The story of acclaimed celebrity lawyer, media strategist, and entrepreneur Priyanka Khimani will inspire you to not give up in life. From modest circumstances of living in a Mumbai chawl to managing clients like A.R Rahman, Badshah, Shruti Haasan, Anurag Kashyap, Shreya Ghoshal, Shankar Ehsaan Loy, among many others, she rose like a phoenix and never looked back.
Starting her own firm Khimani & Associates (K&A) in 2014, just two years after graduating from law school, she has been the face behind some of the biggest and most talked-about deals in the music and entertainment industry. In a chat with FPJ, she opens up about gender parity in her profession, her underprivileged background, and plans ahead.
Excerpts from the interview:
What are the challenges that women lawyers usually face and how you plan to set examples with your company, is a women-led workforce?
Currently, we have 100% women leadership at the firm. The decision was not conscious but organic. This doesn’t mean that the doors are not open for male attorneys. We have talented male attorneys in the firm and will continue to add the right talent to the team, irrespective of gender. However, it is important to acknowledge the hardships that women have to deal with in any profession including law. I can only talk of the experiences that made me realise that I have to work twice or thrice as hard to get the same client/matter and earn the respect of my peers and clients in comparison to my male counterparts. Call it conditioning /pre-conceived notions or what you like but it is tough to be at the receiving end of doubt because of your age, gender, and seniority. I believe most women had to prove themselves repeatedly either to clients or to senior leadership in our organisations. At K&A, we just hope to create an intellectually stimulating environment that is welcoming to professionals from all backgrounds. I am proud of my team, which embodies this vision and sentiment with full fervor in the office every day.
Tell us about your formative days and how they helped you become who you are today?
The formative years of my career were daunting because I had to learn to support my family early on in life. At that age, when people try to learn about their interests and passion, I had to take up a career path that would provide me with some financial security. It was not easy but all my struggles definitely made me who I am today. Discipline, perseverance, patience and most importantly courage to brave whatever life throws at you are some of the key qualities that I believe I learnt through those years.
How do women go about fields that are male-dominated and what more can be done to encourage women to dream bigger and ensure that the path that they choose remains open for other women to follow?
I can’t speak for all women as our struggles are different and there may not be one straight answer to your question. However, I do think that besides women facing their fears and stepping up for themselves it is our collective responsibility as a society to ensure that we practice what we preach. From being accepting of flexible timings for working mothers to not holding back on promotions because of such changes to making an assessment of women on their capabilities and not on their gender are some of the tiny alterations we can make in our existing organisations to encourage more women to follow their dreams.
Do you credit your legal success to your underprivileged upbringing? Would you like to take us through that time and how and when did you decide to become a lawyer?
I definitely credit my success as an entertainment rights expert to my early training in the industry. I was doing all sorts of odd jobs starting at age 15. I started doing theatre in school and went on to write for daily soaps, radio shows, unscripted television, and award shows. I was ready and willing to take up any opportunity that came my way, so I would even take up gigs at private wedding ceremonies, writing sangeet scripts and annual day programs for schools. I assisted on a bunch of radio shows like the one by actor Archana Puran Singh, which was about the latest happenings in Bollywood, and reality shows like Khatron Ke Khiladi and Dus Ka Dum.
When I was studying to become a lawyer, I had already built a good network of champions and mentors who knew me for my work. Around that time, there wasn’t much representation for artists. I realised and empathised with many talented creative professionals who were receiving the short end of the stick only because of a lack of representation. It was also easy for me to understand the workings of the entertainment industry has dabbled in all sorts of roles for over 10 years. I knew I had the opportunity to make a difference and with that purpose in mind I set up Khimani & Associates, two years after graduating as a qualified attorney. Today, the firm represents the lion’s share of actors, authors, filmmakers, showrunners, screenwriters, songwriters, composers, recording artists, comedians, gamers, influencers and digital superstars.
Your future goals include writing a book and making legal education more palatable to anyone and everyone. Would you like to talk about that?
Legal education should not be limited to the walls of classrooms in universities or a four to six-week internship period. We need to take a sharp look at our education system and incorporate subjects and conversations that equip young lawyers with the basic knowledge needed for them to kickstart their careers. With this goal in mind, I spend a lot of time every academic year in delivering as many lectures across universities as possible. Technology is a saviour as platforms like LinkedIn and Instagram come in handy in connecting with students across the globe.
I started a series on Instagram during the first lockdown in India titled True or False to break down the basics of copyright laws for students and stakeholders in the entertainment industry. This series was welcomed with so much support that it has encouraged me to pen my learnings in the form of a book which I hope to share with everyone soon.
Having your own set of struggles growing up, what do you want to do for those who can’t afford you or someone like you?
At the firm, we never refuse to take up matters on account of legal fees. We always have teams working on matters that may not mean much to us economically but definitely is interesting and challenging for us as attorneys.
You are also one of the most fashionable ladies so did that ever face judgment because of that?
(Laughs) Thank you for the compliment. Well, I think over the course of the years I have been vocal about facing judgment for the way I look. Of course, it is easy to form an opinion of someone when you haven’t walked a mile in their shoes. However, the funny thing about perception is that it can change. My work speaks for itself and is independent of how I look or the way I dress.
How has the entertainment industry changed in the last few years?
Well, for starters, there is more awareness of legal and contractual rights today than it was five years ago. It is an interesting time to be a part of this industry with OTT platforms and social media platforms changing content creation and consumption for everyone.