Associates, In-House Counsels & Advocates

Amit Sachdeva, Associate E&Y, USA, on double-LL.M from LSE and NYU and being a noted tax practitioner

Amit Sachdeva completed his BA.LLB from GGSIPU after which he went on to pursue an LL.M in Corporate and Commercial Laws. On the successful completion of his degree he worked with Vaish Associates. Thereafter, he pursued his second LL.M from NYU. At present he works an associate at Ernst & Young, US.

His two most cherished achievements are: successfully taking the Diploma in Private international Law from the Hague Academy of International Law – one of the youngest to do so since 1950 and one of the four in India to have it; and getting recognised in Legal500.com and in Tax Directors’ Handbook as an “up-and-coming lawyer who specializes in tax litigation”.

In this interview with Amit, he talks about:

  • Completing his bachelors in law from GGSIPU.
  • Being a part of the LSE curriculum as an LL.M student.
  • His working days at Vaish Associates.
  • His Diploma in Private international Law from the Hague Academy of International Law – one of the youngest to do so since 1950 and one of the four in India to have it.
  • His experience of studying at NYU, from where he did his second LL.M.
  • Working at Ernst & Young Associates, USA at present.

 

Say Hi! to our readers!

Hello! I am Amit Sachdeva. I was born and brought up in Faridabad, a suburb of New Delhi. Currently, I work as an M&A Tax attorney at Ernst & Young US. I am an alumnus of GGSIPU, LSE and NYU.

 

What motivated you to gravitate towards law, as a discipline and a career? Why did you decide to study law at GGSIPU?

Law for me was a natural career choice. My father, Mr. Madan Lal Sachdeva, was an advocate. I idealize him. I was always inspired by the respect he commanded in the society, by his ability to reason everything and by his natural passion—which was professionally crafted—to defy “aisahi hotahai” (this is how it works) attitude. These early childhood impressions took full shape when I began to realize the difference a lawyer can make to the society.

While in Class XII all my friends were aspiring to be doctors, engineers and chartered accountants, I wanted to something that was intellectually stimulating, financially rewarding and socially empowering; something that was constant and dynamic at the same time, something that needed patience and excitement simultaneously. Law was like a perfect blend!

GGSIPU, in 2002, was the only law school in New Delhi that offered a law course straight after high school. I didn’t want to move out of New Delhi—that’s the place we have the Parliament, the Supreme Court and the Ministries. I thought there couldn’t be a better place to study law than in New Delhi. And, as I reflect on it; I don’t disagree.

 

Please tell us about your time at GGSIPU. What experiences during these five years would you think particularly helped you shape as a law professional?

GGSIPU School of Law and Legal Studies was a treat. My experience was very fulfilling. The fact that ours was the second batch had its own challenges and fun. The challenge was that we had to steer our own way. And the fun was exactly that. There is no better way of learning than pioneering. Each day was an experience. Classroom discussions, moot court competitions, summer internships, cricket matches, canteen time, all of them had a part to play in how I got shaped. I think GGSIPU was an experience in itself.

 

You have been an outstanding student throughout your school and college years. It’s not every day that someone achieves an academic laurel in each year of school! Please give us a few actionable tips on managing good grades.

Well, I think there is no mantra to good grades. Quite honestly, I think while grades aesthetically matter, it is the passion for your work that matters more. If you ask me for a tip, it will be this: try to understand a rule for a lifetime, not commit it to memory for an exam. There is a reason behind why a rule is what it is. If you try following the reason, law school exams are not hard to score on.

 

Soon after graduation, you went on a full tuition scholarship to London School of Economics and Political Science for an LL.M in Corporate and Commercial Laws. What was the decisive factor that prompted you to choose LSE from amongst the options available?

As I grew up at law school, I realized the relevance of a fuller education and an international experience to our profession. It was in the early part of the fourth year of law school that I decided to apply for an LL.M. degree. Of the various options, the ones that I was seriously considering were Oxford University and LSE. Although Oxford has an impeccable legal tradition, I decided to join LSE primarily for the very reason I got drawn to GGSIPU five years ago: what better place to study law than the capital city. LSE is in London. Besides, LSE also has, I think, a better reputation for corporate, commercial, and international business laws than Oxford does. Of course, there is an element of subjectivity around it. But that is what I thought. The other reason was that Oxford offered me a partial-scholarship; LSE, a full. I didn’t apply to any law school in the US.

 

What should one do differently in college if he/she wants to pursue higher studies after graduation? What according to you is a good profile for securing scholarships and funding?

Following an LL.M straight after school, or spending a little time at work and then pursuing a master’s degree, is really a matter of personal choice. A lot of factors play in, such as availability of finances, family commitments, etc. Having pursued an LL.M directly after school and then another one after some work ex, I would second that work experience does put a lot of things in perspective.

As far as admissions are concerned, I think finding an admission in a top LL.M program is hard. And, finding a scholarship is harder. I think the trick is to demonstrate two things. First, an all-round personality and, second, a commitment to the field you want to pursue. Participating in moot court competitions, debates, mock parliaments, summer internships, besides good grades and writing articles should go a long way. Publications are often viewed as synonymous with academic excellence and commitment. A handful of international publications and I think you jump the queue of applicants for a place at a top LL.M program. I must however hasten to emphasize that a reviewer spends a few minutes reviewing a case for a scholarship. So, if you get one, thank your stars; if you don’t, there is no reason to be disheartened… the decision may not be a reflection of your potential. There is just no exact science out there.

 

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Please tell us about your time at LSE. Tell us about the academic pressure, faculty and campus life. What differences did you find between the education systems of India and the U.K.?

The UK system is as close to the Indian as it can be. An overwhelming majority of our statutes and court decisions are based on or drawn from those of the UK. So, adjustment was not much of an issue. What was however a surprise—a pleasant one of course—was to first-hand experience the level of legal scholarship. I had the opportunity to be a student of some of the most respected scholarsacross the globe. Prof. Paul Davies (author of Gower and Davies, Principles of Company Law), Prof. Trevor Hartley (Private International Law) or Prof. Christopher Greenwood (since appointed as Judge, ICJ), the list is endless; they are scholarship-personified. I think the Indian education system needs two things—sincerity and funding.

 

Meanwhile, you were also awarded a Diploma in Private International Law from The Hague Academy of International Law. How did you go about achieving this? Please tell us about the procedure to apply and the course.

Yes, and I was also one of the youngest persons in the world to achieve this feat since the Diploma was incepted in 1950 and one of the only four Indians to hold this Diploma.

Every year The Hague Academy of International Law organizes a summer school. The school has two sessions: one in Public International Law and the other in Private International Law. The sessions are taught by some of best professors and practitioners in the world. Each session attracts about 300 students. The applications are announced on their official website. Based on the performance of the students, some of the students sit for the Diploma exam. Although there is no cap, roughly about 10 students take the exam each session. There is a written test and then take an extempore oral test on a topic of international law. This is followed by the panel interviewing the student with questions, some related and some unrelated to the assigned topic. At the end, one or sometimes two students are awarded the Diploma.

 

After coming back to India, you started your career at Vaish Associates. How did your appointment take place? Please walk us through your work profile.

I joined the Direct Taxes team of Vaish Associates in September 2008. I had emailed the HR there. Vaish was one of the most welcoming law firms I came across. They acknowledged my email—something we don’t see too often. I had two rounds of interviews. After the interview with partner I was extended an offer to join their tax litigation team. I grabbed the opportunity.

As a member of the tax litigation team, I attended client meetings, drafted petitions and appeals, appeared before tax officers and represented matters before the courts. I had the opportunity to handle work for many of the Fortune500 companies. In my first year, my work was more domestic tax focussed, but as I spent more time with the practice, international tax occupied my plate more and more. My partners often engaged me on assignments that involved intensive research into dense regulations, engagements that required knowledge and understanding of laws other than tax law, and matters that challenged constitutional validity of tax statutes. I handled a large number of writ petitions challenging the validity of reassessment proceedings. In addition, I would write tax opinions for our clients and render other advisory services.

 

Tell us what did you like the most about your days at Vaish Associates.

I had some of the best time of my life at Vaish. I worked long hours, made great friends, learnt tax law and partied. Besides, I helped the firm organize conferences, published papers, conducted team trainings, etc. It was a wholesome experience. What I liked the most about the place was the open-door policy. This meant that professionals at all levels, starting from associates and all the way up, had full access to all the partners at all times. Mr. Ajay Vohra, Mr. Rupesh Jain and Mr. Neeraj Jain personally ensured that this work ethic percolated all the way down. Mr. Rupesh Jain continues to be my mentor. I do reach out to him even today for discussions—both at personal and professional levels.

 

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In 2013, you were noted in Legal500.com and in Tax Directors’ Handbook as an “up-and-coming lawyer who specializes in tax litigation”. How did you feel about it?

“It must be a misprint!” were the first words that I uttered when a colleague of mine at Vaish Associates came to my desk and broke the news to me. I had no idea about it. There was no application process … no submission … no request from my side. I understand that Legal500 and TDHB undertake an independent survey of the market and clients, and report their findings impartially. Once it sank in that my name was noted, I was overwhelmed. On the lighter side, I continue to believe that it was a misprint! By far, this and The Hague Academy Diploma are two achievements that are closest to my heart.

 

You were briefly a Visiting Faculty at NLU, Delhi where you taught a semester-long Certificate Course on Direct Taxation. How did you manage to eke out time?

I have a passion for teaching. I have always wanted to be an adjunct professor. NLU Delhi offers semester long certificate courses. I think these students were some of the most self-motivated ones I have come across. In order to accommodate my professional commitments, my students sometimes sat in classes starting 9 in the evening and going well past midnight. One weekend they travelled all the way from Dwarka to the Vaish office in central Delhi. I think they managed, I did not. All I did was: talk! If any of my former students is reading this interview, I want to say: thank you!

 

You left your job to pursue a second LL.M. degree., this time at NYU. Considering that you had already earned an LL.M degree, what prompted you for this?

My first LL.M was in Corporate and Commercial Laws. But, as it turned out I began practicing tax law. So, the primary motivation was to understand the theoretical underpinnings of the rules I invoked so often in practice. I always believed that there is much to learn from the US and the UK systems, and knowing their laws would boost my practice. Besides, I also wanted to develop an international network of professionals working in the same field as I was. So, that led me to apply for another LL.M. I already had an LL.M. from the UK, I decided to cross the Atlantic and try my luck at some US universities. With God’s grace, I was offered an admission with a scholarship I couldn’t turn down. My mother and my elder brother supported my decision to go.

 

Currently you work as an Associate at Ernst & Young, Houston, USA. Which events led to your induction into EY, USA?

NYU School of Law makes a significant investment in its careers office. There are a couple of job fairs that NYU organizes. The careers office also invites employers from across the country to the law school to interview NYU students. I applied for a number of job interviews, had call back interviews with a few. EY Houston office had also participated in one such interview program. I had a telephonic interview followed by an on-campus interview, and a round of four interviews during office visit. Shortly after the office visit, I was offered a position. The entire recruitment process spanned over three/four weeks.

 

What does your current work profile at EY consists of? Share with us a few of the most challenging problems you have faced thus far?

I work with the M&A Tax team at EY. My practice entails conducting tax due diligence, writing tax memoranda and tax structuring. Typically, a tax DD is like a health check-up from a tax perspective. Tax memoranda are a narrative of what the legal position on an issue is. Tax structuring, which is my favourite, involves informing clients of the different structuring options in which a transaction may be done.

The complexity of the US tax law is the most challenging part of my work. But, that is also the part I enjoy the most about my practice.

 

Tell us a bit about work culture in USA. How is EY, USA different from an Indian company/firm in terms of their working?

I think as we brisk walk more into this millennium, our practices, behaviours, languages, cultures, ethics are converging. I don’t see too much of a difference between the work culture in the US and India. My friends and colleagues who work EY India endorse this. My personal experience at Vaish was no different.

 

Lastly, what would be your parting message for our readers?

Law School is perhaps the best time one can have in a lifetime. Enjoy it to the fullest. At the same time, be mindful of your goals, and of what you want. Also remember that lawyers are never out of work. If the economy is doing well, there is more corporate activity like M&A, IPOs, project finance, etc.; if it slows down we get involved in a different type of legal work like distressed debts, reconstructions, hedging, asset management, etc. The problem is that our education system focuses so heavily on traditional legal courses, and so little on these more modern ones. My suggestion would be that students should focus on these areas too.

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