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Career Talk 1: Interview With Raja Selvam, IP Attorney, Chennai: Running a Law Firm and Bringing-up a Son



Interview by Tanuj Kalia

raja selvam, selvam and selvam, ip law as a career, lawctopus career talk


When the going gets tough the tough gets going.

As a kid, what did you like doing the most? I had the privilege of growing up in an independent house surrounded by trees.

I recollect that I used to hang on the bottle-brush tree calling myself Tarzan!

What subjects did you like? I used to like Science especially Biology and English Prose and not the grammar part.

Teachers who inspired you: In school – my biology teacher – Mr.Prince in 9th grade, my Economics teacher and Accounts teacher in 11th& 12th grade respectively.

The best lessons from childhood: When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

What do your parents do? Any law connections? My parents are not into law, however am a 5th generation, 5th lawyer in my family.

My great grand uncle, followed by my great grand dad “RaoBahadur Sir A.T.Pannir Selvam” barrister, Grays Inn, from whom I take my middle name, my grand dad late A.A.Selvam, my uncle Hon’ble Justice C.T. Selvam, Madras High Court, myself followed by my younger brother advocate Leonard Selvam.

What sort of an upbringing did you have?

discipline was army style…

I was born in a small village called Selvapuram in Tanjore District but moved to Chennai in 1983 when my grand father started his private practice after resigning as the Asst. Public Prosecutor, High Court, Madras.

It was like any other middle class family upbringing with the exception being that discipline was army style. The daily schedule was fixed, the timing was crucial and failure to keep it up resulted in thrashings.

Get up at 6 – read the paper – revise home work – get ready for school – family breakfast – leave for school – get back home after school – play games – fresh up – home work – prayer – hit the bed at 8 pm.

There was absolutely no TV, no movies, no outings. We used to feel it was a little too much and even used to call it a jail but now I realize that it has helped me to a great extent in facing the real world.


Graduate Studies

Honestly I wanted to become a software guy

Why did you choose law? Honestly I wanted to become a software guy and be in Silicon Valley.

My grand dad forced me into law, but once I was into it there was no looking back.

How was the law school journey? Our law college is known for all the wrong reasons. Attendance was never strict and there were hardly any classes. It was more of self-learning.

But fortunately being from a family of lawyers I used to be at the Courts right from my 1st year of law and that kept me busy.

Things you liked to do in law school: I liked to work on moot court competitions that gave me an opportunity to explore new subjects of law, travel, meet law students from other parts of India.

Some right things you did that you are proud of: I am really happy that I did not waste time in law school but rather worked on moots, internships and watching and assisting lawyers on real cases in the Madras High Court.

The not right ones, you’d want us to be wary of: I started mooting in my 4th year. I regret this. Maybe I should have started in the first year. That would have given me a better exposure.

Subjects you liked the most: Intellectual Property and Economics

Professors/mentors who inspired you. What in them made them click? Prof.Ambrose – He did our induction session welcoming us to the law school and his speech was very inspiring. Could say that it is one reason why I started liking and then loving law.

But later he judged of our moot court competitions and would give us hellava time, but in the process making us sharpen our legal skills.

Legal Profession

Sitting in office for 16 hours does not mean you are working hard. Either you have nothing else to do or you are incompetent.

What would be your 3 biggest piece of advises to law students entering the profession? Be passionate about anything you do, The world is in your palm – read, talk, keep your eyes and ears wide open, be updated or you will be lost in the wind of every evolving information.

Last but not the least, Honesty is still the best policy. Be honest to yourself to start with.

Any more tips/tricks? – Sitting in office for 16 hours does not mean you are working hard. Either you have nothing else to do or you are incompetent.

Work Smart. – Keep an open mind with respect to your practice in the early years. Try different branches of law and decide what you like and then specialize on it.

Some important things which law school didn’t teach you but ‘working’ did? Law schools needs to bring in an ocean of change to the curriculum. It is high time law students are taught to face the real world. Mooting and internships are few of the positive steps taken seriously over the last few years.

How to get clients? Good work will get you clients. Word of mouth recommendations by your clients are your best marketing strategy.

Networking with lawyers specializing in other branches of law who would then refer you work, is another option.

What do you look for in a potential recruit? Oral, written and computer skills; out of the box thinking, passionate about IP and willingness to go that extra mile, leadership, entrepreneurship and team building qualities.

You are a visiting faculty at Department of Journalism, Madras University…

What subjects do you teach? – Copyrights and IP in general with some emphasis on trademarks as well.

Do you love teaching? If yes why? I like teaching.

It gives you so much satisfaction to know that a bunch of students are intellectually better in realizing the repercussions when they lift an article from the web without giving due credit to the author. Especially in the field of journalism it plays a very vital role in their careers.

(More on legal academia as a career option here).

selvam and selvamYou’ve been running Selvam and Selvam for more than 5 years now…

Why IP? – My first job was with Mr.Chander Lall at Lall and Sethi which was a firm specializing in IP.

My inspirations were drawn from the happiness my team members/mentors got while advising clients on protecting their IP in India.

I also realised that the job of a lawyer goes beyond mere advising but empowering the client with solid legal protection.

How was the first year? Struggles? Successes?

We got our first fee payment on the 3rd month since opening and it was for Rs.800 and there was a sense of pride when we got the cheque with the name “Selvam and Selvam” on it.

Selvam and Selvam started small and since I was from a family of lawyers I used my grand father’s 250 sq.ft office attached to our house in Chennai to start with.

I wanted to have one secretarial assistant and did not want to depend on my family for the day to day running of the office. I had saved money during my employment with Lall and Sethi but unfortunately bought my first second hand car with it.

Now you would have guessed why I mentioned my car here. I sold it for the capital. It was tough but it was more of a challenge.

When you start a firm you need to do everything, right from fixing the internet that does not work to a client meeting.

We got our first fee payment on the 3rd month since opening and it was for Rs.800 and there was a sense of pride when we got the cheque with the name “Selvam and Selvam” in it.

How did you get your first clients? A friend of mine who was working with a company referred my name to his boss who was looking at registering their brand.

Advice for someone wishing to start his own firm? It is not an overnight journey, be prepared for pitfalls, you need to be the jack of all trades, be up to date on your branch of law and more importantly be passionate about what you do.

Also don’t throw business cards at everyone you meet. In general people treat lawyers like sharks in suits, so evaluate your contact and make the right moves.

If you don’t know something, be honest about it to the client. Tell the client you need to check and get back. No one can know everything. A proper researched advice is better than a quick wrong advice.

A friend of mine who was working with a company referred my name to his boss who was looking at registering their brand.

You run a well maintained blog and social media profiles…

How has it helped you? – I have always and still believe that when we expand and hire lawyers we will take in people who will not only do what they are assigned to do but rather grow to be lawyers who can start a firm on their own in 6 years or so.

Blogging is one such activity that we strongly encourage in the firm. Our associates learn and write about recent developments in law and procedure related to IP practice in India.

What needs to change…

Legal profession: Accountability. Specially in the administration part of the criminal justice system.

It is an open truth as to how difficult it is to get an FIR registered in a police station even for a cognizable offence. (More on FIR here).

Once we got an aggrieved person to knock the doors of the High Court for directions and on the day when the matter came up for hearing the public prosecutor mentioned that the FIR was registered the previous evening and hence no further directions were required by the Court.

The Court in all cases except a few passed a similar order and the officer laughs his way to the station to repeat the same thing again. What about people who do not have recourse to courts? Are these officers ever held responsible for not doing their job?

Legal education: Quality of education nationally: Except a few law schools in the country, other law schools seldom bother on the quality of education. The quality of education should have to be maintained nationally and not for a few schools.

How do you unwind? Hobbies: I like watching movies and travelling. Both have taken a back seat over the last few years due to work and my toddler son but having a quality movie collection in place is one of the 2013 New Year resolutions.

Spending quality time with family and imparting morals and values to my son has more or less become my daily hobby.

“Lawctopus Career Talks” are in-depth, ‘slow’ interviews with successful people in the legal profession.

We hope that law students learn a lot of things from their journeys which they spell-out here.


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