Zulfiquar Memon is the founder and managing partner of India’s MZM Legal. He heads the global disputes and white-collar crime practice. Over the years he has assisted international lawyers and law firms in cross border matters involving England, U.S., UAE and South Africa in matters related to international extradition, financial disputes, company matters, etc. In 2020, he was featured in ALB’s India Super 50 Lawyers.
Besides this, Memon is a member of numerous business communities and is the director of MZM Care Foundation, the charitable arm of the firm.
ALB: Tell us about your role. What does the average day look like for you?
Memon: I am the founder and managing partner of MZM Legal. My role is to supervise business development, client interface for high-value mandates, finances and operations to ensure profitability, growth and efficient functioning.
An average day is very hectic with most of my time spent on phone calls with clients and associates, working towards the above ends in mind. I structure my day in such a way where a couple of hours are spent with partners and senior associates, mainly helping them to fire-fight crisis situation and making difficult decisions in the interests of our clients with attendant strategies. I also spend a considerable time with my CFO on the finances of the firm.
ALB: What have been some of your highlights from your time in charge? And what are some leadership lessons you have learnt?
Memon: At MZM, every day witnesses some event that inspires us as a team to elevate ourselves and strive to reach higher professionally and personally. There is no one person in our firm who is “in-charge” because, since inception, the firm’s culture has been to sculpt leaders from lawyers. So basically, we are all in charge of what we do and are jointly responsible for all the success and the failure we experience.
As mentioned, every benchmark is a highlight for us. Considering we started from my father’s storeroom in 2005 with two members, the journey to reach 50 lawyers in two cities with some of the top companies in the country as our clients, there have been highlights all the way. I must admit that in the early days, small successes, victories, client testimonials meant the world to us. It still does, but those days were special.
ALB: How would you describe your strategy for the firm?
Memon: My strategy for the firm has always been very progressive, hallmarked with the ability to take calculated risks. May it be a bigger office space, setting up in Delhi or hiring young graduates with zero experience, we have always sailed against the tide and conquered the sea. Even daily, when we brainstorm our plans for the next few months, the strategy in place is always backed by elements of positive aggression and experience.
ALB: What are some of the big challenges the firm has been facing in the past few months, and how are you looking to tackle them?
Memon: Interestingly some of the big challenges that we face relate to technology and to introduce robust processes in the firm. Considering the principal decision-makers are themselves on the field most of the time, we are unable to dedicate the desired time to plan and earmark investments to deploy cutting edge technology and processes which is the need of the hour. I am happy to share that we navigated through the COVID times pretty well and the infrastructure in the office and outside the office was very conducive. However, moving forward we need a dedicated team to focus on the requisite technology which contributes to the growth of the firm. We are also actively looking for a CEO for MZM, who will be a non-lawyer and a dedicated executive from a corporate background and would bring value to the firm.
ALB: How do you feel the pandemic will reshape not just the way your firm operates, but also the legal services industry in your jurisdiction?
Memon: To a large extent the legal industry has been reshaped already. Young lawyers, small-mid size firms and large firms have all invested heavily in digitalisation and cloud computing, downsizing of unnecessary manpower and shredding their marketing budgets in order to adjust to the new normal. Video calls continue to be an essential tool for quick meetings and it best suits the clients as well. Adaptation to this change has been rather fast and I think this “reshaping” is here to stay. Keeping aside the mayhem it caused, we have to now see the brighter side of the pandemic which changed the way business is done and how it has brought us all closer to each other.
ALB: How important is law firm culture, according to you? What kind of internal culture are you looking to foster?
Memon: I believe that every firm has its own culture. Every firm adapts to what is the success mantra of that firm and the management shapes its members to adapt to that culture. Our firm believes in equality and opportunity. We have always invested heavily in young talent and given them the freedom to explore, innovate, experiment and execute. All the partners in our firm believe in this culture and give multiple opportunities to the young team members to explore and excel.
ALB: On that note, how would you describe your hiring and talent retention strategy? What kinds of lawyers would make the best fit for your firm?
Memon: As earlier mentioned, we invest heavily in young talent who have interned with us as students and who show remarkable potential and progress. We are always quick to hire them and give them challenging opportunities which put them on the front line, making them competent and confident lawyers. From the early days, we have believed in the power of youth and have mentored young talented professionals to join us and I am proud to say that today some of the most challenging assignments in the firm are being successfully handled by a relatively young team and the results are simply outstanding. This gives a huge boost to the team and hence they are always motivated and look forward to more and more challenging assignments. In my opinion, this is the best way to retain talent in a firm.
ALB: How would you describe your approach to technology? How has the use of tech at your firm evolved since you started at the helm, and what is your blueprint for the next year or two?
Memon: I mentioned this above. We are not where we should be, as far as technology is concerned. We have invested quite a sizable amount on technology in the last couple of years but I must admit we need to do more. To begin with, we need to have a dedicated functionary for the firm who comes with a corporate background and brings in the requisite managerial skill set that is needed to help us in shaping the future of the firm. As we continue to do well for ourselves by bagging all the awards and getting the recognition in the industry that we are in, we need to focus parallelly on the other aspects of growth that are associated with a successful firm.
ALB: What are the keys to succeeding in this market for a firm of your size and focus? What are you currently doing well, and what are potential areas of improvement for you?
Memon: There is no strait-jacket formula to success. We have chosen to remain close to each other as a team and have built strong, almost familial bonds with each other. When the times are good, we incentivise our lawyers, associates, paralegals, support staff, clerks and even the peons making them direct stakeholders in the firm’s earnings. This makes them feel like an integral part of the firm and hence the sense of loyalty to the firm is far greater. I think we have been fairly successful in our talent retention measures, and in spite of many tempting offers from our competitors, our core team has stuck to each other, believing strongly in the culture of the firm and knowing fully well that we are one of the best in the country.
ALB: How have clients’ requirements evolved in recent times (either generally or as a result of the pandemic), and how are you as a firm meeting them?
Memon: In the industry that we specialise and operate in, the client requirements have not changed much. The only challenge we have faced is with cases of bail where deserving matters could not be dealt with, in time, and many innocent persons accused of non-bailable offences had to suffer prolonged pre-trial incarceration due to lack of systematic court hearing process. Even now, there are a few challenges on a daily basis which affect the liberty and the rights of innocent victims and that is a matter of great concern for us.
ALB: Where would you like to see the firm five years from now?
Memon: We are very bullish in India and the potential of the national legal market. We are already positioning ourselves as a law firm with pan-India presence because of our strong and successful associations with dynamic law firms all over the country, and our ability to serve multiple clients from all over the country and the world. In the next five years, we are determined to have a much stronger presence in New Delhi and have our partners and associates in Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Kolkata. There are a few very interesting business ventures related to the legal industry that we are looking into and we look forward to investing in those ventures with strategic partnerships.
ALB: What motto do you live by and what is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Memon: No guts, no glory. I live by the motto of “experiment & exploration”. The world has always celebrated the one who has had the courage to do things in a different way and I strongly believe in that. When I founded MZM Legal in 2005, I had no experience of managing a law firm or having worked under anyone, for that matter. It was my strong belief that I wanted to explore, make mistakes, learn, and keep on going, that has led to where we are today. The best piece of advice I ever received is to “believe strongly in the power of dreams and work diligently towards it.”
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