In conversation with Prateek Mishra on his journey from a top-tier law firm to founding his own venture

Welcome to SCC Online, I am Vivek Badkur, the campus ambassador for National Law Institute University (NLIU), Bhopal and today we have with us Mr Prateek Mishra, Principal of EPA Law Offices. Before founding EPA Law Offices, he was a member of the disputes practice at L&L Partners, initially in Delhi and later in Mumbai. In the latter part of this tenure, he headed the disputes team as a managing associate at that firm’s Mumbai offices, achieving this within 6 years of starting at the firm. 

His practice focuses on arbitration, corporate and commercial litigation and insolvency and bankruptcy law. He has advised and represented parties in domestic and international arbitrations and in corporate and commercial disputes before the Supreme Court, Delhi High Court, Bombay High Court, Securities Appellate Tribunal and National Company Law Tribunal. Mr Mishra has also served in the Young ICCA Mentoring Programme as the assistant to an eminent international arbitration practitioner and is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. 

 

He has been interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador, Vivek Badkur who is currently pursuing law from NLIU. 

 

  1. Can you please tell us about your initial career and how you started in the field of law?

During my formative years at school, interactions with relatives and acquaintances that had pursued law as a career always left a distinct impression – each one of those individuals displayed a natural enthusiasm towards the legal profession. These influences, coupled with my disinclination towards pursuing a degree in science, motivated me to prepare for a career in law.

Fortunately for me, it was around this time that the consortium of national law universities had formulated the first common law entrance test. I cleared CLAT in 2008 and was admitted to the BA LLB programme at NLIU. When I graduated from NLIU in 2013, I firmly knew that I wanted to be a disputes lawyer with a practice focused on arbitration. As such, before commencing practice, I wanted to gain greater clarity into the concepts and theory involved in the field of arbitration. As such, I pursued an LLM at the School of International Arbitration at Queen Mary, University of London. This was all done with the idea to return back to India after learning from the best in the field. I was fortunate again to learn from some of the finest in the field of international arbitration and my experience there was extremely good.

When I returned back to India, I started practice under the guidance of two leading individuals in the field, Mr Bobby Chandhoke and Mr Prashant Mishra at L&L Partners, who selflessly mentored me throughout these years.

 

  1. Can you tell us what made you switch from a corporate law firm to your own venture and how would you differentiate with the challenges faced at both workplaces?

It would be more useful to first discuss some common challenges that a lawyer will face in either of these roles – both require you to be on your toes and keep the client’s interests above everything else.

The difference between the two roles lie primarily in the responsibilities one must perform. At a large firm, a lawyer’s responsibilities are well defined – most of the time, an associate or even an associate partner will not be required to focus on the commercial or administrative aspects of managing the practice, and the responsibilities will be limited to rendering legal services. On the contrary, when you start your own venture you have to excel at all fronts – you have to not only be an effective lawyer, but also be an entrepreneurial and a good administrator – all this significantly increases the responsibilities that are cast upon you.

As to what prompted me to switch towards practising in my own set-up, it was largely a call of conscience – I thought that after 7 years at a top-tier law firm, I had attained the requisite skills and experience to be able to do so. I was looking for different challenges and move out of my comfort zone.

 

  1. Sir can you give us some insight into founding and operating a commercial litigation practice in India post-Covid 19? And how has it affected client interaction and client service in the field?

Personally speaking, this is as good as a time as any to start an independent law practice, and the circumstances created by the pandemic opened new avenues and opportunities for younger lawyers. Whenever the economy faces disturbance, commercial concerns generally look out to conserving their cashflows and reducing their expenses – this translates into reduced budgets towards legal expenses, among others, prompting corporations to rely more on younger or smaller set-ups that can offer more cost-effective services without compromising on quality.

As far as interactions with clients is concerned, I have observed that unlike in the past when clients preferred and only paid for physical interaction with their lawyers, they now readily agree to virtual modes, leading to greater efficiency and reduced costs. At the same time, clients have become more demanding with respect to value worth of services being rendered and demand for individual practitioners has increased. Clients are now more likely to work with a diverse range of lawyers as opposed to hiring or briefing the same firm for every matter.

 

  1. One of the most challenging decision to be taken by any law student is to choose between whether to be a litigation lawyer or work at a corporate law firm. Considering you have acted on the both sides, can you show some light on how one may approach this dilemma?

 

It is a challenging decision and there will be as many opinions on this matter as there are practitioners. In my opinion, this decision must be taken keeping in mind the interest areas that one develops while at law school. For example, if you are inclined towards arbitration, it does not make sense to work with a transactional lawyer. At the same time, it may be better to intern with an arbitration team to be certain about the differences between the actual practice and a student’s ideas of the same. In hindsight, I believe that it is better to work with firms that implement a rotation policy for associates allowing exposure to the different transactional and disputes practices in a firm that a lawyer could opt for.

As to how one may tell if they should be a litigation lawyer – I believe that it is something that should come from within. Some might find it in the form of their interest to argue in courts, while others might find it interesting for the liberty to frame innovative arguments. Again, this is where internships play an important role, it was during my internships that I realised transactional advisory does not interest me and litigation is where my interests lie.

 

  1. How essential and important do you think an experience of doing an LLM is for a corporate job? And how useful did you find while opening and operating your own venture?

 

I have very strong thoughts about it, and this is a very important question. The reason why I pursued an LLM was to gain a better conceptual understanding of arbitration. It is a common misconception amongst many students that an LLM particularly one from a university abroad can land them a corporate job. Respectfully, one of the wrong reasons to pursue an LLM. Pursuing a master’s degree for the sake for finding or landing a corporate job in India is not a good idea. It is more feasible to pursue it to either further research interests or build a career in the academia.

 

  1. Any advice for our readers and interns to implement during their internships?

While working with law students, the first thing that practitioners look for is the candidate’s dedication to the tasks assigned and their attention to detail. Additionally, it is also taken into regard as to how thorough the intern was with research assignments and the additional value they bring to the team’s goal or objective. Students must also simplify the manner in which they present their findings and notes or pleadings they draft should not be verbose.

General advice would be to be patient and practise patience. Attrition is common challenge faced by all major law firms. We often see freshers drop out and leave their positions within 3-4 months and rapidly shift firms mostly because they have been moved out of their comfort zones. Younger practitioners often forget that there is no retirement age to a career in law and a small portion of it does not define you. More often than not, sticking to a firm pays better dividends in the longer run. The initial years are difficult, but it definitely gets easier with time and experience.

That being said, I would like to close with one of Oscar Wilde’s most impactful quotes: “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth learning can be taught.”

 

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