In conversation with Manav Gecil Thomas on intricate aspects of Litigation and Arbitration

In this interview Mr Manav Gecil Thomas, a graduate of 2015 batch of Indian Law Society’s Law College, Pune expounds about his expedition from a law student to a name partner, at Thomas George & Associates, at such a young age. He gives a cognizance of how Thomas George & Associates function and what it may actually look for its employees. Further, he dispenses guidance on how to build a career in the fields of arbitration and litigation and how law students shall try to perform in law internships and excel in their career.

He has been interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador Shambhavi Anand who is currently pursuing law from Amity University, Lucknow.

1. To begin with, if I may request you to please share with our readers something about yourself, your journey in the profession and your early years.

I am currently working at Thomas George & Associates as a name partner. My work is primarily with respect to litigation in the areas of civil, criminal, labour, banking, administration, consumer, personal and business laws. As a partner I also assist in non-litigation affairs of the firm. I graduated from Indian Law Society’s Law College, Pune in 2015, and thereafter, I joined Thomas George & Associates as an associate and then proceeded to become the name partner, and since then I have been working here. As I had immense interest in the field of litigation from my early days of college, I participated in a number of moot court competitions and interned under Justice Kurian Joseph, former Supreme Court Judge and various designated senior counsels including Late Mr Padmanabha Reddy, Mr S. Niranjan Reddy and Retd Justice R. Basant, former Kerala High Court Judge.

2. Can you please share with our readers any personal thing or trait or something which you enjoy about you?

I like the joy of arguing different cases before different Judges, because on a day-to-day basis I do not represent only one kind of facts or one kind of law but I have the opportunity to represent different cases before different judicial and non-judicial fora. I have been blessed with the opportunity to appear before the Supreme Court, different High Courts and tribunals and a number of District Courts and in doing so I have been able to convince different Judges on varying matters and that is something which gives me immense pleasure and happiness. Furthermore, I like to vociferously put forth my views and vehemently oppose the arguments in a loud and clear voice for the entire court hall to hear and somewhere that is also a reason for my interest in the field of litigation. Something I enjoy about litigation is you get to cross-examine witnesses which can break or make your case and that stress whether your cross-examination is breaking or making your case and that is a unique feeling. I had a chance to cross-examine a witness for 3 long hours who eventually made statements that made our case.

3. Since you have been in the field of litigation and arbitration for quite some time, so according to you what are the set of skills required to be successful in these fields?

In my opinion, both litigation and arbitration would run in the same lines because in litigation you are going to represent before a Judge and in arbitration you are going to represent before an arbitrator. Therefore, more or less the skills required in both are the same, that is, one should know how to put forth their case. While doing so, in litigation it is always preferred to have a thorough knowledge of the facts of your case because at the time of the final hearing it is very good to have the exact facts on your fingertips. For instance, if the Judge asks you any question regarding a statement made by your witness and you have not read the file n  number of times you will not be aware that where the cross-examination statement or the chief examination statement is and that will give an impression to the Judge that you are underprepared. Therefore, read your brief as many times as possible and think about the case always, which is to say that, if the case is listed for hearing even a year later then also one should always keep thinking about the facts of that case because always thinking gives ideas at some later point of time and those ideas sometimes turn out to be one of the brilliant ideas for the case. Furthermore, being abreast with the laws related to your case, making contacts with people in the field of law, patience, hard work, dedication and perseverance are some other important things which one should try to inculcate if he or she is entering in these fields. There exists no shortcut in these fields, one has to take a long leap and work hard for a long time with patience in order to reap the benefits.

4. How much weightage would you give to proper legal research and the tools used for doing it? How should law students equip themselves with legal research skills?

The first thing which every law student learns from their respective law colleges is the access to SCC Online and other reliable resources for their research work. Along with the search engines like SCC Online, it is important always to keep reading via free Google searches. I always search for my research proposition on Google and then take the important keywords from various news articles and cases which I come across and then I use SCC Online to get the reliable, refined and advanced documents which relate to my proposition. Whenever you hit a roadblock while researching, it means you need to change your keywords.

5. What made you pursue a career in the legal field and what is your response to the work-life balance complaint?

At ILS Law College there is a unique blend of corporate and litigation, where litigation takes the forefront. A majority of people at ILS Law College tend to love litigation. It is because of the number of moot court competitions in which I participated that, I wanted to be a litigating advocate. Luckily after completing my law school I had the interest to continue as a lawyer in this field. My interest in law basically developed during my years spent at my law school and it has been increasing day by day. The reason being that dealing with varying matters before different fora and different Judges gives me that push to proceed ahead in my career. In litigation the work-life balance for a lawyer is better off when compared to those in the corporate field, but if one is dealing with criminal matters then there is no work-life balance because a criminal offence can happen at any time and anywhere. For instance, there have been times when I am out on a vacation and I get a call from a client that he is stuck with a criminal case and during my vacation I am supposed to prepare the documents, draft an application and send it across and help him out. Therefore, to a certain extent work-life balance does persist but if you are a dedicated and passionate lawyer then at any given point a case will come and you will have to act upon it. Personally I prepare a “to-do list” with the help of which I manage my work-life balance.

6. Please tell our readers about the greatest triumph of your career thus far and how you made it happen?

There was a time where we had a matter of a foreign client where I represented the defendant and the plaintiffs were represented by a very senior advocate. In this matter, the counsel on the other side had argued and thereafter it had come for the arguments from our side. I got this case only a day before the proceedings, thus giving me only a night’s time to prepare and I had to sit till the morning as there were a lot of documents to read. On the date of the hearing, the proceedings turned out to be more of a senior versus junior thing, as the court hall was filled with juniors to witness the hearing. However, I put forth my arguments in a very strong manner and the Judge heard me even after the court’s time was over. It was an amazing feeling when the Judge said that my arguments were very interesting and added that the way I put forth the arguments was good and on that day we got an order in our favour. I was very happy that despite the senior arguing for five days, I was able to convince the Judge in an argument of three or four hours. This was one of the huge triumphs which pushed me ahead in life because whenever I go to that court hall that Judge always used to acknowledge me.

7. I understand, as a name partner, your responsibilities include looking after the legal operations of Thomas George & Associates. Can you describe the challenges and hardships which you face?

I run the law firm alongside my father Mr Thomas George and thereby I have a lot of freedom when it comes to my work since the day I joined. I was never given tasks that you should do task A or task B particularly, I was rather told that there will be files which would be coming and you should take hold of them and take a step on them as nobody is going to assign you work here. Therefore, I tried to do that under the guidance of my senior Mr Thomas George. So, the difficulty which I realised was that I had to play two roles at the firm, and that is to say that I am not only assisting the firm in the drafting works but also play a part in the firm’s administration. After I joined the firm we started our associate offices at Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai and Pune. Furthermore, I changed the filing mechanism in the firm as in law firms papers tend to go missing at times, so I tried to minimise that by streamlining the process of movement of papers.

8. How can a first generation law student commence a litigation career?

In the beginning, life is going to be tough for a first generation lawyer who is taking up litigation as a career, because lawyers per se do not get well paid in the early years of their career. When you are starting a practice as a first generation lawyer you would not be getting a lot of clients on day one because you do not have a legal background and you do not have that many connections as a person with a legal background might have. So, at this point what one should do is try to gain as much experience as possible from good lawyers. For instance, if you do not know drafting then even if you get a client you will have to go and ask someone how to prepare the draft for the case. Therefore, in those first few years of your career you should concentrate on understanding how to file a case, how to get that case listed and how to argue the case, etc. Arguing a case is the last thing that happens in an advocate’s life. So, the first thing is to get a client, then comes the second thing which is the skill of convincing the client to remain with you. Then comes the third thing which is to get the client to pay you fees which is followed by the knowledge of drafting. The fifth thing is that you should know how to file and after that getting it registered. Therefore, as a first generation lawyer you will have more impediments but the main one is to get a client and to get over that I suggest that all students should work with very experienced advocates who have a practice in diverse fields. The first few years are like an investment where you yourself are gaining knowledge which will reap benefits for your future. My mentor and my father Mr Thomas George started the firm without anyone on his side and after a lot of struggle he has made the firm what it is today.

9. How much, according to you, is the impact of “exhaustion of research” in the fields of arbitration and litigation? 

Before working on any research proposition, one should be aware of the entire process involved in dealing with any case in the first place. It is only after this that the topic of exhaustion of research comes into play. This is to say that every litigating lawyer must be aware of his provisions of law, facts of the case at hand and then it is a must to dig deep into the case with the help of various research tools like SCC Online. Therefore, one must be clear with her/his basics and procedures which can be done by regularly attending the court proceedings. So, your case is half won if you regularly appear in the case as the Judge sees the perseverance implying that there must be something important and the second half comes with knowing the art of cross-examining the witness with the facts of the case at hand.

10. Any final piece of advice which you would like to give to the law students and graduates? 

If a law student is willing to join the field of litigation or corporate or judiciary or teaching, the requirement in each of the field would be different. So, I would like to give a general advice to everyone who is more concerned about the pay parity. One must focus on the enriching experience which he/she is getting via an internship and not the amount of stipend which is being paid because one can take that experience with them for their entire life. Therefore, money shall not be the criteria in the formative years, it can be a part and parcel but not the only driving force. To sum up, hard work, patience, dedication and perseverance are some of the key skills which would lead the law students and graduates to greater heights in the field of law.

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