Can you share your journey and tell us what inspired you to pursue a career in law, from your early legal experiences to your current role as a Legal Manager?
Coming from the land of beauty and chaos, Kashmir, gave me the sense of fair and unfair from my young age. Inherent good of man and fair treatment of societies was embedded in my mind. Growing up amidst military occupation and seeing the happenings had a profound impact on me. It was a confrontation everyday. Certainly that initial inclination for law was instilled right there and other factors played along. I always wanted to understand challenging rhetorical theory, to uncover the truth. World is full of issues that affect all of us across geographies and law touches everything, every facet of a society. My major inkling towards law came from my land, and the prevalent day to day conditions. I was clear about law from a young age as it had me glued to the fairness basis and felt like a just and honourable profession.
Obviously, an unconventional choice as I came from a traditional business family and in fact, the first one to go to law school from my immediate family. Law came from my upbringing and despite the odds, I was inspired to do my part for an equitable world by becoming the voice of the unheard. My schooling was done at Mallinson Girls School, Srinagar where I took part in extra curricular activities besides my academics. Being an avid debater, I always had a knack for formulating arguments and enjoyed that part. Being one of the players of the basketball team, I played some matches representing my school at that time. After finishing my school I went to South India, and opted for Bangalore Legal Studies to undertake my five year law course. Five years spent in Bangalore bring back fond memories and I cherish them like always. During my law school, I lived in the college premises with nine other law school mates. Our dormitory was filled with girls who came from different parts of the country and it gave me a chance to understand nine different mindsets. Along with enjoying law subjects, I thoroughly took part in the mooting, debating, and legal publications. Besides being rank holder in Constitutional and International Law, I also served as the Editor of our Law School Review, BILS Law Review. Many national and international moot courts were attended for sheer joy of analysing the problem, interpreting laws, drafting the memorials and weaving the argument. My main aim from mooting was to be a better learner, and to think on my feet while simultaneously stimulating and challenging my intellectual curiosity and capabilities. In my third year, I participated in the Bar Council of India International Moot organised by National Law University, Jodhpur along with my moot mates, Siri Roa (Counsel, USA) and Mohammad Azhar-u-ddin (Associate VP, Data Privacy Accenture). The problem was about International Law, Refugee Status and Sovereignty. In our semi final round in which we were pitted against National Law University, Delhi, the other side presented well crafted arguments with excellent oratory skills making such a compelling case. To my utter surprise, I almost got so engrossed by the arguments, that I caught myself in the abyss without the rebuttal points. While the other side was finishing their arguments, I quickly scribbled through pointers and jotted them down. We went for rebuttal over 12 factual and legal issues. To my utter surprise, we made it to the finals and the sitting Punjab Haryana Justice called our team and mentioned the reason for being in finals was “thinking on the foot and coming up with the 12 points”. Mooting tests and enriches one’s appetite for delivering under pressure early on. You take ownership of your calls which lets one reach his/her full potential. Teamwork decides how far a team can go. Two years later, while graduating out from law school, I was awarded ‘Best Mooter’ of Batch, 2012. With time, my passion for law grew and intensified. I am thankful to my mentors from law school who really taught me well.
In your role at Vipra Legal, you managed litigation and arbitration while providing commercial advisory to various entities. How do you balance the demands of litigation and advisory work in a legal setting, and what were some of the key challenges you faced?
It’s no secret that practising law is a bit demanding yet fulfilling. It’s not only about the best advice given to the clients but subsequently, to curtail down the risks. One has to step into the owners/ companies point of view to understand the depth of business risks and hence will emerge a balanced solution. Legal advisory has to align to the company’s risk tolerance and goals. Working with Partners to define and articulate each risk and its potential effects on business so decision makers could understand the impact and vulnerability. A top tier client at Vipra Legal was in the middle of a game changer merger wherein we reviewed and drafted exhaustive Commercial Agreements and Non Disclosure Agreements and designed a legal plan/strategy for execution which matched client objectives before putting the right people, tools in place for successful deliverance. You need to understand which task is critical and can convert revenue into profit. Balancing is an art which lawyers learn about from their mentors in the beginning itself and with having multiple clients waiting for the end result, whether a thorough advisory on the issue or an immediate filing and attaining of an injunction or favourable order, one has to prioritize the work and manage it timely. In a managerial role, besides being up to date on factual scenarios and prevalent law plus the winning strategy of multiple ongoing cases, organizing task progress and team work loads is essential. Challenge of dealing with associates and running the show as a team is where one’s real patience is tested. I would say, a litmus test. Usually, and particularly lawyers don’t like to be managed and hence the perfect workplace can be created by developing a collaboration with high level of trust and openness, communication and engagement. The tricky part comes in when at times, you have to manage peers who are equal, or even in cases have more experience and here you can’t go into the control mode but rather find that middle balanced ground and be thoughtful of relationships at the firm.
Your experience at Elevate involved document review and using artificial intelligence for litigation support. Could you explain how AI is changing the legal landscape and what benefits or challenges it brings to the field?
Legal landscape is shifting more than ever before as Companies look to adapt tools like Artificial Intelligence. Incorporating AI into legal practice drives day to day lives and more importantly, clients have come to accept it from employed firms. Al can make lawyers informed, provide data driven ideas, and above all improve efficiency. In my tenure with Elevate Services, as Senior Associate with Disputes and Investigations, I provided assistance to international Litigation teams of various top tier law firms; Gilbert and Tobin, Latham Watkins LLP, Backer Mckenzie, ReedSmith, DLA Piper, Skaden and many others. End to end legal solutions were provided to the law firms, right from the starting of the early assessment of the case until trial. Summarised chronologies, provided concise legal analysis, drawing up of Contracts, assisted in Due Diligence and weaved legal opinions. Now AI is being used to automate tasks and drive efficiencies, spurred to cut costs. Elevate is the first Company to join hands with top notch law firm, Gilbert and Tobin for its dominant business model which is a game changer and first of its kind in the legal industry of India.
With that, a new threat also looms. Law being the lucrative profession is most at the risk of AI advances. Can I be replaced ?! After all, lawyers are merchants of words for the matter of fact. Decades would see more changes in law practice and legal industry in toto, and subsequently jobs would be eliminated. A research by economists of Goldman Sachs estimated the amount of legal work that would be automated by AI and results are at 44%. I consider myself to be a lifelong learner and we are going to live with this now. The only way lawyers would survive amidst the growing technology is by updating their skillset, by training themselves to understand the most intricate and complex legal issues and pushing forward. One would have no choice but to climb up the skill ladder and stay ahead of technology. Change will come but I guess we are still far as there are thorny issues of Data Privacy, Ethics and conflicting data which we usually term as ‘Hallucinations’ in the world of AI prevalent and still that bridge ought to been gapped. It’s a powerful tool for productivity and we will see it growing as it’s here to stay.
As a Principal Associate at V Legal Empire, you were involved in a significant arbitration claim. Can you share a specific case or experience that stands out as a highlight of your career, and how did you navigate the complexities of such a high-stakes matter?
V Legal Empire’s Corporate team represented Russian construction company Mosmetrostroy for an ongoing billion dollar Arbitration claim against the Chennai Government. Strategies and methods were built to deliver the best outcomes. The most critical juncture in the Arbitration – We helped the client get a favourable order by allowing deposition via video conferencing in a cross examination which didn’t have a precedent of its kind in the Indian Arbitration cases. Application was drafted on strong facts, law and beautifully argued by the Senior Advocate. Quorum was presided over by three arbitrators and Justice AK Sikri allowed the Application keeping in view the complexities of cross border dispute and factual scenario of the case. Partner of the law firm was in Russia briefing the client on the nitty gritties of the cross examination and on the other hand, legal along with technical aspects were ensured by the corporate team on the Indian ground for profitable work. Document management of zillion documents were managed along with regular reporting of work in progress against the budget curtailing the project risks leading to efficiency in a more client oriented way. At that time, the article “Institutional Arbitration: Emerging need for robust dispute resolution mechanism in India” was co-authored with the Partner of V Legal Empire, Vijjay Mehta. The paper highlighted the need for more organised/ institutionalized based Arbitration with an aim to bring best international arbitration practices to the country. Most successful economies in the world prefer an international arbitration institution which is independent and credible, and enjoys the domestic market. Running of these institutes benefits all the stakeholders – from arbitrators to lawyers to clients, to governments. Significance of reduced number of arbitrations in India was highlighted despite India being a top player in Arbitration. Stats of SIAC, ICC, HKIAC were brought forth. It was published in Young Arbitration Review, Portugal 2018, Ed29.
You’ve also worked as a Legal Editor at LexisNexis. What does the role of a legal editor entail, and how does it contribute to the legal community?
I always remember my tenure with Lexis Nexis with a smile as it changed my perspective on a handful of things. LexisNexis, a United States based legal entity was my first International Corporate exposure and nothing could have been better than being under the guidance of Shilpi Pandita Ganesha (Associate Director) and Shreesh Chandra (Senior Director). One of the brilliant minds I have seen across various legal industries. Advancing the rule of law was the goal and what better than being the last set of eyes before the legal words are seen by the world. Actually, the job is simple: Monday through Friday, meetings in the morning, work on the scripts and contracts the rest of the day and into the night. Working with an International Publishing house is a different league altogether. Goal is always excellence: nothing less. You own your part of the Publishing calendar – you pick the authors (can be from a senior advocate to a judge, sitting judge for all your bad luck, jurist, legal luminary, academician). Calendar is driven by budget so deadlines are quite valuable. Right from the building of calendar, to the inception of the contract, improvisation of the Legal Content, research, analysing the judicial rulings cited. It is a painstaking process to achieve excellence. What I began to understand was that researching and writing legal content honed one’s skill so that mastering law becomes easier and faster. It reinforces that attitude with the unspoken doubt each editor has the intelligence and energy to do a fair job. Besides being responsible for every stage of law publication which involved contracts, content improvement, maintenance of daily communication with clients, also collaboration with leadership, strategy, sales, and marketing was done to ensure quality work. Regular feedback on playbooks and processes took place for smooth functioning of daily operations. One of the projects involved this – Days in a row, weeks, months I visited Professor VC Govindaraj who was living in South Delhi at that point of time. He being in his 90s’ was unable to move much and here we were sitting on random legal drafts to verify the accuracy of a detailed case analysis, Hague Convention on private law, and habitual residence and domicile and obligations for shaping foreign contracts and torts. Former Professor of Delhi University is the master of private international law and much to my relief it was nothing less than sheer joy working on the subject matter of my liking with the master himself. Conflict of laws is an increasingly important subject as now more than ever large numbers of people move through territories. This piece of work provided fresh perspectives on the subject of conflicting laws and analysed its significance in today’s dynamic contemporary world. Based on these meetings, I helped him finish the draft for final approval which finally got published five months later. The sharpness of the jurists mind was unbeatable. As he said, ‘ I want to have my dinner and never get up for morning tea. All I want is to leave behind my traces for the younger generation’. Without a doubt he has already.
During your tenure as a Judicial Law Clerkship, you provided assistance to a judge and contributed to improving the efficiency of the judiciary. How has your experience as a law clerk influenced your perspective on the legal system?
My path to clerkship was not something planned earlier. The idea of clerking hadn’t even crossed my mind until two years in Litigation. My career started with the Standing Counsel for the State of Jammu and Kashmir, Mr. Sunil Fernandes. His practice was majorly in the Apex Court of the country and what a commendable hold on the Constitutional Law he has attained. He backs everything up with law references and pure logic. I sometimes used to have casual conversations about the Kashmir issue and his progressive streak would always show. You were right fresh out of college and before the top judges of the country, looking at the famous seniors debating on the constitutionality of the provisions and what not. It was by the end of my two years in litigation that I had made up my mind about judicial clerking and the question now was which court and subsequently, the judge. It was going to be in Delhi High Court and someone on the civil side rooster, I thought as I wanted to get my basics and civil side stronger. Justice Endlaw was known for his rulings and integrity. A close friend of mine knew Mahfooz Nazki, (Associate Partner, ELP) a Kashmiri Delhi based lawyer (who was with Justice Endlaw’s chambers while he was on bar before getting elevated). I vividly remember my conversation with Mahfooz. ‘He is a good man, but a hard task master’ were his words and aptly so. I put in my application and got called into his chambers. He was sitting at his desk, so deeply engrossed in reading and when he noticed me, right away he shooted, ‘Why do you want to do the clerkship? You have already been in the Supreme Court for two years’ in a very candid demeanour. To my utter surprise, I was as frank as I could ever be with a sitting High Court Judge. I replied with my actual intentions of getting my basics straightened up. For the initial weeks, I was assigned with the part of observing the Court proceedings and mind you Justice Endlaw can start a random conversation about that one case. The way he thinks about his cases is absolutely stunning – law armoured with reasonability. Research work in his chambers is totally no nonsense business. He remembers his cases so well and to see him recite an old precedent with such an accuracy is unparalleled. He is usually the last judge to leave the High Court premises which is also the reason for his highest disposal rate in Delhi High Court. He maintains that balance of making the chambers lighter with his sense of humour. My probation with him was for three months and then I was termed ‘permanent’. Getting the perspective of a judge, as to how he looks at an issue is paramount. One should try a clerkship early in his days as it will be beneficial for having the correct approach to the case. Office of a judge also teaches you a lot about building trust and confidentiality. Justice Endlaw is a perfect judge to clerk with and it was my good fortune to be in his chambers.
Looking back on your journey and extensive legal career, what advice would you offer to fresh law graduates who are just starting their careers in the legal profession?
Remembering what Fali Nariman once said to us in his chambers while briefing him ‘Law is an ocean and if you dive into it, it gets deeper. No one is an expert. We only know of pieces here and there’. Being open to learning in the field of law is a must as it is a vast domain. Not a profession for the faint hearted. One must do his homework properly and your hard work is going to pay its debt. Read, re read and reflect back. Know your facts and law well before facing the judge. Never be too sure about things as it’s an unpredictable domain, ever evolving. Be very present and have an attention for the minute details. A philanthropist friend of mine describes lawyers as magicians and even, pure specialists, and it cannot be more true in this modern age. Be humble of your legal journey. Most importantly, among the rich resources of your legal career, probably the most integral part are your mates, colleagues, clerk, your own. Many of them are extraordinary people like you and take time to get to know them. Nurture the relationships. Time goes by too fast and law has a way of pressuring time and, more than often what gets lost in between are those significant ones. Cherish the time and enjoy lawyering !
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