“When I use the word learning, it is not limited to various laws and Court cases but also extends to communications and handling different clients”- Achal Shekhar, Partner at Ediplis Counsels 

This Interview has been published by Pragya Chandni and The SuperLawyer Team

Can you share your journey and how you ended up becoming a litigation attorney, especially specializing in intellectual property disputes, arbitration, and corporate laws?

It all began from a small town called Chittorgarh (Rajasthan), where I was born and did my schooling. There people were aware of only very limited career options such as engineering, BBA, MBA or BCA, MCA. Most people opted for one of these. 

I was not inclined towards any of these and was honestly quite confused at that point. It was then through a relative that I got to know about the integrated course of BBA, LLB. I researched on the subject and that’s where I was hooked. That was my first exposure to legal life. 

During college, I participated in a few moot court competitions (most of the time as speaker), as well as took on internships every semester. So while my initial mindset was towards joining a company as in-house counsel, from these experiences, I learned about my acumen as a litigator and speaker. Most importantly, I enjoyed it tremendously. I understood that a legal career is like a tree with several branches, but the trunk remains litigation i.e. the Court practice. Because no matter which branch you choose as your career, you will always find your way back to the trunk i.e. the court cases and litigation. 

By the time I reached my final year of law school, I was sure that I would start my career most definitely with litigation to learn drafting, filing, arguing, preparing for Court hearings, etc. Basically all the aspects of litigation. After graduation, I joined a law office in Jaipur, Rajasthan. 

In Jaipur – at my first job, I was handling Intellectual property infringement cases. I also helped some of my seniors in court while appearing and arguing bail applications and other cases, with no charge. My focus was to learn as much as possible in my first year. This is how I got several opportunities to argue IP infringement cases, bails, criminal first appeal, Arbitration petitions, MACT cases. 

While the experience in Jaipur was a very rich learning experience for me, I was still worried about my financial stability. At the same time, I also started enjoying the process of  preparing cases, finding case laws, preparing arguments, occasional long nights and  then arguing in Court. All it took to make up for any tough nights, bad days, etc., was a single compliment or favourable order from the bench. 

Another subject that has piqued my interest since my college days is the law of crimes. Naturally, I dabbled in this field as well. That said, soon I realised that Intellectual Property laws and Arbitration are comparatively newer statutes with a lot more coming especially in terms of interpretation and evolving jurisprudence. Being a first generation lawyer, I was especially keen on taking on a new challenge and mastering it- drawing me into these new subjects.

Even when I was practicing in Jaipur, I frequently travelled to the Delhi High Court for various IP and arbitration matters. Slowly I realised that the scope of learning is far wider in Delhi for these subjects motivating my move to Delhi.

In 2017, I got an opportunity to join a law firm in Delhi where I learned a lot about Intellectual Property Laws- such as civil and criminal cases, enforcement and raid actions, communicating with clients and general advisory. This was great exposure and after a few years I took the risk and finally decided to go independent. I wanted to explore and learn matters arising out of various other laws such as Criminal cases, Arbitration matters, other Commercial disputes, etc. 

During my independent practice, I came in contact with the Senior Partners at Ediplis Counsels. The very first conversation was fruitful as they not only understood my passion for litigation but in fact appreciated it. So much so that I was offered a partner position to develop and manage a team for litigation. 

With almost a decade of experience practicing law, can you highlight some of the most memorable cases you’ve worked on, particularly those involving the interface between criminal and corporate laws?

Ahh! I always find these questions very tough to answer. I treat all my cases like my baby and it’s always difficult to choose your favourite child. However I still remember one fine day when my senior in Jaipur called me for a meeting immediately. I was informed that an FIR was lodged in Kota against one of our clients for alleged copyright infringement. This client was in fact a senior citizen. He was being taken from Alwar to Kota (Rajasthan) under custody and I was asked to leave immediately to figure out his release. This was particularly important as Diwali was approaching. I reached the police station at Kota and tried to convince police personnel that the allegation in the FIR does not constitute any offence under the Copyright law, however all efforts went in vain. 

The next day, my senior was supposed to join me but due to some unavoidable reasons he couldn’t make it. This was when I got the opportunity to argue my first bail and my client was released. When I returned to my office in Jaipur, my senior gave me my first salary. For obvious reasons, this case is still very close to my heart. 

Another very interesting and relevant scenario is when we recently filed an action against a social media influencer who had uploaded multiple defamatory/disparaging videos on YouTube. In this day and age of the internet, it was of utmost importance to take swift action to prevent dissemination of defamatory/disparaging content. After consulting with our client and relaying our strategies, we were able to file a suit for injunction and damages wherein on the first date of hearing, we secured an ex-parte, ad-interim temporary injunction against the social media influencer. Google was also directed to take down the disparaging videos from their platform 

At the moment, we are also handling a very unique case of identity theft where an unknown person has obtained illegal digital signatures in the name of our clients, created fake LLPs, and filed trademark withdrawals impersonating our clients. We filed a writ petition seeking appropriate directions from the Delhi High Court and the Hon’ble Court was pleased to direct the government departments to reply to the representations submitted and resolve the issue within two weeks. Since these discussions and a final resolution is impending, I cannot disclose any further details for now. We curated an out of box strategy for our clients here and I’m happy to report that it has provided good results. 

Having worked with different law firms and currently heading litigation at Ediplis Counsels, what factors influenced your career decisions and transitions between firms? 

Litigation is generally also called “practice” i.e. the more you work, the more you learn. When I use the word learning, it is not limited to various laws and Court cases but also extends to communications and handling different clients. Each client is unique and accordingly needs different kinds of solutions, patience levels, strategies, etc. My transitions between firms was motivated by the various learning opportunities that each place provided. At every firm I have learnt a lot – not only have I learnt how to handle different kinds of cases but also to handle different kinds of clients ranging from a poor needy person, to a new and promising start-up, or even an established conglomerate or governmental body. 

Finally, joining Ediplis as Partner was a conscious decision as now I can not only independently use my experience to serve the clients, but at the same time can always strategize with other senior partners who are experts in their respective domains. 

Your profile mentions expertise in conducting civil and criminal raids for trademark protection. Could you share an experience or case that stands out in this aspect and the challenges you faced?

So in Trademark Law- there are two kinds of remedies against infringement, one a civil lawsuit filed before the Court seeking injunction and second filing a criminal FIR. In both the scenarios, it is imperative to conduct search and seizure at the premises of the infringer (also known as raid). 

I have been lucky enough to be a part of both civil and criminal raids in my journey. It involves lots of research, right from the starting till the infringing products are seized. Each experience brings something new to the table – sometimes one may have to convince police personnel or even explain the basics of IP law, other times you may have it easy with personnel who already know the procedure. The risks can also vary as it is possible that the target entity is very influential in a local area. This could create problems right in maintaining secrecy which is a crucial component before any raid- the complete procedure is not only very filmy but very exciting also.

I still remember one raid which I conducted for a famous electronics manufacturer. The targets were spread out at 16 different shops in 6 markets located across 6 different cities of India. All the raids were conducted simultaneously. I was in a famous electronics market in Chennai. I had an intuition that this is not going to be easy and I will have to be really quick in my process. However, by the time my team and I  were concluding the seizure, the whole electronic market surrounded us. There were approximately 70-80 people who threatened us and tried to detain us in the market. I decided to approach the president of the market immediately and convince him politely to let us complete the procedure. I explained to him that we were not taking any products and that we would only click photos, make an inventory and then they can defend their case in Court. After much persuasion and cajoling, we safely came out from that market. It was a bone-chilling experience. But we were happy when the task was completed.    

Being recognized as an IP Specialist by Asia Law Profiles and a Recommended Lawyer by Legal 500 Asia Pacific, how have these accolades impacted your career and approach to legal practice?

The first feeling is always feeling happy and excited, when your hard work is recognized. I also treat them as milestones and it motivates me to put in more effort, with more sincerity.

Can you shed light on your role in advising and handling Custom Recordal portfolios for various corporate and Fortune 500 companies? What challenges do you often encounter in this domain?

The owner of an intellectual property can register its brand(s) with the Customs Authorities. This is highly recommended for brand owners. Once the brand is registered with the Customs Authority, the same is uploaded to a central database which can be accessed from all ports. Now, whenever a consignment is imported into India and customs officers suspect that it may be containing counterfeit goods, they seize it and call the representatives of brand owners (us in most cases). After a detailed inspection of the seized consignment, we file our reply stating whether the consignment has original or counterfeit goods. If the goods are original then they are released however, in case they are counterfeit, such goods are seized and destroyed thereafter.   

There are many challenges which we face in this process-  in order to get the brand registered we need to continuously follow up with the authorities, we also keep conducting trainings for the Customs officials to apprise them about the developments in the IP laws, about the new products of our clients and the new kinds of infringement which are being imported etc. 

Given your background in both criminal and corporate laws, how do you navigate the complexities of white-collar crimes, bail applications, and other related areas?

We have been assisting our clients in conducting internal audits and to create appropriate risk mitigation strategies. Since the stakes involved in white-collar crimes are very high, we have to be very cautious, and thus as a general policy we have several meetings with our clients to understand their actual needs. Thereafter we curate an exclusive strategy for each client to move further. I always feel if due diligence and research is accurate, it becomes really easy to get a favourable order, be it bail applications or any other discretionary relief. 

With your extensive experience, what advice would you give to law graduates entering the field today, particularly those interested in pursuing a career in litigation, IP disputes, and corporate laws?

Be patient and avoid peer pressure. Every person has their own journey. In the initial days of your career, focus on learning a variety of cases/laws. I particularly always recommend my colleagues to start from scratch and have strong basics. It is important to know the legal profession right from arranging files to arguing cases. Research and knowledge is key and something one must continue at all ages and experience level in this profession. Transparency and providing a very clear picture of the case and potential results to your client is imperative. 

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