Can you share with our listeners your journey and what led you to pursue a career in law and arbitration, especially with your background in finance and management?
I have always been a fan of law. This may seem like a stereotypical answer, but imagine, law is one of the very few areas of study which mixes imagination with practicality. Reading a law or an act or a Bill is no different than reading a Grisham Novel. There is logic. There is context. There is ‘masala’ (if I may say so) and then a reader morphs into the lawmaker and thinks from the point of view of what was running in their mind when they wrote this. It is exciting. The same applies to Arbitration. Arbitration has a history which predates the formation of the Republic of India. Then, we have the UNCITRAL and the Model Law in 1996 coupled with the fervour in amending the law multiple times over the years. Finance is a numbers game along with strategy. To me, Law and Finance go hand in hand because, while the former sets the boundary for innovation, the latter sets the boundary for intricate analysis and strategy. Having been in 100+ Arbitrations and being commended by various courts, I can confidently say that the flavour of the two is currently being sought by the legal world.
You’ve been involved in a wide range of arbitration and mediation cases, from finance to art and maritime law. Could you tell us about one particularly challenging case that stands out in your career and the lessons you learned from it?
Contrary to what one may think, all arbitrations look rather similar in nature. I am not being a reductionist, however, when one has seen multiple arbitrations and strategies, it is rather easy to spot where it is heading. The case I am about to share is a case that made me the Lawyer that I am right now. A very senior lawyer was hired in a high-profile arbitration. They called me to represent a counterparty. We concluded the arguments in which I was accused of bias, which the arbitrator quickly dismissed. I was called a ‘Chote bacche’ during the session. I did not respond. The Senior Lawyer invited me for a drink in the evening (I am a teetotaller). I shared the camaraderie and joined them. In that meeting, she asked me how old I was. I quickly quipped “Not young enough to call me Beta, not old enough to call me ‘Uncle’ “. She is someone I still look up to. We became the thickest of friends and I am the Godfather to her grandson. This shows that arbitration hinges not entirely on the law, but in your ability to put up a strong face in spite of the oddities.
Being a certified mediator and arbitrator, what key skills and qualities do you believe are essential for success in your field, especially when dealing with complex international disputes?
Patience and Listening is non negotiable. Everything is a learning in its own might. I believe that everyone is a student of law, no matter how senior they are. Law is so vast that our understanding is miniscule compared to what it has to offer. Once someone is an arbitrator, the job gets harder as every move of yours is questioned.
You’ve worked in various jurisdictions, including India, Singapore, UAE, UK, and more. How do you navigate the different legal systems and cultural nuances when handling international cases?
All legal systems cannot deviate from the basic principle of ‘Justice’ . The way it is delivered may be different. Civil law countries have a system which ensures finality in the process and a certain level of deterrence from bringing vexatious claims. I have seen the UK Pre and post brexit. The nuances may be far more pronounced from, perhaps, wearing a wig (which I do, much to the amusement of my son). In the UK, it is difficult to take a matter to the UKSC unless the point of law in question is framed by the lower courts. They are very picky about what reaches the UKSC. UAE is a superb jurisdiction to practice finance and law, as you have the DIFC as well as the local courts. I sit in various arbitral panels of GCC and have advised them in framing the rules. They are very accepting of changes. I speak 13 languages and it certainly helps.
As a Certified Independent Director and with your extensive background in finance, what unique perspectives do you bring to corporate governance, and how do you see the role of independent directors evolving in today’s business landscape?
Corporate governance in India is going through a difficult phase right now. Primarily, the need for transparency has grown exponentially and is available only through the SEBI. However, integrity in governance is non negotiable in a private entity too. This prompts investors to actively look out for individuals who can be the ‘true independent’ in protecting their investment and also looking out for the shareholders. This has brought in a whole host of ‘stapled agreements’ in the term-sheets which include the clause that ‘such independent director’ shall be appointed and it is not open to negotiation. Being the Ministry of Corporate Affairs certified Independent Director, it is vital that we live up to the expectations of protecting the entity and to give a fair and an independent assessment. Whistleblower protection in private entities is certainly an area that can be strengthened.
Your involvement with the Government in various capacities is intriguing. Could you explain your role and share some insights into the intersection of policy, investment, and arbitration?
I have always felt that I should give back to society. Hence I teach in various schools for the visually challenged. I happened to meet a person who was a teacher in the school. We opened up and I realised that the person was a Secretary in the Government of India. He was very keen about my expertise. That is how the journey started with advising the Government on various bills and amendments. My work on the Arbitration Act of Maldives was appreciated and I was called in regularly as a person who can give a ‘Second Opinion’ on various laws. I consider it pure coincidence that my suggestions are the ones that finally made it to the law. Arbitration is strange.
With your teaching engagements at prestigious institutions and numerous publications, how do you balance your academic commitments with your professional practice? What motivates you to continue teaching and writing in addition to your legal work?
Teaching keeps the student alive in you. I teach at the top 5 NLUs and 2 QS ranked International universities. Ask my students how I balance the commitments and they will rant about how the classes are frequently rescheduled. However, I have always maintained the top ranked visiting professor status. Writing keeps the child in me alive. Since I don’t talk much, perhaps the best way to communicate is to write. Boring as it may sound, I write about law & medicine, and read the most random Wiki pages when exhausted.
Finally, what advice would you offer to law graduates and aspiring professionals who want to follow a similar path in arbitration, mediation, and law in general, especially in an international context?
Find the anchor in the career that you can latch on to. This is the person who you can ask anything and everything. I am what I am because of my juniors and my students. They call me by my first name (you are free to independently verify this). Arbitration is a practice that is more than what it seems and lesser than what you hear about it. Yes, it can be lucrative, but, be careful when you choose this path. Unlike litigation, where there is a fair amount of material available publicly, arbitration does not enjoy that benefit.
It can be exhausting. It can be nerve wrecking. It can feel like everyone out there is trying to put you down. However, if you know your law, nobody can surpass you.
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