Associates, In-House Counsels & Advocates

Abhijeet Shinde, Senior Associate, Trilegal, on litigation, the importance of an LLM, and his experience

Abhijeet graduated from Government Law College, Mumbai, in 2008. He then went on to pursue his Masters from the University of Mumbai, batch of 2010. After successful stints with Haresh Jagtiani and Associates(Oasis Advisory and Counsel), Dua Associates, and Bharucha and Partners, he is currently Senior Associate at Trilegal.

In this interview we speak to him about:

  • Pursuing an LLM
  • His litigation experience
  • His current role at Trilegal

How would you introduce yourself to our readers?

A first-generation lawyer, with no prior connection with law or the legal fraternity;  other than a twelve-year long legal battle fought by my family. Some top tier law firm stints and hard work is what has made me what I am today. I am proud of what I have achieved in this short career of about a decade. I am thankful to all my seniors, friends and colleagues in playing an important part in making me.

 

What motivated you to pursue a career in law?

Well I became a lawyer by mistake rather than by my own choice. I was eagerly pursuing to get into IIT’s as is a case with the current generation. Unfortunately (or may be fortunately), I had to abandon the IIT dream due to some compelling personal reasons. However, Mr. Mayur Vora (Managing Director of Mapro Foods Pvt. Ltd., Mahableshwar) had different plans for me. It would be fair to say, had it not been for his faith in my abilities, I wouldn’t have been a lawyer today.    

 

Can you tell us about your internship experiences?

Internship during our college time weren’t as important or sought after as they are nowadays. I did two internships, one with a small firm, and another with a practising lawyer in Bombay High Court. What I understood during these stints was that the legal profession was difficult to pursue and it was even more difficult for first generation lawyers.

 

Have you ever felt the NLU and non- NLU divide? Do you think it is a consideration for employers?

When we got out of college, the divide wasn’t as prevalent as it is today. However, even at that time, the Government Law College (GLC)/Non-GLC divide was quite apparent. People were more inclined to accept a fresher from GLC with lesser grades than from any other college. This, I think, was because most of the well known legal professionals, at that time, were alumni of GLC and were biased towards GLC students. Similarly, the NLU, non-NLU divide is quite palpable today. With the expansion of the legal profession, the desire for proficient resources has grown tremendously. Firms are ready to pay better retainerships than salaries offered to IIT freshers, to get good talent from the college itself. NLUs have provided the infrastructure required for imparting correct form of professional education so that young professionals are ready for the kind of work and culture the firms are desirous of having. It is a great opportunity for the law students from law schools to capitalize on. Though I’m personally not in favour of making this divide black and white, I do, however, appreciate the law schools’ efforts in preparing students for the kind of work they are expected to do.  

 

What are your areas of interest? 

I was always interested in Disputes. I have worked in the disputes teams of Oasis Advisory and Counsel, Dua Associates, Bharucha and Partners, and Trilegal – over a period of nine years. Unlike corporate practice, disputes throw up challenges everyday. The uncertainties and the challenges involved in resolving the disputes matters make this practice quite interesting. Over the years, I have been associated with some great personalities, high stake and interesting disputes cases. My love for my work provided me the additional push required for succeeding in disputes practice, especially, when you are a first-generation lawyer.

I always advise interns who work with me, to do internships in both areas of practice, so that if they are able to understand and relate to their interests they will be in a better position to make an informed career choice. Difficulty is that, the short internship stints that the students undertake, are incapable of providing them enough insight into the nature of work so as to assist them in making a choice. I personally find it interesting when I meet students who are very clear as to the practice area they want to pursue after passing out of the college. I admire them. The more the students push themselves during internships, the better for them to understand the nuances of the legal field and different practice areas.

This being an important choice, should be made before they join anywhere, since the firms have a tendency of putting resources in the basket to suit their needs and the students have no choice but to go with the flow even if that means they do something that they do not enjoy doing. Few of my junior colleagues have realised, frankly speaking – quite late in the day, after three or four years of being in corporate practice, that they like doing disputes matters and have requested me to guide them. At this stage it is difficult and quite painful to advise them to let go of their entire experience and start all over again, and with that, also take a hit on the remuneration. Few of them have been brave enough to take decisions to switch their practice areas and have done well even after that. To obviate these circumstances, I would advise students that they will do well to make their career choices at the earliest possible time.    

 

What was the motivation behind opting for an LLM? 

I always wanted to do an LLM. Specialization in Business Laws from Mumbai University was quite sought after at that time. It had evening classes for the course. I had joined Mr. Jagtinai’s chambers immediately after my LLB. It is difficult, if not impossible to do your LLM while you are working. If not for Mr. Haresh Jagtiani, who allowed me to purse my LL.M, it would have been impossible to undertake studying LL.M. It was done quite sincerely, completing the thesis and dissertation as is required, and topped in one of the subjects.

Higher studies do add value to one’s career and students who have the opportunity do it, should do it, preferably from a recognised university. I have seen students travelling for higher studies to countries which are not known for imparting legal education; these, according to me, should be avoided. The purpose of pursuing higher education should be to add value to one’s career. Another reason it could be pursued, is to get accustomed to foreign law firm culture and get professional experience. This may be quite valuable in days to come.    

 

In your opinion, what is the ideal time to pursue an LL.M?

As I said, the aim of an LL.M should be to add value to your existing knowledge, or give you the extra dimension that was not provided in college. This could either be immediately after LL.B or even after getting some experience in the field that the student desires. The latter gives an option of specializing in a specific area of law.   

 

How did you secure your first job? How important do you think a high CGPA is for recruiters?

It was fairly easy to secure a job with Mr. Jagtaini because of his philosophy and personal views. I completely agree with them. According to him no resource in legal fraternity can be fairly assessed on the basis of his academic performance or in fifteen minutes of the interview. You will have to give a resource a chance of working for some time for anyone to realise his true potential. Specifically, because of this I do not agree on Firm/Corporates looking for students from National Law Colleges only. I have come across great knowlegable resources even from not very well- known colleges. According to me, the college or CGPA should be the last criteria for assessing a resource.  

 

Please tell us about the hurdles you faced in the initial years when you were litigating?

As the saying goes – a law professional is like wine, the older it is the wiser it gets. I was fortunate enough to get associated with Mr. Jagtiani for almost half a decade during which time I was able to hone my legal skills including drafting, application of law and argumentative skills. He at that time had some great senior people working with him. I was able to work closely with them and sharpen my legal skills. I credit my time at Mr. Jagtiani’s chamber to have prepared me for the legal career that I have today. My advice to junior lawyers would be to choose a good boss rather than well paying job. In the long run, this will tremendously add value to one’s career.  

 

You have worked on and argued some landmark cases. How do you go about framing and drafting your arguments?

Law is very dynamic. It keeps on changing and updating every now and then. Government changes and so do the Judges who interpret law. Many a time law is what the judge perceives it to be. All these factors make law very dynamic. A litigator has to be well informed, updated and should be able to convey his point with clarity and in the best possible way. Some of these qualities are inbuilt and some are required to be worked on and are developed overtime.

One of my seniors, I remember, advised me that drafts should convey a clear message using minimum words. It is a wrong practice that is followed in drafting pleadings today when grounds over grounds and points over points are repeated. Drafts and arguments have to be concise, clear, and easily understandable by the audience it is meant for. Over the years I have worked on building these skill sets. It is always a work in progress. Fortunately, I was able to execute some high profile, high stake dispute matters successfully for our clients.

What would be your advice to our readers who want to pursue international commercial arbitration?

(In his time as a Senior Associate at Bharucha and Partners, Abhijeet has worked on a number of arbitration matters.)

Arbitration is a specialized field. It is bound to grow bigger. Also, in terms of government’s motto of “ease of doing business”, further impetus to making arbitration compulsory as a mode of resolution of disputes is anticipated. Historically, there was a vast difference between ad hoc arbitrations and international institutional arbitrations in respect of timelines and the way they used to be conducted. Amendments to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, were necessitated to reconcile the disparity and ambiguity with the rules of international institutional arbitrations and revamp the system in order to compete with these institutions, which due to their structured procedure and administrative support, provided distinct advantages, which were unavailable to parties opting for ad hoc arbitration. In a legal set up such as India’s, with huge population and enormous number of disputes, burdening of the Court system is bound to happen. Arbitration provides that leeway to this system firstly by reducing burden from the Courts and then providing a well structured and timely resolution of disputes with minimal interference from the Courts. To this end, good arbitration lawyers capable of effectively handling ad hoc arbitrations as well as international arbitration is the need of the hour. There is dearth of lawyers who can handle international arbitrations effectively. To my mind, it is a great opportunity to young lawyers to specialize in this area of law.  

 

How did you secure a position at Trilegal? 

My work was quite well known in the litigation circle. Trilegal was looking at someone senior to handle their litigation and mentor a team in Mumbai,  which at that time did not have a Partner. Since the role was to lead and mentor a team, I accepted to join them.

Trilegal is great place to work and has a culture much different than the other places that I worked with. It is resource friendly. It has some high-profile dispute matters. These include advising and representing clients in different forums and on different aspect of law. Trilegal has a established practice in Delhi. It will take some time for Trilegal to have a robust disputes practice in Mumbai.   

 

What challenges have you faced in building up your career as it stands today?

Frankly speaking, when I look back, it does appear that I have come a long way. This is despite existence of all the issues which I have discussed earlier, particularly in respect of the legal field and personally. It is not easy to have a career in disputes if you are not passionate about law and hardworking. One thing is very clear is – hard work will never let you down and someday it will be rewarded.  

How do you maintain a work- life balance, given the demanding nature of your job?

This is a very important question to consider for everyone including my colleagues in the legal field. The professionals are caged due to the hourly billing and time sheet culture. I am not saying that the hourly billing and timesheet culture is bad, what I am saying is that the professionals are busy pleasing bosses or competing for good bonuses by putting in more time. I have done it and I don’t expect this to stop anytime soon. I am fortunate to have a wife who is a lawyer herself, and understands the demanding nature of my work. Otherwise, it would have been a task to balance the two.

My advice to everyone will be to try and balance it in some way – either by taking up a sport (part time) or build on a hobby or do something unconnected with the profession. It releases pressure and helps increase productivity. It has worked for me, I am sure it will for others.  

 

What advice do you have for our readers, who are primarily college students?

Firstly, as far as choosing a career is concerned, I think it’s important that students decide, or at least converge on the practice area they would want to pursue at the earliest possible time. There’s competition everywhere, even getting into college, and after that, to get a good job. You will do good if you decide which places, if not bosses they would want to work with and try and work towards that. People landing in wrong jobs face many difficulties than the ones who start a little slower but have done so thoughtfully. Life also becomes easier if you do what you have chosen or like. A great law career awaits everyone and I wish students a successful one. I would be available should any of the readers want to contact me for career advise or otherwise.   

 

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