“People can be either destined for something or they can find the determination to get it” – Palash S Singhai, Advocate-on-Record, Supreme Court of India.

This interview has been published by Namrata Singh and The SuperLawyer Team

Palash, your journey from assisting your father at the District Court to becoming an Advocate on Record at the Supreme Court is remarkable. What sparked your interest in law despite not initially considering it as a career option?

I think people can be either destined for something or they can find the determination to get it. The advantages and pitfalls are many and, and yet it can work either way as long as we understand what we must do. I chose to study law and become a lawyer and I had some idea about what to expect. My father is a lawyer too, and he was my first mentor. After I finished high school, I started assisting my father in matters before District Courts. But when it came to choosing a career, neither of my parents persuaded me to study law. In fact, once I got enrolled into the law school, my father told me that he will not have me as a junior and that I had to find my own way. I know his intention was to ensure that I don’t get comfortable with the thought that I can just go back and join him. Sometimes you do better when things are not already decided for you. So, despite law being in my destiny, I chose it and I enjoy it everyday.

As one explores further and learns more aspects of law practice, the excitement and zeal to learn only grows. But with this excitement, it is also important to remember that our work affects other people. So I try to be punctual at work and make sure to be present in courts whenever a matter is listed. I try to be diligent in preparing my case briefs and be ready to make submissions. For me there was no plan B and so I make sure that I am prepared for the challenges that litigation brings and I stay determined.

You’ve had the opportunity to work on diverse cases, from representing a leading Infrastructure Company in arbitral proceedings to handling matters related to oppression and mismanagement. Is there a specific type of case or legal challenge that you find particularly stimulating or rewarding?  

As a lawyer you have to be always ready for a variety of briefs. A new challenge comes with every new case. According to me, the best way to start preparing for a matter is to first read and understand all the relevant provisions of law, the statutory mechanisms, the procedures and the legislative intent of that law. From this, it becomes easier to proceed in the matter. The next step would be to marshal the facts. This enables us to be the master of the brief. If there is a chink in the armor, then we must know it. Unless we have complete control over the facts, there will always be some room for doubt. The best part about law is that it keeps evolving, so we can always read more and improve the arguments. However, the facts remain constant. Knowing all the relevant facts beforehand is not only crucial for the initial stages of a legal dispute, but also for appeals and petitions against a bad order. 

It goes without saying that every new case is rewarding as it brings new challenges and the opportunity to overcome them. It also brings the opportunity to learn and to be more informed, articulate, and proficient. If you deal in diverse matters, you can draw a corollary from other laws and apply them to the case in hand to compare where the relevant law does not cover a certain aspect. If you know more, you can create a more convincing argument.

You’ve been involved in a diverse range of legal matters, from commercial litigation to arbitration. When you’re not deep in legal intricacies, what’s something about Palash that people might be surprised to learn? 

As lawyers, we are required to constantly juggle between courts, conferences, office, and whatnot. Since the time is always limited, we must utilize it properly and wisely. I have been fortunate to work in the organizations where I was given the liberty to set my own deadlines and prioritize my tasks accordingly. This also gives me a chance to keep up with my interests and hobbies. On most weekends, I play cricket or badminton with friends or we just end up spending some quality time with great conversations and movies etc. Being away from the family, this is a great way to feel comfortable in midst of all the stress. During the court vacations, I plan my travels and to try to get away from all this hustle bustle and to just explore places and food! I also never miss the annual “Jashn-e-Rekhta” in Delhi. Something which is surprising about me needs to be asked from my friends and colleagues because I spent most of my time around them so I think they are in a better position to point out something which is not very common about me.

Being deeply committed to your work, you mentioned missing the football world cup final for your exams. How do you balance your passion for sports, particularly football, with the demands of a legal career?

As I said, lawyers need to juggle between things and it is not as easy for everyone to find a good work life balance. I have seen my friends working till midnight or after that as well, working on weekends, holidays, festivals and on many other occasions. But I think we can all learn how to manage our time and work. Our profession demands utmost dedication, however, post Covid-19 era, I have realized that deadlines can be pushed when it comes to the health and well-being of a person. I never compromise on my health, but I also never make it a reason for deliberately delaying any important work. There is a difference between needing some personal time and merely making excuses, and I learnt that as soon as I stepped into this profession. 

Staying involved in sports activities also helps. For me, sports, even if you just watch it, is the best way to release all the work pressure and helps in rejuvenating. I am a football geek. I had planned to watch the UEFA Champions League Final in Istanbul in May 2020 but then Covid-19 happened and it ruined all my plans. Then again, I had planned to attend the Football World Cup Final in Qatar, 2022. This time again my AoR exam was on the horizon and that was of course the priority. The exam was scheduled on the very next day of the Finals between Argentina and France. It was a legendary match and since I had decided not to watch it at all, my phone was flooded with calls and texts from all my friends and colleagues who begged me to just watch the game for some time. I didn’t and I don’t regret that decision as I cleared the exam and became an AoR which is a bigger achievement for me.

Despite all these, I keep a slot blocked either on Saturday or Sunday first half for the sports be it football, badminton or cricket. I think this much I deserve after working sincerely for the entire week.

It’s admirable that you take on pro bono matters for those who face financial constraints in seeking justice. Can you share a rewarding experience from one of these cases that left a lasting impact on you?

One of my seniors during my initial days in the profession told me very frankly that I should start my career by focusing on briefs rather than money. That the money will chase you if you justify the work. I kept his words in mind as I started taking up my own briefs and made sure to never focus on fees or ask for it before understanding the matter as well as the client. Someone once referred my name to a daily wage earner from a small village in Uttar Pradesh and told him that I won’t charge too much for his case. When I met that person, he told me how he had lost his child due to electrocution and the police had filed a closure report in the matter. He was desperate to be heard and so he offered some money in advance hoping to persuade me to take up the matter. I told him that I will take it once the matter progresses. In the end, we succeeded before the court and the person came back for my fees. I politely declined and told him to use it for his betterment. To this day, that person has referred numerous other briefs from his locality, and I think in a way, the advice from my Senior has really paid off. Also taking up a pro bono matter makes us understand the ground reality of the justice system in our Country. Not everyone can afford to engage big law firms and big counsels for their matters and the cases, despite being genuine, suffer due to the complex legal system and lack of resources. Every once in a while, if we can give them some representation and put our equal efforts for their best interest, we will understand why this is a noble profession. At the end of the day, everyone is entitled for just and fair legal assistance and as a lawyer I feel it is my duty to perform my part by doing whatever it takes and to the best of my abilities.

In addition to your legal pursuits, you’ve been associated with different law firms and chambers. How do you define the role played by the chamber/firm/offices in shaping your career?

I have worked with different organizations wherein I have worked for various clients. In this profession, working in a law chamber is very different from the firms. All these organizations have their own practice, procedure, work culture etc. which helps us to realize what is a best suited environment for us. This has played a very crucial role in my career as it helped me to decide how I want to proceed in the profession. Unfortunately, I have not worked with a Tier 1 firm but the boutique firms and law chambers have given me my career objective. My inclination was always towards the law chambers as they never had any specific or dedicated team for a practice area which helped me to have diverse cases and to be very frank and independent to appear, argue and appeal (in case anything goes wrong). I am grateful to the chambers where I have worked because there only, I realized my potential, my zeal and enthusiasm towards this profession. By no means I am trying to dishonor the working environment of the firms but I am just explaining how I have realized what is going to be the best recourse for my future.

As someone who has cleared the Advocate on Record examination on the first attempt, what advice would you give to law students or aspiring lawyers who are navigating their early years in the legal profession?

I always feel that I have always benefited from the advice and guidance of my Seniors in this profession. One has to grasp the good qualities from their Seniors which had benefited them in the profession. I still remember that during the initial days in the profession my Senior told me that I have to be thorough with the brief even if I have to take an adjournment in the matter. This helped me a lot as whenever I entered any court, I used to have my brief and a brief note on the matter so as and when if the judge is asking about the matter or even a date of event, I am in a position to answer the same without any hesitation and it will give an impression that the adjournment has not been sought just to delay the matter. Another piece of advice I received from my Senior was not to waste time while waiting for your matter in court. I was told to observe and hear the arguments in the court and see how different lawyers come up with their own strategy for making submissions and bringing fresh judgments which I might find useful in near future. This was immensely helpful during the preparations for the AoR exam as well. While I was preparing, I was hard pressed for time due to the ongoing matters, drafting etc. so I decided while waiting for my matter in court I will start making notes of the submissions of the lawyers to speed up my writing skills. In the end I feel that it worked to my advantage. 

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