to get experience if you’re not getting it at your firm or if you’re a solo practitioner and have some extra time.
And most importantly, focus on building relationships with professors, older attorneys, colleagues, and non-legal professionals because those relationships will serve you immensely when you’re practising and need a mentor to turn to for help. Relationships take time to build so don’t expect to receive help from anyone before you offer help.  

Do you think lawyers have a big hurdle to cross while dealing with the legal system of the country?
Currently, our economy is suffering from a double-sided problem with overworked judges and court staff on one hand and underpaid but fewer number of qualified lawyers per capita on the other. Despite this,  I believe that transparency of the legal processes and adoption of technology by law firms and courtrooms is likely to increase disposal of cases through enhanced efficiency. Countries like USA and UK have successfully adopted legal technology and have seen positive results. Therefore, in India, we must emulate this entrepreneurial spirit to see a legal industry more relevant to our times.

The rising number of crimes against women in India is creating fear in society. Do you think our legal system is doing enough to tackle this?    
No amount of condolence letters, angry tweets or walkouts by Members of Parliament can compensate for a life lost because of a heinous crime. Rape is an epidemic and legal professionals are not shying away from it. Because of the Kathua and Unnao rape incidents, our government expeditiously passed stringent laws punishing the guilty. The executive has done his duty, the judiciary is doing theirs, but have you done yours? The law is important in setting a tone and tolerance level for a crime but it is society and its people that can eradicate crime from its roots.

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