Building a reputation for integrity and professionalism is essential for establishing a successful legal career- Pratik Pawar, Partner, at J. Sagar Associates

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

Can you tell us about your journey and how you ended up practicing law with a focus on litigation and alternative dispute resolution?

My journey in the legal profession has been deeply influenced by the inspiring example of my father, an esteemed and hardworking advocate in his own right. Witnessing his dedication and success in representing clients from diverse backgrounds before the courts instilled in me a profound interest in litigation from an early age.

I believe my foundation in law was laid through observing my father’s work, engaging in discussions with him about courtroom strategies, and purely out of curiosity reading pleadings and cross-examination notes prepared by him. These formative experiences fostered a natural inclination towards litigation and reinforced my determination to follow in his footsteps and practice as a litigator.

During my time at law school, I pursued internships and opportunities that allowed me to gain hands-on experience in the world of litigation. One significant association was with the law firm M/s Shaunak Satpute & Co., renowned for its expertise in representing clients before various courts and tribunals. As an intern and later as an associate with this distinguished firm, I had the privilege of drafting pleadings, handling ancillary court documents, and independently arguing cases in front of the judiciary. The guidance and mentorship of Mr. Satpute, a seasoned legal professional, played a pivotal role in honing my skills and bolstering my confidence. I am immensely grateful for the platform provided by M/s Shaunak Satpute & Co., as it equipped me with the necessary skill set and fortitude to build a fulfilling career in litigation.

My journey as a litigator has been shaped by a passion for justice, a dedication to the legal profession, the invaluable lessons learned from my father coupled with the emotional urge to follow his footsteps and esteemed mentors and guiding forces like Mr. Shaunak Satpute, Mrs.  Zia Mody and Mr. Farhad Sorabjee throughout my career. 

You’ve had extensive experience representing clients before various courts and tribunals in India, including the Supreme Court and different High Courts. What attracted you to this area of law and how did you become involved in such diverse and complex cases?

Indeed, the allure of litigation lies in the profound opportunity to champion our clients’ causes and seek justice before the courts. I firmly believe that advocacy in the courtroom is the heart and soul of our profession, and it is this conviction that drew me to this area of law.

Litigation is akin to a captivating game of chess, where strategic thinking, extensive research, and meticulous preparation are paramount. The thrill of pleading one’s case before the court is matched only by the satisfaction of crafting compelling arguments and presenting them effectively. Each case presents its unique challenges, requiring a keen understanding of the law and a proactive approach to anticipate the opposing party’s moves.

After my tenure at M/s. Shaunak Satpute & Co., I had the invaluable opportunity to join AZB and Partners, a prominent law firm in India, where I had the privilege of working closely with Mrs. Zia Mody. This experience exposed me to complex and diverse litigations and arbitrations, including high-stakes disputes involving public trusts, international commercial arbitrations, and fiercely contested corporate disputes.

Under the mentorship of Mrs. Zia Mody, I honed my skills and cultivated a never-say-die attitude. Over the course of my six years at AZB, I had the privilege of representing clients in matters before the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court of India. Several of these landmark cases resulted in reported judgments, which further underscored the depth and complexity of the matters I handled. 

Followed by my stint at AZB, I have been working with JSA as their disputes partner for last eleven years where I have continued to handle and lead high-value and intricate cases before various Courts, and fora.  At JSA I have had the opportunity of advising and representing diverse clients in arbitration proceedings both, domestic and international. This continued exposure at JSA has equipped me with the confidence and acumen necessary to navigate any challenge, no matter how intricate or critical. JSA has also provided me with the platform and independence to expand my practise in diverse areas of corporate & commercial disputes, as well as matters pertaining to Media & Entertainment law which include contentious matters pertaining to copyright infringements in cinematographic films, disputes pertaining to rights in a cinematographic film, legal opinions on copyright infringement, advertising standards, disparagement, advisory and documentation in relation to assignments of rights in a cinematographic film. This has shaped me into a seasoned litigator, capable of representing our clients’ interests with unwavering dedication and a commitment to excellence. 

The field of law can be quite challenging and demanding. Could you share some of the most memorable or impactful cases you’ve handled throughout your career?

I must admit that the field of law is indeed dynamic and presents a constant stream of challenges. Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of handling numerous impactful cases, each with its own unique set of facts and complexities.

Among the most memorable and impactful cases was a dispute between two joint venture partners, which epitomized a classic shareholder’s dispute. This matter demanded urgent applications for interim relief, requiring my team to employ strategic foresight and navigate potential countermeasures. The late-night counsel conferences and rigorous internal discussions to chart the best course for our client were defining moments. Ultimately, achieving a favourable outcome in that matter remains a cherished and highly instructive experience for me as a litigator.

Another significant case involved a contractual dispute between our client, a renowned software company, and a formidable counterparty engaged in the travel and tourism business. The counterparty resisted the appointment of an arbitrator and opposed Section 11 proceedings all the way to the Supreme Court. The complex arguments presented by both sides during the Section 11 proceedings at the High Court and the Supreme Court culminated in reported judgments in favour of our client.

Adding a unique twist to the case, the arbitrator initially appointed by the Court on behalf of the counterparty recused himself, leading to the counterparty’s attempt to appoint an arbitrator of its choice after forfeiting its right to do so initially. My team successfully filed an application opposing this appointment, contending that the counterparty had relinquished its right and, given that the court had appointed the original arbitrator, only the court could appoint the replacement. This application, too, was contested vigorously before the High Court and the Supreme Court, ultimately resulting in a favourable judgment for our client.

These cases exemplify the essence of practicing law, where relentless dedication, strategic acumen, and profound legal knowledge converge to secure the best possible outcomes for our clients. I take immense pride in leading our firm’s talented team to handle such impactful cases and provide exceptional legal representation to our valued clients.

In your profile, you mentioned advising and representing clients in international arbitrations. How does the approach to international arbitration differ from domestic ones, and what are the unique challenges you face in cross-border disputes?

Here, I must underscore that international arbitration stands apart from domestic proceedings due to its unique complexities and considerations. When dealing with cross-border disputes, we approach the process with careful attention to the applicable law governing the contract and the rules governing the arbitral proceedings. Given that, wherever necessary, engaging a local counsel or law firm specializing in the relevant law ensures sound legal advice and accurate contract interpretation, enhancing the overall effectiveness of the representation.

One key distinction in international arbitration is the approach to discovery. The process of requesting and objecting to document production differs in form and practice compared to domestic arbitrations. Therefore, I along with my team adopt a tailored approach to address these nuanced aspects while representing our clients in international arbitrations.

Cross-border disputes present distinct challenges, notably the fixed time frames allotted for conducting cross-examinations and advancing arguments. Adequate preparation is essential, and we meticulously adhere to time limits for cross-examination of witnesses and oral arguments. To ensure optimal performance, we conduct mock trials in advance of the hearings.

Additionally, enforcement of foreign awards poses another challenge in cross-border disputes. My team remains vigilant in navigating the intricacies of enforcing such awards, employing our expertise to protect our clients’ interests throughout the process.

White-collar criminal proceedings and investigations are another significant part of your practice. What drew you to this particular area of law, and how do you navigate the complexities of representing clients in such cases?

My journey in the legal profession has been marked by versatility and adaptability. As a young litigator, I embraced the responsibility of handling both civil and criminal matters, as it was expected of me to be well-rounded in my practice. This early exposure to a diverse range of litigation mandates allowed me to develop a comprehensive skill set, enabling me to adeptly represent clients in various legal arenas.

In recent times, the boundaries between civil and criminal proceedings have become less distinct. Commercial transactions can often lead to disputes where parties find themselves embroiled in parallel civil and criminal proceedings. Consequently, my team and I frequently find ourselves representing clients in both civil and criminal matters arising from the same transaction.

Handling criminal proceedings and investigations demands agility and quick thinking. As we strategize, decisions must be made swiftly, always keeping in mind the imperative of minimizing risk exposure for our clients. Though it can be a demanding and sometimes stressful process, the adrenaline rush of navigating criminal cases is truly unmatched.

To successfully navigate the complexities inherent in criminal matters, we place paramount importance on understanding the client’s perspective and the transaction at hand. Formulating a clear strategy, including anticipatory bail or bail applications, becomes essential in such cases. We also ensure that our clients are fully informed of the merits of their case, based on the charges they are facing. Sensitizing clients to the realities of the situation and emphasizing the significance of cooperating with the authorities during investigations are vital aspects of our counsel.

When handling criminal matters for our corporate clients, we understand that certain criminal actions may be initiated as pressure tactics and may not necessarily warrant prosecution. Despite the frustration that may arise during such processes, I guide my clients through effective counter steps and actions to address these proceedings, always prioritizing their liberty and best interests.

Your media and entertainment practice involves dealing with copyright infringements, film rights, and advertising standards. What are some of the key issues and legal nuances that arise in this area, and how do you protect your clients’ interests effectively?

I happen to be acutely aware of the key issues and legal nuances that arise in this dynamic area of practice. Copyright infringement claims pertaining to film scripts, exclusive event photographs, and well-known trademarks, as well as cases involving comparative advertising, are among the prominent challenges faced in the realm of intellectual property. Over the years there has also been an increasing trend in matters concerning alleged copyright infringements at inter-office/corporate musical events.  

To effectively protect the interests of our clients, we employ a comprehensive approach that begins with issuing cease and desist notices to parties infringing upon our clients’ IP rights. When necessary, we swiftly initiate appropriate legal actions seeking urgent ad-interim reliefs, which may include seeking injunctions or other forms of emergency relief. In certain cases, we also take recourse to initiating criminal proceedings under the relevant statutes to safeguard our clients’ rights under the trademarks act.

In addition to our vigilant efforts in enforcing IP rights, I provide strategic advice to clients on matters concerning comparative advertisement, ensuring compliance with the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) rules. Keeping abreast of evolving guidelines on misleading advertisement, we counsel our clients on adhering to the most recent regulatory standards to minimize legal risks.

In a world where the media and entertainment landscape is constantly evolving, we pride ourselves on offering tailored legal solutions that safeguard our clients’ creative works, brand identities, and commercial interests. 

Throughout your career, you’ve advised clients from various industries and regions. How do you stay updated with the ever-changing legal landscape, especially in the international arena?

As a dedicated legal professional, I recognize the imperative of continuous learning to navigate the ever-changing legal landscape effectively. Staying updated with the latest legal developments, both domestically and internationally, is a top priority in my practice.

To keep abreast of the dynamic legal landscape in India, I diligently monitor any amendments to statutes and the introduction of new legislative regimes. Additionally, I remain vigilant in tracking important judgments in my practice area, discussing them with my team to ensure we stay well-informed.

Furthermore, being aware of the latest trends and practices in various industries where I advise clients is essential. This knowledge enables me to offer well-rounded and strategic legal counsel tailored to their specific needs.

In the international arena, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the multiple opportunities provided to me by my Partner Mr. Farhad Sorabjee to meet and interact with lawyers across international jurisdictions. I have been blessed to meet legal luminaries across the globe and speak in webinars and conferences on legal trends in these jurisdictions and build strong connections across borders. I also subscribe to newsletters and publications from reputable sources in various jurisdictions to maintain an up-to-date understanding of international legal developments.

As a seasoned practitioner, I firmly believe that continuous reading and learning are indispensable for any successful legal professional. The commitment to being a lifelong student of the law allows me to provide the highest level of legal representation to clients from diverse industries and regions.

Could you share a particularly challenging case you’ve worked on and how you were able to find a successful resolution for your client?

One of the most demanding and distinctive cases in my career involved a representative suit filed against my clients during the challenging period of the Covid-19 pandemic when the Bombay High Court was functioning exclusively in a virtual manner. This case was particularly notable as it was the first matter taken up for final hearing and adjudicated virtually by the Bombay High Court, entailing extensive volumes of pleadings filed online by both parties.

In this matter, two former employees of my client initiated a Representative Suit along with an Interim Application on behalf of 256 ex-employees before the Bombay High Court, seeking a stay on my client’s discontinuation of premium payments for medical insurance coverage. My team and I represented and defended the Company in these proceedings, which presented intricate legal issues involving the grant of mandatory injunctions and the application of promissory estoppel in India. Additionally, the court deliberated at length on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the cessation of premium payments during an extensive online hearing. 

The outcome of this complex case proved successful for our client. The Single Judge of the Bombay High Court dismissed the Interim Application, upholding our client’s position, and observing that while Covid-19 had indeed affected both individuals and companies, it could not serve as a ground to bypass the standard legal requirements for the grant of mandatory injunctions.

The ex-employees filed an appeal before the Division Bench of the Bombay High Court, which, too, was subsequently dismissed, affirming the favourable outcome for our client.

The proceedings of this case were marked by the unique experience of filing comprehensive pleadings online and conducting a final hearing of a complex matter virtually. The challenges posed by this novel approach to litigation underscored the adaptability and resilience of my team. Ultimately, the successful resolution of this case stands as a testament to our unwavering commitment to diligently represent our clients’ interests, even in unprecedented and challenging circumstances.

As a seasoned attorney, what are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from your experiences in the legal profession?

Throughout my extensive journey in the legal profession, I have gained invaluable insights and learned several key lessons that have shaped my approach as an attorney. These lessons can be summarized as follows:

  • Patience and focus are essential virtues in the legal profession. Rather than seeking immediate results, I have learned the value of staying committed to the long-term goals of my clients, meticulously working towards achieving favourable outcomes.
  • In the dynamic world of law, learning is a perpetual process. Each case and every interaction with colleagues and mentors provide opportunities for growth and knowledge enrichment. I firmly believe that the willingness to learn and adapt is a hallmark of a successful legal professional.
  • Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to receive guidance from seasoned mentors. The wisdom imparted, whether through direct teachings or subtle corrections to my work, has left a lasting impact on my approach to legal practice.
  • Regardless of the nature of a court appearance or meeting, I have learned the importance of thorough preparation. Even when seeking an adjournment, being well-prepared demonstrates professionalism and respect for the judicial process.
  • As a legal practitioner, my primary duty is to my clients. I have learned to provide them with candid and honest assessments of their cases, ensuring that they have a realistic understanding of their situation and the potential outcomes. This approach fosters trust and enables clients to make informed decisions.

Considering your extensive experience and expertise, what advice would you like to give to fresh law graduates who are just starting their legal careers?

To the aspiring young law graduates embarking on their legal careers, I offer the following advice, drawing upon my own experiences in the field:

  • In the pursuit of a career in litigation, it is crucial to develop a strong foundation by learning the fundamentals of litigation practice. Familiarize yourself with the process of filing a matter, addressing office objections, and understanding court procedures. Embrace the basics, as they form the bedrock of your growth as a litigator.
  • Spend time in court observing experienced counsel argue their cases. Take note of the principles of law they cite, their approach to presenting arguments, and how they handle interactions with the judges. Observing seasoned practitioners will provide invaluable insights into the intricacies of court craft.
  • Entering the legal profession may seem overwhelming at first, as the practical aspects of litigation can differ from the theoretical knowledge imparted in law school. Be patient and recognize that success in this field requires perseverance and dedication. Embrace the learning curve, and with hard work and sincerity, you will gradually find your footing.
  • As you gain experience, strive to develop a holistic approach to litigation. Understand that legal practice is not solely about arguing cases but also encompasses diligent research, drafting persuasive pleadings, and mastering the art of negotiation and settlement.
  • Uphold the highest standards of professionalism and ethical conduct in all your interactions. Building a reputation for integrity and professionalism is essential for establishing a successful legal career.
  • The legal profession is ever evolving, with new laws and precedents shaping the landscape. Therefore, commit to lifelong learning and stay updated with legal developments to provide the best possible representation to your clients.
  • Be patient.

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