“Hard work has always been the key to any success story. And updating oneself with all new developments would help in going long way” – Altaf Fathima, Advocate-On-Record & Partner at Saraf and Partners

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

Can you share with us the story of how you embarked on your journey in the field of law? What inspired you to pursue a career in this challenging yet rewarding profession?

It was a mere coincidence. I was waiting to join medical college and since my rank was a little high my parents were looking at various options, In the interim my mother insisted that I should expand my General knowledge and write some competitive exams. She was always interested in Law and when she read in the Newspaper that the State of Andhra Pradesh (then a combined state) has a National Law University akin to NLS Bangalore, she decided that I should write the entrance and once I wrote the entrance and was qualified, she wanted me to join NALSAR. 10 days into law school, I knew that I belonged there.

Transitioning from being an independent practitioner to partnering with esteemed law firms like Saraf and Partners must have been significant. What motivated you to make these transitions, and what unique opportunities did they offer?

There is a huge difference between being an independent Lawyer to being a Partner in Law firm or being part of a Law firm. I handled work for some Law firms while I was an independent practitioner and I enjoyed the quality and Variety of work that Law firms offered. Hence when I was offered a position in a Law firm, I decided to accept it. Getting an opportunity to work with Foreign Law firms and assisting them with their local disputes is something I enjoy and believe that only a Law firm can offer. The reason is that Foreign Law firms are comfortable engaging a reputed law firm instead of an individual lawyer as it assures them not only of quality of work but the immediate response and confidence of a team being involved instead of an individual.

As an Advocate-on-Record, you’ve represented clients before various legal forums. Could you share insights into how your approach differs when dealing with different types of cases, be it criminal, corporate, or others?

Connecting evidence to build a case and convincing the court to discard the evidence that falsifies your case is crucial in any Criminal matter. I feel what is required is thorough knowledge of facts and procedure and connecting the same with relevant case law wherever required. Sometimes I rely on the peculiarity/uniqueness of the case in the absence of case law to score an order.

Even in a civil dispute, I believe that a strong hold on facts is necessary as it will help you in taking varied steps without having any negative impact on main issue. Problem-solving and immediate relief are two aspects that the party intends to achieve when it is faced with litigation. I look at the problem holistically and adopt a foolproof approach, acknowledge the loopholes in our case and highlight the strength of our case to achieve better results. 

In commercial disputes, my focus is mainly on obtaining immediate relief which gives the party an upper hand over the opponent which finally weighs during the final hearing or settlement.

Being appointed as Amicus Curiae by the Supreme Court for complicated criminal matters is quite an honor. Can you share an experience from one such case where your intervention made a significant impact?

The matters that I represented as Amicus curiae were of convicts facing life imprisonment. I cannot claim to have made a significant impact but it definitely gave me an opportunity to assist the court and bring before the court the facts and evidence which were not appreciated by lower courts.

Outside of your legal career, what are some personal hobbies or interests that you find enriching, and how do they complement your professional life?

I always enjoyed meeting new people, making new friends. I am a very outgoing person. Knowing more people and more life stories helps you in becoming a better person. Understanding others point of view brings a different perspective and I feel that guides me in professional life. When I work with a lawyer or against lawyer, I am able to appreciate some of their unique traits as lawyer which enhances their professional self and I am able to absorb the said qualities to the extent it suits me. I feel that it is because of my personal interest of knowing people that I am able to appreciate them.

Reflecting on your journey thus far, what advice would you give to aspiring lawyers looking to build a successful career in the legal field, especially in today’s dynamic and competitive landscape?

Hard work has always been the key to any success story. And updating oneself with all new developments would help in going long way. With emergence of AI, youngsters should brace themselves with appropriate skills to tackle the competition and stand out.

Recognizing your potential, top law firms have partnered with you. What qualities do you believe set you apart as a legal professional and make you a sought-after partner for these firms?

Giving 100% to work, being absolutely dedicated to organisation that I work for, having an intention to uphold the pride of organisation and doing good business to my potential may be the factors. I have been lucky to be associated with such great firms and people.

Having practiced both as an Advocate-On-Record and as a Partner in prominent law firms, how would you describe the differences in the nature of work and professional dynamics between these two roles?

One major difference is that you understand and act towards the desired results of the client better in a law firm setup. As an independent lawyer, you sometimes may tend to prevail over the client and limit his/her expectations as the same may seem to be beyond the purview of the case but sometimes when you listen to the client there are situations when better reliefs are obtained or at least doors have opened to better reliefs

In your extensive career, you’ve encountered a myriad of legal scenarios. Could you share a particularly unconventional or unexpected challenge you faced in a case and how you navigated through it, showcasing your adaptability and creative problem-solving skills?

I will use the latest example where we filed a review petition against the order in Writ Petition. The client had consulted renowned senior advocates at Hyderabad but could not come up with definitive plan and was confused about the way forward. The Opponents who are the third parties to the specific performance suit filed by the client obtained an order by filing a writ petition for registration of suit property in their favour. This was done by misleading the court that there is no injunction order in favour of my client. When the client approached us the issue was three fold

1. What would be the effect of reversing the order in the writ petition

2. Once the sale is complete can it be reversed by order in review.

3. What would be the right approach since a declaration suit filed by the opponent and a suit for cancellation of the sale deed filed by us are pending before other courts.

We have strategized the case and while taking steps simultaneously before different forums to avoid any further damage to the case, we were able to navigate towards success. Today my client has a favourable order for the cancellation of the sale deed of the opponent.

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