After studying law I vectored towards journalism by accident and it's the only job I've done since. It's a job that has taken me on a private jet to Jaisalmer - where I wrote India's first feature on fractional ownership of business jets - to the badlands of west UP where India's sugar economy is inextricably now tied to politics. I'm a big fan of new business models and crafty entrepreneurs. Fortunately for me, there are plenty of those in Asia at the moment.
Image: Joshua Navalkar
When the boardroom battle between Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of Tata Sons, and ousted chairman Cyrus Mistry spilled over to the courts, the former forged a legal team from among the best in the country. There was the ace corporate law firm Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co and renowned litigator Raian Karanjawala. The Tata camp also roped in the up and coming Mumbai law firm MZM Legal.
Representing it was 39-year-old Zulfiquar Memon—son of the celebrated criminal lawyer Majeed Memon—who has had an eclectic career that included directing plays. As a young lawyer, with an LLB from the Government Law College, Mumbai, Memon had spent many evenings in his father’s home chamber and noticed the huge “information asymmetry” among clients as to how the criminal justice system operates.
Still, he wasn’t keen on operating as a trial lawyer and chose to set up a firm that advised clients on criminal law. “Recently we had a client who had fired a junior office staff in 2012 for non-performance. In 2016, she sent him a legal notice alleging sexual harassment. He’s at a loss and fears the police could show up any minute,” says Memon, managing partner at MZM Legal. “There is no one manner in which the police operates in this country. It depends on who is in charge of the local police station.”
Initially, he wanted his firm to address information gaps like this. But over the years, MZM Legal has vectored toward corporate matters that typically make up the bread and butter of a law firm. But even here, Memon is clear that his 12-year-old firm will adopt a solution-oriented approach that doesn’t prolong a dispute. Memon says MZM Legal would take its time to get into areas like IPO listings and project finance as it would find it harder to differentiate itself from larger law firms, but the option is not ruled out.
Memon has worked on the 2013 case of a Kuwaiti royal family-owned flat on Marine Drive, Mumbai, allegedly usurped by film producer Sanjay Punamiya. He’s working on getting him evicted. MZM Legal has also represented shipping companies and music producers at arbitration claims.
Still, it’s the quirky cases that remind Memon of the raison d’être of setting up his firm. On a recent evening at his office in Mumbai’s Fort area, a non-resident Indian walked in to say he wanted help as he’d just returned to the country and discovered his mother’s locker had Rs 35 lakh in demonetised notes—a non-bailable offence. Memon’s legal advice to the NRI was to declare the matter to the police and let the law take its course. An affidavit stating how the money was found was also given.
Having come so far, Memon is also working on public interest issues. The firm recently partnered Avishkar Manu Singhvi [son of senior Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi] to file a PIL in the Bombay High Court asking state-owned insurance companies to divest their stakes in tobacco companies ITC and VST Industries. The argument: The government’s investments in tobacco companies are antithetical to its aim of reducing tobacco consumption. “Across the world, insurance companies have been divesting their stakes in tobacco companies. It is only right that India becomes a part of this trend,” says Memon.