Advocate Faisal Sherwani is an Advocate on Record at the Supreme Court of India and a partner at L&L Partners, law offices (formerly known as Luthra and Luthra). His area of specialization is Dispute Resolution, with a diverse legal practice in Constitutional law, white-collar crimes, Negotiable Instruments Act, etc He completed his graduation from Aligarh Muslim University and further pursued LL.M. from George Washington University, United States of America.
This interview has been taken by Varalika Mendiratta (student at Aligarh Muslim University) as a part of the UPeksha Mentorship Program in collaboration with EBC-SCC Online.
For Video Interview, click HERE
- So, to begin with, I would like to ask you, how you developed your interest in the field of law?
I appreciate your question, particularly because it’s a more straight forward one. I was incidentally talking to some law students yesterday, and they asked me, how I developed an interest for Dispute Resolution. The answer to that was that I hadn’t, because the interest that I had developed and the passion which I do have is for Law. From times immemorial, I think the most classic duty of a lawyer was to advise his client and to resolve disputes if he had one, and that is the path that I took.
But, to answer your question more directly, I did have a taste for law from a rather early age. Right after my schooling, I developed a fascination for subjects such as political thought, history, and economics. I was drawn towards writings which advocated freedom of speech and expression, liberty of the individual, freedom of religion, and before I knew it, I was drawn towards law. When you have a taste for those fundamental human freedoms, you’ll find that you will be drawn necessarily towards Constitutional Law. I remember, maybe sometime in the higher secondary school, I came across the writings of John Stuart Mill, a great British liberal thinker. He compared silencing one individual to robbing the entire human race, so I found that at that point of time to be the most powerful thing that could ever be said or read. So, I think that’s how it all started for me.
2. Sir, you did your graduation from the Faculty of Law, Aligarh Muslim University. So how would you describe the experience you had there?
I have very fond memories of my time at Aligarh Muslim University. It was an extremely lively place to study law. I remember it to be an extremely multicultural place, that is why I chose Aligarh. It wasn’t by chance, because it’s a University which attracts not only the urban elite, but students from all across India and some from abroad as well. And all this itself is a melting pot, if you will, to exchange ideas, to understand each other, to exchange views, and that is what a University education should be and I was fortunate to get that. One of the most important things that I learned at the Faculty of Law, AMU, was that even as friends we can disagree and I often continue to disagree with my friends even today. But I believe those liberal thoughts and ideas, that is where I started getting them, and that is what I cherish most about my time at Aligarh.
3. Did belonging to a Non-NLU College ever act as a hurdle in your career path?
I suspect not, but I guess you’ll never know, right. Let me make this somewhat clear, I never applied to study at an NLU, and therefore there couldn’t have possibly ever been an opportunity for me to study at any of them. That is what I meant when I said that Aligarh was not out of circumstance, it was out of clear choice. I wanted to study at the Faculty of Law, Aligarh Muslim University and I wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, I would be happy to go back in time and do it all over again, sometimes I wish I could.
It becomes a matter of whether you view a particular challenge or a circumstance as a hurdle. You are bound to have hurdles in life, and you can go about looking for excuses and say that I am not from an NLU or because I am from a particular ethnicity, etc. But all that is looking for excuses, and more often than not, problems have a way of solving themselves, that is how I have always approached things. My strongest inclination, after all, was to practice law, and the faculty of Law gave me the perfect platform to do that. Students had the opportunity of interacting with lawyers and judges from the Allahabad and Lucknow benches, that is the High Court which serves the jurisdiction. There were young aspirants who would be preparing for the Magistracy exams on the eve of graduation. So, you had a diverse breed of people who you could talk to and interact with. Therefore, it’s more about the individual and what you bring to the table, and what you want to do with yourself. I think that is what people will notice about you in life as well.
4. What was your area of study and how was your experience at George Washington University?
So it was all sort of a mixed bag, Varalika. I did study subjects related to Intellectual Property Law, that was particularly because George Washington University had a reputation of being a good place to study those subjects and I was intrigued to see what they do differently. There was a judge at the Federal Circuit who taught Parent Law at that point of time, a former Registrar of Copyrights taught the Copyright Law. Apart from that, there was a module on Fundamentals in the US Law, which was related to landmark cases in US Constitutional Law. I took a course in Legislation, somewhat akin to the interpretation of statutes. So all this mixed bag provided the right platform for me, because I did want to explore. I did not want to stream or specialise in something instantly. I believe this has been my motto when I started practising law also, as I wanted to have a rich and diverse experiences. It’s a bit of a common misconception that a Dispute Resolution lawyer is incapable of specialisation. Indeed, I do have a taste for Constitutional Law, for interpretation of statutes, for the law of crimes, etc. But, I came to those conclusions after I had practised law for a good 5-7 years, and I just couldn’t have sought to specialise in a particular subject or area right on the eve of graduation.
5. Coming back to India, how was your work-life experience at Parekh and Co.?
I didn’t start at Parekh and Co. when I came back to India. I started at a very respectable Senior Counsel’s office, Mr Rakesh Trivedi. No mention of my career can actually be truly complete without mentioning his contributions. He is a person with a very tough work ethic, not so much for us, but for himself. He would work late into the nights, and he would ask us sometimes on occasion to pull up a case law but truly you’ll see that he didn’t need us. He was a one-man army. I sort of felt worthless after a while and that is why I moved on to see if I could be more useful instead and I landed up at Parekh and Co. It was a delightful experience. That’s where I developed an interest for the Advocate on Record exam because Mr. Sameer Parekh himself is an Advocate on Record. There were also enough number of people at the firm, who left an indubitable impression on me, I wouldn’t want to name all them in extenso. But, if you want to learn the law and learn practising law, it’s one of the best boutique law offices to start for a young lawyer. In my formative years, that is where I fostered the strongest relationships and that’s where I spent most of my time, as there was not much of a life outside of the office at that point of time.
6. How was your early experience at L&L Partners, Law offices and what were the main factors that led you to where you are today?
It was Luthra and Luthra back then when I joined that firm. It was a little bit like transitioning into the major league. Again, very rich and vibrant place as it was where it is today. There are so many bright minds doing what they do best in diverse practice areas. I wanted a wider sort of experience of handling high stake matters for large corporates, foreign corporates, and clients with high net worth. I wanted to look deeper into their lives and how they operate, what are their requirements, etc. and the position to explore those possibilities nudged me in the direction of working at Luthra and Luthra. No regrets at all.
7. How is a regular day like being a partner of one of the biggest law firms in India?
Well, no regular day is akin to the other. Large law firms are a little bit like madhouses. They have demanding clients, temper surged, there are arguments, you are rushing to court, there is always a madness about everything, everything has a deadline. I remember when I was a law student, I met a lawyer who had worked at a premier law firm himself, and then he had ditched that to start working at a rather unconnected venture. I asked him why he had switched goalposts, and he said that look, tier-one law firms are fine, and you might just do really well financially, but by the age of 30-35, you’ll have your first heart attack. But, it’s what he told me that pushed me to explore the possibility of working at a tier-one law firm a little bit more. Actually, I am still waiting for my first heart attack, it hasn’t come. So, when you actually look at it, and if a place is that crazy, that it is a madhouse and all sorts of new things are happening, why would you not want to be a part of it? Of course, you would want to be a part of it! Whatever range of emotions I have, it keeps me happy, worried, concentrating, learning, and all of these emotions keep me hungry to learn more, they keep going through me. All this time I have tutored myself to be cool, calm, and composed. The three C’s which I think are the qualities that any good lawyer must imbibe. As long as you follow these three C’s, you will be able to get through the process. Whatever range of roles you may have to play as a partner, you will always have to be a patient listener to the client, you will have to be the hopefully the wise advisor, a counselling court on occasion, and the chief strategist. You should have the spine, if anytime everything comes down like a house of crashing cards, you should be able to take and shoulder the blame. Therefore, how those roles will pan out on a day-to-day basis may differ, but on a broader perspective, that is the spirit I believe.
8. When you look back at your journey, what were the major challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
Like I said, I don’t think there were very many challenges other than the usuals which any young lawyer would face. You want to do well, and you want to achieve everything, but there will be the odd hurdle, some friction, challenges, but I never looked for reasons for the difficulties or frictions that might have been in my journey. In this profession, there will be hurdles, in law, in life, in everything, but I think this profession isn’t meant to be an instant coffee. It’s more of a marathon, less of a sprint. You might fall every now and then, but the profession permits you to get up, dust yourself off, and try all over again. So, I don’t think I would put my finger on a hurdle and showcase one for you, because I got over them and I don’t particularly remember them anymore.
9. What do you look for in the law students or graduates who have just joined the law firm? What are your expectations, what all factors help in building a good impression?
Well, that’s an interesting question and I suppose there could be a bunch of factors. For someone fresh out of law school, I would possibly like to understand how you’ve done at law school. Whether you have an academic bend of mind, whether you have a thirst for knowledge, a hunger to learn, a wealth of ideas maybe. The more comprehensive and thorough your knowledge of law is, the better.
All of this knowledge you may not necessarily gain at the law school, at least not in the traditional sense of taking exams and all of that, but you should strive to do well there also. You should have a bright mind, maybe you have publications, some rich internship experiences, or you’ve done something interesting. There’s not one straitjacket formula, you might’ve written 10 publications, and I might think all 9 of them are terrible, but maybe there’s one amongst those that ignites my interest in you. So, it’s difficult to say, we all partners are also humans, we have our limitations and prejudices. But yes, we are all out there looking for passion! That passion might ultimately be manifesting anything, it could be a publication, the way you speak, so do develop your communication skills, but learn when to be silent as well.
It is very often said that a person should go to law school because that person talks very much or that person argues on everything, but I don’t think that is the first trait qualification at all and many of my colleagues would agree with me. Your ability to talk fluently may certainly be an aid to your success, but you must learn to develop a measured report. Scientific temperament, deducing rational conclusions, making reasoned arguments, and does he/she have great ideas, is what we look for in a young law graduate and law student. Like Socrates said, “if you have something to say, sooner or later you’ll know how to say it.” So, words may not be instantly important, as long as you have the great ideas, words will come. However, it’s difficult to mark all these factors on a checklist, it may vary from person to person.
10. What will be your advice to all the aspiring lawyers out there (general as well as regarding Internships and LL.M)
You should try to understand the concept of an internship or higher studies (a degree like LL. M.) or some other degree. You need to be clear whether it’s a pitstop of a larger journey, whether it’s a means to an end, or is that the end in itself, that’s where the perception lies. Your larger goal is to have a fulfilling career at the bar maybe, maybe being in a position where you can help the less privileged (if that is the larger journey that you are looking forward to), or maybe you want to be in a position where you want to help the more privileged people, etc. So, depending on what your larger goal is, I would recommend, read indiscriminately but eclectically. There are no prizes for finishing books from cover to cover unless the process ignites your mind and it makes you think critically and analytically.
Lord Henry Brougham, an English barrister said, “a lawyer must know everything about something and something about everything”, I think he had a Dispute Resolution lawyer in mind at that point of time. Look out for what interests you, treat law as a vast science. There should be repetition in your study rather than just reading. Try to write and publish if you can, you can start with the informative pieces, like the ones which discuss a judgement. But the writings which have greater value are those where you present a fresh idea, a perspective that no one else has thought of or looked at before I believe that is what you must strive for, and if you follow these titbits, you might very well land that coveted internship you have in mind or that degree from a foreign university. But, if you don’t, the larger advice is, if you follow all of this, it will turn you into a professional. Therefore, even if you don’t get everything that your heart desires, you’ll learn to deal with it and continue to strive forward.
You should also have a moral fabric to you. You might be extremely brilliant, but unless you develop trust, that a courtroom lawyer especially should have and as long as you inspire confidence, your brilliance and intelligence may be of little consequence. Even if you think of it today, in the art of convincing, you are more likely to trust somebody you like, rather than somebody you despise. Therefore, in conclusion, we should all try and be better people, I am not saying it’s a popularity contest, but somebody who is likeable and it might just end up helping you in your social circle as well.