Abhishek Sinha was Partner with the Corporate Teams at Khaitan & Co, Mumbai and Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas. He is a dual qualified (England & Wales and India) corporate lawyer with a post-qualification experience of more than 14 years. He started his career at a leading law firm in Mumbai (DSK Legal) and later joined the Mumbai office of AZB & Partners. Abhishek has also worked as an ‘International Visiting Attorney’ at Morrison & Foerster, Tokyo. Last year he resigned from the partnership at Khaitan and founded NotJustLex (www.notjustlex.com). 

Q. You are a dual qualified corporate lawyer with experience of more than 14 years. Could you describe to us your professional journey so far?

The professional growth I have experienced over the last 14 years has been incredible. In fact, ‘growth’ has always been one of my most cherished values. As Sherlock Holmes says, “My mind rebels at stagnation”. 

Just like many, I also used to measure ‘growth’ by the archaic definition of success, i.e. wealth and fame. Now, have realised (and it’s a happy realisation!) that ‘growth’ has many facets: (i) having a better work-life balance, (ii) spending more time and energy in doing things which you love, (iii) continuous learning, “learn, unlearn, and relearn”; and (iv) being innovative and having a greater risk-appetite. Fear of failure stops the process of growth. I strongly believe that it’s ok to fail, provided you are ready to learn from it and try again. Just to give a quick flavour, my journey from being a law student to a partner (of two leading law firms in India, Khaitan & SAM), and now having founded NotJustLex, has been exciting, adventurous and many a times stressful. 

Instead of re-writing my resume here, I will take this opportunity to highlight a few of my learnings, which may be helpful for someone struggling to find a place at their work-space: 

  1. It’s ok not to know everything, but make sure you know where and how to find it;  
  2. Never stop learning; and the best way to learn is to write about it; 
  3. Work smarter and not harder. In no way it means shrugging-work ; 
  4. Learn the art of saying “No” and “I don’t know”; 
  5. Be nice to everyone, and nicer to your juniors; 
  6. Always express your thoughts and be firm if you feel something is not right; 
  7. Never indulge in ‘pleasing-business’ and ‘gossiping’; 
  8. Always do your research before asking anyone about it. Never give half-baked work, research/advice to anyone. If you need more time, ask for it;   
  9. Never be a credit hogger, but don’t shy away from something which is rightfully yours;
  10. Mistakes are bound to happen, learn from it and don’t repeat the same mistake; 
  11. Pick-up a hobby. It’s a stress buster. “Me-time” is no longer a luxury but a necessity to keep yourself sane in this maddening and stressful corporate culture; and
  12. Work to live, and not live to work.                         

Q. You had long stints as Partner at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co. and Khaitan & Co, both top leading law firms in India, and then you decided to quit corporate life. What was the reason behind this decision? 

Many of us live our life which is set for us. Either we are too content or afraid to explore any other option. To me it’s all about following my heart and passion. I have always derived pleasure and satisfaction in teaching. In fact, even during my associate days, I used teach at ILS Law College (Corporate Law), KC Law College (Law of Contracts), Government Law College (Securities Law).

For the last 14 years, I was mentored by several seniors (the list is too long!) and was given unconditional support and guidance. This allowed me to have the career path I have had. Its not a hidden secret that there exists a huge gap between what law students learn in college and what is expected out of them once they graduate. I always wanted to do something about it but was not sure about the approach. After a lot of thought and research, the idea of exploring the ‘participatory learning approach’ in legal education came to my mind and I decided to resign from my partnership, to give complete time and energy to explore the same. Right after resigning, I founded NotJustLex. 

Many didn’t appreciate the logic behind me leaving the mainstream legal consultancy, at the age and position I held, and when my life was comfortable and highly rewarding. Well, everyone is entitled to have their own views and opinion. 

Not trying to explain, but on a lighter note just citing one of the dialogues from the movie- Inception: “What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed–fully understood–that sticks.” 

Without any arguments, I will leave you with this thought: 

“Exploring your passion is often a triumph of heart over logic”. 

Q. You have recently started NotJustLex, offering specialised moderated classroom and online programmes for law students and young lawyers. Please tell us more about it — the idea behind the platform and what kind of programmes it offers. 

NotJustLex is a platform for young lawyers and law students to learn and express. It is committed to: (i) providing accessible, quality legal learning, and (ii) bridging the gap between theoretical learning and practical applicability.

It offers certain specialised moderated classroom programmes and online programmes, with the intent to bridge the gap between theoretical learning and expectations of law firms, corporates, and clients. Focus is primarily on participatory learning. All courses have been designed based on participatory learning approach. Idea is to provide the learners a distinct professional edge in this competitive corporate environment.

At NotJutLex, we focus more on actual learning through moderated discussions, actual and real-time participation, deal analysis: all through live-sessions and not recorded videos or reading materials. 

The true meaning of ‘participatory learning in legal education’ is not well understood by many. Our courses and the way of teaching is very different and unique.   

Presently we are offering the following courses: 

  1. Understanding Private Equity Investments in India
  2. Sports Law in India
  3. Understanding Commerical Contracts; and 
  4. Finance for Law Students and Legal Professionals.  

Besides these courses, NotJustLex also offers a lot of zero cost events, like live webinars, college specific live-learning sessions, competitions and more.

We also have a blogging platform (NJL Blog), specially for law students and legal professionals. 

Q. There is a notion that law schools in India prepare law students for a legal career but do not prepare them for the practicalities of legal practice. What are your views on this? And what are your suggestions for reforming the Indian legal education system to combat the challenges that young lawyers face?

I don’t think, it will be a fair assessment to say that the law colleges don’t prepare the students for the practicalities of legal practice at all. They certainly do to some extent, but the question/issue is about the degree of it. We all have to acknowledge that a huge gap exists and this gap needs to be bridged. I believe that this construct not only applies to the law students but also to practicing lawyers. The Ministry of Law & Justice and the Bar Council of India have time and again acknowledged the importance and need for a mandatory continued legal education, yet it is only found in the reports.   

The gap can only be bridged by the collective efforts of all the stakeholders, including the law students themselves. Some of the critical considerations are:   

(i) Revamping the entire curriculum at law colleges to make it more relevant to the practice area; 

(ii) Just changing the curriculum will not help, if you don’t have experts delivering the sessions. In my view, just a LL.M degree is not good enough to be a lecturer/professor at a law college. There should be a mandatory CLE requirement for all the lecturers and professors They should also be trained to understand the newer approaches to teach and moderate sessions; 

(iii) Focus should be more on participatory learning and clinical legal education; 

(iv) Assessment pattern must be changed; 

(v) The present ‘internship model’ needs to change. For this, the law firms, companies, independent practitioners, etc, which are taking interns have to play a major role. More of hand-holding, actual learning, and inclusiveness is required; 

(vi) Most importantly, the law students have to also change their thought process. Focus has to be more on learning rather collecting certificates. I am appalled by the concept of “immediate gratification” amongst the law students. Not generalising but this is the trend I have been witnessing lately.                        

Q. In light of the prevalent pandemic, technology has posed challenges as well as opportunities to the earlier system of law and justice, and legal education. Do you feel the pandemic-induced disruption would actually accelerate the much needed change in the legal education, Indian legal system and judiciary in terms of technology?

It’s a welcome change and definitely the future, but every change comes with its own challenges. Unless the issues are fixed effectively and the required technology is put in place, the change is going to remain superficial.  

Legal Education: 

The e-learning model in legal education has started mushrooming after the outbreak of the ongoing pandemic. Many law colleges have also started providing normal classes online. Many law firms, private players, law colleges and even some companies are hosting webinars as if there’s no tomorrow. 

While it’s a favourable change, but is alarming at the same time. I don’t see a problem with the number and frequency of webinars, but the real challenge is to have a quality webinars. If the webinars lack quality then it is totally ineffective. Therefore, both the organisers and the participants have to be mindful. To me, attending a below average webinar is a waste of time. In this rat-race of hosting webinars, we should not forget/dilute the purpose behind it. Also, every second person intends to start an online law school in India. I am just keeping my fingers crossed that what happened to the engineering colleges 15 years back, should not repeat for legal education in India. It will be a disaster.            

Also, we need to be mindful about the reach of such online programs. Today, not every student is privileged to have an intent connection (forget about high speed connectivity).  

I strongly believe that until the issues of quality and reach can be sorted, e-learning can’t be an effective alternative to the traditional classroom approach, which caters to all segments and not only the privileged ones.   

Legal System & Judiciary: 

Everyone is aware how the ongoing pandemic has affected the legal system and judiciary, not only in India, but across all jurisdictions. Even though the courts are shut, urgent matters are being heard through virtual techniques. 

In respect of both imparting legal education and the Indian judiciary, we need to acknowledge the fact that use of technology is not a low-hanging fruit. A lot of work has to be done in setting up the right digital infrastructure to make it effective.  Therefore, in my view, at this point of time, it cannot be considered to be an effective alternative.

Until and unless planned and executed properly with state-of-art technology, which is comprehensive and capable enough; it can only be treated as a stop-gap arrangement and not an alternative.

Q. What are your views on the role of artificial intelligence and legal technology being adopted to enhance the legal future?

There is no doubt that in the coming years, artificial intelligence is going to transform the entire legal industry. The process is already underway and it’s just a matter of time. 

There are several products and services already available in the Indian market today, which are promising and also stand-out in terms of their offering, effectiveness and speed.

However, I believe that not everything is conducive to AI and machine learning in the legal industry, for e.g. structuring a commerical transaction, where there are a lot of moving pieces and endless considerations, or advising a client basis complex facts and legal issues. For such practices, human interface cannot be negated completely. Wherever, action points are process orientated, AI and machine learning is surely going to have a huge impact. For e.g. contract review, contract analysis, legal research, and contract management, are very promising to fit the bill.

The change is just around the corner, so it’s already time for law firms and other stakeholders to be AI-ready. They have to start committing to the new technology and start training and developing AI practices. You may be aware that a few law firms in India have already started the process and will definitely have the first-mover advantage over others.  

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