Zia Mody
India
Zia Mody
  • AZB & Partners (Corporate Law)
Law degree, University of Cambridge in 1978; LLM, Harvard Law School; admitted to the New York State Bar (1980)
“...Political transparency is never going to happen unless it is exposed and put out there by the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court can ask all the inconvenient questions and the executive just has to answer them, coupled with the press. The Supreme Court is so active that they sort of shame the politics, if you like, into some action. ...I love my judiciary with all its faults.”

Summary

Zia Mody, founder and senior partner at AZB & Partners, recounts the trajectory of her career, beginning as a young lawyer in New York City to becoming one of India’s top corporate lawyers. Mody began her career at a time when women were a minority in the legal profession, both in India and abroad. In the interview, she discusses some of the obstacles she faced while starting out her career—earning the respect of her male colleagues in India, adapting to the Indian legal environment, building up a client base through pro bono work, and balancing this demanding career with motherhood. Although she credits her father, Attorney General of India Soli Sorabjee with inspiring her interest in law, Mody explains that her father’s influence on her career was more as a role model and mentor rather than active partner.

Mody goes on to discuss the evolution of law and the legal system over the course of her career, specifically the rise of judicial activism. In her interview, she discusses how and with what consequences the Indian Supreme Court has become something of a “policing authority” for its own decisions. In the past, she explains, many Supreme Court decisions and rulings did not get implemented. Increasingly, however, the court has become more active in both monitoring and enforcing the law. She describes judicial activism at work with two examples: the case of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala and the Sriram cases concerning the manufacturing and processing of toxic chemicals. Mody continues to address the challenges facing an activist judiciary—most fundamentally a lack of human capital and state capacity—but she also explains that the Supreme Court also has a unique ability to encourage political transparency and push for political and social development.

A key theme running throughout Mody’s interview is the place of women in Indian society, and how she has seen it change during the course of her career. Mody is encouraged by the increasing number of women entering the legal profession in India—her own firm has 50% women as partners—but still notes that there is still much to be done to improve opportunities available to women and girls in rural areas necessary for them to achieve economic independence.

Concluding the interview, Mody reflects on her experience as an entrepreneur with the founding of AZB & Partners. The idea to found an independent practice, she explains, grew both from personal ambition to advance her career and from the liberalization of the Indian economy in 1991. This next step wouldn’t have been possible, however, had she not worked to cultivate a reputation of trustworthiness. “All you have is your reputation,” she explains. As a result, “if somebody worked two hours, I would work three hours.” Over time, she developed deep and intimate knowledge of the Indian legal system for which she is known. This dedication and energy helped her grow a small boutique firm into a major Indian law firm with 400 associates across India.

In a supplementary interview in 2021, Mody discusses the issue of corruption in India and how the law can constrain it. She describes the Prevention of Corruption Act, India’s primary anti-corruption legislation, which was passed in 1988, and explains how the law has evolved to become stronger. Mody compares the corruption laws of India and other countries, and shares her thoughts on which forms of corruption will be hard to tackle going forward.

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Zia Mody, founder and senior partner at AZB & Partners, recounts the trajectory of her career, beginning as a young lawyer in New York City to becoming one of India’s top corporate lawyers. Mody began her career at a time when women were a minority in the legal profession, both in India and abroad. In the interview, she discusses some of the obstacles she faced while starting out her career—earning the respect of her male colleagues in India, adapting to the Indian legal environment, building up a client base through pro bono work, and balancing this demanding career with motherhood. Although she credits her father, Attorney General of India Soli Sorabjee with inspiring her interest in law, Mody explains that her father’s influence on her career was more as a role model and mentor rather than active partner.

Mody goes on to discuss the evolution of law and the legal system over the course of her career, specifically the rise of judicial activism. In her interview, she discusses how and with what consequences the Indian Supreme Court has become something of a “policing authority” for its own decisions. In the past, she explains, many Supreme Court decisions and rulings did not get implemented. Increasingly, however, the court has become more active in both monitoring and enforcing the law. She describes judicial activism at work with two examples: the case of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala and the Sriram cases concerning the manufacturing and processing of toxic chemicals. Mody continues to address the challenges facing an activist judiciary—most fundamentally a lack of human capital and state capacity—but she also explains that the Supreme Court also has a unique ability to encourage political transparency and push for political and social development.

A key theme running throughout Mody’s interview is the place of women in Indian society, and how she has seen it change during the course of her career. Mody is encouraged by the increasing number of women entering the legal profession in India—her own firm has 50% women as partners—but still notes that there is still much to be done to improve opportunities available to women and girls in rural areas necessary for them to achieve economic independence.

Concluding the interview, Mody reflects on her experience as an entrepreneur with the founding of AZB & Partners. The idea to found an independent practice, she explains, grew both from personal ambition to advance her career and from the liberalization of the Indian economy in 1991. This next step wouldn’t have been possible, however, had she not worked to cultivate a reputation of trustworthiness. “All you have is your reputation,” she explains. As a result, “if somebody worked two hours, I would work three hours.” Over time, she developed deep and intimate knowledge of the Indian legal system for which she is known. This dedication and energy helped her grow a small boutique firm into a major Indian law firm with 400 associates across India.

In a supplementary interview in 2021, Mody discusses the issue of corruption in India and how the law can constrain it. She describes the Prevention of Corruption Act, India’s primary anti-corruption legislation, which was passed in 1988, and explains how the law has evolved to become stronger. Mody compares the corruption laws of India and other countries, and shares her thoughts on which forms of corruption will be hard to tackle going forward.

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Video Clips by Topic

Mentoring Women

Zia Mody, founder of AZB & Partners, a leading corporate law firm in India, describes her policy of providing mentorship and advice to women through marriage and motherhood in order to retain them as employees.


Activism

Zia Mody, a founder of AZB & Partners, a leading corporate law firm in India, describes the role of an active judiciary and an independent press in bringing societal and corporate change.


Entrepreneurship

Zia Mody, a founder of AZB & Partners, a leading corporatet law firm in India, on creating a niche law firm in India.

Keywords: India, Innovation


Judicial Activism

Zia Mody, founder of AZB & Partners, a leading corporate law firm in India, describes the changing relationship between the Supreme Court and the executive branch in India.



Women's Careers

Zia Mody, founder of AZB & Partners, a leading corporate law firm in India, describes changes in the gender balance in the field of law in India since the 1980s.  She reports that AZB now has about 50 percent women as partners.
Keywords: India, Gender


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Additional Resources

Additional Resources

On work/life balance issues for women: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRBd8O70NUM On corporate legal environment in India: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmVzi891xjY 10 Judgements that Changed India: https://books.google.com/books/about/10_Judgements_That_Changed_India.html?id=MWEtAAAAQBAJ

Interview Citation Format

Interview with Zia Mody, interviewed by Tarun Khanna, Mumbai, India, February 14, 2017, Creating Emerging Markets Oral History Collection, Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School.

Interview with Zia Mody, interviewed by Anjali Raina, Mumbai, India, August 25, 2021, Creating Emerging Markets Oral History Collection, Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School.