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30 Best Leaders to Watch 2021

A Relentlessly Reliable Leader, a Passionate Mother, Mrs. Ruchi Khatlawala Pandya, Little & Co. Partner, Speaks Exclusively to The Silicon Review: ‘The Show Must Go On’

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“Being one of the youngest partners at Little & Co, I have undertaken the responsibility of the firm's business development, which I feel I owe it to the firm as well.”

Little & Co. is one of the leading firms of Advocates and Solicitors in India. The firm is reckoned for its legal expertise, industry specialization, and commercial acumen across the country. It operates worldwide.

Little & Co. was incorporated in 1856 and is headquartered in Mumbai, India. It has an additional office location in Delhi.

Mrs. Ruchi Khatlawala Pandya, BLS, LLB & Solicitor (UK): Interview Excerpt

Q. Brief us about the origin and evolution of your company.

The law firm has acted as solicitors to the Great Indian Peninsula Railway and continued to act for it till its merger with the Central Railway. The incorporation of Tata Iron and Steel Company was done with the firm's assistance, and its then-partner, Mr. T.C.B. Acworth, signed the company’s original Memorandum of Association. Mr. Charles Grundy, the last British senior partner, was the only expatriate British lawyer practicing law in India after independence.

Little & Co. has come all the way from representing East India Company to representing the current major government entities in India, including the road department, the insurance department, the oil corporations, etc. From appearing before various tribunals to appearing before India's highest court, i.e., the Supreme Court, Little & Co. has shown an unabating effort for its clients’ restitution.

When it comes to emotional branding, Little & Co sounds highly promising. As a journalist, I find it quite striking. My question to you is, how did you come up with the brand name, and what does it depict?

Little & Co. combines the rich heritage of best practices of both worlds (modern and traditional) along with the present-day legal expectations to bring clientele the most efficient and practical advice in the most competent and organized manner. The Firm is known for its integrity, efficiency, and high intensity of partner’s personal involvement at any given point.

In my view, Little & Co., the brand name depicts that our purpose is deeply rooted in our founding ethics. We have always strived by an organizational, unswerving spirit: one that has always been willing to accept progression to stay pertinent. One may even call it Darwinism in the legal industry of sorts.

Q. Little & Co is one of the oldest firms of Advocates and Solicitors in India. A terrific feat, I must say. How did this idea come to your mind? Was there any prior experience that led to the establishment of the firm?

Honestly, the firm's legacy has come to me from my father and senior partner, Ajay Khatlawala, who continues to rule the roost! The real reason for establishing the firm isthesiliconreview-image-little-&-co-21 still a mystery for all of us but what we have learnt over the years is, this legacy is our fortune, and we ought to carry it forward unblemished, with more conviction which can’t display lesser passion than what our ancestors and our existing partners have displayed. My father is still very passionate about his firm and its existence. It’s embodied in us, “the show must go on.”

Q. What were the roadblocks that you had to overcome during the initial years?

Well, in India, we belong to a very traditional upbringing that echoes in our day-to-day life. Once married and a mother to an 8-year old daughter, Vyana, life isn’t easy to balance between professional and personal commitments. In all senses, the only difficulty I faced, other than proving myself to my father and other partners of the firm about being worthy of being inducted as a partner in the firm despite being the daughter of an established senior partner of the firm, was how to ensure that I do complete justice to my daughter who was just two and a half years old when I resumed from a sabbatical of three years and to my clients who look upon the firm and me with lot more trust and expect 100 percent commitment towards them. I believe that a good lawyer gets heaps of experience from obstacles and adapts accordingly. Whether the lawyer can deal with the obstacle and bounce back to the same or even a better position is the key takeaway. One should always keep in mind that a fallacy does not define a person but only a situation.

Q. Fast forward to 2021, how have your clients responded to your offerings so far? Do you recall any moment when you had to re-write your offerings just to meet a client’s needs?

Oh! This is given to most of our clients! None accept the offerings in one go, and more often than not, we have to re-write them only to respect the client’s wishes and ensure we establish a long-term association with them. I feel the bargaining streaks have bettered in the last year mainly due to COVID-19, which makes us and clients go parallel if none agree to give in.

Q. What are the factors that contribute to your success? Would you like to talk about your achievements as a company or share a success story?

My parents, brother, and husband have been my greatest support. My parents have been my ultimate strength and go-to advisory board in the worst and best times! Again, in India, we don’t just marry the man, but his fly as well. I migrated from a nuclear to a joint family after marriage which houses four generations under one roof. When I chose to continue pursuing my professional life, just the husband supporting wasn’t enough, but I was amazed how his entire family supported me in my stint! Through all my ups and downs, my parents have been with me, made me self-sufficient, and the values they have imparted always kept me grounded. Also, not to forget a few of those who were my protégé, my pillars, and have guided me in my professional and personal life journey. There is no career as exciting as law today. One of our firm's biggest achievements can be considered the landmark judgment of Oil & Natural Gas Corporation Ltd v. Saw Pipes Ltd., where Saw Pipes was represented by the firm under the personal involvement of my father. The main issue involved in the matter was whether patent illegality could be used as a ground to assail the award under section 34 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (“Act”). This effected laying down a new legal provision in the Act.

Q. Let’s talk about you a bit. What’s your role here, and how do you contribute to the success of the firm?

Being one of the youngest partners at Little & Co, I have undertaken the responsibility of the firm's business development, which I feel I owe it to the firm as well. I am passionate about writing and have been fortunate to have been able to write legal articles for a couple of domestic and international magazines. I consider myself privileged to be invited to conduct webinars on an array of current legal issues. I also try to do a few pro-bono matters for all the needy and give back to society for where it has given me for all these years. To motivate the current generation aspiring to take law as a career, I make that I do as many interviews as possible and enlighten them about the thousands of opportunities that law has to proffer.

Q. What do you think is the most memorable moment in your career?

 Apart from my daughter's birth, I will consider two as the most memorable moments of my life, one- becoming a partner at a place which I have been frequenting since I was a kid. The second was being awarded as “The Rising Star Under 40” by Legal Era at New Delhi in September 2019 while being part of the same firm. To me, this not just meant that I would be able to control my matters and get my clients, but this also meant that I will be able to guide my juniors and give them opportunities to attain what they always desired. It gave me a high of sharing what my professional role model, my father inculcated in me with those who want to make law as their passion.

Q. If not a business leader, what else you wish to be?

Being a lawyer was definitely on the top of my list. But I wouldn’t deny that I had some quirks too. I was always interested in modelling, and in fact, I did pursue it to some extent, and I even got selected amongst some well-known fashion shows in India. I think the universe had some other plans for me, and I am grateful for where I am today.

Q. Briefly walk us through your plans. Where do you see your firm a couple of years from now?

I would like to explore more areas of law and exhibit more talents at the firm for an even improved clientele response. Not just that, I am also trying to study various aspects of Artificial Intelligence (AI) with respect to the legal field. The law touches every nook and corner of the industry. Virtually everything that companies do—sales, purchases, partnerships, mergers, acquisitions, reorganizations, and even dispute resolution—they do via legally enforceable contracts. More than any technology before it, AI will transform the practice of law in dramatic ways. Indeed, this process is already underway. Among the social sciences, the law comes the closest to a system of formal logic. This logic-oriented modus operandi is precisely the type of activity to which AI can successfully be applied to.

The legal profession was always considered a noble profession in the past, but today, it’s more of a competitive industry! Time to change our outlook and thought process to support the new outlook!

"One of our firm's biggest achievements can be considered the landmark judgment of Oil & Natural Gas Corporation Ltd v. Saw Pipes Ltd., where Saw Pipes was represented by the firm under the personal involvement of my father. The main issue involved in the matter was whether patent illegality could be used as a ground to assail the award under section 34 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (“Act”). This effected laying down a new legal provision in the Act."