Nitin Sarin specialises in asset / aircraft, finance / leasing / repossession & is a qualified lawyer (in both India & England and Wales) and also the Managing Partner of Sarin and Co.; Nitin completed his B.A.; LL.B from the Army Institute of Law, Mohali . He has also completed his Advanced LL.M. in Air and Space Law from Leiden University, Leiden, the Netherlands.
He has been interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador, Nritika Sangwan who is currently pursuing law from AIL, Mohali.
1. Where did this love for planes begin and what is it that you find most fascinating about them?
It does surprisingly have a link with law. My father was always a busy lawyer and we spent most of our childhood seeing him always in office – weekends or weekdays. The only escape he had was to leave the country else clients would find some way or the other to reach him. At that point domestic travel did not have many options so every June we would be flying out somewhere overseas and that is where the passion really stems from. It used to be the most exciting part of the year – the smell, the feel and the “abroad” factor. The places we visited may not seem very exotic now as we as a nation are travelling so much more than in the early 1990s, but at that time my parents had to work very hard to take their three children on these international holidays. That is how I became fascinated with planes and even now I am constantly fascinated by the ability that we can fly, it is unlike any other mode of transportation we have.
2. Give us a snapshot of your journey from being a student at Army Institute of Law, Mohali (AIL) to being ranked highly in the Legal 500 lawyers and law firm list in the aviation category.
I do not feel I deserve any of it because my journey has just begun. As a student, I was not a very interested student – I never enjoyed studying or participating in moot courts even though ironically, we run one now. I was more focused on my own life and did not really want to conform to the norm, I barely scraped through. I graduated in 2008 and immediately went to Netherlands for my masters where we ended up being a class of only 3 as the economic downturn had just started. I developed close relationships with my professors and got individual attention at that point.
Overseas education that one receives is very different from what one receives here in India. I specialised in Aircraft Finance which was a very small part of the curriculum. After my masters, I came back and practised in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. I had an understanding with my father that if I got any aviation work that would take priority over court work.
My first break was when Kingfisher Airlines went bankrupt, and I advised an American aircraft leasing company on how to take their planes back – that is when I really learnt on the job. I put in all my time to get this right. Eventually, the balance tipped in my favour and I began to get more aviation work. I went out there and “marketed” myself by introducing myself, sending out emails, attending conferences and so on. It was primarily luck as at times, I was found through a Google search. The rest is all totally up to you to utilise an opportunity. Now we are in a situation where large companies having trillion-dollar market caps are engaging us specifically for their aviation work in India. That is how we have carved out a niche for ourselves.
3. Do you believe that mooting as an activity is essential for a law student?
Definitely very important from the point of view that the student can gauge whether they enjoy litigation or not. That is the starting point to see whether you enjoy arguing in court or prefer being the brains behind the magic by carrying out the backend research. It sort of enables you to decide that for yourself.
4. The Sarin-McGill Annual Student Essay Contest on Aircraft Finance and Leasing was launched in 2020. Do you believe that academic writing is important for law students even if they do not want to pursue a career in academia?
The aim of these competitions is not really academic but rather to encourage students to do the research and learn about what the subject is. I can read those articles and gauge who has understood the law and who has not. Talking specifically on aircraft finance, it is such a niche subject that we need more discussions and research to take place, the essay contest is aimed to encourage just that.
5. Air law is a niche practice area and students do not get easy opportunities to explore the field, what are the avenues available for students to explore this field and figure out if they are interested in the aviation law or not?
There are essentially three aspects to aviation law – you have the financial side of it i.e. leasing and financing aircraft; you have the regulatory side of it where you are dealing with bilateral rights with countries and regulators; and the third one is where you are dealing with passenger rights and claims. For students of law, getting that exposure is difficult because most firms say they do aviation work but it only goes so far. The kind of work you get will depend on which aspect you choose. For exposure, airlines are a good option to intern and gain such experience. Law firms may not be able to give a holistic approach because not everyone has the bandwidth and workstream to provide that kind of training.
6. Do you place importance on a masters /LLM degree?
I think so, and I am talking specifically about an LLM overseas. I think they are very important for a number of reasons; you learn how other systems work which is very important and those systems are different from ours. They promote a more open book culture which is opposite to the rote learning culture we follow here (at least till when I was a student, hopefully that is changing). If a student has a particular interest, I believe they must go and do a masters in that. It is simply the next step – you know like a teenager growing up and becoming an adult.
7. Are there any courses or colleges in India that impart the same quality of education as any college overseas?
I have not had any first-hand experience but I think some of the newer institutions that have international teachers coming to teach are giving that kind of experience. I do foresee a changing atmosphere in the sense that we will find more international universities partnering with local universities in India to give students that kind of exposure. By no means am I implying that our educational institutions are by any means any less competent, its small things like style of teaching, openness with your teachers and equality between student and teacher which make a difference.
8. What are the job opportunities for someone choosing the aviation field?
It really depends on which part of aviation you want to be in. If the student is interested in the finance part of it – they are a better off doing a finance LLM and qualifying somewhere overseas where they can work with a law firm which specialises in general financing of assets because aviation will usually always come under that. There are huge prospects even in India because there are very few law firms that manage all the work. They are short on staff so yes, the scope is large. Opportunities are great – we are going to be the largest aviation industry in the world in the next couple of years and the amount of work at the end of the tunnel is massive.
9. What do you look for in students and professionals while hiring them at Sarin & Co.?
It is very old school but I look for individuals who are interested in the work and are doing it because they want to do it. Dedication and hard work are what I look for. All this may sound cliché but it is difficult to find people like that. We try to look for people who will happily give up a weekend to work (we respect our teams off time, but I learned early on that “assuming” that you get a weekend off is really living in a fool’s paradise). Also, I look for persons wanting to grab work, an associate sitting around waiting for work to be assigned to him or her is just not what we are looking for. We have the work, come, and take it and do your best.
10. Do you think India has enough regulations to tackle the massive environmental impact of the aviation industry or do you see some change happening?
I see changes coming in very rapidly the world over. The thing with aviation is that, firstly, airlines want machines that burn the least amount of fuel so automatically the industry is pushing itself towards becoming a greener industry. Airbus, Boeing, Embraer and other manufacturers thus have an incentive to make aircraft as efficient as possible. Secondly, it cannot be that one jurisdiction has more stringent laws than the other, it has to be a global change since the distribution of asset is also such – the aircraft are going to travel across jurisdictions, so the laws need to be aligned. Yes, aviation will be one of the industries to step up to the mark whether it is the use of bio-fuel or other things.
11. What is your opinion on carbon offsetting? Do you think it is a legit solution or do you think there is a better alternative to it?
As long as the money is going towards properly offsetting the pollution, that is justified. But in our country, is it really going there? We have to be very conscious of our carbon footprint. We are going through the so-called industrial revolution wherein people are making so much money but are blinded by the environmental damage being caused. We will regret this in the future and think of how much better we could have done. The EU went through that cycle where they started off with their clean and green phases, went through their industrial revolution, polluted everything and eventually realised the gravity of their pollution. While their realisation finally arrived, they have used the last many decades to clean up while we in India have not reached that stage yet where we realise the impact that our plundering the environment is going to have on us.
12. How has Covid impacted aviation lawyers?
It depends on who you work for. If you work for airlines then you are one of the directly affected parties. However, we at the firm have been busier than before. There are so many matters due to the current situation – a lot of default has been happening. Almost all airlines in the world have defaulted in their obligations and in some cases renegotiation of aircraft lease agreements has been going on as a consequence thereof. We have seen a lot of negotiations happening to take aircraft back and prevent bankruptcy. We are also seeing a lot of people and corporate houses investing huge amounts of money in private jets which is very interesting.
13. What does a typical work day for an aviation lawyer look like?
The first four hours of the day are important. I get to work by about 7 a.m. and I work till 11 a.m. and I am done with 90% of my work. The kind of clients you have also guides your daily schedule. If you have international clients, you function according to their timings and so you make time for your other activities accordingly. There is no structure as such, you just go with the flow. You work whenever the work comes. Every day can look different. Some days I have several hours to myself and some days are so busy I have no time.
14. What is the most challenging part of your job?
To keep my clients, both new and old happy, consistently. Especially clients who have been with us for a while. The longer our association becomes, the more challenging it gets, in my opinion, to ensure we continue to be their go-to law firm in India. That is what keeps you going and that is what keeps you on top of the game.
15. If not a lawyer, what would you have done?
Sometimes I actually wonder what I am doing here. If not a lawyer, I would definitely have loved to cook or have a piece land and done something there. I realised very early in my career that work should only be a tool to do what you want to do and life should be enjoyed because you never know when it will end.