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BW Businessworld

Profile: A Law Unto Herself

Lawyer Ashni Parekh minces no words and leaves no stone unturned getting her clients in media and entertainment the best deals possible

Photo Credit : Subhabrata Das

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Looking at Ashni Parekh, it is difficult to believe that she is a tough negotiator, leave alone a lawyer practicing in the media and entertainment space.

“If you think lawyer-speak is boring then you haven’t met Ashni Parekh— she de-complicates it all and actually manages to make the discussions engaging,” says actor Priyanka Chopra, who has worked with Parekh for the past eight years on international deals. Priyanka does not sign on for any project until she has the go-ahead from Ashni. “She’s someone you definitely want on your team because she always has your best interests in mind,” adds Priyanka.

Ashni’s tenacious negotiating skill is the X factor that draws Bollywood’s top talent to her. And in an industry known to be tight-fisted, she also draws top dollar for her skills.

Legal Recourse
When Ashni began work, media law was nearly unheard of and actors certainly didn’t hire their own lawyers. As the industry grew, the stakes became higher and that’s when the business for media law began to take off. Yet, the first interaction or need for a lawyer, Ashni says, inevitably began with a bad experience. When someone was not given their due, or cheated, or short-changed, they turned to legal recourse.

Top Billing
Today, Parekh admits there is competition even for lone rangers like herself but she has been lucky not to have to go looking for work. “People find me expensive. And I do lose business but when the top talent is willing to pay my price, I think it unfair that I should work for less,” says the woman who did not even want to be a lawyer. Which is why, when you hear of a client list which features Shahid Kapoor, Ajay and Kajol Devgn, Preity Zinta, Imtiaz Ali, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Rohan Sippy and Saif Ali Khan, you know the soft-spoken girl who stumbled into law has come a long way.

Ashni’s journey began before graduation, early one morning with her sister shaking her awake to meet a visitor who had come to her neighbour’s house. A coffee and short conversation later saw a yet-to-graduate Ashni, land a part-time job with Nishith Desai’s law firm. “I finished law after I joined Mr Desai. I learnt a lot from him over 14 years and it was he who had the foresight to see that M&E was the next big growth area for law and trained me in it,” says Ashni.

Invaluable Lessons
Besides, Desai encouraged Ashni to travel extensively and meet people in Hollywood and Cannes, attend many conferences learning the ropes of how the West works. These were to prove invaluable lessons that set the foundation for Ashni’s future work. So when she says she took two years to close Priyanka’s first music deal, refusing to budge on what she wanted for her client, it came from a firm grounding. No one knows better than Ashni that negotiations in international markets can be tough to begin with.“It’s a litigious society. Everybody sues at the drop of a hat,” she says.

Dealing with international lawyers and major studios that expected talent to meet specific requirements made negotiating all the tougher. But, as Ashni says, more exciting as well. To work within those restrictions to get her clients more freedom, flexibility, and less liability is what made her role as negotiator more exciting.

Inflection Point
Ashni’s turning point came in when she was in her 30s. “I truly believe women come into their own only in their 30s,” she says. “They know themselves best by then and are more confident and secure about themselves. This can be an inflection point for a woman and a time when she can choose to excel in whatever she chooses.”

As for Ashni, 35 was truly a turning point. She quit her job at which she had worked for 14 years without a client in hand. “This was a huge risk that I took upon myself since there was no visibility into what my future held —and it turns out it was the best decision I made,” says Ashni, who has been regularly featured in Chambers Asia Pacific, a legal hallmark, under ‘Leaders in Their Field’ as a Sole Practitioner.

One of the amazing aspects of Ashni’s almost three decades in her field has been that she has had the good fortune of not having to deal with gender inequality. The so called big bad world of Bollywood, she says, has been gender neutral to her. “I have had the opportunity to represent amazing people as my clients not because and nor despite the fact that I am a woman. I believe holding your own and at the same time being respectful can take you a long way,” she says.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Nandini Raghavendra

Nandini Raghavendra has been tracking the media and entertainment space for The Economic Times for over 15 years. She is currently a consultant with Ernst & Young

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