“In the dynamic realm of corporate law, success is not just about transactions; it’s about teamwork, evolving strategies, and navigating complexities. Each challenge is an opportunity to craft a lasting impact.” – Payal Dayal, Partner – Corporate Head, AKS Partners (Advocates | Solicitors | Consultants)

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

Reflecting on your journey, from pursuing law to your college days, could you share some key moments or experiences that influenced your decision to enter the legal profession? How did your time in law school shape your understanding of the legal landscape and contribute to the path you’ve taken in your career today?

At the outset I must share that pursuing law just happened. I am a first-generation lawyer and hence the thought of doing law never came in discussions during my growing up years. But yes, one thing I knew, my grandfather wanted my father to be a lawyer so when I cleared my law entrance exam and finally got admitted to Amity Law School, I thought to myself how proud my grandfather would be, had he lived to see this day, as I get to fulfil his dreams. Other than that, it was sheer luck and destiny to do law from Amity in as much as I only gave the entrance exam for Amity Law School and cracked it!  

Moving on to the first semester of law and the introduction to moot courts was all too overwhelming for me. I was always an active member of the moot court society and loved to participate in moot court competitions. I started admiring the dynamics of law as a field of study and enjoyed my college days to the fullest. A few subjects like International Law, Constitutional Law, Intellectual Property Law and Corporate Law were amongst my favourites. To top it all, I never missed a good internship opportunity which got me more in touch with the profession as it was practiced – being very different from our moot courts and theory we learn in college.

After doing my final semester three-month internship with a top tier law firm in the corporate team, I decided to work in a law firm and in the corporate field rather than dawning the black robes.

Your journey has been quite diverse, spanning from serving as an intern at organizations like Steel Authority of India Limited to your current role as Partner – Corporate Head at AKS Partners. How have these varied experiences shaped your perspective on corporate law, and what valuable lessons have you learned along the way?

Each internship and each role in my previous law firms including the current one taught me a different lesson. As an intern at Steel Authority of India, I was involved with their ongoing arbitrations. As an intern at the International Labour Organisation, an agency of the United Nations, I gained knowledge of different aspects of labour disputes, and so on and so forth. My internship experience, irrespective of the organisation or a firm, have always been enriching ones. However, when one starts practicing, that becomes a different ball game altogether.

What I am today in the professional field I owe to my mentor under whose mentorship I commenced my professional journey in the corporate field around 17 years back. It was truly there that my career shaped the way it has. I assisted and then independently undertook many transactions in diverse industry segments, opined on various industry specific issues, worked on FDI matters which fascinated me a lot at the time. These past learnings have eased my role and responsibility as a Partner-Corporate Head at AKS Partners. 

The biggest learning that I take from the diverse experiences I have had is that teamwork always yields good results. You need to have trust in your team, at whatever position you are on the ladder. It plays a big role especially when you are mentoring juniors and delegating tasks to them. When I started out in the profession, my mentor always backed me. At times I would come up with ideas and solutions that my mentor had not thought of. That gave me a lot of confidence, and I have made it a point to imbibe the same confidence in my juniors. Another big learning is that clients often come to you with a ‘solution’ already in mind. Doing exactly as they say is often the easiest way but may not always be the best way. Therefore, you need to look at the problem objectively and guide them in the right direction.                            

As a partner, you’ve represented clients before the Reserve Bank of India in compounding matters. How do you approach such regulatory challenges, and what strategies do you employ to navigate through the intricacies of regulatory compliance?

I have appeared before the Reserve Bank of India (Mumbai) a couple of times but initially I appeared while I was still a Senior Associate. My mentor had utmost faith in me that I could handle the matter independently. Having said that, there is no shortcut to being thoroughly prepared particularly prior to appearing before the regulatory authorities. The regulatory authorities always appreciate lawyers who have systematically and carefully drafted their application and stated the reason behind a compoundable contravention. A methodically and logically drafted application taking care of all the nuances increases the chances of reaching the ears of the regulatory authorities. 

Your horizontal practice areas include Commercial Contracts, Corporate compliance, Joint Venture/ Collaboration/ Acquisition, and more. Is there a specific area that you find particularly fascinating or challenging, and why?

Acquisitions clubbed with market entry/ investment advisory, inter-alia, is my specialisation and what excites me the most is that each acquisition has a different strategy from the other and that there is no straitjacket formula that fits one and all. Particularly when there is a foreign company involved, FDI advisory clubbed with tax advise becomes very significant and the right structure and entry route is strategically quintessential. Very often, it is this first step which is challenging in addition to negotiating difficult aspects (usually the parked points) for which the principals are on loggerheads at the negotiating table. Having said that, taking the transaction to its righteous end, i.e., completion or closing as one may call it, excites me the most.   

The Corporate Due Diligences you’ve undertaken covered a wide range of areas, including Labour and Industrial Laws, Environmental Laws, and Competition Law. How do you stay abreast of the ever-evolving legal landscape in these diverse fields, and how do you ensure your advice is both current and relevant?

As a lawyer, it is one’s job to stay updated with the law at all times. I keep myself updated by reading the SCC every fortnightly and by frequenting regulator websites like RBI, SEBI, CCI, IBBI, MCA for latest notifications, master directions, press-notes, etc. on a daily basis before I begin my work for the day.

To answer the second part of your question, before giving advise I always check the sectoral regulations and any updates on the point including in the form of apex court decisions.

You’ve been involved in publications, including ‘The Drone Dichotomy – A Game Changer.’ What sparked your interest in this particular topic, and how do you see the legal landscape evolving with emerging technologies like drones?

When I embarked writing on the topic, the regulations were yet to come out and the authorities were still grappling with the facts, i.e., the opportunities such a technology presented and challenges that it could pose as the idea of using “Drones” for various purposes was relatively new for the country. It immediately ignited my brainwaves to think of how this potential technology could be used and that too in a regulated way and even more towards the privacy concerns that were hovering in my mind for some time in case of absence of sufficient regulations on this aspect.

Since then, the legal landscape has evolved substantially. The Ministry of Civil Aviation Government of India (MoCA) has framed comprehensive laws to ensure proper regulation of use of drones. The framework addresses concerns like safety standards, airspace management and privacy challenges. Of course there are several other aspects that are bound to crop up with more and more use of the technology and the regulator, i.e., MoCA, will have to come up with practical solutions whether it be on determination of liability in the event of an accident with various jurisdictions involved or accountability in case of remote controlled drones. International collaboration on regulating drone technology is no longer a far-flung concept.

Your sector expertise ranges from Manufacturing to Renewable Energy. How do you keep yourself updated with the nuances of such varied industries, and what role does industry-specific knowledge play in your legal practice?

I reiterate that one should keep reading and stay updated on the legal framework and nuances particularly in the sectors that one practices in. This can be done by reading the statutory framework along with the landmark judgments and articles on the point in the relevant sector.

During your time at Amity Law School, you were an active member of the Amity Moot Court Society. Can you share your perspective on the significance of participating in moot court competitions for law students? How do you believe these experiences contribute to a student’s overall legal education and career development?

I believe moot courts help the students in three ways. Firstly, it teaches the students to research, and not just in a bookish way but how one tackles situations in the profession. Second, it improves the drafting skills and to express oneself in an erudite manner. And most importantly, the arguing skills. Many students may not be natural speakers so it helps them to open up and become comfortable in facing the judges and making their point.

Hence, I believe it is very important for students to participate in moot court competitions. Mere participation gives the students a lot of confidence, irrespective of winning or losing, and frankly, it teaches one how to accept defeat and prepares the students for the tough beginnings that await them.

Internships play a crucial role in shaping a legal professional’s early career. What advice would you give to law students about choosing the right type of internship? For instance, do you recommend working under a senior advocate, in a law firm, or exploring other avenues, and why?

I would recommend the law students to intern in every field and experience for themselves as to what appeals to them individualistically. All students cannot be pigeon-holed into any given category. Given the individualistic mindset, some may like arbitration and pursue a career accordingly, some may like litigation would accordingly prefer to pursue any further internships in the litigation wing of a firm or an individual practitioner and some would like the dynamics of the corporate set-up or some may even take to intellectual property law practice. My only advise for the students is that they should not miss any opportunity to intern and intern sincerely and explore for themselves as to what appeals to them the most.

In addition to your professional achievements, we’d love to know more about your personal interests. What hobbies or activities do you engage in outside of the legal realm to unwind and recharge?

The best way to unwind for me is to spend quality time with my daughter. Other than that, I like to paint and read fictional/ non-fictional books.

Given your diverse experiences, both in law firms and as an independent legal practitioner, how would you compare the learning experiences in these different settings? What unique advantages or challenges do each offer, and how can young professionals leverage them to enhance their skills and knowledge

My diverse experience made the difference between law firm practice and independent practice crystal clear to me. While in the latter, you are your own boss and command accordingly, in the former, depending on which rung of the ladder you are on, you mostly have a senior to poke you out of your slumber and weigh you down with lots of work irrespective of how much you already have on your plate. But then that’s what keeps you on your toes and it gives you utmost satisfaction at the end of the day to tick off things done from the to-do list one made in the morning. However, independent practice, while more lucrative, is not that easy, whether to establish or to command, as one has to be utmost sure of the advise one gives to the client as remember, you are your own boss and there is no cushion in the form of a senior. But this really enthrals you as you keep going and learn and master the art.  

Get in touch with Payal Dayal-

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