Interviews

Deepa Kuruvilla, Founding Partner, Qwinlaw Legal, on experience with the JAG, the Indian Army, litigation at Bombay HC and work in Securities

Deepa grew up in a traditional Kerala Christian family, studied at the Ernakulam Law College, under Mahatma Gandhi University, graduated in 1993 and started practicing at the Kerala Trial Court. She later appeared for JAG and worked with the Indian army for five years. She was also a part of the gender discrimination case filed by the Army nurses. After her experience with the Army, she pursued her independent practice at the Mumbai High Court and has been a panellist for SEBI before Securities Appellate Tribunal. Off late she has started her own law firm with the name Qwinlaw Legal.

In this interview she talks about:

  • Pursuing her dreams and be where her calling is.
  • Taking up JAG and the application procedure.
  • Setting up her own independent practice and being a panellist with SEBI.
  • Establishing her own law firm – Qwinlaw Legal.

 

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a consummate Legal professional with a high say do attitude who likes to meet new people and possibly try to translate the meeting into business opportunity. I am interested in willing to learn and sync present to the future. I see myself as a smart working Lawyer than a hard working Lawyer whose goal is to find opportunities in helping people who avoid litigation than fighting lengthy litigation for them.

One can see in me a perfect blend of a daughter, sister, mother, a wife, a village girl, a legal professional, a tough army officer, a budding entrepreneur in legal industry. I enjoyed each role in its sanctity and have always done things away from my own comfort Zone!

 

How has your pre-college life been like? What were your ambitions before joining college?

I was born in a very traditional Kerala Christian family and lived and grown up in a small village called Mannoor 30 Km Away from Kochi Airport, in the plains of the pictorial perfect Kerala in a house closer to extensive paddy fields, Butterflies and flowers were my friends! Dancing around the coconut trees and painting were my hobbies! Putting legs in to the flowing streams near the paddy field and watching fishes playing with my leg and enjoying the sweetness of the westerly wind blowing from the paddy field were the most interesting thing to pass time.

That was a world without Television sets, TV came to neighbouring house after PT USHA participated in Olympics. Most loving friends were paternal grant parents on weekdays and maternal grandparents on holidays.

Dr. V Paulose (Mom’s Dad) was the only doctor in that Village. So, people adored the super powerful man. Dad’s dad was a hard-core farmer who had lots of bullocks and cows and hens and big courtyards in both the houses to play around, both grandmothers were beautiful and graceful, but ministers of the house, my dad, mom and I always adored, they had a good relations with all their siblings and cousins so we enjoyed the company of lots of relatives and cousins always. This was my childhood.

 

Was pursuing law always your professional calling?

Smart Advocates arguing in the court, were very attractive when seen in movies. Legal topics discussion always attracted me. My dad was Dy. Director in the Revenue Department (Survey & Land Record’s) of Kerala, legal topics were subject matter of discussions at home. I knew that my inclination is more towards Economics and Law than any other subjects.

When I saw myself as a professional, I always found me as a smart lawyer, helping people to avoid litigation, advising Companies, than entering into lengthy litigation.

 

How was your law school experience at Mahatma Gandhi University?

Law College, Ernakulam, under Mahatma Gandhi University, where I studied was a very famous college due to the senior lots who became Central and State level Ministers and High Court Judges. It had ahuge Library, where I spent most of my time there reading Case laws and interpretations of 1800’s.

 

Please tell us about your experience with regard to your first few sessions in Kerala High Court. Has it become more difficult for a fresher to achieve success?

I worked under Adv. PM Thomas, and was entrusted mostly trial court matters in smaller courts. I used to read and prepare matters before the case presentations or trial, and if I had doubts, I used to clarify the same with my seniors in the office. I enjoyed my work,

If a fresher observes the successful seniors attending court and the methodology they adopt very closely and learn their presentation skills, and if he or she spends time studying the court matter they handle, I think it is not difficult for him/her to achieve success. The key element is home work and the ability to control the shivers passes through the spine seeing senior Advocates in the court room standing against you. Your knowledge in the subject matter and equanimity helps you to become a David in front of Goliaths, that’s my experience.

 

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What motivated you to apply for JAG?

Udan, TV serial which came in Door Darshan in Junior College days attracted me very much, seeing a village girl becoming Police officer and entering man’s world! I placed myself in that character and wanted to be in that spectrum in real,

When I was in 4th year law, the first entry into Indian Army by women happened,a pet project envisioned by Yesteryears Prime Minister Late Indira Gandhi, I was so thrilled hearing about that, Employment Exchange Newspapers were the only source those days to get to know about such opportunities, I kept a watch and applied, with full desire & prayers but no iota of hope, as being competing with the smarter girls from whole of India, with my minimal village back ground. But God’s Grace I got selected.

 

What is the application procedure for JAG?

Whenever there is opening, Indian Army publishes the requirement on their website, and the methods of entry is described, one has to follow the application procedures,

The process which was in my case was as follows:

  • The first level of selection was at SSB- (Services Selection Board)in May 1995, a written test for aptitude on the first day screening, if passed stay for another 4 days of test. (Who failed will leave )
  • 4 days continuous testing –different psychological and physical test at various levels
  • one who passes the test, will stay for the medical test, rest will leave,
  • Once pass medical test , will be called for training
  • Training at Officers training Academy, Madras for Combat training , which lasted for 6 months , Passed out from OTA Madras ( March 1996)
  • Appointment at JAG’s Branch , Head Quarters ,Northern Command as first lady officer in that office and undergone court martial training under supervision of senior officers for six months
  • Young Officers specialisation course for Military Law at Institute of Military law near Nagpur, for 4 months ,
  • Re-joined JAG”S NCHQ again, This qualified to be a JAG officer to exercise duties of an Independent JAG Officer

 

What role does the JAG officer play in the Indian Army? Does the work ever get monotonous?

JAG officer does Court Martial of wrong doers who are subject to Military Laws. Each case was unique and the Military law is stricter than the civil law, due to the nature of the exigencies of the service; it can never be monotonous.

Moreover, the tenure in the Army is very challenging and enjoyed the attention I got. There was a charisma of being one among the first lot of lady officers of Indian Army, which made the heads turn to see the lady officer in Uniform! This attracted media attentions many times, manyof whom I met were seeing a lady officer for the first time! The attentions led to a style and attitude of myown, helped me to maintain perfect equanimity and a humble personality, though the toughness and charm of Army Officer was well ingrained.

 

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What were the responsibilities you were entrusted withwhile working as a Deputy Assistant Judge Advocate General –DAJAG (Rank- Captain), officer In Charge Army Legal Cell in Mumbai?

Army Area Legal Cells of Indian Army defend legal cases filed against Indian Army in that particular Army Area. I took charge of Legal Cell, Mumbai, when it is set up in 1997 as first officer, and the job was to set it up to a full-fledged legal office and defending the ongoing cases against Indian army M&G Area.I was working closely with Ministry of Law,, Assistant Solicitor General of India and Central Govt. Panel Counsels in defending such cases , this included the appearance on behalf of Indian Army before Commission under Justice B.N. Sri Krishna investigating into Mumbai Riots 1993 which attracted lot of media attention.

 

Why did you decide to litigate at the Mumbai High Court after working in the Indian Army for about five years? What were the other opportunities you were considering?

I took release from the Indian Army after 5 years of mandatory services with Indian Army and started practising in various Courts in Mumbai along with my husband who was a practising lawyer and already had a set- up his office in Mumbai, I was focused, didn’t consider any other opportunity.

Among many cases I appeared in the Mumbai High Court in the Army nurses uniform case filed for the rights of Army nurses made to wear the same uniform as male army officers, a case against gender discrimination. This attracted lot of media attention.

I later got empanelled as SEBI panel Lawyer and appeared cases on behalf of SEBI in Securities Appellate Tribunal (2003-2005).

 

What was the role of mentors in your case? How important do you think a mentor is in the field of litigation?

Mentor is required for life, not just about litigation alone! I was lucky that God sendtough task masters as mentors in my life.

First and the most long standing mentor in my life is my Dad! And my Mom his perfect Assistant who supported me all throughout my crazy adventures and wishes and gave me the self-confidence. I am still amazed how they trusted me in all my moves when everything I wanted was unconventional in the small village I belonged to. A girl becoming a practising lawyer- not so great; joined Army – the wildest crazy thing, one can think about a girl who is at the age right for an arranged marriage in my place.

One example of my dad’s support: when I couldn’t take the rigorous Army Combat Training in OTA, I called my dad asking him to take me out from the OTA by paying penalty to the government for leaving the training incomplete (those days it was per day Rs. 4000/- accrued to number of days spend in the academy), some girls were already left by this method so I had hope, I lured him saying it will be high cost later on, easy to take me out now as it is less cost, he said I will take you out from the academy, if you are the last person to go out from the academy by paying lakhs, you don’t worry about thousands! He said , It was your well thought decision and you should know how to stand by your decision, you will only have choice to be successful, I will not accept failures in my house! He reminded me this while fixing stars on my shoulders on the day of passing out parade.

My Career begin with my senior Advocate Mr. PM Thomas, as my mentor: – he gave me opportunity to argue important cases in the first year of practise itself even when the opposing counsels were very senior in the legal profession; when the pressure used to build up, and if I complain, he used to smile and ask, “so what”! ; it kept me going and many time successful! This gave a lot of Confidence!

My Mentor to start practise in Mumbai Courts was my husband , under whom I practised law , a hard task master ,and a very intelligent lawyer, his clients vouch for it , he never used to spare me in the office , eventually I used to take revenge at home , still I was never spared !. He taught me practical wisdom and sensitivities regarding the business of practising law in a big city

These 3 mentors of life made me my own mentor for the rest of the life.

 

What are the requisite soft skills which are essential for a young lawyer to build a successful career?

The Quest for Learning!, Humility, the ability to understand the ‘advice’ and ‘delivery’ the client require from you,A perfect Equanimity! Even while dealing with pressure while tough arguments, Success will be a bi-product even in adverse situation!

 

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How did you develop interest in these areas of law? Please tell us about your core areas of practice.

(During Deepa’s five years of independent practice, she has handled matters on Domestic and International Securities Law, Military law and also dealt with matters on Banking and Finance Law and Arbitration.)

This is an evolution happened based on the matters handled during independent practise with my husband; Interest developed because of the intention to deliver the best result; Analysed the subject matter and spend time in learning the specific subjects and put in the best of the effort , so the end results came successful. My interest in investing in Stock Market and the help of brother practising in Securities law was a great boost.

The core Area what I am interested among other faculty of Law right now is Capital Market Laws.

 

What should a law graduate do in his first year of graduation to establish a career in Securities and Capital Markets Law?

This area is highly corporatized by big law firms, it is better to join one of such law firms and develop skills and learn Capital Market Laws ; However one need to understand the dynamics of the functions of the Capital Markets and its intermediaries to understand the complexities of Capital Market laws . These laws are very dynamic in amendments and the regulators are amending the laws to support the functionality of the capital Market in its practical applications and to keep it in a perfect balance with the Macro economic objectives, so it’s important to understand the users of this law than Law on a standalone basis.

 

What is the reason behind pursuing certificate courses? Was it a professional requirement to enhance more in your career?

(Deepa has taken courses on Stock Market, Mergers & Acquisitions, Technical Analysis Bombay Stock Exchange Training Institute and also pursued Certification in Investment Compliance from Securities & Investment Institutes, London, United Kingdom)

I was a visiting Faculty to ITM- Institute of Financial Markets, Navi Mumbai to teach MBA students Securities law in the year 2007. In that process I not only taught students Securities law, but also simplified Securities law to myself, teaching forced me to read those subjects I generally do not dealt with for the purpose of Career. As I said earlier, thesecourses I attended were some of my learning efforts of the subjects I dealt with and it is continuing. Latest is that I am a student of Diploma in Entrepreneurship Administration and Business Laws by NUJS & iPleaders.

 

What kind of responsibilities were you entrusted with at the organizations you worked? How different was the work environment of these two companies? How would you describe your experience in brief?

(Deepa has worked with two organizations – B& K Securities India Pvt. Ltd. as a Legal Manager and Monterosa TSS as their Vice President of Legal & Compliance in Mumbai before moving to Qwinlaw Legal & Compliances.)

Working with B& K Securities was the first experience for working in a Corporate office, the prime responsibility was to set up their UK Office with regulatory approvals from FSA, London Successfully set it up and made it up and running and supported the compliance functions; The other functions was to oversee the compliances of their international offices in Singapore and US.

The role in MTSS was for Legal Due Diligence support for their clients investing into Indian Market via Venture Capital, Private Equity and FDI.

Both experiences were enriching and helped me in continuous learning as there is lot of complex regulatory compliances to follow and lot of business negotiations to do; which also require hands on legal support.

 

What does your current work profile at Qwinlaw consists of? How is a typical workday like?

Qwinlaw is my own Law Firm. This firm specialised in Legal & Compliances function to Support the clients who invest into Indian Companies and help them to comply with India laws and ongoing regulatory filings; Support clients to assess and manage the legal risk andgive solutions to structure the business to litigation free as much as possible; there is no typical work day for own business, Delivery at the earliest is the Goal.

 

How has your journey been from a fresher to being an expert concentrating on FDIs in to India and Securities and Capital Market laws?

There was no straight line path, I have managed diversified levels in the legalCareer.However I always had an ability to find where the business is, which suited me and also trendy in the Market;I have always put an effort to learn the core subjects which translated into a level of knowledge which can make me confident for what I deal with;

 

When you hire lawyers, what kind of skills and profile do you look for? Are the attributes different for working lawyers and fresh graduates?

If I feel the candidate demonstrate an ability to perform and have an attitude to improve constantly, who can complement and support me in my work, he or she will be the right candidate.

 

Do you offer internships at Qwinlaw Legal?

So far not! It’s a start-up, long way to go.

 

What would be your advice to young law students? Whether they should join a firm or practice at bar? How should they approach the legal career?

Law student should identify themselves, where do they fit in to excel personally, that should be the choice! Both Firm and Bar have their own charm!

Career in Law is a process of continuous learning, one should be ready for hard work and learn the practical applications than focusing only on the theoretical knowledge. This will help to build up the client trust in you and you will be able to advice/ deliver results correctly.

 

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