As a lawyer, it is our duty to guide the client as to the validity of such belief on the touchstone of prevalent law and to represent the client before any adjudicatory forum to the best of our capabilities- Arvind Thapliyal, Partner at P&A Law Offices

This interview has been published by Priyanka Karwa and The SuperLawyer Team

Sir, can you tell us about your journey and how you ended up pursuing a career in law? What motivated you to choose this profession?

My journey towards pursuing law has not only been quite unexpected but also deeply influenced by personal experiences. Initially, as a science student, I was considering a career in engineering due to the IT boom as was going on at the time. However, after my class 12 exams, my father introduced me to one of his friends who happened to be a lawyer. This encounter sparked my fascination for law, and I decided to explore it further.

To pursue my newfound interest, I joined Career Launcher to prepare for CLAT (Common Law Admission Test). The preparation period allowed me to delve into the world of law and understand its complexities and vastness. It was during this time that I realized the impact legal knowledge can have on people’s lives and how it can be used to resolve disputes and bring about justice.

One significant motivator for me was a family dispute that my parents went through. Witnessing their mental struggle during that time made me realize the importance of legal expertise in navigating such challenging situations. I wanted to equip myself with the skills and knowledge to help others in similar circumstances.

With this drive and motivation, I took admission in ICFAI Law School to formalize my legal education. I believe that my prior experiences and the impact of witnessing my parents’ struggle have shaped my determination to pursue a career in law. I am eager to continue learning and growing in this field.

With over 13 years of experience, you have dealt with a wide range of legal issues such as civil, criminal, insolvency, contractual, and labor/employment disputes. Can you share some of your most significant cases or achievements that highlight your expertise in these areas?

As a first-generation lawyer, I started my journey by gaining experience in the district court, where I was involved in inspections of various case files before different courts. This experience provided me with invaluable knowledge about the procedural aspects of the law and the different stages of any legal proceedings, which was crucial for a rookie like me. It allowed me to understand the nitty-gritty details of how the court system functions at Distt. Court level where more than substantive law, procedural law is crucial.

After gaining some experience, I was fortunate to be exposed to both domestic and international commercial arbitration. This gave me the opportunity to be part of teams handling significant cases, such as a complex contractual dispute before the London Court of International Arbitration and a concurrent delay dispute in a construction contract before the ICC (International Chamber of Commerce). These cases required in-depth understanding of the applicable law (both governing and substantive) and expertise in handling complex legal issues.

Additionally, I have had the privilege of working on various cases related to admiralty law before the Bombay High Court. Admiralty law deals with legal matters concerning maritime activities and maritime disputes. The case started with working for a release of a ship arrested due to non-payment of some dues, which we were successfully able to do in the shortest possible time. This experience has broadened my understanding of this specialized area of law.

Furthermore, I have also worked on cases related to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, The Maharashtra Protection of Interest of Depositors (In Financial Establishments) Act 1999 and other criminal cases including ones involving the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO). These cases required a comprehensive understanding of criminal law and the ability to navigate complex legal proceedings of both substantive as well as procedural law.

Overall, my diverse experience in handling a wide range of legal issues, including domestic and international commercial arbitration, admiralty law, and criminal cases, contractual disputes etc., has equipped me with a well-rounded skill set. I believe these experiences have honed my legal acumen and prepared me to take on new and challenging cases in the future.

I have also represented multinational conglomerates in various proceedings for effective implementation of an approved Resolution Plan under Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016. These proceedings included Writ Petitions, Company Applications, Arbitration Applications and Special Leave Petitions before various Forums.

In the span of 13 years of my legal profession till now, I have conducted various cases and represented many clients before various forums. However, I am restricting myself here to the cases which are on top of my mind currently. 

Your profile mentions your proficiency in handling arbitration and court proceedings. Could you provide examples of complex arbitration or litigation cases you have handled and the outcomes you achieved?

Every case comes with its own unique issues and complexities, either factual or legal, wherein each party in its own belief considers itself to be right and the opposite party to be wrong. As a lawyer, it is our duty to guide the client as to the validity of such belief on the touchstone of prevalent law and to represent the client before any adjudicatory forum to the best of our capabilities.

One example of a complex arbitration case I was involved in pertained to a derivative contract. At the time, the law in India regarding derivatives contracts was still developing, particularly concerning the validity of various derivative contracts under Indian law. This dispute required a deep understanding of the interpretation of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) agreement, which is an internationally recognized framework for derivatives contracts.

As part of a legal team representing an Indian company, I had the opportunity to be involved in this arbitration before the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA). It was a challenging case as we were face-to-face with renowned international law firms, dealing with intricate issues related to the applicability of Indian law intermix with English law, and its impact on derivative contracts governed by the ISDA agreement. This early exposure to English law and its interaction with Indian law proved to be an eye-opening experience for me.

Subsequently, I had the privilege of serving as co-counsel in another international commercial arbitration before the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). This case revolved around a concurrent delay issue, further expanding my exposure to international law and its practical application in resolving complex disputes.

Moreover, I had the opportunity to represent a client in a highly controversial future contracts issue, which garnered significant attention and media coverage. This case ultimately led to appearances before various forums, including the courts of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court, and the Maharashtra Protection of Investors Deposit (MPID) court.

These experiences in complex arbitration and litigation cases have not only sharpened my legal skills but have also exposed me to a wide range of legal forums and international legal frameworks. They have further fuelled my passion for representing clients and navigating the intricacies of the law in challenging and high-profile matters. 

As a skilled mediator, what strategies or approaches do you use to successfully resolve disputes and reach favourable outcomes for your clients?

As a skilled mediator, I believe that successfully resolving disputes and achieving favourable outcomes at least in mediation proceedings requires a focus and understanding of managing the people involved rather than solely focusing on the dispute itself. In mediation, it is essential to create an environment that fosters amiability and allows the parties to approach the dispute rationally.

One key strategy is to address and satisfy the ego of the parties involved. Until allegations and blame games are set aside, tempers will likely escalate, and reaching a resolution becomes challenging. By acknowledging and understanding the emotional state of the parties, we can create a conducive atmosphere for effective mediation. It is crucial to empathize with their perspectives and put ourselves in their shoes, as this increases the likelihood of finding common ground and resolving the dispute.

However, when the proceedings shift to a legal forum, such as arbitration or other formal legal processes, the approach changes. In those situations, the focus shifts towards applying the relevant law and assessing its applicability to the specific case. While legal proceedings require adherence to applicable laws, in mediation, the emphasis is on addressing the underlying interests and concerns of the parties to achieve a mutually agreeable resolution.

In summary, successful mediation involves skilfully managing the parties involved by creating an environment that encourages open dialogue and rational problem-solving. Understanding the parties’ mindset and satisfying their egos can pave the way for productive negotiations. In contrast, legal proceedings rely on the application of law to determine the outcome of the dispute.

Your career progression shows that you have worked with various law firms and represented clients before different courts and forums. How have these experiences shaped your skills and knowledge in legal drafting, case management, and client handling?

Throughout my career, working with various law firms and representing clients before different forums has significantly shaped my skills in case management and client handling. During my early years in the profession, I had the opportunity to handle a diverse range of cases, including commercial arbitration at both domestic and international levels. Although initially, my access to client handling was limited, however, as I gained the firm’s trust and acquired more experience in the field, I gradually took on client handling responsibilities as well.

This exposure to client handling provided valuable insights into understanding the mindset of clients and the challenges they face. Each client is unique and requires personalized attention in terms of their expectations, concerns, and preferred communication style. It taught me the importance of building rapport and trust with clients while managing their expectations throughout the legal process. Clients not only seek a favourable outcome but also expect a high level of professionalism, effective communication, and timely updates from their legal counsel. Additionally, I realized that the drafting requirements for each client vary significantly. Some clients prefer a simple and straightforward language, while others may prefer a more assertive or aggressive tone, depending on the nature of the case and specific circumstances. This understanding comes with experience and often involves a trial-and-error approach to find the best approach for each client.

Furthermore, when I transitioned to a new law firm, I had to adapt my writing practices to suit the firm’s preferred style and meet client requirements. This adaptation was necessary for convenience, ease of review, and consistency within the firm’s established formats. In many cases, clients or firms prefer to adhere to a well-settled format, as it minimizes unnecessary changes and allows for efficient review processes. This expectation is not unreasonable, especially when there is a significant workload to manage and review.

In summary, my experiences with various law firms and client representations have honed my skills in case management and client handling. It has taught me the importance of tailoring my approach to suit each client’s unique expectations and needs while also adapting to the practices and formats preferred by the firm. Flexibility, effective communication, and a client-centric approach have been key factors in providing quality legal services and achieving successful outcomes for my clients.

The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) is one of your key competencies. Could you share some insights into your experience with IBC, including any major amendments or court precedents you have studied and applied in your work?

Since 2018, I have had extensive experience with the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), which has undergone multiple amendments and continues to evolve. These amendments reflect the dynamic nature of the statute, addressing the evolving needs of stakeholders and providing clarification for the courts and parties involved.

My journey with the IBC began when I was entrusted with handling a client that had successfully acquired a stressed asset under the provisions of the IBC. Despite the clarity available in law at the time, my client faced numerous challenges and demands during the implementation of the approved resolution plan. Through collaborative efforts with my team and guidance from senior partners, we navigated these challenges by presenting our arguments before various courts and forums across the country. This experience allowed me to understand the unique aspects and procedural nuances of different high courts, as I travelled to Allahabad, Bombay, Jammu, Odisha, Nainital, and others.

One notable accomplishment during this journey was successfully challenging and defending a criminal prosecution of my client based on a recent amendment to the IBC. This resulted in one of the most recent high court orders (at the time) quashing the criminal prosecution against a corporate debtor that had been successfully resolved under the IBC. This order marked a significant development and showcased the evolving legal landscape surrounding insolvency matters.

Additionally, I have also successfully challenged statutory demands based on the provisions of the IBC. By closely analysing the relevant provisions and aligning them with our client’s case, we were able to defend against these demands effectively.

Overall, my experience with the IBC has provided me with valuable insights into its evolving nature and the challenges faced by stakeholders. Through handling complex cases and navigating various courts, I have developed a deep understanding of the IBC’s intricacies and the practical implications of its amendments.

Throughout your career, you have represented diverse corporate clients. How do you effectively manage client relationships and ensure their needs are met while navigating complex legal matters?

As already stated above, each client comes with a specific set of problems and expectations. Effectively managing client relationships while navigating complex legal matters requires a delicate balance of understanding the client’s perspective and expectations while providing candid advice and managing their expectations realistically. 

Open and transparent communication is key. It is essential to be candid with clients about what approaches are feasible and what may not work within the legal framework. False hopes should be avoided, and instead, clients should be provided with a comprehensive understanding of the pros and cons of different strategies, enabling them to make informed decisions. Clients appreciate being involved in the decision-making process and having a clear understanding of the potential outcomes.

Timely and regular communication is crucial in maintaining strong client relationships. Clients value being kept informed about the progress of their case, any developments, and upcoming milestones. Maintaining clear records and documentation ensures that both the legal team and the client have an accurate and up-to-date understanding of the case. This enables clients to have a comprehensive record of their legal matters and facilitates effective collaboration between the client and the legal team.

Additionally, actively listening to the client’s concerns and objectives allows for a deeper understanding of their needs and enables the legal team to tailor their approach accordingly. Regularly seeking feedback from clients ensures that their expectations are being met and provides an opportunity to address any concerns promptly.

In summary, managing client relationships in complex legal matters involves clear and honest communication, managing expectations realistically, providing comprehensive information about potential outcomes, maintaining timely and accurate communication, and actively listening to and addressing client concerns. By striking the right balance between understanding the client’s perspective and providing expert legal advice, client relationships can be effectively managed and successful outcomes achieved.

Q8. With your extensive research skills, how do you stay updated with the latest legal developments, court precedents, and amendments? How important is it to stay abreast of these changes in your field?

Staying updated with the latest legal developments, court precedents, and amendments is crucial for a lawyer to provide effective representation and advice to clients. It is important to be aware of changes in the law as they can significantly impact legal strategies and arguments in a case.

Being up to date with legal developments allows a lawyer to understand the evolving legal landscape and adapt their approach accordingly. It helps in identifying new arguments or defense that may arise from recent amendments or court decisions. Conversely, it also ensures that outdated provisions or precedents are not relied upon, which could lead to embarrassing situations in court.

In today’s digital age, there are various resources available to stay informed about legal developments. Social media platforms, legal news websites, and legal research applications provide prompt updates on important cases, judgments, and legislative changes. These resources offer convenience and accessibility, allowing lawyers to tap into them for relevant updates in their practice areas.

Engaging in thorough research is a valuable tool for a lawyer. Researching and analyzing relevant case laws and precedents help in understanding different interpretations of the law and can strengthen the arguments put forth in a case. Additionally, discussing legal matters and exchanging knowledge with colleagues can broaden the information source and provide different perspectives on legal issues.

In summary, staying updated with the latest legal developments, court precedents, and amendments is crucial for a lawyer to provide effective representation and advice. The availability of digital resources and engaging in research and discussions with colleagues help in staying abreast of such changes, ensuring that legal strategies are informed, current, and aligned with the most recent legal developments.

Could you share a challenging case you encountered and the innovative solution you developed to overcome the legal risks and complexities involved?

In one challenging international commercial arbitration case, the opposing party had made a demand for breach of contract wherein various transactions were executed between the parties. However, upon reviewing the agreements between the parties, we discovered a loophole. One of the agreements stated that the transaction in question would be subject to the law of the country where the entity was registered.

Taking advantage of this loophole, we developed an innovative solution. We argued that the entire transaction should be deemed void based on the law of the country where the entity was registered, without delving into the nature of the transactions or the parties’ breach of obligations. Our argument focused on the interpretation of whether a transaction not mentioned in the list of valid transactions should be considered valid or whether the lack of inclusion in the list rendered it invalid.

This case demonstrated the importance of thorough contract analysis and creative problem-solving in finding alternative legal arguments to support our client’s position. By identifying the loophole and developing an innovative argument, we were able to overcome the challenge posed by the opposing party’s breach of contract claim.

Lastly, what advice would you give to fresh law graduates who are just starting their careers? Based on your experience, what key qualities or skills should they focus on developing to succeed in the legal profession?

For fresh law graduates starting their careers, here are some key advice and qualities/skills to focus on developing:

1. Gain Procedural Law Exposure: It is essential to have a good understanding of procedural law, as many litigations originate from district courts where procedural aspects play a significant role. Familiarize yourself with court procedures, filings, and the rules governing different types of cases. This knowledge will be valuable when handling litigation matters.

2. Research Skills: Cultivate strong research skills, as they are the foundation of a successful legal practice. Learn how to efficiently find and analyse legal precedents, statutes, and relevant case laws. Being able to navigate through legal databases and stay updated on the latest legal developments will give you an edge in providing well-researched advice and building strong arguments.

3. Perseverance and Industry: Consistency and hard work are crucial in any profession, including law. Embrace the challenges and setbacks that come your way and maintain a determined attitude. Success in the legal field often requires continuous learning, adapting to changes, and consistently putting in the effort to excel. Perseverance will help you navigate through tough times and emerge stronger.

4. Effective Communication: Develop strong communication skills, both written and oral. Clear and concise communication is vital in conveying legal concepts, negotiating, drafting documents, and representing clients effectively. Practice and refine your ability to communicate complex legal issues in a way that is easily understood by clients and colleagues. One of my mentors always used to say, if you are not able to state the problem in less than 3-4 lines that means you have still not understood the crux of the problem which needs to be addressed.

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