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Talking Heads - Manu Kanwar from LexSolutions

Posted by: Laurence Simons 07/06/17

Talking Heads Interview

Interviewer: Clare Butler, Laurence Simons (London, UK)
Interviewee: Manu Kanwar, LexSolutions (London, UK)

Clare Butler (CXB): Tell me about the moment you decided to be a lawyer?

I’m not sure there was a specific time when I decided I wanted to be a lawyer.  I know I wanted to do a law degree; I was always interested in law, philosophy, justice and how those interplayed. 

I wanted to study law academically, and I also knew a law degree would give me flexibility and a bit more time to decide.  If not in law, it would be a good stepping stone into other careers. I’m quite commercial so I thought it would be a good route into business generally and thought the skills honed through a law degree would help in business. 

Then in the second year of University all of my friends were applying for training contracts and I found myself doing the same.  It was during that application and interview process that I felt I could really add value as a lawyer and it was the right career for me.

CXB. So it wasn’t a burning desire you’d had since you were 10 years old?

At 10, I was pretty sure I wanted to be an actor (preferably Bollywood) and then into politics to rid India of its corruption and poverty!  I did know I loved law and the prestige of the legal system, but I hadn’t decided then to be a lawyer. 

I’ve always been quite entrepreneurial - my Dad is in business - so I thought that’s what I wanted to do in the longer term.  In the end that’s where I’ve ended up but through law, so I guess I’ve had the best of both worlds.  

CXB. Once you qualified, when were you most challenged as a lawyer and how did you overcome those challenges?

I think it was probably a period at Yahoo.  I ran a busy team with a high deal flow as well as assisting with overall business strategy.  So, I was really enjoying my work, had a fair amount of responsibility and we were doing really well, but then I ran into some health issues.  
I had my professional and personal obligations to deliver maximum value, but at the same time I needed to deal with some of my own health challenges and had to find a way to navigate through that. 

I didn’t have to take much time off in the end but I had to think differently about how I approached and carried out my work.  Yahoo were very supportive, I worked flexibly for a short period and I adopted a more mindful mindset.

CXB. So it was about how you could ensure there was a balance between your actual physical wellbeing and your ability to deliver your workload creatively, or coming at the tasks with a more mindful approach?

I guess both.  We worked together to find a process that worked and I needed to get a better sense of perspective generally.  One of my mentors at Yahoo, who was the International GC based in the US, always reminded us that whilst we do an incredibly important job and we drive a large amount of value for the business, we’re not risking or saving lives, so must always retain perspective in our approach.  

I think taking that attitude actually makes approaching the pressures of professional life a lot less stressful!

CXB. Looking back at your career -  I know it’s not over yet but you are a senior lawyer - what are you most proud of?

Again at Yahoo!, one of the things I did towards the end of my time there, was to explore ways in which Legal could drive real value for the Business. To not just deliver on the day to day, but be proactively thinking about business objectives and stepping outside of our comfort zones and ordinary roles, to proactively find ways in which we could deliver commercial impact and/or drive efficiency within the wider business. 

That concept was supported by my EMEA GC and then sponsored internationally, so as a global legal team we embarked on a project to find ways in which everyone in every country could start thinking like that. That for me was a very proud moment. It was then that I came up with the idea of LexSolutions.  I thought,  “right, actually this is what I want to do. I enjoy being a lawyer, but I want to use law to drive business impact and commercial value.”

CXB. If we rewind the clock back, what advice would you give to a newly qualified lawyer?

For NQs today options are very broad and the world is very different and I think my advice would be to seek out the opportunities and challenges that you personally find fulfilling.  You’re only going to get motivated and deliver real value by things that excite and fulfil you.  

I think nowadays people have got a whole array of opportunities and disciplines to consider and various ways of working to suit different people. And that’s only going to proliferate. So, don’t worry too much about the long long term – it’s not like it used to be – one track to partnership.  Find and do things that are challenging and from which you personally will get a buzz.

CXB. What would your advice to yourself be any different as an NQ?

No, I think as an NQ I would give myself that same advice in relation to work opportunities. On a personal note, I would probably advise myself to adopt (earlier) that sense of perspective and mindfulness that has helped me to be more ‘present’. That’s something I’ve only really started to do in the last few years.  

We all know we should “live in the moment”,  but not everyone understands what that really means. We constantly think (a) about the past, what went wrong and what we could have done better; or (b) the future and what might or might not happen.   

So, it’s either regret for past actions and events or anxiety for various possible future scenarios.  That means, we spend the least amount of time actually in the present!  To bring everything back into context and back into the reality of what’s happening right now is probably one of the most powerful tools I have come across and adopted.

CXB. How do you deal with stress, professionally and personally?

I do a fair amount of yoga -  the physical practice as well as meditation and mindfulness.  I first started as a young boy and then off and on over the years.  I’ve become more serious about it in the last 6-7 years and am actually doing my teacher training, mainly to deepen my own practice.  I am also, with a couple of others, launching a wellbeing business providing corporates with bespoke programmes which combine yoga, meditation and nutrition.

CXB. I’m sensing there’s a real theme in your responses about how you really take the ‘whole’ approach to your life in terms of how your professional life dovetails in to the personal. There’s a oneness there that you’re choosing to do things that actually are your passion. Are there any other techniques or tools that have helped you be more productive (in a larger sense)?

I try and set myself deadlines - for everything! 

CXB. What have you found the benefit of this to be that may help somebody else?

I work better under pressure and find it better to schedule even small decisions and tasks to make sure they get done in a timely and orderly manner!

CXB. What are the challenges that will face lawyers in next 5 years?

I think there are 2 big challenges. The first is technology, and the impact that it has on our careers as we understand them, both in terms of making it easier as well as taking stuff away.

And the other is everyone’s expectations of lawyers: the expectations that lawyers have of their lives/careers and the expectations that clients have of their external lawyers.  As those things continue to change, it’s going to have a big impact. It’s changed a lot and continues to do so as the younger generation come from university with completely different expectations of what their career path should be, compared to what I and others before me expected.

It’s not so important to them to be in the office 18 hours a day or at the weekends in order to possibly get a partnership. They’re looking for a better work life balance, they want to be fulfilled personally and overall wellbeing is far more important.  They’re taking a much more holistic view than graduating or qualifying lawyers did historically. 

And clients continue to demand more proactivity, pragmatism and business-focus from their external lawyers. There’s always been a frustration from in-house teams that their external lawyers don’t always understand their needs and/or their business.  The lawyers winning favour and doing increasingly well today are those that are willing to innovate, take risks and act as true business partners to their clients. 

That in turn drives more value, commerciality and efficiency in both the advisors and the companies receiving the advice, so that has to continue.  Our support must be delivered as if we are in-house and in the overall context of the businesses challenges and objectives.  Otherwise, you’re not really going to deliver value.

CXB. What do you think is a growth area you can see? Whatever that is, why do you think that is a trend or growth area?

I think this links back to the previous answer about technology and how it will impact the legal profession.  There is so much opportunity for innovation here. Technology is going to cut large swathes of work out, but it it’s also going to make us far more efficient and provide new opportunities to train, learn, collaborate and add real value.  Once we’ve delivered processes and chunks of work to the machines, we have a opportunity and an imperative to be more strategic and deliver meaningful business impact.

CXB  Thank you for your time today, Manu.  I know our readership will enjoy your thoughts and perspective.  

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