“Figure out your “why” of continuing with litigation. The practice of law brings me peace and satisfaction”- Anu Shrivastava, Advocate on Record, Supreme Court of India

This interview has been published by Priyanka Karwa and The SuperLawyer Team

Please tell us a bit about your upbringing and what motivated you to study law?

I was born to a doctor couple in Ranchi. I have an elder brother who is also a doctor. I finished pre-school from St. Mary’s Nursery School and enrolled at DPS Ranchi where I studied until I finished 12th grade. Ranchi used to be a small quiet town. We didn’t have much exposure and the career options were limited to medical or engineering.

I had seen my parents at their workplaces but was somehow not attracted to their profession. I wanted to understand how the society and our legal system functions. There was a natural inclination to move from the study of sciences to social sciences (This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy science, I did quite well in my 12th board as a Biology student and I miss organic chemistry a lot!). I remember chancing upon the question paper for the first CLAT and finding the questions very interesting. I thought that this was something that would be fun to study. My parents were not keen with the decision at first. But I owe it to my school teachers who played a very important role in convincing them. They eventually came around. 

How was your law school journey? We see that you’ve done a fair bit of extra-curricular activities as a member and head of the Music Club at GNLU. You’ve also been part of the organising committee for the GNLU International Moot Court Competition (“GIMC”) and the GNLU Moot on Securities and Investment Law (“GMSIL”). Tell us a bit about these. Are co-curricular and extra-curricular roles important for a law student?

I think 5 year is a really long time if you have to just study law, so it is very important that you keep your interest going with other things. I have always loved playing music. I have even trained in Hindustani Classical. GNLU had a bunch of extremely talented musicians who formed the music club (a tradition that I’m glad to know has continued). Something very special and beautiful happens when a bunch of strangers with very varied backgrounds and interests in music come together to create music. I forged some excellent friendships through the music club, and I did it mostly for myself. It helped survive the grey walls.

The Organising Committee roles started because I wanted to be among the “cool kids” on campus during GIMC. But over a period of time, it taught me responsibility and very strong organisational skills. The Organising Committee itself is divided into sub-teams for logistics, sponsorship, PR and hospitality, which have their respective team heads or coordinators. Organising a moot which witnesses such wide participation from teams and judges is a crash course in event management. By our 5th year, some of us who were part of the GIMC-OC founded GMSIL because to bridge the need for a moot exclusively for securities and investment law. Our moot court coordinator, Dr. Girish R. liked the proposal and took the idea forward. The University administration was extremely cooperative and helpful, and we had another moot to organise!

Co-curriculars are definitely important for an all-round development, and somewhat even necessary given today’s competitive environment. I am not sure if extracurriculars help directly. Being involved with the organising committee of a moot court competition may not help you with job applications. But they do form good conversation starters. As an OC member, whether you like it or not, you will know something or the other about the moot problem, and learn a lot simply by hearing the oral arguments. Some of the younger judges who come might also help in mentoring and guiding.   

Winning the Best Speaker at the 3rd All India Corporate Law Moot Court Competition and receiving an Honourable Mention at the 23rd Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot in Vienna are impressive achievements. Could you share some insights into these experiences and their impact on your career?

It is incorrect to equate good speaking skills in a moot with a good career in litigation or even law, generally. Moot problems help you think. They come closest to making a student apply the law, think on your feet, and experiment with legal arguments. I picked up a lot on coherent, crisp, and succinct drafting when I was doing Vis (all credits to my team – Muskan, Shweta and Catherine, and to our team coach – Zehaan). Drafting is a very underrated skill. It is extremely important to be able to convey legal arguments in simple words and in a structured manner to have maximum impact on the reader. 

As far as oral argumentation goes, the preparation for Vis was very different compared to AICLM. With AICLM our focus was very much on the law and clarity of thought and expression. Since it was a national moot we expected the judges to ask questions and preparation was done accordingly. Vis was trickier. We had prepare for arguments before judges from different jurisdictions who were used to hearing very different accents and dialects. I remember hitting rock bottom at one point in my preparation for the oral rounds, because I felt that I wasn’t getting better. Things got better once I identified that I cannot go by a scripted speech. In that sense, moot court competitions helped me discover an individual style of argumentation. 

Most moot court competitions are based on a new and upcoming legal issue. They’re a great way to keep on your toes about legal developments and interesting areas of law. My main reason for participating moots was because they were a great learning experience. 

You secured a pre-placement offer with Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas in your 3rd year at GNLU. What would be your placement advice to students?

Honestly, I had not given much thought to placements back then. Our University had an excellent placement and internship committee which worked towards ensuring that students had internships and placements. I can’t speak of the standard procedures today but back then, a PPO was the culmination of repeat internships at any office. I had performed fairly well at my internships with the erstwhile AMSS. I was amongst the top rankers in my batch and had a well-rounded CV. Those factors did play a very large role in securing the PPO. 

A strong resume is imperative for higher chances at a placement with any top-tier firm. But that does not necessarily mean an “academically good” resume. I can’t generalise but I think when firms come for placements, they are looking not just for talent, but also for a candidate that fits well with the larger work culture and ethos of the firm. Not everyone is a good fit for every firm.

How was your experience of working at CAM, Delhi. Did it seem daunting at first? What tips would you give to fresh joinees at a law firm? 

It was quite daunting in the beginning. It was the first time that I was living in Delhi by myself. But I shared a home with some of my college seniors who took out the time and energy to guide me. There was a fair bit of inhibition and self-doubt. What helped was to have seniors around who could guide, and I was quite fortunate that way. It is important for everyone to understand that there is a bit of a jump from being an intern to being an Associate at a law firm. Nobody is inherently good at law. Good lawyers are a by-product of good training. 

I don’t have many tips for fresh joinees. Each team and each firm has a different style of working and requires a different skill set. Diligence, honesty, sincerity, humility, patience and a willingness to learn are just the starting points. It’s essential to look after one’s health – we often ignore that when we’re starting out. 

What were your reasons for leaving a Tier-1 law firm and joining litigation? What advice would you give to students who want to join litigation?

I wanted to be in and out of court more regularly and practice a wider range of law. I had great exposure at CAM, but the learning curve had started to plateau. I didn’t want to get too comfortable with the money and decided to move out young after finishing 2 years at CAM. That decision worked out really well for me because I had learnt my basics and was able to get up to speed on matters very easily. 

The usual advice on patience and perseverance in litigation is quite common so I won’t repeat that. I have two pieces of advice for students. First, the horse is as good as the stable (as said by Fali Nariman in his autobiography). Find an office or a chamber which will really help you blossom into the best version of you.

Second, figure out your “why” of continuing with litigation. Law in general is a demanding and challenging profession, if you want to go about it the right way. It looks very different from the outside than it is on the inside. So, you really need to have a pretty strong reason to be a litigating lawyer – it can be anything, whatever keeps you going. For me, it was not the money, or the adrenaline rush of being in court, or the glamour of being a senior advocate. At the risk of sounding nerdy and naïve, I have continued with this purely because I like reading briefs, I love reading law, I like applying my mind to the case and to the law, and I like drafting. The practice of law brings me peace and satisfaction. 

Please tell us more about working at a Chamber in Delhi. How is it different from working in the litigation team at a law firm? 

I joined the chambers of senior advocates after my stint at CAM. With a senior’s office you don’t draft so much but you are handling a larger number of matters on a given day. The drafting is already done by the firms and advocates who come to brief the senior. The input expected from a junior is to be thorough with the briefs they’re marked on, prepare notes for arguments and be quick on the uptake and legal research. All this happens post 3-4 PM when you are back in office from court. In court, a big part of your job is to keep tabs on what matters are reaching, avoid a clash to the extent possible and ensure that your senior appears in them. This last part is very important because all preparation goes to waste if your senior does not appear and the matter gets adjourned.

Why did you decide to qualify as an Advocate on Record? Can you share some insights into the process of qualifying as an Advocate on Record and its impact on your career?

The decision to qualify as an AOR was influenced due to the chambers that I had worked or interned at. I had interned with HMJ (Retd.) Indu Malhotra (before her elevation), who had been an AOR before being designated as a senior advocate, another internship with ADP Chambers where Mr. Debesh Panda is an AOR. I was already enamoured by the prospect of being an AOR because I witnessed first-hand the kind of responsibility it came with and the skills that it required. Post CAM, I joined the chambers of Mr. Dhruv Mehta, Senior Advocate who used to be an AOR too. I then joined Mr. Jayant Mehta who was an AOR when I joined him but got designated as a senior during my tenure at his chamber. Both my seniors are not only great lawyers but have been excellent draftspersons. I wanted to emulate that and hence, taking the AOR exam was another step in that direction. I also enjoy Supreme Court practice a lot and hope to build my practice as an AOR office.

The impact of becoming an AOR is yet to be seen as I have only recently started my independent office. The process of qualifying is pretty straightforward and the details are available on the Supreme Court website itself. The exam comprises 4 papers – Practice and Procedure, Drafting, Advocacy and Professional Ethics, and Leading Cases.

Your publication record is quite extensive, covering topics from arbitration to competition law. How has academic research and writing contributed to your growth as a legal professional, and do you see a synergy between your academic pursuits and your practical work? Please tell us a bit about your research papers such as, the one on the overlap of insolvency and arbitration laws in India and its implications? How do you decide to write on a particular topic?

Despite several earnest attempts, I have not been able to keep up with a regular habit of writing. It is not mandatory to be engaged with academics and scholarly writing once you are a professional. Whatever little that I have published was purely because I have academic leanings and I enjoy writing on legal topics. I want to be a lawyer who is very actively involved in academia, and I have unrealistic ambitions of being able to author a commentary (someday, who knows?). 

The more you read and keep updated, the easier it is to zero in on a topic. Being legally aware and updated automatically leads to a churning and overflow of ideas which often seek release in the form of an article. I also took my research projects in University seriously and chose topics which either piqued my interest or left room for creative scholarly work.

Why did you decide to read for a masters at the University of Cambridge after working for a couple of years. Is post-qualification experience important to secure an admission? What advice would you give to students who want to pursue an LL.M. abroad?

A masters’ degree wasn’t on my agenda when I finished my undergraduate. It was only during practice that I got the opportunity to dabble with very different areas of law. I’m truly grateful to my seniors’ chambers for that opportunity and for planting in me a genuine and deep interest in certain areas of law. I wanted to study these civil and commercial laws in depth and spend time in not just understanding how these laws work, but how they should work, and why.

The importance of work experience depends on the University and the programme that you choose. There is really no one-size-fits-all approach. As far as Cambridge goes, they have a very inclusive selection process and work experience is not a pre-requisite to secure an admission. 

Like litigation, figure out your reasons for doing your masters, and tailor your CV accordingly. A masters from a reputed University does increase your chances of getting hired with an international law firm but it is not a ticket to that job. There are people who have moved to international law firms without a masters too! It is best to do a masters right after law school if you know that you want to get into academia. But it is certainly not a necessity if you want to continue practicing law.

How has the LL.M. helped in your career? How did you decide on your LL.M. subjects (International Commercial Litigation, Intellectual Property, Information Law and Advanced Private Law)? 

As mentioned earlier, I chose these subjects because I was already familiar and interested in them through my work experience. I didn’t pursue my masters for any immediate or direct advantages to my career as far as employability is concerned. It did tremendously expand my knowledge, understanding and overall ability to think about the legal issues relating to my masters subjects. Since I continue to deal with these practice areas, they do contribute towards my outlook to briefs and my engagement with these laws on a regular basis. 

Tell us a bit about your time at Cambridge – curricular and extra-curricular activities, both. What would a typical day look like for you? How challenging was it to deal with the reading lists and the academic work?

Cambridge is a very peaceful and engaging place, almost a respite from the busy hustle bustle of my life in litigation. The whole city is full of students and the culture is such that it fosters academic growth. Every attempt is made by the colleges to help focus by taking care of all other pastoral needs. This is done, perhaps, to ensure that students are able to cope up with the humongous amounts of readings. In the LL.M. course it is not enough to know the law. The professors’ expect that you have thought deeply about your subjects and have reasoned with it well. They are more interested in hearing your original ideas.

During term time, apart from attending class, I used to spend most of my time at my college library or at the reading room trying to cover up just the basic readings for my classes. It was impossible to finish the reading lists during term, so a majority of the break between terms was also spent in finishing the pending readings. For someone who has a genuine interest in their subjects and wants to be thorough, the entirety of the course duration can get used up in just finishing the readings. But the readings were divided into essential and optional to make things easier for students.

It wasn’t all work though. I helped organise the Cambridge Arbitration Days – 2022 at the Faculty of Law. This was one of the first arbitration events that was being held in person post COVID. We had some of the best barrister chambers and solicitor firms come down for the sessions. I met some of the best legal minds here.

I was a member of Darwin College at Cambridge which is right by the Cam River. Matter of fact, the backyard of my house opened into the college gardens which were adjacent to the river. Darwin has a special place in my heart – I made friends from all over the world and across disciplines. You could just be sitting and having a cup of coffee in the café and strike a very thoughtful and enriching conversation with a complete stranger who will most certainly have a thing or two to teach you. 

I founded the Law Society at Darwin. I was very active with the swimming club. I would almost never miss our Saturday swims followed by brunch at the college. I did a fair bit of punting and kayaking. I signed up to become a punt captain at my college and by the end of my course I had become an expert at giving people punt rides along the river. I even did a night punting trip! Darwin has the best (and the most affordable) bar in Cambridge and is run entirely by students. I used to bartend once a week and earn some side money. I played a lot of cricket and football. I think I made the most of my time there, but that is how the environment is like at Cambridge. It ensures that you maximize your involvement with everything. This can also lead one astray. So it is important to not lose track of your priorities.

In addition to your litigation work, you have advised on various aspects of data protection laws and have drafted privacy policies. How do you stay updated on evolving legal landscapes, especially in areas like data protection, and what advice would you give to legal professionals on staying current in today’s dynamic legal environment?

I think it is easier to stay updated in today’s legal environment because important cases and developments get reported immediately. I think LiveLaw and Bar&Bench do a pretty good coverage of domestic legal developments. I have also been in the habit of reading international developments by customising my Feedly since I was in law school. There must be newer ways of staying updated now, would appreciate receiving tips on that myself. 

A question that is often repeated- How difficult is it to be a first generation lawyer in the litigation circle? 

It is difficult for sure, especially if you are not from Delhi, like me. But then again, it is not impossible either. The starting point differs if you are from a family of lawyers and you certainly have an edge over others. Even if you discount legacy, lineage makes things easier purely in terms of rent, expenses, office space, library and resources. But, I’m hopeful that in the longer run everyone does end up finding their ground. I can’t say for other cities but the Bar in Delhi is relatively more welcoming to outsiders. One of my law professors used to say in GNLU – Everyone will end up reaching the same place. If someone has an airplane, let them use that. You take the bus if that’s what you can afford.

I must also count my blessings and check my privilege. I managed to work with some of the best chambers even though I didn’t have any connections to secure an entry for me. Hard work does get recognition across the board. My seniors, and the people I have worked and interned with have always been exceptionally kind to me. I have been able to keep litigation because my parents are not dependent on me and I have no liabilities. I have a spouse and in-laws who have been exceptionally supportive. It wouldn’t have been possible for me to transition to independent practice without their backing. I can imagine the trajectory being far more difficult for someone else.

It is also important to understand that setting up an independent practice is not the only way that one can be a litigating lawyer. People are doing exceptional work at chambers and in law firms, be it small, mid-tier or big law firms. Being part of a team is less stressful than running your own establishment. It also gives more flexibility, allows room for experimenting with varied work, and ability to handle heavy briefs.

As a woman at the Bar, do you face any particular challenges and how do you deal with them? What changes would you suggest for a more inclusive and diverse Bar? What future opportunities and challenges do you foresee?

Women face more challenges in every field (personal or professional) and litigation is no different. A comparison of the number of men and women senior advocates and judges is self-explanatory. But I must point out that a career in litigation has a lot of longevity. There is always scope for coming back after a break, albeit, with initial struggles and difficulties. Since there is no linear career progression, it leaves room to carve a distinct path which may be very different from one’s contemporaries. 

There are definitely a larger number of women at the bar today. With passage of time, courts have become more inclusive and accommodative spaces. There are also a large number of women who are re-joining the field once their children have grown up and they don’t need to be caregivers. I’m grateful for the Bar here which has an amazing set of women who have always been very encouraging and supportive. We have a long way to go but I’m hopeful about the future. We are the products of the hard work of all women who came before us and made our lives easier, and I hope that we’ll continue making things better for the future.

Lastly, if you were to provide advice to recent law graduates entering the field today, what key pieces of wisdom or lessons learned would you share with them as they embark on their own legal journeys?

“Own legal journeys” is the operative part here. The legal profession is very wide, diverse and rich. Each person has their fair share of struggles, blessings and rewards. There really isn’t a template to follow. Feel free to experiment, but do a good job with whatever you choose to experiment with. Another piece of advice is to have hobbies outside of law.  The profession (and life in general) is far too long to live without poetry, music, sports, food, art and culture.

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