Associates, In-House Counsels & Advocates

Jeet Bhatt, Advocate, High Court, Gujarat, on an LL.M from QMUL, and leaving a lucrative career in corporate law for litigation

Jeet Bhatt graduated from the first batch of GNLU, Gandhinagar, in 2009. After working for almost a year, he went on to pursue an LL.M in  Corporate and Commercial Law from Queen Mary University of London. After finishing his Masters he had the opportunity to work at Mark & Co. in property matters.

He later quit Mark & Co. and came back to Gujarat and joined full-fledged litigation practice.

In this interview we speak to him about:

  • Requirements and selection procedure for an LL.M program at QMUL
  • Work experience at Mark & Co., London
  • Starting up with litigation practice at Gujarat High Court.

 

How would you introduce yourself to our readers?

I am a lawyer practicing in the High Court of Gujarat. I graduated from Gujarat National Law University in 2009 and got enrolled in the Bar. I practiced Law for a year and then went to London in 2010 to pursue my Masters in Corporate and Commercial Law from Queen Mary University of London. I completed my Masters in 2011 and came back to join litigation. It has been five years since I began my journey as a Lawyer and ten years since I joined Gujarat National Law University and I am going to share with you my vivid and some not so vivid experiences in the Legal Profession. I do belong to the Family of Lawyers for it runs in my blood since three generations.

 

How were the formative years of your schooling?

Formative years of my schooling were similar to that of an average guy less interested in studies and more interested in everything else than studies. I was always interested in sports and used to play cricket for my school. I had opted for Science in Higher Secondary and it turned out to be the greatest challenge of my life. Though I could not pass out with flying colours, with the marks that I got in my 12th Standard, my life surely started looking Black and White with Graduation in Arts the only formidable option.

 

Why did you choose law as a career?

I believe it was more by chance then by choice that I got into the Legal Profession. While I was still considering the few options that I had, I decided to go to Courts and spent a day observing what my father did for a living. He took me to the Court. Without understanding anything about law I was certainly lost in this Fort like High Court of Gujarat. I saw my father presenting a matter before the Judge and that point I thought to myself that it is the easiest thing to do in this world (I did not knew then how wrong I would be proved later). So that was it by the stroke of that midnight hour I did have the tryst with destiny and I started considering myself to be a lawyer. Fortunately GNLU started in 2004 and as it was at its nascent stage somehow by god’s grace I cleared the entrance examination got myself admitted and then there was no looking back.

 

Tell us about your years in law school.

Being the first batch of GNLU everything about it was exciting. Being the first batch there were no seniors and therefore no one to help if you end up at the wrong place doing the wrong things. But we managed and we learnt from our own mistakes. Fortunately for us we had some great faculties and teachers who really inspired us to learn law and made our academic life interesting. Learning the Law is not just about sitting in class and attending lectures, it is not just reading the provisions and rules it is much more than that. It requires an interdisciplinary approach and a constant aptitude for learning. It requires asking questions and finding answers. GNLU provided us that platform where we could build a strong foundation. Law School is all about acquiring the correct skills required for the Legal Profession. It is about investing your valuable time in the right direction. GNLU focussed on research and that immensely helped us in improving our research skills. With internships ranging from NGO’s to Law Firms to Courts and International Organisations being part of the curriculum it truly helped in gaining the first hand experience of the Legal Profession. Internships should be done very seriously as it can open up lot of avenues for the students.

Time at law school should not just be restricted to academics and studies. One has to find time for extracurricular and cultural/other activities for it helps in developing the overall personality which is very important in today’s competitive market.

 

When did you decide to pursue Masters?

I decided in my last year at GNLU that I would still like to pursue higher studies before getting into full time litigation. When I graduated in 2009 I did start asking lawyers in the High Court that whether an LL.M from Foreign University would be helpful in Litigation. Majority of them said it would be a waste of time and money and you would lose a valuable year in Litigation. I then asked few lawyers who had been to foreign Universities for higher studies and they motivated me to go and pursue masters from Foreign University. Despite of all adversities I was firm of pursuing my academic interests.

My reason for studying abroad was both personal and professional requirement plus LL.M in UK is a one year program whereas in India it was two years at that point in time. Arbitration was one subject which I was really keen on studying and therefore considering that London being the hub of Arbitration I decided on doing my Masters in a University located in London.

 

How important are grades for an illustrious LL.M degree? What is more important for a successful candidature: grades or work experience?

Grades are most important for getting admission in a reputed University abroad. You need to have a distinguished academic career to be placed in the top Universities abroad. They require you to have a good academic record but good internships and recommendation letters do help. Work experience is not a requirement for Universities but I would certainly recommend students to work for few years, gain considerable knowledge of the subject in which they want to pursue masters and then apply to universities for further studies. Experience helps a lot and it makes more sense to go abroad after having a few years work experience. LL.M programs in Universities abroad are basically structured to cater the needs of foreign students and therefore experience of few years really helps a lot as most of the students coming from other countries have around three to four years working experience. Therefore having work experience prior to going abroad would be certainly beneficial.

 

Can you tell our readers about how you shortlisted universities for your masters?

The first and foremost thing to do is to know in which subject you want to pursue your masters. The Universities abroad give a wide range of subjects which one can choose and therefore depending on which area of law one needs to specialise accordingly you must decide the University. I was very keen on specialising in Arbitration laws and therefore I chose Queen Mary University of London as it has the best faculties in UK for Arbitration. School of Arbitration in QMUL has an excellent program for LLM which is considered better than KCL, UCL as well as LSE and therefore I chose QMUL over other Universities. One has to do a preliminary research and be sure where he wants to study and in which subjects depending on that they must apply to Universities. Application procedure is simple and that the Universities websites provides all the necessary details regarding the same. But one must start this entire exercise one year in advance.

 

Tell us about your time at Queen Mary.

What happens in Queen Mary stays in Queen Mary (jokes apart) but yes I will surely share my academic experience. My time at QMUL was truly enriching and enlightening. I was exposed to 500 other students who had come to pursue LL.M from more than 100 countries. It took one week to get introduced to each other. From graduates to people having more than 10 years experience in top law firms to some having their own firms in different countries were my batch mates. With one year experience in Litigation I tried my best to match to them and to adjust to such an intellectual environment surely took a toll but after meeting fellow Indians I knew I was not alone (no offence meant). The first few weeks are popularly known as shopping weeks where we are allowed to attend all the classes ranging more than 100 subjects of law starting from Arbitration to Banking to Copyright to Design, Finance and you name it. Out of all the varied modules that were offered we had to choose 4 modules which was again a hell of a task. Having worked for more than a year, again attending classes and going to college did seem a task but by the end of the first month it all sinked in and I found the new educational system quite suited to my expectations and I got a lot of time for myself where I had the luxury to read and study the subjects I was interested in. Honestly I did not want academic pressure as I wanted to have the freedom to choose what interested me and I got the perfect academic environment. Being in QMUL you get the access to the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) which has the best library in the World.

Having 4 classes to attend in a week it didn’t seem much of a pressure initially and having just moved in to a city like London you need free time to know the city (it is very important). I really enjoyed the tutorial system where for a batch of 10 students there is one tutor with whom you do lot of case studies. It was unique in the sense that you get so many different perspectives from students coming from different jurisdiction and it was truly enriching in every possible manner. It was a different reality and one must surely experience it. If today someone asks me for my advice on studying abroad I would definitely recommend that, provided you make the most of it.

QMUL Campus is like a lively city within the University. Students Union is one of the most powerful Unions in UK and is bustling with so many activities. From volunteering to learning different languages to teaching to sightseeing everything you need you get it. It is so well connected to all the Universities and colleges and you get the chance to interact with people from so many nationalities. Living in the University accommodation has many advantages though it might be bit expensive but it is definitely worth it. Socialising and communication is a very important aspect of the program it helps tremendously in our profession.

 

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While pursuing LL.M could you intern at any firm in London?

Yes I did get a chance to participate in many other activities happening in London and around the campus. I did attend a study tour to Brussels to visit the European Union and its parliament and to visit the International Court of Justice in Hague as well as the International Criminal Court and did get to see the proceedings going at the court. There are opportunities to intern during the course but one has to choose the timings wisely as it should not end up affecting your classes and tutorials.

 

How did your appointment at Mark and Co. Solicitors take place?

I would say I got lucky to get an appointment at Mark & Co. Solicitors. I happened to meet the partner of the firm at the airport through a common friend. We stuck a good chord and that was it. I had the opportunity to work in a Law Firm in London. I worked there for a few months before I decided that I want to get back to litigation in India. Mark & Co. had a lot of NRI clients, it dealt with a lot of property issues. One important aspect of firms in UK and lawyers in particular is that they certainly want to avoid litigation and going to courts would be the last option. It certainly is very different from our approach as we want every possible dispute or no dispute to go to courts for adjudication. I could not resist the charm of being in Litigation in India and I decided I wanted to get back in Gujarat High Court.

 

What influenced your decision to work in the litigation sector?

Though I did work in a Leading Law firm in Gujarat for a year and I am still associated with it but I purely deal with Litigation. I tried to do both but Non-lit corporate work is not my cup of tea. I like to be a part of all the action that is going on in the Courts. Being in litigation should not be treated like being in a job. It is surely not an employment it is much more than that. One requires a lot of perseverance and patience along with passion to do well in litigation.

 

 Is it better to work in the corporate sector for a few years before starting litigation?

Certainly corporate jobs are much more lucrative and why shouldn’t a student prefer it over litigation? Being in litigation is a very tough decision to make and to survive in litigation is even tougher. One has to devote himself completely to do well in litigation knowing that it does not pay well in the initial years. My first salary was Rs. 2500/-pm. I do not want to discourage students from entering litigation but it has to be a very conscious and well thought decision. One needs to be absolutely sure to be in litigation. Litigation is something that you need to learn from scratch. Learning the law and practicing law are at different ends of the spectrum. It requires completely different set of skills and temperament which comes only through experience. Real court room is completely different from moot court rooms. Being a good mooter to becoming a good litigating lawyer is a different ball game altogether.

 

What can the law schools do to encourage more people into litigation?

Law Schools have made their purpose to encourage students to get into Corporate Sector. The purpose of Law Schools should be to make students good litigating lawyers. It does require a paradigm shift in its approach. Students are taught to run after big packages and plush offices and it certainly takes away the cream into non-lit sector. Students need to be taught how to survive in Litigation and how to do well in it. If they are encouraged to be in litigation they can surely do well.

 

What were the difficulties you faced in the early days of your practice?

Even after five years I still feel I am in the early days of my practice. Every day is a new learning day. Coming from a family of lawyers surely helps at the entry point. You do get guidance and work but then you have to build it on your own. I did face lot of challenges in understanding the procedures and functioning of the courts and the registry. From extracting the relevant information from clients to filing of the petition is a long drawn process, presenting the matter comes last. One has to know this nitty gritty of filing a case and availing the right remedy in law before hand. Getting the eye for details and getting to the crux of the matter is very important and it comes gradually. Sitting in Court and observing the proceedings is a must in the initial years. Presenting the matter before the court is also an art which requires a lot of training and experience. Many times after arguing I felt that I should have said this or said that or I missed to show the important facts or law on that matter. Litigation is full of challenges and I have faced some very tough times in court. Fortunately I have had good mentors and the seniors in the Gujarat High Courts are very supportive and helpful. To sum it up my five years experience in the High Court has been very satisfying. Though small but I have had some significant moments in my career, Senior Judge of the High Court was so impressed with my arguments in one matter that he went on to record it in the order although I lost the case but that went a long way to build some reputation. Few judgments where I appeared got reported in law journals and in few, law was settled.

 

What would be your message to law students who wish to start their own litigation practice?

There is no short-cut to hard work, no over-night success stories in this profession. You have to build your career slowly and steadily. Choose a good senior and prove your mettle to him. Figure out your strengths and start working on your weaknesses. Acquire the correct set of skills required and keep on improving them. Read and be up-to-date with judgments. Prepare thoroughly. Be humble and never forget you are in a noble profession. Work ethically and wait for the right opportunities. Remember what my senior always told me “Don’t just strive to become a successful lawyer strive to become an eminent lawyer”.

 

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