Aparajita is a corporate lawyer with varied international work experience gained in India and UK.
She graduated from Hidayatullah National Law University (HNLU) in India in 2010. She commenced her law practice with D. H. Law Associates, Mumbai where she was involved in advising multinational and domestic blue-chip clients on mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures and technical collaborations.
In 2012, Aparajita moved to England to pursue Masters in Banking and Finance Laws from Queen Mary University of London. In London, she worked for a large international firm in their corporate team where she was involved in advising the clients on transactional and regulatory issues relating to establishing a business presence in London.
Aparajita is a member of Bar Council of Delhi, India. Her articles feature in national and international journals, and she is a regular speaker at international forums. Her recent publication includes the book titled “Investing in Dubai- made easy”.
Aparajita is currently involved in Merritz M&A and corporate and commercial practice across the UAE, Central Asia, and India. Her practice also focuses on developing relationships between UAE and Indian businesses and advising them about the legal and regulatory environment in each other’s countries.
Aparajita is also the Marketing and Operations Co-founder of a SAAS based portal focusing solely on answering questions related to UAE laws at www.lexxplain.com.In this Interview, Aparajita talks about
In this Interview, Aparajita talks about
- What made her stand out as a lawyer and see early growth
- Her experience of working on multi-jurisdictional matters
- Importance of presentation and networking in the career of a lawyer
- Why it is important to be simple and friendly
Tell us about your childhood. How were your growing up years?
The majority of my life I studied in villages with 5 people on an average in my class, and I was always in the top 2 ;). As a child, very obviously I was developing the feeling of “I am so cool” “I am doing what it takes to be a good student” “Dad got me a bicycle last year- I am surely his hero” and many similar thoughts. As years passed, this attitude inflated even further, and one day I sat down with myself and something hit me. I do not recall the trigger, but I actually realized- “I think too highly of myself” “this village is not the world” “there is a bigger platform, greater competition and a lot of video games in the city- I must move and aspire to see what I have not”, (and, of course, the video games I played were the biggest motivation). I moved to the city, and it all started from there with this permanent shift of challenging the status quo.
What made you want to study law? What would you say is your source of motivation as a lawyer?
Lawyering began with the chase for money and recognition. Very natural and fairly acceptable viewpoint. I have woken up to calls from clients saying “we need to conclude this arbitration- my doctor said this stress has increased my chances of cardiac arrest.” Another call – “Aparajita- if we do not settle these high-value disputes, our head office will shut the operations, and thousands of employees will lose their jobs as we are underwriting way beyond limits”. When these words echo, you no more work for the cheques, you work for a purpose, a calling, and a meaningful cause. Now I wake up with the thought of “I cannot let the lady suffer a heart disease” and “I cannot let those people lose their jobs”. Try to find that purpose – it is in you already deeply embedded. You merely need to expose yourself to as many situations and experiences as possible and allow that purpose to come to the fore. You will realize that as high-end professionals, even photocopying will become enjoyable should you realize YOUR purpose. Find your end. Find out why you are in it and how you can increase the quality of people’s life. Don’t think about how I get successful fast. Think about how I can create something super meaningful and super important.
How does a foreign LLM help Indian lawyers? Can one expect to start an international legal career following an LLM abroad?
In my experience, LLM does not seem to be a tool to land a new job in a magic circle firm. Alongside my curriculum, I used the opportunity of studying in London to work in a law firm, learn fashion from my European batch mates, play football, walk around the city, explore international cuisine and spend time with people who are culturally, socially, physically, economically, politically and in several other ways so different from me. If your idea of LLM is to merely read books, write exams, score a distinction and come back, an online tutorial would do nearly a similar job.
The legal profession is extremely competitive. As a lawyer, how should one deal with the ugly side of competition?
I have been noticing a disturbing trend from the day I joined the legal fraternity- we end up considering a lawyer as just another competition.
Let me paint a picture for you. Your colleague is a phenomenal lawyer, and you know it and accept it. Scenario one-treat him as a competitor and use every single opportunity to beat him down and enjoy your victory. You must also understand this is always not possible if you have limitations. Scenario two- Ask him for a coffee and try to bond. Tell him he is a great asset to his firm and share ideas with him. I guarantee you the next time you face a legal bottleneck, you can always call him and ask “hey have you handled a similar issue before? May I have your insight as the subject is gray and your experience will do a world of good.” I bet you will have his guidance and guess what, you will find a friend for life, a much stronger bond than a competitor. It is also critical to develop that “information sphere” around you to support you with soft knowledge which has not been documented in any primary or secondary sources of law.
What should young lawyers do today in order to develop themselves as extraordinary lawyers of the future?
Try to identify the most powerful trait in you and work on it regularly. Find ways to sharpen that skill every day. Keep noticing the gradual growth of that trait and eventually, you will realize you have mastered that quality and it is time for you to make it YOUR Unique Selling Proposition!! (it could be your dazzling sense of humor and networking skills or your stunning cricket stardom.)
You have achieved a lot at a very young age. How does networking help lawyers? Is it necessary to be successful?
Someone told me- if you cannot say what you do in a sentence, you have already lost the audience. The most amazing relationships are made in the most unexpected places where you are least prepared; therefore, work on your 30-second elevator pitch and that one line which describes “what you do”. With one sentence, I did not mean “Hi- I am a lawyer.” This is considered too broad and is known to include everything. Everything means nothing. For example- “I want a car” vs. “I want a Moroccan Blue 7-series beamer”- go as specific as possible to create that memory hook and allow people to refer you relationships- qualified relationships.
Take networking seriously. We are very used to doing things which are familiar and comfortable and network with people who are similar to us. Here is the thing- try to build relationships with people who are very different from you. The diverse network is a source of pattern identification and also of wide-ranging solutions because you have people who are thinking differently than you are and their advice will come handy to have multiple perspectives on a situation.
Most lawyers come across as intellectual, argumentative and distant people who are difficult to talk to. Your personal brand is very different from that. You are very simple, approachable and friendly. How does this impact your career?
Lawyering has been unfortunately associated with the terms “too intense” “I do not get what lawyers talk” “serious professionals” etc. People wish to see our lighter sides to break the ice and feel comfortable. What I learned along the way is- you need to sound sincere and not serious to win trust. Have that humor alive in you (of course in moderation) and use simple sentences. Industry jargons are for legal drafts and successful lawyers have this unique quality of explaining the most complicated transactions in most simple words. I connected with my first client on an Italian brand and we spoke on how and why we love those bags or shoes. Today she is one of my biggest and most loyal clients. The connection is a funny thing- happens very unexpectedly.
Always dress to kill no matter where you are. How we look and how we dress affects how we are perceived and it is so important to project the right image through your fashion. You might be a human rights activist or a general counsel, do not miss out on a single opportunity to dress, impress and inspire.
What really differentiates ordinary lawyers from the best ones?
One of those days I heard someone talking about an incident. Two people sitting at NASA reception called the floor cleaner and asked- “don’t you feel terrible about yourself when you are surrounded by the best brains in the world and all you do is clean the floor all day and all life? The guy answered with a smile- I am helping men reach the moon”. Imagine what a delight it would be to learn this life lesson from a floor cleaner that could change your perspective about life in seconds.
Stay very receptive to the world around and try striking a conversation with everyone to broaden your understanding of fine things in life.
We hear the term Rainmaker frequently about law firm partners. How can one become a rainmaker in a law firm?
Over the years I realized that all networking leaders have one thing in common- no matter which profession they represent, whenever they meet someone, their radar automatically switches on and they immediately begin to think “who can I introduce this person to.” Carefully listen to people and connect them to that one person in your contact sphere who you believe will be a valuable relationship. Be a part of their individual journeys and you will leave a remarkable impression behind that would last longer than you survive in this world.
Lawyers often struggle to catch up with new technology. What’s your thought on this?
Be it timesheets, billing software, scanning apps, contact management tools, quick links to create designs- always be ahead of technology and look for new tools. It will increase your efficiency manifold (of course besides making you look like a rockstar). I recently learned Chicago may soon be announcing computer science to be a compulsory core subject for all high school graduation- gets me to think how next 10 years will look.
How important is it to find a mentor as a lawyer?
Find yourself mentors and require that they hold you accountable. A mentor can provide a fresh perspective — a new way of looking at a problem. Look for a relationship in which the mentor facilitates your decision-making process by suggesting alternatives rather than telling you what to do.
How can a lawyer be innovative? Is it even possible?
Take a mini diary and write 5 ideas every day. These could be ideas around the daily chores you do for example- how to print documents in a go green way, how to wear a tie in 30 seconds, how to create a portal in your firm connecting all the photography lovers and millions of limitless ideas. Do this for six months and you will be surprised how many ideas you have and how remarkably you have trained your brain to get ideas in any given situation. When you get those ideas, don’t hold on and don’t keep it in a closet. Share it with people and assemble the right brains that can help the idea to get better with their own experience.
How does one build credibility as a lawyer?
We belong to a profession where trust forms the basis of any relationship, be it client-attorney or associate-partner. In desperation of meeting revenue targets or cracking a tier 1 firm job, we often start selling ourselves. Do not sell, rather facilitate the sale. Start with making people feel safe around you, give them ideas and tips which may help them in any way- a health tip to a legal tip- it all works. Win the trust and you will never have to look back in your career.
What does it look like for a lawyer to be a leader in the practice of law?
I always believe that leaders are never head down and deep neck into daily engagements, they look around corners to shape their future and not just react to it. It is time for you to stand out and prepare yourself not for the predictability of yesterday, but also for the reality of today and those unknown countless possibilities of tomorrow.
Law firms of late have been complaining about the recession and global downturn. How did it affect you?
Recession – I am so consumed with this term which has been used as a defense to say “no” to opportunities. A coach perfectly put it – recessions are a part of a normal business cycle. Frequency, intensity and duration may change. Whichever situation you are in, create opportunities and look for a way around it. When I say “create opportunities,” I did not mean to have a pushy and tricky attitude of selling sand to Arabs. I mean, identify the need, find the perfect solutions and there will surely be some opportunity in some form in the most devastating scenario- explore it further. Never give in to a “no”. Never. Never.
Is it important for a lawyer to have online profiles?
Online reviews, your interactions with others and the frequency and quality of your posts help to form a positive impression in the potential clients’ mind, making a future possibility of working together more likely. If done right, the online experience will always leave a good memorable experience. The quality of content and how it is disseminated relying on social channels such as the blogs and social media pages to spread awareness increases your search engine rankings. A possible tip could be publishing topics of interest and pain points that are relevant to clients and prospects, which will help you stay ahead of trends and build credibility which is the cornerstone of legal practice.
What are your future plans with respect to your career?
Taking lawyering as a profession was not enough, I began taking it as a calling, a passion a religion. Alongside the usual revenue targets and deliverable deadlines, I passionately involved myself in co-developing a SAAS based start up Lexxplain www.lexxplain.com, which is a portal of registered UAE lawyers focused solely on answering questions on UAE laws without any fee. Tap the trend and bring a revolution, find a wrong and make it right.
How can lawyers give back to the society?
I pledge 5 hours every month for community service. Why is this important to our practice? Because I simply find it a way to reach out and relate to the pain of an individual and it helps me in building my legal practice around a sound and sensitive approach towards the clients and the community.
How can busy lawyers have a work life balance?
Millions of dollars will not compensate the lost smile of your mother- always make an approach to get the priorities right. Take control of work by proactively and efficiently delivering, which will allow you time for the loved ones who can lift your mood in the most distressed and challenging situations and keep you moving and outperforming other lawyers.
How is it to be a lawyer dealing with multi-jurisdictional issues? Can you share some anecdotes?
We were representing a company (“Claimants”) in an arbitration against another company (“Respondents”) having offices across 6 countries (as shown on their website). Claimants approached us with great confidence presuming the Respondents have sufficient funds to pay off the claim amount to the Claimants. Rule 1 is to never settle for what clients tell you- look beyond and facilitate their understanding of the chances of success in any matter, which may also require you to communicate that it might appear the Respondents are cash and/or asset rich but it might just be a very superficial thought. Alongside reviewing the documents to find validly existing arbitration clause and exhausting all remedies set out in the contract before invoking the said arbitration clause, we approached the Registrar of Companies (and/or their equivalent) in every jurisdiction where it appeared that the Respondents may have offices. We realized that in some countries the Respondents only had associate partners and in some countries they merely had representative offices. With limited facts, we undertook a SWOT and identified that the ultimate purpose of this matter was to recover the claim amount for our clients (sometimes it is more than just the recovery of claim amount should you do the risk assessment of a dispute right). At the outset, we understood that the Respondents did not have assets as they projected on media and through information available on public domain, which meant the purpose of arbitration will stay frustrated if the Respondents were dissolved or liquidated. Highly demotivating this may sound, no one in my team gave up. We sat down and decided to push the clients to dig down every single document and correspondence they have had with respect to the transaction with any party whatsoever. After days of fact finding, we found a tiny signature on a small letter which turned out to be a guarantee letter signed by another company (“Guarantor”) confirming to fulfill the obligations in the event the Respondents failed to do so. That was a victory. This led us to start chasing the Guarantor and their assets globally. This also required us to travel urgently to places which didn’t have great connectivity, but the lawyers were determined to find a solution no matter what. Spanning from approaching all our relationship in airlines to book us into the first flight available, to carrying a mini dictionary to use the local language as far as possible, we did it all.
We approached local lawyers in these countries and requested opinions on the precautionary attachment of assets of the Respondents and Guarantor in their respective countries of incorporation. We may not be aware of procedures in their country, but we questioned every step, and it took us to be more than just the lawyers in UAE.
On the basis of guarantee letter, we filed the arbitration proceedings; however, the Guarantors had also reorganized their company structure and privity of contract became one of the biggest points of discussion. The arbitration institution was unable to serve the notice of arbitration to the Guarantor and instructed us that in the event we are unable to furnish them the address of the Guarantor, this will result in termination of arbitration proceedings since the party to whom the arbitration notice has not been served, may challenge the award and it may lead to setting aside of the award eventually. Also, for us to initiate the precautionary attachment in several countries, the courts required proof that the arbitration proceedings have commenced. This led us to find “out of the box” ideas to procure the physical addresses of the Guarantor. We began to contact individually any and all directors, employees, members, officers and employees of the Guarantor on linked in to procure any information- we found heads up, we got some leads, and we worked on it further.
This matter entailed us to not only sit behind our computers and churn out thousands of pages of written statement or correspondence with the arbitration institution. It took us to step out of our offices, talk, seek help, look around and to not give in to any limitation.
What would be your advice to law students who want to become extraordinary lawyers going forward?
The majority of us find the best-paying jobs and believe that’s the end of our chase. A powerful business card, a swanky office, and a pay cheque better than others- is all the consideration we put into while we decide our careers. The intellect, exposure, and strength you have, calls for bigger risks in a wider scheme of things. I personally also applied to big firms and would get demotivated if I was rejected. But I took a moment of solitude for a few days and challenged the way my peer would force me to be. I questioned- why should I restrict my capacity and give in to the trend created by everyone? I joined a small firm and I grew with it. It gave me opportunities to travel around and find my strong traits. I pursued higher studies, strengthened my core competence, travelled beyond I could imagine, gained exposure, moved to UAE and joined a fast growing firm as a Partner- a firm where we think outside the routine, follow the market movements, expand intelligently and believe in bringing legal revolution. Today we refer legal assignments to those big firms where I once craved to be a small part for the want of the pressure created by others. This is just the beginning and years to come will see a remarkable difference in the way the legal profession has been perceived. Do not settle for the normal, do not believe what has been set as a trend is the end. Question beyond, answer more relevant questions and fight against the routine that has been decided by others for you. Come out of the closet and be the first mover. The trend is changing. I hear lawyers heading business and sales verticals of fortune 500 companies. I hear lawyers being the entrepreneurs and creating new and outstanding technologies to support legal profession. I hear lawyers running online tutorials and reaching every corner of the world to provide access to legal education for the people who desire to learn but do not have resources to move to the cities and universities. I hear lawyers running successful training companies to teach innovation. Imagine if they settled for the “trend” and the best-paying jobs in their careers? We would never see the world growing into something so inspirational (having said that these risk takers earn a fortune).