Business Today

THE LITIGATOR

Pallavi Shroff has emerged as the go-to person for companies reeling under the weight of legal disputes.
twitter-logo Sarika Malhotra        Print Edition: September 27, 2015
Companies reeling under legal disputes turn to Pallavi Shroff
Dazzling career: Pallavi Shroff has been at the top of her profession for many years. (Photo: Shekhar Ghosh)

When Nestle India wanted to challenge the notices on Maggi noodles sent to it earlier this year by the Food Safety and Standards Authority in India , it was Pallavi Shroff the company turned to. Maggi noodles had been banned in several Indian states after government laboratories found samples containing more than the permissible quantity of lead, as well as traces of monosodium glutamate, even though the packaging claimed it did not.

Given the ubiquity of Maggi noodles in India, the case in the Bombay High Court drew enormous interest. "When we went into the case, we realised the testing had been done in laboratories that were not qualified to test for lead," says Shroff. "They were not even accredited with the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibrating Laboratories. We were surprised. What kind of testing had been done?" Shroff's arguments won the day with the court in August ruling against the ban, while ordering fresh tests on Maggi samples.

Yet another crucial case this year was the Indian component of the global merger of cement giants Holcim and Lafarge, which the Competition Commission of India (CCI) questioned. But it allowed the merger after Shroff and her team quelled the doubts raised and both companies agreed to divest some of their assets in eastern India. "The case entailed competition law analysis of the transaction, filing detailed submissions and subsequent discussions with the CCI," says Shroff. "Walking through the entire process and structuring remedies was very interesting."

Shroff has been at the top of her profession for many years, but 2015 will remain special for her. Apart from the Maggi and Lafarge Holcim successes, it also saw - a few months earlier, in May - her elevation to Managing Partner at her family legal firm, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co (SAM & Co). SAM & Co was formed following a split at Amarchand Mangaldas & Suresh A. Shroff and Co (AMSS), the country's largest corporate law firm, after Shroff's husband Shardul Shroff, and his brother Cyril Shroff - who used to run it together with Shardul based in Delhi and Cyril in Mumbai - parted ways. "It is a new beginning for us, a fresh canvas," she says. "The challenge of actually managing the firm is very exciting for me."

Curiously, law was not Shroff's first choice of profession. The daughter of former Chief Justice of India P.N. Bhagwati, she feared she would forever remain in his shadow if she took it up. "I was apprehensive of what people would say if I failed to show much aptitude for law: such a great judge and look at this daughter!" she says. She left Delhi for Mumbai to study for an MBA. But fate brought Shardul Shroff into her life. "Even before I started law college, my husband said there was a case coming up and suggested I read up on it," she says. He encouraged her to spend time in court. "The dynamics of the court, how an argument is built, how bookish knowledge is translated into real arguments, truly excited me," she adds.

Both her peers and her clients vouch for her brilliance. Former finance minister P. Chidambaram, a legal luminary as well, is rhapsodic. "I have seen few women in law who are so painstaking, persuasive and tenacious," he says. "She just won't give up! Her arguments are always well supported by legal texts and case law. She travels extensively, holds several conferences a day, settles pleadings and documents, attends court hearings and yet has the energy to meet her social obligations as managing partner." Equally effusive is Ankhi Das, Public Policy Director, India, South and Central Asia, Facebook. "We've worked together in the areas of free expression and human rights as they impact the Internet," she says. "I've found her sharp analysis in matters relating to Internet freedom and intermediary liability very useful."

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