In Conversation with Sameer Tapia, Founding & Senior Partner of ALMT Legal
Mr. Sameer Tapia is a founding and Senior Partner of ALMT Legal, which was set up in London in 2000, and now has offices in Mumbai, Bangalore and New Delhi. Mr. Sameer has expertise in corporate-commercial matters, dispute resolution with strong focus on aviation, real estate and private clients. He studied Law from the prestigious Government Law College, Mumbai. He regularly acts for various multinational clients in pursuing their contentious matters in India and has been retained by several corporates, where he has advised them on commercial contracts, risk insurance, liability and regulatory matters. He has a strong commercial acumen in dealing with disputes in various arbitration proceedings as well. He has also advised clients in high profile family disputes and matrimonial matters and has acted as an arbitrator / mediator in settling complex family disputes. Mr. Tapia regularly speaks at international conferences and has submitted papers on Indian Laws. He is a regular invitee and guest speaker at law schools and other prestigious institutions in India. He has written articles which have been published in the International Bar News, India Business Law Journal and various other chamber publications. The Indian Lawyer 250, a guide to the leading business law firms of India, has featured Sameer Tapia amongst the top 40 individual leading lawyers, under the age of 45 years, in India. He has been awarded the Who’s Who Lawyer of the year 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2012-2013.
Live Law: Sir, you are one of the most notable alumni from Government Law College, Mumbai. Please share a couple of anecdotes from your life at GLC Mumbai and what role has the college played in shaping your career?
Sameer Tapia: Well, historically the Government Law College Mumbai has been the only college that was around in those days and was a prestigious college for law. Most of the renouned and Senior Lawyers paving their way to New Delhi were originally from Mumbai . So that was the only college in that time which everyone went to, and was a no brainer for me to join GLC. I always wanted to be a lawyer though my father wanted me to be a Chartered Accountant. Attending college in the mornings worked very well for me as the timing was perfect and after that I was able to pursue my other hobbies and obviously work along with it. I joined Amarchand & Mangaldas, and spent my formative years working with them. College was fun where I made a lot of friends, enjoyed the lectures and participated at moot courts. Funnily, now, I go to judge those moots and I really enjoy seeing how young budding lawyers have mushroomed, hearing their perspectives and experiencing how times have changed. The college was quite traditional then and now it is wonderful to see how my alma mater has transformed !
Live Law: You are the only Founding Partner of ALMT Legal who has seen it grow to the heights it presently occupies. Please share with our readers about the challenges you faced initially and what is yet to be achieved?
Sameer Tapia: Yes that`s true! I am the only founding partner left at the firm. The vision was of four friends who came together while working as Associates in a law firm in London and the idea was to truly make it a well reputed and global law firm where we have no nepotism. I think my formative years were also with a firm which had a vision-started as a family firm but grew to be one of the largest firms of our time, that we know of, so I think those seeds were sown right there. I think your formative years play a very vital role, and you are usually at a very impressionable age when you are just starting out your career. Over the past decade and a half we have blossomed into a sizable practice. As far as the vision is concerned, in my mind I think it’s been a wonderful journey which has been quite rewarding and fulfilling for me personally and I think I have lived my dream. I also hope that all those who have joined ALMT and stayed and grown with us have lived their dreams with the firm.
Live Law: Previously, you have worked with Amarchand Mangaldas and you look up to Mr. Cyril Shroff as a source of inspiration. How did your experience at Amarchand affect and pave way for your future at ALMT?
Sameer Tapia: I think I have covered this partly in the previous answer. In the years that I was with Amarchand & Mangaldas the firm was not as big as it is now. It was relatively smaller and it had a good interactive atmosphere within the firm. It gave me a well-rounded experience of litigation and corporate work. My mentor is a very dedicated and well-reputed lawyer, and my years at Amarchand & Mangaldas taught me that there is no substitute for hard work, not even luck. At the end of the day, what matters is how good you are the work you do and whether the clients can trust you enough when they come to you, be it for corporate work or for litigation.
Live Law: Over the years you have argued innumerable cases, many of which were high profile and off beat. What would you identify as your most interesting brief(s) so far?
Sameer Tapia: I have handled some very interesting litigation matters, family disputes and settlements. . Unfortunately, I can’t name the exciting ones but, I think by and large I have been very successful to close and part families in case of separations, settlements etc. I have always tried to be more constructive and productive rather than destructive and I think this is one of my strengths. I have been able to represent and be just and fair to my clients. As far as the corporate world is concerned, I think I have litigated heavily for large corporates and adviced and assisted corporates to acquire companies and embark on new ventures.
Live Law: You have donned the robe of an arbitrator with just as much flair as that of a counsel. Recently, a large number of people have started to question the efficiency of arbitration, keeping in mind the increasing court involvement and lengthy time considerations that have plagued it. Do you believe that it is truly a quicker and less troublesome process, than litigation?
Sameer Tapia: That’s Correct. Arbitration as a process works quickly, smoothly and efficiently within a time frame. Courts still have a lot of backlog of matters . I am not saying arbitrations are very smooth. We do have our hiccups when there are three arbitrators and all three cannot get their diaries together. A sole arbitrator is far easier to be with but yes it is quicker than the courts!
Live Law: There is a brewing school of thought that is of the opinion that there should be a bar restricting the amount that a lawyer can charge his client, in tune with the growing concern about commercialization of the legal profession. What are your thoughts on the same?
Sameer Tapia: I don’t agree with that for the simple reason that today, when you go to buy something, there is a price-if you can afford it, you buy it and if you cannot afford it, you don’t buy it. Different strokes for different folks. The difference between the haves and the have not’s is that there is a choice and e people can go to both or either. So why should you restrict someone from one’s worth? In my eyes, I may be priceless, I may have that expertise and I have attained that. You may call it an Art – something I have perfected ! I think it should be open and fair.
Live Law: Sir, the desirability of permitting foreign law firms to set up shops in India has been a talking point for some time now. As the Founding Partner of one of the well-known firms of the country, do you think it is desirable to permit foreign law firms to practice law in India?
Sameer Tapia: Why not? Absolutely! We have cloned the West whether it’s our dressing, our food, lifestyle, or our material world. Look at us, besides our values I see all around us that the West has been a very big influence in our day to day life, as it only fine tunes the existing system,, and I see nothing wrong in that.
Live Law: Sir, what about the effect that it might have on the Indian Law Firms?
Sameer Tapia: I think it’s a breath of fresh air. We must learn from the West. Indian law firms would be able to learn a lot about how to run their practices more efficiently and professionally. There are systems and methods at the magic circle and global law firms, which we could learn and imbibe in our practise. The law and the fundamentals will still remain Indian, albeit with greater accountability and better time management. The learning process is also worth adopting, particularly the CPD programme which the West follows and we do not!
Live Law: Sir in the wake of the official launch of ‘Start-up India, Stand up India’, what is your take on the legal hassles that might adversely affect the desired results?
Sameer Tapia: We are living in a new age of start-ups where in every walk of life we see a start up and this has created a bubble. However, the legal hassles would creep in only if the business has not been set up systematically. If due process is followed by the start-ups, timely legal assistance is taken, and start-ups have a roadmap in place keeping in mind the timelines taken for governmental procedures, the scope of legal hassles is drastically reduced.
Live Law: Sir, when you look back at your career, what gives you the maximum amount of satisfaction?
Sameer Tapia: That I have created a law firm called ALMT Legal and as in Boston Legal, you have Denny Crane who says, “Name on the wall!” So, Name on the wall!
Live Law: Mr. Tapia, what advice would you give to the youngsters in the legal profession, especially to those who plan to set up a law firm on their own?
Sameer Tapia: My first and foremost advice is that you must always gain a good degree and gain work experience for at least ten years under a good mentor. Groom yourself, understand and then plan a new venture that is going to add to your success. Coming out of law college, you don’t even know how to face a client or dealwith people who have a problem. At the end of the day, it is not only the law but the experience that will also talk! By that time you would have done a number of cases, be it trials or corporate deals, you’ll be able to set up a firm and that would be your foundation for success.