Higher Studies

Anirudh Krishnan on graduating from Oxford, leaving Clifford Chance to establish a career in litigation arbitration

Mr. Anirudh Krishnan graduated from NALSAR, Hyderabad and did his LL.M from Oxford University. He is the founder of AK Law Chambers, Chennai and has previously worked as a trainee solicitor at Clifford Chance, London. He specializes in the area of arbitration, commercial and constitutional litigation. He has authored the book “The Law of Reservation and Anti-discrimination, LexisNexis Butterworths Wadhwa Nagpur (2008)” and has edited “Justice Bachawat’s Law of Arbitration and Conciliation, LexisNexis Butterworths Wadhwa Nagpur (2010)”.

We asked him to share his deep insights on:

  • Taking up arbitration as a career.
  • The importance of moot and other co-curricular activities.
  • Pursuing LL.M from Oxford University.
  • Being the author of a leading book on Arbitration and Conciliation.


Please introduce yourself to our readers. Please tell us a little bit about your childhood and your background?

I am an advocate, an academician, a family man and a travel enthusiast.

I have spent all my childhood in Chennai. I come from a fairly conservative Tamilian family. My parents are both lawyers. My father is today a senior counsel and like most successful lawyers, has put in the hard work to come up as a litigator. My mother, though busy at work, has ensured that she was there for me at all points of time in my life. The attention that one gets during his/ her childhood largely shapes one’s character and I can say I have been lucky on this count. I have also been greatly influenced by my grandfathers, who have been role models for me.

My schooling has had a considerable impact on my life. My school- Vidya Mandir is known for focusing on developing the right kind of value system in its students. Vidya Mandir does not expose its students to an ultra-competitive atmosphere till the 11th and 12th standards, the objective being to encourage students to take up activities other than purely academics. In school I used to play state level chess, a fair amount of tennis and also participated in numerous debates and public speaking activities. The public speaking comes in handy today.

I must say that I was lucky to have had the kind of childhood that I did. While it was a shielded childhood I can say for a fact that the values instilled in me at that point of time ensured that I stood grounded during more challenging times ahead when I faced the real competitive world.


What impressed upon you to take up law as a career?

My entry into law was fairly dramatic. I had been focussed only on engineering despite the fact that my parents were both practising lawyers and had their own law firm. So when the prestigious National University of Singapore offered me a seat, I was off to Singapore only to realise that I wanted to pursue my under grad studies in India. I, then, joined a leading engineering college in Tamil Nadu which was affiliated to Anna University. In a funny turn of events, I ended up failing my first semester Physics (a subject about which I was passionate and in which I had always topped), by one mark. I was certain there had been mistake in the corrections/evaluation. I was completely disillusioned by the system and decided that I would attend law entrance classes and take the law entrance the following year. I found the legal reasoning course (taught by Mrs Hema Raman) so interesting that despite clearing the physics paper by 32 marks after applying for re-evaluation (I got 81 on 100 as against the 49 marks initially given), I stuck to my decision of changing over to law.

When I look back at this incident, I relate very well to the philosophical statement that whatever happens, happens only for the good.


How was your experience at NALSAR, Hyderabad? What activities were you involved in apart from the regular academic curriculum?

Perhaps due to the hunger created by the waste of a year in Engineering College, right from day one at NALSAR, I was focused on achieving as much as I could academically. Most of my activities therefore were co-curricular activities such as moot court competitions, attending conferences, writing papers for publication, etc. I was keen to get  overseas exposure and I was among the first few students to represent my university in conferences in London and Australia. I was extremely interested in writing and published numerous articles in various journals, both Indian and International. In my 5th year, I also managed to convert my research on reservation and anti-discrimination into a book which was published by Lexis Nexis Butterworth Wadhwa, Nagpur. I used to play the odd game of cricket but during my 5 years in NALSAR my focus was primarily academic.

I fondly remember my NALSAR days both from a personal and professional front. I made some very close friends at NALSAR- friends who will be there for me when I need them. Professionally, NALSAR provides a highly competitive academic atmosphere where you push yourself continuously to achieve more and more. This was the first time I was being exposed to such an atmosphere. The NALSAR experience (which in a way is similar to the real life experience) made me aware that to be amongst the top, you need to constantly update yourself and be on the move. You do not have time to celebrate what you have achieved- you constantly look at what is next. However, it gives you a high to be the first to do something and NALSAR provides you every opportunity to achieve this high.

NALSAR also provided me the great privilege of being taught by the best of Professors- the late Professor Vepa Sarathi was a living legend- at the age of 95 he could still cite case laws far better than anybody I have ever seen. Professor Errabbi’s lectures on powers of the Parliament still reverberate in my ears. I also thoroughly enjoyed Professor Unni’s classes on IPR.


What were your areas of interest during your graduation? How did you go about developing expertise and knowledge in these areas?

There were a lot of areas that interested me- Contract Law, Intellectual Property Law, Arbitration, etc. If I were to pick my favorites during my stint at NALSAR, it had to be Constitutional Law and WTO Dispute Resolution. At one point in time, I was thinking about a career in WTO Law very seriously. That would have meant sacrificing all other areas of interest. I liked most areas of law and I did not really want to sacrifice all other areas to become a WTO expert.

More than any specific area, I just like interpretation of law. I like the fact that as lawyer you would have to look at the same provision of law in two or three different ways based on the fact scenario and which side you are on. This is what fascinated me. It is these interpretational issues which created controversies. So what I would do was for our mandatory projects at NALSAR, I would look up some area in that subject which had caused a lot of controversy and I would request my professors that I be permitted to write on that controversial area. Not only will it make my project interesting but it would give me every opportunity of publishing my paper. Ultimately it is only when you write and research on controversial areas, do you hone your interpretational skills.

Therefore while I did have my favorites, I have not been an area specific person. Yes, today I do a lot of commercial work, arbitration and company law work but that by itself is a fairly wide range. I am open to most of the other areas and I think if you want to be a litigation lawyer, you cannot say I want to be a person who super specializes in an area.


What was your motivation behind doing an LL.M. from Oxford? Why not an LL.M. in India?

I had taken a decision that I would identify 4 to 5 top universities and apply to them and if I did not get into those universities, I would not pursue my LL.M- I would come back to India and practice straight away. My choice was ultimately between Oxford and Stanford- Stanford had a fantastic arbitration course and Oxford was known for its common law centric courses. I preferred the latter. While today arbitration is one of my favorite areas and it is an area where I do a fair amount of work, my intention was always to come back to India and ultimately to become a senior counsel and for that an overall grounding is more important. Oxford is unparalleled when it comes to its common law training- common law originated in Oxford. It is for this reason that I chose to do my masters at Oxford. Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard have run the LL.M programmes for decades. Most of the Indian LL.Ms are comparatively new but are soon catching up.


Please tell us how one should write a SOP for Oxford and other Ivy League Universities?

Writing an SOP is like preparing a short marketing flyer of yourself. You need to see which of your achievements is likely to attract a University and package your SOP in such a manner that you link that achievement with your reasons for pursuing a LL.M and ultimately link the two up with your future goals. I was told by a senior who guided me through the LL.M application process, that an SOP was a 1 minute advertisement about yourself and that you had to catch the reader’s attention immediately so as to keep them interested. He was right.

In addition to the above, I would also look at the areas that each university specialized in- for instance Oxford is known for its common law. I would also bring that into my reasons for application.


Could you please tell us about your experience at Oxford University? How rigorous is the academic schedule?

Oxford provides the best possible academic atmosphere in the world. I took a good mix of subjects- some purely theoretical and some case law heavy courses. My focus was on commercial law, international dispute resolution and aspects of constitutional law.

The course was extremely hectic. There is a common belief that one “takes a break” while pursuing his/ her Masters in Law. While no doubt a person can choose to have it easy by taking easy courses, in my view adopting such a route would only be a huge waste of time and money. My course involved atleast 14 hours of reading every day.

While the tangible benefits from the unjust enrichment and international dispute resolution courses are palpable, the intangible benefits are extraordinary. You start looking at the logic behind the law rather than only the letter of the law. It was an exhilarating experience to interact with legends such as Professors Gardner, Honore, Swadling, Edleman et al. Some of them used to interpret case laws in manners you did not think were even possible. A one to one with such persons has definitely helped me add to my skill sets. Ultimately, education is only about building skill sets.

Even on the personal front, Oxford was good- that is the year I met my wife, Goda who was then pursuing her LL.M at London School of Economics.


You have edited Justice R.S. Bachawat’s ‘Law of Arbitration and Conciliation’ and authored ‘The Law of Reservation & Anti-discrimination’. How was your experience authoring such scholarly books?

In my 4th year at NALSAR, I wanted to write a book on the Law of Reservation. I got in touch with Mr KK Wadhwa of Wadhwa Publications- frankly I did not expect him to take me seriously as I was after all an unknown 4th year law student and he was India’s leading law book publisher. However, the encouragement he gave me was something I could never have imagined. Another person who made the book possible was my Vice Chancellor, Dr Ranbir Singh, because of whom the book was released by Mr P. Chidambaram, the then Finance Minister at my convocation. The book was published by LexisNexis Butterworths Wadhwa Nagpur. The book had the distinction of being placed in the libraries of various High Courts, the Supreme Court and the Parliament.

The same publishers approached my good friend and then colleague at Clifford Chance, Anirudh Wadhwa and me to be the Chief-editors of the 5th edition of Justice R.S. Bachawat’s Law of Arbitration and Conciliation, which we took up. I am happy to say that the book has got wonderful reviews internationally including from leading Queen’s Counsel and academicians such as Mr David Joseph QC and Professor Rob Merkins. The book has also been cited by many Indian Courts.

Book writing is a very exacting yet enjoyable experience. An author has to read every single case law on the point- for the arbitration book there were approximately 5000 cases which we had to read between the two of us. While there were a team of research assistants helping out with both books, it was ultimately for the authors to read each case and ensure that the ratio is extracted accurately.

I can say that all the effort was worth it. Book writing helps improve your clarity of thought- you look at how best you can simplify a proposition for a reader and how best you can categorize propositions to keep a reader interested. Ultimately, what you do as an author is what you need to do as a litigating lawyer.

The books have also got me a lot of recognition and today I can say a number of opportunities have opened up because of it. I have got invitations to speak at numerous conferences- Indian and international (including at places such as 39 Essex Street Chambers, London and Kuala Lampur Regional Centre for Arbitration), have had the distinction of being part of an elite panel constituted by the Chairman of the Law Commission (Justice A.P Shah) to deliberate upon proposed reforms to arbitration law, have had the chance to depose as an expert witness on Indian law in an ICC arbitration in London, have been appointed as an arbitrator, have been included as part of the panel of arbitrators of Nani Palkhiwala Arbitration Centre and have built a very good professional network owing to this recognition.


You have worked at Clifford Chance as a trainee solicitor for a while before establishing your own law firm, AK Law Chambers. What made you come to India and start your own firm?

I was of the view that work experience in a foreign jurisdiction would always come in handy. Therefore, even though I always wanted to litigate, when Clifford Chance, for the first time, wanted to recruit from India and called for applications, I thought that it was my best chance to get some foreign exposure. After a detailed screening process, I got the job. I decided that I would take up the job atleast for a period of two years and then take a call.

I enjoyed my stint at CC especially the time I spent in the international arbitration department. More than even the law, CC taught me professionalism and client management. As a lawyer in India, unlike at CC, we often do not pay enough importance to deadlines and minor typographical faux pas in communication. My experience at CC holds me in good stead especially when I deal with foreign firms and MNCs.

However, my stint at CC made it even more clear to me that I wanted to do contentious work (litigation and arbitration) and if that were so, it made sense to return to India as India provides far more opportunities to young lawyers than any foreign country. The salary to me was never a major factor since I was confident that hard work and focus would get me enough money someday.


Tell us something about your firm, core areas of practice?

A.K Law Chambers is a boutique practice primarily focusing on commercial and company litigation, arbitration and public law litigation. I have a team of four very sincere lawyers under me.

Over a short period we have had the occasion to deal with a fair number of complex and high profile disputes. We have handled numerous arbitrations including the arbitrations relating to construction of the highest rail bridge in the world, to a huge hotel in Bangalore and the digitization of Government services in Tamil Nadu . We have also had the occasion to work on a number of Company law matters- shareholder disputes (including rectification preceding and oppression and mismanagement proceeding), winding up and insolvency matters, scheme of amalgamations and demerger etc. We also have a fair number of general commercial litigation and public law work including Writ Petitions pertaining to constitutional challenges, land acquisition matters etc. One especially interesting dispute which we handled was Writ Petition against the Competition Commission proceedings which had been initiated against all the car manufacturers. The matter involved numerous interesting issues of Competition law as well as Constitution law. We have also represented leading airlines, leading newspaper dailies in insolvency and related proceedings.

We not only handle work at the High Court level, but also at the tribunal level such as the Company Law Board, National Green Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal for Electricity, etc. It has been a journey every minute of which I have enjoyed so far.


How different is the scenario of Arbitration in India than abroad?

The scenario of arbitration in India is very different from the scenario abroad. In India arbitrations are mostly adhoc whereas international arbitrations are almost always institutional and hence by and large more orderly. In India, arbitration suffers from a “Court system hangover” with frequent adjournments and very short sittings. In most international arbitration, a time is fixed and the parties mostly do not deviate from the timeline and deviating has its own cost implications.

However, there are some arbitrators in India who ensure that arbitration before them is thoroughly professional and that the parties do not deviate from the timelines. These arbitrators also come well prepared and ask the right questions. I am hopeful that this trend will spread quickly and this scenario will improve.

However for the scenario to improve, there are 2 other factors that need to be addressed- the culture of the arbitration bar and judicial interference in arbitrations. In so far as judicial interference is concerned in India, today arbitration proceedings are not only before the arbitrator . It is also about what happens before and after the proceeding before the arbitrator. There is a culture of excess judicial interference and as a lawyer unless you are aware of how to utilize the interference to your benefit, you are not in the position to offer the best possible solution to the client. However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. I was fortunate to be part of an elite panel consisting of among others, Justice Rohiton Nariman, Mr. Arvind Datar, Mr Shishir Dholakia, Mr Darius Khambata etc constituted by Justice A.P. Shah, the Chairman of the Law Commission to deliberate upon the reforms to be made in arbitrations in India. After numerous deliberations, the Law commission has come with a very detailed report which has been submitted to the law minister. If the changes in this report are implemented, the judicial interference would decrease a great deal and the arbitration scenario in India would vastly improve.

In addition, the culture of arbitration has to improve. Today, most lawyers look at arbitration as an evening activity. Unless this changes and we have full day arbitrations, arbitration is not going to become the effective “Out of Court” dispute resolution it was expected to become.


What should law schools introduce to generate interest for arbitration among law students?

There is already a fair amount of interest in arbitration among law students .The undergraduate curriculum at least at NALSAR is excellent and I don’t think anything further needs to be done. Perhaps a module on investment treaty arbitration would be helpful.


What advice would you have for law students who wish to take up Arbitration as a career option and what kind of skills according to you suits best in this arena?

Arbitration is a fantastic area to pursue. However, it is very demanding and since it often involves  a trial including cross examination of technical experts, attention to detail is most important. Unless, you are on top of the factual matrix, you will never be able to apply the law that you learn. It is easy to get into the tendency of glossing over facts but in an arbitration and in any trial that can prove fatal. Therefore my advice to law students who wish to take up arbitration would be to ensure that they pay enough attention to detail and this skill can be developed by paying enough importance to a factual matrix in a case when you read it. If you read a number of complicated judgments arising out of Section 34 and Section 37 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, you will broadly get an idea of the regular issues that come up in arbitrations.

I would also say that you must be ready to think out of the box. For this you must first need to know the law inside out as you need to know the legal basis when you come up with a new argument. Once that is strong you can experiment on new proposition. I think the ability to think out of the box is a necessary skill one needs to have to become a successful arbitration practitioner and more generally a commercial law practitioner as very often you have faced with cases where your backs are against the wall. This is what makes commercial litigation so fascinating.


What are the career options for a person who wants to pursue commercial arbitration for higher studies?

A person, after his/her higher studies in commercial arbitration, can join a leading firm which does commercial arbitration work or at some point of time branch out and start his/ her own practice. The other allied areas are WTO dispute resolution- however this is highly specialized and it would be very difficult to be a general arbitration practitioner who also practices WTO law. The next allied field is investment treaty arbitration which is a fascinating area and picking up fast in India. Investment treaty arbitration would involve disputes between States and investors relating to breach of Bilateral Investment Treaties entered into between the home State of the investor and the State in which investment is made. In India, today there is tremendous scope for this area especially after the investment treaty arbitral tribunal’s decision in White industries v. Republic of India.


Lastly, what would be your message for the readers who want to pursue career in arbitration in India?

This is the right time to catch the bus- do not miss it.

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