“There are no shortcuts in this profession, reading reading and reading.. is the only mantra to be successful, whatever be the circumstances, don’t compromise with your integrity” – Madhup Singhal, Founder & Managing Partner, MSA Legal.

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

Your academic background includes a BSc in Science before pursuing law. What inspired your shift from the Sciences to a Legal Career, Could you walk us through the challenges you faced during the initial stages of your legal career and how you overcame them?

To answer this, I will have to take you through my early life which is quite interesting and of course would become inspirational once I establish a successful international law firm of repute for which I am endeavouring.  

I was a good student of Science and I was preparing mainly for JEE along with my 12th Board exams. In the Board exams,  I could not even secure First Division as my complete focus was on clearing JEE. The only reason for not securing the First Division in my Boards was getting very less marks in Physics and Chemistry practical for the reasons best known to my then respected teachers of respective subjects, though I scored very good in theories. At that time it was a major setback for me which shattered  my confidence and (gave me a huge blow)caused a big depression as well. After that I dropped a year for JEE preparation but could not succeed again. Next year, I took admission in B.Sc. but kept preparing for JEE. Just before one and half months from JEE exams I had a fever which turned into Typhoid and later on into Measles , which ruined my entire preparation and so I could not get through the JEE exams again. Since I took admission in B. Sc. Therefore, at least my year did not get wasted and with overnight studies, I could manage a score of around 70% in BSc first year. Getting this kind of marks with very less studies was a big boost to my confidence and again I prepared for JEE. My preparation was good but unfortunately that year I along with my family had met with a very severe accident due to which I could not appear in my JEE exams. The accident was such severe that I lost my memory for more than 20 days. After this I decided to leave the Science stream and decided to join the CA course. After starting the CA course, everything was going very well. In my first year of article ship, I had started conducting audits of Banks and Companies Independently. My first CA attempt was in November 1998, my preparation was good but suddenly in the last week of September 1998, I started feeling severe pain in my hand while writing. I thought it was because of over studying as at that time I used to study for around 14-15 hours in a day. I took lots of medicines but no relief and the result was my first CA attempt went futile. After that I consulted many Orthopaedic Doctors but no relief. Then one of my uncles who was an Orthopaedic Surgeon suggested consulting a Neuro physician. I consulted one of the renowned Neuro Physicians who diagnosed it as WRITER’s CRAMP (a disease wherein a person can do all works except WRITING). I took his medicines for a long time but no relief. In the meantime I lost my May 99 and Nov 99 attempt of CA course. I also tried all the therapies but I could not get relief from any. Since this problem was not curing, therefore, I could not see but a dark tunnel through my future. Then one fine day I read in the newspaper that CCS UNIVERSITY has introduced an LLB course with an objective pattern. I joined the same and because of the objective pattern I could manage to complete the LLB course despite the acute problem of Writer’s Cramp, which still has not cured. To be honest, I wanted to do LLB since beginning but along with CA and never thought that I will practise Law. Therefore, shifting to a legal career from Science was not by choice but then prevailing circumstances as enumerated. I will always remain indebted to CCS University for introducing the LLB Course in an objective pattern during those days, due to which I could complete Law and achieve this success being a first generation lawyer.

In the initial days of my career I faced almost all the challenges which a first generation lawyer from a small town of India faces like rejection by big law firms as I did not have any God Father and I was passed out from CCS University, sometimes insult from near and dears as they used to think that I was wasting my time and I should join my father at his small pharmacy shop. My father never wanted me to sit in his pharmacy shop because he, himself started the pharmacy shop after losing his big Oil Business to his uncle and their son who fraudulently took over the same from my father, frustrations of my earlier failures and obviously monetary challenges. Therefore my early days of my career were full of challenges but I kept patience all the time and never accepted defeat from defeat. 

Your firm, MSA Legal, offers a full range of legal services, including corporate advisory work, litigation, and arbitrations. Could you tell us more about the ethos and mission behind MSA Legal, and what sets it apart from other law firms? Additionally, what types of interns do you typically take, and what opportunities do they have to learn and grow within your firm?

Being a small town guy,  I was not aware about the Legal Profession and used to think that CA profession is very big as compared to Legal Profession, but after joining The Chambers of Law, as an Intern, I came to know about the Legal Profession in a real sense. I found that it is no lesser than the CA profession. After completing the LLB I joined Gagrat & Company and started my career at the Supreme Court. In the initial days of my career while with Gagrat & Co. I handled Bofors Case on behalf of Hinduja Brothers, briefed almost all renowned Senior Advocates of India independently and leant about  all renowned law firms of India. Then only I dreamt of establishing my own Full Service Law Firm. After working with Gagrat where I did majorly Supreme Court & High Court Litigation and Construction Arbitrations, I joined Mr Atul Chitale, Senior Advocate. At that time he used to run his Corporate Law Firm. There I did lots of Corporate Work like Merger & Acquisitions, JV Agreements and Corporate Litigation before the Company Law Board. After working with him, I started my own company along with working with one US Company where I did a lot of work on US laws but because of some financial reasons I had to join the Corporate Houses. I joined Jubilant Energy, an Oil & Gas Company, after that Monnet Group a mining, power & steel Company, then GMR Energy a Company involved in Thermal, Hydro, Renewable and Transmission and finally Vedanta Cairn, an oil & gas company. While working in these  big Corporate Houses,  I understood business very well and while dealing with lots of Law Firms as an In House Counsel, I realised that Lawyers understand Law but not the business and therefore applicability of law in the given business scenario always remain a challenge even for a lawyer who has good understanding of law. Though since the beginning of my career, I always wanted to start my firm but when I noticed this scenario, my determination got stronger and I took a plunge of starting my own law firm. 

I have the business knowledge of certain sectors like Oil & Gas, Power, Mining, Steel & Infrastructure besides me there are business experts of all these fields in our firm, our approach always remains very practical & solution oriented and we believe in continuity of business. That’s how our Law Firm is different from other firms. 

I always prefer to take interns who are first generation budding lawyers, having a humble background and willing to devote time to the profession without seeking any short cuts. Being a (comparative)small full service law firm, exposure in our firm is much more as compared to other big law firms as in our firm everyone gets an opportunity of doing all kinds of matters. Therefore, in our firm, a person gets all kinds of exposure. 

Your expertise includes contract negotiation, arbitration, and legal documentation across industries like IT, energy, and mining. What drew you to such a broad spectrum of sectors, and how do you navigate the unique legal landscapes of each?

At the outset, I would like to state that I am not an expert and still learning from my daily experience. Advocacy is an ongoing learning process. It’s correct that I have done a lot of work relating to negotiating the high value contracts with parties situated in different geographical regions of the world. It’s just because I have worked in  different industries and could come across the nuances of the business which help a lot in negotiating agreements. As I understand the flow of transactions & steps involved in the entire cycle of the project due to which it becomes easier to find the loopholes and the same can be mitigated while negotiating a contract. Same thing applies in the  arbitrations and litigation since you are already aware of the flow of the transaction, you may anticipate questions or arguments encountered by the other side or bench. This gives an edge to you over other lawyers and you can provide better solutions to your clients.

In addition to your professional achievements, you mentioned involvement in cooperative societies and chambers of commerce. How do you balance your legal career with community engagement, and what role do you believe lawyers should play in society?

I am on the Advisory board of some Co-operative Societies one of them is NQOCN i.e. a society funded by WHO for creating awareness for the new born babies. My philosophy of life is that besides your professional duties you owe to the society as well and one has to give it back to the society irrespective of his family or professional commitments. I am an active member of various Chambers of Commerce like ASSOCHAM, PHD Chamber of Commerce, IOFGE and others wherein my role remains to create legal and compliance awareness among the  industry. I divide my day into several activities. I want to allocate more time for social activities but due to my other commitments, I spare a minimum 7 hours in a week. The only key is time management. Besides my already fixed commitment, for the rest of the day. I always plan my day one or two days in advance.

A lawyer can play a very important role in society as he is aware of his duties in an equal manner as he is aware of his rights. There is one major problem in our country that here everyone is aware of his/ her rights but no-one bothers to know his/her duties towards nation and society. A lawyer can make the public aware of their duties towards the nation and society and make them more vigilant about their rights.

Your profile highlights involvement in drafting agreements for large transactions and acquisitions. Could you walk us through the process of negotiating such complex deals and ensuring favourable outcomes for your clients?

While starting drafting agreements for large transactions or even for small transactions, the foremost thing is the wish of your client. One has to understand in a very clear manner what exactly is the client’s requirement. After understanding the requirements of the Client, the process needs to be identified through which the transaction will go through. After understanding of the process, one has to see which laws and provisions thereof will impact the transaction. All these laws and provisions are required to be read in a very thorough manner including the precedents available as on date so that all mitigation strategies can be decided. Contract Negotiation is an art which develops over a period of time and there are no set rules for the same. It  is different in all the matters and depends on your client’s wishes and how hard it is the other side.

Your career spans across different roles, from in-house counsel to managing your own law firm. What motivated you to transition into entrepreneurship, and what challenges did you face along the way?

As I told you in my earlier answers after joining the profession in 2003 and joining Gagrat & Co then only I decided that one day I have to start my own law firm but being the first generation lawyer, not belonging to Delhi, not having any Godfather, I had lots of challenges to face. I always wanted to do good work for the big corporates and in the starting phase of your career, it’s very difficult that any big corporate will assign you any work, I could not get entry in any big law firm so that I could do the niche work moreover my financial position was not that I could survive in the city on my own therefore I took a cautious decision to first work as an In House Counsel to understand business, to do the niche work from the other side of table and also to collect some amount so that after starting my own practise, I can have some time to sustain in the market easily and do the quality work even on the lower rates. So that I can work for big companies and gain their trust. With the grace of God, it’s happening in a nice way.

Considering your involvement in policy advocacy and corporate affairs, how do you perceive the evolving regulatory landscape in India, and what implications does it have for businesses and legal practitioners?

According to me, the kind of environment this Government has created in the entire world about the INDIA and the target which the Government has put before everyone to reach up to 5 Trillion Economy in next few years and to be a developed nation by 2047, there would be lots of investment in India in next two decades. This Government, has simplified lots of things but simultaneously to maintain transparency in the business, has introduced lots of regulatory compliances (checks and balances). With the liberal policies of the Government lots of investment is coming to India due to which Indian local businesses are also growing. In case the business will grow, there would definitely be more work for the lawyers particularly who are into corporate advisory. In the present regime the involvement of a Lawyer is equally necessary and required as of CA for finance function.  

Your experience includes working with multinational companies and startups alike. How do you adapt your legal strategies to cater to the diverse needs and scales of these organizations?

As explained earlier, my approach to every assignment remains very unique. There is no straight jacket formula which applies to all the situations, it’s all based on the requirement of clients be it an established multinational or a start up.  The bottom line is to understand the needs of the client, understand his business, apply the prevalent law in the given scenario, that’s it.

Apart from your legal career, what are some of your personal interests or hobbies that you find equally fulfilling? How do you manage to balance your professional life with your personal passions?

My foremost personal interest is to serve my nation but for that it’s not the correct time as at this stage I have my other commitments.  After sometime when things will be settled, I will start giving my maximum time in serving the nation. As far as my hobbies are concerned, I used to like watching movies but in the last five years I watched very few movies and in most of them I slept. I like cooking and driving and am fond of listening to music of  Mukesh, Jagjit Singh’s Ghazals and songs of the 90s. To relax myself while cooking or driving alone I listen to songs or ghazals.

Given your extensive experience, what advice would you offer to young professionals aspiring to build a career in law, especially in today’s competitive landscape? 

I would like to advise following to the young professionals especially who are first generation lawyers and belong to a humble background:-

  1. There are no shortcuts in the Profession;
  2. Reading, Reading and Reading is the only mantra to be successful;
  3. Whenever you start working don’t see the time . I’m not saying that time management is not important but not at the cost of quality. and not fix any time to complete any task. Keep on working till the time you are not satisfied with your work. After submitting your work, you should not have any regrets like  if I had put in some more effort ,results could be different. Therefore always give your best;
  4. Be a good listener;
  5. Always read judgements in its entirety not the relevant para or head notes;
  6. In the initial days of the career don’t run after the money;
  7. Don’t compare yourself with your other friends who are in different professions especially in engineering or in management as they start earning very good from day one while in Legal Profession money comes late. After 20 years when you will compare you will find that you are on equal footing and after 30 years you will find yourself much ahead. Obviously some exceptions always remain;
  8. Whatever be the circumstances, don’t compromise with your integrity;
  9. This is the profession where Sky is the limit but with continuous hard work and labour. You can’t take anything lightly at any point of time when you are in this profession.

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