“There is more professional satisfaction in actually resolving a dispute rather than letting it linger in Courts for years together.” – A First Generation Lawyer’s Journey to Success, Mahesh Arkalgud, Partner at ATV Legal

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

Reflecting on your journey, could you share with us how you embarked on your career in law and what inspired you to pursue this profession? Additionally, what significant milestones or experiences along the way have shaped your trajectory and approach to the practice of law?

In my childhood, I just went with the flow and as was the trend in the early 2000’s, I took up science in my 10+2. Having seen my elder siblings venture into Engineering studies, and having myself studied science in 10+2, I was clear that I was not cut out for that kind of studies and work. I was greatly influenced by the words of my father to look at law as an option. My father had obtained a law degree, but never practised. He went on to become a Civil Servant. He shared a lot of his experiences in his work, which was inevitably interspersed with the legal system. 

Once I began my legal studies, there was no looking back. I took on legal studies like a duck to water. I must say I was at peace with myself and really enjoyed reading legal literature. During my college days, I took up internships largely with a view to understand which area of law to practise in. I did internships with law firms as well as chamber lawyers and was very keen to understand how a lawyer’s life would be. In every place I have interned, I would pick the brains of the seniors in that firm from every vertical of the practise, to understand how actually their work was. The guidance from the Partner in the last law firm I interned, whom I eventually regard as my mentor in the profession, enabled me to firm up my mind to be a litigator. I eventually joined that firm’s litigation practice.     

As is the case with most litigators, the initiation was extremely rough with quite a few bitter experiences and novice mistakes in Court. Fortunately, my senior colleagues were very supportive and encouraged me. I always felt that I had more to offer than was being asked of me by my firm. I was quite restless and impatient to make a mark. 10 months into the practice, I got my first big opportunity. Due to various factors, I was the only person from the litigation team that was available in office, when a case in which we were on caveat, for a premier client of the firm, came up and we were required to appear. I grabbed the opportunity, channelised my restlessness and desperation well, and ensured that the Partner would have no reason to put any other person onto that matter. There onwards, I was looked upon as a reliable hand in litigation matters and my confidence grew day by day. 

After moving on from established law firms, you started your own firm and later moved on and partnered with other lawyers. Can you reflect on this journey of yours?

I was with two law firms in a period of five years after starting off. There afterwards, along with three other lawyers we started our own law firm in 2015. It was a leap of faith. An exciting phase of establishing a practice. Each of us knew that we had the potential to build a practice. The first few months were spent in establishing connections and meeting a lot of people. Most of the connections initially made, continue to result in referrals and work. It is crucial to meet people and network with them. Sincere and truthful efforts will always yield good positive results. Proud that some of the referrals that come about now are multi-tier referrals, which means that the word of mouth has travelled far and wide. Presently I have joined hands and partnered with a bunch of lawyers, who were all peers in my first law firm. We all have been through the growth curve and survived the rigors of the profession and now have similar career trajectories. 

Given your diverse expertise, particularly in construction and commercial arbitration disputes, what common misconceptions do clients often have about this area of law, and how do you address them?

In most construction disputes the construction company would inevitably want to make claims for damages. While the construction company feels shortchanged with the manner in which the owner of the project would have treated it, I find that claims are made for the sake of making it, with hope that at least a part of the claims come through. Same is the case in some commercial matters. I think it is extremely important to think through the claims and build a robust foundation for the claims which are in the nature of damages. It is critical to evaluate evidentiary value of what a client believes to be ‘evidence’. We should not encourage a client to just dump their files and expect the lawyers to churn out magic. It is important to educate a client about law and on how things will actually pan out before a Court/Tribunal. I believe that keeping the client fully in sync with the legal process and proceedings helps to bring the best out of the client as well as the lawyer. I have often found that a hands-on client is able to provide quality inputs and results in better output from the litigation.    

In your extensive experience, what would you consider the most effective strategy for resolving disputes outside the courtroom? Could you share an example where alternative dispute resolution methods yielded exceptional results?

An out of court settlement is achieved through negotiations and eventually mediation. I find that a large number of disputes are a result of frail egos or personal grudge. There are also the opportunistic litigations. In any event, it is imperative to understand every aspect of the dispute and all things that resulted in the creation of the dispute. If one is able to delve into the core of a dispute and unearth its origin, everything including that which is not stated on paper, one can actually do a good counselling job on the client to see how to proceed with the dispute. It is also important to set the expectations right and let a client know the best case and worst-case scenarios by explaining the law. 

Such out of court settlement also depends largely on the psyche of the client. A recent case was where a client wanted a larger payout from a defaulting tenant. In the very first meeting the client said that they were willing to go up to the Hon’ble Supreme Court. I spent quite some time understanding the client and also on why the client was so passionate about fighting the tenant. As the client felt comfortable with me, they opened up and explained the entire history and the backstory. Upon several rounds of counselling, the matter was eventually resolved with the issuance of a lawyer’s notice. There is more professional satisfaction in actually resolving a dispute rather than letting it linger in Courts for years together.  

As a first-generation lawyer, what advice would you give to aspiring legal professionals who are just starting their careers, especially those aiming to make a mark in the competitive legal landscape?

While I agree that having someone who has been there and already done that helps, especially in the litigation vertical, it is not impossible to carve out a space for oneself being a first-generation lawyer. The challenges start from finding the right office to start off with; to getting the right leads for building a practice. One needs to be proactive and extremely alert to the opportunities and possibilities. I was fortunate that I found a great mentor to start my practice. Once you commence, it is important to be relevant and display the eagerness and hunger to learn. Resilience and adaptability are crucial traits to forge ahead. One needs to keep evolving with the times and stay abreast with new developments. At the beginning of a litigation career be ready to do all kinds of work and work in all jurisdictions. It helps you in the long run, especially when you venture out on your own. A lot of my learning has happened through witnessing other lawyers in action. While it is good to catch up with a friend in the corridors, it is extremely important that one does not waste the time while waiting for their turn in the Court. Inspirations are aplenty in Courtrooms and one must not miss such opportunities.     

With your experience appearing before different High Courts and tribunals across the country, what key differences have you observed in legal proceedings and judicial interpretations, and how do you adapt your strategies accordingly?

Every tribunal or forum has its own characteristics in terms of the process or presiding officers or the legal practitioners appearing therein. It is crucial to understand and respect the local practices and adapt quickly. Lawyers from Delhi are very assertive and persuasive, they go about their brief with extreme focus, while lawyers from Mumbai are highly efficient and meticulous. I find that lawyers from these two jurisdictions are thoroughly prepared and come with the go getter mentality. These days, with virtual appearances possible, it is indeed a great experience to appear in different jurisdictions. Each appearance in a different forum enriches one’s exposure immensely.    

Continuous learning is essential for professional growth. How do you prioritize ongoing legal education and skill development within your firm, and what resources or platforms do you find most valuable for staying updated with legal developments and best practices?

These days information is available in plenty and in various modes. The judicial precedents laid down by courts is the most important legal education for practising professionals. New legislation and amendments in our area of practice is something which we keenly keep an eye out for. Various portals reporting the Court rulings and publishing articles on various legal aspects, become the first point of reading about the developments. One tends to get busy with the cases on hand and at times stop reading other than for a case on hand. Therefore, it is a goal to publish articles and analyse new developments and roll out newsletters. That way not only are we keeping ourselves updated, but also enlightening clients on new developments. Needless to mention that for a litigator, the Courtroom remains the ultimate place to learn best practices. 

With the demands of a challenging legal career, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is crucial. Could you share some of your favourite ways to unwind and recharge outside of work, and how do these activities contribute to your overall well-being and effectiveness as a legal professional? 

It is important to give attention to oneself, family and the work. While in the initial stages of a career it is inevitable that work takes precedence over anything else, one should not completely kill any other passion for the sake of work. The earlier that one is able to obtain a work life balance, the quality of life would be better. Drawing up boundaries on each aspect of life and respecting those boundaries would help immensely. I am passionate about fitness and nutrition and end up doing quite a few activities on that front. While in pursuit of such endeavours, I meet people from different backgrounds and that too enriches my personality. Lately I have taken a liking to learn to play a musical instrument. It is a good way to unwind and quite relaxing. The cliched statement that if one makes it a priority, they will find the time to do it is very true. 

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