“I used to shut myself in a room and speak in front of the mirror for hours together. In law, it’s like chiseling a statue. With how much clarity you make your point is the key in law.”
Amaverick, a man who chartered his course through an unmapped territory, Jyoti Sagar is a contented man. Chairman and Founder of J. Sagar Associates, Advocates & Solicitors (JSA) and Managing Partner of K&S Partners, Intellectual Property Attorneys, he introduced concepts unique to Indian law firms: the ‘no family’ rule, admittance to partnership without goodwill buy-in, retirement age for partners, innovative partner compensation mechanisms, and shared vision, mission and core values.
In 2013, almost 22 years after founding JSA, Jyoti Sagar took retirement from an equity partner’s position and has consciously taken on the role of a mentor. “The structure was created so that the firm would continue on its path beyond the founder and continue as an institution without vested interests,” says Sagar pragmatically. Sagar’s one practice areas are General corporate Commercial, Mergers & Acquisitions and Private Equity and Intellectual Property. More recently, he has been awarded the C.F. Andrews Distinguished Alumnus Award by his alma mater St. Stephen’s College, Delhi.
Education and knowledge have been the pillars of his life, given by his parents Jagdish Raj and Raj Rani. “My father never owned a car. We were brought up with emphasis on hard work and sound principles. They believed in karma yoga and simplicity,” reminisces Sagar. His core philosophy was and is that there are no shortcuts in life and universal human values are the most precious. He had entered the world of law with these values and they now continue into his new role and other social activities associated with the voluntary sector and other associations.
On his journey into law, Sagar says, “At the age of 19, I started taking evening classes in law at Mandir Marg in Delhi. I would work in the day with my uncle Dr. Vidya Sagar, who was then running Sagar & Co. which later became Remfry & Sagar.” He completed his legal studies in 1975 and remained associated for the next 16 years with this uncle Dr. Vidya Sagar.
And then a huge leap of faith, rise of the entrepreneurial spirit, and Sagar decided to set up his own firm. On November 1, 1991 JSA was born. “It was not an easy decision and I began with a room in Qutub Hotel, Delhi, as that gave me access to a telephone and infrastructure which was a big challenge in those days. I had one helper and the rent was Rs. 700 a day. I had only Rs. 50 000 in the bank, thanks to a first generous client.” A month later he moved to a small office in a residential area. “I was lucky, some of them I had worked with in Remfry & Sagar continued with me. This was an important phase for Indian economy, liberalization had happened and it led to an increase in foreign direct investment and interest in India. Many big and small foreign clients walked in and a lot of our work was around foreign clients setting up businesses in India,” says he about clients.
In 1994, he founded an intellectual property law boutique practice with a couple of other partners to revive his IP interests – that firm is known as K&S has over 100 professionals associated with it in five offices around the country – Gurgaon, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad.
Elucidating more about JSA, Sagar says that as the firm grew, the need for specific domains also grew. And then the need for specialists. So, with over eight practice areas in the corporate domain and over 20 sector specializations, the firm has around 350 professionals associated with it in seven offices across the country in New Delhi, Mumbai, Gurgaon, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad.
And as the firms grew, he lived his dreams of giving it an institutional structure and happy professionals. “Traditionally, the Indian law profession has been litigation and individual lawyer oriented. The real capital of a professional firm is the human capital. The question is how to do we deal with our human capital?” He asks the question, “Is it a necessary condition for success in the professional life that one must as a rule remain in office until 2 am, seven days w week, show up on holidays, and spare no time for anything else?” the quest for work-life balance is a must. Even as professionals practice together, there is need to spend time on retreats – professional and personal – to rejuvenate. Both firms have annual professional retreats where the professionals interact with each other and learn from external speakers and presenters – mostly on issues other than law.
About mentors, Sagar says there were many – his late uncle Vidya Sagar, the late Mr. Amar Raj Lall, a partner at Remfrys and the late Mr. J.K. Kaul, senior colleague at Remfry. Many wondered about is decision to retire form the role of an equity partner at JSA, but Sagar says he is now free to focus on things that he had longed to do. “Life is short and happiness is the bottom line,” he quips.
“I have been associated with and supported the NGO Deepalaya for 24 years. Deepalaya runs schools and learning centres in slum areas. In recent years, partners at JSA and K&S have helped in making two of the schools electronic whiteboard schools with the installation of computer-aided education including internet delivery of educational materials. We are working on replicating the same in the other schools. In addition, in one of the Deepalaya learning centres from the slums – this unit, now called ‘Sambhav’, had 130 children, and I am now supporting most of the budgetary needs of the unit.”
Another passion is Genesis Foundation; which was founded by his wife Prema Sagar, and Sagar is a trustee. The foundation provides lifesaving and life changing medical and financial support to critically ill children from orphanages or underprivileged sections of the society (say, families with an income of less than Rs. 10,000 per month.) “We work in the area of cancer, cardiac disorder, organ failure, thalassemia and extreme deformities,” explains Sagar. The Foundation organizes interesting fund-raising events such as ‘CEOs’ Got Talent’ and ‘CEOs Sing for their Supper’ where CEOs from top companies have participated to raise funds for children who need critical care. “We work with NGOs, institutions and hospitals from around the country. “The foundation also organizes annual music festivals as fund raisers – the Kasauli Rhythm & Blues Festival in Himachal Pradesh and at JadhavGarh Fort, Pune.
On what he likes in music, “I like the music of the 1950s and ‘60s, pune poetry, jazz & blues and BB King. I always had the desire to learn how to play a musical instrument – it remains unfulfilled yet but I hope to learn to play the guitar and more ambitiously the saxophone!” he smiles. Sagar also likes to watch ‘low cost movies’ that are coming out now such as Welcome to Sajjanpur, paan Singh Tomar, and Monsson Wedding. “They are so reminiscent of the Amol Palekar movies such as Golmaal,”
More than long novels, it’s short stories and current affairs that appeal to him now. Some authors he enjoys reading are Jeffrey Archer, Santosh Desai, Gurcharan Das, and mythological stories of Devdutt Patnaik.
A man with a liberal and progressive view point, he recounts when he met Prema while working at Remfry & Sagar. Half Swiss (Swiss mother and Indian father), she was also working there and the due had a simple wedding with 32 guests and the cost was Rs. 235! “It was under the Special Marriage Act,” he smiles. “My children followed suit with simple private weddings 36 guests for my son’s wedding and 32 for my daughter’s” he smiles.
His son Dr. Rahul Sagar is an academic and teaches in Singapore, and daughter-in-law Una is mainland Chinese. His daughter Simran has done her graduation in theatre and is marries to Dominic, who is English. Rahul and Una have a daughter Mia born in September 2013 and Simran and Dominic too have a daughter names Isabella born in August 2012. “We deserve a seat in the United Nations,” laughs Sagar, who enjoys his time with family on weekends and holidays. Prema is a professional in her own right – being one of the leading players in the public relations field in the country, as founder and now CEO of Genesis Burson-Marsteller.
His schedule can be guessed form the number of different roles Sagar plays. He is Vice President, Society of Indian Law Firms; Past President of Asian Patent Attorneys Association (Indian Group); Chairman, Society for Urban Regeneration of Gurgaon, which focuses on long-term sustainable development issues of Gurgaon, National Capital Region; member of the Governing Council of Common Cause – a civil society organization; and also serves on the Board of Governors, The Scindia School, Gwalior.
His inspiration and message: Be a good human being, contribute to the society and the country.
We acknowledge “100 Legal Luminaries of India” by Lalit Bhasin (Lexis). The multicolour coffee table book printed on art paper in Hardbound is priced at ` 5995/- and is available at Universal Book Traders, C-27, Connaught Place, New Delhi – 110001. firstname.lastname@example.org