Interview of Bhumesh Verma: Chevening Scholarship, Corporate Law, Own Firm and Academics

Mr. Bhumesh Verma graduated from Delhi University in 1994. He was selected as a Chevening Scholar in 2000 by the UK government. During this scholarship, he studied at the College of Law at York and worked with Ashursts in London. He was a partner at some of the biggest law firms of the country and has founded Corp Comm Legal after two decades in the industry.

Interview of Bhumesh Verma

Introduce yourself to our readers.

I am Bhumesh Verma, a corporate lawyer. I have been actively practising on domestic and international corporate/commercial matters and have had opportunities to work with some of the best professionals and clients globally.

Besides, I read and write on legal and business issues and enjoy interacting with law students and professionals on multiple issues of common interest and diverse issues.

I also call myself a senior law student. I have been studying law since 1991 when I joined Campus Law Centre, Delhi University. Although I got out of law college in 1994, I still consider myself a student. That’s the beauty of our profession – there is no end to learning, it goes on from womb to tomb.

Why did you choose to pursue law and corporate practice in particular?

During my student life, my choices were a bit weird, different and unconventional by my family standards. All my elder family members were in government or private service and there was no professional (CA, engineer, lawyer or the like).

Being a school topper, all (but my parents) recommended/pressurized me to opt for science subjects (medical was supposed to be a very glamorous and paying profession). However, I was inquisitive about current affairs, the corporate world and the laws governing it. I opted for Commerce for Class XI and then for graduation.

Studying commerce for 5 years enhanced my interest further in commercial laws, so I decided to pursue law, without any legal background in the family or a contact in the world to help me out.

In the meanwhile, the government of India liberalized the economic policy in 1991 and we started witnessing the influx of multinational companies queueing up to tap the Indian economy’s potential and consumer market.

Due to these reasons, I wanted to pursue corporate practice after coming out of law school. At that time, forget the general populace, not even 1% lawyers knew or cared about corporate practice.

Once I started working with Ajay Bahl & Co. (now merged in AZB Partners), many people used to ask – which court do you practice in ? Unlike today, it was tough to explain to people that there are lawyers who do not wear black coats, who do not go to courts (but to an office), who do not have court holidays, who cannot get you an affidavit notarized and who do not know each Senior Advocate.

How was attending law school in India more than two decades ago?

I studied law from Campus Law Centre, Delhi University from 1991 to 1994. The teaching methods and the atmosphere were very different at that time. I would say, even half of the students were not serious about law – many outstation candidates who could pass the entrance test would take admission in a law course just to get a hostel in Delhi or prepare for our national hobby called UPSC.

We would see 30-40% of students in classes and many people would be seen only on exam days. Law was by and large taught with chalk and blackboard (no whiteboards then, no projectors, no computers, no PPTs), except maybe in National Law School.

Some sections of the legislation and case law, that’s it. No practical exposure, negligible moot courts, no internships, no campus placements. You had to do everything on your own, no institutional support.

How tough was it for first-generation lawyers at that time? How is it different for today’s law graduates?

Apart from children of judges and lawyers, most of the other law students belonged to middle / lower strata of the society who had no recourse to crowdfunding or scholarships. Many of them used to take tuitions or write Dukkis / Kunjis to support their education.

After college, there used to be years of struggle for such students to establish themselves.  Today’s law graduates take a few lakhs ‘packages’ once they pass out of college as their birthright simply because their parents have spent X lakhs and ridicule the earlier generation as if they got everything on a platter.

Each generation has had its own share of struggles. First-generation lawyers always have it tough. The more you struggle and work hard, the more knowledge you attain and sweeter are the rewards.

Tell us about your experience with the Chevening Scholarship.

After practising for 5 years, I got to hear about Chevening Scholarship for young Indian lawyers awarded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of UK government. I was a bit hesitant, to begin with as I had no contacts, no big names to validate my application, expenses involved, loss of income during the scholarship (I had a family to support) and so on.

I was sceptical if merit is enough to get me through. I did not even have a passport as I was mostly handling inbound operations of MNCs in India and never had to go abroad. However, due to my colleagues’ encouragement and family support, I applied for a passport and Chevening scholarship together – got both!

This episode taught me an important lesson – you don’t get if you don’t ask for anything in life. If you are serious and sincere, things work for you. Do not live your life apprehending adversities. If you do not wish to pursue anything, you can easily find 100 reasons for it. However, if you wish to do something, 1 reason is enough.

The scholarship was a wonderful experience – got to see the advanced education system outside India, made a lot of friends – Indian lawyers (co-scholars) and international professionals, academics and students. I got to work with Ashursts in London and it was an eye-opener to see a mid-size firm in London which was bigger than the biggest one in India at that time. All this was a different, yet great learning experience.

All that experience culminated in adopting good drafting and negotiating techniques and having a 360-degree viewpoint on many aspects of my legal knowledge and practice.

What were the differences you saw in your legal studies in India and abroad?

There was a sea of difference in the education system.

In India, we used to have a typical classroom education. 30% odd students in the class, some attentive and some serious. Professor would come in and deliver a one-sided lecture – few would encourage students to respond and participate. You cram everything and appear for exams and that’s the end of the matter.

In the UK, there was the involvement of technology in the process as well as an emphasis on practical exposure. Lectures, role play, exercises, notes, engagement of faculty with students, it all was very different. At least I saw many new educational aspects for the first time in my life.

I think we have made a lot of progress in the last 2 decades in legal education in India and some of our institutions would be at par with their global peers, but very few. By and large, there is still not much focus on practical skills aspect.

What did you set out to become in your law school days?

As I mentioned above, I wanted to be a corporate lawyer from the word go. My intent was very clear. Although I had seen lawyers in movies and TV serials shouting and drilling their arguments in the Judge’s mind, I felt it was not my calling.

I have a different temperament and more academic bent of mind. I knew I’d be better off drafting and negotiating commercial contracts. Therefore, the optional subjects I took in law school pertained to corporate, labour and taxation laws.

On everyone’s advice, I did try to learn a bit of litigation for about 3 months in a District Court in Delhi but it was enough to strengthen my conviction that I was not made for it.

Tell us about your early days in the legal industry as an associate?

I was like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ to begin with. Yes, it was always my ambition to be a corporate lawyer but what we were expected to do was completely different from what we learnt at law school. I am told by today’s students that this gap persists even today for the majority of students.

Howsoever good or bright you are at your law college, most of the knowledge imparted there is theoretical. What you need to do at work is practical and personalized – it is not a straight jacket, simplistic, one-size-fits-all approach.

My initial period in corporate practice was a very interesting time. Indian economy was undergoing a transition and we were facilitating a lot of foreign companies in their Indian initiatives. It involved a lot of things – company incorporation, FDI approval, Joint Ventures, Technology Transfer, Royalty payments, leases, banking operations, secretarial support, reviewing Double Taxation Avoidance treaties, tax-efficient structuring and so on.

I had amazing mentors and colleagues at Ajay Bahl & Co. – Ajay Bahl, Raman Sharma, Sunila Awasthi, Sunita Bhambri, to name a few and they helped me a lot in learning the ropes. They guided and supported me throughout and never lost it while dealing with a novice that I initially was.

You’ve been a partner with some of the biggest Indian law firms. What skills does it take to become a partner at such firms?

Every practice area demands different skillset. However, there are some common traits that would keep you in good stead anywhere you go. Sincerity, dedication, no short-cuts, a sense of timing, ownership of your actions. Some people are perfectionists but at times perfect is the enemy of good.

You should not be hyper-technical all the time. As corporate lawyers, our underlying objective is to facilitate and not to obstruct transactions and deals. One needs to understand the ‘facilitator’ role to succeed. You also need to be respectful to have a congenial nature to command respect.

There are so many legal legends with whom I have worked on the opposite side on different deals but I share best of relationships with them. Some of them have even recommended my name to conflicted clients and have written Foreword for my book!

You train students despite a busy schedule, would you have gone into academics if not law firms after graduation?

You may be surprised to hear the answer. I did want to pursue LL.M. and may be a doctorate thereafter and take up teaching (part-time, maybe) in addition to my legal career. I cleared the LL.M. entrance at Delhi University but got conjunctivitis and missed out the days of admission.

There were no mobile phones, computers or internet for information those days. You had to go to college to check on virtually everything.

Whenever I tell this to my friends in academia, they laugh at it and say – you are better off at practice and it’s more beneficial for our students to learn from your practical experience rather than you becoming one of us.

Having said that, I enjoy teaching and training students, whenever I get an opportunity. I try to make time to address students of 2-3 institutes every semester, although we get 20 plus invites. I prefer not to go to multiple institutes just to show my face and deliver a 1-2 hours ‘guest lecture’ which is neither here nor there.

I rather prefer conducting 1-2 days workshop to ensure enduring practical knowledge to students which helps them making more employable.

It sounds funny to hear so many Dr.s (faculty) addressing me as “Sir”. It’s a very humbling experience for me.

Despite your busy schedule, how and when do you find time to write articles and books?

One can always find time for one’s passion. Whatever be my schedule be, I try to spend a few minutes (if not an hour) daily on some research and writing.

Bhumesh Verma

The result is overwhelming. Apparently, my books on Contract Drafting Skills and M&A are big hits among students, even prescribed reference books in many prestigious institutions. The book on Contract Drafting, in particular, has received global accolades from professionals and students alike.

Am working on similar books on practical aspects of some other subjects with my team. 2020 may see another book coming out.

Law students are obsessed with Corporate Law, thanks to sitcoms like Suits. How would you describe an average day in the life of a Corporate Lawyer after so much of experience?

Well, the reality is very different from what you get to see in movies and TV serials – be it a courtroom, a law firm or a corporate office. The real life is very hard and demanding; is meant for hardworking people.

A typical corporate lawyer deals with a lot of pressure – works with clients from different time zones, speaking different languages, clients may not have legal knowledge, your law firm would have high expectations from you in terms of timing and efficiency because of the package offered to you, thanks to your prestigious college.

The hours can be killing, the family could be upset with your wayward working hours.

Due to all this, we see that only the tough can survive. Be ready for the grind and strike a balance among many things.

Tell us about Corp Comm Legal. Corp Comm Legal

After more than 2 decades with big and mid-sized Indian firms, I felt the urge to start something on my own for greater flexibility. We are headquartered in New Delhi and have associate offices in different Indian cities and a global network of boutique law firms.

At Corp Comm Legal, we strive to provide top-notch legal advice to Indian and foreign clients – timing, pricing and quality being our USPs. Although we focus primarily on corporate / commercial assignments, we have a wide Indian and global network to provide legal advice on a wide spectrum of practice areas.

We prefer a very lean organization structure, not loading clients with unnecessary costs and overheads. Each client can be assured of personalized attention irrespective of the deal/fee size and you get to actually work with the professional that you want, unlike some big firms where you pay for promoter partner’s name and …. Need I say more?

What are the qualities you look for in your interns and entry-level associates?

Being a small firm, it is tough for us to entertain and scan 100s of internship and job applications we receive every month. Yet so far, we have co-opted a lot of brightest Indian students to intern and research with us and have published their research and articles, giving due credit to them.

Going forward, we are engaging with some Indian universities for internships/entry-level associates and prefer applications coming from the college authorities. We have initiated some research projects with these Universities as well – if the submissions are good, we may publish it in the form of a book or a joint publication with a University.

We prefer students with good research, writing and analytical skills. In the initial years, it is paramount to focus on these areas, the rest becomes easy to follow by getting engaged in transactions and real life situations.

Do you hire mostly from NLUs? In your experience, do the NLU grads have an edge over other law schools? Especially lesser-known law schools from tier 2 and 3 cities.

We clearly do not have a bias towards NLUs in terms of engaging interns or hirings.

You would have seen so many star-sons and star-daughters launched in Bollywood with big-budget films. Do all of them do well? Only those who are good at their craft survive –  big budgets, promotions and names do not take them beyond a point.

I see some students from non-NLUs cribbing over the advantages enjoyed by NLU students. Well, to me, NLU admission is a lottery, first 2,000 odd get admission. It does not mean all others are not worthy.

I am a guest faculty with few NLUs and more non-NLUs. In the course of my interaction with students, I do not find much difference in calibre and approach of bright students, wherever they are. It’s entirely up to you how to make your life. So, I’d say ‘Not getting into NLU is not a permanent disability’. Only you can and have to overcome it.

Professional life is a marathon – first 100 metres do not define a winner.

You have a 40 year career to define you, not 5 years of education from a particular institution.

Your parting advice to our readers. Especially for our aspiring Harvey Specters.

Few nuggets …

  • To start with, you need to optimize your time. People who waste their time the most are the ones who crib about lack of time.
  • Learn things fast so that you can work smart rather than only hard.
  • Have an eye for details. The devil always lies in the detail.
  • Read everything carefully and fully.
  • Not only you try to maintain a balance in your work and life but you need to have a balance even between your real-life and virtual life.
  • Connecting with real people helps you more in life rather than having virtual friends.
  • You are born to live, not to work only. Work is important in life, try to live as well. You may get another job, but not another life.
  • There is nothing you cannot do. Even the sky is no limit now.
  • 21st century should belong to India and Indians. Best of luck.

Visit the official website of Corp Comm Legal.

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