Her firm is the best in the coun­try, her work hours the stuff of leg­end. ZIA MODY might be le­gal roy­alty; now she wants to use her brass knuck­les to help the poor, and the rich. By Suprotip Ghosh

Harper's Bazaar (India) - - BAZAAR -

Anu Aga, chair­per­son of Teach For In­dia, once needed a place to con­duct a board meet­ing for the vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tion. She called up Zia Mody, manag­ing part­ner, AZB & Part­ners, a col­league on the board of Teach For In­dia. Mody had a sim­ple so­lu­tion. She opened up her own of­fice at South Mum­bai’s Nariman Point for the board to meet. Teach For In­dia is a vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tion that gives priv­i­leged grad­u­ates the op­por­tu­nity to teach the un­der­priv­i­leged.

An­other time, Bain Cap­i­tal was work­ing on a ma­jor project for an in­ter­na­tional client in In­dia. Mody was ad­vis­ing them. For two months, she worked on minu­tiae with the Bain man­age­ment, be it early in the morn­ing or past mid­night, to en­sure her clients nav­i­gated the maze of is­sues in­vestors face in In­dia. Many high pro­file lawyers wouldn’t do it per­son­ally, but not Mody, says Amit Chan­dra, manag­ing direc­tor, Bain Cap­i­tal Ad­vi­sors. “Zia was clear that she wanted to get this done, and she got it done.”

Bain Cap­i­tal is one of the world’s lead­ing pri­vate, al­ter­na­tive as­set man­age­ment firms, with over US$70 bil­lion in as­sets un­der man­age­ment. Anu Aga is widely cred­ited with the prow­ess of Ther­max, a R 4,691crore en­gi­neer­ing com­pany that builds for the power sec­tor. They are among many of Zia Mody’s clients who have over the years, come back to ask for help.

This per­sonal touch, warmth, and gen­uine­ness set Mody (57) and her firm apart, both Aga and Chan­dra point out. It doesn’t mat­ter whether the is­sue is of nav­i­gat­ing a multi-bil­lion court case, or of train­ing teach­ers to in­ter­ac­tively in­volve stu­dents in dis­cus­sions on no­tions of equal­ity, jus­tice, hon­esty, in­tegrity, fear­ful­ness, fear­less­ness. Zia Mody speaks of “mo­ral val­ues in­fused through the sys­tem”.

Mody’s no or­di­nary lawyer; she is the daugh­ter of Soli J Sorabjee, for­mer at­tor­ney-gen­eral of In­dia. It would be easy for her to pur­sue law in her father’s shadow, but she chose not to, says Aga. This shows in AZB’s prow­ess. She started a firm with 12 lawyers in the mid-’90s. To­day, the firm she runs jointly with Ajay Bahl, Bahram Vakil, and Ab­hi­jit Joshi has 250 lawyers. With­out doubt, it is one of In­dia’s best le­gal firms, Chan­dra says.

To­day, Mody wants to change the way In­dia’s le­gal sys­tem func­tions. She says that In­dia has, as a coun­try, en­joyed lit­i­ga­tion. “We like to fight.” But the flip­side is the prob­lem of long-drawn court bat­tles, which can take as long as 10 years to re­solve. This wor­ry­ing trend is tak­ing dis­pute res­o­lu­tion away from In­dia, to coun­tries such as Sin­ga­pore and the United King­dom, Mody says. Plus, it shows In­dia in poor light.

“That cy­cle of 10 years, how do you crash it? How do you make it more ef­fec­tive, and more mean­ing­ful?” she asks. The so­lu­tion is in­volv­ing all stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing the govern­ment and the bu­reau­cracy, in di­a­logues. But isn’t the govern­ment and bu­reau­cracy re­ally dif­fi­cult to con­vince? That could hap­pen, she says, but not ev­ery­one will be un­ap­pre­cia­tive. They them­selves see the gaps in the sys­tem. The way ahead is to in­spire. Not sack, but con­vert.

Take mi­cro­fi­nance and the prob­lem that it isn’t avail­able out­side a few states. Mody wants to work on mak­ing mi­cro­fi­nance com­pa­nies spread to hard-to-reach ar­eas. There are prob­lems of women’s ed­u­ca­tion and is­sues of school cur­ric­ula, for which she would like to travel in ru­ral In­dia. And then there is her Baha’i faith, that teaches equal­ity of gen­ders, where she wants to give more time. She says her im­pres­sions on work­ing with pub­lic of­fi­cials have changed af­ter be­ing in­vited to work with govern­ment com­mit­tees. “It isn’t my way or the high­way. It is a melt­ing pot, it is con­sen­sus build­ing. I learnt it over the past five to six years. I en­joy it,” she says.

It is this com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors that makes her cur­rently rel­e­vant. “Peo­ple like her are mak­ing sure that peo­ple out­side In­dia do not com­pletely lose in­ter­est,” says Chan­dra. “The most im­por­tant thing for me is that she can be trusted. Her com­pe­tence is there, but I have faith and trust in her,” says Aga.

Mody’s friends speak of her sense of hu­mour and her in­fec­tious laugh­ter. They also say that her work hours are the stuff of leg­end. She says her­self that she will mes­sage her sec­re­tary well past mid­night to set re­minders for the next day. But the most im­por­tant ones she keeps with her as draft SMSes. When her daugh­ter is work­ing with some­one Mody knows, she would call them up ask­ing for feed­back. Noth­ing is too small or too big. They’re just things to be done.

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