Mr Priyesh Sharma is Assistant Vice President (Legal) at Nucleus Office Parks, which is a subsidiary of Blackstone Commercial Portfolio. Nucleus is one of the biggest players in the office space market in the country. Mr Sharma graduated from Hidayatullah National Law University (HNLU) in 2011 and started his career as an Associate with Vaishlaw. He went on to work at reputed law firms such as AZB & Partners, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, and J. Sagar Associates (JSA) in different positions. He was a partner and co-head of M&A practice at ARA LAW. Prior to joining Nucleus, he was working as an Of Counsel with JSA. Mr Sharma has extensive experience in areas such as venture capital (VC), private equity (PE), real estate (RE), mergers and acquisitions (M&A), etc., and has written extensively on these areas as well.

He has been interviewed by Jyotshna Yashaswi, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador, who is pursuing law from CNLU, Patna.

1. Please tell us a little bit about your current work profile at Nucleus? What are the responsibilities you have as Assistant VP-Legal? What kind of experience is it to handle the Legal Department of an MNC in India?

– Nucleus is the commercial office portfolio of Blackstone group. Currently, my profile includes managing the legal affairs of the office assets under the portfolio (primarily the southern zone). It is like nourishing the assets from day zero till their final exit. Most of these assets come from the top developers of India and have a high brand reputation. With legacy, comes privileges and responsibilities both. To be honest, the in-house legal position is far more challenging than my expectations and the myth of law firm v in-house, legal fraternity debates.

2. You have a very vast experience in corporate law practice in India and have worked in different positions at a number of reputed organisations. Be it as an Associate at Vaishlaw and AZB, senior position at CAM, practice area (M&A) co-head/partner at ARA LAW, Of Counsel at JSA, and now as Assistant VP-Legal at Nucleus Office Parks.

According to you, what have been the major takeaways for you from different phases of your career?

– It is very important to have a correct start to your career. It sets out the trajectory of your growth. I guess for me the initial experience at Vaish Associates marked the very right beginning. The kind of exposure I got from Vaish was incredible in my view and it really helped in cracking the doors of future opportunities. AZB and CAM are like dream places for any corporate lawyer in India, and I truly consider myself fortunate to be a part of these organisations. ARA LAW, though a boutique law firm, had the best PE/VC deal profile for a long span of time as the “go-to firm” for leading names like Tiger Global. ARA gave me the opportunity to independently handle not only the deals and clients but an entire set-up of a law firm, which was just huge for me at the given stage of my career. JSA again is one of the most popular names in the industry and is known for its cream work. Definitely, it was the turning point in my career, working directly with Mr Chandy and handling some of the biggest M&A deals of the time, I could not thank my luck enough. Now it is Nucleus, the other side of the table. By far the most challenging, exciting, and demanding position of my career.

3. Prior to joining Nucleus, you worked for around 10 years with law firms where you are generally handling multiple clients simultaneously, which is quite different from your current position with Nucleus. How difficult or easy has this transition been? How has your experience been shifting from a law firm structure to Nucleus?

– It is actually not very different from a law firm’s style of working. In a law firm, you work for 10 clients at a time, here in Nucleus you are handling more than 10 assets at a time and not just one transaction or issue for them but the entire legal part. The real estate industry to my mind is the most legal function-dependent industry because of its very nature, kind of documentation, inherent complex RE issues, stakeholders involved, and the M&A flavour in the entry of and exit from these assets. Also, as an in-house lawyer, you are in fact responsible for the execution and implementation of both. One step ahead of theoretical stands, the power (and the obligation) to take the final calls has its own charm and stress.

For me luckily the transition was not difficult as I was a part of the M&A deal team of the Blackstone-Prestige portfolio acquisition and have been associated with these commercial assets since day zero.

4. Was there any specific reason or factors that influenced your decision of this transition after working for a quite long time with law firms?

– Change is important and it is the law of nature. I always wanted to experience the in-house side of corporate law. For some or the other reason, I did not get the correct opportunity before. As I said, the real estate industry has a huge potential for and dependency on legal functions. Coupled with the fund level part of it I guess I could not have asked for a better door to enter this field.

5. You have an extensive experience in M&A and venture capital, and these areas have become very relevant in the past few years, especially with the boom in the startup ecosystem. Private equity investment in the Indian market has been increasing significantly over the last 4-5 years consistently.

What kind of legal hurdles do you see yet that can be worked upon by the legislature and executive should focus on, to further boost the flow of private equity and venture capital into the country?

– One thing which India lacks is global investor confidence. Global funds still prefer to route their investments in a non-resident entity than in a domestic set-up. The major reason for this lack of confidence is the uncertainty in the legal regime in India. Retrospective tax amendments and a slow judicial process have just diluted this confidence further. While the startup action plan and incentives are in place, the overall investment atmosphere is still a level down in India. Maybe it is high time for a booster, by way of tax incentives and investment in alternate dispute resolution mechanisms.

6. Continuing with our discussion on PE and VC funding, it is expected that there can be a global economic recession, which might result in a reduction in M&A and PE activity. How do you think that Indian law should respond to such a challenge?

– Honestly, I do not see a major dip in deal-making activities happening. We have survived the peak of the pandemic, which was the most uncertain economic event in recent history. M&A in India (including FDI) continued well during the peak pandemic. VC activities could take a pace down, but again it should be for a short span only and a lot of sectors should remain unaffected.

7. How do you perceive the change in Indian legal education from the time you were a student at HNLU? Today, students have access to a vast gamut of resources, especially with internet penetration, and it has enabled students to pick and specialise in niche areas of law. Do you have any suggestions as to how current students should utilise these resources? Or, how would you have treaded through the law school, had you been a student today?

– During our time, we were mostly dependent upon internships for a lot of stuff. Online courses, workshops, and apps were not common at that time. Students nowadays are very lucky. If you want to understand M&A in your 2nd year of law school, you can just do an online workshop or short-term course. However, it was not the case 10-15 years back. We had to wait for a conference happening in some part of the country at some time and then catch up to that opportunity. Students should make the best of these options and available resources, especially for choosing the apt field to enter into as per their aspirations.

8. Research is an integral part of the law. What is your view on “exhaustion of research”?

– There is nothing “exhaustion” of research for a lawyer. Especially with the kind of tech support and resources we have today, this is hard to reach the stage of “exhaustion”. If you do not get a clear “no” or “yes” for a legal query, either you are missing something or you need to switch from research to “interpretation”.

9. What are your tips for law students, who look to join corporate law firms in the future? How should they build up their research skills, and how can they put their internships to optimum use for this purpose?

– As I said, till you get a clear “yes” or “no”, do not give up. Research could be tiring, but there is always an answer to the issue. If there is no answer, use your interpretational skills. Make the best use of the available resources, online libraries, and fancy search options, and gain some tips and clues from the “informal” discussions at the legal forums. Use those, to reach the solution via some authoritative source.

As far as internships are concerned, there is no substitute for the same. Choose your internships wisely. It is just not for the CV building purpose but has a far-reaching effect on your career. Choose the correct type of organisation, gain the best out of it, and build your reputation there. Even if you do not get a pre-placements offer (PPO) now, it is a small field and people are going to remember you for all good and bad. So, make that impression wisely.

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