“Treat every task with utmost respect and diligence. Embrace new challenges and venture into unfamiliar legal domains, as this exposure expands both your legal knowledge and general awareness.” – Nikita Misra, Partner at Alpha Partners Dubai & Founder of Nicknanimous Consultants

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

Could you share with us what inspired you to pursue a career in law, and how did your journey begin back in 2008 in Delhi to your current role?

I am the first born lawyer in my family. However, I feel my grandfather and my father could have been great lawyers themselves. They had sharp acumen and while growing up I saw them discuss a lot of legal issues at home and I was enthralled by how laws, policies, and regulations shaped the world around me.

By the time I finished school, my mind was made up. The only question was what breed of lawyer I’d become. With India’s economy taking flight, corporate law stood out as the frontier practice – this new engine of business and innovation. I have worked in some renowned law firms like Indus, Mine & Young and worked on some good transactions. I have also worked in a startup as a legal manager which further helped me hone my skills as a lawyer and deeper understanding of the challenges faced by startups.  Actually this has helped me fit perfectly into the environment of an in-house Legal Counsel for a big company in India, which has been a great experience for me personally. Post my move to Dubai in 2018, it was a slow start to start my career, it was kind of a restart. However, I was lucky to get a job here and started  working as a corporate consultant for a firm which was more focused  on litigation and arbitration matters. Thereafter, I got this amazing opportunity to head and build an Indian based law firm in Dubai and since then I have managed  to work on various corporate matters  and dive deeper into the corporate legal world in the UAE. It is with this opportunity that I was able to create network and build relations and eventually led to starting my own consultancy firm in Tashkent, Uzbekistan where I have been working on a big litigation matter and also consult investors/business locally and even those looking at CIS as a territory to expand their business beyond UAE/India

During your time at Indus Law Associate and Mine & Young, what were some of the key transactions that shaped your understanding of corporate law?

When I first joined Indus Law, a boutique firm punching well above its weight, I had no idea I was opening a gateway to the global marketplace. Despite its modest size, the firm’s client roster read a few multinational corporations, so right out of the gates, I was dealing with cross-border transactions. During my time at Indus Law, I worked on a lot of JVs and takeovers  by International companies of Indian companies and vice versa, and I vividly remember the adrenaline-fueled all-nighters, the painstaking combing through contracts with fine-tooth cares – all amidst a whirlwind of takeovers, mergers and acquisitions. Those years were quite draining yet undeniably exciting. I made countless mistakes, learned on the fly, and had my conventional thinking upended daily. But I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. It allowed me to get an insight and exposure to the globalized marketplace before age 30. 

Which made my transition to a real estate law firm Mine & Young. After operating at startup speeds, I was now joining a firm which was one of the pioneers in real estate law.  From high speed transactions I was now dealing with slow paced but high end and exclusive luxury property matters. Yet this seeming 180-degree pivot helped me develop an entirely new mastery that perfectly complemented my prior style and a whole new world unlocked. But it was in bridging those extremes where I found my greatest advantage as a lawyer.  Constantly stretching between these dual disciplines was grueling, but also tremendously rewarding.

What motivated you to start Nicknanimous Consultants, and how has your experience been in balancing your role as a corporate lawyer in Dubai while managing your consultancy firm in Tashkent?

Well I had been visiting Tashkent regularly as my mother was working there.

And each time I visited the place and met the locals, I realized that the country had  a lot of potential for growth. I quickly understood that any business that would enter Uzbekistan now, has the potential of holding a larger share of the market and expanding its business further into other CIS countries. Uzbekistan in the last recent years has been very welcoming to foreign investments and new FDI policies have been formed which are more investment friendly. Thus motivated me to start my own Consultancy through my own networks and relationships. I can help any business looking to expand, or explore Uzbekistan as a market and provide a complete end to end solution to set up their businesses there and at the same time giving local businesses an opportunity to explore UAE or India as a market. 

I feel both the roles are interlinked. As a corporate lawyer, my role is intrinsically linked with understanding the nuances of my clients’ businesses. By working closely with clients, I gain deep insight into the challenges and opportunities they face. This allows me to not only provide legal counsel, but also connect the dots and advise on potential business strategies. My ability to understand the client’s business landscape puts me in a unique position to facilitate connections with potential investors or partners that could aid in their growth and expansion plans. Rather than merely offering legal services, I strive to be a comprehensive advisor – leveraging my network and business acumen to unlock new avenues for my clients’ success beyond just the legal realm. This synergistic approach provides comprehensive value that transcends traditional legal counsel.

Moving to Dubai in 2018 marked a significant transition in your career. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced, and Can you elaborate on the unique legal and business landscape in the UAE, especially how it differs from your experiences in India?

Yes I faced a significant transition when I began practicing as a corporate lawyer in the UAE back in 2018. At that time, the commercial laws were not as investor-friendly, and there were fewer SMEs entering the market compared to today’s booming ecosystem. However, I  recognized that this marked the beginning of a new era, and I think I am fortunate to witness and adapt to this transition and growth in the country. One advantage I feel is that if a corporate lawyer has substantial exposure and transactional experience from practicing in India, which has undergone its own boom, it becomes much easier to establish a practice in the UAE now. This is because free zones, especially like ADGM, and some of the UAE corporate laws,have closely adapted common law systems in recent years, aligning with the legal frameworks familiar to lawyers from common law jurisdictions like India.

The primary challenge I think is the need to consistently stay updated on the rapidly evolving legal landscape in the UAE. As the country progresses at a rapid pace, new rules, regulations, and bye-laws are introduced frequently. Corporate lawyers must remain vigilant and continuously educate themselves to provide accurate counsel aligned with the latest legal developments. Overall, the opportunities are available for corporate lawyers in the UAE’s flourishing business environment, provided they can navigate the dynamic regulatory changes and leverage their prior exposure to common law practices.

Aside from your professional life, you also hold a diploma in Interior Design. How do you balance your personal interests with your demanding career, and does this creative side influence your work as a lawyer?

As a child, I was captivated by well-designed spaces and distinctive architectural styles from various eras and places. Whenever I traveled, I eagerly anticipated witnessing different architectural marvels that would fuel my fascination with interiors and design.

When the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill, I seized the opportunity to explore my artistic side. I decided to formally study interior design, finally indulging my long standing passion.

I think in the legal field, creativity manifests itself in structuring intricate transactions, drafting contracts for innovative business models, and formulating strategies to navigate complex legal battles. While I agree law is firmly rooted in theory and research, the application of legal knowledge demands innovation and creative problem-solving abilities.

It is my dream to ultimately transition into the interior design industry as a second career after 50 years of age, following my tenure as a lawyer, leveraging the design skills I’ve cultivated alongside my legal training.

Nurturing personal creative outlets alongside one’s primary vocation is essential for a fulfilling life. My journey exemplifies how diverse interests can coexist, potentially converging into enriching experiences that span both professional and personal realms.

I hope my story inspires others to explore their unique combinations of passions and professions.

With over 12 years of experience, what advice would you give to young lawyers who aspire to have a versatile and dynamic career like yours?

The fundamental lesson is that hard work and diligence invariably pay off, regardless of the nature of the task at hand. One should never underestimate the value of any given work assignment, as those skills may prove invaluable at a later stage in life or career.

I vividly recall my time at Rainmaker, which presented a vastly different work experience that required a strong emphasis on client relationship building. At that juncture, I naively perceived this as a waste of time, believing I should focus solely on expanding my legal knowledge. However, in retrospect, those very skills in client relations that I honed during those days have become invaluable assets nearly a decade later.

Fresh out of law school, many of us aspire to become partners at firms or establish our own practices, without realizing the multitude of skills required beyond legal expertise to build and sustain a successful practice. Client relationships, business acumen, and interpersonal skills are equally crucial.

To young lawyers, I would advise treating every task with utmost respect and diligence. Embrace new challenges by venturing into unfamiliar legal domains, as this exposure expands both your legal knowledge and general awareness. Staying updated, maintaining an inquisitive mindset, conducting thorough research, and continuously acquiring new skills are imperative.

Networking is crucial in the legal field. How have you built and maintained your professional relationships across different countries, and how has this network benefited your clients?

Networking is a critical foundation for any entrepreneur or professional looking to create their mark, including in the legal field. It  begins by actively attending and participating in industry events, staying updated on developments, being part of relevant forums,and most importantly, taking the initiative to proactively engage with others. Through years of my working experience, I’ve realized that many individuals, including lawyers, hesitate to approach and converse with new people at networking events due to shyness or apprehension. However, I must say that the UAE’s business landscape, which heavily relies on networking, offers a welcoming environment that helps newcomers overcome this hesitation. Additionally, being well-versed in one’s subject matter is crucial to maintain others’ attention and establish initial trust. 

Even though visibility is paramount in the initial stages, over time, the quality of one’s work and the ability to maintain strong client relationships become the driving forces behind success and growth. In my case, referrals and the network I’ve built by meeting lawyers in the UAE, Uzbekistan, and India have been invaluable in expanding my reach and clientele. Effective networking involves a combination of active participation, subject matter expertise, visibility, consistent high-quality work, and nurturing professional relationships. Basically it’s an ongoing process that requires persistence, confidence, and a genuine interest in connecting with others in the industry. 

Working across various jurisdictions, from India to UAE and Uzbekistan, what are some of the key legal and cultural differences you’ve encountered, and how have they influenced your approach to legal practice?

Each new territory has its own fresh challenges – different legal codes, cultural norms, business practices. 

The UAE has a dual system comprising both Civil and Sharia Laws. However, in recent years, The free zones, especially the ADGM Courts, have directly applied English common law principles in matters brought before them. This development is advantageous for Indian lawyers who are familiar with the common law system.Additionally, many new corporate laws in the UAE mirror common law principles, making it easier for Indian lawyers to practice in the region. The familiarity with the legal framework streamlines their ability to navigate the UAE’s legal landscape.

On the other hand, Uzbekistan follows a civil law system, which differs significantly from the common law tradition prevalent in India. Despite both the UAE and Uzbekistan being Islamic nations, Uzbekistan’s legal system, local laws, and traditions are markedly influenced by its Soviet heritage, setting it apart from the UAE’s legal landscape.This contrast between the UAE’s increasing alignment with common law principles and Uzbekistan’s civil law system rooted in its Soviet past presents an interesting dynamic. It highlights the need for legal professionals to adapt their expertise and understanding to the nuances of each jurisdiction’s distinct legal traditions and influences.Navigating these varied legal systems requires a deep appreciation for the underlying principles, cultural contexts, and historical factors that have shaped their evolution.  Even though all the three nations’ legal systems are very different from each other,  yet that has  become the thrill of the chase for me. Cracking the legal DNA of each new environment, then skillfully integrating it into transactions is exciting for me.

Your experience with startups is extensive. What common legal challenges do startups face, especially outside India, and how do you help them navigate these issues?

One of the most prevalent mistakes observed among startups is the tendency to neglect or overlook the importance of legally sound agreements, particularly during the seed funding round involving investments from family and friends. Failing to seek proper legal advice on structuring these investments can lead to complicated arrangements that deter future investors until the structure is properly rectified, thereby delaying business progress. It is crucial for startups to seek legal counsel before entering into any investment arrangements to ensure seamless operations.

For startups entering the UAE market, a common challenge is the lack of understanding regarding the appropriate business license to obtain based on their specific business activities. Many startups, unaware of the local laws, are often misguided when comparing the legal environment to their home countries or other jurisdictions they are familiar with.

This is where we, Alpha Partners, can play a pivotal role in guiding startups through the process of navigating and selecting the correct business structure that aligns with their objectives while adhering to legal restrictions. Comprehensive legal assistance is essential not only during the initial setup phase but also for ongoing support with general corporate commercial agreements and transactions post-establishment.

By addressing these challenges through timely legal guidance, startups can avoid costly missteps, ensure compliance, and establish a solid foundation for growth and attracting future investments. We at Alpha Partners, play a critical role in helping startups navigate the complexities of the UAE’s legal landscape and structuring their business operations for long-term success.

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