1. Please introduce yourself, professionally and academically, to our readers.
An interview with the recipient of the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding – Dr. Angela Merkel Scholarship, 2016 awarded by DAAD to pursue masters program in Germany. He is currently pursuing LLM at the Europa Institut, Universitat des Saarlandes, Germany specializing in International Dispute Resolution, Foreign Trade and Investment. He is one of the successful alumnus of Institute of Law, Nirma University. In an interview, he speaks about his work and interests.
I am an LLM student at the Europa Institut, Universitat des Saarlandes, Germany specializing in International Dispute Resolution, Foreign Trade and Investment. I am also a recipient of the Dr. Angela Merkel Scholarship, 2016 that covers full tuition fees for the LLM and my living expenses in Germany. I completed my undergraduate studies from Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad with a major in Business Laws. Thereafter, I had the privilege of working as an Associate for two years in the Dispute Resolution team of Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A. Shroff & Co. (now Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co.).
2. What motivated you to pursue law as a career option? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?
I am a lawyer by chance, though my background would seem to suggest otherwise. It is strange that, despite having a legal background, with two generations of my family practicing law and writing books on legality, I had never made a conscious effort to consider law as a career option. I pursued science stream in 12th Standard and took an admission in an Engineering course. I appeared for CLAT and Nirma University entrance examination, without preparing thoroughly, just as a back-up option. Law as a career option had just started gaining momentum and I was certain that there will be a paradigm shift in the mindset which will lead to elevation of its position. What changed my mind to pursue law, as a career option, would seem superficial and based on reasons not thought out properly, to many. During the vacations after the 12th Board results, I used to observe my father practice law. What struck me was the independence with which he pursued his profession. He was a master of his own and dictated his working hours, which meant spending time with the family at his free will. It then occurred to me, how about earning a living by profession where could you freely dictate your working terms! That’s when I decided to pursue law. Little did I know back then that this choice would give me eternal satisfaction and take me to places.
3. Please share your experience during the five years at ILNU. You were awarded the Gold medal for the A.Y. 2010-2011 and consistently remained in the top five percentile of the batch. How relevant are these achievements in the professional world?
I saw the potential to grow with the growing Institution. I saw drastic personality changes and evolved as a matured legal professional, due to the able guidance of well-educated professors and in the company of some bright legal minds, with whom I had the pleasure of creating some long-cherished memories. I tried my hand at almost everything that was on offer. I committed multiple errors, learnt from the downfalls but never allowed the pressure to perform get on my nerves. In hindsight, I feel I had the most memorable five years of my life, personally and professionally.
I must admit that, even in its formative stages, the course at ILNU was very-well structured but extremely rigorous, which has only gone on to improve thereafter. We were continuously evaluated, not only by exams but by assignments/projects etc. too. The one thing I learnt at ILNU apart from law, was the ability to effectively manage time. We could be doing a lot of academic stuff at one time, but still managed to sneak sometime for ourselves, an art necessary to be mastered by lawyers.
I believe that consistency is the key to success. And you can only be consistency if you put in the required efforts and do justice to the task at hand. Recognition and awards are just a by-product of meticulous planning and execution of the same. I think this mindset helped me to win the Gold Medal for Academic Year 2010-2011 and remain in the top five percentile of the batch. Academic achievement showcases one’s ability to work hard. Most structured organizations use this as a parameter to identify their resources, and most rightly so, since it would highlight the ability of the resource to strive for the desired result, in absence of any personal prior interaction. In-depth knowledge of a particular subject could be gained even when you have commenced your professional assignments. Therefore, consistent good performance at the undergraduate studies may be one of the parameters (but not the only one) that could give an edge to someone eyeing for a position in a structured organization. I would also like to stress on the fact that academic excellence would play a role only to make inroads in law firms and other organizations, however they fade as time progresses and work experience takes utmost priority thereafter. For someone who wishes to start independent litigation practice, grades would hardly count as clients wont fetch for a lawyer in the legal market based on grades that he obtained at law school! I therefore strongly believe that, an extra weapon in the armoury, in terms of good grades, does not harm you at all.
4. You have brought laurels for ILNU at National and International Moot Court Competitions. Do you feel co-curricular activities played a role in shaping your personality and in forming your subsequent career choices? Also, share your experience as a Judge of various moot court competitions.
Co-curricular activities will spice up the law school journey to an otherwise mundane academic routine. It helps you connect with law students across the country and lets you assess the level of competition, prevailing in the legal market by looking beyond your own law school. As a consequence, you are made aware of where and how much efforts to put in, to keep up with the competition.
Moot Court and debate competitions are the most essential to a lawyer, since it develops oratory skills and spontaneity. It allows you to work in a team consisting of members with varying degrees of mindset. I was fortunate enough to have team members, who never failed to motivate me to improve at various stages and from whom I have always learnt. As a team, we have cherished the laurels we brought for ILNU in various national and international moot court competitions. When you are a part of the team that wins an award, what follows apart from recognition is a great sense of pride and confidence. Additionally, since the team members spend a lot of time together, preparing for the competition, they invariably become very close friends and share the bond for life.
Personally, I have benefitted immensely from co-curricular activities. It helped me get rid of fear to speak in public and communicate effectively to convey my message. I still remember those times when my hands and feet would tremble if I had to speak out in public and would fumble more than I would speak. The biggest take-away of this exercise is that I opened up. I also got hints of pursuing my career in litigation, since I would burst with excitement at the prospect of arguing in a moot court competition. Also, the seeds of drafting were sown, while we were preparing the memorials and I have only developed thereafter.
It is always a matter of honour to be invited to judge moot court competitions organized by various law institutions of the country. It is always intriguing to go back to what you loved doing the most as a law student, but in a different role. While judging a moot court competition, I look for a participant who is clear with the facts of the case and can provide a logical reasoning by applying the law.
5. You have extensively researched on contemporary topics of legal relevance and earned numerous publications in your name. You also won the third prize for LCC Bridge Mediation Essay Competition. Could you please elaborate on vital tips to write research papers and essays?
Writing a research paper is hard. There, I admit it! Most of us hit a writer’s block when we first start writing a piece, and I must say it is a terrible feeling. But, after experiencing long bouts of frustration that comprised of thinking?writing?giving up and repeating it, I undoubtedly agree that it is not a wasteful exercise at all. The way I approached writing in law school was that I saw my class assignments as potential research proposals. I would cover whatever limited scope the class assignment demanded but later dug up more to convert it into a research paper. A small tip here: begin with looking at the bigger picture and then narrow down your scope to choosing a topic that’s contemporary and debatable. Choosing a broad topic is not productive as neither readers nor publishers are interested in research pieces that are outdated or are already settled. However, write on a topic that interests you rather than writing on a topic that the publication house is interested in! When it comes to actual writing, I give great attention to works of different authors and compare their writing styles. I read up research papers available online written by professors of reputed universities around the world to see how they structure their arguments and conclude an opinion. I believe, this habit has till date helped me to present an idea as clearly as I think. In a thoroughly researched paper, worthy of publication, all material available on the topic is critically evaluated/analyzed, properly acknowledged and a conclusion backed by logical reasoning is given.
6. How did you develop an interest towards arbitration? What would you advice to students who want to pursue Arbitration as a career option?
It was always exciting for me to see how neutrality of forum for dispute settlement could influence the business environment of a developing economy. It was further fascinating that, how an arbitral tribunal consisting of arbitrators, which is an extra-judicial body, is given the judicial function to adjudicate disputes, mostly by way of national legislation. This is an improvised way, invented to ensure that, businesses are attracted by the country by comforting the foreign investor in the apparent neutral dispute resolution mechanism. Therefore, state-established courts complement the functioning of the arbitral tribunals. As a law-student, it was enthralling and at the same time, challenging which prompted me to expose myself more to this field of law. The more I wrote articles and attended conferences, the more my interest gravitated towards it.
We are living in exciting times, where world is looking towards India, as a potential partner to undertake huge business transactions. India has taken huge strides to make environment conducive for foreign investors to commence business relations with it. As a consequence, the arbitration regime is sure to expand too. Arbitration is a very specialized field which requires specialized training and knowledge but is probably the only field that allows legal practitioners to simultaneously practice at international and domestic level. It has increasingly broadened its wings to incorporate various subject areas and slowly crept over the roles of state courts, in the event of dispute resolution, especially when there is an involvement of a foreign entity with private or government organizations. I believe that the next thing, after obtaining sound knowledge of arbitration, is to attend conferences/workshops (even during professional assignments) that throw light on recent developments and changing techniques, to cope with the international practice. Since businesses have become ever more international in focus and reach, the lawyers, who work for them have to adapt to a more global approach to ensure that the interest of the client is neutrally protected in cases of dispute.
7. You were the first one to break the barriers and get selected at Amarchand from ILNU. Could you throw some light on the selection process at Amarchand and what helped you in acing it?
My internships with law firms had helped me identify the process of application, quintessential in absence of practical guidance. ILNU had also taken considerable steps in imparting soft skills to appear for the interviews. The selection process is extremely rigorous and elaborate, especially when it comes to fresh law graduates, since the firm is also making an investment in training the candidate. I sent an application to the HR department of the firm with a crisp covering letter. Once an application was short-listed based on my credentials and interests along with their requirements, I had a telephonic interview. Thereafter, I was asked to submit a detailed questionnaire, which forms the basis of the assessment of the all-round development of the candidate. I spent considerable time on filling up the questionnaire and substantiated responses with my real life examples, because that would virtually showcase my character and personality. Subsequently, I was interviewed by the Partner. This interview is a mix of legal and personal questions. One has to be thorough with the basic knowledge of subjects, future goals and specific details forming part of the CV. The entire process is time-consuming and sometimes would take around 3-4 months. So, patience is the key.
I think top tier law firms place tremendous emphasis on whether the candidate could fit within the working culture of the organization. They look out for a candidate who is willing to learn and contribute, by striving to achieve the desired objectives of the team. Precision of thought process equally plays an important role, therefore, clarity about future plans and what you expect from the organization should be clearly spelt out, when given an opportunity. It allows the recruiter to see through the stability and certainty of the candidate to hang on for considerable duration.
8. Please share your experience about working at Amarchand & Mangaldas?
I was given considerable responsibility in terms of dealing/coordinating with the clients, drafting Petitions/Applications/Notices/Replies/Rejoinders, to name a few and appearing before the Courts. The range of drafts I had prepared during my stint was very broad, involving peculiar subjects of law and the multiple levels of review of any court related document ensured an error-free and precise draft. To get an opportunity to draft court pleadings at the threshold of your legal career goes a long way in shattering the popular myth that beginners at the law firm hardly get to draft anything and are only involved in research!
I was given the independence to develop new lines of arguments, best suited to the case and then discuss the same with the senior and/or the Partner and sometimes, designated Senior Counsels too, so as to decide whether to pursue the same. I had extremely friendly, approachable and supportive Partner/seniors, who always had ears to my opinions. What I learnt was an eye to minute details and being prepared on questions, which prima facie would not seem too important for the matter on hand. Nevertheless, that may turn out to be the decisive point which would tilt the balance in ones favour, in a closely contested matter. It taught me to be prepared for everything that is even remotely attached to the matter, since you never know that the Judge hearing your case would be more interested in knowing what you thought was irrelevant or less important for the matter!
Working in a structured organization like Amarchand enhanced my skills of working in a team. It is important to realize the importance of members forming a part of the team, since it leads to divergence of opinions ultimately converging on the best solution possible. I learnt to respect the opinions of the team members and in the process, opened my mind to different approaches, which would have otherwise remained uni-dimensional. I was able to appreciate the commercials, from the point of view of the client, behind undertaking the decision to litigate or not. To sum up, my experience at Amarchand had been thrilling and intellectually enriching, since I had a fabulous mix of working in a sophisticated work environment (popularly known as the corporate culture) along with regular court exposure.
9. You are the recipient of prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding – Dr. Angela Merkel Scholarship, 2016 awarded by DAAD to pursue masters program in Germany. How did you receive the same? What made you choose Europa Institut, Saarland University?
My stint at Amarchand proved to be very helpful in streamlining my general interest in dispute resolution methods. I was fortunate to be working on complex matters that dealt with international commercial arbitration and parties challenging foreign awards in India. It was only during this time that I started to recognize the need to dive deeper and gain a solid understanding of laws governing dispute resolution. As major institutional arbitration centers are situated in Europe and in my brief professional career, many agreements that I dealt with involved an Indian and foreign entity approaching one of these institutions for dispute resolution, I was convinced that a European LLM should be my goal. I believed that an LLM with a specialized focus on dispute settlement and international trade law would enhance my skills as a future legal advisor and chisel my professional personality. Saarland University, was one of the few universities that gave a specialization in International Dispute Resolution along with Foreign Trade and Investment. Moreover, field visits to European and International Arbitration Institutions as part of the course work became a major motivation to apply to Saarland. What was unique about the program was its cross-disciplinary nature that not only covered courses on European Business Laws, but also extended to teaching fundamentals of economics and efficient dispute resolution in a transnational context that could help me have a comprehensive hold over commercial laws in general. What acted as the icing on the cake was my chance at DAAD sponsoring the LLM as part of the Dr. Angela Merkel Scholarship.
I began to prepare my application for the DAAD scholarship two months in advance of the actual deadline. The application for the scholarship is primarily divided into pre-interview and interview stage. In the pre-interview stage, standard application documents i.e., the application form, statement of purpose, letters of recommendation and updated CV are to be submitted. Statement of purpose depicts the interest, mind-set and the personality of the applicant and conveys the reasons for pursuing the LL.M. Thereafter, shortlisted candidates are called for an interview, arranged by a panel of Indian and German professors along with a DAAD official. The interview assesses the knowledge of the applicant in his/her area of interest and involve a few behavioral questions based on the achievements listed in the applicant’s CV.
10. What would be your message to budding lawyers and law students?
Experience every opportunity that knocks your door, because you don’t want to rue the missed opportunities later. However, if they don’t knock, create them (It is better to have multiple options than to dangerously rely on one). In the process, enjoy, learn and most importantly, make memories!