Nalini Mishra, Associate Partner at Singhania & Co. LLP, on her journey as an International Lawyer skilled in Dispute Resolution

This interview has been published by Ayush Verma.

What inspired you to choose law after graduation?

I was very good in studies and wanted a professional degree in Accountancy being an alumnus of Sydenham College. But my Dad, a veteran of the Indian air-force, wanted me to pursue law based on  my academics, writing skills along with my personality and nature. His guidance helped me choose this noble profession. 

How was your journey as a law student; did you participate in moot court competitions and other extracurricular activities?

It was a great journey indeed. It significantly changed my attitude and my perception towards problems or issues of any kind. I even started noticing legal violations and their ill-effects on the society in general. I have been a part of group debates; we spent hours, and sometimes days, discussing the changing environment in the society and the role of both lawmakers as well as lawyers. In fact each and every headline of the newspaper in those days was critically discussed, whether it was the notorious marine drive assault case or the serial bomb blast in a domestic train.  

What are your roles and responsibilities in your current position as an Associate Partner?

I am a part of the team that looks after the firm’s arbitration practice which includes domestic as well as international arbitration. I head the team of associates which is responsible for drafting, researching, discussing substantial issues of the matter with the clients, and finalising all kinds of statements of claim/ defence, evidence etc. I believe research is the backbone of any matter and my team handles some very critical work.

You are a qualified Independent Director (certified by IICA of MCA, Govt. of India) and you were also recently appointed on the board of a listed company as the female Independent Director. Kindly tell us something about breaking that glass ceiling.

I don’t believe in any unnecessary debates of supremacy amongst men and women. I feel it is talent, one’s problem-solving attitude and experience which matters the most at the end of the day. Though laws of the land make it compulsory to appoint women directors, it would be wrong to say that they are on board just because of such laws. In my short stint as an Independent Director, I got plenty of time to express myself for the betterment of the company; and  my ideas have not only been appreciated by the other board members but were also implemented frequently.

How did you develop an interest in Maritime law and Arbitration?

Before joining Singhania, I practiced as an arbitration lawyer and attended many arbitration matters for National Stock Exchange and other clients. It was sheer chance and good fortune which pushed me into maritime law. It happened during the  summer of 2013, when the Mumbai High Court was on vacation, and as usual most of our colleagues who were in maritime practice were on vacation as well. Consequently, there were plenty of disputes which needed urgent attention and my firm asked me whether I would be interested in taking up these matters and the rest is history.  

Looking back at your career that spans over a decade, what would you have done differently if you had the chance of starting over today?

That’s a tough question to answer. Practice of law is nothing but researching, drafting, and convincing (by arguments). I think neither my predecessors nor my successors would be able to change these aspects of law practice. Further, it would be a challenge for any newcomer (as it had been for me) to start and successfully establish a growing practice now due to the distractions created by social media and tougher competition, as the legal practice is more crowded than the time when I had started my practice. Yes, electronic media has made lawyers’ jobs easier in terms of research, accessing resources, and reaching clients but the biggest challenge is to avoid consequential distraction created by these same electronic resources and social media.    

Can you share your experience of working with different boards of arbitration? What has been your observation regarding the difference of approach in India as compared to other nations?

I am the co-author of an article “Mr. Arbitrator! When you will change?”. It contains a comparative study of arbitration practice in India and abroad. In International Arbitration, we don’t meet an arbitral tribunal before evidence or even prior to final hearing, and we complete all the proceedings through electronic media which saves a lot of time and resources of the client as well as attorneys. Same practice could also be adopted by the tribunals in India. 

In February 2021, you have appeared in two days evidentiary hearing before the Swiss court (under Swiss rules, with the lead counsel Mr. Pradeep Kumar Jain, Partner) wherein the witnesses from Geneva, Dubai, and Iran were cross-examined (virtually) by the parties; how was that experience?

It was a great experience. In all of my other international arbitrations before the pandemic, all parties used to assemble at one place but it was the first time when people from different time zones were appearing for evidence. Some of them even used translators. Though all individuals were sitting at different locations across the world, the intensity and rigour was not less than that of a physical hearing.    

How has the Pandemic been a period of transition for you personally and professionally?

The ongoing Pandemic has taught me some rather valuable lessons, such as the importance of taking care of one’s own health, the health of the “mother nature” and the value of family. It also taught me that all of our old traditions are not obsolete and we don’t have to disregard them  altogether. 

How have you coped with the lockdown blues, in terms of mental health and other challenges?

First month of the lockdown was exceptionally tough, but it would have been tougher had I not had any work. In fact, I have worked more than usual during the lockdown. 

As far as work from home is concerned, it’s good but it can’t replace your office. In the legal profession, apart from books and libraries, you learn a lot of things from discussions with your peers and seniors.

What would be your advice to law students and upcoming lawyers?

This is a great profession for those who want to read, research, and read some more! Students and young lawyers need to understand that their performance depends upon their knowledge of various laws and they should not be too picky while reading the law and interning with their seniors. In the words of one of my seniors, “A good lawyer invests a few months in his career while great lawyers invest years”. Therefore, it is necessary to work with someone who can give you meaningful practical knowledge and impart the right skill-set. 

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