Interview with Mr. Manoj Wad
With 28 years of professional expertise both in litigation and consultancy in the corporate legal arena, Mr. Manoj Wad has played an instrumental role in having laid the foundations of J.S.Wad and Co. in Delhi and Pune. He is proactively engaged in providing a bouquet of legal services to assist individual professionals, start-ups and established business entities in their vocational endeavours. His firm is associated with Vogel & Vogel, a distinguished international platform which provides for smooth access to reliable lawyers from across 50 countries all over the world.
Answering pertinent questions about important law school activities like mooting and interning, he gives us an insight into the practicalities of the legal arena. A true stalwart indeed, he gives advice that every law student should read in order to do well in their time at law school
- We know that you are involved in work pertaining to Alternative Dispute Resolution which is the Litigation Avoidance Approach. India is a country with seemingly endless pending litigation. How does ADR work in India? What does it comprise and what is its scope?
World over, ADR has been accepted as a very viable alternative to litigation in the court. In India, the first and foremost reservence is that the society is so litigious and there is so much litigation that is filed in the various courts that it’s very difficult for the courts to deal with the sheer volume of it. Secondly, traditionally, the redressal system especially at the District Courts level and to some extent the High Court level, is very slow which means that adjournments are given to anyone asking. The judges at the Civil Courts are, by and large, not very strict about enforcing rules against delaying adjournments. Thirdly, in a civil case this delaying system is followed by the defendant’s lawyer to drag the case. The combined effect of this is that for years on end, cases are pending in the court, and of course these are followed by Appeals. Because of this, ADR assumes a better significance because the process of arbitration is extremely fast as compared to civil litigation. Arbitration applies only to civil litigation, there is no arbitration in cases of criminal law. In the short term, arbitration can be more expensive than civil litigation because the arbitrators have to be paid for every hearing, but eventually in terms of saving of time and effort, it works out to be much cheaper than civil litigation. And that’s what I would say is the importance of ADR in the Indian context.
- We know that you provide legal assistance to start-ups and lawyers who are starting off. Given that the start-up culture in India is really taking off, what sort of advice would you give to aspiring lawyers who want to enter this arena?
The traditional way in which you need to dwell into this sector is by working in the chamber of some lawyer which is a must, because what you must understand is that, for any intellectual profession like that of doctors, engineers, chartered accountants, the brilliance of a young lawyer will not be a substitute for the wisdom that is derived from experience. There is no doubt that all of you in the present generation, the lawyers who are graduating from law colleges today, are definitely very bright, but there are so many things that simply don’t occur to a young person that occur to those with experience. I have been in practice for 29 years and let me tell you, the things that occur to me today would not have occurred to me ten years ago. This is simply because of the number of cases that you handle, your life experience, your perspective becomes more mature and your handling becomes more balanced.
So first of all, my advice to a fresh, young lawyer would be that he/she should not attempt to advice a start-up on their own without cross-checking with someone more experienced. The reason is, start-ups are very vulnerable entities, and I’ll tell you what goes wrong. I have done about 100 cases in the Company Law Board, now known as the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), especially with regard to cases under Sections 397 and 398 of the Companies Act which deal with oppression of minority rights and mismanagement of the companies. After handling over 100 cases of that kind, I will tell you that in India, selecting a proper business partner is more than fifty percent of success because we’re a country which lives in three different centuries and our cultures and visions are very diverse. Thus, it is very important to meet like-minded people, and by like-minded I don’t mean that just because two people want to make profit together in a business they can be considered to be like-minded. By like-minded, I mean they have to share the same vision about where the company is going, nitty-gritty issues, work ethics, and everything else. So, what basically happens is that a start-up starts off positively but the first obstacle that the partners come across is when the character of the partner is tested. Some people just don’t have an appetite for business and what comes as a part of a business. There are extreme hardships that a businessman has to face. There are several issues on which partners may disagree, discern and decide to part ways, so start-ups in any case are very vulnerable and therefore, need this kind of handling. So, a young lawyer should be working in the chambers or offices of somebody who has good experience in handling start-ups. If not that; start-ups are a recent phenomenon in India, those who have handled the growth of businesses from small businesses to large scales are also good enough because then they have managed the business from the grass-root level and have faced the problems that a small business faces in its journey to become a big business. Thus, my advice is to first learn the trade with somebody and then try to advice start-up companies.
- Sir, your association with Vogel and Vogel allows for the smooth access to reliable lawyers across 50 countries across the world. According to you how does one become eligible to work at such a distinguished international platform and what is the scope for lawyers across the globe?
I can only tell you how I got associated with Vogel and Vogel. However, I can’t tell you how the other law firms have done that. I hadn’t done any networking to become a part of this firm. I had done only one thing to become a part of this law firm. What happened was that about 7-8 years ago, there was a seminar held on the auto industry, because Pune is very strong in the auto sector and there were law firms from five different European countries which were attending it. Since my firm is a member of the Chamber of Commerce in Pune, I got a newsletter informing me that such a seminar is being held. I thought I would go there to actually network and meet lawyers from five different European countries. When I entered the room, there were a lot of people talking to each other and from one side, I heard a voice which sounded very familiar. I turned around to my left and saw this guy, who luckily hadn’t changed much. His name was Adam Aldred and he was my classmate in Cambridge, where I was doing my master’s degree from in 1988 and we’d had some good times together. I had met him at the seminar after almost 25 years. But apparently, both of us hadn’t changed enough to not recognize each other. It was a fantastic reunion and I insisted that he had to come to my house for dinner to which he willingly agreed. I informed him that I would pick him up in the evening. When I went there, he was sitting with the rest of them, them being 3 or 4 lawyers from Italy, a couple of them from Belgium, 2 from France and 2 Englishmen and a couple of Germans as well. So, they were all sitting together in the lounge and I went there and they asked me, “you were there at the seminar this morning?” and I said, “Yes”. On knowing that I studied at Cambridge with Adam, one of them asked me “why is it that you are taking only Adam out for dinner? Why not the rest of us?”. So, I said “Sure. Why not the rest of you all?”. I took them to a very well-known Thai restaurant in Pune where I hosted a dinner for them. At the end of the dinner, surprisingly the French lawyer came up to me and told me that it was the best dinner he’d had for months and while leaving the he asked me, “Would you like to be a part of this firm ‘Vogel and Vogel’?. We are based in Germany and France and we have a network of 50 law firms.” Immediately, I said “Yes, of course. I would love to be a part of that.” And that’s how I got associated with them. I didn’t plan it but it just fell in place. The Old Boys Association is very strong and I am not being sexist here, by old boys I mean old students. So, there is a very strong association, because all of you have been to colleges and you know how things are when you see each other after 10 years. There is always a bond. Actually, from Adams law firm I have not got any business but being a part of Vogel & Vogel has given me other kinds of advantages because now whenever my clients in India need lawyers in these countries, I have access to these lawyers. So that’s a unique selling point which I have in my city.
- Can you tell us about your experience at Cambridge as opposed to the study experience you had at an Indian Law School and if you think that there is a vast difference in the quality of education between a school in India and abroad?
First of all, I think the quality of legal education in the UK and the US differs vastly. At my time, i.e. the 90’s, Oxford and Cambridge were and I am aware are still the top two universities in the world. However, my own experience is different because, first of all, I undertook a master’s degree and not an LL.B. Degree which is the basic graduate degree that they have to offer. From what I hear and what I knew from the Undergrads who were with us at the time that I was doing the LL.M. program in Corporate law & finance, was that it’s a very intense course as compared to anything taught in the National Law Schools and is probably stricter. There are quizzes and tests conducted all the time, which keep you on your toes. I did my LL.B. after three years of doing B.Com (Hons) from Shri Ram College Of Commerce where the curriculum was easy, along with the marking and the attendance which was lax. Such an educational background does not prepare you for studies abroad. I am sure that if a student from a National Law School were to go and pursue a master’s degree, it would be much easier for them in today’s time. At my time however, it wasn’t so but having said that, I must also tell you that I was a bit disappointed when I went to Cambridge because they didn’t have discussions on the basis of cases which we had in our Faculty of Law (Delhi)where I did my undergrad degree of LL.B. We used to debate cases, we were given sacrosanct material and we were supposed to read the cases and cases were discussed apart from the theoretical law. But basically, they didn’t have that method in Cambridge. Lecturers were supposed to come, give the lecture and you were to have your notes updated, which was disappointing but merely just being there with 110 other people from all over the world who are from the top of their own classes wherever they came from was worth it. You are amongst the absolute cream students and so obviously your standards increase. One would go to the Law Library and study there every day for 4-5 hours at a stretch, which I never did when I was doing my LL.B. The library in Cambridge is such an imposing building both form the outside as well as the inside. It’s a 700-year-old library so you are scared to even touch the books, it’s like entering a temple. It’s very awe inspiring. Experience wise, it was fantastic and I’d like to say that whoever has the resources, must definitely utilise them to gain this experience. In the US, the legal education is of the highest standard because even for the master’s degree, they use the case law method of discussion and debate, which is how a lawyer should actually learn his trade. But even at Oxford, Cambridge, etc., the exposure is fantastic.
- Today, a lot of NLUs have come up with LL.M. programs. In your opinion, for a student to raise high in the legal fraternity in India, should one pursue an LL.M. from India or from the US or UK? What do you think would be better for exposure?
LL.M. is a program where you have to educate yourself. So, knowledge wise I am sure that the reputed universities in India today would also give you a very high quality of education. But getting an LL.M. from abroad has more than just knowledge as an advantage. If you are in the job market, your prospects of getting a job and getting a better salary increase on pursuing a master’s degree abroad. Secondly, if you are going to join litigation, bosses might be more willing to pick you up. Because I grew up in Delhi, I have known people like Mr. Arun Jaitley even before they became Senior Advocates. I myself was a junior working under Mr. Kapil Sibal for a year and a half in 1990-91 and then I worked with Mr. Soli Sorabjee for two and a half years. Now you get a chance to work with these people, either if you come from a family where they know your parents and that connection works or if you apply to them and tell them that you have a master’s degree from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, or one of the Ivy League Universities of the US or Oxford, Cambridge. Obviously, your chances of getting picked up increase and working in the offices of these people trains you to be a far better lawyer. In terms of university education, job prospects, and exposure, it is better to pursue master’s degree abroad.
- In your opinion, what are the best sources of information and learning for law students apart from the regular college curriculum?
So, I can talk about commercial law, which is my forte. In my subject, the basic reading of Economic Times, or Financial Express or Business Standard or any other good business newspaper is important; where you understand at the grass root level what happens in this country. For instance, mergers and acquisitions, we understand as lawyers what goes on, but a company can be merged or acquired also by buying hundred percent of the shares or fifty one percent of the shares, or any range between those two.
You should also learn about what goes wrong. News reports are usually helpful in this regard. So read up on which companies are doing what deal where – it gives you a very sound background about what is happening. Also, there are very learned articles written not just by lawyers but by other professionals about stock markets, various kinds of commodity markets, the state of the economy, how the price of petrol affects the core sectors of the economy, and what actually goes wrong in a recession. There are so many little concepts you come to know about. Apart from that, you should be watching news on the television, discussions between learned lawyers – so this background information is very important, from the print media and other forms of media.
- Sir, do you believe that interning from the very beginning of law school gives you an advantage over those who start later in life?
No, I do not believe so. In fact, I will tell you, in a five-year law course, I myself do not take any intern below the third year. I think that in the first two years you should just have fun. Simply because, any lawyer who is busy enough for you to intern with, does not have the time to teach a first or second year student. They are just very raw and nobody has that kind of time. Bluntly speaking, this is a commercial world and unless you are offering some value; no one will be interested in talking to you. So, the third year is when one actually understands what is being said to them.
So, for example, if I were a litigating lawyer and left for court at eleven in the morning, by the end of the day I would want an intern to research on a particular topic. Now, until that person has actually studied that law in the curriculum, he or she will not understand what I’m talking about. By the third year, students are at that level where they have understood how to do research and can actually sit down and discuss it with me. With interns in the fifth year, you can also delegate the job of producing the first draft of an agreement after they understand the concepts. Of course, there are going to be inputs, but it still saves the seniors the trouble of actually drafting the agreement from scratch.
However, what the first and second years can do on their own, without interning, is just go to the Courts yourself. Do not attach yourself to any office. Move from Court to Court, just observing what happens. Look at the lawyers, look at the Court, the procedure, the filing, etc., so that when you apply for an internship and tell them you know the filing procedure, that is incentive for a senior to pick you up. Just go to the Court and familiarize yourself with the atmosphere. See for yourself what happens. You can always ask a lawyer your doubts. Supposing there is a cross examination going on and you do not know the difference between a civil case and a criminal case, you can always go to the lawyer and say “Sir/Ma’am, I found this interesting, could I just talk to you about it?”. When they see that enthusiasm in you, they will stop and answer you.
- Given the hectic life of law students, they are generally forced to choose between mooting and internships. Which one of these two experiences would, in your opinion, be more fruitful to concentrate on?
I think they should go hand in hand. There are students who know from their first year onwards whether they want to be counsel or whether they want to play the role of a solicitor. A lot of students come to me for such advice and I look at their total personality: their fluency of language, their vocabulary, their body language, their background – because all of this also goes to play a very important role in being a counsel. The choices are several, whether you want to join litigation or you want to do a non-litigation practice. In a non-litigation practice, you could join a company as an in-house lawyer or you could join a solicitor firm and be a solicitor where qualifying as a solicitor is not a necessity, but you are made to do all the work that a solicitor does. You can get into litigation, in which case you can either be an advocate on record who will never open his mouth in the courtroom or you could be a counsel who would never keep his mouth shut in a courtroom.
In my opinion Mooting and Interning are not alternatives but in fact depend on your choice and what you want to be. So initially I think you should do both. Try it once, twice, four times, and then you will find out if you are good at mooting or not, or whether you enjoy it or not. If you enjoy it, you will automatically be good at it. If you tend to enjoy it, do not worry about whether or not the first few times you do not do so well. As long as you are enjoying it, you will spend more time and energy and give it more thought and you will learn and get better. But if you do not enjoy it then there is no harm in saying “No it is not for me”. That is perfectly fine. You can go intern in a place or a department, which is where you might want to work eventually. That is why I think in the first two years, one must also try out just about everything that one can.
- Where must the average Indian law student focus his/her skills in order to gain work experience in another country?
That is a difficult question to answer because in India, it makes a lot of difference which town you were brought up in and where you study Law. For somebody who goes to a law college in a small town unfortunately, the odds are completely against them, as compared to a student who studies in a big city. Firstly, because of access to better lawyers, better law firms, and better connections. The unfortunate factor that arises is that your initial disadvantage in terms of what family you come from, which town you grow up in, the quality of education provided to you in that town, have a major impact on your work. But if one’s dream is very strong, and if you have the will to work, obviously a city or small town would not matter, as one would realise what is not good enough for them and aim to move to places with better opportunities.
- Could you tell us a little about your time working for Mr. Soli Sorabjee, along with your experiences with litigation at that time?
A: He is indeed a great man, both as a human being and as a lawyer. First of all, let me tell you that it was my distinct fortune that he called me to work under him, rather than me applying.
My father is a judge of the High Court of Delhi and my mother is a practicing lawyer of the Supreme Court for the last 45 years, so I kind of knew him from before but when I joined him, I realized that he was one of the sharpest legal brains that I had come across and was also lightning fast.
In his chamber, the method followed was that you were allowed to carry the brief home, the night before a meeting or hearing and could prepare notes on it, but you had to make sure that you would be in the office fifteen minutes before time. You could, in no case, be late for the conference. Otherwise he would not give you a second brief to study, because you cannot keep him waiting, that’s a complete no-no. So, you take the brief home and you prepare notes. These are not things which are told to you, you just pick them up as you go along – however large the brief, the note cannot be more than four sides. You cannot write on both sides of the page. Each page can have only ten lines and each line can have no more than five words. If you cannot do that, then it is not worth his while to let you study the brief. I learned very quickly how to be very concise. It means also, that you must have read your brief so well that you are able to take it down on four or five sides. That means crunching the judgment of the trial court, crunching the judgment of the High court- writing the important events against the page number and the date. That is what he expects of you. The second thing is that you cannot go wrong even on one fact. If you are wrong on one side and even if the page number is wrong, he will not turn to you again in a conference. He will not scold you, he will not do anything, he will just leave your note aside and he will never refer to your notes again. You get only one chance.
Thirdly, I also realized that as the instructing lawyer from the High Court would tell him the facts, I could after a while visualize that in his brain there are boxes and the facts would separately be falling in those boxes and they would be getting processed at a lightning fast speed, as to what needs to be looked at. And then he would turn to me very quickly and say, “Manoj find me Rangarajan”. Now, he will have told you that Rangarajan means 1939 (2) SCC. I still do not know the page number by heart, but you are expected to know the number, because when he says Rangarajan, you are expected to know as it has been told to you once before. You cannot ask him, “Sir, what Rangarajan?”, that’s not an option. You will have to learn to listen very quickly, where things are only said once and he will not repeat as he has no time to repeat.
You gear up to all that, and you suddenly find yourself a far better lawyer than you went in. My experience was fantastic, to say the least. One last thing, he was also a very generous senior in terms of recognizing your effort in front of the court. If you found him a good case, he would tell the court “This case has been found by my junior”.
- Just a supplementary question to this, today we see that senior counsels are very busy and overburdened by the amount of cases that they have, so the chances of receiving such mentorship has decreased. What about a student who is interested in litigation and wants such mentorship, what can they do? What is an alternate to working with a senior counsel?
The answer is to try and select, and this has to be done very smartly, by observing, and making the right enquiries, from the right people. Do not join a senior who is overburdened with a lot of cases on a Monday in the Supreme Court. Join a senior who has a few cases. So, this senior advocate will probably be in his early forties. Do not join someone in his sixties, because the person in his forties will have just become a senior and will have more time for a student. There you will also get a chance to talk to him because he is not that overburdened. You can talk to him in the corridors, you can talk to him in the car, when you are travelling with him and you basically get quality time with that person. And for this to happen, you should choose a senior who is not that busy.
- What would your recommended reading list for the next generation of students pursuing law be?
I do not believe in that. Till today, I have not read a single book written by any great legal author. I believe that you learn from watching them and working with them.
- If there is one piece of advice that you would like to give law students, what would it be?
Many years ago, I saw a beautiful t-shirt, with a line on it that said, “Don’t learn the tricks of the trade, learn the trade.” That is the only negative comment that I can make – and I guess that each generation has something to say about the younger generation. I have taught in Symbiosis Law College, ILS Law College, and also taught constitutional law to LL.M students in Bharati Vidyapeeth, Pune and a couple of guest lectures in Ferguson College, so covering all the major colleges here in Pune, I would say that success is not in our hands, frankly. We can try and learn all the tricks of the trade and not succeed. Lots of things are important to succeed professionally and hard work is one of them. But if you do not learn the trade and you only learn the tricks of the trade, you will be more like a trickster and not a lawyer. It is a choice that you have to make, whether you want to be a trickster or a lawyer.