“Eat well and stay fit – don’t be 50 at 35. No matter how successful you become in life – always respect the Bench.” – Shiv Sapra, Partner at Kochhar & Co.

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

Reflecting on your journey, could you share some insights into your college days at ILS Law College, Pune, and the initial struggles you faced in the early days of your career after graduating? How did those experiences shape your resilience and approach to the legal profession?

Law School is where you formed your foundations, be it education or friends. ILS Law College was, and remains, one of the most prestigious institutions in Law. It was an incredible learning experience as you came together with aspiring lawyers from all over the country. It was evident from the beginning that the legal profession professed immense competition and that one needed to do more than what was ‘required’ in order to stay ahead of the curve. Whilst at Law School, our version of finding a job was finding an ‘internship’! There was immense competition, if for nothing else, then for bragging rights – which was an undeniable reality. These early experiences were a lesson for later years – that life wouldn’t be easy, or fair. 

Your legal career spans over 17 years, with a wealth of experience in civil/criminal litigation and commercial arbitration. Can you share a memorable moment or case that significantly shaped your approach to legal practice?

It was in my second year in the profession where I was faced with the occasion of having to argue a high stakes matter before the Delhi High Court in an arbitration case. As my senior was on his legs at that moment (as is very common), I sought the customary Passover. However, the Hon’ble Judge insisted (read: encouraged) that I present the arguments. Reluctantly, I proceeded with the arguments. My senior arrived mid-way but the Hon’ble Judge insisted I continue. After the hearing, my senior encouraged me to lead the matter, of course, with his support in whatever way needed. We went on to win the matter.

The takeaway: Judges will always be there to inspire and encourage you, but the hard work will have to be yours alone. You must be able to cash in on opportunities through thorough preparation, of law as well as facts. Your Seniors will also be there to mentor and guide you, but you must win their trust – again, through your work. These are privileges, which must never be misused. 

I was extremely fortunate to have found the support from my senior during my early years who was pivotal in my learnings, especially that there is nothing like a big or small matter. Every matter is equally important for a lawyer because it carries the trust of a client, which must be reciprocated with competence and responsibility. Also, you either know an answer or you don’t – never faff! Your duty to your client is always first and sacrosanct.

As a Partner at Kochhar & Co., you handle disputes related to arbitration, insolvency, and commercial litigation. What aspect of your current role do you find most fulfilling and challenging?

Keeping abreast with the ever evolving concepts of law is one of the most crucial aspects for any practice, be it Arbitration, Insolvency, or any other field. Clients look for solutions from both legal as well as commercial perspectives. Striking a balance between the two remains the most challenging and satisfying aspect. Your skillset must include the ability to provide out of the box solutions. 

Beyond your legal expertise, you’ve been associated with various publications. What inspired you to write articles?

As a lawyer, you are constantly exploring ways to hone your skills, especially reasoning and conveyancing. When you write an article, you are free to express your own views on a subject after understanding the jurisprudence and evolution of said subject. But it is not just about sharing your views, rather how to grasp the attention of the reader. This requires a fair amount of research and formulation of opinions based thereon. To articulate and convey your views independent of others is the biggest privilege a lawyer has. 

Your bio mentions a deep passion for the legal profession, passed down through a family of lawyers. How has this familial connection influenced your journey, and what does the legal profession mean to you on a personal level? 

Growing up, we were privy to numerous stories and anecdotes emanating from the legal profession. This definitely had an impact on the decision to pursue law, but said decision was never owing to expectation or pressure. We were always free to choose our career path and were always supported in that. From the beginning, we were motivated to make it on our own and not through whom you knew. Case in point: my father refused to consider my candidature for his organization unless I had garnered at least 3-4 years of experience!  

I have always considered the legal profession as a noble profession. I learned very early that representing a client was an enormous responsibility which could only be shouldered through your understanding of the law and a thorough appreciation of the issues involved. On the other hand, you are also an officer of the Court, which comes with its own set of responsibilities. There must be a sense of pride when you don the gown, but never arrogance.   

Having been associated with both DSK Legal and Luthra & Luthra Law Offices, what unique aspects of each firm have contributed to your professional growth, and how do these experiences influence your approach as a Partner at Kochhar & Co.? 

Both organizations had very distinct and unique characteristics.  

While at Luthra, I was fortunate to have been a part of a wonderful set of lawyers, and human beings alike in a very close knit environment. Our senior colleagues were always ready to help and mentor, which every newcomer looked to. A lot was learnt in the ways of mentorship and on how to hone your skills as a lawyer. In many ways, I learnt my core professional values whilst at Luthra. It taught me the importance of not only learning to deliver quality, but also of the need to guide and assist youngsters. 

DSK Legal further encouraged you to go beyond the role of a Partner and to grow as an individual. It is with the combined experience garnered from both organizations that I look to assisting my present organization in its visions ahead.

From your time at The Doon School to being a School Athletics Captain, how do you think your early experiences and leadership roles in school have shaped your professional journey?

Doon has played a pivotal role in my journey. I was primarily a long distance runner which entailed two main requirements: keep breathing, and keep going – a trait most often needed in today’s profession in many ways! Doon inculcated a strict sense of discipline and leadership from a very early age. These characteristics have been essential to me through the years in the profession. 

In addition to your legal expertise, you’ve authored articles and judged Moot Courts. How do you balance the roles of an author, mentor, and litigator, and how do these activities contribute to your overall professional satisfaction? 

All these roles are interlinked. It is crucial to invest in mentoring and undertaking extracurriculars beyond work. Time has always been a constraint but one needs to find the time as these are investments you make in yourself as an individual. Moot Courts are an excellent way to interact with budding lawyers and to get a feeling on how they perceive the law and present themselves. The coming generation is extremely sharp and intelligent, and they certainly offer a fresh perspective, which is often much needed.

Apart from your professional commitments, how do you unwind and relax? Are there any hobbies or activities that you particularly enjoy in your free time? 

Travelling has been the best way for unwinding and finding a break from the regular vigour of life. I found my ultimate Xen in Scuba Diving many years back, which I pursue religiously.  

AI is fast taking charge in developing times. How do you see AI impacting the legal industry?

Technology has always been a powerful tool in a lawyers arsenal. Online research, though not a substitute for conventional modes, has certainly been a boon over the past many years with access to legal databases merely a click away. Now with the advent of AI, the landscape of the profession is fast changing. Numerous Corporates have already started using this for their professional needs. There is thus a dire need for lawyers to adopt and adapt, lest you miss the bus. 

AI is well poised to reduce (and in cases, even remove) the reliance on different sources, be it drafting or research. Although human logic and ingenuity is difficult to be substituted, Generative AI is certainly a stiff competition in the field. What will be the endgame in the vista, time will tell. For now, AI is certainly the most powerful tool available to us and its potential must be capitalized. 

Would you like to share any suggestions or advice for the upcoming generation of lawyers?

  • Read, read, and read! There is no shortcut to hardwork. Every lawyer is unique. 
  • Cherish your relationship with your Mentor, but maintain respect and independence. Read “Letters to a Young lawyer” by Alan M.Dershowitz for more insights.
  • Invest time in networking early – this will be your biggest asset in the later years.
  • Always look out for yourself – you alone will be responsible on setting the trajectory of your career. Don’t let anyone dictate your choices. Have confidence in yourself.
  • Eat well and stay fit – don’t be 50 at 35.
  • Lastly: no matter how successful you become in life – always respect the Bench.

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