In conversation with Ambuj Sonal, Principal Associate at Pioneer Legal, Mumbai on his journey as a Corporate Lawyer

Mr Ambuj is a Principal Associate at Pioneer Legal, Mumbai. He has previously worked as Senior Associate at Link Legal and Deputy General Manager at Lodha Group, Mumbai. His practice focusses on mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, strategic alliances, cross-border investments, restructurings of Indian and international conglomerates as well as private equity investments. He has vast experience in advisory relating to day-to-day general corporate issues and matters relating to business laws. In this interview, he shares his experiences of working as a corporate lawyer.

He has been interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador Akshita Totla who is currently pursuing law from ILNU.

 

  1. Why did you decide to pursue law as a career?

I had completed my schooling from Bokaro Steel City, a small town in Jharkhand. At that time, law as a career was not so popular for students in that region. I ended up taking science in intermediate school and was set to pursue engineering as a career. However, I could not find science to be of my interest. I came to know about law school tutorials in Delhi, where students used to prepare for National Law School entrance tests, and I decided to join a crash course for these tests. While studying for these crash courses, I realised that legal reasoning was something I enjoyed. I further researched about “law as a career” and found it more fascinating for me as compared to science. This was the reason for me to pursue law as a career.

 

  1. How has been your experience working as a corporate lawyer? Any significant cases that you would like to share?

 

My experience so far has been highly enriching and augmenting. Each day brings a new challenge and a new learning, and overcoming these challenges gives me a sense of achievement and fulfilment.

Corporate practice has many verticals. It includes all kinds of non-litigation practices such as general corporate practice, mergers and acquisitions, banking and finance, real estate transactions, infrastructure deals, etc. I have been fortunate to have a taste of different verticals of corporate practice. All transactions require tremendous amount of efforts and therefore all transactions are significant.

Having said that, I had gained a lot of exposure in a particular matter where I had advised a client in an arbitration proceeding held in Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), which involved disputes relating to optionality clauses under investment agreements and foreign investments in India. This case helped me in gaining relevant experience and develop some additional skills as a lawyer.

 

  1. You have been a corporate lawyer for almost 8 years. What do you consider as your biggest achievement in your career as a corporate lawyer?

 

I have been fortunate to work on assignments relating to different verticals of corporate practice. In addition to general corporate practice, I have also gained experience in assignments relating to real estate, pharmaceutical, technology, renewable energy, brand acquisition, inbound and outbound investment deals, etc.

I think the exposure to multiple verticals of law practice, without limiting myself to a particular practice area, has been my greatest achievement and has helped me gain confidence of clients having multiple businesses.

 

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

Legal research and drafting are core skills which a lawyer must have. Without these skills, a lawyer will never be able to contribute to the law firm in which he/she works. Moreover, if you are dealing with business clients, their basic expectations from a lawyer are excellent drafting and research skills.

Drafting is sometimes misunderstood as writing good and fancy English. While drafting a particular provision under any agreement, the basic rules are – (i) you must know the meaning of the provision which has been drafted by you; (ii) how such provision is relevant and beneficial for your client; and (iii) how such provision has been looked at by courts in India, at the time of enforceability of such provisions.

For research skills, keywords are most important. If you use a search engine for finding case laws, you have to feed in the relevant keywords. However, I suggest the students to read commentaries and understand the law before jumping into online search engines. The simple logic is, if you read commentaries, you end up reading legal languages used by Judges, which will improve your legal vocabulary and will also help you in ascertaining the right keywords for your legal research. Keep reading judgments in your free time.

 

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

I think the most critical part for searching anything is to frame the relevant and specific questions/point of research. A search may turn into a long-drawn exercise if you do not ascertain the issues appropriately. The basic rule is – if you ask the wrong question, you get the wrong answer. So, first spend some time in preparing your specific and relevant questions/point of research.  If your question/point of research is wide and open, the ultimate result of your search may not be conclusive or sufficient.

 

  1. With the onset of the pandemic, there has been a shift towards online court proceedings. Do you believe that online dispute resolution mechanism is effective and should be continued in the post-Covid world?

While the online court proceedings have been effective during the pandemic, there is still lack of awareness of its potential uses and benefits. The Government is required to ensure that the techno-legal capabilities of Indian courts are at par with other developed countries, where the online court hearings were implemented decades ago. Online dispute resolution may be the future; however, it may be difficult to implement in lower/trial courts where evidences are deliberated upon and cross-examinations are required to be conducted.

Online court hearings can be most effective in arbitration/mediation proceedings and for civil court proceedings, provided that, the Government ensures effective implementation of techno- legal infrastructure in Indian courts.

 

  1. You have been involved in both domestic and foreign arbitrations. What are your key takeaways from your experience and how do you see the future of arbitration in India?

Ad hoc arbitrations are most common mode of arbitrations held in India. Most of the foreign seated arbitrations are institutional arbitrations. This is one of the major factors which makes the Indian domestic arbitrations time taking and costly. Institutional support in arbitration proceedings is always helpful and may end up being a quicker and cost-effective mechanism as compared to ad hoc arbitrations.

With the recent amendments, the focus of the Government and the stakeholders is to promote institutional arbitration in India and make India a hub of international dispute resolution. If the efforts of the Government in this direction are successful, India might become a preferred place for conducting international arbitrations, like Singapore.

 

  1. How according to you should young law students develop their CVs if they want to work as a commercial lawyer? And what are the key skills a corporate law aspirant must develop?

Most important factor is cumulative grade points average (CGPA). You must study and score well in your exams. After CGPA, your internships and work experience matter. Publications in respected law journals and winning moot court competitions will also provide an edge.

As your internships and knowledge will help you in developing your core skills, a corporate lawyer also needs to adapt high level of sophistication and excellent soft skills. A budding corporate lawyer must work on his/her appearance, body language and presentation skills.

 

  1. Any advice that you would like to give to law students who are aspiring career as corporate lawyers?

It is extremely important as a lawyer to develop interest in whatever you are advising on. A disinterested lawyer will never succeed. You need to enjoy the legal practice to perform effortlessly.

Moreover, while in law school, students must work on development of research and drafting skills. Reading judgments and writing articles on legal topics are the most effective ways to improve and learn. At the same time, please do not forget to enjoy your law school days, as these times will never come back.

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