Lira Goswami: Marking her Stature and Mastery in the Legal Fraternity

Lira Goswami | Associated Law Advisers | The Enterprise World

Meet the woman of the hour, Lira Goswami, the Founding Partner of Associated Law Advisers (ALA). Lira Goswami established ALA in 1993 together with co-founder, O.P. Bhardwaj, a tax expert and former member of the Central Board of Direct Taxes.

Her diverse legal experience coupled with an understanding of business issues and ability to multi-task and venture into new areas has helped her to navigate and find solutions for complex and diverse issues.

The Driving Forces of Associated Law Advisers

Today, Associated Law Advisers (“ALA”) is a leading, full-service law firm, providing a full range of legal, regulatory, and tax services. Its clients include multinational and Indian companies in diverse sectors. Many are Fortune 500 companies and ‘household names’ like ExxonMobil, General Electric, Kellogg, Mars, Mattel, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Suzuki Motor Corporation, Zurich Insurance, etc.  

Lira Goswami heads the transactional and regulatory practice, advising on international transactional work, mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, and strategic and regulatory issues. Lira Goswami has advised several well-known companies in their acquisitions /divestments in India, including Boston Scientific’s acquisition of Guidant, re-structuring of Whirlpool and ExxonMobil subsidiaries; divestments by GE; Zurich Insurance, Rolls Royce; acquisition of GE’s wind business and divestment of lighting business; G+J’s acquisition of specialty print business; divestments by Kodak Alaris; Woodward’s acquisitions, etc. 

Lira Goswami has also advised development institutions like DEG, Germany, FMO, and the Netherlands on project financing; food companies such as KelloggMars, Wrigley, and General Mills; and defence companies, including Rafael Advanced Defense SystemsSCD on defence procurement, offsets, Integrity Pact, tendering and other matters.

Co-founder and Senior PartnerMr. O.P. Bhardwaj, with his wealth of experience, heads the direct tax team advising domestic and international companies, banks, trusts, and wealth managers including ABN Amro Bank, Barclays Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, Swiss Life, etc on tax issues, estate planning and structuring of wealth management products. He has co-authored the tax sections of the Indian chapter on Private Banking for Law-in-Context, an online private banking resource for international banks and wealth managers.

The commercial practice and corporate secretarial team are headed by Subhash Bhardwaj while Anjali Gupta is their company secretary. Subhash also advises on M&A issues, company law, exchange control, and real estate matters, together with other team members including Vikram Saluja, Anushka Arora, and Preeti Negi, while Vikram additionally advises on defence procurement issues.

The litigation and arbitration practice is led by Mohna M. Lal and Chandrashekhar Mulherkar. They, together with their respective team members, including Shailabh Tiwari and Geetali Talukdar, represent Indian and foreign clients in various courts and forums. Additionally, Chandrashekhar and Anushka advise on regulatory and compliance issues in the food and drug sector, representing clients before food and drug authorities. 

Chandrashekhar also has considerable experience in conducting internal investigations. Mohna M. Lal additionally advises on the environment, sustainability, and clean-up issues and has co-authored the Indian chapters for Global Legal Group’s International Comparative Legal Guide to Environment Law (2008) and the Practical Law Company’s Environment Q&A (2010/11). 

Lira Goswami Defines ALA’s Vision 

To provide high-quality, value-added legal and strategic advice with integrity. In short, it is ‘Quality & over Quantity’ and Integrity is the golden thread that binds all our actions and is the ‘safety net’ for us and our clients.

ALA’s other Practice Areas

  • Civil Aviation sector where the firm has advised BoeingRolls RoyceMartin-Baker Aircraft Company, etc. on aircraft and engine leasing transactions; air crash investigation, the establishment of business entities in India including pilot testing centres, maintenance and repair centres, data centres, etc. 
  • Anti-corruption, Fraud Investigations, and Compliance Issues –Advised clients and international law firms like Baker Botts, Bass Berry, Dechert, Debevoise Plimpton, Freshfields, Gibson Dunn, Paul Hastings, etc, on compliance issues, anti-bribery, fraud, and other internal investigations. Also prepared Whistle Blower, Gifting, and Business Courtesy policies for BoeingHindustan Coca-Cola, Mitsubishi, etc. 
  • Environment, Health, and Safety Matters – Regularly advising clients on environmental, health, and safety issues including measures taken to reduce carbon emissions and promote sustainability through alternate renewable energy sources.
  • Real Estate and Construction Matters –Advised American Embassy School, Berjaya, Coca-Cola, Mars, Woodward Governor, Government of Ras-Al-Khaimah entities, etc. on real estate and construction matters, including sales/purchase of real estate, commercial and residential leases, and real estate development projects, etc. 
  • Labour and Employment Matters – Advised Blackberry, British Standards Institution, Canadian High Commission, Garrad Hassan, Mars, Rafael, Saipem, etc. on labor and other welfare legislation, employment and visa issues, preparation of employee handbooks, integrity manuals and policies to prevent gender and other forms of discrimination including sexual harassment of women at the workplace.   
  • Trade laws – ALA’s trade law team advises on a variety of trade issues including free trade agreements, export /import restrictions, phytosanitary issues, export permissions, SCOMET, etc. ALA has also represented Exxon MobilGroz BeckertCSB Battery Co. Ltd., BP Amoco, DSM Nutritional Product Ltd, etc. in anti-dumping investigations.

A Timeline of Lira Goswami’s Professional Journey

Lira Goswami pursued her law degree from Delhi University and a Master’s degree from Columbia University, New York. 

Lira Goswami began her career as a litigation lawyer (as at that time, the practice of law was synonymous with litigation). In her litigation years with the law firm of J.D. Dadachanji, she had the unique privilege of arguing before a constitutional bench of 7 judges and also the good fortune to be involved in several landmark litigation including the Sri Ram Gas Leak case

 (which evolved the principle of ‘absolute strict liability’); the ‘Mandal’ litigation (on reservations for backward classes) where Lira Goswami was the sole lawyer assisting the eminent late Nani Palkhivala; and the ‘forum non-convenience’ motion for dismissing proceedings against Union Carbide in the US Court. She has also represented the State of Assam in an inter-state boundary dispute.

Lira Goswami transitioned to corporate /transactional law, as India was liberalising and opening up its economy. Having studied and worked in India and the US, she was able to better appreciate and cater to the business requirements of companies in both jurisdictions. 

As a corporate lawyer, she takes pride in leading a legal team that pioneered several ‘firsts’, including India’s: 

  • first 100% foreign-owned risk management company;  
  • first 100% foreign-owned seed company; 
  • first 100% foreign-owned pet food manufacturing company; 
  • first mortgage guarantee company, which led to the Reserve Bank of India opening up the mortgage guarantee business in India.

Lira Goswami has advised on the privatization of one of India’s largest State Electricity Boards in World Bank funded project and also advised the investment arm of the Government of Ras-Al-Khaimah and several international law firms on diverse areas, including Paul Hastings, Hogan LovellsFreshfields, and Baker & McKenzie (with whom she briefly worked at their Chicago office). She has also advised international consulting firms including Stonebridge (now Albright Stonebridge) on various regulatory issues relating to the Indian financial services sector. 

Lira Goswami has served on the Governing Body of Kamla Nehru College, University of Delhi, where she is currently on their Quality Assurance Council. Lira Goswami has also advised the IC2 ‘think tank’ of the University of Texas (which focuses on incubating and commercialising innovative start-ups).

Lira Goswami is currently a director of Blackberry India Private Limited and PM Controls Private Ltd and an independent director of Maruti Suzuki Limited (where she is also a member of the Audit Committee and Remuneration & Compensation Committee). 

Bringing the Experience to the Podium and on Paper

Lira Goswami has spoken and written on a wide range of subjects including Foreign Investment, Government disinvestment, Corporate Social Responsibility, Defence Procurement; Insurance, Integrity, and Compliance issues including at C5’s Defence Procurement seminars and ACI’s anti-corruption conferences. Lira Goswami was a mentor and speaker on sustainability at the 2021  Spring  cohort  of Global Policy Diplomacy and Sustainability, a public policy program for international practitioners.

Lira Goswami has co-authored the non-tax sections of the Indian chapter on Private Banking for Law-in-Context and also published the following articles:

  • Government Has No Business to be in Business, Financial Chronicle, New Delhi, November 25, 2013
  • Hurry Leads to a Harried India Inc, Hindu Business Line, April 10, 2014
  • Kick Start Disinvestment & Transform India, Financial Express, New Delhi, June 18, 2014
  • An Asset That Can’t be Taken Away, Hindu Business Line, May 26, 2014
  • Do the Math – Treat CSR as a Business Expenditure, Hindu Business Line, December 24, 2014
  • Time to Ease Execution of Wills in India, Times of India (TOI) Blog, October 27, 2020.

Scaling, Upgrading, and Meeting the Need of the Hour

The legal practice is getting ‘commoditized’ with legal product companies providing ‘ready’ legal information and automated documentation. Therefore, while law firms embrace technology as a tool for greater efficiency, to remain relevant, they will need to distinguish themselves and their services through specialization or value addition. It is also important to venture into new areas of law and expand the legal marketplace. 

With increased geo-political and border tensions, trade wars, and India’s emphasis on ‘self-reliance’, ALA anticipates greater traction on local defence manufacturing (MAKE II), commercialization of space, satellites development, offsets; cyber security; renewable energy projects; sustainable project financing, etc, in addition to ‘bread and butter’ legal practice.

There will also be greater trade law issues including anti-dumping and other investigations, export controls, and trade sanction concerns. Hence, there is scope to expand the legal footprint and also bring in expertise through collaborations in India and internationally.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Like any other new entity, ALA’s initial challenges were to scale the business and attract good lawyers. ALA has grown at a steady pace over the years and expanded its client profile in diverse areas, without compromising its core principles. The pursuit of excellence and the appetite for growth remains a constant endeavor. 

The reason behind ALA’s long-standing success is its Commitment to Purpose. People. Agility. Tenacity & Passion for Excellence. These traits and its principled work ethic have helped to attract and retain several Fortune 500 multinational companies, principally through ‘Word of mouth’ referrals from satisfied clients.

The New Wave of Entrepreneurship blending Technology and Legal Practices Efficiently

The pandemic changed the way of doing business, both for lawyers and other businesses. It de-mystified the ‘physical office’; led to greater dependence on technology; and entrepreneurs had to be agile in developing alternate supply sources to cope with shortages due to ‘shut- downs’ and trade wars. 

The need for ‘living and doing business responsibly’ has been the most significant change with public health concerns assuming critical consideration. Post-pandemic, most businesses have put greater resources into technology, EHS, and clean energy. Going forward, risk management, agility, sustainability, innovation, and motivation will continue to be dominant themes.

Technology- A Savior and Excellent Source

Technology aids efficiency in legal practice. ALA utilises technology to research precedents; keep abreast of changes in the law and track the progress of cases. Technology also helps to analyse delays and cost overruns which are crucial in making claims for ‘liquidated damages’ or to substantiate extra costs and damage claims. 

Technology is also used to review and analyse large volumes of data during discovery or internal investigations, litigation, and arbitration. (In many jurisdictions, technology is even used to predict jury decisions). Hence, Technology is the second most important resource after Human Resources.

Setting Benchmarks with Exceptional Team Culture

ALA is not a hierarchical law firm. Everyone is ‘equal’ and the better argument or better logic prevails. It works as a ‘team’ and everyone helps everyone and has the willingness and flexibility to move into other areas of law.  Divergent views and comments are taken constructively, with an eye on improving. 

It also believes there should be no barriers to entry and everyone must have an opportunity to better themselves. This philosophy has led to two women (one from the reception and the other a secretary) rising to become valuable lawyers of the firm.

“I also like to think of us as ‘caring’ individual lawyers as ‘empathy’ and ‘patience’ are good for business. So, I believe we have, both the ‘skill set’ and the right mindset!” Lira Goswami concludes. 

Lira’s Go-to Advice to Budding Entrepreneurs

To all aspiring lawyers (particularly women) Lira Goswami’s message is similar to the Nike ad – -‘Just do it”!  

“If you need to take a decision, “do it”. Do not be afraid to take the first step. Remember that if you want to do anything, you will find a way to do it. Have faith in yourself; constantly learn, innovate and grow and remember that your ‘willpower’ is stronger than your gender (or any physical shortcoming) and no one (except you) can stop or hold you back!”

Living Passions, Thriving with Noble Actions

At a personal level, Lira Goswami has a keen interest in reading, art, and travel. Lira Goswami also enjoys engaging with students in dialogues on Happiness; Responsible Leadership; and Sustainable Living. Her pro bono activities include legal assistance to Save the Children and Youth Making a Difference. Lira Goswami also actively supported several entities by providing food to migrant workers and the needy during the recent Covid-19 pandemic in India. 

Serving a Bigger Purpose and Paving New Routes

Lira Goswami shares insights on what Lira Goswami aims to achieve moving forward.

“I would like to continue to provide strategic advice and add value to legal services. Additionally, I would like to develop and mentor a set of young lawyers to pursue excellence and evolve from ‘good’ to ‘great’ lawyers. Most of all, I would like to be part of something ‘bigger’ that allows me to positively influence change for a more responsible and sustainable way of living and doing business.”

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