Ojasvita Srivastava graduated from V. M. Salgaocar College of Law, Goa University (2005-2010). She is a qualified lawyer and an experienced in-house counsel with experience in litigation, arbitration and corporate compliance. She is presently a Senior Manager in the Legal department at Reliance Communications where she deals with Telecom Litigation.
She pursued an LL.M in Commercial and Corporate Law at the Centre for Commercial Law Studies, Queen Mary University of London, where she served as the Communication and Media Coordinator of her specialisation- Commercial and Corporate Law.
Ojasvita was also the Co-Founder and Chief Editor of the ‘The Sophists’, Queen Mary Law and Business Journal, which publishes articles on Law, Business and Politics. She contributes articles on Indian economy and legal developments to this journal. She also edits and contributes articles to the monthly Postgraduate Newsletter of the Centre for Commercial Law Studies, London.
In this interview she talks to us about:
- Challenges associated with being an in-house counsel.
- Project Abhimanyu – providing free guidance to law students who do not come from a law background.
- Services provided under the project “Abhimanyu”.
- Skills and qualities that helped her achieving the current position.
How would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?
I work as a Senior Manager in the Legal and Regulatory Department at Reliance Communications in New Delhi. I handle cases related to telecom, broadcasting and infrastructure disputes before the Supreme Court, various High Courts, the Telecom Tribunal (TDSAT) and various arbitrators, while occasionally getting involved in M&A work and contract vetting. I have a keen interest in litigation and have previously practiced before the Supreme Court, the Delhi High Court, and various District courts in Delhi.
What made you choose the legal profession as your career option?
Pursuing law as a career was a last minute decision. I was a student of the Science stream till class XII. Like the rest of my class, I too wrote the AIEEE and did well. I had a state ranking of 37 in Engineering and 7 in Architecture. However, I disliked Chemistry and didn’t want to read a word of it ever again in my life. As I was trying to figure out what to do with my career, I met my mentor, Adv. Vilas P. Thali. He is the former Additional Advocate General of Goa and is a specialist in election laws. After meeting him I was inspired to pursue law. I wrote the entrance exam for V. M. Salgaocar College of Law on 14th June, 2005 and joined his office as an intern on 15th June, 2005. I interned there for more than 3 years spending close to 6 hours a day in his office and visiting courts, meeting clients as well as attending sessions of briefing senior counsels (even though I was just a 12th pass student). I topped the entrance exam at my college and continued to perform well. As a result, I was awarded the merit scholarship throughout my LLB course and paid nothing in tuition fee! Although the joy of saving money was more than offset; thanks to my LLM at Queen Mary, University at London.
As I am a first generation lawyer, my family was not in favour of me pursuing law as a career. However, I convinced them otherwise and became the only girl in my entire batch at school to join law.
What were your objectives and plans in the preliminary years of law school?
Right from the first year, I had a deep interest in litigation and I had a clear mind that I wanted to make a career in this field. Therefore, in my initial years at law school, I aimed at participating in as many moot courts as possible and gave every moot court my best. I won the best lady advocate at a national level moot court competition and the best memorial award at an international moot court, while doing fairly well in all moot courts that I participated in. My mooting experience not only helped me hone my research and oratory skills but more importantly helped me develop a keen attention to detail, which is absolutely essential to win any case.
Besides this, I interned throughout the first three years of the course; part time when the college was in session and full time during vacations. As my college timings were from noon to half past five in the evening, I could easily dedicate three hours in the morning and in the evening. During the morning sessions, I usually attended proceedings at the Panaji bench of the Bombay High Court or the District Court, where I gained practical experience in court skills and procedure. Evenings were usually dedicated to practising legal research, drafting and attending client meetings. Often students learn these essential skills only after passing out of law school. So I am very grateful to my mentor for hand holding me and making sure that I learnt these skills while still at college.
What are the challenges associated with being an in-house counsel? How do you handle them?
There are in-house counsels specialising in various areas of legal practice. I will only talk about the challenges faced by in-house counsels working in the dispute resolution field.
As an in-house counsel specialising in dispute resolution, the volume of work is more though the in-depth involvement in legal research is limited. Also, one is involved right from the pre-litigation stage of litigation-avoidance correspondence till the execution of the decree, including serving notices, drafting, vetting and settling petitions, briefing senior counsels, attending arguments and then following up for the execution of decrees. During this process, one also needs to keep the management of the company informed about the on-going proceedings almost like the eyes and ears of the management in the court (AKA Sanjay from the Mahabharata).
The challenge revolves around balancing the volume of work. As an in-house counsel, I have been assigned more than 65 cases. My colleagues, who are senior to me, handle even more cases than me. Thus the responsibility is to keep a tab of all your cases in all the courts across the country and to make sure that the interests of the company are effectively secured. Further, as an in-house counsel, one also needs to understand the technicalities of a case well enough to be able to explain them as her own case. Thus I, for example, have to understand complex science revolving around telecom engineering to be able to explain it to the external counsels on behalf of the company.
Tell us something about “Project Abhimanyu”.
‘Project Abhimanyu’ is a pro bono and voluntary initiative that I recently started. It aims at increasing access to career opportunities in the legal industry by providing free guidance and career counselling to law students who do not come from a law background.
It endeavours to increase awareness about career options available in the legal profession to students. It works assiduously with students from colleges that do not have a fully functional placement cell and also assists and contributes to the existing services available at academic and professional institutions that are working towards guiding students. It does so by sharing knowledge and seeking guidance from highly trained and experienced professionals in the legal industry who are willing to voluntarily mentor students in their free time. In the long run, Project Abhimanyu will work towards enriching the talent pool available to the legal profession.
Why have you named it Project ‘Abhimanyu’?
Abhimanyu was Arjun’s son from the Mahabharata. On the 13th day of the Mahabharata war, he successfully intercepted the Chakravyuh formation created by the Kaurava army, and saved the Pandavas from imminent defeat. What is particularly interesting about this episode though is that Abhimanyu obtained this knowledge of penetrating a Charavyuh formation as a foetus in his mother’s womb. Thus Abhimanyu was born with the knowledge of how to penetrate a Chakravyuh.
The legal industry is like a Chakravyuh, complex and vast. It would be Project Abhimanyu’s endeavour that, just like Abhimanyu, law students graduating from various colleges must learn to successfully navigate the legal industry. They should be able to make informed career decisions and achieve success proportionate to their calibre and hard work; and they should never get left behind because of a lack of guidance.
Why inspired you to start this initiative?
To answer this question, I would first like to give a little context. I graduated in law from V. M. Salgaocar College of Law, Goa in 2010 and later acquired an LLM in Commercial and Corporate Law from Queen Mary, University of London in 2014. In the intermittent period, I worked at a multinational French Pharma company in Mumbai and later practised at the Supreme Court, Delhi High Court and District courts in Delhi, while simultaneously writing the civil services examination. In 2013, I appeared for the interview round of the civil services examination; however, I missed by a narrow margin and thereafter decided to continue my career in law.
All along this journey, I had little guidance in terms of how to go about making my career in law. As a result, my career grew more in a trial and error fashion. Thankfully, I have reached a comfortable place now, and therefore I want to help other students who are in a similar position.
Law is a difficult profession not only because it is a complex industry but also because it requires one to really slog to climb up. That said, it becomes all the more difficult when you are a first generation lawyer. The idea behind Project Abhimanyu is to guide first generation law students so that they get a better shot at making a smooth transition from being a law student to becoming a lawyer. Over the past few years, I have been guiding students studying in various colleges in Delhi, Noida, Lucknow, Pune, Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Patna, Mumbai and Goa. But there are still a lot of students who need guidance and this is what got me motivated to start this platform to reach out to more students across the country.
How difficult was it for you to connect and convince different lawyers to register on this project?
It wasn’t difficult at all. Everyone I approached has been very receptive and appreciative of Project Abhimanyu. We have the GCs of MNCs, law firm partners and highly successful litigators on board as Mentors at Project Abhimanyu. In fact, most Mentors at Project Abhimanyu had already been guiding and mentoring students. Project Abhimanyu is only providing them a platform to reach out to more students from across the country. I am very grateful to everyone who has joined this initiative and is sparing time from their busy schedules to help the future generation of lawyers.
What kind of services do you provide under this project?
Students can write in to ask any query related to the legal career. These could be about improving their CV, internship applications, job applications, career guidance, civil services examination, higher education abroad, CA/CS courses, working in-house or any other information related to law. They simply need to drop an email to [email protected] and they would be assigned to a mentor who would answer their queries.
Where do you see this project five years from now?
In five years, I want Project Abhimanyu to be a self–sustained, fully automated system. We are working towards building a network of lawyers specialising in different areas of law who are voluntarily willing to guide students. Eventually I want Project Abhimanyu to develop into a platform where any law student from any corner of the country could just go to our website, choose a Mentor in a particular field of law from an entire range of specialists and write a message that would directly be received by the Mentor and answered by her/ him. We are also working towards compiling and publishing the advice given by the Mentors for the benefit of other students. I want the advice to be free and fair and therefore, Project Abhimanyu shall always remain a pro bono, voluntary and a not-for-profit organisation.
What skills and qualities do you think have helped you achieve your current position?
I think hard work, attention to detail and a passion for reading are essential qualities for anyone aspiring to make a career in litigation. Besides that, the training I received from my mentor and the guidance of my teachers has helped me tremendously. I will be failing in my duty if I forget to mention the complete liberty and unflinching support given to me by mother in shaping my career.
What would be your advice to our readers?
An ex-President at Reliance, whom I respect like a father, once passed a remark that struck the very core of my conscience. He told me that ‘your profession (the legal profession) is rather feudal’. What he was inferring was that it is easier for people from a law background to excel in this industry.
Project Abhimanyu is trying to break free from this notion about the legal industry in India. I would advise every student reading this article to take full benefit of Project Abhimanyu. It is an opportunity for everyone to get a fair shot at law and to make informed career decisions. I would also request every legal professional reading this article to join Project Abhimanyu and help the future generation of lawyers in our country become more productive and efficient.