Ms Neha Kashyap is an alumna of Symbiosis Law School, Pune and the founder of The Grey Matter (TGM) that helps with advice on law firm management – be it searching the right external partners, photographers, office staff, technology outsourcing, etc. She has vast experience in strategic business development having worked over a decade in the legal professional services industry. Today, The Grey Matter houses intriguing initiatives such as “Unsuited” and “Dareact”.
She has been interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador Toshika Soni, who is currently pursuing law from NLUO.
1. The Grey Matter strikes as a one-stop solution for law firms. What all services do you provide?
The Grey Matter aims to be a one-stop solution, that is correct. The Grey Matter was birthed to advice mid-size and small law firms on the practice development and management side. The intent was simple – we wanted to be trusted advisors to our clients. We wanted to leave the lawyering to the lawyers, while we provided intelligent help with managing and running their practice. Under The Grey Matter umbrella, lawyers come looking for help – be it websites they wish to develop, technology experts they need to engage or capable human resource folks they need to partner with.
2. How important are “innovation” and “experience” as elements to The Grey Matter? How do you manage to serve novelty in the field of law that has been around for ages now?
The core team at TGM have all been practicing lawyers in the past and we very well understand how conservative the legal industry can be. However, with changing times especially in the last couple of years, innovation has become inevitable – from cutting edge technology to agile working practices, lawyers are slowly realising that innovation is here to stay for good. There has definitely been a shift in perception and improved receptivity towards actioning innovative ideas, be it on the technical execution or day-to-day management side.
Innovation is the foundation of TGM and we wish for clients and lawyers to experience that. Each law firm is different and unique from the lens of its culture, vision, management style, personality and ambition. Their uniqueness is what helps us to serve novelty in this field. Identifying the best practices which are in alignment with the firm’s personality is our unique selling proposition (USP).
3. Can you please talk about your formative years in the field at Symbiosis Law School, Pune and beyond?
Symbiosis Law School was a very holistic experience for me. We were the first batch of the deemed university at Symbiosis and although we hardly understood the difference, it somehow was a huge deal. We had the semester system so we were clearly the lot that felt very special. Academically I was not the student mooting or debating or researching but I was out there experiencing. I volunteered for different causes, just for the experience I washed dishes at a coffee shop and also did some product sale for Britannia during Christmas. I interned with HUDCO, Bharti Airtel, at the Supreme Court and Delhi High Court. I clearly enjoyed litigation a lot more than my corporate internships. A year into the profession along with some bitter experiences I realised I did not have the attitude to pursue a career in the practice of law. Post which, I read about Rainmaker. I instantly wrote to them and got interviewed telephonically and before I knew, I was on my way to Mumbai to join them. When you are with a startup, you are not restricted by job descriptions. Five years at Rainmaker were the most fulfilling years of my working life. I was with Laurence Simons thereafter for about a year and joined Vahura for the next 2 years. Post which I made the switch to the practice development side of law firms. I joined AZB & Partners where I was heading the vertical for the next 2 years, which involved working closely with Zia.
4. Can you tell us more about “Dareact” and “Unsuited”? How did you arrive at these brainchildren?
In 2020 as the pandemic hit, the lean team had the time to realise and ruminate on the things that truly mattered to them. Unsuited was born in collaboration with IDEX Legal (which is a renowned events company in the legal space) where we literally lift the corporate veil to showcase very serious and senior legal professionals to bring to the forefront their lighter, funnier and endearing side to them. The hobbies they have, the relationships they have, the fears they faced, the resilience they displayed and just everything that made them who they are today – is what Unsuited brings to its audiences.
We also started a series, called the Dareact conversations, which features lawyers who chose dareact over Bare act. Our guests are qualified lawyers, who responded to the call of courage and walked a path unknown to them – that of pursuing other passions/career interests. We have had journalists who studied the law just so they could add value to their reporting, lawyers who are cricket umpires, fashion designers and entrepreneurs, fitness entrepreneurs among many others.
We believe in the power of storytelling, for it is these stories that have the ability to motivate, uplift and encourage people to dare to act differently to overcome their doubts and fears.
5. What role do you think business development and strategy can play in the legal arena?
If we were to look at the law firms like we look at any product or service business, it will lead us to understand the importance of practice development without taking away how noble the profession is. Most parents back in the day imagined lawyers to only go to the courts. It was post liberalisation, post the curriculum change at NLSIU and the introduction of the 5-year integrated course, law as a career choice became popular with students. The next step was for colleges to talk about their placement numbers, the salaries being offered to their students that led to more and more demand for the course. That led to the opening of newer law schools. Law firms can talk about hiring and discuss retention strategies, they can talk about the deal volume and matter value and the value and culture of the firm but they cannot talk about marketing strategies.
The law is considered a noble profession, not so much a business. That said, today, with globalisation, entry of foreign investments into every imaginable sector in India and corporatisation of the legal professional at many law firms – we can all agree that lawyers are entrepreneurs or business people first, and lawyers later. The hourly billables – are proof that a profit and loss (P&L) sheet is certainly the way to evaluate output by lawyers at firms. Developing a practice strategy – which can include annual budgets, narrowing down on the target (sector, industry, practice), article writing, social media engagement, conferences, cross-selling are all critical to any practice. If we look at our counterparts in the west, they have used business development and strategy to grow their practices successfully. There is an assumption of frivolity attached to those who talk about their work. Where the work done is quality and has had impact, it is imperative that we talk about such work.
With changing times, the noble profession has to adapt to novel ways of running a practice.
6. What do you think is the importance of legal research and using the right tools? How can law students equip themselves to become good researchers?
The law is a very demanding profession. It is ever-evolving, and the only way to stay relevant and ahead of the curve is to constantly engage in updating yourselves as students of law or young lawyers.
For this, one has to have a penchant for understanding how the law impacts lives, businesses and nations at large. One has to make a wilful choice, to choose reading and updating.
In light of this legal research and portals like SCC Online are integral tools to hone one’s legal skills. They are designed to deliver and simplify research of Supreme Court/High Court cases, doctrines, statutes and other legal apparatus.
7. Considering your expertise in legal recruitment, can you please shed light on a few general takeaways for budding lawyers in the country across different fields?
I was legal recruiter for over 6 years and I have serviced law firms, inhouse and outsourcing requirements during my stint.
(1) When you are graduating, be honest with yourself about your own interest and skill. Objectively assess your skills, and truthfully lay down your interests. Find jobs within the legal community that are a congruent match of both.
(2) Absorbing of experience at whatever place you are and then moving on to the next challenge is a process that can be one of your best teachers. Attach yourself to the commitment of being able to absorb and learn.
(3) It is great if you have clarity on where you want to be post law school and it is absolutely fine to not know what you wish to do. If you are in the later situation, process of elimination works best (if you can tick off what you definitely do not want to do).
8. Describe the ideal law firm partner. What are the best qualities you seek when recommending one to your clients?
There is no one ideal law firm partner. Every partner adds a very different skillset and attitude to how they function on a day-to-day basis.
We conduct some simple and effective personality tests for various partnerships across firms. This leads to people knowing each other’s strengths, weaknesses, conflict management styles, feedback styles. This allows them to work with their similarities and navigate their differences better.
My colleague, Shreya Sharma wrote about how different partners add value to the practice in different ways. Some will be good at finding work and supervising juniors (finder), some at managing work (minder), some at managing clients (binder) and some will be good at legal work (grinder). You can read it Here .
9. What importance must lawyers today place on networking? What are the best modes to achieve a good professional network?
Networking is being able to genuinely focus on fostering real connections. It is the art of asking what we can offer people, before we answer what is in it for us. Building and maintaining relationships are the bedrock of solid networking.
There are many ways of being able to connect with people. You can be at an event and network with people in person. You can be someone who writes regularly on LinkedIn and people are able to connect with how relatable your content is. A big part of networking entails opening up your networks to new connections.
There is no one way of forming connections and forging relationships, however interactions only enrich you and hence the only thing that is important is that you be you when interacting.