Kapil Sankhla qualified in law from Campus Law Centre, Delhi University in 1999 after gaining a B.Com degree from Shri Ram College of Commerce and another degree in Hotel Management from IHM, Pusa. For the better part of his law school, he engaged in a long term internship which prepared him to take on litigation with ease even as a fresh graduate. He is the Founder and Managing Partner of Sankhla & Associates, based out of New Delhi.
In this interview he talks to us about:
- His pre-law school days and passion for debating
- Decision to pursue law and the inspiration behind it
- The importance of reading as a habit and a passion
- His life at law school
- Starting up with Sankhla & Associates
How would you like to introduce yourself to our legal amateurs and professionals?
The learning never stops and I believe that I too am a student of law, albeit a few years your senior! I practice and perform not in a moot court but in real life courts and like any other student of law, I compete and collaborate every day. As a first generation lawyer, I have gone through my share of self doubts, trials and tribulations and have realised that the journey is its own reward. It has been a beautiful journey so far mixed with struggles, success, challenges, more struggle and more success and the graph continues to waver. I have realised, the harder I work on the basics of law, the simpler things get. I am enjoying every bit of this amazing profession where I get to understand various levels of issues and strategise and grapple with various aspects of law every day.
As a lawyer, my mantra, my life philosophy, and the philosophy of the firm which has worked in Court battles against the biggest and the strongest opponents, and which I would like to share with our young readers is -tenacious resolve, which means stick on-hold tight, despite all odds, and your time will come.
Tell us about your childhood and pre-college life. Was it your all time dream to be in the legal profession?
I was an average student which, according to teachers would mean not very bright, but I loved (and still do) to read and was a very imaginative child. I believe that it is your education and not your studies that make a success out of you. If I had to advice, it would be-keep reading, it doesn’t matter what you read, just keep reading, and trust me all that information, however random is churning and stirring up ideas and dialogues which will hold you in good stead in the profession, irrespective of whether you become a litigator or do chamber practice.
As a child, I think I wanted to become a writer, which I realise I can very well do even now, and best part is, there cannot be a better profession than this!
What incidents, influences or interests prompted you to think of law as a career?
I remember the first time I saw legal luminaries like Mr. Ashok Aggarwal and his famous interview where he chose morals over a client, got me interested in law as a profession and got me hooked on to it; Mr. Ram Jethmalani being in the news with Harshad Mehta made me want to stay in the profession; reading about Mr. Nani Palkivala made me want to reach for the stars and briefing and interacting with (now) Justice U.U. Lalit ensured that my faith in honesty, fairness and humbleness is firmly anchored. Most lawyers don’t join law to become lawyers, for most, it is a stepping stone for something else. Fortunately, I am a part of the minority, as law chose me.
Tell us about your experience at Delhi University. What all curricular and extra-curricular activities did you participate in?
I have a very chequered past vis-a-vis the time post school. I got through SRCC but realised early on that it wasn’t for me, so I got into Hotel Management, a field where I did quite well. Throughout my college life, I was very active in theatre and debates and it was my passion to always speak against the motion and see how I am able to convince the audience. This caught my interest towards law as a field and I took the entrance, thinking ‘what’s the harm in trying?’ I didn’t think of law as a profession, when I took the exam, but when I did get through Campus Law Centre, DU, I took it up seriously and also interned with a lawyer for more than two and a half years while I was in college. This proved to my advantage as by the time I was in my third year I was confident about court visits and in-fact upon graduating as a lawyer, I handled a final argument matter within 19 days of registration.
What would you advise our readers is the ideal things to look to get out of university, other than a degree?
A university one looks for to study should definitely have a good name and reputation. It should encourage real life examples in terms of case research and also encourage participation in moots, etc. Any university which promotes practical learning as well as theoretical learning is an ideal University to be in. Alumni of the university and their performance in the real world also has a bearing on whether the University would be able to provide what one is looking for.
I would advise you to enjoy yourself to the fullest. Be foolish, make mistakes, learn and enjoy. Participate in whatever activity takes place, you’ll never have the opportunity to probably get away with mistakes once you become a lawyer. Enjoyment is integral to being a college student, it is indeed a time wherein one needs to relax as once we are thrown in the profession one must not forget what the stars of the legal profession have said again and again “Law IS a jealous mistress!” and there shall be hardly any time for leisure as such!
You founded a law firm that is doing very well today. What challenges do you think someone who wishes to start a firm or independent practice is likely to face? What would you advise them to do to mitigate such circumstances?
It is not easy to build a practice in law, yet not impossible either. The challenges one faces are manifold. Convincing clients to assign and engage a new firm/independent lawyer is the most important one. It is imperative that the clients approaching a new firm/lawyer should be able to get a level of comfort to be able to engage the firm as their lawyers. Necessary infrastructure to work from is also required. A decent library and efficient work staff goes a long way to enable a lawyer to concentrate on his job, leaving aside worries of billing, file management, correspondence and follow up with clients. A good support team to handle such issues coupled with dedication and hard-work should help any lawyer achieve pinnacles of success.
Presently you are the Managing Partner of Sankhla & Associates. What falls within the scope of your responsibility?
As the Managing Partner of the firm, I have the responsibility to bring in new clients, hire new Associates, make alliances with international and national firms to enable a global presence of the firm. Motivating my team and encouraging them including pointing out spheres of improvement also constitutes a large part of my role. I have to ensure that not only does the team work to their optimum potential and a bit more, but also that they get their fair share of fun, recreation and feel connected to each other as a team and a family. This ensures all round development of the firm and relations therein. The growth and success of the firm is a team work with the Managing Partner at the helm of all affairs.
While hiring new lawyers what kind of skills do you look for in them?
A promising CV entails besides a good grade, involvement in moot courts, research and an active college record. As a student, it does speak volumes if your CV boasts of a reputed college, a healthy participation in moot courts and debates, internships involving firms and lawyers handling various aspects of law and published papers and articles, if any.
However, apart from the aforesaid, the interview matters in itself which would be the ultimate judge of what is written in the CV and the impression that one carries to the interviewer. Be honest about what you put in the CV. Knowledge of different subjects and specially the one which is a preferred choice does really go a long way to secure a job in the place of choice. But above it all, the one thing that we really look for when we hire someone is the hunger to win and the desire to make a difference. If someone has that, then really, nothing else matters!
What kind of effort should a young Associate put into work to get it appreciated? What distinguishes an Associate from a Partner when it comes to work?
Besides hard work and dedication, self-motivated effort and initiative definitely invite appreciation. A young lawyer who takes initiative to draft out matters, research and provides innovative suggestions and a different solution to a matter, would always get appreciated.
An associate is expected to do all the base work from research to initial drafting, coordination with interns, junior associates and clients, if necessary. He will make sure that the strategy as has been suggested by the Partner and all points discussed in the Partner-Associate meeting are followed and put it on paper. Thereafter the Partner takes over to give a final check to the draft, strategy check and additions wherever required. Partners bring in work and are instrumental in firm management, its promotion and alliances: both national and international. They are expected to bring in work, infrastructure and the support needed by the team for execution of work.
What would be your advice to our readers?
Choose what you want to do. There are many lawyers who want to be researchers, conveyance and pleading solicitors, arguing counsels all rolled into one. The rest are dreamy eyed and want to become Corporate Lawyers because it pays well. Work on your strength and choose the facet of law. Polish it every day, enjoy it to the fullest and work hard- very hard and the world is your platform and sky is the limit.