Kanishk Agarwal studied at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies (VIPS), New Delhi and graduated in the year 2009. He then began his career under Mr. Ashok Batra, and subsequently moved on to PricewaterhouseCoopers India. However, his interest in Criminal Law drove him to establish his own firm, CriTaxCorp. Kanishk is also the creator of the Indian Bare Acts Pack app.
In this interview, he discusses
- His career trajectory and the reasons for starting his own firm
- The development story of the Indian Bare Acts Pack app
- How to enter a practice of one’s choice for students
- How to maintain a work-life balance and why it is imperative
How would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?
I think the term ‘legapreneur‘ best describes me, which basically is ‘legal entrepreneur’, because I like exploring entrepreneurial qualities in the legal industry. Post my graduation I wanted to work in Criminal law, but instead started working with Service Tax law expert Mr. Ashok Batra who is a Chartered Accountant and the author of books on the subject. What drove me into this field was a practical family decision as my father is a Chartered Accountant and he wanted me to follow his lead in taxation laws. I worked with one of the ‘Big 4’ consulting firms in the world, Pricewaterhouse Coopers for about 18 months, but my love for Criminal law never faded and so and after gaining substantial experience in Taxation law, I started working under the flagship of Senior Advocate Mr. Ramesh Gupta (Delhi High Court) and thereafter I worked in the chamber of Mr. Subhash Gulati. Finally I started my own practice in 2013 by the name of CriTaxCorp after I believed that I had gained enough experience to set up my own law firm. The name of the law firm was put up very strategically to cover the three fields of law I gained my exposure in i.e. Criminal, Taxation and Corporate.
What would you like to share with our readers about your time spent at VIPS both within and beyond the classroom? How did the city itself play a part in your legal education?
Looking back, college times seems so distant yet I can remember it vividly. I have learned a lot from my college life, as I was a very shy boy in my school days, and so got a lot of exposure in my college life. I had always been an average student but was an active volunteer in organizing moots, debates, college events and the best was, organizing the college trip for three consecutive years where I had the nightmare of handling 300 law students. However, the exposure was surely a blessing in disguise. Being a Delhiite was always an advantage, but I never got a change from the city to face different cultures. However Delhi has given me great exposure from internships to working under great members of the senior legal fraternity.
How did your interactions with your peers influence your growth as a law student and a general individual? Did networking and peer mentorship play a big part in defining your student identity?
I had a good relationship with a few of my seniors and we were a combination of notorious and sincere pupils. I still remember asking for help with books or notes late at night, or for any other help regarding sorting out a tiff with any student or taking suggestions for my internship plans, and they were always very helpful and I definitely got great help. Once they graduated from college, I got to know about their experiences in independent practices or in law firms and they helped me reach where I am today, owning a firm myself. I always feel pleasure in helping juniors from my college who are worthy by providing them with internships under my tutelage and exposure to a variety of laws.
During your time spent there, what, if any, extra-curricular or co-curricular activities did you take up? How did the same affect your learning experience and prepare you for the legal sector?
It is true, college life is a golden period in one’s life. I was always very interactive with teachers and was an active participant in college activities like dancing, organising fests, college trips etc. Being involved in extra-curricular activities really helped me at large because I learned the tricks of management, organising, diplomacy and living up to my responsibilities. It really sharpened my skills to understand human behaviour and their reactions to different things, which a good lawyer must know, as reading a client or witness is half of the lawyer’s work.
What would you describe your first experience as an associate at A.K. Batra as, and how did the same affect your career trajectory?
I opted for Service Tax mainly on account of my father being a Chartered Accountant. It was a practical decision made by me to work with Mr. A.K Batra, and it was a great learning process as he provides a lot of exposure to the lawyers and CA’s working with him. He is still a great mentor and I know I can reach out to him whenever I hit the wall in Service Tax query.
What prompted your shift to PwC India in 2010?
Anyone and everyone who works in the field of Taxation law has this desire to work with a ‘Big 4’ firm, be it a lawyer or a CA. I am glad I took the step to join PwC as it exposed to me how the real big corporates work, their billing structure, their culture etc. I left PwC because of my love for Criminal law and since I wanted to make an identity of my own. I met some great people who are partners in the firm and still encourage me towards my achievements. It was a good learning experience.
As the founder of CriTaxCorp, what were the initial challenges you faced as a legal start up in India? What was your competing strategy for taking on larger firms?
CriTaxCorp started with a rough patch, as we worked towards targeting different sectors where nobody had worked. The “Aha!” moment was when I got a client form the Bitcoin (the digital currency) industry and I got a chance to understand the block chain of digital industry. Thereafter I did some exciting work in online poker regulations, logistic companies, start-up ecosystem etc., and getting into these fields really triggered me to go forward.
What would you define as your firm’s unique selling proposition?
While dealing with a matter in Criminal, Taxation or Corporate laws, we combine the knowledge from all major verticals of law. Providing exactly what the client requires is one of our mottos, and we believe in understanding the business of our client more than the client does so that we can deliver our best. This also sharpen our skills to dig deep and helps us understand the core issues of any industry. CriTaxCorp believe in one principle that a professional grows when his client grows.
Among your other accolades, what inspired the creation of Indian Bare Acts Pack? What were the challenges faced in creating and establishing the same?
When I got to know about certain Bare Act Apps available for lawyers I was really amused and amazed at how technology is easing the pain of people at large. However, when I downloaded certain existing legal Bare Acts Apps on one of my senior’s tablet, I got a good thrashing from him as they were not updated since 2008 and reading outdated law is the last thing a lawyer wants to do. So, it got me thinking and I wanted to do something for the legal fraternity, as it has taught me so much. So I decided to put my money where my thought was and I ideated ‘Indian Bare Acts Pack’ mobile application so as to help lawyers. The app has 4 major Acts which are like the bible for any lawyer. CrPC, IPC, Evidence Act and CPC and I also included Service Tax law as I used to work in that field. Making the app was not an easy task, as I had to review the designs, see the working of the app, and pay for doing work. I created around 2800 word files which were formatted, indented and checked word by word by me. I was really overwhelmed when I was informed that the Delhi High Court Bar Association would like to unveil this app in a function which was organised for judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts.
What just started as a gesture to give back to the legal fraternity has turned out to be the best app in the Bare Acts category reaching to nearly 1,00,000 lawyers. On the request and review of many lawyers, judges, CA’s and law students we are taking it forward and will come up with an updated version with some great features which will be of use to everyone, from law students to respected judges.
The readers may also like our Facebook page “Indian Bare Acts Pack” to be updated about new features and updates on the app.
Lastly, yes there were many sleepless nights spent in making this app. I remember that when I got the news that my App was going to be launched, by DHCBA in a function organised to facilitate High Court and Supreme Court Judges, in a matter of 2 days, in those two nights I made nearly 2000+ word files and coordinated with the developer to complete the App on time. It was devastating but it was all worth it!
What are your views on the current generation of law students and would you say the approach to education has changed since your college days?
I feel that this generation is full of talent and they are impulsive as well. (Laughingly)As I belong to this generation as well, I will say that this generation is not scared of hard work but they expect prompt success. They must understand that the first five years after graduation could be difficult and full of struggle but once when they get polished they will eventually grow and succeed. One should understand that it is not required to run behind alluring packages. Once they gain all practical knowledge and have a command over the law, money will chase them automatically. I also believe that year by year the concept of a teacher and pupil is also fading, which is something I really hold dear to my heart.
To our younger audience looking to get into Corporate or Taxation oriented fields, what advice would you give them for breaking into the field?
The best thing to do is opt for as many internships as they can to get a better understanding and gain practical knowledge, Firstly, they should understand the whole concept of a subject matter, for eg. Taxation is a subject which is either really liked or totally disliked by lawyers, so one needs to understand and explore to see if they have interest in it or not. Also, one should pick one taxation subject at a time because trying to understand all of them in internship period will only confuse them. Secondly, as for Corporate, it is very wide field which ranges from drafting of agreements to regulatory compliances to transaction advisory. It is a field which requires round-the-clock–work, with alluring packages, so one need to understand exactly what they want with respect to work-life balance or money. Corporate law firms have a deadline bomb which is always ticking and the stakes being high, one cannot afford to miss any deadline. I would like to end this question by saying that legal practices are like delicacies you need to get the taste of each of them until you know which one suits your taste buds.
In the midst of founding a law firm and creating apps for the legal community, how much of your personal life have you had to compromise on, if at all?
Earlier it was hectic and as I am a workaholic, I have worked round–the-clock on my application. Whenever I get time I read articles for better understanding of technology, but I have adapted all this as a hobby and so it is not a burden. I believe that if things are planned and one knows how to manage time, they can easily coordinate their personal and professional life. I always go out with my family and friends once in two weeks, otherwise what is the fun of being the founder of your own firm and earning well if you can’t have your own time out and spend what you earn. However, one needs to prioritize their practice of law, interest and goal with their time in order to follow a focussed path to their success. I am still experimenting to know the ultimate path, but that is the fun, provided you balance the fun with focus, risk and passion.
Finally, do you have any other advice for our readers, most of whom are college students?
I would suggest that they do as many internships as they can in various fields and they must always grind and hustle to get more and more work from their seniors. The exposure they get in internships will help them see the career path they want to choose. Also, I would suggest that since everyone is so engrossed in social media and their mobiles these days, every student should like some of the law news Facebook pages and read some of the important news or judgments that they post. I am trying to do something to solve this for our fellow law students though my app, so let’s see. I would suggest that every lawyer must watch American television series such as Suits, Boston Legal or any other series that relates to law, as I myself have learned a lot from these and imbibed some of the things I have learnt from these shows into my practice.
They must strengthen their core subjects such as CPC, CrPC, IPC, Evidence Act etc. as these will be used at all times in your practice. Lastly, it is the best time of their life so they should have fun, rough it out and learn from their mistakes.
In your opinion, what is the role of technology in law and how can students best utilise technology without looking at it as a substitute for hard work?
Being a technology enthusiast and founder of a technology based start-up I believe that everyone is embracing technology in one form or another. Technology companies such as manupatra or indiankanoon.com has eased the life of lawyers when it comes to browsing through judgments relevant to a case. I have received numerous mails from law students and court staff saying that my application has really helped them many times. Recently, one of the biggest law firms in the US named Baker & Hostetler licensed a software from IBM which is an artificial intelligence software to help law firms in bankruptcy and due diligence, so you can imagine how technology is playing a role in law firms. Also, being a legapreneur I get intrigued by mushrooming legal start-ups these days. To sum it up, technology is playing a significant role in our life and increasingly being adapted in our profession, so one should start embracing it.
What is your view on these legal start-ups and will it create a new area of law for law students to look into?
Yes, the start-up ecosystem is witnessing various new law related start-ups and some of them have got funding upto an amount of USD $500,000. However, the start-up eco system in general is witnessing a downtrend with investment/funding transaction dropping nearly 30-50% from last year. I hope all these new legal start-ups pave their way into the start-up ecosystem and a new unicorn is born in law start-ups. (Laughingly) I hope IBAP makes its name too!!
As for start-ups creating a new line for law students, it purely depends on the interests of the law student and whether he/she gets intrigued by the vision of that start-up or not, because one setback is that start-ups mushrooms rapidly but most of them close rapidly as well, but yes it’s a new era of legal development and opportunities for upcoming law students.