“AI would be a game changer in national security, personal privacy and the job market in general”- Anandh K, Advocate-on-Record, Supreme Court of India and Partner at SA Law

This Interview has been published by Pragya Chandni and The SuperLawyer Team

Can you tell us about your journey into the field of law, particularly what motivated you to pursue an LL.M. in Corporate Law & Governance after your B.S.L., LL.B. degree?

As far back as I can remember, law as a profession had always piqued my interest. My mind was set on law and ILS Law College, Pune was ranked No. 1 in a popular survey around the time I finished 12th standard. There I was in Pune. I loved that city from the moment I reached the Pune railway station. I had learnt Hindi in school, but it was bookish and my friends thought I was showing off speaking like a poet. The illusion was dispelled quickly when they realised bookish or not, my Hindi was below average. If my Hindi teacher (Late Ms Usha Rajagopalan) had known, she would have quit teaching twice over – once for people thinking I spoke chaste Hindi and once for making it known to the world that all her efforts on me were rather wasted. But there I learnt law, bits and pieces of Hindi and Marathi. I am very fond of my professors from Pune; they were all great mentors. Dr. Jaya Sagade and Ms. Smita Sabne hold a special place in my heart. I also have some of my most cherished memories with friends in Pune.

I decided to complete my post-graduation before entering into the profession. I wasn’t sure I would be able to take a break for further education once I started working. I was naturally inclined towards taxation and corporate law, perhaps due to my commerce background in school. I got into NALSAR University of Law. There I met some great professors and made great friends. I was also happy about extended college life. 

How did your educational background, including your diploma in National Security and International Relations, influence your approach to practicing law, especially in the areas of corporate governance and international investment law?

Pune is a city of world-class colleges and educational institutes. I joined as many courses as I could. I was and am fond of politics, international relations and national security. The IR course taught me to see the big picture of domestic policies and regulations. India’s economy and its growth is inextricably linked with a whole set of factors and even a minor difference in the mix would have far reaching ramifications. IR opened my eyes to the consequences and effects (primary, second order and tertiary) of each policy and regulation within the country, their interplay with India’s foreign relations. 

Investment law was part of my LL.M. instructed by Professor V. Balakista Reddy. After class, I used to assist him in several of his assignments which gave deeper insights on the subject and the influence it holds over the domestic affairs of India.

Even as we as a nation are growing from strength to strength, I find myself going back to the lessons learnt from these courses. I draw upon these to contribute to the general legal discourse in the country in my own small way. And in my own practice, it helps me ruminate over the wider aspects of any given case.

From my own experience, I would advise every student of law to actively seek and acquire knowledge from diverse disciplines and not restrict oneself to law books alone.

As the managing partner of SA Law, you handle a wide range of legal matters. Could you share with us some memorable cases or experiences that have shaped your perspective on the legal profession?

I have been fortunate to work in a range of cases across several forums and cities. Rather than go into specific instances I will share what I have learnt or what has been reinforced in me.

I have and will always consider myself a student of law. Not just my experiences in managing a Firm, but my experiences even as a junior advocate in the profession have influenced my thoughts and approach to my practice.

I always bear in mind the wisdom imparted by several seniors over the years – be ethical, one’s reputation is more valuable than the money one makes in a matter or a lifetime, be humble and honest with the court, do not hide facts which may be against you and always read and review your own work. These are the broad principles which have guided me. Each day, I realise more and more the importance and truth in these pearls of wisdom. 

Be thorough with the facts; prepare to present the matter as if the judges do not know anything and at the same time as if they know everything, that way one will eliminate the room for lacunae in preparation; cross-check every work product prepared by one’s team and also have one’s own work product carefully reviewed; these are the other thoughts which influence my approach to work.

You’ve been involved in advising tech-based businesses and startups on legal and regulatory aspects. What unique challenges do these clients face in terms of technology laws, and how do you navigate them?

In India, we suffer from too much regulation in certain areas and too little regulation in certain others. We are evolving as a nation in this regard. Both the legislature and the judiciary are wise to the regulatory quagmire. There are some promising steps being taken. Technology as an interface will also mitigate several of the challenges faced by both clients and lawyers. 

Some clients have to find a way in the labyrinth of regulations and stay on the right-side of law without the burden of compliance sounding the death knell to the business. Some clients have to be told that what is not regulated does not mean that it is prohibited. Especially, newer kinds of business find themselves without any regulatory guidance and often these companies liaison with the regulators to bring about a law to govern their industry. Fintech is a classic example of industry-led regulation. It also has the danger of bias when business lead the way of regulations. But India has done well in that department overall. Of course, one can always improve. 

Tech based companies making a foray and disrupting the finance, education or medicine industries find themselves facing unique business as well as legal challenges. Some of these issues were deliberated upon by experts from various fields in the Vichaar 2024 Conclave organised by our Firm. Right from designing the contracts that govern the relationship of the clients inter se, with their vendors and users, to the regulatory obligations under the law, new-age companies present issues which may not have any precedence and defy the template-model of transaction and conveyance practice. Without understanding the business there is no way one can find the thin line between legal and illegal business operations. The first step for any technology lawyer is to first understand the technology and the business. Then one must revisit the principles of law. I always find it useful to re-read the provisions of law and their interpretation before providing any advice. I feel this is especially important for start-ups as any misstep may cost dearly to not only the clients and their investors, but may also adversely impact the technical solutions piloted by such start-ups. And never cut corners.

Cyber law is not a new expression in India’s legal system. But as technology evolves, tech-law also has to keep pace. We are all waiting for life to be breathed into the Data Protection Act. Fast evolving technology like AI is full of possibilities, opportunities and at the same time massively disruptive capabilities. AI would be a game changer in national security, personal privacy and the job market in general. This presents a huge challenge to everyone with stakes in the law and policy field to anticipate, prepare and adapt for the changes while safeguarding the core constitutional promises to citizens.

 Your experience includes handling pro bono cases for individuals with meagre incomes and working with NGOs like SEWA Bharat. How has this aspect of your work impacted your overall legal career?

Every case is satisfying in its own way, be it contesting the unsustainable tax demand, bringing defaulting corporate debtors to books, dealing with breach of service law, championing the cause of unjustly terminated labour in getting justice, or representing the parties involved in the criminal justice system. 

By nature, I have never been particular about money – not a great quality when you are managing your own practice, but that is what it is. So when I help someone in need, I do not feel altruist or special about it. It is what I am and what I do. But these cases also humble me, and they make me realize more and more the nobility of the profession.

At the same time I would add this: ask any senior in any court and they will tell us to work harder on pro bono cases or cases where we are advocating the cause of some social organisation. These are cases which can shatter the delicate reputation that any lawyer has to build with great diligence and time. I take these words of caution with utmost seriousness.  

Could you discuss your role as a senior associate at Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan, particularly your involvement in indirect tax matters and your appearances before various authorities and courts?

I had one of the most enriching experiences of my life at LKS. It was a great learning experience. A large firm like that gives one the opportunity to work with seasoned and consummate professionals at the top of the game. One learns from individuals with great differences in style and approach. Where one senior demands perfection in the draft another would require extensive research even on issues tangential to the matter, just to be thorough and to leave nothing unprepared. I also had the opportunity to work from some of best Senior Advocates involved in indirect tax cases, from Mr. Harsih Salve, Mr. P. Chidambara, Mr. Arvind P. Datar, Mr. Santosh Bagaria, Mr. N. Venkataraman to Mr. V. Sridharan. 

I worked closely with Mr. V. Lakshmikumaran during the time the Supreme Court constituted a special tax bench to speedily dispose of long-pending tax cases, including assisting him before the 9-judge bench Entry Tax matter. That was my first constitution bench matter. Thanks to him, I honed my ability to quickly navigate any brief, anticipate the questions and prepare for the same. Under him, I learnt the importance of preparing to explain the most basic points of a subject and at the same also to present the most nuanced and sophisticated points of the same subject. During the time the special tax bench was there, I was fortunate to have worked on more than 200 final hearing cases, which is a very rare opportunity for anyone in the profession. I must say this – the pace of Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice R.F. Nariman on the tax bench kept all of us on our toes and the entire team working on Supreme Court matters would have worked for close to 16 hours a day!

Apart from appearing in the Supreme Court, I have handled cases before the Delhi High Court, CESTAT and at Commissionerate level. In all these, I have been the beneficiary of guidance and friendship of several lawyers of the firm. In no particular order, I am grateful for the time and guidance of Mr. B.L. Narasimhan, Mr. Amit Jain, Mr. Hemant Bajaj, Mr. MP Devnath and Ms. Jenny Verghese. Some of my former colleagues are today friends beyond and outside the profession.

You’ve been actively engaged in conducting seminars and talks on legal issues for law students and professionals. What inspired you to take on this educational role, and what do you hope participants gain from these sessions?

While in college, I read somewhere that the best way to learn a subject is to teach it. I started making presentations purely to learn topics, but I soon realised that I enjoyed the process of learning, sharing what I learnt and learning more in that process. I have since carried on with conducting such sessions with students. It is a way for me to learn more and to also give back to my profession.

I also feel that due to the nature of the profession and the enormous syllabus which needs to be covered in college, nuances and practical aspects cannot be taught solely by the law institutions. Seminars and conferences which bring practical experience to the classroom serve to fill the gap of what can be taught in a traditional environment and what is expected/ required in the market. So our endeavour at the Firm is to bring the niceties of legal practice across to the students and aspiring young professionals.

Lastly, based on your journey from law school to becoming a managing partner and advocate-on-record, what advice would you give to fresh graduates aspiring to enter the legal profession, especially in the areas of corporate law and governance?

Legal profession is a rewarding and at the same time a highly demanding profession. The foremost demand placed by the profession is on the health of the individual, both physical and mental. Focusing on maintaining good health and creating a daily routine around which to organise every aspect of your life comes first. There are time-tested and well-respected qualities expected from any lawyer and law student – commitment, professional knowledge, professional competence, hard work, attention to detail and being well-informed about the developments in the society. By professional competence I don’t mean only written and oral communication skills, but I include adherence to ethical standards and providing honest advice to clients, even if such advice is unpalatable to the client. These are necessary but not sufficient conditions for success in the profession. Consistency, professional and personal integrity, steadfast adherence to professional ethics and building a good network are factors which make or break a career. To add a few words about personal integrity – a lawyer is somewhere between the society at large and the centres of power (though often the roles overlap) and hence, must bear the extra weight of responsibility to the society more so than most other professions and at all times conduct themselves as an ambassador of the profession.

Speaking specifically about corporate law – keeping pace with business and economic development, learning about the evolving business trends, training to put oneself in the shoes of an entrepreneur – these are the qualities one must develop.

I have saved the best for the last. Patience and unwavering self-confidence. These are, of course, empty shells if one doesn’t check all the boxes above. 

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