Mr. Abhishek Ghai is a Partner Designate at L & L Partners Law Office. He is honed his practice in the Dispute Resolution side of the law and has been practicing in Delhi since 2012. In this interview, he shares his experience about Litigation practice in a law firm as compared to a chamber practice.
He has been interviewed by Aadarsh Kothari, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from Amity Law School, Noida.
- Can you tell us something about your journey from being a law student to a lawyer?
Well to start from the beginning, I graduated from Panjab University Chandigarh in 2012, and since I am a first generation lawyer, I had limited exposure as to the various facets of law and what should I pursue. However, I was fortunate to have my sister (Anamika Ghai Niyazi) in the profession who guided me to a mix of internships (chamber as well as firms) which gave me a great insight into different sides of the legal profession. The corporate side of law never excited me much, it maybe because I was largely surrounded by litigation enthusiasts. While in university, during the summer vacations, I used to visit my sister and brother-in-law’s (Mr M.A. Niyazi) chamber in Delhi High Court. This is where I had my first run-in with chamber practice and the charm it carries. I had the privilege of listening to senior advocates like Mr N. Hariharan who use to discuss their court experiences while sharing lunch with his other colleagues at my sister and brother-in-law’s chamber. I guess that is where I decided that once I graduate, I want to litigate and while I do so I would want start from the bottom (and most important part) of the food chain (i.e. the trial courts) and make my way up. And that is what I did.
- Please tell us about your areas of practice starting from a chamber practice to L&L Partners Law Offices?
After my graduation the thought which struck me was “where to go and what to do”. My search for a right opportunity had commenced, and my idea of a first professional engagement was finding an office that will lead me on the right path in the profession. In my initial three years of practice, I, while working with a boutique firm in South Delhi, jumped on all opportunities that I came across. I remember my very first day at work, my senior called me and introduced me to the clerk, and I was told to follow him around till I understand how things are done in courts. During my limited stint there, I pursued a wide variety of matters in the District, Labour and Consumer Courts of Delhi. I also had the opportunity to assist my senior before the High Court of Delhi. In my limited time there, I managed to work on intellectual property matters (litigation, prosecution and enforcement), civil matters, labour matters, customs, arbitrations, Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) matters and a hint of corporate compliances as well. During this time, I also got the opportunity to independently argue matters. After three-and-a-half years, I felt saturated and wanted to try my hand on other areas of practice and this prompted me to look for other opportunities in litigation. Fortunately, I landed up in the office of Mr Sanjeev Narula [now Justice (HMJ) Sanjeev Narula of the High Court of Delhi]. Sanjeev Sir, at that given point in time, was on the panel of Union of India [subsequently Central Board of Excise and Customs (now Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs) and Central Information Commission (CIC)] and various PSU’s and in the little time he had left after government work, he used to devote to his private practice. Working for him, as one of my colleagues use to describe, was akin to military training. For a little short of three years that I worked with him, I use to be a regular feature in Delhi High Court – from 10.30 a.m. (well, much to his disliking, I was mostly late) to the late evenings (5, 6 or sometimes even 7 p.m.) and then we would go back to the office and start preparing for the next day. During my association with him, the spectrum of laws and subjects, that I got to work on, included Prevention of Money Laundering Act, Excise Act, Service Tax, Goods and Services Tax Act, foreign trade policy matters, Customs Act, Companies Act, Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act (COFEPOSA), Drugs and Cosmetics Act, Prevention of Corruption Act, tender matters, anti-dumping matters, bilateral investment treaty matter, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), service matters, Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS), Competition Act, Copyright Act, Trade Marks Act, Passports Act, Consumer Protection Act, etc.
I learned a great deal from him, from preparation to presentation of a matter and specially courtcraft. It opened my mind to a lot of things. I learnt that as a litigating lawyer you need to have strong fundamentals and you should be able to grasp the core of an issue/dispute, separate the grain from chaff.
The things which I learned during my time with Sanjeev Sir not only helps me in my profession but also in my personal life, like the ability to withstand pressure – because when you are in a Standing Counsel’s office you are exposed to difficult and awkward situations before the court, the workload is high and resources are limited.
Then, right when, Sanjeev Sir got elevated, I decided to move on and experience other facets of litigation. This is when I applied to L&L Partners and Mr Vijay Sondhi (Senior Partner) was kind enough to accept me as a Managing Associate in the dispute resolution team. While at L&L, I have had the privilege to try my hand on international commercial arbitrations, criminal matters, insolvency matters (under IBC), commercial contractual disputes, advising tech companies/big data amongst others.
- So, how does one differentiate between litigation practices in a chamber and a law firm?
So, my view is that in chamber practice an individual is groomed by his surroundings, if you expose yourself to good surroundings, you will pick up skills that will help you throughout your profession – no matter where you are – whereas in a law firm you are surrounded by role models and guided every step of the way, therefore an overall grooming takes place at various levels of hierarchy.
Further, in a law firm, you will find the time and occasion to be meticulous in your approach, go into detail in each aspect of things – from drafting to research and there is great level of assistance that is available, whether be it in terms of researchers, clerks or other resources. Because when the stakes are high, things cannot be left to chance. That is why clients usually prefer law firms for the high-stakes matters. While in a chamber practice all you get is a case brief and (mostly) you are your own clerk, researcher and arguing counsel. Sometimes what you draft is what you present (or defend) before the court and like I mentioned earlier: your surroundings groom you. I mean if you make a mistake, mostly you will be the one facing the music – first before the Judge and then from your senior, whereas in a law firm, your mistake is identified and corrected at various levels of the hierarchy.
The seniors in a chamber practice are not always kind with words; sometimes the seniors will not have the patience – to groom you, to teach you – because, in a chamber, they have to manage multiple things themselves such as matters, office, accounts, and the clientele. Therefore, you will need to or learn to pick up things on your own. However, in a law firm, the learning curve is relaxed because there is a hierarchy, however, one should have the courage to seek constant feedback. An individual needs to have the inclination to learn, because if you do not have the inclination to learn, no one would bother to teach you, be it a law firm or a chamber.
- What kind of challenges did you face in the litigation practice at a leading law firm?
A law firm provides you the platform for an all-round growth experience, the exposure is slow, however the opportunity for overall personality development is immense. In a law firm, teamwork is the key and I am still getting used to it, as I use to do (almost) everything by myself in a chamber.
The second thing I feel is adjusting to the level of discipline, rules/standard operating procedures – which in the long run assist you in your overall development as a professional. Whereas in a chamber, you groom yourself to be more effective in your work, it is a personal choice as your utility is restricted to your work.
Lastly, I think it is the pace of things. Like I mentioned before, a law firm practice is meticulous and detailed. Since the stakes are high there is no room for mistakes, therefore it may seem sometimes that the pace of things has slowed. And mind you, I say this in comparison with my experience in a chamber, wherein we had 8-10 matters in a day and one only had the opportunity to go through the case brief once.
- Any messages to law students that you might want to send out?
I would simply say that these are unprecedented times; any advice that I may offer may not be applicable for long. But something that I have learned over the period of time is that your success as professional is linked to quality of your work. Initial years in the profession are very important and I feel that every lawyer should start from trial courts and make his way up to the High Court or the Supreme Court practice. You need to clear your basics to flourish as professional, whether in a chamber or in a law firm and no matter which field you might end up in, the basics of profession will assist you everywhere.
Evolve, raise the standard and bring something to the table that no one else is offering – that is how you will stand out, not visually but professionally. In these tough times, I would suggest that you keep yourself motivated and updated with the latest position of law and be patient – good opportunity will come by.