Ex-City lawyer lands a novel role at KPMG Forensic
This week we speak to Sanjay Bhandari, previously of Herbert Smith and Baker & McKenzie who, after 12 years of qualified life, has been given a great opportunity at KPMG Forensic to develop one of their businesses - selling electronic disclosure and other forensic technology solutions to major law firms. How did he get here and how does it compare to legal life?
mtl: Let’s start at the beginning. Take us through your legal career.
Sanjay: I studied law at Cambridge and then the LPC at Newcastle Polytechnic (my girlfriend was in Newcastle!) and then it was straight to Herbert Smith. I qualified into the litigation department and I specialised in fraud/white-collar crime and professional negligence disputes.
I enjoyed the work and the people and made the most out of being in London in my twenties. It was the first time I had ever had any money and so I spent it on having a good time.
Of course, after a while, things had to get serious. The question of partnership reared its wealthy head, but it was not easy to make that jump in litigation at Herbert Smith. Part of the problem was that I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to be a lawyer for the rest of my life, even though there were aspects of it that I enjoyed. Eventually, I went to Baker & McKenzie to help develop their fraud practice. Then, unexpectedly, this opportunity at KPMG came up.
mtl: Just like that?
Sanjay: Well, kind of. The opportunity came about as a result of me doing things I enjoyed doing. A few years ago I helped set up the Commercial Litigation Forum, which holds networking events and seminars for commercial litigators.
One of the hot topics at the time was the question of how far disclosing parties should go in their searching for electronic documents to provide during disclosure. I co-authored a paper on electronic disclosure in commercial litigation proceedings with two other members of the forum. Some of our proposals ended up being adopted in the new court rules on electronic disclosure. I think it was because of my specific involvement in that area that I was approached directly by KPMG.
Graduated Cambridge (Law)
LPC at Newcastle
Joined Herbert Smith
Qualified into Litigation
Moved to Baker & McKenzie
Joined KPMG Forensic
mtl: After many years as a lawyer, what attracted you to this role?
Sanjay: My family in Wolverhampton ran a market stall when I was growing up, and I suppose there has always been a part of me that’s a salesman. KPMG is not quite the market stall but my role is basically to sell a product – albeit a highly complex one. The principles of making the sale and keeping customers happy are the same, even when those customers are international law firms. The role appealed because it would be more commercial, and allow me to use my people skills and my extensive network of contacts in law firms. Basically, I thought I could do the job and do it well.
mtl: How is it working out?
Sanjay: Brilliantly. My sales techniques seem to be working! I believe in the services we offer, which makes it much easier to promote, and my ability to talk to lawyers on their level seems to help. They seem to like the fact that I am not a techie and can understand their problems and objectives. I’m definitely out of my comfort zone, but that’s what makes it rewarding and I would recommend that to anyone.
mtl: How do the financial rewards and career progression compare?
Sanjay: Salaries are comparable to major law firms’, though there is a more attractive bonus structure. Regarding progression, there is more of a structured hierarchy below partnership, which I think is a good thing as it gives you something to aim at. I’ve been told that partnership prospects are good – we’ll see!
"...the focus is on deliverables rather than time spent in the office. If I’m making money, no-one is too worried when I leave the office early to watch a football match"
KPMG does seem very serious about helping its employees develop their careers, which is probably one of the reasons why it was voted ‘best big company to work for’ in the Sunday Times Best Companies survey.
I would say the team here is more forward thinking and amenable to new ideas than the average law firm or legal department. You are encouraged to think about how you can improve the business, which makes it more dynamic. The culture is different too – the focus is on deliverables rather than time spent in the office. If I’m making money, no-one is too worried when I leave the office early to watch a football match.
All being well, I’ll also find the time to continue my sideline – being a stand-up comic!
mtl: Interesting. Tell us a bit about that and we’ll give you a listing in our Morethanlawyers section (for which, click here).
Sanjay: At Herbert Smith I used to act as compère for the annual Christmas quiz and various client events. I used to try to work a bit of fun into that. I enjoyed those a lot and one of my non-lawyer friends suggested that I take the Amused Moose comedy course (about which you can read more here: www.amusedmoose.com). At the end of the course you have to do a five minute stand-up slot at a show attended mainly by the friends and family of everyone on the course - pretty daunting, but a great experience. Following that, I’ve done about 20-30 comedy gigs across London including a bit of compèring. It’s nerve-racking but great fun and, bizarrely, really helps with the approach to presentations and meetings at work. Even Heads of Litigation at City law firms do not seem daunting when you have stood up in front of 70 ambivalent or hostile strangers. And there is no better feeling than getting cheered by those same people to do an encore.
mtl: Sounds good. Any advice to lawyers interested in your area of work (KPMG rather than the comedy side-line)?
Sanjay: The specific area in which I work is undeveloped in the UK as compared to the US. That means it will grow. There will be opportunities, both within KPMG and elsewhere. The problem is accessing those opportunities. Legal recruitment consultants are not geared up to deal with these sorts of roles and you are unlikely to see them advertised. The best way in is through a network of contacts. I’m happy to help people get into that network if they get in touch with me.
"The best way in is through a network of contacts. I’m happy to help people get into that network if they get in touch with me."
More generally, KPMG is very keen on recruiting lawyers. We tend to underestimate quite how highly our skills are valued in other areas of the City. Our forensic team consists of quite a few lawyers. You can find out more here: www.kpmg.co.uk/careers/eh/wios/f/index.cfm.
mtl: Sanjay, thank you very much for speaking to us and good luck at KPMG.
If you know any other lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives or who have a great work/life balance then please get in touch.
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