“It is a very long and tedious process to become a lawyer and to specialize in a particular field of interest, and to make a name for oneself. But this should not deter anyone from pursuing their dream.”- Vivek B.Siddalingaiah, Civil Servant, Ministry of Justice UK 

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

Can you share your journey from practicing law in India to your current role as a Legal Advisor for the Magistrates in the UK’s Ministry of Justice?

To begin with, I did my B.A.L. LL.B. , five years integrated course from University Law College, Bangalore University. In October 2010, I was called to the bar after completing my All India Bar exam and immediately after being called to the bar at the Karnataka State Bar Council, I started practicing. I started practicing under a senior and my main practice area involved insurance, banking, domestic arbitration, and other civil matters. Along with this, I also used to practice before the Debt Recovery Tribunal.

After practicing for over four years in Bangalore, I moved to London to do my Master of Laws post-graduation from City University, London. My areas of specialization were Alternate Dispute Resolution and Civil Litigation in reference to the UK law. I completed my post-graduation in 2015 and my final dissertation as part of the course was about International Investment Treaty Arbitration. After this, I had to move back to India because of Brexit issues and I joined a startup company in Bangalore as a legal counsel. After working there for less than a period of six months, I joined Tatva Legal Bangalore as an associate in their litigation team. Working at Tatva Legal gave me a wide exposure to the other fields of law namely Corporate Law, Corporate Litigation and International Commercial Arbitration. In 2016, the New Companies Act and Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code were passed in India and as a result the National Company Law Tribunal were established. I started practicing before the NCLT for a period of two years.

 In 2019, I got an opportunity to work with the Financial Ombudsman Service, London as an investigator/ adjudicator. This role gave me an opportunity to resolve disputes in a quasi-judicial setting.  I had to take a small break during the COVID lockdown to attend to my personal work. 

In 2022, I started applying for Civil Service roles in the UK.  Civil service recruitment in the UK is based on open competitive examinations. 

These posts are advertised and applications are invited from eligible candidates, preferably candidates with law degree or experience in a common law jurisdiction. In August 2022, I cleared my competitive examinations and I was appointed as a Crown Court Advisor/ Clerk. I was mainly responsible for most of the administrative and procedural functions of running the Crown Courts. I got a very good opportunity to understand the criminal justice system in the UK. After having worked for one and a half years in this role, I got an opportunity to be promoted through an internal campaign and after having cleared my interview and other written tasks, I was appointed as a Legal Advisor for the Magistrates in the East London local justice area. I have been working in this role for the last two months.

How did your experience in litigation, merger & acquisition, insurance, and international arbitration prepare you for your role as a legal advisor at His Majesty’s Court & Tribunal Service?

As we all know, India is a common law jurisdiction, and this acted as an advantage for me. My litigation experience in India gave me all the understanding and the tools required regarding the court procedures. Because of this experience, I wasn’t a stranger to the legal system in the UK, even though there are a few procedural and other administrative differences between the two countries, the overall legal system is very identical. Because of this, I was able to understand, implement and do my best in the roles that I have been performing in the UK till now. 

My litigation experience in India helped me in clearing my Bar exam in England and Wales, and also in my applications, written tasks and interviews for the legal positions that I applied for in the UK. 

My experience in the field of insurance was advantageous when I worked at the Financial Ombudsman Service. My main responsibility at the Financial Ombudsman Service was to deal with insurance, banking and pensions disputes between the customers and the businesses. Having practiced insurance law for a period in India, it was easy for me to understand the concept, the difficulties and the nature of cases that were brought to the Financial Ombudsman Service for investigators or adjudicators like me to resolve. My experience in the field of domestic or international arbitration helped me in almost all the roles that I have been performing till now.

What inspired you to pursue a Master of Laws in Civil Litigation & Dispute Resolution at The City University, London, after practicing law in India?

In the year 2010, when I graduated with my law degree, it was sort of a practice for every other law graduate to go abroad to pursue Masters. I have had a few friends who went to the UK, the US, Australia and other places to pursue their masters. I had an opportunity to speak with them about their experiences, their expectations, and the advantageous position that they were in when they returned to India. 

In my experience and understanding it is a bit important for any legal professional to have a specialization in one or more fields of law and I was very keen on specializing in at least one field of law which could give me an advantage over other candidates when it comes to the job market and this was one of the reasons why I decided to pursue my Masters.

However, I was not sure about which field of law I wanted to specialise in. Initially I started my practice in insurance and banking law, then moved on to property law, then moved on to other fields of law. I wanted to make sure that I understood which field of law I would like to specialise. This could have been possible only by my own experience and work rather than anyone’s advice. After four years of practice, I realised that alternative dispute resolution was my field of interest and that is the field in which I would prefer to specialise in. 

How has being dual-qualified as a Barrister in India and England & Wales influenced your legal career and approach to practicing law?

It was always my aim or dream to qualify as a Barrister in England and Wales. Also, being a person interested in history and having read about many well-known jurists, freedom fighters and other people who have been in some of the very responsible positions, I realised that most of them were Barristers. I’ve heard the argument that it doesn’t require a qualification for a person to do great things. However, in my view, I was always interested in belonging to the list of people from India who are qualified as Barristers in England & Wales. Being a dual qualified Barrister does have its own advantages. I get to practice or work in two jurisdictions. It is also a very prestigious and respected profession in both the countries. I have had the opportunity of practicing before the courts in India and working in the courts in the UK. I believe this dual qualification has allowed me to work as I always wanted to. The dual qualification has also given me the advantageous position when it comes to applying for various positions or for my professional growth.

Could you elaborate on your experience as an Investigator and Adjudicator at the Financial Ombudsman Service in London and how it shaped your understanding of dispute resolution?

The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) is a service which resolves disputes between the businesses and the consumers without having the customers go to the courts. The legal system or the court system in the UK is very expensive when compared to that in India. This is one of the reasons why consumers or common people would like to bring their issues to FOS to be addressed. FOS deals with almost all types of commercial and business disputes including insurance, pensions, banking, credit, frauds and scams etc. 

The role of an investigator or an adjudicator is to listen to both the parties, be impartial, unbiased and decide in the favor of the party which is right. This could involve penalizing the business or asking the business to do something that they are expected to do. I had the opportunity of working and resolving disputes in the insurance and banking team. I had the opportunity to resolve disputes in the Insurance, Banking and Pensions team. This gave me an opportunity to understand the various requirements, the way of interpretation of the law and drafting judgements. It also gave me an opportunity to speak with experts in the field of law and business to enable me to decide the disputes. Further,  it gave me an opportunity to understand the quasi-judicial setup in the UK and the procedure for parties to go to the courts or tribunals to resolve their disputes. This role prepared me for applying to other legal based positions.

What unique challenges have you encountered while advising lay Magistrates on legal matters and procedural issues at His Majesty’s Court & Tribunal Service?

Magistrates in the UK are also known as Justices of Peace. They are individuals from all walks of life who are passionate about making a difference in their local communities. This role is a volunteer role. Magistrates are people from all walks of life, usually with no legal qualification or training. The legal advisor sits with the magistrates in the courtroom to advise them on the legal procedures and the rule of law.

No two days are the same for a legal advisor as it depends on the experience of the magistrates, the type of cases and the number of cases that are heard. As a legal advisor, we are expected to not only know the law, procedure but also the facts, recent developments in the field of law, recent judgments that might affect a particular case.

The legal advisors are in a unique position as a lawyer. They are not fighting a case from a particular side, but instead looking at the law itself and ensuring it is applied in the correct way. A legal advisor acts with a judge’s hat on rather than as a stereotypical lawyer. This role places me at the heart of the criminal justice system. It is not only about advising the magistrate, but also assisting the parties who are unrepresented. 

As someone deeply involved in both Indian and UK legal systems, what differences have you observed in the legal cultures and practices between the two jurisdictions?

India is a mix of common law and civil law however, mostly adheres to the common law principle just like the UK. The judicial system in India is highly influenced by that of the British system which was framed and practiced pre-independence. The system is very identical and as such is not difficult for an experienced lawyer to understand. 

Some of the differences that I could point out between India and the UK legal systems are the volume of cases (due to population), the time in disposing of the cases, the police system, and the working of various other departments that are involved in the administration of justice.

The major difference is that administration of Indian courts is managed by the judiciary themselves. However, in the UK it is managed by the organization which I’m part of called His Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Service (HMCTS). 

The practice and procedures are very identical, the court language used are very similar, the civil procedure, criminal procedure, admissibility of evidence are all very identical as well. 

Overall, the Indian and the UK legal system are identical and they’re also complementary to one another.

Lastly, what advice would you give to recent law graduates aspiring to pursue a career in litigation, arbitration, or judiciary, considering your diverse experiences in the legal field?

I do not consider myself to have the experience to advise law students, however being a first-generation lawyer in my family, I had very little advice when I wanted to choose law as a career. This resulted in me waiting for a number of years before I could understand and decide what and how to do things. As such, I am keen on advising law students, especially first-generation lawyers who do not have much exposure or understanding about this profession.

As said, the legal profession is a noble profession. One must have a lot of patience to survive and to do well in this profession. It is a very long and tedious process to become a lawyer and to specialize in a particular field of interest, and to make a name for oneself. But this should not deter anyone from pursuing their dream. Majority of my professional dreams have been fulfilled as I speak. My next and my aim is to enter the Judiciary which in my view will happen in the next few years. 

Believe in yourself, work hard as there is no substitute for hard work and get the right advice from the right people.

Career in law need not have to be restricted to civil or criminal practice; there are various fields of law that one can excel in. Make the right choice, take your time, get the right advice and follow your dreams.

Get in touch with Vivek B.Siddalingaiah-

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