In conversation with Mr Arush Khanna, Co-Founder and Partner at Numen Law Offices, and India’s Former National Representative at the International Bar Association in 2019, currently holds two officer positions in the Young Lawyers Committee.

Arush Khanna

This interview has been published by Sonali ParasharOjuswi Sahay and the SuperLawyer Team

How did choosing law as a career come into the picture for you? What were your law school days like at Symbiosis Law School and NLSIU?

Truth be told, Law came in as a default option after I cleared my 12th standard. During my school days, I had aspirations of pursuing a career in cricket. I missed an opportunity of getting into the Delhi Under-17 team in the 11th grade and injured myself soon after which made the cricket option too risky for me to pursue. Since I hadn’t nurtured any other ambition by then and coming from a family of lawyers (persuasive ones at that), I was positively influenced into taking up law as a career. 

I will always cherish the 5 years I spent at the Symbiosis Law School, Pune. Being away from home and living by myself contributed immensely to my growth as a person. I made some amazing friends who I consider as family. Once in a while, we all get together and regale ourselves by reminiscing our time in Pune. 

The Master’s program offered by NLSIU was predominantly a distance learning program which I pursued after having spent 3 years at the Bar.  I would only have to visit Bangalore once a year for my examinations. Aligned with NLSIU’s unmatched standards, it was a challenging course especially since I was working professionally and had limited time to devote to academia. I look back with great satisfaction for having taken up this challenge. Getting my degree from the Chief Justice of India, who by convention is also the Chancellor of the College was a special feeling. 

Being a fifth-generation lawyer, you have been fortunate to have your grandfather, Dr Lalit Bhasin, the President of the Society of Indian Law Firms and also the Managing Partner of Bhasin & Co; along with Senior Advocate Mr Sanjeev Anand, as your mentors. How essential do you believe a role model plays in one’s legal journey?

Darius Khambatta, one of the finest lawyers at the Bombay Bar once told me that in law, you learn most through Osmosis, which means by observation. He couldn’t have put it better! 

As a young lawyer, one longs for a sense of direction, purpose and the wisdom to know when to speak your mind and also, when to mind your speech. Ours is a heavy profession and every now and then, we need a dose of inspiration. That is why it is quintessential to have a mentor(s) in our line of work. I am indeed fortunate to have mentors like Dr Bhasin, Mr Karanjawala and Mr Anand. They have guided me at every important junction in my professional career and (*touching wood*) continue to do so. I hope I can make them proud one day. 

You have had great wins in your litigation journey, including TGIF judgement at Hyderabad, title dispute at the Bombay High Court, and your regular appearances before the Supreme Court, amongst others. What motivates you to scale bigger heights in dispute resolution?

The TGIF case was an inflection point in my career for it gave me the self-confidence to handle big-ticket litigation independently. I was 26 years old at the time and I still remember that I sought a passover, however, the Ld. Bench of the High Court of Judicature at Hyderabad refused to grant me one and directed me to present my submissions. There was a lot of public glare to this matter as the restaurant was alleged to have served liquor to underage persons which resulted in a fatal accident. It was heartening to get a favourable order whereby the HC quashed the liquor licence suspension order inter-alia on the ground that it was passed in violation of the principles of natural justice. 

Similarly, the title dispute before the Bombay HC was a memorable experience. Interestingly, we preferred a writ petition in this case and not a civil suit as the PSU had rejected our client’s bid for setting up an Ethanol Plant by stating that the land did not belong to the company but to the Director. I remember working tirelessly on this matter alongside my Partner, Chaitanyaa Bhandarkar and we were pleased to be rewarded by a favourable finding given by a bench of Justice Gautam Patel and Justice Madhav Jamdar after hearing us for two consecutive days. 

Dispute Resolution (Litigation and Arbitration) has always been my primary area of practice. It is a demanding line of work and one has to learn how to burn the midnight oil.  I make sure I consistently keep motivating (and hopefully, inspiring) my team to keep pursuing excellence in what they do. Notwithstanding the result, which is not in our hands, it is about enjoying the journey, finding the strategic nuances, researching for that clincher point and giving it our best before the Court or Tribunal.  

Let’s talk about your firm, Numen Law Offices, which you have co-founded and are a partner at. We’d love to know about the conception of this idea of establishing your own office and how have you been taking it forward?

Back in 2018, I would visit Mumbai almost on a fortnightly basis for work. As cliche as it may sound, I remember telling my cousin while we were driving down from Walkeshwar overlooking the Marine Drive that I wish to have an office here one day. I am glad that I connected with like-minded professionals during my adventures at the Bombay High Court. Everyone understood the need to collaborate as then we would be able to provide more services under one roof. Law is a vast profession and clients prefer specialists. We started Numen Law Offices with 4 Partners, all of whom bring different skill sets to the firm’s repertoire. We currently have two offices, one in New Delhi and the other in Mumbai. We have tried our best to incorporate the best practices, be it in our core legal work or in the managerial side of the firm. We have a dedicated HR, Accounting and IT team all of whom contribute immensely to the running of the firm. It has been a challenging yet rewarding journey thus far but as Robert Frost once famously wrote, “the woods are lovely, dark and deep but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep”

You also hold a strong association with the International Bar Association, where you were appointed as India’s National Representative in 2019 and currently hold two officer positions in the Young Lawyers Committee. Tell us about your experience at the largest bar association in the world, and how it has helped pave your journey forward?

My appointment as a National Representative could have been a case of being at the right place at the right time. In 2017, I was selected as a scholar to speak at the IBA Annual Conference in Sydney. A day before the main conference, I attended the Young Lawyers Training Program where I was introduced to the then chair of the YLC by my friend Pranav Srivastava, who, after speaking to me for 10 minutes, suggested that I should apply for the NR position.  I did apply and as luck would have it, my candidature was approved by the YLC Board. That’s where my journey with the IBA began. I was soon appointed as an Officer at the YLC and now hold the position of the Asia Pacific Regional Forum Liaison Officer as well as the Scholarship Officer of the Committee. It’s really been a great journey with the IBA. 

Our profession has transcended national boundaries and as young lawyers, we must look at opportunities to synergise with our global brethren. In addition to one’s core practice areas (litigation/corporate law etc.), it is important to devote time to increase your bandwidth as a professional. This not only forges life-long relationships but embellishes one’s own profile as well. 

Amongst your various areas of specialisation including, Commercial Disputes in the field of Arbitration, Insolvency, Real Estate, Projects & Infrastructure, which area of practice excites you the most personally?

I ventured into independent practice at a fairly young age as a result there were many days when I would not have much work to do. So any new matter coming my way got me excited. I am fortunate to be slightly busier now but that sentiment of excitement about getting a new brief or opinion is still the same as it was 6 years back. 

All types of commercial disputes excite me. I am involved in some construction arbitrations and also doing noteworthy work in the Insolvency sector. Recently, I have also been instructed to give legal opinions on contractual issues arising out of complex infrastructure projects. They require a very nuanced yet pragmatic approach which aligns with the objectives of the company. I have some white-collar cases on my docket which makes for a great interplay between commercial and criminal jurisprudence. I am happy to be doing good work but it is still very much a work in progress. 

Not only law practice, but legal academia is your strong suit, with over 25 publications in both national and international journals. How essential do you believe research and writing are in a lawyer’s career?

I have always believed that legal academia and writing embellish your profile as a professional. Especially for us litigators as it allows us to express our thoughts in a non-confrontational and non-adversarial manner. It improves one’s research, analytical and drafting skills, that too on a far wider canvas as opposed to our briefs, which have several strategic restrictions. 

At Numen Law Offices, we have started a monthly newsletter wherein our members are mandated to write one short article on a topical issue covering their area of practice. I also encourage my juniors to give lectures/talks at law schools and I do so when the opportunity arises. We try to imbibe a culture that encourages us to look and think beyond our respective briefs. 

Finally, with so many experiences that you have gathered so early on in your career, what would your advice be for the up and coming legal professionals?

The first advice would be that one should always feel that they are ‘up and coming’. A sense of satisfaction with one’s position at the bar leads to complacency for which there is no room in our profession. Every day there is something new to learn. We are all tenants of success and need to give our dues regularly to stay in the game. 

However, what is most important in life, and more so in this profession is to love what you do. Some say the law is a jealous mistress, others call it a lifelong marriage. Whatever it may be, it is quintessential that one is passionate about their work. With the advent of the metaverse and the boom in IT, several new regulations and laws are likely to surface giving opportunities to young lawyers to develop new areas of expertise. The legal services sector has transcended national boundaries so young lawyers today have several opportunities to practice anywhere across the world. It is a great time to be a part of this profession so treat every day as an adventure and every conversation as an opportunity. There is a proverbial saying that if the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second-best time is now!

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