Mani Gupta, is a Senior Partner for Sarthak Advocates & Solicitors and has been recognised as a Litigation Star and one of Asia-Pacific's Top 100 Women in Litigation. Under Mani’s leadership, Sarthak Advocates & Solicitors has expanded its sectoral experience in litigation and arbitration focusing particularly on construction disputes including delay and disruption claims, shareholder disputes, commercial practice and contracts, etc. Apart from private clients, Mani also advises government departments/ public sector enterprises in India such as Bureau of Energy Efficiency and Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited.
1. In your opinion how does the firm differ from its competitors?
As we celebrate our 10th anniversary this year, we are proud to have an experienced team of professionals. Our team consists of professionals who are subject matter experts, have industry insights, and international exposure. Our solutions and services match the interests and needs of the clients. Likewise, we provide the highest quality of counselling and advocacy services to our clients.
Success cannot be measured merely through revenues. For us, a comprehensive metrics for success should also include, new clients added, the value of the deals, revenues, and client satisfaction, depth of relationship. On these criterions, we believe, we have grown steadily over the years at a reasonable and manageable pace.
Apart from this, the firm and its partners place value on the team. From being a firm with only men at the time of inception, today the firm has an almost equal number of men as women. This has been achieved through partners’ adopting diversity and inclusion practices at work. Further, we place a premium on counsel’s mental well-being and growth – these are of utmost importance to us along with servicing our clients.
The values and aspirations of the Firm are derived from the word ‘Sarthak’, which in the Sanskrit language means ‘meaningful’. It is Firm’s attempt to add meaning, purpose and passion to the practice of law. The Firm hopes that our name will constantly remind us of our role and responsibility in dealings with our clients and the society at large. Our aim is to become a trusted adviser to our clients. We invest time and efforts in building long term relationships with our clients. Our focus on building client relationships also enables us to communicate with our clients at a level, where we can maintain a balance in our advice, which fits the legal landscape with the commercial realities of the business. This approach, in our view, has been our single biggest competitive advantage.
2. What part of this job do you personally find most satisfying? Most challenging?
The most satisfying part has to be client servicing and representing client before different courts and arbitrators. It is exciting to step into your client’s shoes and deliver the most desirable outcome for the client. Apart from that, I also enjoy the sense of community and camaraderie when I am mentoring my associates and/ or spending time with peers, colleagues at the bar and even clients beyond office hours.
As a young mother of two, balancing the right momentum between work and family too is a challenge that I am learning to grapple with every day. Though, I have realised that the family and the work complement each other in interesting ways. The family may often help in taking the stress out of work, and vice versa.
3. What has been your most memorable case to date?
I think there are many. But a recent arbitration matter stands out for various reasons.
I was representing Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited before a sole arbitrator – who is a retired Chief Justice of Jammu & Kashmir High Court. I was cross-examining the witness for the claimant. His counsel – who was present in the meeting room – kept interrupting to praise my cross-examining skills or to say how well I had read the file. There was contempt in the remarks to allude to the fact that a woman had read the file and numbers so well. At the fifth such interruption, our arbitrator politely turned and told him to let me do my job and enjoy his tea; otherwise he would be asked to leave. The same thing happened during the final arguments for the matter.
The case is memorable not because of the legal issues or the value of the matter but it highlights how men and women in the profession are truly partners and not, competitors. It is only through proactive encouragement and support of women at the bar and other fields, can the cause of women truly prosper.
4. What is the employment outlook like within the legal field? How much demand is there for people, specifically women, in your particular practice areas? Are you finding that fewer women are entering these sectors (regulatory defence/internal investigation/consumer finance/etc.)?
In India, the proportion of men and women in the legal field is approximately 65:35 but this ratio has been improving as lot of women are opting for this profession. The legal profession certainly needs more women at every level and in every sphere.
As far as the named sectors are concerned – regulatory defence, internal investigation and consumer finance, there are no published numbers available but women are definitely entering these fields.
5. What obstacles do you believe women [in this profession] face that could potentially hinder their profitability or growth?
Experience and research both point to women being considered as primary care-givers for children or old-age parents in majority of the households. As long as the domestic responsibilities are unevenly divided, those would affect the performance and perception of women in the workplace. At the same time, the workplace and other stakeholders also have to work together with women to create an enabling and safe environment at work. For instance, there are no child-care facilities in most courts in India, the numbers and hygiene quotient of rest-rooms is abysmal. Seemingly small, but these are the sorts of obstacles that act as barriers to entry or growth for women at any workplace.
6. Do you find that women encounter different expectations with respect to personality and demeanour than male counterparts by clients, the courts, and other professionals across the industry?
Yes, I do feel people have different expectations from women either with respect to demeanour, personality or work management.
7. Have you found the legal industry to have addressed the disparity in expectations?
Indian legal industry is fractured and largely unorganised. My belief is that commercial firms – especially those where women have a stake in the equity pie – have been addressing these disparities. However, a mind-set change across all levels is something that has not been addressed or attempted at. Besides a few surveys and research, no major policy related changes have been introduced to provide better facilities and support to women.
8. What do you think the legal profession needs to do in order to improve opportunities for women (in-house or private practice) litigators?
I think the regulators of the industry need to make some SOP and policies not only for the women but also to provide better facilities and infrastructure to women. Along with this some basic mind-set change in order to harmonise the expectations. It is also essential to organise and run on-going campaign to address these concerns and limitations.
9. How important is mentorship in this profession and what advice, if any, would you give women who are just starting their legal careers?
Mentorship is extremely important in this profession. A good mentor – regardless of gender, moulds you into the kind of professional you want to be.
My advice to young people everywhere is that you should not let the noise outside drown your inner voice. Specifically for women who are starting their legal careers, I would say that you need to know (for yourself) the priorities and work with a plan. That said, all plans go awry and therefore, try not to take every failed attempt as a setback that you will not bounce back from. In a long career, these failures/ setbacks, are often the stepping stones to success.