Tracing its origins to 1924 when the Hindustan Times was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi, HT Media is one of India’s largest and most influential mass media companies. Today the group has an extensive print and online portfolio, offered in both English and Hindi, as well as radio, events and education arms. It also enjoys partnerships with Bloomberg UTV, Hubert Burda Media, the Wall Street Journal and Virgin. The group has recently expanded its operations in Singapore by launching its weekly business paper “MINTASIA”, and earlier this year it further expanded its footprint with the acquisition of Gurgaon-based social media organisation Webitude by HT Mobile Solutions, creating mobile-first digital marketing company Digital Quotient.
Indian Lawyer caught up with HT Media’s assistant vice president of legal Manoj Bhargava to discuss the group’s recent activities, his role and career to date, and the current shape of the Indian marketplace.
Tell us about a typical day in you role
My day starts at 9 am.
As the legal team for the entire HT group is located in Delhi, my role is not restricted to any particular legal field, but involves advice on day-to-day operations, litigation, transactions structuring, acquisition, joint ventures, strategy and regulatory issues.
I spend a significant amount of time each day overseeing the issues the team members are facing, helping them in addressing any doubts or questions that they may have, discussing issues with the senior leaders of the organisations (in-house customers) and providing suitable resolutions.
The day generally ends by 7 pm.
How big is your legal department?
We have total strength of seven law graduates.
Where were you previously employed?
Prior to joining HT Media, I worked with Barista Coffee and India Today Group.
What are the advantages of doing work in-house?
The perspective of in-house counsel is always broader. Being entrenched in the day-to-day functioning of the organisation, in-house counsel are in better position to take a holistic view of the particular problem and analyse its consequences for the group, and are in a position to strike a right balance between law and the practise.
As there is no water-tight compartmentalisation of the in-house legal team’s work, there is a lot of cross-pollination of ideas and processes and potential for the professional growth of every individual.
Another major factor that argues in favour of in-house counsel is the provision of cost-effective and quick advice for the company’s management.
What percentage of HT Media’s legal work is performed by in-house lawyers?
Except for appearance in the courts in litigation, almost everything else is handled in-house.
When will you enlist the advice of external lawyers?
We generally do all research and advisory work in-house. Even acquisitions or joint ventures are generally handled by the in-house legal team unless it is fairly large in value.
Do you tend to work with the same law firm or firms?
As we use law firms only in exceptional circumstances, we prefer to work with the existing good and renowned law firms. For, litigation, we hire individual law firms based on the gravity of the issue, cost involved and the experience of firm or individual lawyers handling such issues.
Do you see yourself hiring the firm primarily, or the individual?
It completely depends upon the need, experience, efficiency and the best value for money. It doesn’t matter whether it is a firm or an individual; only a positive result matters.
What qualities do you look for in private practice lawyers/teams?
We look at the past experience, knowledge, understanding, efficiency and the cost-effectiveness.
In the smaller towns of the country, we face a practical problem of finding quality lawyers. If we get a lawyer in a small town who knows how to proceed with the matter, and efficiently serve the corporate, he will have an edge over the others.
Tell us about any recent notable projects the team has been working on. Which law firms did you work with?
Recently, HT Media has done a matter before Competition Commission of India against one of the largest music labels in India, wherein judgment is reserved. Our initial thoughts and understandings were converted into a case that will have a major impact on the entire industry by the exceptionally intellectual and dedicated team of Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co.
How would you describe the Indian legal marketplace? How competitive is it? And how can firms distinguish themselves?
It is highly competitive. Due to the range of opportunities in the Indian legal market, the management and retention of talented people has become a challenge.
The quality of service is becoming exceptionally high and only the fittest will survive. Delivering quality and efficiency in a cost-effective manner distinguishes one law firm from others. It is not only the matter of highlighting the risk to the business, but also providing practical and business-oriented solutions to the clients.
What makes India a good place to do business?
In the current scenario, doing business in India is apparently considered a difficult task. Hence, multinational corporations are slow in expanding their business in India or are keeping fresh investment in India on hold. However, India has a large consumer base and is also the fastest growing market economy in Asia for any business. There are a large number of foreign companies with successful operations in India and they have been sacrificing short- to medium-term profit for long-term success. India is a very interesting and profitable place to do any business.
If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing?
If I would not have been a lawyer, I would have been a chartered accountant focusing on taxation work.