Can one think of a doctor who thinks it’s absolutely all right for a medical practitioner to be sued for negligence? Such a doctor may be hard to find, but there is definitely a lawyer who thinks it’s fair enough for a lawyer to be sued by his client. He is Som Mandal, Managing Partner of Fox Mandal (FM). “I expect Indian lawyers to be more responsible and accountable. In all developed countries, lawyers can be sued but in India can anyone think of something like this?” he asks.
Though a scion of the oldest law firm in the country, Mandal’s ideas are far from traditional. FM was the first major firm in India to openly support the entry of foreign law firms. “I have been very vocal about allowing foreign firms to come into India. We operate openly and believe that opening up will help Indian lawyers also. There may be issues, though. Our partners might leave and join them or we may lose some clients to them but then we will gain if their partners join us. “They (partners from foreign firms) have the experience of having worked in a foreign firm,” reasons Mandal. FM, established in 1896 with J.K. Fox and G.C. Mandal, has an unparalleled legal tradition of being the legal advisor to the East India Company, and the successive governments of the Presidency of Bombay.
Som, who is intent on making FM India’s first international firm, says liberalization will mean great learning opportunities for young Indians. “Young lawyers in India will get to learn about the best practices followed by International law firms, which colleges and universities cannot teach them.” Interestingly, FM is the only firm in India which can boast of having members who have become parliamentarians: British parliamentarian Keith Vaz was an FM consultant in 2008.
Som Mandal moved to Delhi a year after he enrolled at the Bar in 1988. “After a year (of practice) in Kolkata I moved to Delhi in 1989 because there were only two lawyers in the FM branch here and therefore better opportunities,” says he. His father, Dinabandhu Mandal, however, says he wanted Som, the eldest of his three sons, to take over the Delhi office because he knew his son “had it in him to break new grounds.” Som, who started as a counsellor arguing in both High Court and the Supreme Court, was soon charting new courses.
Credited with putting FM on the national scanner, Som started to push aggressively for expansion in corporate litigation and international practice after taking charge of the Delhi office. And the fruits of his efforts were there for all to see. FM transformed from litigators in Kolkata to one of the top-ranking corporate firms in India. “All credit goes to Som for the heights Delhi has reached and the expansion FM has seen,” says Dinabandhu.
FM today has offices in Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore, besides Delhi and Kolkata and also permanent offices in the UK, New Guinea and Bangladesh. Its tie up with Mumbai-based solicitors Little & Co. in 2006 had also made it the largest law firm in India, albeit for a brief period. “When we merged and started practice with Little & Co., we genuinely believed that it was the right move. We started with the best of intentions and were awarded the Best Indian law firm. We also became the largest in India,” says Som, about the much-hyped tie-up that ended in 2012, citing cultural differences and style of working.
The Little & Co. debacle, however, has failed to dampen Som’s spirit, says wife Sangeeta, also a lawyer. “He always thinks ahead of his times. I used to be his biggest critic but now I realize that he has a vision,” confides Sangeeta, sharing Som’s views on expanding into hitherto uncharted territories like the environment.
Awarded the ‘Best Corporate Lawyer’ in India on the occasion of Law Day Awards 2002 and recognized as one of the ‘Top Performing Lawyers’ for 2008 by Asian Legal Business (ALB), Som believes that one of the biggest plus points of FM is the rapport he shares with his colleagues and employees. “We invest in our people. There is always attrition but beyond that there is also love and sharing. We are like a family,” he affirms. FM has been awarded the “Employer of Choice’ in 2008, a response voiced by over 15,000 lawyers, region-wide by ALB.
Som, who like his father has a penchant for fast cars and long drives, says that as a fourth-generation lawyer, law is in his blood. “Everybody on my father’s and mother’s side is a lawyer, so there was law all around me. We are three brothers and despite our parents’ wish that we all do something different, all three of us ended up being lawyers,” smiles FM’s brightest star. Though he never expressed his desire, Som’s children, Shivangi and Shivanu are Lawyers taking FM into the fifth generation.
Now it remains to be seen to what heights of success FM reaches in the years to come and whether the upcoming generation also swears by the doctrine ‘work is recreation.’
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