“Hard work pays off… ‘Fall down seven times, Stand up eight.” – From Mumbai’s Legal Haven to Dubai’s Dispute Resolution Hub: Adhiraj Malhotra, Managing Director at Singularity Legal

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

Your journey from Government Law College, Mumbai to becoming a Managing Director at Singularity Legal in Dubai is quite impressive. Could you share some insights into how you started your career and the pivotal moments that shaped your trajectory?

  • Since I am a first-generation lawyer, there was little to no guidance for me from anyone in my family into what the legal profession entailed and the various nuances one needs to understand to completely foresee a career as a lawyer. My years at Government Law College were remarkable inasmuch as while the curriculum was largely manageable, the extra-curricular activities that went on in college were immersive. 
  • I was fortunate to find considerable interest in Students for Promotion of International Law. This was my first pivotal moment where the idea of practicing international disputes was seeded in my mind. During college I was never counted in one of the sharpest minds in class. That title belonged to my college friends and some of whom I continue to remain in touch with even today. The next pivotal moment was the chance to do internships while studying. My college has a storied history, one which needs no introduction and has always pushed students to gain practical exposure. 
  • The chance to intern with one of the best law firms in the country during the last three years of law school not only gave me a sense of understanding of what differs between theoretical and practical know-how of the study of law but also the several intricacies which are involved in the practice. This allowed me to get a pre-placement offer from a leading boutique law firm, DMD Advocates and allowed me to gain experience from a stellar mentor in Ms. Fereshte D. Sethna. I am humbly grateful to her for teaching me the ropes and this is where I truly fell in love with international disputes. 
  • During my time at DMD Advocates and then at Bharucha & Partners, I not only have had the chance to work alongside the top legal eagles in India but have also been fortunate to work with magic circle firms and King’s Counsel(s) allowing me to gain exposure and enabling me to think from the standpoint of a client with projects and interests in different jurisdictions.

As someone who has worked with Fortune 500 companies and private equity firms, could you elaborate on the role of legal strategy and advisory in facilitating strategic acquisitions and setting up industrial projects?

  • There are several lenses that one needs to wear if they are to advise any Fortune 500 company or private equity firm and that is because you are working with one of the sharpest minds in the profession and those who have specific expertise in the subject matter. 
  • My role as a legal advisor to these companies and firms was from the standpoint of a strategist in highlighting the various issues which are required to be looked at not only from a legal perspective but also from a securities and regulatory perspective. My experience in handling international disputes for similar clients helped me to understand their issues fairly quickly and deliver as per the client’s requirements. 
  • Almost all the companies which I have dealt with have been publicly traded entities either on the Indian stock exchange or other exchanges across the globe. There has been a high demand for data center setups in Maharashtra and has seen an increased interest from various international conglomerates. This poses its own challenges with different cultures and jurisdictions at play. Thus, it becomes extremely crucial to understand the pain points from a client perspective when it comes to entering into a transaction for setting up an industrial project. 
  • Another important requirement one needs to keep in mind is to ensure that the wider team working on due-diligence aspect and other issues are aligned and fine-tuned to the real-world issues being faced on the transaction. My role entailed leading the transaction from top to bottom and included overseeing the legal, operations, diligence and architectural teams to ensure the client’s targets are achieved. 

You’ve recently cleared the UK Solicitor Qualification Examination. How do you think this additional qualification will enhance your practice, particularly in the context of international disputes? Additionally, could you share what motivated you to pursue this exam amidst your already demanding career? And any tips for the person who wants to give this exam.

  • First and foremost, the UK Solicitors Qualification Exam is one of the toughest exams there are across fields and that in itself puts immense pressure. The rigorous curriculum not only enhances your thinking and capabilities but the hours one puts in crossing the line engrains the different threads of law in oneself. 
  • As an Indian lawyer working in Dubai, which is steadily becoming the global melting pot, it has tremendous advantages. There is a huge influx of investments from all across the globe. While the UAE judicial system is extremely robust, there is a high demand for a system which is closer to home. The DIFC Courts and ADGM Courts are common law dispute resolution centers, one which have put Dubai on the map for dispute resolution. As a Solicitor of England & Wales, the DIFC and ADGM Courts are home ground for me more so now than before. 
  • In terms of pursuing the SQE and the motivation, all I could say is that I had very early on in my career decided that I would not pursue a master’s degree considering I was predominantly a commercial disputes lawyer and found no reasons as to how a master’s degree could help me. I was obviously wrong. At this stage of my career, I felt that a dual qualification would benefit me more professionally than a master’s degree and I plunged straight into it. I took it as a challenge, and one which was very hard considering I had shifted jurisdictions as well. In the end, hard work pays off and nonetheless I have always believed in myself and stand by my motto “Fall down seven time Stand up eight”.

In your opinion, what are some emerging trends or challenges in the field of international arbitration and commercial disputes that legal professionals should be mindful of?

  • At the outset, I would say that there are far too many to really count. But there are some important ones which I would like to highlight, specifically litigation finance and cross-border enforcement and recognition. 
  • Litigation finance is third party funding obtained by a company from a financier, to pay the litigation costs incurred during a dispute. A funder may also act as a general contractor to help strategies and manage the dispute and costs. This type of funding adjudges the value of legal claims even before they can be recovered before a Court or Tribunal. In this arrangement, the financier is entitled to an agreed share in the monetary settlement received by the company, and only if the litigation is favourable i.e. it is entirely non-recourse. While the Indian litigation financing industry is in a nascent stage, there is tremendous scope for this market in the country. There are now an association of major global players in litigation financing which have come together and formed the Indian Association of Litigation Finance. 
  • Cross-border enforcement and recognition is somewhat an underlying secret. Usually, a party would straight up go and enforce and award and order in a jurisdiction where they have secured relief. In reality, things are very difficult and tricky. Enforcement and execution have since ages been a pain point for a judgment creditor and one which takes the most amount of effort. In my experience, it is very important to ensure that the lawyers are alive to challenges such as dissipation of assets and incognito preferential sale(s) since almost always the assets of a judgment debtor are in a completely alien jurisdiction or a tax-haven entirely unbeknownst to the creditors. This way dissipation of assets is carried out under the rug and the judgment or award is rendered as a mere piece of papers. 
  • One advice I give all my clients is to invest in an investigative asset search exercise at the outset, and sometimes even prior to invocation just as a safety net to ensure that enforcement and execution is smooth. This has helped me in my career and luckily has served well for all my clients. I have been fortunate to have been part of teams where we have secured execution of judgment(s) and award(s) in as less as 3 months. 

After years of practicing law in India, what motivated your decision to transition to Dubai and take on the role of Managing Director at Singularity Legal? Could you share some insights into the factors that influenced this move and how it has impacted your professional journey?

  • This was more of a personal choice rather than a professional one. I was well established in India and practiced regularly before the Supreme Court, High Court(s) and Tribunals, when I took the chance of going in-house. The only other thing then which was left was to try working in a different jurisdiction altogether. While I have been fortunate to have worked on disputes ranging across Europe, United Kingdom, United States of America and South-East Asia, I had not permanently moved my base. 
  • With Singularity Legal it was an easy decision. Singularity Legal had been making great strides in the international disputes sector and I had been keenly looking at their growth. The chance to associate myself with an international disputes firm and grow the firm in a very interesting jurisdiction like the Middle East was an opportunity which comes to few lawyers and I grabbed it with both hands. 
  • Another factor which played an important role was my inclination to work across jurisdictions. Since I have done a fair bit of international arbitrations and investor-state disputes, this was a playground which was far too familiar albeit with its own set of challenges. The challenge to make my presence and name while at the same time growing the reputation of the firm in an entirely new jurisdiction was exciting and invigorating at the same time. Fair to say that the last one year has been an eventful journey and I am glad that I chose to make the decision rather than sit in a comfortable cocoon after having spent 10 years building my name in the legal profession in India. 

Your work spans across diverse sectors such as energy, maritime, aviation, and taxation. How do you stay updated with the latest developments and regulations across these industries?

  • It is an arduous task and one which every lawyer needs to embody in their schedule to ensure continuous growth and development. We are only as good as our knowledge. Lawyers like doctors never stop learning and studying. A few ways which I manage to keep abreast with developments across the various sectors in which I practice are:
  • Continuous Learning: I dedicate a fixed amount of time to ongoing learning through seminars, workshops, conferences, and webinars specific to each industry. These events often feature industry experts who discuss emerging trends, regulatory changes, and best practices.
  • Industry Publications and Journals: I also subscribe to industry-specific publications, journals, newsletters, and online platforms allows me to stay informed about the latest news, case law, regulatory updates, and market trends relevant to each sector.
  • Professional Associations and Networks: I have actively participated in professional associations and industry-specific networks. These are exceptionally useful not only as a networking platform but also to hone skills and gather knowledge across various sectors. 
  • Research and Legal Update Tools: I constantly use various legal research portals to seif through updates in different industries as also jurisdictions considering I cover different territories. I cannot emphasize how important it is to go on these research portals irrespective of whether you need to research or not just to ensure that you read what the new cases are and what is the legal point which is being discussed. 
  • The last thing which I do is no industry secret but one which I have taken from the practice of several leading luminaries through the last 11 years. This is to maintain a record of all the different areas of law where I have read an interesting point of law. At the same time, I also maintain a sheet which has a list of all the individuals whom I have met. These are my holy grail(s) and I would swear by every lawyer making a similar one for themselves. It is the most efficient reference point for me in time where I am stuck. 

As the Managing Director at Singularity Legal, could you provide insight into your role and responsibilities within the firm, and how you contribute to shaping its growth strategies and operational efficiency?

As the Managing Director at Singularity Legal, I lead the operations of the firm’s Middle East practice group and work in a dual role. As a key member of the firm, my role and responsibilities are multifaceted, encompassing various aspects of legal practice, strategic planning, and operational management. I advise clients in my capacity as a counsel and at the same time I am involved with the growth team to increase the firm’s reach in the Middle East. 

  • Operationally, it is imperative to ensure that time is chalked out for each activity especially considering the amount of networking activities that are going on across the Middle East. I actively engage in business development initiatives, including client prospecting, relationship building, and networking activities. By cultivating strong relationships with existing clients and identifying opportunities to expand our client base, I contribute to the firm’s revenue growth and market presence.
  • I actively engage in training and mentorship initiatives to support the professional development of junior associates and staff members. By sharing my knowledge, experience, and best practices, I help cultivate a culture of continuous learning and excellence within the firm. I also collaborate closely with colleagues across different jurisdictions to leverage collective expertise, resources, and synergies. Singularity Legal is an international disputes firm with offices across India, UAE and Singapore and by fostering a collaborative and cohesive working environment, I contribute to the firm’s overall effectiveness and success.

In today’s digital age, technology plays a significant role in various industries. How do you envision the coming generation leveraging technology to achieve success in the legal profession, and what advice would you give to young aspiring lawyers on effectively utilizing technological advancements to enhance their growth and expertise?

  • Embrace technology as a tool to enhance your legal practice rather than fearing it as a disruptor. Stay open-minded about exploring new technologies and learning how they can improve efficiency and effectiveness in your work. AI has made significant strides in each industry and it is only a matter of time that we lawyers are also subsumed with the AI bug. Already a lot of the international law firms have developed their own proprietary AI tools to assist in regular day-to-day functioning. Technology helps in upskilling an industry and one should only embrace it. 
  • Investing time and resources in acquiring technological skills relevant to the legal profession as also growing aware of the recent technological developments in the legal field. It would be very useful to attend training programs, workshops, and online courses to develop proficiency in legal tech tools and platforms. 
  • Stay informed about the latest developments in legal technology and be proactive in adapting to changes in the digital landscape. Follow industry publications, attend conferences, and engage with legal tech communities to stay updated on emerging trends and innovations. There is a huge Fintech boom and Legal tech is not far behind. 
  • Collaborate with colleagues and peers to share knowledge, experiences, and best practices related to technology in the legal profession. Networking with professionals in legal tech startups, innovation hubs, and accelerators can also provide valuable insights and opportunities for collaboration. However, it is most important to focus on client value and use technology to deliver greater benefit to the client by offering innovative solutions, enhancing efficiency, and improving the overall client experience. Keeping client needs and objectives at the forefront of your technological initiatives is what will allow a lawyer to absolutely shine.

Amidst your demanding professional commitments, it’s important to find time for relaxation and rejuvenation. Could you share with us what hobbies or activities you enjoy to unwind and recharge after a busy day in the legal realm?

  • Absolutely, being a lawyer is a demanding and hi-octane profession and one which is extremely mentally saturating as well. I have always been very vocal about maintaining a good balance between professional and personal goals. One may be doing exceptionally well professionally but if they are struggling personally, it is not worth it. 
  • I am a sports enthusiast and have tried my hands at multiple sports. However, football and golf are my go-to sporting activities to unwind. I have also recently found long-distance cycling to be a calming force which allows me to unwind amidst a busy and hectic day or week. Apart from these, I enjoy running and will be training to run the marathon this year. 

Get in touch with Adhiraj Malhotra-

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