Time for judiciary to introspect and see what can be done to restore people’s faith – Justice Lokur

Time for judiciary to introspect and see what can be done to restore people’s faith – Justice Lokur

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‘A major issue for startups, especially during fund raising, is their compliance with extant RBI foreign exchange regulations, pricing guidelines, and the Companies Act 2013.’- Aakash Parihar

Aakash Parihar is Partner at Triumvir Law, a firm specializing in M&A, PE/VC, startup advisory, international commercial arbitration, and corporate disputes. He is an alumnus of the National Law School of India University, Bangalore.

April 12, 2022

How did you come across law as a career? Tell us about what made you decide law as an option.

Growing up in a small town in Madhya Pradesh, wedid not have many options.There you either study to become a doctor or an engineer. As the sheep follows the herd, I too jumped into 11th grade with PCM (Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics).However, shortly after, I came across the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) and the prospect of law as a career. Being a law aspirant without any background of legal field, I hardly knew anything about the legal profession leave alone the niche areas of corporate lawor dispute resolution. Thereafter, I interacted with students from various law schools in India to understand law as a career and I opted to sit for CLAT. Fortunately, my hard work paid off and I made it to the hallowed National Law School of India University, Bangalore (NSLIU). Joining NLSIU and moving to Bangalorewas an overwhelming experience. However, after a few months, I settled in and became accustomed to the rigorous academic curriculum. Needless to mention that it was an absolute pleasure to study with and from someof the brightest minds in legal academia. NLSIU, Bangalore broadened my perspective about law and provided me with a new set of lenses to comprehend the world around me. Through this newly acquired perspective and a great amount of hard work (which is of course irreplaceable), I was able to procure a job in my fourth year at law school and thus began my journey.

As a lawyer carving a niche for himself, tell us about your professional journey so far. What are the challenges that new lawyers face while starting out in the legal field?

I started my professional journey as an Associate at Samvad Partners, Bangalore, where I primarily worked in the corporate team. Prior to Samvad Partners, through my internship, I had developed an interest towards corporate law,especially the PE/VC and M&A practice area. In the initial years as an associate at Samvad Partners and later at AZB & Partners, Mumbai, I had the opportunity to work on various aspects of corporate law, i.e., from PE/VC and M&A with respect to listed as well as unlisted companies. My work experience at these firms equipped and provided me the know-how to deal with cutting edge transactional lawyering. At this point, it is important to mention that I always had aspirations to join and develop a boutique firm. While I was working at AZB, sometime around March 2019, I got a call from Anubhab, Founder of Triumvir Law, who told me about the great work Triumvir Law was doing in the start-up and emerging companies’ ecosystem in Bangalore. The ambition of the firm aligned with mine,so I took a leap of faith to move to Bangalore to join Triumvir Law.

Anyone who is a first-generation lawyer in the legal industry will agree with my statement that it is never easy to build a firm, that too so early in your career. However, that is precisely the notion that Triumvir Law wanted to disrupt. To provide quality corporate and dispute resolution advisory to clients across India and abroad at an affordable price point.

Once you start your professional journey, you need to apply everything that you learnt in law schoolwith a practical perspective. Therefore, in my opinion, in addition to learning the practical aspects of law, a young lawyer needs to be accustomed with various practices of law before choosing one specific field to practice.

India has been doing reallywell in the field of M&A and PE/VC. Since you specialize in M&A and PE/VC dealmaking, what according to you has been working well for the country in this sphere? What does the future look like?

India is a developing economy, andM&A and PE/VC transactions form the backbone of the same. Since liberalization, there has been an influx of foreign investment in India, and we have seen an exponential rise in PC/VA and M&A deals. Indian investment market growth especially M&A and PE/VC aspects can be attributed to the advent of startup culture in India. The increase in M&A and PE/VC deals require corporate lawyersto handle the legal aspects of these deals.

As a corporate lawyer working in M&A and PE/VC space, my work ranges from drafting term-sheets to the transaction documents (SPA, SSA, SHA, BTA, etc.). TheM&A and PE/VC deal space experienced a slump during the first few months of the pandemic, but since June 2021, there has been a significant growth in M&A and PE/VC deal space in India. The growth and consistence of the M&A and PE/VC deal space in India can be attributed to several factors such as foreign investment, uncapped demands in the Indian market and exceptional performance of Indian startups.

During the pandemic many businesses were shut down but surprisingly many new businesses started, which adapted to the challenges imposed by the pandemic. Since we are in the recovery mode, I think the M&A and PE/VC deal space will reach bigger heights in the comingyears. We as a firm look forward to being part of this recovery mode by being part of the more M&A and PE/VC deals in future.

You also advice start-ups. What are the legal issues or challenges that the start-ups usually face specifically in India? Do these issues/challenges have long-term consequences?

We do a considerable amount of work with startupswhich range from day-to-day legal advisory to transaction documentation during a funding round. In India, we have noticed that a sizeable amount of clientele approach counsels only when there is a default or breach, more often than not in a state of panic. The same principle applies to startups in India, they normally approach us at a stage when they are about to receive investment or are undergoing due diligence. At that point of time, we need to understand their legal issues as well as manage the demands of the investor’s legal team. The majornon-compliances by startups usually involve not maintaining proper agreements, delaying regulatory filings and secretarial compliances, and not focusing on proper corporate governance.

Another major issue for startups, especially during fund raising, is their compliance with extant RBI foreign exchange regulations, pricing guidelines, and the Companies Act 2013. Keeping up with these requirements can be time-consuming for even seasoned lawyers, and we can only imagine how difficult it would be for startups. Startups spend their initial years focusing on fund-raising, marketing, minimum viable products, and scaling their businesses. Legal advice does not usually factor in as a necessity.  Our firm aims to help startups even before they get off the ground, and through their initial years of growth. We wanted to be the ones bringing in that change in the legal sector, and we hope to help many more such startups in the future.

In your opinion, are there any specific India-related problems that corporate/ commercial firms face as far as the company laws are concerned? Is there scope for improvement on this front?

The Indian legal system which corporate/commercial firms deal with is a living breathing organism, evolving each year. Due to this evolving nature, we lawyers are always on our toes.From a minor amendment to the Companies Act to the overhaul of the foreign exchange regime by the Reserve Bank of India, each of these changes affect the compliance and regulatory regime of corporates. For instance, when India changed the investment route for countries sharing land border with India,whereby any country sharing land border with India including Hong Kong cannot invest in India without approval of the RBI in consultation with the central government,it impacted a lot of ongoing transactions and we as lawyers had to be the first ones to inform our clients about such a change in the country’s foreign investment policy. In my opinion, there is huge scope of improvement in legal regime in India, I think a stable regulatory and tax regime is the need for the hour so far as the Indian system is concerned. The biggest example of such a market with stable regulatory and tax regime is Singapore, and we must work towards emulating the same.

Your boutique law firm has offices in three different cities — Delhi NCR, Mumbai and Bangalore. Have the Covid-induced restrictions such as WFH affected your firm’s operations? How has your firm adapted to the professional challenges imposed by the pandemic-related lifestyle changes?

We have offices in New Delhi NCR and Mumbai, and our main office is in Bangalore. Before the pandemic, our work schedule involved a fair bit of travelling across these cities. But post the lockdowns we shifted to a hybrid model, and unless absolutely necessary, we usually work from home.

In relation to the professional challenges during the pandemic, I think it was a difficult time for most young professionals. We do acknowledge the fact that our firm survived the pandemic. Our work as lawyers/ law firms also involves client outreach and getting new clients, which was difficult during the lockdowns. We expanded our client outreach through digital means and by conducting webinars, including one with King’s College London on International Treaty Arbitration. Further, we also focused on client outreach and knowledge management during the pandemic to educate and create legal awareness among our clients.

‘It’s a myth that good legal advice comes at prohibitive costs. A lot of heartburn can be avoided if documents are entered into with proper legal advice and with due negotiations.’ – Archana Balasubramanian

Archana Balasubramanian is the founding partner of Agama Law Associates, a Mumbai-based corporate law firm which she started in 2014. She specialises in general corporate commercial transaction and advisory as well as deep sectoral expertise across manufacturing, logistics, media, pharmaceuticals, financial services, shipping, real estate, technology, engineering, infrastructure and health.

August 13, 2021:

Lawyers see companies ill-prepared for conflict, often, in India. When large corporates take a remedial instead of mitigative approach to legal issues – an approach utterly incoherent to both their size and the compliance ecosystem in their sector – it is there where the concept of costs on legal becomes problematic. Pre-dispute management strategy is much more rationalized on the business’ pocket than the costs of going in the red on conflict and compliances. 

Corporates often focus on business and let go of backend maintenance of paperwork, raising issues as and when they arise and resolving conflicts / client queries in a manner that will promote dispute avoidance. 

Corporate risk and compliance management is yet another elephant in India, which in addition to commercial disputes can be a drain on a company’s resources. It can be clubbed under four major heads – labour, industrial, financial and corporate laws. There are around 20 Central Acts and then specific state-laws by which corporates are governed under these four categories. 

Risk and compliance management is also significantly dependent on the sector, size, scale and nature of the business and the activities being carried out.

The woes of a large number of promoters from the ecommerce ecosystem are to do with streamlining systems to navigate legal. India has certain heavily regulated sectors and, like I mentioned earlier, an intricate web of corporate risk and compliance legislation that can result in prohibitive costs in the remedial phase. To tackle the web in the preventive or mitigative phase, start-ups end up lacking the arsenal due to sheer intimidation from legal. Promoters face sectoral risks in sectors which are heavily regulated, risks of heavy penalties and fines under company law or foreign exchange laws, if fund raise is not done in a compliant manner. 

It is a myth that good legal advice comes at prohibitive costs. Promoters are quick to sign on the dotted line and approach lawyers with a tick the box approach. A lot of heartburn can be avoided if documents are entered into with proper legal advice and with due negotiations. 

Investment contracts, large celebrity endorsement contracts and CXO contracts are some key areas where legal advice should be obtained. Online contracts is also emerging as an important area of concern.

When we talk of scope, arbitration is pretty much a default mechanism at this stage for adjudicating commercial disputes in India, especially given the fixation of timelines for closure of arbitration proceedings in India. The autonomy it allows the parties in dispute to pick a neutral and flexible forum for resolution is substantial. Lower courts being what they are in India, arbitration emerges as the only viable mode of dispute resolution in the Indian commercial context.

The arbitrability of disputes has evolved significantly in the last 10 years. The courts are essentially pro-arbitration when it comes to judging the arbitrability of subject matter and sending matters to arbitration quickly.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Vidya Drolia case has significantly clarified the position in respect of tenancy disputes, frauds and consumer disputes. It reflects upon the progressive approach of the court and aims to enable an efficient, autonomous and effective arbitration environment in India.

Law firms stand for ensuring that the law works for business and not against it. Whatever the scope of our mandate, the bottom line is to ensure a risk-free, conflict-free, compliant and prepared enterprise for our client, in a manner that does not intimidate the client or bog them down, regardless of the intricacy of the legal and regulatory web it takes to navigate to get to that end result. Lawyers need to dissect the business of law from the work. 

This really involves meticulous, detail-oriented, sheer hard work on the facts, figures, dates and all other countless coordinates of each mandate, repetitively and even to a, so-called, “dull” routine rhythm – with consistent single-mindedness and unflinching resolve. 

As a firm, multiply that effort into volumes, most of it against-the-clock given the compliance heavy ecosystem often riddled with uncertainties in a number of jurisdictions. So the same meticulous streamlining of mandate deliverables has to be extrapolated by the management of the firm to the junior most staff. 

Further, the process of streamlining itself has to be more dynamic than ever now given the pace at which the new economy, tech-ecosystem, business climate as well as business development processes turn a new leaf.

Finally, but above all, we need to find a way to feel happy, positive and energized together as a team while chasing all of the aforesaid dreams. The competitive timelines and volumes at which a law firm works, this too is a real challenge. But we are happy to face it and evolve as we grow. 

We always as a firm operated on the work from anywhere principle. We believed in it and inculcated this through document management processes to the last trainee. This helped us shut shop one day and continue from wherever we are operating. 

The team has been regularly meeting online (at least once a day). We have been able to channel the time spent in travelling to and attending meetings in developing our internal knowledge banks further, streamline our processes, and work on integrating various tech to make the practice more cost-effective for our clients.

In Conversation with Prof. (Dr.) V.C. Vivekanandan, Vice Chancellor, Hidayatullah National Law University, Chhattisgarh

August 10, 2021

Prof. (Dr.) V.C. Vivekanandan has three decades of teaching and research experience in legal education and served NLS-Bangalore and NALSAR-Hyderabad between 1990 to 2017. He also was the Dean at Rajiv Gandhi School of IP Law at IIT Kharagpur between 2009-2010 and was the founding Dean of the School of Law at Bennett University at Greater Noida during 2017-2019.

He holds a Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree and PhD degree in law apart from a Master’s and M.Phil. degree in Public Administration. Prof. Vivekanandan was appointed as the MHRD Chair Professor in 2008 -2009 and again from 2010 to 2017. During this tenure, he was also representing Government of India negotiations in SCCR meets at Geneva as an official delegate from 2013-2015.

From the onset of the Pandemic, HNLU has worked overtime in ramping up the digital infrastructure and also digital deliveries. The World Universities Real Impact (WURI) ranking recognized this and rated HNLU as 51/100 in crisis management. The digital infra utilization not only managed the lecture deliveries but floated innovative platforms of connecting with the students. Nevertheless, such moves are suboptimal compared to the real-world interaction in campus of class room, extracurricular activities, socialization and learning by living.  As the famous adage goes that the ‘tough get going when the going gets tough’, the University administration of faculty and staff put their best foot forward and it is commendable that the student community with so many shortcomings on the infra at their end and social stress responded to a forced lifestyle of a digital world. Hope the gains of such contingency will be useful in a blended learning of the future, but everyone wishes the ‘Real World life style’ as the main stay.

In the initial few months, the technology transplant for teaching deliverables had hick ups and required a calibrated effort. The first experiment was that of the introduced the ‘Flexi Teaching – Flexi Learning’ (FTFL) model of uploading the lectures a day ahead to overcome real time glitches of connectivity, band width etc. In next semester we moved to real time classes as situation on the connectivity improved. The ‘SACE’ model (The Special Assignment of Critical Essays) which eased the traditional system of mugging and recalling legal section with original contributions. Our innovative platforms of ‘Lex Osmose’ ( single credit courses), ‘Lex Arca’ ( Out of the box lecture series), ‘Alma Matters’ ( Alumni platform) added new dimension through technology platforms. In short, the technology tools were effectively used for optimal deliverables in the given circumstances. There will be long term benefit of using such technologies after the ‘normalcy’ reigns. 

Interestingly IPR serves as the guarantor of Return on Investment (ROI) for  innovator firms for investing and coming out with lifesaving drugs and vaccines. On the flip side such monopoly models hamper timely access to those who need them desperately. This access issue has imploded in the unfolding of the global crisis of Covid. The legal route of compulsory licenses does not allow a breather in this type of wild fire Covid spread. This then can only be addressed by voluntarily giving up the rights and facilitating rapid licensing and upgrading of production to save the lives which are falling like nine pins. Indian advocacy in WTO-WHO of freeing the COVID vaccines is reflective of this serious concern. If this is not addressed by the protagonists of IP rights, it will lead to an aggressive backlash on the very foundation of IP logic. The innovators investments can be recovered and managed by paying the necessary compensation by the Governments and to work out a moratorium of the rights regime till the world limps back to normalcy.

Privacy as a concept and its evolution is parallel to the discourse of Human Rights itself. Open societies value this as being important as economic well-being. In a way it is a litmus test for a fair governance in democracies. The current explosion of technological innovations and applications are mindboggling in terms of benefits on one hand but also tends to be a runaway technology trampling identity and privacy. With the advent of Artificial Intelligence,  it is a situation of ‘code superseding  the coder’. In the battle of technology vs law, law has been always  a laggard but the gap is now  humongous in proportion. We certainly need an innovative legislative check mate to stop this no holds barred techno violence. At the same time, it is important that one does not throw the baby out of the bathwater.

Without an iota of doubt the current developments in terms of AI, Big Data and other emergent technologies can and will displace lawyers of their mundane and repetitive work. When billing margins of large and mid-size law firms come under pressure – pandemic has already set such onslaught —  they will look forward to AI based solutions. This is an ominous sign for a sizable new entrant in the practice under the standard template work. If history is any proof, the technology juggernaut cannot be stopped but can be managed and the fallout mitigated. I am reminded of Issac Assimov’s  first principle of Robotics which states “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm”. May be we have to interpret this to include the harm of livelihood ?

Quite a few areas – standard template syllabus, lack of empirical driven research, evaluation components without a critical thinking approach, lack of training on the art of teaching, funding sources for legal research, appraisal-based increments, absence of academics in public policy formulation to point a few. In short, legal education managing the supply side in terms of quantity but the quality perspective has not tapped the potential of the students and faculty. 

Not working is an oxymoron when you are heading a law school (of course this is when you are serious about your deliverables).  I do take some forced  break and listen to music specially the ones in SMULE platform, random You Tube browsing, reading random non-law stuff and when there is some luxury of time to watch NETFLIX or Amazon Prime Of course one cannot escape the WhatsApp forward syndrome.

In Conversation with Prof. (Dr.) G S Bajpai, Vice-Chancellor, Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law (RGNUL), Punjab

August 03, 2021

With more than thirty years of professional experience as an author, researcher, teacher and administrator, Prof. Bajpai has been appointed as Convenor, Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws set up by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, which is tasked with spearheading historic reforms in Criminal Laws in India. He has previously served as the Registrar, National Law University Delhi. He has also served as Professor of Criminology & Criminal Justice (Law); Chair Professor at K.L Arora Chair in Criminal Law; as well as the Chairperson of the Centre for Criminology & Victimology at National Law University Delhi. Prior to that, he served as Professor (Law & Development) & Chairperson at the Centre for Criminal Justice Administration, National Law Institute University, Bhopal. 

Q. The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we live and work, and the change has probably hit educational institutions the most. How has RGNUL, Punjab, adapted to the lifestyle and professional changes brought about by the pandemic?

The Covid-19 Pandemic has drastically impacted educational institutions across the world. It necessitated us to adopt new ways to confront the challenges of planning our academic activities on the campus. RGNUL’s story is quite remarkable in this regard in two ways: (i) the University oriented the teaching staff into a new technology of online classes by utilizing advanced software in the conduct of classes; (ii) the University has been conducting its examination in an online mode in real-time framework and this model is something which many institutes in India might not have adopted so far.

Q. How helpful a role has technology played in ensuring that your students’ education doesn’t suffer during the pandemic-induced lockdowns?

All the initiatives mentioned above involved an active use of technology which mainly includes the software. It is noteworthy that the university organized a special Workshop for the teachers to equip them with recent digital tools for virtual classrooms and competent use of Information Technology (IT) in the conduct of classes and other academic activities.

Q.  You have expertise in Criminology and Criminal Law. In India, the criminal justice machinery is overburdened — starting from an overworked police force to mounting backlog in courts and overcrowded prisons. What kind of reforms would you recommend to ensure that our criminal justice system is reformative and rehabilitative, rather than punitive? 

I am of the view that the criminal law in the country needs to be simplified a lot and the criminal process is required to be oriented in a manner so that those who are in the disadvantaged class have better chances to access the justice system. To explore alternative modes of disposal of cases by relying on non-punitive and community-based sanctions also becomes imperative in the present times.

Q.  Coming to another area of your expertise — Victim Justice. In India, the concept of victim rights is often disregarded as the major focus is shifted to the accused rather than the victim. In a nutshell, what is your opinion on the concept of Victim Justice in India? Would you recommend that Victim Justice be made an integral part of our criminal justice system? 

Victim Justice has not been a top priority in our system. The laws and processes now need to be geared more and more towards the victim of crime in keeping the global trends in mind. Justice to the victim will bring the much required balance in the criminal process and will also fulfil the constitutional guarantees to all the stakeholders.

Q.  You have often interacted with faculties at law schools and other institutions abroad. Do you think there is a difference between the way academics in the legal profession function in India and the developed countries? 

India is now significantly addressing the concerns relating to quality legal education, as it happens in the developed countries. However, there is a long way to go. In the Western world higher education is an important priority. The Indian State requires to spend more significantly on higher education.

Q. You have earned a doctorate as well as a post-doctorate from Leicester University, UK. In your opinion, in which areas are law schools in India lagging behind especially in comparison to those in the West? What needs to be done to improve the knowledge, skills, attitudes or professional expertise of law students in our country? 

Law Schools in India lack capable faculty. This is the time to augment the scholarship in the legal field by deploying incentives to teaching and research. The professional expertise needs to be channelized into the policies such as making the faculty contribution more and more relevant. The component of research in law school is on the back seat and intensive efforts are now essential to prioritize it.

Q. On the personal front, what do you like to do to de-stress when you are not working? 

Reading fiction/non-fiction and listening to music is something that provides succor and is definitely an important pursuit of selective engagement.

‘Working in different jurisdictions helped me a lot in developing my personal skills, widening my network, and acquiring specialist knowledge.’ – Priyanshu Kumar

July 30, 2021

Priyanshu Kumar has over 16 years of career experience in providing legal advisory services in relation to M&A, PE, VC, JV, and similar transactions. He has advised on transactions amounting to more than USD One Billion. On the board of advisors of a number of companies in India, Singapore, Dubai, and Hong Kong, he is currently working as Managing Director – Head of Legal & Corporate Advisory of MP Morgan Capital Partners Pte Ltd, a Global Business Strategy & Corporate Advisory firm headquartered in Singapore. Priyanshu Kumar resides in the United Kingdom.

Q. Having read law at Lucknow University as well as the National University of Singapore, what do you think are the differences in the way legal education is imparted in India & Singapore?

The system of education and the way law students are practically conditioned to become lawyers in foreign countries is significantly different from India. I did Master of Laws (Corporate & Financial Services Law) LL.M from National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2005. 

For instance, the LLM/ LLB courses in NUS are spread across a number of compulsory and optional modules. From the first year onwards, apart from the compulsory modules, law students are at discretion to choose modules of their interest all the way till the end of the course. The degree programme in Singapore has its foundational basis in research more than examination per se as compared to India. The coursework is spread across research papers and practical problems from lectures to tutorials.

In a nutshell, a law student who has graduated from NUS has been extensively trained in research and practical problem-solving skills.

I passed LLB (Hons.) in 2003 from Lucknow University, the five-year integrated law course (LLB Hons.) had six subjects in one semester so we technically passed 60 subjects in five years, which was quite a lot of hard work for us. There was no research or any practical exams as such so we just had to memorise and clear the exams. So, you will pass the exams with first class honors if you have a good memory. Luckily, I have a very good memory. 

I heard from junior lawyers that now the study pattern has changed in law schools in India. Indian law schools are adopting foreign universities’ study pattern which is based on research.   

Q. You have working as a lawyer in both India and abroad. In a nutshell, how different have both experiences been for you?

The working culture in India and abroad (in the countries where I have worked) is totally different. The work culture of various countries varies according to the different cultural practices followed by the nations. India is more of a collectivist society whereas abroad there is an individualistic approach to the society. I have worked in Singapore, India, and the UK (currently). The first thing I have found there is punctuality at the workplace. It is considered as a sign of disrespect when it comes to being late even by a minute for a meeting or to office. Whereas in India, it is pretty normal to be late by 10-20 minutes for the meetings (I also started considering this as normal when I was in India). 

Second is professionalism. I have seen that Indians favour their colleagues and like to work in a friendly environment. Blunt answers are a big No in the Indian working space as it is considered a sign of rudeness. While abroad direct replies are a sign of professionalism and are not considered rude. 

Third is work-life balance. Employers in Singapore and the UK are invaluable when it comes to helping manage their employees’ work-life balance. I remember that during my working days in Singapore law firms, we used to have regular support meetings to evaluate everything from the employee’s workload, responsibilities, and mental health. 

I must say that working in other jurisdictions helped me a lot in developing my personal skills, widening my network, and acquiring specialist knowledge. 

Q. Do you think introduction of legal technology, including that based on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, has the potential to transform corporate finance advisory across the globe?

For Corporate Finance Lawyers/ Advisors, Artificial Intelligence (AI) presents many exciting opportunities to increase efficiency, reduce costs and create new services. The application of AI to corporate finance is extremely important. Corporate Finance transactions are a major form of business activity that has a significant impact on industry sectors, national and regional economics, and, therefore, on the broader society. 

Corporate Finance includes raising start-up and venture capital, growth capital, merger & acquisitions (M&A), management buyouts (MBOs) backed by private equity, equity capital markets and initial public offerings (IPOs), raising debts and alternative finance, capital for specialist investment funds, infrastructure investment, and turnaround finance. 

AI has the potential to increase worldwide GDP by 14% by 2030, an infusion of USD15.7 trillion into global economy. Refinitiv estimates that the global market for M&A was worth a total of more than USD 4 trillion in 2020 and counted 50,855 deals. 

Some of the large private equity firms have started experimenting with AI technology. AI can play a major part in capital raising, company valuation, negotiations, deal completion, post transaction to exit/ divestment. The important part of any corporate finance deal is due diligence which takes a hell lot of time. The legal due-diligence process can require searches through tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of documents of many different kinds to identify risks and potential liabilities for acquirers or investors in a company. AI-based applications could be used to automate many parts of that process – including the location of documents, their identification, standardization, indexation, and ranking relevance. The potential for AI-based technologies in corporate finance deals is huge but requires great professional care. 

Q. What are some common legal challenges that corporate business firms usually face as far as the laws are concerned? 

Any business may face legal issues at some point. An important aspect of the successful development of a business is to anticipate and tackle common legal issues in a proper and timely manner. The most common legal issues a corporation may face are tax issues, late payments, employee issues, breach of contracts, intellectual property related issues. 

Legal policies keep updating on a regular basis, employers are challenged to keep up. In my view, every corporate firm should have their own legal department/ legal officer to take care of their legal requirements on a day-to-day basis. Modern business operation can be hectic and fast-paced and can as such bring about legal problems if proper documentation is not drafted to avoid the most common legal issues. Companies should appoint at least one legal professional who helps them familiarize and understand the laws, contracts, policies, and procedures. 

Q. What advise would you like to give to young lawyers who are keen to make a mark in the field of corporate laws?

Well, in a difficult, confusing, or complicated situation, individuals and companies may find themselves desperately seeking the guidance of a well-prepared and reliable legal professional. The key factors to become a good lawyer are passion for the job, compassion for clients, great communication skills, research skills, willingness to listen, a sound knowledge of corporate laws, strong drafting ability, good judgment skills, and decision-making skills. 

The most successful lawyers are not the ones with the best grades. They are the ones who can communicate effectively with their clients. They are good listeners and problem solvers. More importantly, they are able to relate with whatever issue the client has bought forward. 

When a client comes forward with a problem, the duty of the lawyer is not to direct the client to whatever statutory provision the law has to offer. The most invaluable skill a lawyer can possess is to explain the law in the easiest way possible and provide a best solution to their problems. 

‘IP lawyers are now competing with timelines generated by an AI-driven world, in terms of commercialising business’ intangible assets. This brings up larger volumes of work to deal with on more competitive timelines.’ — Sujata Chaudhri

Sujata Chaudhri is the Founder, Owner and Managing Partner at Sujata Chaudhri IP Attorneys and specialises in IP litigation, enforcement, prosecution and transactions in the United States and India, particularly in the area of trade marks.

July 21, 2021

Q. Why did you choose to specialise in IPR?

I got into the IP field quite by accident when I was asked to assist a partner at the firm I worked at on an IP matter.  Once I started working on the matter, the subject piqued my interest, and that interest just kept growing.  I soon started reading up about trademarks, copyrights and designs during my weekends off from work.  An LLM in IP followed and the journey with IP began!

The core motivating value boils down to first principles: be it a start-up or an MNC, protection of human intellect, in my view, holds utmost importance and deserves to be protected and cherished.

Q. During the COVID-19 pandemic situation, there are some essential innovations taking place across the world in the tech and medical spaces to provide much-needed relief to populations. Do you think trademarks and IPR can be a hindrance to more and more people getting access to such essential products?  

The pandemic’s necessity has pushed the industry to make not only drugs and medical equipment like ventilators, but also essential technologies such as copyright-protected virus-tracing software.

Does the Indian patent regime strike a balance between this commercial interest and the interest of the ultimate beneficiary – the public at large? I think the 1970 Act is flexible and robust enough through its provisions on compulsory licenses, prevention of evergreening of patents and government acquisition of patents, to deal with public health emergencies as well as the objective of incentivizing inventors, if you see Sections 84-92, and 102.

But of course, unlike an epidemic, the pandemic is not a problem specific to one jurisdiction. A recent Oxfam report reveals that “a small group of rich countries representing 13% of the world’s population has bought up more than half of the future supply of leading COVID-19 vaccines”. This makes public access to Covid-relief a problem for densely populated developing countries, as you rightly pointed out. 

But then, we already have a response from pharma companies such as AstraZeneca, in the form of sub-licence agreements with several producers, including the Serum Institute of India, to increase the supply of vaccines. AstraZeneca also is billing ‘non-profit’ prices for its vaccines for the duration of the pandemic. Gilead has licensed its Remdesivir patents to generic manufacturers in India, Pakistan and Egypt for supply in 127 countries. The World Health Organisation (WHO) established the Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) in June last year. The pool calls for voluntary contributions of patents and all other forms of intellectual property (eg, trade secrets, software and know how) from around the world in order to expand the development and production of new technologies needed in its response to the pandemic.

These responses, although voluntary in nature, are a concrete indication of the direction an incentivized, fairly dealt with, well-fed industry has the power to take- motivations likely bolstered by reputational advantages and pro-growth industry vision. 

Looking at trademarks, there are enough safeguards in the Indian regime to safeguard the public from deceptive, descriptive marks such as a ‘COVID-RELIEF’, ‘NOCORONA’, ‘CORONA SAFE’ and ‘DHL CORONAVIRUS PREVENTIVE’, among others. 

So even while the Registry is seeing abundant applications from shortsighted businesses filing to protect formative marks related to ‘Coronavirus’ and ‘COVID’, none of the applicants have started using the marks. Expectedly, there are applications which have been filed under Class 5 pertaining to medical pharmaceuticals, and veterinary products  and even class 3 for cleansers styled on covid related marks, as well as class 9 for anti-virus software!

But the applicants – when they are active commercial ventures – could have perhaps used some IP due diligence before embarking on chasing such registrations.

Q.  We are in the midst of an Artificial Intelligence boom. What are some of the challenges that AI is posing for the IP system? 

There is the looming prospect that AI will be able to behave in human-like ways and IP will have to reevaluate the standard of “person skilled in art” which analyses any inventive step. Patent law, as it stands, attributes exclusive rights only to the true and first inventor, specifically to a natural person.

There’s also the problem of copyright ownership in AI. In order to be protected under copyright law, work must originate from an author’s own sufficient skills, labor, and judgment. This system poses a great challenge when trying to determine whether or not AI has used these factors sufficiently to produce such work.

Specifically on trademarks: The purchasing process is affected by information available to the consumer and who, or indeed what, makes the purchasing decision. AI has an impact on the information available to consumers and their purchasing decisions. AI is now used for several activities like “voice search”, this eliminates the usual text searching and there’s a projection that the visual aspects of a trademark may decline in importance with greater emphasis on phonetic and conceptual comparison.

Q.  What are the major challenges that lawyers usually face in IP-related practice/litigation in India?

The challenges faced are many although these challenges are what makes practicing IP in India so interesting.  Most stark among the challenges is the sometimes inconsistent approaches are taken by our courts and administrative bodies that are tasked with protecting valuable intellectual property.  These inconsistencies are difficult to explain to clients who might have expected a matter to go well for them.

In terms of commercials, IP lawyers are now competing with the timelines generated by an AI driven world, in terms of commercializing business’ intangible assets. This brings up larger volumes of work to deal with on more competitive timelines, and a rather interesting challenge to manage. 

Q. What sets the Intellectual Property practice at your firm apart from other law firms that also deal in patents, trademarks, copyrights, etc.?

The firm is set apart by the values of multi-disciplinary management, a youthful vibe, holistic decision making and a democratic culture.  

I also feel that management practices come out better when they are developed with inputs from all concerned, rather than being imposed unilaterally.  

Having the team participate in decision-making process makes it more democratic in nature and encourages greater acceptability. Moreover, it often brings to light diverse points of view, some of which may not have occurred to the management unilaterally. 

Talent retention, in my view, can only materialize if the firm’s and team members’ individual goals align. 

Before retaining talent, it is important to get raw talent, and then hone it in a way that works well both for the firm as well as for the individual. I’ve always believed that talent should be in-grown.

At my firm we have a well-laid down bi-annual evaluation process where each lawyer and paralegal is formally evaluated on their performance and growth in a transparent manner. The exercise helps in identifying the strengths and shortcomings in an individual’s performance, thereby paving the way for an individual’s growth as a professional. 

We have incentives for efficient performers, and also a policy of fast-track progression in career for those who exceed the expectations of the firm. We’ve had fast track promotions in the firm, where lawyers are given responsibility right from early stages of their career, honing not just their technical skills, but also the soft skills such as  delegation of work, mentorship, representing the firm at International conferences, practice development, building a brand, etc., which are vital from an entrepreneurial perspective. This has helped us hone and retain talent.

Q. On a personal level, how are you adapting to the changes in professional environments brought about by the pandemic and the lockdown? What do you like to do when you are not working?

We have tried to look at the uncertainty that came with Covid 19 as a challenge and an opportunity to reinvent the way we operated the firm. It has made us take a relook at every aspect and function of running the firm with a fresh perspective. 

Using technology as our aid, we have allocated the time and resources saved that were earlier invested in travelling and physical interactions with clients in building the firm’s internal processes. 

We have also taken a relook at our processes for hiring and recruitment. We saw a surge in practice in 2020, despite the pandemic, and consequently we scaled up our practice with new hires. There is a concerted effort to build up the firm’s patent department.

As for doing other things, most of my time away from work is taken up with my young daughter and our new puppy!

****

“Perception and prejudice, which have come to surround individuals accused of white-collar crimes, are a major challenge. Unsubstantiated and ludicrous amounts of money are often projected as having been cheated or laundered.” – Abhir Datt

June 30, 2021

Abhir Datt is a lawyer practicing in Delhi, mainly in the areas of General Criminal Law, White Collar Crime, cases under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act and the Negotiable Instruments Act. He is associated with Atharva Law Chambers, a boutique law firm that has offices in New Delhi and Chandigarh.

Q. What are the qualities that a lawyer should have in order to practice criminal litigation?

In my opinion, anyone intending to have a career in criminal litigation must firstly hone the qualities of being meticulous and patient – the former for absorbing, understanding and mastering the facts of a case and researching the legal propositions involved, and the latter because sometimes results are delayed. 

One never knows how any day in court will play out, and this is true across the litigation spectrum. While it is important to navigate through a case with a broad strategy in mind, it is equally important to be flexible and open to a change in direction, as the case evolves. 

The contours of criminal litigation traverse many stages, with the trial being at its heart. The markers of an effective criminal trial lawyer are (a) a detailed mastery of the facts of the case, (b) a knowledge of the procedural and substantive legal aspects of the case, and (c) a grasp of this nebulous concept of “court craft”, which only comes with practice. It is needless, therefore, but important to say that one must be persistent, against all odds. 

Regardless of which side you speak for, criminal lawyers inevitably work in close proximity with real life questions regarding constitutional rights to life, liberty, dignity, reputation and speech and expression. And so, it is crucial, perhaps above all else, to find something to ground us. Personally, I like to read. It helps to make better sense of the world I live and practice in.  

Q. Do you follow any specific strategies when it comes to criminal defense? Maybe you could talk about the art of cross-examination in criminal cases.

The primary task I undertake with any brief is reading and re-reading it several times over in order to (a) master the facts, (b) identify the allegations against my Client, and (c) carve out the issues involved. The practice of this first fundamental task was inculcated in me by my senior, Mr. Manu Sharma, and it has shaped how I approach any case. Over the course of my experience, I have also learnt the importance of conducting independent investigations to understand the context in which the circumstances of any given case are set. 

Finally, I cannot stress more here than I do with my junior colleagues, always start your legal research in the library, with the books.  The time spent meditating over the brief eventually manifests in the strategy that is adopted at the stage of arguments on charge or cross-examination. 

Strategy in criminal defence litigation largely depends on issues and circumstances identified during this process, which if left unchallenged may lead to unwarranted convictions, arrests or detentions. Although there may be different approaches to the manner in which a trial may be conducted, at the end of the day it is inevitable that as a defence lawyer one must bite away at the prosecution’s case, one circumstance or allegation at a time – there are no short cuts in this regard, fortunately. 

Q. What are the major challenges that lawyers usually face in cases pertaining to White Collar Crime in India? 

I think the major challenge is Perception and Prejudice, which has come to surround individuals accused of White-Collar Crimes. I often find that unsubstantiated and ludicrous figures are projected as having been cheated or laundered thereby making it seemingly a very “serious” offence or an offence of a “large magnitude”. This Perception makes it difficult for an accused to secure basic reliefs like bail or any other relief, at least until the chargesheet is filed and while investigation is undergoing, even in cases where otherwise the accused is likely to have secured such interim protections. 

The other challenge, I find, is with respect to technical aspects of White-Collar Crimes, which sometimes require at least a first principle understanding of the nuances of accounting, core concepts of company law and economic policies. 

Q. What has been the impact of COVID-19 on criminal procedure and law? Are there any key legislative changes? Do you believe these changes will impact how courts, investigating authorities, and enforcement authorities approach criminal trials?

It is difficult to respond to this question and avoid saying the word “unprecedented” for the umpteenth time since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. That difficulty is insignificant in contrast to the frightening lack of accessibility that the pandemic brought with it. The Code of Criminal Procedure dates back to a time when neither today’s crisis nor conditions could have been imagined. Our Courts have tried to adapt quickly to a new mode of hearing cases. 

Hearings conducted through the virtual mode have been effective in a metropolis like Delhi, and over time we have been able to establish a system for filing, mentioning, coordination, appearances, and arguments. However, a system is yet to be developed to carry out the recording of evidence, in a manner that ensures transparency and fair play, through the virtual mode. The major brunt of this lacuna has been faced by those undertrials who have been accused of serious offences, which matters are at the stage of recording of evidence, and have not seen any progress in their case. Similarly, investigation agencies also need to develop virtual modes of conducting interviews and investigations, in cases where the accused in unable to travel to the office(s) of the authorities. 

The initiative of the Bench and the Bar in the decongestion of prisons by granting interim bail in light of the unique circumstance of the pandemic is one step that has been effective in retaining and recasting our constitutional ideals of fairness and due process. For the time to come, if we are to see the evolution of the e-filing and e-courts system to uniformly meet demands of access across the country, legislative intent will undoubtedly be key. 

Q. In your opinion, is negligent spreading of COVID-19 a crime under Indian law? What are the laws that lay down obligations of citizens to prevent the spread of COVID-19? What are the repercussions in cases of non-conformity?

Where notionally in certain cases negligence may be made out, tortious jurisprudence has been minimal in Indian Courts. So, it is unlikely that we will actually see any such cases play out. 

Q. Tell us about your law firm and what sets it apart from other firms.

We, at Atharva Law Partners, are a small multi-specialty boutique law firm that offer our retainer services, including in the areas of criminal defence litigation, civil/commercial litigation, matrimonial matters, property disputes, arbitrations and mediations, across a variety of fora such as the Supreme Court of India, the High Courts of Delhi, Allahabad and Punjab & Haryana, various tribunals and Trial Courts in Delhi NCR. We have a team of young and ambitious advocates who work together to provide our clients with a holistic approach to any case. 

Q. Considering the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in the functioning of courts, in your opinion what kind of technological upgrade is required to ensure uninterrupted and efficient functioning of the courts and of lawyers’ practice in the country?

The digital transitioning of all our systems is inevitable, and the pandemic has hastened litigation into that process. Given that the shift to a digital interface does not appear reversible, it becomes imperative to invest in infrastructure that can support a virtual future for our judicial system.

Presently, there is some digital infrastructure in place which allows citizens to access public documents like orders or judgments passed by the Supreme Court of India, various High Courts across the country and some trial courts and tribunals. With respect to FIRs, in my experience, there is a scattered availability of these public records on government websites. As a primary step, these gaps in access to information need to be streamlined. For this purpose, it is crucial to establish dedicated IT departments in our Courts to (a) support the registry and the court staff, and (b) develop websites, software and applications to magnify the access to information about the cases that are pending in the judicial system. A similar department is crucial to support investigating agencies in adapting to digital tools, applications and software. 

It would also be crucial to have investment going into (a) creating public spaces where virtual courts can be accessed and observed, (b) cloud storage for public records and documents and (c) development of applications that act as intermediaries between advocates and clerks, typists, translators, notaries and other support staff that work behind the scenes. 

Q. Do you think Artificial Intelligence and legal technology in legal research can be helpful in improving the efficiency of the judicial system?

Absolutely. There is no doubt anymore that AI is the future of technology, as we know it. The market for IT products in the legal field is fairly young and rapidly expanding. In the past decade alone, there have been significant changes in the manner in which drafting, research and (now) hearings are being conducted. It goes without saying that these upgrades have helped make it easier to process copious amounts of information. I must admit, though, on a lighter note that I cannot help but fear the day that we see an AI algorithm designated as a senior! 

Q. How has the pandemic affected you personally and professionally? How are you dealing with the changes brought about by lockdowns?

The pandemic has affected me both professionally and personally. Professionally, at the start of the pandemic, there was always an apprehension regarding how work would be conducted, whether the fact that we would not physically be present in office would impact work and if the judicial system was equipped to handle an online platform. 

Professionally, we as a firm, have grown from strength to strength and adapted to the various challenges posed by the pandemic with dynamism and tenacity. Each and every person in the firm has stepped up to do their part to ensure that work runs smoothly. The fact that courts are now virtual has also been a blessing in disguise in some ways since it has moved everything online and the long commute to and fro the courts, which was previously a struggle, has been completely done away with. 

On a personal front as well, the pandemic has been challenging. Being away from family and friends for long periods of time and being in constant fear for their well-being and safety has been difficult and has had a lasting psychological effect not just on me, but on everyone. I also got married in a small ceremony during the pandemic, which was a personal achievement for me, but definitely missed all my friends and loved ones who could not make it due to the situation. 

That said, the Indian population is a resilient bunch and I have no doubt that we will all get through this together very soon. I am looking forward to interacting with each other in person on both a personal and professional level and am sure the future is bright! 

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‘In a few years, India’s arbitration institutions will be a force to reckon with and will be comparable to the LCIA, SIAC or the HKIAC. We have a lot of homegrown talent practicing arbitration in India. India as a destination for arbitration will be much more cost efficient than London or Singapore.’ – Som Mandal

Mr Som Mandal is the Managing Partner of Fox Mandal, India’s oldest law firm that was established in 1896. He has been in practice for the last 27 years as a Constitutional and Corporate lawyer.

Q. What are the major challenges that lawyers usually face in cases pertaining to corporate and commercial litigation in India?

The challenges faced by lawyers in this regard are manifold. Corporate and commercial disputes pose many vexed questions of facts and law which require availability of a good pool of experts which is not easily available in India. A good expert having specialized domain knowledge is of great importance to establish a foolproof claim or defend one.

Secondly, quick and time bound resolution of such cases has always been a problem. The Commercial Courts established recently which was expected to give time bound resolution of commercial disputes has not yielded the desired results. The dispute resolution even under Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms such as mediation and arbitrations have given mixed results. Though Courts are increasingly referring disputes to mediation to give it an impetus, however, it is yet to gain adequate currency. As regards arbitrations, the arbitration process itself has become time-bound, however, the time taken to execute an award or a decision in a challenge to the award, which is through the Courts, remains time consuming.  

Q. Could you talk about some of the most interesting cases that you have worked on and which proved to be either great learning experiences or turning points in your career?

It is difficult to recount done in this short space the interesting cases that one has worked on. However, the one interesting case that always comes first to my mind is a commercial litigation matter that I did many years ago which was very significant in its impact and particularly memorable because of the swiftness with which we had to act and approach the Court. I was representing Barbara Taylor Bradford (Author) in a litigation against a T.V. channel with respect to a daily soap that was going to go on air that day. Our contention was that the soap was a total lift from my client’s book and the makers of the soap had not even bothered to give credit to my client leave alone any monetary benefits. We filed for an order of injunction asking the Calcutta High Court for an order of stay of the telecast that evening. The Calcutta High Court refused to give stay. We got the order at around 12 pm and by 4 pm that same day we were ready with a Special Leave Petition to be filed in the Supreme Court against that order. We ran to the Supreme Court with the SLP, petitioned the Registrar for a hearing before the Court that very evening because the telecast was to start late night, managed to get the SLP listed for that very night, appeared before the two Hon’ble judges who kindly agreed to hear the matter at their residence and managed to obtain a stay on the telecast. We got a copy of the order and hurried to the office of the TV channel to serve it upon them because if the telecast was to be stopped the TV channel had to be served with the Supreme Court’s order. Needless to say, the TV channel was hostile and unwelcoming — the notice had to be pasted at their various offices. The end result however was very sweet. We saved the day for our client and the telecast was stopped. We managed to achieve all this in a matter of 5-6 hours-right from the drafting of the SLP to managing to serve the Supreme Court’s order on TV channel. The thrill of those few hours is hard to forget.

Q. The Arbitration scenario in India faces criticism for not being upto the mark especially in comparison to some other countries. What do you have to say about the mechanism for institutional arbitration in India and its comparisons to countries like Singapore, London, etc.?

In India, arbitrations were synonymous with ad-hoc arbitrations. However, the Government has of late taken several steps to institutionalize arbitrations in India. In December 2016, Government of India constituted a Committee under the Chairmanship of Justice B.N. Srikrishna (Retd.) with the view to review and reform the institutionalization of arbitration in India. The Committee gave its report and a new bill was introduced i.e. the New Delhi International Arbitration Centre Bill. This Bill was passed by both the Houses of Parliament and enacted as “The New Delhi International Arbitration Centre Act, 2019”. This Act provides for establishment and incorporation of the New Delhi International Arbitration Centre for the purpose of creating an independent and autonomous regime for institutionalized arbitration in India. We already have the Mumbai Centre for International Arbitration which is doing good work as an institution regulating arbitrations in India.

Hopefully in a couple of years, India’s arbitration institutions will be a force to reckon with and will be comparable to the LCIA, SIAC or the HKIAC because we have a lot of homegrown talent practicing arbitration in India and India as a destination for arbitration will be much more cost efficient than London or Singapore which are expensive cities.    

Q. In your opinion, what is the scope of Alternate Dispute Resolution in India? 

The Indian legal system has been known to be expensive and time consuming. These are the reasons why corporate houses and multinational entities are hesitant to submit themselves to the jurisdiction of Indian courts. With the rise of economic liberalism in India, these drawbacks became very apparent and led to the rise of Alternate Dispute Resolution in India. Arbitration became increasingly popular as large corporate multinationals wanted to choose their arbitrators themselves and submit themselves to the jurisdiction of their choice. 

Gradually arbitration percolated to domestic entities too and now arbitration (mediation and conciliation have still to catch up) is the preferred mode of dispute resolution in commercial contracts. Almost all types of disputes can now be referred to and adjudicated by arbitration. 

With the recent amendments to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 in 2015, 2019 and 2020, the process of arbitration is to proceed in a time bound manner. The fees of arbitrators have been regulated. So, an effort has been made to make arbitrations less expensive and time consuming. The Government is also making efforts to make arbitrations as litigant friendly as possible. All these measures will go a long way in making arbitrations and other modes of ADR more popular means of dispute resolution and increasing their scope and prominence.   

Q. Do you think Artificial Intelligence and legal technology can be helpful in improving the efficiency of the judicial system?

AI and other technology can be of immense help to the judicial system and to a great extent can help unburden the Indian Courts. There are experiments going on in other jurisdictions where aid of legal robots is being taken to write judicial orders. Advent of AI in legal research can immensely help the judges in writing their orders in India too. Similarly, even the lawyers can help litigants with efficient use of AI to cut down legal costs.  Use of technology can also help in the efficient management of the procedural aspects of the functioning of the judicial system such as case listing, apportionment of Court’s time for each case, Court’s interface with the litigants and lawyers etc.

Q. The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way not only lawyers and judges work but the way the entire legal system functions. How have you adapted to the lifestyle changes, both personally and professionally, that have been brought about by the pandemic? 

Work from home has become the new normal in this pandemic. We have been constrained to shut our offices in lockdowns so all our work is mostly done from home unless of course, there is a deadline where it becomes imperative for the team to meet in office physically. I am no exception to this trend and have adapted to this well. My days are packed with virtual calls and meetings and I am slowly getting used to reading longish documents also on my laptop which was not really something I was used to before the pandemic. It is a strain and yes, I do crave for my dog-eared and highlighted paper files but there is no option. The pandemic has thrust technology upon us in a rush and we are all grappling to be one up on it. However, I am so looking forward to a time when I will be able to meet my team and clients physically every day and greet each other with that warm handshake.   

***

Due to the pandemic, protecting the company’s reputation and bottom line are going to be the major focus areas during the next few years for all lawyers working as in-house counsels. – Rahul Singh

Rahul Singh is a lawyer with 20 years of professional experience.  Currently working as Head of Legal for CBRE India, he has had experience working for both national and international clients in the various roles he has undertaken such as heading operations for leading legal outsourcing industry companies such as CPA Global and Lexadigm. Rahul’s expertise lies in contract management, risk assessment & mitigation and regulatory compliance & legal advisory.  Rahul is a graduate of the 2001 batch of Campus Law Centre, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.

May 27, 2021

By LE Staff

I will answer the second part first.  In my humble opinion every lawyer should start her/his career by working under a litigating lawyer for atleast 2 years, at various forums.  This experience will provide any fresh lawyer a perspective of how any dispute is handled.  Armed with this experience any lawyer can decide whether she/he wants to remain in litigation or join a law firm or a company as an in-house counsel. 

The legal profession allows any lawyer a variety in terms of work at the different stages of a lawyer’s career and that is something I have benefitted from.  I started my career in 2001 working under an AOR at various forums right from district courts to the Supreme Court of India.  From 2004 till 2014 I dabbled with legal outsourcing operations, working for international law firms and clients, setting up companies, business divisions and handling P&L for outsourcing companies.  Thereafter,  I got an opportunity to work for CBRE as their head of legal and continue to do so till date. 

Hence, I did not make a conscious decision to carve out a career as an in-house counsel but have simply gone in with the flow and opportunities arising, with an open mind to learn every day.

The most important aspect in my view is to keep learning every day irrespective of where your started or where you currently are.  The legal profession will allow everyone an opportunity to shine provided you keep on learning. 

CBRE is the world’s number one real estate services company with a Fortune ranking of 128 and working for it can be both challenging and interesting, from handling calls very early in the morning to reviewing a complex project management agreement.  Any typical day is replete with helping internal stakeholders understand either the nuances of a particular contract or a statute or regulation and how it affects the Company and how can we protect the interest of the company.  This manifests itself in the form of either negotiating a contract, sending out an advisory and having a discussion with the various teams within the company.  The last half hour of the day is typically spent scribbling down the new learnings into my diary. 

The pandemic has had a significant impact on businesses across industries therefore necessitating General Counsels to think out of box.  During the first phase a major portion of our effort was to train business teams on interpretation and application of “force majeure” and helping them ward off push backs from clients and protect the bottom line of the company. 

The second phase brings more challenges in terms of helping the company in its revenue generating efforts.  Removing blockages in certain inherent contract negotiation processes, removing crept up biases in legal language interpretation, encouraging teams to adhere to SLA norms (we at CBRE have an internal legal team SLA of reverting with a completed task to a business request within 72 hours) etc which will help the company close contracts early and go live with services earlier than the norm, are some issues that demand attention. 

Protecting the company’s reputation and bottom line are going to be issues that are going to remain major focus areas during next few years for all lawyers working as in-house counsels. 

Technology is an integral part of our lives and we can only benefit from judicious utilization of the available technologies, even for our profession. Creating a central contract repository, availability of contract templates online, contract notification system, legal and regulation updation system developed in-house without purchasing expensive software is something we have undertaken at CBRE and is something I wholeheartedly endorse. 

AI and for that matter any other technology will always be complementary.  They will never be able to replace the lawyer’s experience and understanding of a legal issue and how to tackle the same, irrespective of the extent of inputs provided to any technology platform. 

This was a humbling experience.  Thank you to Forbes and the Jury.  I never thought that I would be recognized as such and that too by Forbes within 20 years of my professional career.  Everyone puts in hard work and specially in the legal profession, but being recognized by Forbes and that too by a jury comprising of such eminent personalities including retired Supreme Court judges does bring a sense of pride and satisfaction to the fact that maybe the path I chose was right and my service to clients as a legal professional was and is appreciated.

Always strive to learn from whatever you are doing, whether reviewing a contract, advising clients, negotiating a legal document, or appearing before a court of law.  You will grow as a legal professional irrespective of roadblocks and lack of opportunity if you continue learning.  Your learning and experience will remove all roadblocks and create opportunities for you and help you achieve success.  Remember, always respect the contrarian view, it is a big learning opportunity. 

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‘Given the level of automation today, repetitive routine tasks are going to go. Analytical skills, strategy, problem-solving are coming to the forefront. Ability to interact with technology is critical and definitely changing legal services and how law students will deliver these services.’

An Interview with Prof (Dr) Amit Jain, Pro- Vice Chancellor of Amity University, Rajasthan and Prof (Dr) Saroj Bohra, Director, Amity Law School, Jaipur. The Amity Law School, Jaipur was recently enlisted among the Top Laws Schools in India in the Legal Powerlist 2020 organised by Forbes India and Legitquest. 

May 20, 2021

By LE Staff

Q. How does the teaching methodology practiced by your institute instill knowledge, skills and analytical thinking in students to prepare them for the challenges they may face as young professionals in the legal field?

Prof (Dr) Saroj Bohra: Law has always been taught with the help of theories, principles, their practices, and applications. Law, as it is invariably known, consists of multifarious areas each linked with the other. The task relevant for teaching these subjects is to bridge the gap existing between them. At Amity Law School, Jaipur, we follow a perfect blend of the lecture method, Socratic method, role-play, case studies and simulations, group discussions, tutorials, projects, seminar method, cafeteria model (teachers and students residing in campus holding discussions over a cup of tea or coffee is popular wherein everyone expresses their opinions freely), visits to courts, jails etc., special guest lectures, and technology-enabled blended learning using digital resources.

Prof (Dr) Amit Jain: We, at AUR, provide a supportive environment that facilitates creativity and innovation. Our well-structured and flexible curriculum allows students to master skills to face diverse challenges of the corporate world. To make our students industry ready, workshops, seminars and guest lectures are delivered by industry experts. The strong foundation provided to our students offers them an edge not only to face competition but also generate employment opportunities. Our state-of-the-art infrastructure and facilities complement our academic ecosystem and enhance teaching-learning processes. We encourage our students to discover new perspectives, see things differently and develop an entrepreneurial mindset. The faculty members interact constructively with each other and provide great learning opportunities for students. The students of AUR develop team building, leadership, communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, all of which are suitable for a variety of fields of employment.  

Q. Do you think the use of technology can support and enhance the education of your students? What kind of technology has your law school put to use for the benefit of students?  

Prof (Dr) Amit Jain: Technology has proved to be a great enabler during the unprecedented time that we have faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The university has in-house intranet system ‘Amizone’ which provides a platform for easy connection between teachers and students and provides ready information about course-profiles, class schedule, and assessment plan. 

In addition to Amizone, the university has also subscribed to secure and multi-function online delivery platforms for all its academic and administrative operations including regular teaching-learning and continuous assessment activities. This added to the smooth conduct of teaching-learning activities during the COVID 19 Pandemic. 

Recorded video lectures, e-books, continuous assessments through digital tools, interaction with industry experts through webinars, online career guidance sessions, and mentor-mentee meetings ensured that the quality of academic delivery and routine activities are not compromised at all during the nationwide lockdown. 

The faculties completed all academic activities through the virtual mode. All the assessments including end semester exams were also conducted online through pre-existing Intranet facility of the University. 

Prof (Dr) Saroj Bohra: Today, knowledge recall systems are being automated by tools easily accessible on the market. Given the level of automation we are experiencing, efficiency dictates that repetitive routine tasks are going to go; analytical skills, strategy, ability to problem-solve are coming to the forefront and of course ability to interact with technology is becoming critical. Therefore, there are definitely changes to legal services and how students will deliver these services.

Answering the second part of question, Amity Law School (ALS), Jaipur is one of the first law schools in introducing legal technology training programmes. Its working pattern is as well automated through the use of Amizone (Amity Intranet Zone), which is the campus management system covering all academic administration related processes from admissions to alumni which can be accessed by keying in URL address https://amizone.net, operational since 2009. The course plans, assignments, lesson plans, study material, attendance, results all can be uploaded and downloaded by teachers and students.

During the lockdown, the IT department had organised workshops on online teaching platforms, which helped to swiftly switch academics from traditional classroom to online teaching-learning and assessments. On MS Teams platform teachers and students are connected with their institutional email id by IT department and online classes are conducted. Teachers can record their lectures which could be referred to by students in future. So, we have two effective platforms to connect online with our students Amizone & MS Teams where teachers could also conduct their class test, project or article or mooting presentations and take assignment submissions. Course plans are exhaustively prepared including the session plans and continuous assessment components. The continuous assessments are carried out across the semester and the components are planned based on learning objectives and learning outcomes of the course. Academic calendar is also shared with students on the commencement of the session. Everything is uploaded online for students’ ready reference and implementation.

Amity’s Jaipur campus established Amity Innovation Incubator and E- Cell to encourage and promote entrepreneurship skills among the students. We have partnered with the industry for better stakeholders connect for this we have established Industry Advisory Board too. We are excited and hope that learning opportunities of the future will reinforce, complement and to bring to life new and holistic experience for our students. 

Q. Prof Jain, you often interact with faculties at educational institutes abroad. You have also been visiting faculty at universities in Australia and Europe. Do you think there is a difference between the way academics (specifically in the legal domain) function in India and in other countries? Where do you think India lacks or needs improvement as far as legal education is concerned?

Prof (Dr) Amit Jain: I believe we live in a globalized world and modern teaching methods are the same globally. However, in the western world it is observed that education is more practice oriented, and focus is more on skill development rather than knowledge dissemination. Indian legal education providers are also not behind their global counterparts. At Amity University Rajasthan we organize many competitions like Model United Nations, Moot Court Competition, Trial Advocacy Competition to provide a simulated environment to our students that helps them to practice and hone their skills. Internships play a vital role and industry academia collaboration is required to strengthen the curriculum in line with industry requirement. At AUR we have a very strong Industry Advisory Board that meets regularly to suggest improvements in our curriculum as well as pedagogy. Legal Education in India should provide opportunities to the students to work on real life problems with the support of industry mentors. 

Q. The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we live and work, and the change has probably hit educational institutions the most. What has been the impact of the pandemic-induced lockdowns on your institution?

Prof (Dr) Saroj Bohra: Well, due to the lockdown and even post-lockdown as precautionary measures education institutions are closed. It was an unprecedented situation and I consider the facilities of internet and technology as a blessing in disguise because of which we are connected with each other and engage ourselves productively in these trying times. Amity University Rajasthan has overcome all the difficulties by quickly adapting to the virtual online mode of teaching not only for the students of law school but also for the students of Amity organization as a whole in India and as well outside India. 

In March 2020, immediately on lockdown ALS adapted to the online teaching. Besides regular, remedial classes were also conducted. Groups with students, teachers and staff on social platforms created so that all are connected all the time. Even End Term examinations for final year students were conducted online on Amizone platform. Thereafter, ALS took up the initiative of organizing webinars hosting successfully over a dozens of webinar inviting experts from the various domains of law and as well from legal firms

Students have been provided with remote access to online data resources. Corporate Resource Centre assisted the students in appearing for online interviews and students were placed in reputed national international companies like FHS, Nishith Desai Associates, Khaitan & Co., Amicus legal, and Innodata to name few. 

Online Board of  Studies meeting, Ph.D. viva of three research scholars of ALS, Student Research Advisory Committee presentations, Student Research Degree Committee meeting, departmental meeting, HOI’s meetings, Academic Council meeting, Online Farewell of final year students, Online Orientation of Freshers, online weekly Mentor- Mentee meetings etc. were conducted. 

Overall ALS had given its best in making this COVID-19 time successful for its students and engaged them in online learning and initiated a sense of innovation to come up with new ideas. Modestly, pandemic has not changed the functionality of Amity Law School. Only the mode has changed from physical to virtual, rest all is same. Now even our new academic session is in full swing. 

Prof (Dr) Amit Jain: The pandemic situation no doubt created challenges for almost every sector including education but at the same time as said, “in every adversity lies an opportunity”. Institutions were quick to respond and moved to online teaching and learning. Amity University Rajasthan was among the pioneers in country to implement an Online learning system to ensure continuous learning. Prompt action from faculty and staff helped students save precious time and kept them engaged in productive work. Removing the barrier of geographical boundaries and location an Online Learning system also helped to develop a sense of responsibility and discipline amongst students. No doubt, faculty and student missed the 152-acre state of the art lush green, eco-friendly campus of AUR but technology brought us closure to global resources and experts. We could organize webinars and expert lectures from global experts with the help of online platforms. Student also could connect at different occasions with 1,75,000 Amity students globally. 

Q. How have you personally adapted to the lifestyle changes that have been brought about by the pandemic? 

Prof (Dr) Saroj Bohra: To say that the novel coronavirus pandemic has changed the world would be an understatement. In less than a year since the virus emerged, it has upended day to day lives across the globe. The pandemic has changed how we work, learn and interact as social distancing guidelines have led to a more virtual existence, both personally and professionally. Now most of the time is spent before screen so I have tried to maintained regular routines as much as possible and retained a daily schedule for self-including sleeping, meals and activities. I have stayed socially connected by talking to near and dear ones using the telephone, video calls or messaging. Staying in university campus is an advantage as I could take regular walk and exercise, of course, following the govt. guidelines. Also now I could spend some quality time with my son. My role as an academician, administrator, mother keeps me almost entire day occupied, however, now find some time for my hobbies and to do my research work.

Prof (Dr) Amit Jain: Though It was a nationwide lockdown due to the pandemic, it was also an opportunity to read, reflect, revive, and rejuvenate oneself. The faculty and staff members including myself were not behind in terms of keeping themselves updated and self-develop. We undertook online courses and certifications available at online platforms. It was a time to build skills and sharpen the saw. The situation was full of chaos and confusion, but routines for faculty and students were made very structured beginning with online yoga session, pranayama, and meditation sessions during morning hours followed by regular classes in the afternoon and industry webinars during evening hours. In difficult times like this it is important to keep our immunity intact and keep oneself emotionally and physically fit. I ensured constant touch and communication with the team through online meetings to ensure that they stay motivated and do not get perturbed by environmental changes. I personally wrote appreciation letters to team members for their dedication and contribution during the pandemic. 

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Prof. (Dr.) Amit Jain is Currently Pro-Vice Chancellor at Amity University Rajasthan. He holds a Ph.D from Sardar Patel University and has completed FDP from IIM Ahmedabad. 

Prof (Dr) Saroj Bohra is Director, Amity Law School, Jaipur. Her qualifications include B.A.,LL.B (Gold Medalist), LL.M., Ph.D.

“The IT infrastructure available with District Courts must be upgraded to enable effective and smooth functioning of the hybrid system via VC hearing.” – Satyam Thareja

Satyam Thareja is a post-graduate of Indian Law Institute, New Delhi (2015) & graduate of National Law University, Jodhpur (2012), practicing as an independent legal professional in Delhi. He is also an Advocate-on-Record at the Supreme Court of India.

Q. What are the practice areas that you specialise in? Could you talk about some interesting cases that you have worked on? 

Immediately after graduation in 2012, I got to work as a Law Clerk-cum-Research Assistant at the Supreme Court of India in the office of Retd. Justice R. M. Lodha, who later became the Chief Justice of India. Thereafter, I got an opportunity to work as an associate in the Chamber of Mr. Sidharth Luthra, Senior Advocate & Former Additional Solicitor General of India. Since 2016, I have been working independently on matters pertaining to criminal law with focus on criminal trials. Apart from that, I have been rendering assistance to my father Mr. GP Thareja who retired as a Judge and now actively practices in Delhi. My experience with him gave me additional exposure to criminal law, apart from exposure to nuances of the Delhi Rent Control Act and the Code of Civil Procedure. 

During this time, I also got an opportunity to assist the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in matters titled Satya Prakash v. State (Crl. Rev. Pet. No. 338/2009) & Rajesh Tyagi v. Jaibir Singh (FAO No. 842/2003) in which matters the Hon’ble High Court laid out the procedure to be followed by the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunals established in Delhi, providing inherent safeguards to keep a check on fraudulent claims. 

Q. Last month, the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court observed that it is high time the stakeholders had a rethink on fixing the driver of the big vehicle as a tortfeasor in cases of road accidents involving big and small vehicles. The bench pointed out that it may not always be right to hold the driver of the big vehicle responsible for the accident. As a lawyer with expertise in cases pertaining to the Motor Vehicles Act, what is your reaction to this observation? 

The issue identified by the Madras High Court is a pertinent institutional issue. In a case where death has occurred, the attitude of all stakeholders is influenced by the thought of a likely economic crisis which the family of deceased is likely to face. Since, it is a rarity that a bigger vehicle faces more damage, leave apart death, the issue identified by the Madras High Court comes into play. In fact, I have come across cases in which despite it being documented that deceased motorcycle rider had alcoholic breath and was not wearing a helmet, the driver of the car was prosecuted to give an opportunity to the family of deceased motorcycle rider to get compensation under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. The Supreme Court of India, in several matters, has identified and addressed the issue of non-prosecution of traffic violations but it is yet to give guidance for adopting a tougher stance qua issue of accountability for contributory negligence in motor accident cases by Courts.

Q. Recently, a plea was filed in the Delhi High Court challenging the constitutional validity of Section 14(1)(h) of Delhi Rent Control Act, 1958. It said the DRCA is biased in favour of tenants, and in the present day the tenant-landlord dynamics are not the same as they were in the years after independence. The HC issued notice on this plea. What is your opinion on the plea’s contention?

The Delhi Rent Control Act, 1958 (“DRCA”) was enacted to protect those tenants who were victim of partition and had to re-establish their family in Delhi. DRCA, as legislated, dealt only with residential properties. This position was, however, changed by the Supreme Court of India, by exercise of jurisdiction under Article 142 of Constitution of India, in Satyawati Sharma (Dead) By Lrs v. Union of India (Civil Appeal No. 1897 of 2003) in which the Supreme Court dealt with a challenge to Section 14(1)(e) of Delhi Rent Control Act in relation to a property which was residential in character but was rented for a commercial purpose. The plea qua Section 14(1)(h) of DRCA seeks an extension of the same principle as laid down in Satyawati Sharma (Supra). It would be wrong to state that DRCA is biased in favor of tenants, as protection of tenants was the very purpose of enactment of DRCA. It might be justified to say that DRCA has served its purpose.  

Q. What advice would you give to lawyers who want to crack the AOR exam?

The AOR exam is very difficult to crack. On account of lapse of five years or more since graduation, one loses the ability to study and attempt / write lengthy examinations, which itself becomes a hurdle. I found it more difficult for myself since I was spending most of my time before the District Courts in Delhi. Since it needs weeks (if not months) to prepare, I would suggest to the aspirants to put technology to use and keep the reading material for AOR examinations on Kindle and / or I-pad or any other tablet, to read whenever they get time every now and then. Further, aspirants can consider copying relevant paragraphs from judgments on rough paper as it would not only help in creating a memory as to what the particular judgment states but also make their writing speed better.

Q. Considering the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in the functioning of courts, in your opinion what kind of technological upgrade is required to ensure uninterrupted and efficient functioning of the courts and of lawyers’ practice?

The pre-covid judicial system faced many issues which, inter-alia, included massive consumption of paper and ever-increasing footfall in Courts. This pandemic created a necessity which compelled the Courts to address both these issues. In my opinion, the hybrid system via VC hearing should be incorporated as part of the system as such, at least for basic miscellaneous hearings. Every day many matters are listed for miscellaneous work or procedural applications which can be easily addressed via VC hearing. As regards E-filing, it is an apposite step for a simple reason that at least the wastage of paper in effecting service via different modes is prevented. What is needed is an upgradation in IT infrastructure available with the District Courts to enable effective and smooth functioning of hybrid system via VC hearing. 

Q. Do you think Artificial Intelligence and legal technology in legal research can be helpful in improving the efficiency of the judicial system?

Yes. Legal research is a time-consuming job. It is something every role-player i.e. lawyer, judge & academician, has to do independently. It is, therefore, imperative that every effort is made to reduce the time period taken to consume the same. Artificial Intelligence can go a long way in doing that. 

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