Moneylife does not usually review books of fiction, so why is Kill the Lawyers: Small Tales of Big Law an exception? Not because of the twists in its fascinating tales that make you laugh or the sharp prose, but because it is a must-read for India's newly-minted market mavens who are usually clueless about the puppeteering of corporate giants with 'big law' muscle.
Shishir Vayttaden gives us nine punchy ‘fictional’ tales, each vastly different from the other. The author’s long experience as a corporate lawyer lends authenticity to the stories. The legal loopholes that he quotes are real. Some have been patched; others are gaping. Market veterans are likely to nod along while trying to guess who is who, but it is futile. Vayttaden, a practising lawyer, has protected himself by carefully fictionalising every yarn beyond recognition.
The main protagonist is Edwin Edamarra, junior partner in a fictional ‘big law’ firm with a sharp and devious mind, contempt for social niceties and a weakness for jim-jams. In between scoring big wins by delving into the minutiae of contracts and case laws to find regulatory loopholes, he also finds time for anonymous altruism like helping his building sweeper keep his job or the widow of a partner in the firm retain a swank penthouse after the husband’s demise.
Each tale is brought alive by the irreverent take on everybody from fat-cat clients to lazy regulators, dodgy bankers and crooked clients. Shishir also segues from the profane to literary and musical references, thanks to Edamarra’s grandfather being a retired professor of English.
Instead of courtroom drama, you get an inside look at how the big steel defaults, shenanigans around bank mergers and voting rights, insurance regulation and divestment, tricks to side-step bankruptcy, gold loan trickery, large-scale money laundering during demonetisation, absurdities in open-offer pricing, the shaky underpinning of microfinance economics, and even an absconding tycoon pulling strings while remaining elusive in a tax haven. In between, you get a ringside view of the absurd ease with which savvy law firms can exploit and manipulate decisions, opinions and actions of each regulator—banking, insurance or capital markets!
Edamarra is engaging enough for a whole series of engaging books. There is the sharp but under-rated Anjali Mathur perpetually on a short fuse, glory-hogging Amit ‘Burgandy’ Adhikari the pompous senior partner; Prakash Gandhi, the ubiquitous ‘Bombay operator’ known for operating the levers of the market and also Bapat More, Edamarra’s keen-eyed driver who turns into a faux-notary when required.
Here are a few nuggets which would explain why anyone who hopes to make money on the market will enjoy this book.
- “… corporate lawyers don’t make a living by threading the loopholes of well-constructed laws to achieve the sinister. In India, many regulations are drafted by people whose grasp of business is as feeble as their grasp of English.”
- “The retired judge who chaired that committee (RBI’s monetary committee) was one of the many emeritus justices who shared a symbiotic relationship with the (two) law firms in Credit Star’s conference room. Between them, those two firms controlled the most lucrative appointments to arbitral tribunals in the country. In return for a not very diffident fee, these retired luminaries routinely shone the torch of their brilliance on points of law.”
- One story ends with this comment: “Like all things plunderous and beautiful, the age of easy money did come to an end. In June 2023, SEBI directed stockbrokers to park excess client-funds with the clearing corporations at the end of every trading day. There was a discussion paper, there were deliberations and there was a measured, graded approach. Which is a pity because sudden death by guidance notes would have made for such a great story.” In the book, Edamarra helps his client block an acquisition by writing a detailed note to SEBI on brokers’ income by retaining client funds. Although this was an accepted market practice, the acquirer was checkmated by SEBI’s ‘informal guidance’, which is not made public until uploaded on SEBI’s website.
Kill The Lawyers: Small Tales From Big Law
Author: Shishir Vayttaden