In conversation with Aditya Manubarwala on winning Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Cambridge Scholarship

Mr. Aditya Manubarwala  is a counsel at Supreme court,  Nehru Cambridge Scholar, Global Peace Ambassador to India. He was also special advisor to Shiiraz Yoonus (Former President of Sri Lanka). He also argued along with Harish Salve in a recent case at SC.

He has been interviewed by Divya C. Vattikuti, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from DSNLU.

 

  1. Sir, to begin with, please give us a glimpse of your journey from being a law student to being a counsel at Supreme Court?

 

Looking back, it seems like quite a journey. My first brush with the Supreme Court was as a “Research Associate” in 2016 to Mr Justice F.M.I. Kalifulla, then a Judge, of the Supreme Court of India. I remember a rather funny anecdote. I was interning with Mr Justice Shantanu S. Kemkar, then a Judge of the Bombay High Court, in June 2016. It was my first judicial internship. Upon completion of my internship in June with Justice Kemkar, I informed him about my next internship as a Research Associate being in the Supreme Court of India in July 2016. Justice Kemkar in jest said that “you got promoted from High Court to Supreme Court in just a month, certainly much faster than me”. Although said in complete jest, his statements proved correct in a rather different sense. Upon commencing work at the Supreme Court, I grappled with vast, disparate laws. The breadth and sheer diversity of the work I experienced in the Supreme Court was far more than what I experienced in the Bombay High Court. It dawned upon me that practising in the Supreme Court is certainly difficult, but the experience and knowledge gained is insurmountable and unparalleled to working in any other court in India, or maybe the world.  My next brush with the Supreme Court was upon my selection as a Law Clerk-cum-Research Assistant to Mr Justice Vineet Saran, Judge, Supreme Court of India. I worked on one thousand cases whilst there. Working as a law clerk and subsequently as an Advocate at the Supreme Court of India has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life. Working in the Supreme Court on a wide range of issues from various fields and areas of law requires a multidimensional approach, which is rewarding.

 

As a law clerk, I provided significant research on ongoing cases up for final hearing. Amongst other things, I also prepared short briefing notes which essentially summarised the entire special leave petition in 1 or a maximum of 2 pages. My ability to comprehend, process, and interpret vast, diverse, and frequently complex legal propositions grew significantly as well. One of the Judges of the Supreme Court of India once told me early in my tenure, that a lawyer, who can write well, is a lawyer who can speak well. I could not agree more with this. As a law clerk, a significant amount of time is spent reading paper books related to important cases, which is then processed and churned out into concise notes; a logical corollary of this is improved writing skills, which, in turn, significantly improves verbal communication. A clerkship serves as a great prepping experience for a lawyer attempting to build his/her life in litigation, especially as an arguing counsel.

 

Upon completion of my tenure as a law clerk, I pursued an LLM at the University of Cambridge. While there, I was offered a job as an associate by a top-tier law firm in London. However, all my life I viewed the law as a tool towards social transformation. I always believed in making a difference by being the difference. I deftly avoided succumbing to the temptation of a high paying “fancy” job in the UK and decided to return to India to play my small part in nation building. Once back in India, my experiences and exposure as a law clerk motivated me to commence practice at the Supreme Court of India as a counsel. I closely work on cases on behalf of the State of Maharashtra, State of Goa and State of Madhya Pradesh at the Supreme Court, apart from maintaining a commercial and corporate practice at the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, New Delhi and Bombay High Court. I also appear on a regular basis before Arbitral Tribunals presided over by former Supreme Court and High Court Judges such as Mr Justice (Retd) Dipak Misra, former Chief Justice of India, Mr Justice (Retd) M. Katju, former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and Mr Justice (Retd) F. Rebello, former Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court. Apart from my life as a litigating lawyer, I also deliver guest lectures and speeches at national law universities, law colleges and professional bodies. I also work closely with the Parliament of India on issues of law and public policy.

 

2. As a large percentage of our readers are currently students of law, I would like to jog your memory back to your law school days. Would you please tell us about your law school life and what inspired you to pursue law?

 

I graduated from Pravin Gandhi College of Law, University of Mumbai. Being from a conventional law college has its share of challenges in this NLU-driven legal education regime that we find ourselves in. Faced with this gargantuan challenge of proving my worth, I embarked upon my legal education in a rather structured manner thanks to the advice offered to me by a sitting Supreme Court Judge, who suggested I follow a theme-based model in relation to planning my internships. Themes suggested were – an NGO internship, a policy internship, judicial internship, litigation internship, etc. Apart from following the aforesaid model, I concurrently spent a significant amount of time and energy honing my public speaking skills by way of debates. I won fifteen national and international debate competitions and was even featured in The Indian Express for them. I wrote extensively, first in my own blog, then research papers in law journals and finally in newspapers and blogs. My habit of writing has continued, years after my graduation. I believe writing requires clarity of thought and precision derived from sound research. Writing regularly is akin to working out the mind, and this in turn has a direct positive impact on one’s speaking abilities. Regularly writing and researching has helped me develop my courtcraft as a counsel to a great extent. As of 18-10-2021, I have been published in newspapers and journals across nine countries, including the USA, UK, Belgium, Thailand, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Afghanistan.

 

Although my parents are solicitors and practising advocates, my real motivation behind choosing law as a career was Mr Arun Jaitley, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India and former Finance Minister of India. I have been an ardent follower of Jaitley and a self-proclaimed fan since my school days. Since school days, it has been my deep desire to contribute to the growth and development of India. Closely observing Mr Jaitley’s journey inspired me to practise litigation while concurrently dabbling in the field of public policy. As a seventh grader, I was caught mimicking an Arun Jaitley speech in front of the dressing table in my house. I feel, subconsciously, I continue copying and attempting to emulate him. He was truly Guru Dronacharya to me. He was a guru I never met, saw, or spoke with, but whose profound influence continues to shape my career and personality to this day and will almost certainly shape me until my death.

3. How was your experience while interning while still in college?

Internships serve as a necessary bridge between theoretical knowledge and the humdrum of day-to-day practice. I had the fortune of interning with solicitor firms in Mumbai, a Bombay High Court Judge, a Supreme Court Judge, the Additional Solicitor General of India at the Bombay High Court, and the Office of the Speaker of the Indian Parliament. Whilst at law college, in my final year, I also served as Special Advisor on International Law to the Office of the President of Afghanistan. The aforesaid internships and work experiences were very diverse and helped me hone my skills as a litigating lawyer as well as in the field of public policy from a national and international perspective. During my internships while in law school, a large part of who I am today was foreshadowed. I am grateful to all my seniors and mentors for their regular guidance and help. Apart from the work experience, an internship helps to bridge the gap in understanding between how the law operates in reality from how it is portrayed to ideally operate in books. Internships also serve as a good networking opportunity. The importance of networking is understated and often frowned down upon in India. Through this platform, I would like to tell all law students that networking is a very important skill and necessity. Every student should make the most of his or her time at an internship by developing both professional and personal relationships. Ultimately, life and career are a journey, and the journey becomes joyful when surrounded by like-minded individuals. I continue to remain in touch with almost all my former bosses and their staff.

 

  1. You did your LLM in International Commercial Law and Dispute Resolution with the prestigious Nehru Cambridge Scholarship. How was that journey towards Cambridge?

My journey towards Cambridge was in essence a culmination of my journey as a law student and as a law clerk. All the experiences that I enlisted above helped me get admission to Cambridge. Whilst at Cambridge, I enrolled in international commercial litigation, international investment law, and the law of the World Trade Organisation and legislation. I was taught by world leaders in the respective modules. For example, the treatise on International Commercial Litigation by Professor Richard Fentiman (who taught me at Cambridge) is the leading and most respected textbook in the field. Being taught by legal luminaries was rewarding and very enriching. Apart from the world-class education I received at Cambridge, I also made friends and acquaintances from across sixty countries. Most of these individuals were top-notch professionals and highly accomplished. I was also elected as Student Representative of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Cambridge, which consists of twelve departments. I was given a seat at the top of the decision-making body of the university as the sole voice of the students. I spearheaded the demands of students, particularly women students from underdeveloped and marginalised countries, with regard to increasing their participation and role in the university. I also became a founding member of the Oxford-Cambridge India Caucus, an organisation aimed at fostering and promoting nationalistic ideologies from an Indian cultural perspective amongst Indian students at Oxbridge. In recent times, a small section of Oxbridge students have run an aggressively anti-India narrative. This organisation will be a welcome attempt at setting the narrative straight whilst providing a platform for balanced democratic voices. It is my desire to develop this organisation further under the collective leadership of the founding members and hopefully serve as a conduit for scholarship and leadership in the years to come. I believe the aforesaid academic and non-academic experiences will hold me in good stead and serve as a useful resource pool in future years.

 

  1. What are your views on the prospects of foreign LLM? (Indian LLM v. foreign LLM and job prospects in India post foreign LLM)

A foreign LLM, if done from the right universities, serves as a launching pad to innumerable opportunities both abroad and in India. It puts the individual in a formidable position in comparison to an LLM holder from an Indian university. Having said that, Indian universities are on par with many of their international counterparts. As elitist as this may sound, I believe, unless one gets admission into certain “known” universities abroad, it makes no sense to waste precious hard-earned money, often running into tens of lakhs of rupees, chasing a meaningless foreign dream. Ultimately, at the end of the day, fancy degrees do not matter at all, if the individual is not competent and hardworking. A student from some unknown college in Assam or Bihar may outsmart an Oxford graduate. The devil lies in the details, seen through the hard work and dedication of an advocate, not by their degrees. In a nutshell, if you get a chance to go to Oxbridge or Harvard, then go. It would be foolish to lose that opportunity. Branding matters, but merely because you did not get a chance to study there does not spell the end of the world.

 

  1. You have been in many roles from the time you graduated. As a Supreme Court Law Clerk, as a Member of Advisors for Asian-African Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as a Counsel at Supreme Court, as a Global Peace Ambassador to India, as a Special Advisor to President of Afghanistan. What is the most challenging role you took up? And what is your most favourite role?

All roles have had their share of challenges. I cannot single out one particular role, but the most unconventional role has been that of being Special Advisor to the Office of the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani. I assisted in working out a framework for the Afghan National Water Policy, focusing particularly on the international water dispute resolution mechanisms between Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iran. I also prepared a policy document on reforms to the courts and administrative system of Afghanistan adopting a comparative international approach, particularly studying the Indian, UK and American models.

  1. There is a sudden rise in the field of alternate dispute resolution which has grown drastically over the past few years. What would be your advice for law students who are developing their interest in the field of ADR?

It is important to be well versed in the legislative framework surrounding the field of ADR in India. Students could also enrol for courses on mediation run by prominent mediators and portals like LawSikho. ADR has great potential. In USA, 95% of the disputes (as per data by the American Bar Association) never see the face of the courts. Of the 5% of cases that do go to litigation, a large portion are settled out of court. In sharp contrast, in India, courts have endless dockets of cases pending for decades. ADR cannot be taught, but it must be experienced, particularly in terms of its transformative potential in speedy justice. I would recommend students intern with both mediators as well as former Judges serving as arbitrators. Numbers speak for themselves. If USA can be taken as a reference point, the potential of ADR in India has not even been fully appreciated, despite admirable advances and promotion of the same. The Lok Adalats have been a welcome step from the judiciary, but a lot more is required.

 

  1. How important is doing proper legal research and how should law students equip themselves with legal research skills. Not many people are familiar with the concept of “exhaustion of a search”. What are your views on it?

It is important that law students get well acquainted with basic research tools like SCC.

Online databases, while essential, are no substitute for the traditional research attained through referring to commentaries and authoritative texts. No research is enough. Exhaustion of research is an illusion and a myth. As a law student, I focused heavily on honing my research skills. As a professional, I encourage my associates and interns to develop their research skills. I feel there is no end to improving one’s research skills. Every day is a new learning day.

 

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

Research is important in all areas and departments of the law. Litigation and dispute resolution is no different. However, most cases seen on a daily basis require knowledge of the Bare Act and its provisions. Most of the law is settled and does not require fresh interpretation. What we read in “Live Law” and “SCC Online Blog” are those rare cases which set new law, but most cases are very generic. I believe application of facts to the settled law is more crucial and requires a degree of training gained through experience. While research is essential, application of facts to the settled law is where most cases are won.

 

  1. You recently appeared in Supreme Court along with Harish Salve in a recent case. How is that experience like to work alongside legendary like Harish Salve?

I appeared with Mr Harish Salve, Queen’s Counsel and Senior Advocate in Rakesh Singh v. Calcutta High Court before the Supreme Court of India. Needless to say, this will be a memorable case that will live on in my hall of fame for the rest of my life. It is a learning experience just to see Mr Salve argue. Assisting him as a junior is another ball game altogether. I am grateful to Mr Vivek Narayan Sharma, AOR to have given me the opportunity of assisting him and Mr Salve as a junior counsel. The case involved a question of the personal liberty of an individual, who for reasons best known was not getting the chance to present his case for bail, with the High Court granting adjournment after adjournment. I saw the magic of Mr Salve at play. Within thirty seconds of arguing, Mr Salve was able to convince the Court to grant a fixed date of hearing and time-bound disposal of the bail application.

 

  1. Lastly, with the ever-changing world around us, especially in times of the deadly pandemic, what would be your advice to young lawyers to help them secure internships and achieve their goals?

All I can say is, “stay young, stay foolish, and above all, stay hungry”. When one’s hunger, passion, and drive fade or diminish, one’s career is over. Stay true to your desires and goals. Do not let anyone put you down. Believe in yourself and go for the kill.

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