Vinayak Burman – Founder and Managing Partner of Vertices Partners, a Mumbai-based boutique law firm, has been ranked several times by the Chambers & Partners, Asia Pacific 2015-2018 as the up and coming lawyer in the Corporate and M&A and Private Equity Practice and by RSG London Rankings 2015 & 2016 as a highly recommended lawyer for private equity and venture capital and by Legal 500 2015 as the go-to lawyer. He has been consistently ranked in the top 50 lawyers list in the country in the PE/VC practice area by several forums.
In 2018, Asian Legal Business (A Thomson Reuters venture) awarded Vinayak the prestigious 40 under 40 recognition for top 50 lawyers under the age of 40 in the Asia Pacific Region. I spoke to Vinayak on his rapid rise and what it takes to steer a law firm to success in such a short period of time.
Anjana : Hi Vinayak, Congratulations for being ranked amongst the top 50 lawyers under the age of 40 in the country. Can you share your life before you set up your law firm?<
Vinayak : After I completed law from Symbiosis Law College, I started my career in Delhi in 2005, in litigation in a chamber practice for a Supreme Court counsel, post which I worked for three other law firms before I set up Vertices Partners with my other partners in the year 2016. From there to here, it has been a rewarding journey.
I was raised in Kolkata by well-educated, middle-class parents. When I was born, my father had just quit his stylish job as a planter in tea estates)and decided to turn an entrepreneur. In the early days, he undertook odd jobs to provide us simple luxuries. After trying to sell tea machinery to companies all day long, my father would come back home and pick up the spices made by my mother which he would then set out to sell in the neighbourhood to earn some extra money. My parents sent me to one of the best school in Kolkata, Don Bosco Park Circus, before I moved to Pune to study law where I did reasonably well in most things.
To earn some extra pocket money, I used to do some odd jobs including occasionally working in fast food joints like McDonalds and Pizza Hut, which had newly opened up then. These kind of experiences helped me to think of doing things differently and independently and the experiences helped me a great deal in the years to come.
A : When did you decide to branch out on your own and how difficult was the journey in the overcrowded legal arena? Describe the turning point in your life.
V : Being a first-generation lawyer and trying to build something on your own is like walking on a turf laid out with red hot coals. The art lies in being agile, nimble and focused to make it through unscathed. In this context, I have been fortunate to have some excellent exposure and work experience with some of the best law firms in this country. That, along with my undying passion for being an entrepreneur, did not let me rest till I actually took the plunge in 2016. After playing a key role in leading the private equity practice of a large law firm for a few years, I decided that it was time to take the plunge. The yearning for being an entrepreneur was something I could not hold back for too long. I realised that most of the work which I was doing was as it is self-generated. I have always been a people’s person and for me, clients have always been friends more than just transactional acquaintances. It was, therefore, time to build an institution based on the pillars of proactiveness, pedigree, and performance. That is how Vertices Partners was formed in the year 2016, with my other two co-founders, Archana Khosla, and Amit Vyas. My fourth partner, Jeet Sen Gupta, joined us in 2017. The journey has been very interesting and educational. In just three years, we are a team of 30 plus members. While the firm has all the relevant practice areas, the core areas being Private Equity, Venture Capital and Corporate. We are in the top ten law firms as per several league tables in this specific practice area, but along with that, we have a robust Disputes/Litigation practice and a Structured Finance and Banking and Finance practice.
A : You have had a privileged life. Have there been any challenges or struggles, at all?
V : Oh, yes! My life has been very eventful. From changing myself to a complete extrovert from being an inherent introvert and becoming one of the most popular people in school and college, from working in fast food joints for twenty rupees an hour to becoming a student representative in college, from living in a dormitory with 20 other people and one broken Indian toilet in Chandanwadi in Mumbai to building a firm and paying salaries to 30 odd people, life indeed has been interesting and extremely educational.
The life of an entrepreneur is fraught with challenges. Entrepreneurship is a very lonely journey. If one wants to become an entrepreneur for glamor, then that is the worst decision to take. One of the fundamental things that I have learned is to believe that the most obvious actually is the least obvious. Nothing is constant in this journey and one cannot afford to take anything for granted. Every day will bring with it, its own challenges, problems, issues, and one needs to get up every day and deal with them. There will be palpitations and moments that can make you crumble and question the very concept of leaving your cushy secure jobs for this crazy journey, but as they say, every entrepreneur is a dreamer and partly crazy. So, passion needs to constantly fuel your motivation.
Law, as a profession, has evolved to a great extent. Earlier, one would say this depended on legacy, vintage or continued reputation. Now, as with the clients moving from age-old institutions to new age nimble companies, the need to have new age, nimble, price sensitive law firms, increased. The market was big enough for folks who were sincere, hungry, integral and client-focused. This, along with the experience that I was privileged to gain in some leading law firms of the country, added to the benefit of being able to join hands with my like-minded partners and start Vertices Partners.
A : Who is your inspiration in the legal space? Do you have any mentors?
V : People who inspire me the most are the ones who are first generation entrepreneurs. So all those seniors of mine or contemporaries, who decided to step out bravely into the sun from their comfortable jobs and build institutions are my inspiration.
A : What do you think are the problems plaguing the Indian legal system and how does it compare with the rest of the world. Are our laws archaic and are we seeing changes there in recent times with landmark judgements?
V : According to me, the laws, especially the commercial transactional laws, are ever-evolving. With the legislation modifying to accommodate the evolution of business, technology, and commerce, things are bound to just become better. The essence of enforceability, resolution, and clarity is being given more reverence and this helps domestic transactions and also, foreign investors get that added comfort to do business in India. While we still have a long way to go, the signs are signalling an upward trajectory.
A : Can you share your future plans?
V : Right now, I am celebrating the first milestone in an entrepreneur’s life – the 1000 day test! We recently crossed that mark. So yes, while for a moment, I guess, we will pause to take a deep breath and look back from where we started but then thereafter, the pace will increase. While we are building a new age law firm, we also want to build it sustainably and grow at the right quarters and dimensions. There are new offices in different cities in the offing in the very near future. We will be looking at broad-basing ourselves on certain other practice areas as well in some deep technology. All in all, we are looking at the five-year mark to bring on some very interesting developments.
A : What do you do when not working?
V : I like to spend any free time I get with my seven-month-old son, Saadhil. My wife, Archana (who is also my co-founder and heads the VC practice) and I try to take every minute that we can squeeze out to be with him and participate in all his moments of first-hand experiences of growing up. Besides that, we love going out and meeting friends and hosting them at home. I have restarted to inculcate my reading habit (recreational) and most importantly come to, grudgingly, give in to the need to give personal fitness some attention.
A : What would your advice be to students pursuing law or people who wish to start their own legal firms?
V : For law students, my advice is to ensure that the years in law school are spent on a healthy balance of studies, internships and extra-curricular activities. Holistic growth is very important as that is what helps you in real life when you do things on your own. I know several toppers from my contemporary period who are still stuck in that dream job, some happily (and I am glad for them) while others not so happily. So, the essence of street smartness, the ability to hustle, the ability to build relationships and the ability to shun your fear and take crazy plunges in the deep dark world of entrepreneurship and to be able to make it into a festival of lights is not what is taught in just the books. That said, it is extremely important to know your subject, but know it as a concept as against trying to memorise. The memory may fail at times, understanding never does.
To start on your own, I can say, there is no better time to be an entrepreneur in India than now. But, think a thousand times before you take the plunge and as I mentioned above, only do so, if you know and believe that even with the most obvious of things gone, you still will be able to sustain yourself. Otherwise, respect that job and that organisation that you are in and contribute to its growth and the organisation will contribute to yours.
Having said that, if someone was to ask me, would I have done in any other way, my answer would be, absolutely not. Because, no matter what, being an entrepreneur can come with a ton of baggage but the joy and the high is incomparable.