Hemant Kumar on litigation and establishing & growing an Independent Legal Practice

Hemant Kumar is an independent legal practitioner and an alumnus of University School of Law and Legal Studies, GGSIPU. Through this interview, he gives a professional’s and employer’s perspective into the field of litigation, and provides us with insights as to what the field requires from and provides to the professional. He has been interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador Sarthak Yadav  who is pursuing Law from USLLS GGSIPU.

  1. To begin with, can you introduce yourself to our readers?

I’m Hemant Kumar, I’ve been practicing independently since 2012, which is when I got enrolled, and I own a firm called the Chambers of Hemant Kumar which has been running from roughly the same time. We deal with both civil and criminal litigation, mainly in District Courts, but I practice in the High Court and the Supreme Court as well. I’ve also previously worked with a Standing Counsel for the State of NCT of Delhi, but I’ve been completely independent since 2013.

  1. To take it from the start, how was your college experience? What were some things you did in college that you’d say ended up helping you as a professional?

I wasn’t a very confident kid when I got into college, and that changed for me with my practice, but exposure and getting to interact with a variety of people was something that allowed me to become a bit more confident as a person. I didn’t get to take part in a lot of moots and college itself was a good learning experience, but the biggest confidence building act I’ve done is being independent from the beginning. While you do get some exposure from internships, college lacks in providing you practical knowledge of the field and when I went independent, it gave me a great opportunity to grasp a lot of knowledge in a really short amount of time.

  1. What sort of path would you recommend to someone who wants to start their own practice after college?

The idea is to figure out what path suits best for you as a person. I didn’t really have a legal background or a mentor as such who I can grow under the shadow of, so for me the plan for going independent was to have one case at a time. I try not to engage my seniors much even today, so the idea was to get as much exposure as I could with due guidance and exposure by my seniors from my internship days.

The ideal I believe is if you have a choice, it would be wise and diligent to go learn the crux from a good office. I do not think getting into a tier 1 firm is something I think everyone can manage to get into and the idea, again, should not be to get into a tier 1 firm specifically, but a good office where they give you enough exposure to learn. A firm like that would look fancy on your CV, but I don’t think fancy is the only thing you require, its more about the exposure and experience that I don’t think a tier 1 could necessarily provide. A smaller firm or chambers equips you with that exposure and experience so by the time you’re starting your own practice, it’s the complete package; you know everything. Whatever good office you get, find a good mentor, start working, gain some experience and since you’re in this profession for so long, spending a couple of years learning the tricks is totally worth it. To be content with what you have is necessary; you grow at a regular pace in the beginning, and as you grow and gain more experience, you get more clients and you get a bigger office and more staff, that’ll happen over the course of time. The first few years, I believe five years, require the most effort possible.

  1. On that tangent, like you said you were a first generation lawyer with no real mentor as such, what sort of challenges did you face as an independent legal practitioner?

Well, a lot of them. Once I started out as a lawyer, I realized there’s an entire business aspect to it as well, because you have to manage your own office. When you’re in college you’re this extremely optimistic, motivated person who thinks they’re going to change the world, but once you get out there you realize that you’ve got bills to pay. The business aspect of it, you have to manage it somehow. That was a challenge I faced as I had no training or experience for things like how to set up an office and break even.

Additionally, since this is such a vast field with so many different elements and dynamics to learn, you need to have a good grasp of everything. For example, in Court you can be asked anything at any point in time, so you have to be smart on your feet, and you can do that by knowing all the paradigms that are involved. So, to learn as much as you could, to gain knowledge and be attentive throughout was also something important that I learnt in the first few days. So I believe there’s a massive shift between the expectations of someone in their fifth year and a fresh graduate. You’re expected to be well versed with your law, you have to be smart with your drafting, but it’s a continuous process of matching your set of expectations with your deliverables.

Another challenge was to be a good public speaker as the lawyers I was arguing against, and the judges as well were all very senior to me when I started, and were well versed with the law and the entire dynamics of the institution. So, to be able to confidently present yourself and get your words through was also a challenge, as I came from a very introverted thought process in college. The very first time I went to Court, it was a different ball game altogether and a challenge I had to work on as well.

  1. So you answered my next question somewhat, but what are some skills you look for in an intern or an associate?

So when it comes to interns, I’ll be honest, we do not look for much. There’s this idea that interns aren’t allowed to do a lot of work, but the pace of the profession is such that one intern could slow the entire office down, and the cost and repercussions of that could be immense. So, as a policy in our office, we do not have very strong conditions for interns to come in, and according to our calculations we had a total of 60 interns in 2019, so we take as many interns as are willing to come, and the office can accommodate, of course.

When it comes to associates, I believe that law has two important aspects to it, firstly is to be a smart, analytical person, one who can analyse problems and give solutions, and that’s a quality which is very inherent. You can sharpen it and hone it, but you can’t learn it per se, and that is something that we look for in an associate. The knowledge of law is something you can grow over time by learning and studying, but if you have that skill of analysis it works well with the knowledge of law. Additionally, we appreciate the value of fraternity. It’s a small office, everyone works together and we also look for people who we can see as friends. Everyone who works here stays connected, and staying in touch is how it works, I guess.

  1. For the last one, I just have a really simple question for you. What one piece of advice would you give to yourself if you were entering college?

That’s actually a brilliant thing, I’d probably suggest myself to intern twice every year in different fields of law. That’s something I didn’t try my hands at. I was pretty focussed on criminal litigation, but I could’ve perhaps set out my last year for criminal litigation and explored more avenues before that.

It’s always important to go out and explore. When I entered college, I had my mind set out on criminal litigation, that’s how I planned my career. Even if you do want to tailor your internships, I believe giving your last year into the field you want to get into is advisable, but to discard every other option without having tried them is something that I would not appreciate. If you had the opportunity to start college from day one, five years, ten internships, I’d suggest keeping 8 of them for every different field of law you can think of with your last year for the field you want to pursue your career in. Just explore and see, probably after going through a good IP law internship, you may not even want to go into criminal law anymore, so why limit yourself?

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