Pratyush Miglani on his successful career as a lawyer and an entrepreneur

Advocate Pratyush Miglani is a Founding Partner of Miglani Varma and Co., a law firm based in New Delhi and a Senior Panel Counsel for the Union of India at the Delhi High Court. An advocate par excellence, Mr. Miglani started his law firm at a very young age after working for Dutt Menon Dunmorsett for about two years, where he also worked on the landmark case of Vodafone B.V. Holdings v. Union of India with Senior Advocate Mr. Harish Salve. His is a fast-growing firm that represents a wide range of clients across more than hundred cities of India, including a Fortune-500 company and a global leader in the packaging industry. He is also representing an Indian Steel Company in a Singapore seated arbitration administered by the SIAC. Prakhar Srivastava, EBC-SCC Online Student Ambassador speaks to advocate Pratyush Miglani on his successful career as a lawyer and as an entrepreneur.  

  1. Why did you choose law?

My father is a criminal lawyer, though he does not practice anymore. I grew up watching him, surrounded by numerous law books and hearing about the law. Accordingly, I developed interest in the field at a very early age. For a very brief period, however, I was considering a career in automobile engineering since I like cars. Little did I know then that being an engineer, I would not be able to buy the cars I liked, I could only see them or work on them (laughs).  I could do that being a lawyer and so, as soon as I realized that, I was back to wanting to do law.

  1. You mentioned that your father is a lawyer himself. Do you agree that students who have parents in the legal profession are at an advantage compared to those who do not?

I do not deny that people who have parents in the legal profession are at an advantage compared to those who don’t. It is easier for people who have parents in the profession to procure internships, get better guidance and be exposed to the working of the law at an earlier stage. However, having said that, I must also say that even if one does not have parents in the legal profession, they can do very well. Gone are the days when only those would excel in this profession who had a legal background. If you are from a very good law school, say an NLSIU or NUJS or NLUD, you do not need any background to succeed, it is only your skill that counts.

  1. Alright, since you mentioned some law schools, let’s talk a little about your law school and your experiences there. What was Amity like? Was it by choice or by chance?

So after completing school, due to certain reasons, I could not have moved out of Delhi to pursue higher studies. At that time, Amity was the only law school that offered a five-year course in Delhi and so it became a natural choice. However, if I was given the option, I would have jumped at an opportunity to study at a law school like NLS or NALSAR because I can see the difference in students that come out of such law schools.

Insofar as my experience there is concerned, to be honest, I spent most of my time at law school interning under various lawyers and law firms. I interned throughout my law school alongside college, and I think my internships have had a bigger contribution to my career than my law school.

  1. That takes me to my next question, how important do you think internships are in general for a law student?

I think internships are extremely important for any law student. An internship gives you a lot of practical experience while you are still at law school. You see, as an intern, not much is expected out of you, but what you can make out of that opportunity is important. People begin relying upon you if you can show them that you are good at what you do. They may even offer you an opportunity to work with them if you are good, which is exactly what happened with me. I interned with Dutt Menon and Dunmorsett for two years and at that time itself, it was almost certain that I will work for them.

At this point, I must say that one must try to do long-term internships only. One-month internships may not be as beneficial as the first few days are utilized only in understanding the work environment and knowing the people. And if you are interning during a summer break or a winter break, there is a good chance that you will have more interns working alongside you, accordingly, your work may go unrecognized. The idea should, therefore, be to stick around if you can so that the people who you are working for can recognize you and your work.

  1. How important do you think are contacts in procuring internships at good places?

Let me share an experience here. My first internship was with Anand and Anand. I could procure an internship there because I won the Raj Anand Moot Court. I did not get it by contact, but because I won that moot. So even if one does not have the contacts that can land them an internship, I think mooting can be a great way to start because there you are judged by lawyers.

However, I must say that as law students, from the very first year, one should begin building their network. Networking is absolutely necessary in the legal profession. Until today, I go to my seniors for guidance or for any other help that I need.  It is very important to have a mentor in our profession, and if you can find one while you are still at law school, it is even better.

  1. How do you assess the importance of moot courts and other extra-curricular activities for a law student?

I think moot courts are very important for a law student. Moot courts open your mind and allow you to apply your knowledge of law to practical scenarios. You also develop a good command on researching because moots require extensive amount of research before you actually go and argue the problem. If you talk about big moots, for example, the Vis Moot, you keep researching for months together and by the time you actually go and argue, you are aware of the entire jurisprudence of Commercial Arbitration. If you win, that’s definitely great. Even if you don’t, you learn a lot, you get to argue before various judges, meet new people, make new contacts, all of which is beneficial in the legal profession. In a nutshell, moots broaden your horizons. For anyone who wants to do litigation, moots are extremely important. The same goes for the other competitions too. They help you build confidence, which is very helpful once you begin practicing.

  1. Please tell us something about your experience as a legislative assistant to Mr. Rajiv Shukla. Would you advise students who wish to pursue litigation to try their hands at LAMP?

So LAMP happened right after I finished law school. I was waiting for my results when I got to know that Mr. Shukla was looking for a legislative assistant. I took an interview and got through. It was certainly a very interesting experience as I got to work very closely with Mr. Shukla on day to day Parliament functioning. The nature of work that I did there was very different from what we do as legal interns in law offices. There was a tremendous amount of research work that I had to do. I also had to frame questions for the Question Hour.

As to whether I would advice students to go for it not, I would say it completely depends upon the MP you are getting to work for. There are MPs who are very active in the Parliament and accordingly give the assistants a good amount of work. You can gain a lot of experience working for them. The reason I went for LAMP was purely because I had time in my hand and wanted to have this experience

  1. How was your experience of working as a Law Clerk for Justice Midha?

I did my Clerkship under Justice Midha while I was still at law school, and I learnt a lot from him. My ability to read and understand files quickly developed during my Clerkship. Every day, we had to make notes for at least 70 to 80 cases before Justice Midha would leave for home. We would get the files at around 2 PM in the afternoon, and the notes had to be ready by 5-5:30 PM. That made me learn to identify what is important in a file and how to understand the gist of the matter in no time. I remember, when I started my Clerkship, the first file I read took me 1.5 hours to understand and make notes, but by the time the Clerkship ended, I took only 7 to 8 minutes to do so.

I will also advise students to go for a Clerkship. In fact, another reason why I say so is that working for a Judge; you learn how to understand the correct position of law as opposed to working for a lawyer, where you are biased towards one side.

  1. Alright! Let’s now talk about your experience at Dutt Menon and Dunmorsett. How do you look back at your time there?

I absolutely love it. I think I made my best friends there. I am still in touch with them; I still meet my seniors in the court, Anu Ma’am and Lakshmi Ma’am. It was one of the most memorable times of my life, and I certainly miss it.

  1. Can you tell us more about the Vodafone matter that you worked on while you were at DMD and in which you assisted Senior Advocate Mr. Harish Salve?

I think I will never get such kind of an opportunity in the future. When this matter finally started before the Supreme Court, it was argued daily for more than three and a half months. We would reach Mr. Salve’s office at 07:30 AM in the morning and brief Mr. Salve for the hearing.  The matter would go on till 4 in the evening, after which, we would go back to Mr. Salve’s office and brief him for the next day. We used to prepare submissions for the next day, make compilations, prepare sets, etc. I would often end up sleeping at the office. I would be barely home, it was very hectic, but I will say those three and a half months are by far the best three months in my legal profession. I learnt so much working for Mr. Salve; it was a privilege to be able to work for him at such a young age. In fact, I must say that my love for taxation happened only after this matter.

  1. Alright sir! I understand that it was shortly after this matter that you started independent practice. When exactly did you decide that you have to start independent practice? Was it always the plan?

There was no such plan. After Vodafone happened, I began thinking about what I wanted to do in life. I thought that I needed to learn many other things than I was able to being a part of a firm where my role was limited to whatever I was assigned. That’s when I decided I had to start independent practice.

While I will say that it was too soon for me to go independent, I do not regret it because the learning curve was great. I came across numerous situations where I was completely clueless and I had to ask so many people for help to figure a way out.

I think the most important thing that is required if you want to go independent is to have that fire in your belly, that passion to do something of your own. I always had that fire and that is what kept me going.

I will say, however, that it is always better to spend more time at a firm where you have learnt a good deal about all the subjects and then go independent.

  1. What were the challenges that you faced when you started independent practice?

So before I started independent practice, a promotion and a bonus were due for me at DMD. To be able to say no to the promotion and the benefits that came with it was a challenge. I asked DMD to withhold my promotion because there was a good chance of me getting spoilt because of the promotion. My style of living would have changed and going independent after that would have been a bigger challenge. I did not take the promotion and left the firm.

On a practical level, I did not face many problems. We were operating from my friend’s office so we did not have to look for a place to work from. There was of course some amount of difficulty in landing clients initially but truth be told we had help there too.  There were people who helped us get clients on board, and it wasn’t all that difficult.

It was only in 2015 when I made a switch from my previous firm and started Miglani Varma and Co. that we had to start from scratch and these challenges came in our way, which we did surmount eventually.

  1. How different it is to be working at a law firm and running a law firm? How has this transition been like?

So switching from DMD to starting my own law firm, the first challenge was with respect to the kind of matters I dealt with. Having come from a firm like DMD where I was involved in big-ticket litigation like Vodafone, it was difficult to do a Sohanlal v. Mohanlal before a consumer forum (laughs). It was difficult to come to terms with the fact that I would now have to do smaller cases. It took a lot of revolution from within to accept the situation and acknowledge that I have to start afresh.

  1. How do you look back at the growth of your firm in the past five years?

If you ask me, I am still as hungry as I was when we started this firm. Even if we are where we are, I am still equally hungry for success, and I think that hunger is never going away. That is what keeps me driven. The fire I mentioned before is still burning.

Other than that, the presence of the firm has definitely expanded. We are present in more than 100 cities now with good local counsels working for us, we are doing good number of arbitrations, and we have good cases from the Union in which I appear before the High Court. So in terms of the work we are doing, the growth has been tremendous but there is definitely a long way to go.

  1. Alright sir. Let’s give some more time to discussing about running a law firm. How essential do you think is being good at business other than being good at law to run a law firm?

I think being an entrepreneur and being good at business is more important than being a lawyer if you are starting on your own. There are so many things other than law that you have to be good at in order to be able to succeed as an independent practitioner. It is completely different from working under another person. Here, you have to go through times of stress where you have to pay rent and salaries but not much billing has happened in that month. It requires a lot of strength.

Personally, one of the problems I faced was that I was never comfortable in delegating work. But if you have to run a law firm, you have to delegate work. You have to raise capable juniors who you can entrust the work with and forget about it. Initially I would not be able to do that but with time, I learned.

  1. Let’s now talk about your experience as a Senior Panel Counsel for the Union of India at the Delhi High Court. How did you get there and how has your experience been? Would you wish to go higher up the ladder as a counsel for the union?

So this opportunity to work for the Union presented itself. I was not pursuing it but once I was given the opportunity, I took it. I will say that working as a Senior Panel Counsel has certainly opened me up as a counsel more as compared to what I was used to before. I have to appear before the High Court on a daily basis and argue matters where the instructions are very limited sometimes, which can get challenging but gives me an opportunity to learn every time. There were days when I used to take 3 to 4 days to prepare for a matter but today I can do it in less than a day’s time and appear before the court without any hesitation. So in a nutshell, it has polished me as a Counsel.

As to whether I would want to go higher up the ladder, I am not very sure. The primary reason why I chose to go for the job was because I wanted to build my independent practice through this work. No wonder it has contributed immensely to my growth and the growth of the firm.

  1. Alright sir! Now, that it has been more than five years since you started your law firm, I think it would be appropriate to ask, where do you see your law firm five years or ten years from now?

We would definitely want to become a full service law firm in the next few years, for which we will definitely need more and more capable people who we can entrust more work with, so that they can grow with us, with the firm and handle independent clients. The idea is to become a full service firm, with me only dealing with arbitration and commercial litigation. I want the firm to have more partners who can do their independent work.

  1. How important is it to have a good partner and a good team to work with?

I think one thing that is absolutely necessary is to have like-minded people. It is important to have a partner who shares the same vision. And I must say that it is not easy to find a good partner. I was lucky to find Nikhil as my partner. We share the same vision and are willing to do whatever it takes to get what we want, even if that means pulling each other up or correcting each other as and when required.

  1. What advice will you give to students in their law school as well as students who have just come out of law school?

To students who are still in law school, I would advise them to identify their areas of interest. You must identify an area of interest and specialize in the same. The way about it is to to do different activities in different areas and identify what you like the most. Even doing different kinds of internships helps you identify the area of your interest. I will advise students to write good articles as well, because publishing in a good journal or on a good website helps you expand both your knowledge and your reach. Every law student must give a good time to internships as well. I would advise interns to always keep in touch with the people they interned with. Staying in touch helps you even after law school.

As far as students entering a job are concerned, I would say, please don’t shy away from doing basic work like copying or flagging a file. It is also a part of the job. While doing all of this, you must show your seniors that you’re capable of doing more. You should work very hard and prove to your seniors that you are driven.

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