Shaun Star graduated in B.Com and qualified in Law from Macquarie University in 2011, he further went on to pursue BCL from Oxford the same year. His dalliance with the Indian legal system started off with his exchange programme from the NLSIU, Bangalore as a part of his curriculum at Macquarie. Shaun is the Co-founder and Chairperson of the Australia-India Youth Dialogue, Co-founder of Crosshack and the founder of an advisory practice – the Australia India Advisory. In this interview, he expounds on:
- His experience as an exchange student at NLSIU, Bangalore and as a BCL student in Oxford
- His time at Clayton Utz in Australia and Amarchand Mangaldas and the Law Offices of Nandan Kamath in India.
- The importance of LL.M degrees, differential experiences of working in Indian and Australian law firms as well as the importance of cross border ties
- His advice for undergraduate students interested in corporate law and lawyers hoping to pursue transnational careers.
Your book titled, “Australia and India: Comparative Law and Legal Practice” was recently released in New Delhi? Tell us more about it.
I edited a book, entitled “Australia and India: A Comparative Overview of the Law and Legal Practice”, which compares the Indian and Australian legal systems. With forewords from the chief justices of India and Australia, the book comprises contributions written by eminent judges, barristers, lawyers and academics from both nations. The book was launched by the Attorney-Generals of Australia and India at the Australian High Commissioner’s residence in New Delhi and subsequently by The Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG, former Justice of the High Court of Australia. It has been published by Universal Law Publishers, an imprint of Lexis Nexis.
Each chapter of this volume has been co-authored by some of Australia’s and India’s top legal luminaries including the likes of Gopal Subramanium, Anand Grover, Haigreve Khaitan, Cyril Shroff, Pallavi Shroff, Shardul Shroff, Sumanto Basu, Madhurima Mukherjee, Nisha Kaur Uberoi and V Umakanth.
This book is important not only because it provides a resource for those interested to learn about how these different regulatory regimes work but also because it promotes collaboration. Through this publication, I have been able to introduce many of the authors to each other for the first time – many of whom have started working on other projects together.
More information about the book is available here.
What do you think are the things India can learn from the Australian Legal system?
Given the common heritage of our legal systems and the many similarities in the form and structure of our federal systems of Government, there are many more opportunities for people in both countries to learn from each other, establishing partnerships of mutual benefit and shared understanding. For example, Australia has undergone a cultural shift with respect to litigation procedures in recent decades, with a focus on efficient and cost-effective litigation. While the Indian judicial system has its own unique challenges – with the sheer size of India’s population – some of these procedures of case management which have been successfully implemented in Australia may be useful in the Indian context. Conversely, Australia can learn from India’s use of public interest litigation which has been a driving force of reform in certain areas of the law, such as in human rights, public health and the environment.
Tell us about your experience at NLSIU.
(Shaun’s first introduction to Indian law was as an exchange student at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore (NLSIU).)
I was selected by the Australian Government to receive an Endeavour Award Scholarship (which is essentially Australia’s equivalent of the Fullbright Scholarship),which entitled me to study and work in India. I thoroughly enjoyed my time studying at NLSIU, where I had the opportunity to learn different aspects of Indian law.I also had the chance to meet some fantastic new friends, many of whom I have remained in contact with eversince.
While studying at NLSIU, I chose a number of subjects which allowed me to gain an understanding of different elements of the Indian legal system. Two of those subjects were taught by NLSIU alumni who had extensive experience as legal practitioners – I found these subjects (mergers &acquisitions and commercial arbitration) in particular worthwhile because of the nexus between academia and legal practice.
As an undergraduate student you worked at Clayton Utz, one of Australia’s top corporate law firms based in Sydney. How did you come across this opportunity? How was your experience at the firm?
In Australia, many students work alongside their studies – this allows students to gain experience in law firms or other businesses (as a paralegal for instance) while still at university. Working whilst studying is often common for two reasons:
- our degrees are more flexible, allowing students to shape their timetables around work schedules (or vice versa); and
- living expenses as a student can be expensive and many students work alongside their studies in order to pay their way through university.
I worked as a research assistant and paralegal in the international commercial arbitration group at Clayton Utz. In addition, I participated in the summer clerkship program at Clayton Utz which gave me experience in other practice groups (litigation, pro bono and on secondment to one of Australia’s major banks). Throughout my last two years of university, I worked two-three days per week at the firm.
Tell us about your stint at the Law Offices of Nandan Kamath.
During my time at the Law Offices of Nandan Kamath, I worked as a foreign qualified lawyer in the areas of sports, entertainment and intellectual property law. I had a fantastic time working with Nandan and his team. I was fortunate enough to be working there during the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 – this was impeccable timing, given that the firm was engaged by the ICC to provide legal advisory services in connection with the event.
During my time at the firm, I also worked with Copyright Integrity International, a firm which was engaged to establish and implement a rights protection programme for the World Cup. Through this combined experience, I therefore had great exposure to sports law during such a big international event.
You previously worked as a Consultant at Amarchand Mangaldas in New Delhi. How did you come across this opportunity? What were the key areas that you worked on at Amarchand?
As a foreign qualified legal consultant for Amarchand Mangaldas, I worked on a number of domestic and international matters from across a variety of industries in the firm’s corporate advisory, mergers and acquisitions and private equity practice.
I came across this opportunity quite fortuitously – I remember attending a lecture on Corporate Law in India by Shardul Shroff at Oxford University. After the lecture (during Q & A), I recall asking Mr Shroff about his perspective on whether he thought there was a place for foreign law firms in India. Following our short exchange at Oxford, I remained in contact with the firm and was offered a position as a consultant in the M&A practice. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience as it gave me great exposure to the corporate culture in India, working on a number of significant transactions over the 2.5 years that I worked there.
How is it different from work at an Australian Law firm?
The skill-sets acquired in working as a transactional lawyer are transferrable across different common law jurisdictions. Of course there are different nuances in the legal systems, which I had to learn when moving to India. Interestingly, I started working at Amarchand at a time when the new Companies Act was coming into force – so I was not the only one who had to learn how the new machinery of India’s corporate law regime functioned.
It was also interesting adjusting to daily life in the context of an Indian law firm. In Australia, lawyers arrive at work by 8:30am and aim to leave the office at a reasonable time (although that is often not possible in the context of some transactions). In India, I was not expected to arrive at work until much later – although I would often find myself having dinner at the office with my colleagues.
This was also due to the fact that the deal-flow in India is consistent and I have had the opportunity to work on numerous large and interesting transactions – there seems to never be a dull moment practicing corporate law in India in recent times. That being said, I always found time to catch-up with my colleagues at the local chai-wallah, a practice that I was not accustomed to in Australia.
You pursued a BCL from Oxford. Is it true that an LL.M would help you only if you want to pursue a career in teaching rather than a career in the Industry? What is your take on the same?
I disagree with the argument that an LL.M will only be beneficial for those pursuing a career in academia. Many successful lawyers and businesspeople in India and across the world have graduated with an LL.M. The opportunity cost of studying abroad for a year is that a young lawyer can spend that time working an extra year in a corporate law firm or as a litigator – but in my opinion, lawyers and advocates will be able to gain that practical experience in a firm throughout the rest of their lives. The experiences, networks and different perspectives that one can gain from pursuing an LL.M abroad is invaluable and serve you in good stead in your career as a professional.
Tell us about your involvement with the Australia-India Youth Dialogue of which you are Co-founder, and what it hopes to achieve in terms of Indo-Australian relations? Is law as a subject on the radar when it comes to AIYD?
As Co-founder and Chair of the Australia India Youth Dialogue (AIYD), I lead a team which organises an annual dialogue for a group of Australia’s and India’s most accomplished young leaders. The AIYD is the pre-eminent track-two young leaders’ dialogue between Australia and India. It aims to provide a sustainable platform for the youth of Australia and India to come together and foster an enduring partnership between our two great countries.
Each year the AIYD brings together young Australian and Indian leaders, CEOs, Members of Parliament, journalists, policy-makers and athletes to discuss opportunities and challenges significant to the Australia-India relationship.
Of the 150 young leaders who have participated in the AIYD to date, a number of delegates have been qualified lawyers. Many of these delegates have worked in corporate law practices and have had experience working with Australian and Indian clients in cross-border transactions. In addition, a number of these lawyers have policy interests in the Australia-India bilateral relationship.
You have recently co-founded an organisation which aims to promote collaboration between young entrepreneurs in Australia and India. Can you please tell us a bit more about this?
In collaboration with two former AIYD delegates, I am building a platform that will encourage young Australian and Indian entrepreneurs to collaborate on projects. The organisation, “Crosshack”, is still in its planning phase and we hope to roll it out in 2016.
Essentially, Crosshack will bring together groups of entrepreneurs, designers and other young professionals from Australia and India who will meet in Australia or India and collaborate on innovative ideas to build next generation products and services. These ideas will be pitched at an annual conference and it is our hope that Crosshack will lead to collaboration between young entrepreneurs from both countries.
Since leaving Amarchand, you have founded an advisory practice called Australia India Advisory, can you please tell us more about this.
Running an advisory practice, I assist Australians to better understand business opportunities in Asia, particularly in India. I currently advise numerous Australian organisations (from start-ups to listed companies), assisting them with their entry and expansion into India. I have represented Australian companies across a variety of sectors, including education, energy and resources, professional services and technology.
What advice would you give a law student or a fresh law graduate in order to succeed as a corporate lawyer?
I think the key to success as a corporate lawyer are similar to that of any young professional in the professional services industry. While technical legal skills are important, nowadays the ability to clearly grasp difficult legal concepts and explain them in a concise way is only the first step. As a young lawyer, one has to be hungry to learn (both in terms of legal knowledge and other “soft-skills”). While it is important to work hard, it is equally important to “work smart” and learn the tricks of the trade from those more senior to you. The fantastic thing about starting out your career as a corporate lawyer is that you can see how many businesses operate across various industries – how they succeed and how (and why) they fail. I think it is important for a young lawyer to always try and see the bigger picture and constantly ask questions – by doing so, a seemingly mundane task like reviewing hundreds of documents in a due diligence process may be more rewarding in the long run.
What advice would you give to Indian Law Grads who want to make a career as a Lawyer practicing across borders?
My overarching advice would be to go for it! There is an increasing amount of opportunities for lawyers to gain international experience, even from within India. International transactions often involve either international clients or foreign counsel (or both) and you can learn a lot from the manner, professionalism and processes followed by these international lawyers.
If you have an opportunity to practice abroad during your career, you should take advantage of the experience. The Indian corporate law industry is really competitive and international experience can set you apart from your peers. Applying for positions abroad can be difficult and the standards of applications and interviews are very high – invest enough time in your applications and résumés and seek advice from others who have worked abroad. If successful, work hard and learn as much as you can while working across borders.