Unitech Group is one of India’s leading real estate developers, boasting the country’s most widely diversified property portfolio, encompassing Gurgaon, Noida, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mysore, Mohali, Ambala, Rewari and Bhopal. With India’s growing younger population base, rising income levels and rapid urbanisation, such a strong national presence is serving the company well, despite recent troubles in the real estate markets, according to legal advisor Rajan Gupta: “Demand for residential space is increasing. In the capital, super luxury housing is back and this time it seems like it will stay for good as purchasing power has increased with time. People want a golf course view from their balcony. People want a tennis court, spa and gym in their condominium.”
Speaking about his decision to move in-house, Gupta cites his desire to contribute to the company’s success: “Practising business law cannot necessarily help one acquire business acumen. When I joined Unitech, I was given an opportunity not only to practise law but also to learn how business is done in India.” This ongoing education is also what makes the job so satisfying, especially in difficult times: “The last few years have been challenging for the group, which has significantly contributed to this learning curve.”
Indian Lawyer caught up with Gupta to get the benefit of his insight into the real estate sector and to find out about the highlights of his work to date.
Tell us about a typical day in your role
Typically, it involves assisting the management on transactions, disputes, and regulatory issues. The management is actively involved in financial transactions and legal issues as well as the Indian regulatory environment, hence, I spend a significant portion of my day interacting and assisting the management of Unitech Group.
How big is your legal department?
We have about 50 people who have a legal background.
Where were you previously employed?
I started my career with one of the leading Indian law firms (J Sagar Associates) and thereafter moved in-house with Unitech.
What are the advantages of doing work in-house?
A usual answer would be that you not only get to strike the right balance between law and practice but you also get to anticipate consequences that are visible only if you are sitting on the other side of the table. However, there are other advantages too: you are not just another professional executing executive decisions, which also helps you get the complete picture; if you move up the ladder, you get to participate in decision making process; and if you understand the business with time, you may get to manage or run the show too.
What percentage of Unitech Group’s legal work is performed by in-house lawyers?
According to recent estimates, at present about 65 per cent of the work is done in-house. Due to increase in the number of disputes, this number has come down in recent years, as earlier it was about 80 per cent.
Do you tend to work with the same law firms?
We are gradually increasing the ambit as more law firms are included every year on our panel. Also, the number of law firms with whom we work has increased since I joined Unitech.
Do you see yourself hiring the firm or the individual?
We usually engage big name firm only because of experience they have of a particular field; not to mention the valuable services they provide. We prefer reaching out to the most effective counsel offering the best value for money. It doesn’t really matter whether it is a firm or an individual as only a positive result matters to the management.
What qualities do you look for in private practice lawyers?
A lawyer and a law firm must be efficient and practical, not just theoretical, in their approach. Value for money should be rendered.
Tell us about any recent notable projects the team has been working on. Which law firms did you work with?
Because of confidentiality obligations, I am constrained not to disclose any project name. However, our legal team has worked or is working on a few high-profile assignments with Amarchand & Mangaldas and Luthra & Luthra in India, and Skadden Arps overseas.
Are there any notable challenges – practical, legal or political – currently facing Unitech Group’s work in India?
Due to confidentiality obligations, I cannot share challenges faced by Unitech Group at present. However, I must admit that alleged 2G scam is the Holy Grail.
How would you describe the Indian legal marketplace? How competitive is it? And how can firms distinguish themselves?
The Indian legal market has been growing steadily over the last decade or so. Soon, older firms will need charismatic personalities to take their flags forward because innovative new boutique firms are establishing themselves quickly.
What makes India a good place to do business?
Compared with other developing economies, the Indian economy not only attracts higher investment in the service sector but it also gives a good return on investment. There are not many economies in the world for instance where one can anticipate a post-tax internal rate of return of 14 per cent from a corporation which will be paying tax at the rate of around 33 per cent, it only happens in India.
Of course, to be a success story in India, one should venture out with the right partners and opt for advisors who have sound experience.
Presently, policy uncertainty is hurting the image of India as an attractive destination for investment. Investors are presently attributing too much risk on investments in India. However, if there is a strong government after elections in 2014, many policy issues may then get resolved in no time.
If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing?
I would have been an investment banker investing in India. Having said that, to make money in India, proper understanding of the Indian legal and regulatory system is necessarily, particularly in the present regulatory environment.