In conversation with Tariq Khan on his journey from choosing law as a career to being awarded under BW Legal 40 under 40

Mr. Tariq Khan is the youngest BW (Business World) Legal 40 under 40, 2020 and also featured in Fortune 500 (India) magazine (Special Issue, 2017-2018) for authoring the best seller book “On the Rise”. He is frequently invited to speak in various law conferences and events by domestic bar associations, law schools, alternative dispute resolution centres amongst other organisations. He has been teaching arbitration as a guest faculty for the past six years in some of the prominent law schools of India. He is also a writer and a columnist having more than 50 publications to his credit in various journals, magazines and popular legal news portals. He also qualified to the conference round of Judge Advocate General, Indian Army. Mr. Khan has a wide experience in the International and Domestic Arbitration, MSME disputes and Commercial Laws. 

He has been interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Syed Haroon who is currently pursuing law from Jamia Milia Islamia.

For the Podcast of the Interview, click HERE 

Watch Video Interview HERE

1.  Dear Sir, at the outset thank you for taking the time out for this interview. How did you come around to choosing law as a career option?

Law was not my first choice. After completing my Higher Secondary Education, I started exploring alternate career options as I did not feel the influence of law. Since I was a science student, I wanted to become an engineer and hence, I appeared for various engineering entrance examinations. However, I failed miserably. That’s when my father suggested law as a career option for me. I wasn’t very keen on pursuing law because firstly I had stage fright and secondly I did not have command over English language. I always believe that it is hardships in life which we have to meet with and overcome to build our true character and for me it wasn’t what I chose, but what I had left, that enabled me to confidently take law as a career path. Thus, I can vouch for the fact that I didn’t choose law, law chose me.

2. How would you sum up your college life and initial years of your career, do you think your journey was more challenging because you were a non-NLU student?

Six years ago when I graduated from Faculty of Law, Jamia, there was a dearth of opportunities for law students especially for non-NLU students in tier I law firms. I feel that all law students must be treated equally irrespective of their college. Also, many competent students make their career choices based on the fees charged by the law college. Justice Iyer was so right when he said education is not imparted, it is sold.

I may add, in these times there is no difference between NLU students and students from other law colleges. Now students are judged on “what they know” rather than “which college they are from”. Incidentally, I have come across some brilliant students from NLUs and it is equally true that students from Nirma, Jindal, Symbiosis, Amity, USLLS, Jamia, Lloyd, etc. are also making a mark in the legal fraternity.

My law school journey was a learning experience. Compared to my contemporaries in other law colleges, I was a struggling law student in the first two years. As there was no mooting or debating culture in our college initially and since there was not much guidance from seniors, things got even tougher. Internship and placement culture was not very prevalent. Despite all this, Jamia gave me a larger slice and a canvas to draw on. We learn best when we learn by doing and that’s exactly how we learnt. During college, I applied for internships in almost every senior’s chamber and almost all tier I and tier II law firms. However, most of them never responded despite repeated follow ups; though, some of the firms were gracious enough to revert with a standard e-mail stating, “Currently we do not have any slot available. We will get back to you in case of a suitable opportunity”. Interestingly, this was the response even when I applied one year in advance. However, sticking to my stubborn nature I decided to not give up and persistently tried. Consequently, I had the rare honour of interning under the tutelage of veteran lawyers and in tier I law firms. Insofar mooting is concerned, my team won various national and State level moots. To my surprise, my team qualified for the Oxford Price Media Moot Court Competition and we were the twelfth Best Team of South East Asia. This was the first time Jamia participated in Oxford Price Media International Moot. I was an avid debater in college and won in various national debate competitions. As the president of the debating society of my college, I organised the first Jamia National Parliamentary Debate and also worked as the Coordinator for Internship and Placement Committee.

3. How important is doing proper legal research and how should law students equip themselves with legal research skills?

Law is an area that requires constant research, analysis and writing. Legal research is an indispensible tool that adds to the skills that lawyers must possess. Only if a law student since the very start focuses on learning this art, he would be able to find a needle in the haystack. I must also add that there is a very strong possibility that during the research process, the issues at stake are wrongly interpreted. Wrong interpretation can result in research not relevant to the current issue. Hence, identification of the right issue is very crucial for an effective research. A good research involves searching for underlying principles of finding, understanding, and applying the law. Also, finding keywords relevant to the proposition is a prerequisite so that you don’t get lost in the ocean. Students must therefore indulge in more and more research-based activities such as moot courts and legal writing.

4. What is the importance of mooting during college?

Like I said, mooting is the most holistic learning experience for a law student that prepares him for appearing and presenting matters before the court. Mooting broadens the horizon of law students and provides them with a platform wherein they can learn, grow, work in new environments and of course travel and meet new people. It is the most enriching activity that gives law students a firsthand knowledge of being a lawyer. It’s a platform for the law students to polish their rhetoric and research skills. Not just that, but for me personally, mooting has engrained in me the attribute of teamwork which is extremely important.

5. How is mooting in college different from lawyering in real life?

While mooting helps in honing of writing and advocacy skills, courtroom lawyering in real life involves diverse aspects, however, appearing before a court of law is a different experience altogether. In a moot court certain facts are given which have to be argued in a given timeframe which is generally 45 minutes whereas in a court of law no fixed time is given and you have to put forth your case in brief and convince the court in that short duration. In other words, a mooter generally prepares an opening statement and a presentation for the oral rounds, however, in a court of law there is no such format as the Judge may ask the lawyer to argue on any given point. Also, a moot court primarily involves research, drafting and presentation while litigation includes various other aspects such as filing, cross examination, presentation of evidence and other procedural aspects. Therefore, I feel that both are entirely different from each other in terms of practice.

6. Legal Education, as we all know is a very broad field, one can opt for practice in different fields, and how you would suggest students to go about with developing a CV according to a specific field. (In our case, we may use corporate offices as an example)

Since the very first year of your law college your ultimate priority must be CV building. There are five things that every law student must concentrate on. Focus on internships is primary. Internships not only help a student to learn law, but also acquaint them with various practical aspects. The second aspect that shall help in making your CV attractive is Moot Courts. Thirdly, for the purpose of building a network and also adding to your CV, public events must be emphasised on. This shall include attending various conferences, seminars and also taking part in events organised by other colleges. Lastly, one must write and ensure as many as possible publications including research papers, articles, etc. to reflect focus and knowledge of the subject.

CV must reflect expertise while conveying straightforward and relevant information. A strong start emphasising on skills and achievements must be brought forth. This must be tailored according to the role you are applying for. One must also keep in mind that emphasis must be laid on results rather than responsibilities and therefore unnecessary information which only adds to the length of the CV and not its strength must not be included. A “one pager” crisp CV is what is required.

As for corporate offices, an area-specific CV is what they are primarily looking for. Though versatility is appreciated but accreditations in specific domains help in reflecting a focused attitude and proficiency. This can be done by finding your area of interest in the field of law in the early days of your college. For example, if it is IPR, then your research papers, specialisation subject, moot courts, additional courses, etc. should be majorly in that domain which would ultimately help in making your CV’s “IPR” centric and attracting corporate offices for you to be their choice in their IPR team.

7. In your opinion, what is the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on arbitration sector? (Especially with regards to the limitation period that the Arbitration Clauses come with and the general measure of conducting arbitration proceedings online)

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a chaotic situation with respect to timelines and schedules in arbitration matters all across the globe. As the lockdown was extended, an order was passed on 23 March 2020 which was further modified on 6 May 2020, to extend limitation periods under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 with effect from 15 March 2020 until further orders were made.

To preserve the interest of the parties, a shift from physical hearings to virtual hearings was seen, which from my perspective is a development rather than as something that has been imposed on the parties, even though, there are some issues in conducting virtual hearings.

A lack of know-how about technology is one of the major impediments in the burgeoning of virtual courts and online dispute resolution in India. Accessibility to virtual courts is a distant dream for those advocates who have never used computers, laptops, etc. for their works as they never required them till this unprecedented pandemic. There are numerous other obstacles in virtual hearings which may be faced with, like internet connectivity issues, network snags, etc., and these need to be addressed carefully for uninterrupted hearings. Different time zones in virtual arbitration may also become stumbling blocks in the conduct of proceedings. For example, if the parties are in New Delhi and the arbitrator is in New York, then they will have to come to terms with the different time zones for holding a virtual hearing. Another issue in conduct of virtual hearings is that there may be challenge to a judgment on the ground that the principle of natural justice was violated, etc. Even in cross-examination of witnesses, the observance of conduct and demeanour of a witness are very important which may be hindered by conducting such a cross-examination virtually.

8. What according to you, the future holds for Arbitration in India? Do you think we are at a stage that we may become a hub for arbitration proceedings in the world?

Despite the existence of various arbitral institutions, institutional arbitration in India remains in a nascent state which is evident from the fact that almost 90 per cent of arbitrations in India are ad hoc. The main reasons of parties being reluctant in approaching these institutions are lack of awareness about the advantages of institutional arbitration over ad hoc arbitration, outdated rules of procedures and poor infrastructure.

The New Delhi International Arbitration Centre Bill, 2019 has been passed recently with a view to make India the hub of International Arbitration. The government has taken a step in this direction to make India the golden paradise for arbitration. However, larger issue has been missed, i.e. why India is languishing for decades and has not been able to become an arbitration hub. The reason in my view is that emphasis is put only on cities like Delhi and Mumbai and that the concerns of other cities which are in need of an arbitration culture and institutions are not addressed.

Additionally, we must also learn from the development of the best three arbitral institutions, i.e. ICC, SIAC and LCIA that have huge number of cases, growth in revenue, etc. (e.g. SIAC’s case filings have increased by over 300 per cent in the last 10 years). Therefore, it is necessary that arbitral institutions in India adopt modern rules, make effective use of technology and provide organised structure of proceedings, excellent administrative support and good infrastructure. Additionally, ease of doing business in India also needs to be facilitated, to provide a solid base and ensure longevity. Not only will it make India the hub, but also create a dynamic arbitration culture.

9. What would be your advice to the students or young practitioners who are watching this interview?

The harder you work, the luckier you will get. There is no substitute to hard work. Believe in yourself and focus possibilities rather than the limitations.

I believe law students during their internships should put in 200 per cent efforts in whatever task is assigned to them. These efforts will definitely be acknowledged and appreciated and will eventually help in securing a position in the firm. Needless to say that smart work coupled with hard work is the ultimate combination.

These days there are so many opportunities for young aspirants to make a niche for themselves including but not limited to writing articles on important aspects of law. If a student is interested in pursuing a career in arbitration, he could actively participate in arbitration conferences, that are associated with groups like Young ICCA, ICC YAF, YSIAC. etc. Attending these conferences and joining such groups help not only in gaining practical knowledge and technicalities, but also help in building connections.

Additionally, participate in the Moot Court Competitions involving your area of interest, attend conferences and events (either as a participant or volunteer), join diploma or online courses in specialised subjects, read important judgments and articles which will keep you updated.


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