In conversation with Mr. Dharmendra Chatur, Principal Associate, Poovayya & Co., Bengaluru

Mr. Dharmendra Chatur is currently a Principal Associate at Poovayya & Co., Bengaluru and is a practicing advocate for over seven years mainly based out in Bengaluru. He graduated from School of Law, CHRIST (Deemed to be University) at the top of his batch and as the Best Outgoing Student winning the Basant Kumar Sarala Birla Gold Medal in 2013. Since then, he has been involved in the fields of litigation, arbitration and commercial mediation covering various practice areas. With a keen interest in academic legal writing and research, he is also a registered pro bono legal service professional recognised by the Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India. Mr. Chatur is interviewed by Mr. Anirudh A Kulkarni, Student Ambassador of EBC and SCC Online at School of Law, CHRIST (Deemed to be University) on litigation as a career option, its pros and cons, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, significance of legal research and drafting among others.

  1. Please introduce yourself to our readers?

I come from a family of textile merchants and my exposure to the legal profession was confined to the television screen and newspapers. Lack of formal education, orthodox views and conservatism informed the beliefs of those around me and sometimes made me question those beliefs. After 12th grade, I in fact enrolled in an engineering programme at Monash University (Australia), but soon realised that it did not invigorate any interest in or inspire me. It was then that I began introspecting on who I wanted to be and what role I saw for myself in society. Law was mere happenstance and it was my professors at CHRIST who invoked a deep sense of inquiry and learning in me – making us “question everything –assumptions, biases, ideas, ideologies, etc.” It was only in the first few months at law school that I became certain about becoming a lawyer.

I am, even to this day, the only (law) graduate in my immediate family. Being academically inclined, I am currently pursuing an LLM in Corporate and Financial Law from Jindal Global Law School.

2. Could describe your law school life to us in one sentence, what would it be?

Law school was and has been one of the most profoundly transformative experiences of my life; and given a chance, I would unhesitatingly do it all over again.  

3. How important is engaging in legal research and drafting and how should law students equip themselves with these skills?

Legal research and writing are two of the most significant qualities a law student ought to develop during law school.

Whilst professional legal writing is often at odds at how we would otherwise write and think, it would serve us better to learn to write clearly and plainly. I frequently draw inspiration from the writings of Prof. Bryan A. Garner and various other books on writing. There is a robust “plain English” movement that has been afoot across the world. One must constantly aim to improve their writing and read and re-read what they have written to discard verbiage that does not add any value to the what is to be conveyed.

Legal research, on the other hand, is a different animal that is rarely ever tamed. Academic legal research and professional legal research demand very different skillsets. It again depends on the purpose and goal of the research and the audience who will consume your research. Developing functional knowledge of research databases is as important as learning how to narrow down your research questions.

We must remember that both legal research and writing are, in the end, tools of communication.

4. Not many people are familiar with the concept of “exhaustion of a search”. What are your views on it?

As I said earlier, when one traverses the path of legal research, the purpose and goal of the research are both equally significant and work as milestones to the exercise you are undertaking. Oftentimes, you may begin your research with one particular idea in mind, but that idea may transform or metamorphose into something completely different from your initial hypothesis. Another factor to consider is the time you have on your hand to find an answer, proposition, or point of view which supports or opposes your line of inquiry. Being alive to what runs contrary to your view is equally crucial to comprehensive analysis.   

5. Would you recommend litigation as a career option for law students?

Litigation, as many would attest, is one of the most enriching career options. The progression of a litigator’s career can be sinusoidal and erratic – with small and large victories or defeats in equal measure. As a young member of the bar, it is essential to have mentors who can guide and inspire you through the vagaries of professional endeavour. I am lucky to have had some of the finest legal minds as mentors – Mr. Sajan Poovayya (Senior Advocate) Mr. Manu Kulkarni (Partner, Poovayya & Co.), Mr. S.V. Giridhar (Advocate), among others – the list is quite long. The perseverance, patience and persistence they bring to bear on their matters are qualities I continue to strive towards. The practice of law is ever-changing, especially as India and its economy are increasingly assuming a larger role in the world. Newer areas of law and avenues of practice are opening up every day – for example, insolvency law, data protection, privacy, artificial intelligence, cryptocurrencies, etc. have propelled otherwise traditional law practices to briskly adapt and build capacities that may not have existed just a few years ago. More importantly, with the burgeoning number of extremely smart law students entering the profession, anachronistic attitudes towards compensation for young lawyers are also steadily changing. It has and continues to be an exciting time to be a litigator.

6. What are your views on the BCI’s push for a two-year “mandatory experience” requirement at trial courts before practicing before High Courts?

This suggestion is welcome. A trial lawyer’s dexterity lies in solid preparation, listening, observation, judgment, determination, oratory, among others. While these skills mature with age and exposure, their foundation is laid at the lecterns and witness boxes of trial courts. I would be remiss to not refer to Justice Vazifdar’s instructive quote – “Only a trial court lawyer is a complete lawyer. A trial court lawyer is an artist, while an appeal court lawyer is an art critic.”

7. Bengaluru is not considered as a Tier-1 city for litigation unlike Delhi and Mumbai. Does this have any professional impact on those who are planning to start their litigation career over here?

It is true that the exposure and training a young lawyer receives in Delhi and Mumbai are above par. Bengaluru, since the IT boom, has become a melting pot of disputes that have both national and international ramifications. I would say that the city has one of the largest litigation practices and markets after Delhi and Mumbai, which also explains why some of the largest law firms have established dispute resolution teams in the city. For instance, although I am based out of Poovayya & Co’s Bengaluru office, I have had myriad opportunities to advise and represent clients in various courts and tribunals across India as well as the USA, UK, Middle East, etc. Choosing the right chamber or law firm is a decision one must carefully deliberate upon.

8. COVID-19 pandemic has brought back the much-needed attention on alternative modes of dispute resolution, considering your experience in this field as well, what kind of changes do you see when compared to a pre-covid world and right now?

COVID-19 has radically changed lawyers’ work – whether it be a litigator or transactional lawyer. One of the principal attractions of ADR was the flexibility it offers to resolve disputes. With a sudden spurt in adoption of new technologies forged by the pandemic, it is likely that parties to a dispute with look for faster and easier modes of resolving disputes. Time is money – both to make or lose it. I believe we have yet to see how the pandemic will change the practice of law and I am confident that most changes will be positive.

9. Do you believe that there is scope for a full-fledged “Online Dispute Resolution” mechanism in India?

Absolutely. ODR will also increasingly shovel out the burden of the lower-value disputes that clogs our justice delivery systems. Richard Susskind’s Online Courts and The Future of Justice sets out an intriguing vision for online courts. ODR has the potential to challenge our extant ideas of justice and administration of justice.

10. Free legal aid is unknown to many Indians. Being a pro bono legal service professional, how do you think one can change this?

I believe there is a disturbingly high information asymmetry regarding free legal aid in our society. There are both attitudinal and structural reasons for this. The Ministry of Law and Justice has done a remarkable job with its access to justice initiatives including the Nyaya Bandhu (pro bono) programme. Legal Services authorities across the country have also striven to provide legal assistance and aid to the needy. The entire legal fraternity must come together to find innovative ways to communicate the existence of these programmes.

11. Do you suggest law schools to take up clinical activities and free legal aid camps to spread more awareness?

Law schools already participate and inculcate free legal aid camps in their curriculum. Most law schools also have permanent legal aid cells which provide much needed advice and guidance to the disadvantaged. At SLCU, we travelled to various urban slums and settlements to increase awareness about right to information, women and child rights, etc. This has to, however, be a constant and consistent undertaking and law schools have to lead from the front.

12. It would be great if you could provide few tips to graduating law students on chalking out their “life after law school” considering this pandemic.

One must sincerely and doggedly develop a hobby or pastime that will whisk you away from your life as a lawyer. Although long hours and all-nighters may find their way into your working life, the hobby or pastime will help you unwind or switch off the constant stream of stress that can gnaw at your peace of mind. Remember, as a lawyer, your time is rarely ever your servant. So whenever you can, take those weekends off, watch that movie, read that book, go on those holidays, spend time with your family and friends, exercise, drive around aimlessly, amble around your neighbourhood (trust me, you will notice things you never did before!). Life is only but a gift and remember that your time here is limited.

 

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