Ruchi Khatlawala Pandya: Balancing Traditional Principles with a Modern Approach

Ruchi Khatlawala Pandya
Ruchi Khatlawala Pandya

For most of us, our parents are our role models and real-life heroes. They instil in us values and prepare us for a battle called life. As kids, we are often in awe of them, watching them handle everything and cannot wait to grow up and be like them. As for the parents, they do not want us to be like them, but a much better version of what we are capable of being.

As a child, Ruchi Khatlawala Pandya saw her father, Ajay Khatlawala, a senior partner of the firm Little & Co., wear his black and whites to work each day. This fascinated her to adorn his black lawyer’s robe each time it was brought home from office while he was to travel. A dream to follow his footsteps silently grew inside her and in due course, she found herself driven by her fascination towards various legal affairs. Though she was too young to understand these intricacies when she started shadowing her father, it only added to her curiosity and made her pursue the profession even more.

Today, Ruchi is one of the youngest partners at Little & Co., a 160-year-old prestigious law firm. She has carved her niche in the legal fraternity and the society, which she beholds with complete dignity and respect. In September 2019, she was awarded for being an aspiring lawyer – the Rising Star under-40 Award at New Delhi, by Legal Era. Ruchi is passionate about writing and has written legal articles for a few domestic and international magazines. “Being married to Shrinath Pandya (more of a friend than a husband), a businessman; for more than 13 years now and a mother to an eight-year-old gorgeous Vyana Pandya gives me an unbeaten pleasure of being a woman!” exclaims Ruchi.

Tracing her journey

After completing her higher studies from Sophia College, Ruchi knew that she wanted to secure admission in Government Law College (GLC) for her law degree. Those were the days when five years integrated law course was just introduced in India and she wanted to be a part of the first lot, and she made it. She joined M/s. Little & Co. as an intern (despite being the daughter of a senior partner of the firm) learning the fundamentals which no school, college or books do ever impart.

Recalling the initial days Ruchi says, “The practical knowledge and implementation of all that we study during our young days carry a value only when put to appropriate use! My parents always believed in making us earn what we deserve instead of giving things on a platter to us. Both my parents supported me to the fullest when I genuinely needed it but at the same time, I was made to earn my own living and also had to earn my luxuries which of course I am extremely grateful to them for! My mother, Daksha Khatlawala has been my pillar of strength for all my bad times! She is my real inspiration for the way forward in life! My father has been my role model in life and a real example of honesty, hard work and integrity, no matter what situation one is in. My younger sibling, Viraj Khatlawala has been by my side each time I turned back for help. At times I wonder, who is the older of us!”

Making it Big

Ruchi appeared for Solicitors exam from Law Society of England and Wales in the year 2005, clearing which, she was deputed to work at DLA Piper Rudnick Grey Cary (London) through Little & Co. giving her the much-required experience in international law and legal practise. She also had the opportunity to witness and experience live hearings at the Royal Courts of Justice in London for more than two years while she was handling high stake litigation for Deccan Chargers, the then IPL team against a White.

On her return from London, she was immediately deputed to join Star TV, Mumbai office, as legal advisor for about six months. “Post, that, resumed work back at Little & Co., for a while, once again Star TV approached us and requested to depute me back to their Mahalaxmi office in Mumbai as they needed full-fledged legal assistance in launching Star CJ channel, collaboration with CJ, Korea. This was one life-time experience for me as dealing with Koreans on a day-to-day basis for the closing of various documents, with absolute language barrier had an urge in me of having a magic wand!” says Ruchi.

On what makes her accept or reject a case

To begin with, I have till date, never rejected any case but yes, have always evaluated the merits and drawbacks with a very clear and open mind which enables me to be non-judgmental at each stage of the case! Before taking up any mandate, I make sure that I provide my client with an informed understanding of available legal remedies, rights, and obligations. Giving them a clear explanation about practical implications of legal proceedings is my first step towards trying to achieve the goal which clients carry with them before approaching me. If a client is willing to accept those probable implications and shows utmost confidence in the advice given by me, I go ahead and accept the case. I staunchly believe that a good lawyer is also ushered by personal conscience and the approbation of professional peers.

On whether e-court platforms and digitization of the judicial process will help the law firms and the citizens equally

Definitely! It should and it will! I believe and have experienced that digitization helps remove mundane tasks from the process. Technology scours with increased efficiencies, quality service delivery, client satisfaction, faster turnaround time, reduces the use of paper, improves transparency as the possibility of tampering with official documents is somewhat eradicated, there is real-time work collaboration, and it offers newer services with an improved work-life balance. Not just the clients or law firms but technology also helps in faster delivery of justice. The Online Dispute Resolution is also finally seeing some more light due to these trying times.

On contributing to help eradicate legal illiteracy among common citizens

“Bounty always receives part of its value from the manner in which it is bestowed.” – Samuel Johnson. I try to give as many pro bono advices to the needy as possible, guide them through the process and make sure that their requirements are fulfilled. I also take part in legal awareness drives regularly. God has been kind enough to give me few opportunities where I have been able to help destitute women, children and also could bring back the scattered family together who may have been victims of family property disputes or other social dilemmas.

Advice for budding lawyers and entrepreneurs of the legal industry.

The most important advice that I can give budding lawyers and entrepreneurs is to read a lot, keep themselves informed and updated about the legal developments. Internships are essential and a must but so are other activities like moot courts, writing research papers, debating etc. They should get involved in as many activities as they can as per their proclivity. They need to be at par with the changing world and be worldly-wise rather than being bookish!

Being a part of Little & Co.

At Little & Co., Ruchi’s portfolio/areas of practise consists of Real Estate-Project Finance, General Corporate (attending to a multitude of legal requirements) and Commercial Litigation which includes Arbitration and Dispute Resolution.

The firm has an impeccable IT department that has helped transfer heaps of documents from hard to soft copies to help lessen the burden. The firm believes that being technologically abreast is a must, especially in the current work-from-home environment. It uses technology for purposes like document review, resource management, abstraction and automation, data analytics in legal research and comprehending client engagements and invoices, electronic signatures, case management, transcription services, contract management etc.

Taking the Firm Ahead

Little & Co. is conventional and traditional in its approach which apparently has been its strength and the team will always want to stand by these principles. Having said that, the firm, being an extended family to her father and Ruchi herself, her dream is to have a perfect balance of conventional/ traditional principles with a modern approach which gives complete comfort level and desired results to our clients. “I’m striving to achieve a more modern outlook and new age practises for the firm which gives the firm a much-needed boost in today’s competitive legal industry. I am also keen on putting to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the working environment of the firm. AI can dramatically reduce the time and increase efficiency in turnaround time and deliver to the client quality coupled with quantity. AI will not only improve client servicing but also add on to the robust infrastructure of the firm,” concludes Ruchi.

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