Lira Goswami is the founding partner of Associated Law Advisers. In a profession which is mostly male-dominated, Lira has emerged out as a successful law professional advising many multinational clients doing business in India, including General Electric, ExxonMobil Corporation, Kellogg, Mars, Rolls-Royce, Whirlpool etc., to name a few. With more than 20 years of experience in international transactional work, strategic advisory work, mergers and acquisitions and regulatory work, she also advises on trade, investment, financial structuring and regulatory issues, including labor and health and safety issues.
She has co-authored Indian chapters on Private Banking and Global Institutional Investors for Law-in-Context, which is an online private banking resource. Lira is also on board of several companies in India and her pro bono activities include legal assistance for charitable organizations including ‘Save the Children’.
What was your biggest challenge in your career as a woman?I think the biggest challenge in legal profession is probably the environment, as it’s predominantly male, so you could be intimidated by the fact that you’re in a male world. Most of the clients who come to you & the people who represent the clients are also males, so there’s an initial reluctance to deal with a younger lawyer, that too a woman lawyer. That’s the first challenge that you come across.
Second is your own inhibition a ‘can you do it’ sort of a self-doubt, is a question that can often come to you. This is the main internal challenge that you face & you need to overcome. Once you overcome that, it becomes fairly easy to navigate the sea of legal profession.
What made you come back to India after having a successful career in the US?
I always intended to practice law in India. The challenges & the satisfaction in working in India is far greater than working in a very large law firm in the US. I never really intended to settle down there, my intention was always that I will work in India. That is why, even when I was working in a law firm in Chicago, I was doing India work. I was servicing their clients who had interests in India.
Times were changing and the liberalization of the Indian economy presented new opportunities. My transition from ‘litigation’ to ‘transactional’ work coincided with this change and was a ‘trigger point’ for starting a law firm. I was fortunate to meet and work with Mr. O.P. Bhardwaj, a tax expert and a former Member of the Central Board of Direct Taxes with whom I co-founded Associated Law Advisers.
What were your early achievements?
I have been lucky to be associated in diverse legal issues including landmark decisions like the Sri Ram Gas Leak Case (which evolved the principle of absolute liability for enterprises undertaking hazardous activities); ‘Mandal’ litigation (on reservations for backward classes) where I was the sole lawyer assisting Mr. Nani Palkhivala in the Supreme Court; the motion for dismissing proceedings against Union Carbide in the United States in the Bhopal case; and Boeing Company’s litigation in the Supreme Court (on what constitutes ‘commercial’ arbitration).
Other ‘firsts’ included advising and obtaining approval for India’s first 100% foreign owned seed company; first 100% foreign owned risk management company; and first mortgage guarantee company. Our clients include Indian and foreign companies, including ‘household’ names like Coca Cola, General Electric, Kellogg, Mars, Rolls-Royce, Suzuki, Whirlpool etc.
How is the landscape for legal practice in India in the coming years?
Legal practice has evolved in the last decade creating many career opportunities. Despite challenges (including judicial delays and general lack of ‘ease’ in obtaining effective legal representation at reasonable rates), it remains a profession where much good can be done to correct a wrong; ‘undo’ an injustice or restore a deprived right.
Any advice for women lawyers?
To all aspiring lawyers, particularly women, my message is ‘Just Do it’, if you have to take a decision, you must not be afraid to take a decision. If you want to do anything, you will find a way to do it. Have faith in yourself; constantly learn; and always remember that your ‘will’ is stronger than your ‘gender’ (or any physical ‘shortcoming’) and no one (except you) can truly stop or hold you back!
You can get in touch with Lira Goswami on her mail.