” I like the variety that comes with being a practising advocate. I did not deliberately choose these practice areas, most lawyers don’t get that choice– at least not initially when you’re starting out”- Devyani Gupta, Advocate-on-Record, Supreme Court of India

This Interview has been published by Pragya Chandni and The SuperLawyer Team

Could you please share with us the pivotal moments or experiences that led you to pursue a career in law, particularly your journey from your undergraduate studies at National Law Institute University, Bhopal, to earning an LL.M. from Cornell Law School?

I just went with the flow and ended up where I did. When I was in school, I was very sure that I’ll be studying English Hons. in Delhi University. Most of my classmates in school were heading to DU and I felt like that is where I want to be as well. But I cleared CLAT and allowed myself to be talked into studying law – and boy, am I glad I did! Although I was quite average academically, the five years I spent at Bhopal were very fulfilling. The decision to apply for Masters was also one without a lot of planning behind it –I was in the final year of my course, I had no job and I had no idea what I wanted to do. I made a last minute decision to apply for LL.M.. In fact, some of the admission deadlines for colleges had already passed by the time I got around to applying. My LL.M. year was very enriching and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

As an Advocate-on-Record at the Supreme Court of India, you have a diverse range of experiences, including representing political parties and government departments. What motivated you to specialize in areas such as commercial law, service law, constitutional law, and election law?

I like the variety that comes with being a practising advocate. I did not deliberately choose these practice areas, most lawyers don’t get that choice– at least not initially when you’re starting out. You say yes to all kinds of work. For me, this diversity is what keeps the work exciting and interesting.

During your time at Cornell Law School, you served as an Associate Editor for the Cornell International Law Journal and as a Researcher for the Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide. How did these roles shape your perspective on the legal profession, and how do they contribute to your current work?

My work as an Associate Editor for the Cornell International Law Journal felt like a natural extension of my work at the NLIU Law Review when I was in Bhopal. I had been a part of the journal since the first year, and continued up till my final fifth year when I was effectively in-charge of the Editorial Board – Content Review. At CILJ, I had an exposure to how much more professional these journals are; you work on tight deadlines, the articles and publications are by well-known academics, the editing is strict, the citations must always be as per the Bluebook. I feel like my editing experience helps me write and draft better. It instills an ability to discern good writing quickly.  

My time as a Researcher with the Death Penalty Worldwide was shorter. I felt like I had taken on too much, what with all the credits and extra-curricular activities, and could not continue it for longer. 

Drafting and researching constitute a big chunk of my professional responsibilities, so I’d say, yes, these experiences definitely help me now.  

From your extensive internship experience, including working at Parekh & Co., Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co., and others, which experiences had the most significant impact on your development as a legal professional, and how did they influence your career choices?

I did not do as many internships as some of my classmates and colleagues. But from the ones I did, I got a fair look into the workings of litigation chambers, litigation law firms and corporate law firms. I also got to work with an Intellectual Property Rights team, specifically the patents team of a law firm. Through these experiences, I realised that (A) I’m probably better suited as a litigating lawyer over a transactional one, and (B) I’d rather work with a small team of a few colleagues than with a large team of people. The internship experiences brought that clarity at some point.

You’ve been involved in varied cases relating to Constitutional matters, and also many election disputes involving RP Act, symbol order etc. Can you share a specific case or experience that challenged you professionally and how you navigated through it?

I think each case is a new challenge in itself. I cannot think of anything specific at the moment but I am looking forward to a few 7-judge bench matters that are scheduled to be listed where I am involved as the Advocate-on-Record. 

What made you decide to take the New York Bar Exam? Have you had the experience of handling cases before US Courts as an Attorney and Counselor-at-Law in the State of New York. 

Most international students in my LL.M. cohort were very keen on taking the New York Bar Exam. On finding that I can easily fulfil the eligibility requirement by taking certain credits from a list of a few select courses, I decided that I will also take the exam and see where it takes me if I pass. I was open to exploring work opportunities outside but I didn’t know what kind of law I wanted to practise. 

I passed the NY Bar, but I came back to India soon thereafter and joined the litigation chamber of an Advocate-on-Record. The NY Bar qualification is now just an embellishment on my CV. My feet – and practice – are firmly planted in the Supreme Court of India.

 Lastly, considering your rich and varied experiences, what advice would you give to recent law graduates who are embarking on their legal careers?

There is no straight line to success and everybody’s experiences are different. Don’t compare your path to others’. Stay motivated and stick it out. Showing up is half the battle.

Get n touch with Devyani Gupta-

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