“There is nothing in this universe that goes to waste.” Channel your energies positively, maintain steadfast faith, and be assured that your efforts will lead to success. First-generation lawyer R.V. Prabhat, Advocate-on-Record at Supreme Court of India.

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

We are delighted to have you for this interview. To kick things off, could you please introduce yourself and share what led you to pursue a career in law, especially with a focus on arbitration and civil-commercial litigation?

Thank you for having me. I am R.V. Prabhat, an engineer who transitioned into the realm of law, now practising independently in Delhi with a focus on civil-commercial laws, constitutional matters, and arbitration law. My journey into law was somewhat serendipitous. During engineering, a family property dispute piqued my interest in the field of law. This experience, combined with my keen interest in current affairs and policy, steered me away from conventional engineering paths towards a legal career. I am a first-generation lawyer with no direct or indirect background in law.

The choice did not seem logical to close relatives and well-wishers at the time, but if you are clear in your head what you want to do at the end of the day, that more or less settles the issue. Today, I am happy I took the plunge. 

I chose to pursue law at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. The thrill of interpreting laws, formulating arguments, and persuading judges to see things from your perspective is exhilarating. It is this intellectual challenge and the dynamic nature of litigation that cemented my decision to build a career in litigation.

Throughout my law course and subsequent internships, I was consistently drawn to the complexities and nuances of arbitration and commercial disputes. With a background in engineering, I was drawn to the analytical aspects of legal disputes, and arbitration offered a dynamic arena where technical knowledge often plays a crucial role. The satisfaction of unravelling complex legal scenarios and advocating for a client’s position is unparalleled. This passion for litigation and a desire to make a meaningful impact in the legal landscape continue to drive my career as a litigator.

With degrees in engineering and law, as well as completing the Executive Level of the Company Secretary course, your educational background is quite diverse. How has this multidisciplinary foundation influenced your approach to handling legal cases?

My multifaceted educational journey has been pivotal in shaping my approach to legal practice. The analytical skills honed during my engineering degree is invaluable, especially when dealing with cases involving complex technical details. It enables me to dissect intricate issues and understand the underlying mechanics of a dispute, which is often critical in technical litigation cases.

Further, the insights gained from the intermediate level of the Company Secretary course have deepened my understanding of corporate governance and compliance. 

This multidisciplinary background empowers me to view legal issues through a wider lens, considering various angles and potential implications that might not be immediately apparent. Beyond my formal education, I maintain a keen interest in history, current affairs, technological advancements, and policy changes. I firmly believe that the practice of law is based on continuous learning.

Overall, the combination of technical knowledge, corporate governance insights, and a broad interest in various disciplines has helped me to bring a unique and comprehensive approach to handling legal cases, often leading to more holistic and effective solutions for my client

As an accomplished author in the legal field, your commentary book on Arbitration Law has received praise from eminent jurists. What inspired you to venture into legal writing and how does it complement your legal practice?    

Writing, for me, has always been a profound way to crystallise and disseminate my experiences and insights gained through legal practice. The acclaim my commentary on Arbitration Law received, notably from esteemed jurists, was both humbling and affirming. I owe a debt of gratitude to Eastern Book Company, and particularly to Mr. Sumeet Malik, for their pivotal role in the success of the book.

The act of writing, in my view, is an exercise in clarity and rigour. It exposes any logical inconsistencies in one’s understanding and compels a thorough comprehension of the subject matter. This process of writing and articulation began during my law school days, under the mentorship of Prof. Dr. Uday Shankar. 

In the legal profession, where direct advertising of one’s capabilities is not allowed, writing serves as a vital medium for a lawyer to showcase expertise and contribute to the broader legal discourse. It is a pathway through which the world gets to know and understand our legal acumen and perspectives.

Moreover, the legal profession and academia are intertwined. The depth of knowledge required for writing and the very process of organizing and presenting one’s thoughts in writing contribute significantly to a lawyer’s ability to reason and argue with clarity and coherence. In essence, my venture into legal writing is not just a parallel academic pursuit; it complements and enriches my legal practice, offering a platform for continuous learning and intellectual growth.

You’ve been empanelled as legal counsel for prestigious organizations like ONGC, ECL, NHPC, and NCL. How does your role as Senior Panel Counsel for Union of India contribute to your professional growth, and what unique challenges does it present?

As a first-generation lawyer, these roles have provided me with a consistent platform to present cases in court, which is invaluable. As in any profession, the maxim ‘practice makes perfect’ holds particularly true in law. Regular court appearances have honed my advocacy skills and deepened my understanding of legal nuances. Working with government departments has introduced me to the complexities of bureaucratic decision-making processes. Navigating these intricacies has been both challenging and enlightening, significantly enhancing my comprehension of governmental legal frameworks as well as my understanding over administrative law and constitutional law principles. This experience is instrumental in broadening my perspective, enabling me to see cases from both private and public viewpoints. Understanding the motivations and constraints of government entities offers a unique vantage point that enriches my legal strategies for private clients. The learning derived from balancing the interests of private clientele against public responsibilities is profound. It’s not just about legal knowledge; it’s about developing an intuitive understanding of varying perspectives and leveraging this insight to craft more effective and nuanced legal strategies. This dual perspective is invaluable.

You’ve written on diverse legal topics, but your article about “Balancing Act: Reassessing the Safe Harbour Provisions In the Age of Digital India and Global Connectivity” caught our attention. How do you stay updated on emerging issues in the legal landscape, especially in areas like technology and data protection?

Staying current with the rapid advancements in technology and data protection is indeed crucial in the modern digital era. To ensure that I am up-to-date with these evolving legal areas, I actively engage with a variety of academic sources, frequently attend seminars, and participate in legal forums dedicated to technology law and data protection. This field, by its very nature, is dynamic and constantly evolving, which necessitates a commitment to continual learning and a proactive approach to stay informed about the latest developments.

In 2023, the transformation of the Data Personal Data Protection (DPDP) Bill into an Act marked a significant milestone with profound implications on everyday life and legal practice. My involvement in the constitutional challenge of the Aadhaar Act before the Supreme Court’s constitutional bench provided me with a unique perspective on these matters. This experience was instrumental in developing a deeper understanding of data protection laws in India.

From the early stages of the conceptualization of the DPDP Bill, I have been closely monitoring and analysing its development and continuously engaging with subject matter.  Keeping pace with these changes is not just a professional requirement but a personal interest, as these advancements shape the legal landscape in which we operate and have far-reaching effects on society as a whole.

What upcoming projects or areas of law are you excited about, and what goals do you envision for your practice in the coming years?

My legal practice, characterized by its dynamic nature and diverse challenges, keeps me thoroughly engaged. As an independent practitioner, there is an inherent need to balance current commitments with a forward-looking approach towards emerging areas of law. I am particularly excited about delving deeper into the realm of technology laws, specifically focusing on the Digital India Act and the Data Protection and Digital Privacy (DPDP) Act and Constitutional law. My objective is to contribute significantly to the existing legal landscape through comprehensive writing projects in these domains.

Having recently passed the Advocate on Record (AOR) exam, a major focus for me in the coming years is to increase my presence in the Supreme Court and various High Courts. I aim to seize every opportunity to argue and present matters at these higher judicial forums, enhancing my skills as a litigator.

In addition to my practice, I am passionate about sharing my knowledge and experience in legal education. I am currently teaching a course on Alternative Dispute Resolution at IIM Bodh Gaya, and I plan to expand my teaching engagements to other law and business schools. This involvement in academia is not just about imparting knowledge; it’s a reciprocal process where teaching sharpens my understanding and argumentation skills, ultimately enriching my capabilities as a counsel.

Overall, my vision for the future encompasses a blend of active legal practice, scholarly writing, and academic contributions, each reinforcing the other in my quest to become a more effective and knowledgeable legal professional.

You’ve successfully represented multinational companies in high-stakes arbitration disputes. What unique challenges do such cases pose, and how do you navigate the complexities of international legal matters?

Representing multinational companies in high-stakes arbitration disputes has been a journey filled with unique challenges and profound learning experiences. There are 3-4 cases, each in a different domain of law, which have not only improved my skills as a lawyer but also gave me the required confidence to have a sense of self-belief to compete and sustain at the highest level. 

One of the most pivotal experiences in my career was a complex construction arbitration against a public sector undertaking (PSU), which I handled at a relatively early stage of my career. This opportunity, graciously provided by my former senior, was a significant turning point. It imparted lessons and insights that years of working under a senior or within a firm might not have offered. As is often said, the most profound learning comes from first-hand experience. The responsibility of representing a client in such high-stakes scenarios necessitated an extraordinary commitment, leading me to dedicate countless nights in pursuit of a successful outcome. This particular arbitration dispute played a crucial role in shaping my journey as a legal counsel.

Another defining moment was my involvement in a constitutional challenge before the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court. The process of daily briefings and brainstorming sessions with some of the most esteemed senior counsel in the field, coupled with the experience of appearing before the nation’s highest court, reinforced my belief in my capabilities to perform at the topmost level of the legal profession.

A piece of wisdom from the octogenarian Mr. Fali Nariman, as mentioned in his seminal autobiography, has been a guiding light and holds me in good stead in my approach to legal problem-solving. He advises “Always remember, it is better to spend more time thinking about a case than merely reading the brief”. This approach has consistently helped me in unravelling complex legal issues, allowing me to develop more comprehensive and effective strategies for my clients.

In sum, navigating through the complexities of domestic and international legal matters in high-stakes arbitration cases demands not just a deep understanding of legal principles but also the ability to think innovatively and persevere through challenging circumstances.

What’s your favourite thing about living in the capital city, and do you have any go-to spots or activities that you enjoy in your free time?

Living in New Delhi offers a blend of vibrant culture and intellectual stimulation. The city provides endless opportunities for exploration and relaxation. For me, the true essence of New Delhi lies in its diversity and the myriad experiences it presents.

In my free time, I find great joy in simple yet fulfilling activities. I often indulge in sports, which serve as a perfect counterbalance to the mental rigors of legal practice. Engaging in physical activities provides a much-needed mental refresh.

Another passion of mine is reading, and there’s no better place for this than Bahrisons’ in Khan Market. It’s a haven where I can immerse myself in the world of books, often losing track of time.

When it comes to unwinding, I’m not particularly fixated on specific spots; for me, it’s more about the company I’m with. Exploring New Delhi’s diverse culinary scene with friends is something I thoroughly enjoy. The city’s gastronomic landscape is as diverse as its culture, offering everything from local street food to high-end dining experiences. It’s these moments of shared meals and conversations that I cherish the most.

In essence, living in New Delhi is about embracing the city’s dynamic character. This city always has something new and exciting to offer, making every experience unique and enjoyable.

For aspiring lawyers looking to specialize in arbitration and civil-commercial litigation, what advice would you give based on your own experiences and the evolving landscape of legal practice?

Drawing from my experiences and the ever-changing legal landscape, I would emphasize that patience, self-belief, and hard work are fundamental. Litigation is a field where rewards and recognition often come over time, not overnight.

One valuable piece of advice that has been handed down to me by my seniors, and which I find particularly relevant, is the importance of focusing on the present. Commit to learning something new each day. A practical way to do this is to read at least one case law daily. This steady, incremental learning will compound over time, significantly enhancing your legal acumen.

Set your goals high, aim for the peak, but do not be daunted by the journey ahead. Instead of being overwhelmed by the distance you have yet to travel, find solace and motivation in each step you take forward. Seek mentorship and guidance whenever possible; the insights and advice from experienced practitioners are invaluable.

Remember, no opportunity for learning is too small or insignificant. Embrace every chance you get to grow, be it through complex cases or seemingly minor legal tasks. 

Stay humble and grounded. Keep your friends close. Maintain strong relationships with your peers and colleagues. 

Swami Vivekananda’s words resonate deeply in this context: “There is nothing in this universe that goes to waste.” Channel your energies positively, maintain steadfast faith, and be assured that your efforts will lead to success.

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