In conversation with Advocate Sumit Chander on Career in Alternative Dispute Resolution(ADR) in India

Advocate Sumit Chander is an eminent name in the legal industry across India. He is an expert in the field of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). He frequently appears on various national news channels such as India Today News and Aajtak. Mr. Chander in this Interview with Nipun Bhatia vividly discusses various aspects of ADR as a field of law.

  1. Sir, please introduce yourself to our readers.

Hi! Nipun, there is a famous saying “Work until you no longer have to introduce yourself” and that’s what I believe in. Ofcourse nowadays you also have the option to ‘google’ a person to know about him. Having said that, all I can say about myself is that I am a practicing lawyer at the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court of India. My area of practice includes all kinds Civil and Commercial Cases ranging from Arbitration, Property, Matrimonial, Recoveries, Writ Petitions, Public Interest Litigations, etc. I have been a lawyer for the Delhi Government and the Government of India for many years. I have handled cases for corporate clients such as Godrej, Mahindra, MTNL. I have been appointed as an Arbitrator by the Delhi High Court in several cases. I am Mediator with the Delhi High Court Mediation & Conciliation Centre also known as ‘Samadhan’. I have done an advance mediation training program from Pepperdine University, California (USA). I am frequently invited as a legal expert on various national news channel such as India Today News, Aajtak, etc. I had filed and succeeded in the famous PIL which led to establishing 40 new courts in Delhi and this was recorded in various national News Papers.

2.Please tell us about your life in law school and initial years of your career.

Well, Nipun, I did my law from Kurukshetra University. The land of the Bhagwat Gita. During this period I participated in several moot court competitions and at every given opportunity, I spent time doing internship. As an intern, I was mostly involved in legal research. Those days we didn’t have computers, so I had to spend a lot of time in the library of the Delhi High Court. I would be there from 10:00 am till 5:00 pm everyday after which I would leave for office. When I would show to my senior the judgement I found after my entire day’s hardwork, he would only tell me that its not enough and I should go back and search for more the next day. Ofcourse it would frustrate you a bit, but then, without realizing I developed the habit of reading, researching and writing. During my early days in profession, the legal software were still not very popular, so I had to read the entire judgement to understand if its relevant to my case. This process was slow, but it helped me develop a certain style of writing simply be reading the judgements. I had blind faith in my senior and would never question whatever he asked me to do. My senior became my mentor in life and in profession. I am truly grateful to him and shall always remain. Today when I look back, I thank him for all that he taught me in life and without who’s teaching and guidance I would not be who I am today.

I started my independent practice early in the profession. All I had was very little experience and big dreams. I wanted to get into corporates. I always believed in the famous quote of Pearl S Buck who said “The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible, and achieve it, generation after generation”. So keeping that in mind I made a company profile writing down all the things I wanted my law firm to be in future. It was like penning down your dreams. I then approached two companies, Godrej and Mahindra & Mahindra and handed over my profile and told them confidently that I am a lawyer and I would like to handle your cases. I don’t know what impressed them, but they did engage me. My journey began from there. So always keep faith and believe in yourself. Like in the words of George Bernard Shaw and I quote “Some men see things as they are and say ‘Why?’. I dream things that never were and say ‘Why Not?’.”

3.Please tell us about your career and the role you play, being an esteemed mediator at Delhi High Court?

Its been an exciting journey in my career. I started with doing corporate litigation for companies such as Godrej, Mahindra, MTNL, Specialty Restaurants Ltd., etc. I then went on to become a legal aid counsel at the Delhi High Court and was required to visit Tihar Jail and give free legal advise to the convicts over their conviction order and if a case is made out then help them prepare the appeal. Later in life, after gaining experience, I was appointed as the counsel for the Government of India and the Delhi Government. I then got the opportunity to represent the Government in many high-stake commercial matters and Writ Petitions at the Delhi High Court. During my practice I was handling a lot of arbitration matters. Infact, later in life I was also appointed as an Arbitrator in a few cases by the Hon’ble Delhi High Court and in many cases by the parties themselves. I became popular after my PIL because of which 40 new courts were established in Delhi. During my practice I was also handling a lot of matrimonial cases in which, wherever I felt there was a possibility of a settlement, I would advise the parties to approach the mediation Centre. I am fascinated by the idea of mediation as it not only puts an end to the disputes between the parties but also ends the ill feelings between them. That is the reason, that when I got an opportunity to be trained into mediation, I took that opportunity and today I feel fortunate to be a mediator with Samadhan, the Delhi High Court Mediation and Conciliation Centre. Not only this, I am now part of the team that is training mediation to the Judges and Lawyers across the Country.

 4. What is ADR? What is the situation of ADR mechanisms in India? How much important role does ADR play in current scenario?

ADR: The Alternative Dispute Resolution means the various mechanisms, other than litigation, through which you can resolve your disputes. What are these mechanisms? These processes find a mention in Section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure which empowers Civil Courts to refer the matters to alternative dispute resolution methods such as Arbitration, Conciliation and Judicial Settlements including Lok Adalat and Mediation.

Infact, there is a very interesting background to this provision of Section 89. About how it came into being. You see, Code of Civil Procedure was enacted in the year 1908. But it was much later that the then Chief Justice of India, Justice Ahmadi set up a High Powered Committee consisting of the Judges from India and United States and only two Lawyers one of whom was Dr. Abhishek Singhvi. This Committee was sent to California to study the concept of Mediation and submit a report. Finally in the mid 1990’s, the Committee submitted its report which led to the enactment of Section 89 CPC. Interestingly, this report was substantially drafted by Dr. Abhishek Singhvi so next time you read Section 89, you would know who’s written it.

The use of the ADR mechanisms instead of litigation is now rapidly becoming a norm. Not only are people themselves preferring to use the option of ADR as compared to Litigation but even the Judiciary and Government are working towards encouraging people towards using ADR mechanisms as a preferred way of resolving their disputes. Mediation Centers have been established in every Court across the Country. The Government has enacted the Commercial Courts Act, 2015 which makes it mandatory for the plaintiff to exhaust the remedy of pre-institution mediation before filing any Commercial Case. And if you look at Lok Adalat you would observe the increase in the disposal of the cases being settled in lok Adalat. As per the website of the Delhi Legal Services Authority, the cases settled through Lok Adalat have increased from around 67k in the year 2018 to about 71k in the year 2019. So you can see how even the Judiciary is encouraging people to adopt the ADR mechanisms to resolve their disputes instead of fighting their long drawn and expensive legal battles.

Abroad they have the concept private mediation. Infact there are Mediation Law Firms totally dedicated to Mediation. People are ready to shell out money for faster disposal of their disputes and Mediation is definitely the best way to achieve that. Our Nation is also now moving towards that direction and there is a huge scope for Mediation in India.

5. Very recently, The Bar Council of Indiahas notified that “Mediation with Conciliation” shall be a compulsory subject to be taught with effect from the Academic Session 2020- 2021 in LL.B. degree course/s. What is your take on that?

It is a wonderful initiative by the Bar Council of India. I am sure that the students are going to benefit immensely from the same. Ofcourse students should keep in mind that just like Advocacy, it is an Art which cannot be learnt just in theory. It has to be practiced. So, I have feeling that future internships may also include compulsory internships at the various Mediation and Conciliation Centers. Just keep in mind that Mediation is not a subject that you simply learn in theory, it is a habit that you inculcate. It is a way of life.

6. How important is it to learn about ADR methods for a law student?

I feel every student should learn about the ADR methods. Not only because it has good future prospects, but because it helps you grow as a better human being and definitely as a better lawyer. It is skill that everyone must possess. Infact do not look at mediation just as a career prospect. Mediation is a wonderful way of life. It teaches us about how to empathies with other people, how to look beyond the dispute to see what is the actual reason causing it. It teaches us to think out of the box and more importantly it teaches us to become better human beings. Mediation is a life skill and the earlier you learn and adopt it, the more you will benefit in your life. Infact, I am also part of the Peer Mediation Program headed by Mrs. Sanaya Nariman. It is a pioneer project in India where we are teaching mediation to school students. We teach them how to resolve their disputes amongst themselves instead of going to their teacher.

7. Tell us about the Training sessions conducted by you on Mediation.

Nipun, I feel humbled by the opportunity of being part of a mediation training team that consists of Senior Mediators Mr. JP Sengh, Senior Advocate and Ms. Veena Ralli, Advocate along with my colleague Ms. Mitali Gupta, Advocate. What makes this very special for me is that Senior Mediators Mr. JP Sengh, Senior Advocate and Ms. Veena Ralli, Advocate were the ones who trained me into mediation and now they have involved me as part of their team to train others.

Our team has been invited by various Organizations and Institutions for conducting the Online Mediation Trainings. The recent and the most prestigious one has been the Online Mediation Training Refresher Program for Judicial Officers of J&K along with Delhi District Judges Mr. Dharmesh Sharma and Dr. Sudhir Jain.

A full mediation training program includes 40 hours of training. This is the minimum time required to cover all aspects of mediation. Infact in the United States of America, it is mandatory for the Official Court Mediator Roasters to have completed a minimum 40 hours approved mediation training. Our training programs are interactive and participants remain involved throughout the training.

8. What steps can be taken by law students if they want to pursue a career in ADR?

I have always advised law students that during their college days they must explore every field of law where you get an opportunity. It is this time during internship that you can practically experience various fields of law and then take the call as to what interests you most. The legal fraternity is a very close nit family. As a law student, you are about to become part of this family. So, feel free to interact with lawyers in various walks of life and learn from their experiences.

Incase you choose ADR as a career option, do more internships with lawyers practicing in their field of Arbitration and Mediation. Apply for internships at the Mediation and Conciliation Centers. The more you practically observe the practice of ADR the more you learn. Learning by observation is a continuous process and a slow process. But you must be patient. There is a famous quote by Joyce Meyer “Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting”.

9. In other jurisdictions, training to be an Arbitrator starts early and is a viable career option. How will it work in India?

Even in India Arbitration has a huge scope and is a great career option. If you feel your interest lies Arbitration, be it as a practicing lawyer specializing in arbitration or as an arbitrator just keep these few points in mind (1) As a student be well versed with your Arbitration Act, Code of Civil Procedure, Contract Act, and Commercial Courts Act. These are the basic subjects that will help you in Arbitration. Keep in mind that Arbitration can arise out of any kind of contract such as Property related agreements, tender contracts, copyright agreements, franchise agreements, employment contracts, etc. So basically you must have knowledge about all subjects as while passing a decision as an arbitrator you it will always help if you have a basic knowledge on the subject  (2) While you are interning or after you graduate from your law college, you must join an Arbitration firm or an Arbitration Centre or become an assistant to an Arbitrator. Find out your internship or job opportunities with these people and apply well in advance. Working with them will give you a practical experience about the Arbitration Proceedings and ofcourse you will learn how orders are passed. It is very important to understand the nuances of the arbitration proceedings before you start on your own. Eventually it all boils down to your involvement and the time you spend in practice. The more you practice in a certain area of law, the better you will get at it.

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