An audacious argument

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Can a case be made for working less?

In his paradigm-challenging 1935 essay, titled In praise of idleness, British philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote: “I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.”

India-Business-Law-Journal-201809That Russell had to prefix this statement with an assertion of his sincerity speaks volumes for the outlandishness of the case he was making. Over eight decades later such opinions will appear ludicrous to many, but the essential argument remains just as audacious. If happiness and prosperity are what we seek, can the virtuousness of work continue to be taken as the accepted norm?

A contention well worth pondering even though it may be far from the minds of our readers for whom idleness can be an unaffordable luxury. Also, “diminution of work” is virtually impossible for private practice lawyers given that revenue targets are increasingly the norm in India. As our Cover story details, such targets are par for the course in developed jurisdictions, but the structure of the legal market in India is different. Sole proprietorships continue to dominate the landscape, and power within partnerships, which are few and far between, is typically in the hands of founders. As we detail, rainmaking in this environment has its challenges.

As such, while Sawant Singh, a founding partner at Phoenix Legal, says revenue targets are necessary for individual lawyers if entities such as his quasi-lockstep firm are to build an atmosphere of excellence, others see such targets as the cause of severe and sometimes debilitating pressure. Be that as it may, what is unarguable is that with the size of the pie being limited, the scramble to meet targets can be at the cost of the lawyers’ well-being.

In A touch of disruption we turn to the growing commercialization of artificial intelligence and blockchain technology, which is likely to prove disruptive for the legal sector among others. Will smart contracts, ledger of things and artificially intelligent robots make a typical litigation or corporate lawyer more efficient or will it make them redundant? The answer lies somewhere in between as lawyers, especially those who can learn and benefit from this technology, will enhance their competitiveness and establish themselves as specialists.

Writing in this issue’s Vantage point Srinjoy Banerjee says that a reading of a data privacy bill being considered by the government suggests that while the drafters considered global best practices, these were lost in translation when the bill was being put together. He argues that the state must not have unbridled rights over an individual’s data. Instead, it should play the role of a guardian. Following the principles of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, the state should play the role of helping companies and individuals to find a solution to their grievances. The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018, has some way to go before it becomes the law of the land but if done right it can catapult India to a position of global leadership in business and technology.

This issue’s What’s the deal? provides a detailed look at how and why counterfeiters thrive in India. There is no legislation specifically to impose strict penalties and/or imprisonment for counterfeiting and piracy. As such, there is a need to look beyond intellectual property laws, and most brand owners devise strategies against the sale of counterfeit goods with the sole objective of creating deterrence, culminating in offenders facing criminal actions.

This too is a challenge on account of general apathy on the part of the police. For despite the existence of adequate and strict penal provisions under the Indian Penal Code, the police tend to adopt a self-restrained approach when booking counterfeiting offences. All of this spells trouble for brand owners, who despite recent favourable judicial pronouncements, find they are at a disadvantage while confronting counterfeiters. The future may be bleak unless dedicated legislation to deal with the counterfeiting of critical products emerges. Until then in-house lawyers and brand owners will continue to struggle.

This issue includes India Business Law Journal’s 11th annual edition of its India Business Law Directory. The directory is accompanied by an editorial analysis of the Indian legal market, that is the result of a poll we did of Indian law firms of all shapes and sizes. The results paint an intriguing picture of opportunity tainted by some unique challenges, the foremost among them being unhealthy price competition and the growth in the number of law firms. We include a series of graphics detailing significant issues and a SWOT analysis illustrating perceived strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing India’s legal profession.

As for the elephant in the room – the entry of foreign law firms, our poll found divergent views on the likelihood of foreign firms entering India any time soon. The wait goes on and we look forward to continuing to track developments in this unique market.