Associates, In-House Counsels & Advocates

Dwijen Joshi on being an exceptional scholar, LL.M. from NUS and a career in International Arbitration

Dwijen Joshi is an exceptionally meritorious student of 2013 batch of GNLU, Gandhinagar. He has been a gold medalist in Arbitration. His interest in arbitration and litigation led him to pursue an LL.M. from National University of Singapore. He talks about the Arbitration proceedings in Singapore and he has a lot to say about the opportunities there.

We asked Dwijen about:

  • Winning a gold medal in Arbitration and scoring well in exams
  • Studying LL.M. for a career in International Arbitration
  • Faculty, Finances and overall academics at NUS
  • Developing interest in Arbitration and ADR
  • Scope of Indian Lawyers in Singapore

 

Most of our readers are law students and young lawyers. How will you introduce yourself to them?

I completed my under graduation from Gujarat National Law University in 2013. Immediately after completing my undergraduate studies I headed to National University of Singapore to pursue Masters in Corporate and Financial Services Law. Within the broad legal sphere I have carved out my interest for Arbitration Law. Other than Law, I am very passionate about Music. I have been learning/playing Tabla since my childhood. During my time in GNLU I was part of a talented bunch of musicians in the Music Club.

 

How did you gravitate towards law? Why law and not engineering or medical studies?

I chose Law as I think there is no other field that has a convergence with all walks of life. I never saw myself as doing anything else other than being a Legal Professional. This is a profession, which tests your assertiveness and sensitivity to the aspects of society, which requires some attention or examination. I believe law is as much about contemplation and thinking as much as it is about voicing out your stand.

It is the most dynamic profession that gives you the liberty and tools to question things that would not seem obvious to someone not trained in law. Though there are different branches of law dealing with two main building blocks of society – Government and Corporations, there is one general theme running in the undercurrents and that is of ‘fairness’. I have always been fascinated by this word.

My family background also influenced my decision to study law. At a very young age, I began to understand the nuances of Law from my father and grandfather. Though, I always had family support in whichever field I joined, learning law was a very natural process and I took the plunge.

 

You were one of the most exceptional students at GNLU. It’s not every day that someone bags gold medals! Please give us a few actionable tips on managing higher grades.

Thanks for a very generous description! I am very grateful to GNLU for awarding me the ‘Late Mr. Milon Kumar Banerji Gold Medal’ for Alternative Dispute Resolution (Arbitration). It is a very heartening recognition.

As far as studies are concerned it is a very personal thing so what worked for me may not be best for others. Therefore my advice is very holistically directed. I think hard work is sine qua non for good grades. Life in law school is like a marathon you have to keep running till the last semester and closely watch your pace throughout the five years.  I believe that higher grades are the by-products of the grit and passion that you show towards learning and therefore, learning should be the goal and not the grades. This will make studying enjoyable.

I always preferred to study from my own notes as it narrows down your area of focus and can be helpful for revisions during the exams. It is very important to maintain a good mental outlook throughout the whole process. Also, I would say smart work is more important than hard work. Try to identify more relevant areas and focus on them. Regular studies will help manage your time better throughout the semesters.

To save myself from falling into nerdy bracket, in my defense, I believe five years is a golden period to enjoy to the fullest. For some it will be the last few years as a student. So it is more important to have fun, engage in extra-curricular activities and have a balanced routine. I have been fortunate to meet amazing people here and forged relationships for lifetime.

 

What was your motivation behind pursuing LL.M.? When did you finally decide that you need to do Masters?

The decision to pursue LL.M. was the most important decision that I made in last two years. It was in my fourth year of undergraduate studies that I felt I still had one more year of student life left and took the decision. Therefore, I did not get myself registered with Committee on Recruitment Affairs (CRA) for placements. My motivation to pursue an LL.M was to have an exposure of studying law in a top ranking International Law School. It was a risky decision as it was an investment of time, energy and money. And I had again exposed myself to academic judging for sixth year in a row. But it was my passion to experience the intellectual rigour of a Law School such as NUS, which kept me driven.

I had planned to build specialized knowledge base and skill set through an LL.M, which was not possible through an undergraduate degree. An LL.M provided me with a head start into such complex legal concepts which otherwise would be possible only after two or three years of practice.

 

How did you choose NUS over others? How did you go about choosing a university?

I followed bottoms-up approach while making the applications. I sorted out my areas of Interest and my expectations from an LL.M in terms of knowledge and skill-set. Then I went about choosing the universities, which are reputed I was interested in. Finally I had short-listed only five universities where I eventually sent my applications. All were UK based except for NUS.

I chose not to apply to US, as pursuing LL.M there is little expensive affair. In London-based universities one gets to study four modules throughout the LL.M. whereas NUS requires completion of total 40 credits, which means one has to study 10 modules of four credits each. I chose to go to Singapore also because of my interest in Arbitration Law and increasing popularity of Singapore as a Hub of Arbitration in Asia.

 

Does NUS provide students with scholarships? Are there any other institutions, which provide scholarships?

NUS does provide for scholarships. The criterion for selection is competitive. I am not sure if they have instituted scholarships especially for Indian students. There are some scholarships awarded by British Council for UK universities. Felix and Inlaks scholarships are also very famous amongst law students. The former is only for UK universities. Ministry of HRD also has some scholarship schemes that keep changing so one has to look for it constantly.

 

Did you undergo a rigorous academic schedule? How was that different from your under-graduate course?

Life in NUS was rigorous in comparison to the under-graduate course. Time management is the key to grapple with the demands of the respective modules chosen. The faculty will expect you to go through the reading materials before each class. For some modules the assigned reading for each seminar may be painfully long and may run up to nearly hundred pages or more. The class hours are also very long. One Seminar will be three hours long.

The class contains a very diverse group of people. Some of them will have had experience of working in law firms in their home jurisdictions on the issues being discussed in the class. So for some modules the faculty recommends to have some foundational understanding. The assessment patterns for the courses are diverse. The assessments are split across the semester and the submissions may fall within close dates. Evaluations include class presentations, research paper submissions, group exercises – I also had a chance to appear in an Arbitration moot for one of my courses.

 

NUS is well renowned for its brilliant faculty. How was your experience with the faculty?

The NUS law faculty consists of professors who have established an international repute for their contribution intheir respective areas of expertise. The best part of NUS is that it invites professors from different universities across the world to come down and conduct intensive courses in NUS itself. Intensive modules last for about three weeks. I had an opportunity to undertake Word Trade Law seminars conducted by Prof. Joseph Weiler. He is currently President of European University Institute, Florence. He is a world-renowned academician in the field of Trade Laws. He is also a distinguished panel member of World Trade Organization. I took a module on International Investment Law taught by Prof. Loukas Mistellis. He is the Director of International Arbitration at Queen Mary University, London.

Some courses have very high demand and usually oversubscribed including the Mergers & Acquisition course conducted by Prof. Umakanth Varottil. He is an ex AMSS partner who is revered for his expertise in Corporate Law. The way stalwarts like them conduct the seminars sometimes becomes very exhilarating. As, some may follow Socratic method of teaching. In Prof. Weiler’s class it is suicidal to go unprepared. His random questions thrown at you compels you to spontaneously frame complex legal arguments and make you think on your feet. An unanswered question may bring embarrassment. It is this unique learning experience, which helps one develop exceptional skill-set necessary for an international lawyer to be. Some professors prefer lecture method of teaching and the class aura is cool with such professors.

 

How difficult was studying abroad in terms of finding accommodation, finances and settling in?

Finding an accommodation is not an issue at NUS. The university has built state of the art accommodation infrastructure called UTown. It is situated at Kent Ridge campus that is few metro-stations away from the Bukit-Timah campus where the law school is situated. The policy of NUS is to give preference to research students pursuing a doctorate and exchange students while allocating accommodation. Nevertheless, many people are able to successfully get accommodation within the university accommodation itself.

NUS provide internal bus service to shuttle students between Utown to law campus.  Other than that, there are private hostels, which are just walking distance away from the law campus. Two such places popular amongst LL.M students coming to NUS are Evans Hostel and Singapore International Campus. I was putting up at College Green Villas, which was just a stone’s throw away from the law campus. As for finances my parents supported me.

 

You were involved in a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) case last year. What was this all about? How did you get to work on this? What did your job entail?

International Arbitrations can be broadly classified into International CommercialArbitration and Investment Treaty Arbitration. India is signatory to several Bilateral Investment Treaties (BIT) with various countries. A foreign investor from the country, which is Signatory to a BIT with India, can invoke Investment Arbitration against India under such treaty. This is a developing area of Arbitration and the law is still in formative stage. The issues pertaining to jurisdiction and enforcement are most likely to come-up in such cases. I knew of a law firm in Delhi – Dutt Menon and Dunmorrsett that dealt with the famous Vodafone Tax case. They provided me an opportunity to work with them on a BIT arbitration issue. It was a very exciting opportunity and a constructive engagement before heading back to NUS.

 

What are the internship opportunities in Singapore?

It is possible to get internships in Singapore-based law firms provided the applications are sent at the right time to the right firm. For those coming to NUS for LL.M it will be helpful to them if they prepare a list of the firms where they want to intern before coming to Singapore. During the course of the semester managing internship applications alongside the usual coursework tasks, becomes little edgy.

 

How did you develop interest in Arbitration? Where do you see yourself by the end of the coming five years?

I had an interest in Dispute Resolution especially litigationeven before joining law school. At that time I did not know much about arbitration. My first initiation into the subject was when I chose to write a paper on it in my first year of Law School itself. Gradually with internships, interactions with the experts in the area and of course with formal initiation into the subject in GNLU, I realized that I have a knack for this area. Five years down the line I see myself as a counsel involved in Litigation as well as Arbitration. In the long term I see myself as working in Dispute Resolution practice area of an Indian Law firm. Moreover I see myself as an Indian lawyer qualified to practice in UK and Singapore after having cleared QLTS (Qualified Lawyer Transfer Scheme) and FPE (Foreign Practitioner Examination) for the respective jurisdictions.

 

Do you think that Singapore is gradually becoming the hub of Arbitration in Asia, especially for Indian Arbitrations? What are your thoughts on this? What are the opportunities for Indian Lawyers?

Singapore is becoming a favorite destination for the Arbitration Practitioners across Asia including India. The number of Arbitration agreements involving Indian parties, stipulating Singapore as a seat of Arbitration is increasing. A lot of sophisticated Indian Arbitration disputes are being settled in Singapore International Arbitration Center. It is a preferred destination also for ad-hoc arbitrations as Singapore courts have adopted a very favourable arbitration policy. Many Indian companies have their investments in Singapore so it becomes easy to enforce the award. In Singapore, Foreign-qualified lawyers who pass the Foreign Practitioner Examinations (FPE) can apply for a Foreign Practitioner Certificate (FPC) from the Attorney General to practice in permitted areas of Singapore law.

 

Lastly, what would be your message to people who want to take up a career in Arbitration?

I will say it is an exciting career option.  It is also very challenging at the same time. Arbitration and Litigation are two sides of the same coin. So if one enjoys spending more time arguing cases outside the office comforts, this is where they should see themselves. The skill set required for a counsel arguing before a court and before an Arbitration Tribunal is same. Except in the case of International Arbitration, the style of arguments differs if the Tribunal consists of experts trained in Civil Law in which case the style of arguments is substantially different from what Common Law lawyers like us are trained to use.

Lastly, I will say for those who do not have a legal background in their family and want to pursue litigation as a career option, just go for it if that is your calling. There will be hardships in the beginning, the incentives are less but in the end it is your passion, which will drive you forward towards success – so that in the end you can proudly say ‘And that has made all the difference’.

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