Mr. Gautam Shahi is the Partner for Regulatory and Competition Law at Dua Associates. He has had a stellar career at top firms such as JSA and Trilegal. He graduated from Army Institute of Law, Mohali in 2008 and has been working in the field of Competition law ever since. Mr. Gautam advises on M&A transactions and is involved in policy work as well. He has also drafted study material on competition law for Competition Commission of India and conducts modules on competition law at NALSAR University, Hyderabad and Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs.
He has been interviewed by Bhavna Harsha who is currently pursuing law from AIL, Mohali.
1. Sir, to begin with, please give us a glimpse of your journey from being a law student to being a partner at Dua Associates.
My area of specialisation is regulatory and competition law. I started working in the field of competition law right from my law school days. When I was in my fourth year, I did a project on competition law and then I interned with Competition Commission of India (CCI). I realised it is something I had an aptitude for. When I passed out in 2008, I had a couple of offers from law firms, but nobody was willing to commit that I will be allowed to work in the field of competition law mainly because the relevant provisions had not been notified. Thankfully, I got an offer from APJ-SLG Law Offices where I had the opportunity to work with Mr Sharad Bhansali. He is a tier 1 lawyer in the field of trade and anti-dumping. Anti-dumping and competition law have some common underlying principles. I learnt a lot from him. Subsequently I worked with JSA and Trilegal. Recently, I have joined Dua Associates as a partner for regulatory and competition law. It has been an interesting ride.
2. Sir you mentioned that you had a liking for competition law in the fourth year itself, how did you know that competition law is what you wanted to pursue?
Two things: One, I realised that I had an aptitude for the subject and enjoyed studying it. Second, I thought that it was a new law, so competition would be limited. I was quite wrong with respect to the second reason.
3. Do you think the field of competition law is too niche an area for a fresher to begin with and how you recommend students should go about their preparation if they do want to start a career in this field?
It is niche, yes, but I also believe that it has a lot of overlaps with other practice areas like litigation and corporate law. So when we go to the CCI seeking its approval for a proposed merger and acquisition (M&A) transaction, it is helpful to have an understanding of what an M&A lawyer does, what their perspective is. When we get into adversarial proceedings, a competition lawyer should know when and how to take the matter to High Courts/Supreme Court. If you want to practise competition law it will be helpful if you have worked with these two teams.
4. Sir, what are the possibilities of gaining exposure on an international level in this field and is it a good avenue for students who want to practise on an international level in the future?
Yes, because at the end of the day we have borrowed the subject from Europe and the US, who have a lot more experience in regulating competition in their respective markets.
How to do it? There are two options: You can go and do your masters in the subject from abroad. Or you start working with law firms and seek an opportunity to work with foreign law firms.
5. Sir what kind of work is one generally involved in while being a part of the competition law team?
From a practice perspective, there are three broad areas. The first is advisory work. Say for example, a client approaches us with a particular business strategy. As lawyers we study the strategy or the proposed agreements and advise the client accordingly. The second is M&A approvals. For instance, if there is a merger and/or acquisition happening that needs the approval of the CCI, we take that transaction to CCI and get that approval.
The last is adversarial proceedings pertaining to alleged anti-competitive conduct.
6. Sir, we understand that a day at work will be different for an associate and different for a partner, so what does a day at work look like for you as a partner? And sir, how does one maintain a work-life balance?
As a fresher you are trying to learn, as one should be doing. You are trying to gain maximum exposure and learn as much as you can. As a partner, apart from doing the work, there is also an element of developing the business. So, you get into the business side of things. While ensuring that your team is delivering quality work to the client, you are also meeting new people, interacting with regulators and adding business efforts.
As for work-life balance, you always strive for it. Whether you succeed or not depends on that day. It is all about time management. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you do not.
That being said, if you are not well rested and if you do not have a healthy lifestyle, then your work is going to suffer. Somebody, very early in my career told me, if you make a mistake, nobody is going to consider your justification that you did not have enough time or you were tired.
It is therefore important to make sure that you are in the right frame mentally and physically in order to deliver the highest quality of legal work.
7. What changes do you hope to see in competition law (next five years) in the Indian backdrop?
One of the major issues plaguing the enforcement of competition law is the slow implementation of the decisions of the CCI. Studies have shown that CCI has not been able to collect even one per cent of the fines that it has imposed till date. We need to have a system where legal precedents are settled quickly, in order to ensure that business enterprises have well-defined guidelines regarding their conduct of business in the market. I think this is a major thing that needs to be addressed. There is an understanding that a subject like competition law needs faster resolution of disputes and a faster implementation of orders. This has been recognised by the Supreme Court too.
8. Sir, do you think competition law has the scope of aligning itself with the environmental goals of society?
Strictly speaking CCI is not the regulator to look into these aspects. A general principle of
law that is followed is that regulator has its own job, and if regulators start encroaching into each other’s domain, there would be chaos. That being said, regulators are aware of the current situation and I am sure it influences the thinking of the CCI and its members.
9. Sir, how important is legal research and how do you think students can equip themselves with such a skill set? How essential do you think mooting as an activity is?
Legal research is very important. Everything starts with the research work.
If a client comes with a question or if there is a problem, it is not enough to just give a one-word answer, it is important to come up with a solution.
Every client has a goal and as a lawyer you must advise them based on that, which requires intensive research. Specifically in competition law, there is legal research and market research. Every sector/market has a different way of working, has a different terminology, different market goals and you cannot advise your clients effectively if you do not have knowledge of these elements. All this begins with research.
You can improve your research skills by writing research papers, articles and moot court competitions. All these activities will force you to research.
10. Not many of us are aware of the concept of “exhaustion of a search”, what are your views?
Yes, it is bound to happen sometimes. However, in our profession, you cannot stop your work because of this. If you are getting stuck, my suggestion would be to take a break for a while and then get back. Do something else for a while and then restart your research from a different angle.
11. What is the most challenging part of your job?
At different points of time in life the challenges are very different. When you start working your challenge will be to ensure that you get the maximum amount of work or exposure. Your boss needs to know that he can rely on you to deliver quality work in time. As you grow in the profession, the element of growing your practice comes into play. At some point, your family comes into the picture and time management becomes a challenge. These are all different challenges but what is the point of life without them. These are all the flavours of life and you must enjoy them all.