Change is never brought about overnight, it is small efforts made by various people across professions genders and age groups which contribute to the growth of a country – Shohit Chaudhry, Advocate-on-Record at the Supreme Court of India

This interview has been published by Namrata Singh and The SuperLawyer Team

Shohit, could you take us through the beginnings of your career in law? What inspired you to pursue a career in law, and what were some of the initial challenges you faced as you embarked on this journey?

I graduated from National Law University Jodhpur, in 2008. I was very clear that I wanted to do litigation. I joined the offices of Mr. Neeraj Malhotra, (now a Senior Advocate), in Delhi. I worked with him for a year and learnt the basics of litigation. Thereafter, I worked as the member of the legal team of Central Vigilance Committee on Public Distribution System of food grain, a committee appointed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India under the chairmanship of Justice (Retd.) D.P. Wadhwa, retired judge of the Supreme Court in the Right to Food Case. The Committee was required to submit a report on the functioning and maladies of the PDS in the entire country and suggest remedies in order to improve the system. The Committee was required to visit the States and prepare a report on each State separately. I visited a total of 9 states across the country in a period of 7 months. The exposure was immense, however, it took me away from litigation.

I then worked with Zeus Law Associates for 1.5 years and started getting experience in high-stake matters. In August, 2011, I left and started taking on independent work. Alongside, I worked with The Chambers of Law under Mr. Dinesh Chand Mathur, Senior Advocate and Mr. Mohit  Mathur (now a Senior Advocate). This office taught me all the criminal law I know today. In May 2012, I became independent, completely. 

The challenges I faced in my journey were all to do with the real world. Thanks to the curriculum of our University, we were taught laws, public speaking and were comfortable in appearing in Court from the first day itself. However, I did not know networking, how to get a new Client or how to retain a Client. I am a first-generation litigator and have had to happily work for everything I have. I always believe that there is space for merit and that is the quota I target. I was taught to question everything and seek advice from subject-matter experts. Thus, I did. I spoke to parents, friends, colleagues, and coaches on all that our formal education does not teach us. 

As the President of the NLUJ Alumni Association, you play a significant role in fostering connections and opportunities for alumni. What inspired you to take on this responsibility, and what initiatives have you undertaken to strengthen the alumni network?

The National Law University, Jodhpur, is a relatively young institution and we are a very young alumni body. Our first batch passed out in 2006 and our oldest alumni may not be over the age of 41. In June, 2020, when we had a lot of time on our hands, our alumni, a number of whom were in a WhatsApp group, started debating on the usefulness and outreach of the Alumni Association. It is then when I realised the generational difference in the thought process of a graduate of 2006 and that of 2020. The only way to keep such a diverse group united was to bring them under the umbrella of the Alumni Association. 

Our first election was in 2021. I had the option of becoming the President, however, I chose to become the Secretary, as I realised that the maximum amount of work was to be done by the Secretary. In the next elections, in 2023, I became President. The work that we undertook on behalf of the National Law University Jodhpur Alumni Association (NLUJAA) was – 

But this is just the beginning. We are in the process of raising our game and increasing the number of activities of the Association. 

Your work profile spans across various areas of law, from civil and criminal to corporate and constitutional matters. Which aspect of law do you find most challenging yet rewarding to navigate, and why?

I most enjoy the challenge when the chips are stacked against me. The field of law does not matter. It so happens, I mostly represent the underdog – the parents against the school, the pilot against the airline, the homebuyer against the real estate giant, the poor man in judicial custody, the person seeking to enforce the right against the State and so on.

A lot of times you have a very tough case and the Court is against you and the other side is packed with senior lawyers. It is at such times when your preparation and court craft matters, when as you argue and contest the case, you actually see the expression of the Court change, the opposing lawyers fumble, and the Court realising that you actually have made out a good case where perhaps there was none. 

The beauty of matter is the journey it undertakes – how each step in a litigation contributes to the victory at last. 

You’ve been involved in drafting and amending rules for the Delhi High Court, among other prestigious appointments. Can you share some insights into the challenges and opportunities you encountered during these processes?

Being part of the team which drafted the Delhi High Court (Original Side) Rules, 2018, has been an honour and the most rewarding assignment of my career, so far. I was the youngest in a team comprising the then Acting Chief Justice of the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi, the Hon’ble Judges presiding over the Original Side of the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi and Senior Advocates. When we litigate, we only represent the interests of one side. However, when we legislate, like we did with these Rules, you have to strike a balance with all sides – the bar, the bench, the litigant, the system and of course, the country. 

It was a massive learning process. For about 6 months, I used to spend a few hours every day on the formulation of these Rules.  It was a privilege, having got an opportunity to do this after spending only 9 years at the bar. I was the point of contact for all the constituents of the Committee and had to keep the answers handy at all times. I used to prepare for the meetings of the Committee like we prepare final arguments for our matters. Queries used to fly thick and fast and we were required to be ready with answers. 

I had an opportunity to understand, perceive and observe how Judges and senior lawyers, all with a wealth of experience, discuss and debate the nuances of law. 

I was rewarded with being Nominated by the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi as Counsel to represent the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi, before various fora. 

In your media coverage, you’ve addressed significant legal issues ranging from aviation safety to real estate disputes. How do you approach communicating complex legal concepts to the public and media, ensuring accuracy and clarity?

Simple. People don’t read. You have to make them read. One of my seniors said, your draft should be so simple, even a common man can read it. That is what my endeavour is. Every time a journalist calls me to understand something, I try and break it down in a manner that even a common man with a non-legal background can understand. 

Your contributions to landmark judgments like ‘Pioneer Urban Land and Infrastructure Limited v. Union of India’ have had a profound impact. What role do you believe legal professionals play in shaping societal norms and policies through such cases?

The success of Pioneer Urban Judgment ultimately led the government to amend the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016. I believe all lawyers do their fair share of work which is towards a cause or an advancement of society. However, influencing policy in an evolving system is the best gift we can give in our profession. 

Change is never brought about overnight. It is small efforts made by various people across professions, genders and age groups which contribute to the growth of a country. Law is one of the most powerful professions in the world. Apart from doing their day-to-day work, a number of lawyers wear several hats. They are part of societies, boards of Companies, political bodies, governments, sports associations, charitable organizations etc. and are often at the helm of these organizations. One way is to influence society by their actions in each of these organizations. Another is changing the legal system for the bar, bench, litigants and legal professionals by participating in various exchanges of ideas when invited by the Government, the Courts and organizations working in this space. It is easy to complain, however, very few reach out to the system and bring to the knowledge of the relevant person, the challenges being faced. The moment you do so, very often a solution presents itself. The system is designed to work, however, it always requires a fresh perspective. 

As someone deeply involved in legal education and mentorship, what steps do you believe law schools can take to better prepare students for the practical aspects of legal practice?

Universities must endeavour to bridge the gap between the theoretical aspects of education and practical use in the real world. They must increase interaction between alumni and students from the perspectives of different fields. This is applicable to all professions and more so, in law. 

Law Schools must make internships mandatory as that provides exposure to the life of a real professional. Fortunately, our University has a robust system for internships. However, sometimes 5th year students of certain Law Schools have come for internships who have never entered Court. It is their first legitimate internship and they appear clueless. Mentoring them is tougher as they have lesser exposure. 

For our University, we are in conversation and are in the process of increasing the number of guest lectures by our alumni who are leaders in their respective fields. We are also attempting to increase the exposure of our students to fields of law which are not taught in detail in law schools or are barely touched upon. 

Could you share a memorable experience from your journey as an advocate-on-record, perhaps a case that presented unique challenges but ended with a satisfying outcome?

Few instances come to mind – 

  1. A landlord despite being successful in the High Court was unable to get his property vacated from his tenant. We were before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India having assailed an interim order. The Court stated that the matter had to go back to the High Court. I politely pleaded but to no avail. However, the other side was anxious and in their impatience they said that the matter does not even deserve to go to the High Court. The Judges were not happy and enquired as to the reasons. They then heard the entire matter. They were not satisfied with the arguments of the tenant; were satisfied with mine. Directed the tenant to vacate within a year. My Client was pleasantly shocked. He had been waiting for his property to be vacated for decades. 
  1. We were representing the minority Directors of a Board who were being oppressed and suppressed by the majority in their Company. When the file came to me, in 2012, we had been under fire from the Delhi High Court and the Company Law Board and had various orders passed against us. We were fire-fighting every day. We spent the first two months only getting our house in order, filing replies, filing Applications, and making various compliances, as directed by the Court. We then started going on the offence, filing positive Applications and securing small relief(s) for our Client. After 4 months, we got an order by which our Client got hold of certain valuable information and was able to change the composition of the Board of Directors. For the first time, my Client had the upper hand. The other side settled immediately. 
  1. 5 students were made to sit in the library because their parents were opposing the illegal increase of fees by the School. Matter was ongoing before the Court. An Application was prepared overnight and filed. I argued that everything can be compensated or made good later, however, students missing their classes on the issue of fees was simply not acceptable. The Court ripped into the School and reinstated the students.  
  1. The audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India of the accounts of the Commonwealth Games Village (CWG) was directed by the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi on our insistence. It revealed a lot. The matter is still pending in Court, so no more comments on that. 
  1. Getting directions to conduct the elections of the Boxing Federation of India, when the people in power were refusing to do so.  

Outside of your legal practice, do you have any hobbies or interests that help you unwind or maintain a work-life balance?

I am someone who gets bored very easily. So every now and then I take up a new project. I always believe we should always do something which is bigger than ourselves. Work is constant but variety makes it interesting. In litigation, the diverse fields that I work in, ensure that no day is boring. 

Beyond litigation, I was part of an international networking organization for 2.5 years (2014 to 2016). In 2014, I did a personal development course which is modelled on life transformation. It opened my mind to the endless possibilities in my life. Since then I have not stopped working on myself. For more than 10 years now, I have been consulting a Life Coach.

The Delhi High Court (Original Side) Rules, 2018, was a project that came my way in 2017-2018. Thereafter, I try to contribute to the Hon’ble High Court in whichever way possible and as and when I am called upon. It has been a wonderful opportunity to work for the Delhi Arbitration Weekend, 2023 and now 2024. I have now started getting involved in my school alumni group. I also have a few things in the pipeline, however, I will share once they happen. 

Other than this, I love to travel, however, the details of the same will probably be longer than this interview. I love watching Cricket and follow the game passionately. I am a movie-buff and extremely social. 

Given your vast experience and success in the legal field, what suggestions or advice would you offer to aspiring law students who are just beginning their journey into the legal profession?

My constant advice to students is that their decision should be based on 3 criteria – (i) Location (ii) Area of Work and (ii) Money. Please consider what is important for you and decide accordingly. 

If you want to practice in the Supreme Court, however, you are required in your home city as your parents have certain medical needs, then compromise on your location. Once that is resolved then make the move. Similarly, in case you want to do litigation, however, money is important for you, it is not a bad idea to work for a couple of years doing transactional work with a law firm or work in-house, save your money and then move on litigation. 

It is likely that at a given point of time, you may not get all three, but that’s fine. Prioritise. Bide your time. You will eventually get where you want to be. 

Get in touch with Shohit Chaudhry-

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