Standing Tall in the World of Corporate Law: In conversation with Krishnava Dutt, Managing Partner, Argus Partners

Mr. Krishnava Dutt started his legal career at Calcutta High Court. After a short stint at the high court, he joined ICICI Bank in Mumbai where he gained several years of experience in handling transactions involving stressed assets and the international banking sector. He joined Amarchand Mangaldas in 2005 and was made Partner in 2007. He retired from Amarchand Mangaldas in June 2009 after which he founded Argus Partners.

Mr. Dutt, who has been recognized as ‘Highly Regarded’ in M&A by IFLR1000 2020 Rankings, has also been identified by India Business Law Journal as one of India’s top 100 lawyers and is mentioned amongst the India A-List lawyers of 2019, 2018 and 2017. His experience encompasses the entire repertoire of corporate commercial practice including mergers and acquisitions, private equity, banking and finance and commercial disputes. In this interview, he talks about the world of corporate commercial law, being the Managing Partner at Argus Partners, and his word of advice for young lawyers. He has been interviewed by Nisha Gupta, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing her law from NLU Jodhpur.

For Video of the interview, click HERE 

  1. Sir, before I begin, the team at EBC-SCC Online extends warm greetings and welcomes you. It is indeed a privilege for me to interview you on behalf of the team for our readers. Before proceeding further with the interview, would you please take a moment to tell our readers about Argus Partners?

Argus Partners was formed in 2009 when I retired from Amarchand Mangaldas and founded the Firm. Other than a dream to chase and believe in ourselves we did not have much to start with. A small 300 square feet office in Kolkata’s Loudon Street was our place of pride. Within a year we moved to a larger place and decided to open the Mumbai office. Mumbai office was also a tiny office in Worli. We expanded over the years only because of the diligence, commitment and belief of the people who were there at the time of the formation of the Firm or who joined us during this journey and continue to be an integral part of the Firm today.

  1. As a large percentage of our readers are currently students of law, I would like to jog your memory back to over two decades ago! Would you please tell us about your law school life and what inspired you to pursue law?

I started to think about law as a profession in my school years. Apart from being a debater and possessing a lifelong love for reading, a passion to solve problems through breaking down facts and analysing them was also a factor which pushed me in pursuit of this most intellectually rewarding profession. More than two decades separate me and todays law school student through the transformational evolution of internet, mobile phones and of course social media. However, when I speak to interns or the junior members in the Firm, I realise that at some level certain things remain immutable. Albeit these are lot more challenging times that we live in today, I do get immensely encouraged to see a large number of the youngsters still with the same fire in their belly, still with the same dedication and determination to succeed, still with the same ambition. The innate desire to succeed transcends generations and remains unaffected by the changing socio- economic landscape.

  1. We are now seeing a trend of young lawyers who are quick to switch over from corporate law to litigation within a few years of graduating. However, it is safe to say that it was quite the opposite for you. From starting out at the Calcutta High Court to being the Managing Partner of Argus Partners, how did your journey take shape?

Yes, I did start as a litigating lawyer and as was always and still I am passionate about litigation and making submission before the Bench, which I still do. Having traversed the entire spectrum from counsel practice to inhouse to a law firm, I can only say that the constant in all these roles is “law”. Whilst for each role one may need to have some specific skillset for sure, it is indubitable that success in any of these depend heavily on one’s deep knowledge and understanding of the subject. I was most fortunate to have been able to appear on the first day I wore my gown, where my senior was most supportive and allowed me to plead on a Clause 12 (Letters Patent – for ascertaining original jurisdiction of the High Court) matter. Though Clause 12 hearings in most cases are normally very routine, as you have to submit why the cause of action fell within original jurisdiction of the High Court, that day after I did get a favorable order, I felt like I have successfully climbed Mount Everest. However small the matter was – I was most ecstatic! I left counsel practice very early within a year and joined ICICI Limited (as it then was) in Mumbai. The only reason was that I wanted to be economically independent. Although not as a regret, I do question myself whether I should have been more patient and pursued counsel practice. ICICI was a completely new environment for me. From doing Section 9/interlocutory applications, winding up petitions and suits – I found myself in the world of finance; something hitherto I had no knowledge of. I remember in the first week I was asked by a senior to prepare a memorandum of entry for an equitable mortgage; I was clueless. I had no idea what it was. I was lucky to have some senior colleagues who patiently explained. ICICI years were some of my best years as apart from invaluable learnings in the field of finance, I made some friends for life and some seniors who always supported me and even do today, for both of which I am eternally grateful. By the end of four years in ICICI (by when it had become ICICI Bank) I decided that I wanted to go back to the practice of law. After a very brief stint with Luthra & Luthra when it opened its Mumbai office in 2004, I joined Amarchand Mangaldas. My first six months were spent in the Delhi office where I used to stay the weekdays in the Bengali Market office. Weekends I would go back to Kolkata (as my Family had shifted back to Kolkata from Mumbai). After six month I completely shifted to Kolkata. Four years later I started the journey of Argus Partners and in 2012 relocated with my family back to Mumbai.

  1. For anyone who is exploring the fields of M&A, Banking & Finance, Insolvency or even Corporate Law as a whole, you stand tall as a role model. Being recognised as “Highly Regarded” in M&A by IFLR1000 2020 Rankings to being identified by India Business Law Journal as one of India’s top 100 lawyers, you have certainly made your mark in the world of corporate law. What would you say drove you to these fields of law?

I started liking the world of finance and corporate law from my ICICI days. Probably because till then it was an unknown space for me. The world of corporate law is a platform where apart from law you are also required to reasonably understand finance and the business compulsions that drive your clients to do what they do. I personally like keeping myself updated on various developments in the corporate world and how the aligned evolution of law aids the growth engine for corporate India. Further, at an early stage whilst I was in ICICI, I was fascinated by the corporate governance and the principles of trust as the central theme of good governance. Till today this is a subject which interests me immensely.

  1. You have also been described as “a sharp, distinctive individual who has made the most of the booming Indian infrastructure market” by RSG Consulting (London) apart from being identified as amongst the leading second generation of Indian corporate lawyers. It goes without saying that to have such a shrewd legal acumen and awareness, one must dig deep into researching and reading. What do you think about the same? What do you do to maintain your extensive knowledge bank – any tips that you might like to share with our readers?

A bookmark designed for our Firm says “Read, Read, Read, Read, Lead”. That actually is one of my favourite quotes. We are in a profession where knowledge is our main asset. Logic may at the most take you to the line but knowledge makes you cross it. It is almost like saying someone wants to be a cricketer without being interested in batting or bowling. Today accessing knowledge is far easier than when I started my profession. Apart from legal knowledge, it is also important to be abreast of corporate developments. Depending on the practice area one is in, a regular habit of checking the websites of the relevant regulator(s) is a great way to learn and remain updated. In our Firm we have a very extensive Knowledge Management programme where daily updates on various issues are published. It is also published on our social media platform. I try to read all the KM updates for the day before I retire at night.

  1. It would not be wrong to say that almost every lawyer has dreamt about having their own law firm – it’s a big dream! You brought it to reality in 2009 when you founded Argus Partners. What made you finally retire as a Partner at Amarchand Mangaldas to start your own venture? What were your considerations?

Entrepreneurship is all about ownership of one`s work. It has little to do with owning a company or a firm. Entrepreneurial people have some common traits de hors where they work and what position they hold. The most important aspect is an innate drive to create something. As said earlier, a dream in our eyes and a diehard belief that we can was what got us (the team, most of whom are now partners) going; nothing more, nothing less. I must also mention that when you start such a journey – you need to have the most supporting family. I was 34 with two kids. My wife’s unstinted support was possibly the reason why the first step could have been taken.

  1. Would you agree that to be your own boss brings about some interesting experiences and teaches you some important lessons – if so, would you please share some of these experiences and lessons with our readers?

That is a myth. You are never your own boss as a successful person is someone who excels in managing expectations of all clients and stakeholders. As a Partner one is constantly required to stand up to the expectations of the clients and the team. It is a major responsibility to carry. As a managing partner there is a realm beyond law and clients – the administration of the firm. However, if a firm is strong in processes and has the right people to do, the job things fall in place.

  1. Corporate lawyers are infamous for complaining about the lack of a work-life balance. what is your response to the “work-life balance” complaint?

Work-life balance is definitely important and a social necessity. There is no doubt that nonstop working is unsustainable, counter-productive and a sure recipe for an early burn out. That is a biological imperative. It is important to have a healthy and active social life. Nonetheless hard work and drive to take on more is not antithetical to work-life balance. How much to work is eventually a personal choice. However, personal choices should be aligned with your aspirations. On a personal note, I feel the first 15 years of your profession should be spent on defining your progression in your professional life. There can never be any alternate to hard work. Can you imagine Roger Federer or Sachin Tendulkar saying they cannot practice or train beyond 6 pm due to work-life balance?

  1. Lastly, Sir, with the everchanging world around us – which is now more unstable than ever – what would be your advice to young lawyers to help them achieve their goals with the same drive as you do?

In this world of social media, I keep on telling all my young friends (and I have said this innumerable times) – the biggest source of unhappiness is overestimating the happiness of others. Be confident about yourself. No one can displace you. Be the one to take initiative. Everyone will follow you. Think and do for others, others will be inspired by you and finally, believe in yourself that you can simply because you can!!

Nisha Gupta in conversation with Krishnava Dutt, Managing Partner, Argus Partners – YouTube

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.