In conversation with Dr. Shrikant Malegaonkar on his journey as a litigator and academician

Adv. Dr Shrikant Malegaonkar is a specialist in labour laws and industrial relations and is a practicing Advocate at Pune Labour/Industrial Courts and also at the Bombay High Court for the past more than 22 years. He runs his consultancy by the name “Malegaonkar & Associates”, which engages in litigations, consultations and training in all dimensions of labour laws. He is also a visiting faculty in labour and industrial laws at the ILS Law College, Pune. He is recipient of the prestigious “Setalvad Prize” from the Bar Council of Maharashtra, Bombay and the “Samajshree” award from the Indian Council of Management Executives, Bombay.

He had simultaneously pursued LLB and MBA (Human Relations) from the University of Poona and then moved to England. There he delivered lectures at the London School of Economics, London, the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, the University of Maiduguri, Nigeria, and at the Peoples Institute, Histadrut, Israel besides pursuing academics at the Berlitz School of Languages, Oxford Circus, London. He completed his LLM and then started practising at the Bar.

Adv. Malegaonkar has been associated with companies like Mercedes, Tranter, Robbins & Myers, Inteva (USA), Vodafone (UK), Dong Shin (Korea), Magneti Marelli (Italy), Haier Appliances (China), IT companies like Digital, Katalyst, Allied Analytics, Synygy, The Digital Group, 5-star hotels like Westin, Radisson, Novotel, Starwood, Sagar Plaza, government corporations and also various schools and colleges as their advocate and labour management consultant.

Adv. Malegaonkar has authored a book by name Personnel Management and Industrial Relations along with Dr P.C. Shejwalkar, Director of several management institutes. The book is accepted by Academic Council, University of Poona, Pune.

He has been interviewed by Achintaya Soni, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from UILS, Panjab University, Chandigarh.

 

  1. Sir, would you please tell our readers about yourself and your journey?

My journey started when I came back from London and started practising at the Bar. It was a very humble beginning as I was the first-generation lawyer. I never dreamt of being a lawyer but, then the thought of taking a chance at the Bar intrigued me. It was like an equation 2 + 1, in the sense I will practise for 2 years and then look behind as to whether I should proceed or not if it is on an optimistic note then I would proceed further. However, if I was not optimistic then I would leave litigation. But God was kind enough. I believe that in order to become a successful person one should have certain skill set, out of which the most important one is communication skills and another is marketing skills. I mastered both. As time passed I realised that I was quite a good salesman which means I could sell my ideas. My clients appreciated and believed in me and started giving me leads and gradually after two years I was a busy lawyer. I had transgressed the circumstances “from hand to mouth”. I rooted myself into the practice and as I got better in my work more, it made me realise that this journey was made for me.

 

  1. Please apprise our readers about your huge success in the area of labour laws and industrial relations. What drew your curiosity to this field and how did you choose this field of expertise?

I would like to differ with you, as I do not think I am a huge success in the field of labour and industrial law. Yes, I do represent some big names, companies and big houses but what you call success is still in the waiting as far as I am concerned.

The second part of your question as to how I became curious in the labour laws and industrial relations field. In those days or even today the civil courts were flooded with mediation and there was huge waiting time period. As regards, criminal litigation I did try my hand at criminal law and also represented a few journal cases but, the consistency of cases I got was less and being a first-generation lawyer I always wanted a sustained flow of cases. Then I met one of my professors who was practising and represented cooperative institutions. He informed me that once you get a few institutions, there is a sustained flow of work and the time which is spent in the cooperative court is much less than what is needed for litigation in a civil court. My father informed me that he practises parallely in civil court as well as in the cooperative court. My father was an expert in labour laws as he was the Managing Director in a sugar factory. He was also well versed in labour laws and had written some books on labour laws and this prompted me to have many discussions and discourses with him in labour laws. Then there was a natural inclination towards labour law. I was a quick learner and started appearing as an independent advocate at a very young age. There was a constant flow of cases which not only fetched me income but also made me understand the intricacies of the law as every case posed a challenge for me to study every dimension of labour and industrial law.

 

  1. Sir, before beginning with your own consultancy by the name “Malegaonkar & Associates”, you delivered lectures at most prestigious institutions including the London School of Economics, London and the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. How would you distinguish between the two experiences?

I delivered the lectures at the famous institutions such as the “School of Oriental and African Studies, London” and “the London School of Economics” when I was almost a budding lawyer. This experience gave me a different dimension which also boosted my confidence.

In India, examinations are memory gains and sadly these three R’s are followed which are read, remember and reproduce. Memory is often taxed in India and the ultimate focus of Indians is repeating cut-throat competition to secure the higher marks. After education it is your marklist which speaks for itself, though you may or may not know the subject properly. Students start focussing on foreign studies.

But mark it, the focus should be to study and to reach the depth of law and then the real goal is to get a perforated job. However, in India, the focus is to get more marks. In other countries, where the practical aspect is discussed more in class, there are constant discussions with professors in the classroom and out of the classroom as well. In India, the professor delivers a lecture to the classroom and all leave once the lecture is given. In England, learning becomes a way of life, especially in these institutions where you will unlock all your capabilities which gives a 360 degree dimension to every aspect of law, which, in my opinion is much more useful for the furtherance of your legal cycle. I will not paint all Indian institutions with the same brush as some are really good and some imbibe in their students tough armour, competition and better education than even in foreign countries. But, foreign institutions prove to be catalysts for simple and easy study which at times is something lacking in the Indian educational system itself.

 

  1. Along with running your own consultancy firm “Malegaonkar & Associates”, you are also a visiting faculty in labour and industrial laws at the ILS Law College, Pune. I am sure our readers are curious to know how you manage both the positions simultaneously.

Yes, I am a visiting faculty and the Indian law society’s law college in Pune. I have to adjust my schedule as well as I have become a slave of the clock in order to solve this dilemma that teaching at a college and practising law is not only an arduous, but, a balance-seeking task. After I graduated, I found myself between the devil and the deep sea but then my father believed that if you teach students you learn twice and that really helped me. My car had become my dressing room and my dining room as well. We are all aware of the Bar Council teaching rules which allow any practicing advocate to teach for three hours a day and in any event reality. I believe that teaching at college and practising law are mutually in a symbiotic relationship. The more I practise law the more I can give examples to my students in college and it enriches my academic sense in the lectures. I am brushing up on the basics of law in college which helps me in practice, whether it is polishing of definitions or some sections or rules.

 

  1. Would you like to tell us about any challenging or memorable case that you have handled?

Yes, there have been some challenging cases in my career. I would define the word “challenge” in two manners. One is where the case was the talk of the town and invited much public attention and the second, was a case when my clients had literally nothing in their pockets and used to look at me as a God. Then I have represented many landmark cases which involved big names like Anna Hazare and others. Challenge is in my opinion wiping the tears of those who cannot afford litigation and to infuse a sense of hope in them which by God’s grace I was able to do. When you have the legal department of big houses at your disposal and everything lies in place, the challenges are a bit less. I may be one of the unsung heroes but then the satisfaction which gave me to solve the challenges of the needy is much more than a few pennies in my pocket.

 

  1. As law students, we are time and again told how theoretical knowledge of substantive law alone is not sufficient to be able to practise law. Having experience as a lecturer, a litigator and even a trainer in labour laws, what are your views and your personal experience of this notion? And does an LLM affect the practice?

There is difference between theory and practice. In theory we are in a nutshell, we study long even in one semester. It simply means that, at the beginning of the term you are supposed to know, say for example in the area of labour law is 0% and at the end of the term what you are expected to know is 100%. This itself is a Herculean task and nobody would be a master in a subject within a span of three months. You realise that the reality is altogether different once you come to the court. Even how to convince a Judge for simple orders makes ones breathing agitated at times. The procedural aspect, the maze of tables which are in the court and then on understanding of the fact that one table is connected with the other makes a new entrant in law all more baffled. The same thing happened with me in my earlier stage and it took quite a few months to understand what really the system is and how it operates. How to argue vociferously is all what it takes in practice. It might be a simple start but it requires a lifetime to learn how to practise effectively. While teaching students, you can give them different examples, cite different stories, and tell them beef eating jokes which cannot be done in a court of law. In a court of law you just take up to the light shelf and try to capture the factual matrix within the four corners of law and present to the court how best your case is in comparison to your opponent.

 

Another part of your question is whether LLM helps, in my opinion any branch of law, any stream of knowledge which would take you into its depth is always helpful. LLM certainly helped me especially in understanding the various ratios put forth in the various judgments by the Supreme Court as well as the High Court Judges. Each and every one of them had a different perception. This can be attained only while studying postgraduation, which, in my opinion was a beat absent while studying graduation, that is, LLB.

 

  1. You have widely travelled to Africa, Europe and South East and have also given training as well as been Advocate and Labour Management Consultant to many international companies including Inteva (USA), Magneti Marelli (Italy), Mercedes (Germany) and many more. So, what difference in labour laws or regulations and their compliance have you noticed among all these countries?

Yes, I have represented many multinationals and I still do represent many of them. There are English companies, American companies, Swedish companies and French companies. There is however a marked difference in their management skills and the way they function. For example, German companies function the whole day and keep you bugging about how far the case has progressed whereas, American companies would not disturb you in the day unless something important comes up. The American companies will never approach you for business if it is not done on time. The Orion companies on the other hand are so involved in their work that, I still remember I had a meeting which ended at 9 p.m. in the company. On being asked about the next meeting they said it would be at 6 o’clock. I thought it to be 6 p.m. But, they all laughed at me and said it is not 6 p.m., it is 6 a.m. This is Korean work culture. Likewise, Chinese companies are a bit different. India today has a multicultural composition of workers and Indian workers are learning from their foreign counterparts especially as regards work culture.

 

  1. The students graduating in the post-Covid era are anxious about the career opportunities and the chosen career paths. So what advice would you like to give to them?

The Covid-19 has laid down many challenges not only for the students but for the whole educational system itself. Colleges and schools are closed and however, what came to the rescue was online education. Concentrating in class and concentrating with what your teacher is teaching in an online class. It was rather surprising to understand that many students hold good marks to the tune of 98 to 99%. I was surprised to find a student securing 100 marks in a subject called English. Even Shakespeare never got 100% in English. All these marklists would be taken in a bad light in my opinion by the selectors and the interviewer before whom the students appear for any sort of a job interview. I feel that, the recruiters want to have the best from the market and thus they would further go down by holding written examinations. The students have to understand that the game is not over with your marksheet. There are more hurdles to encounter as the fundamentals are not clear and they would have to burn the midnight oil to understand as to what are those fundamentals and basics before they enter in the legal corridors.

 

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

Not many are familiar with the word “exhaustion of a search”. Any aspect of law, any doctrine of law, any fundamentals has to be probed for its details and then finally come to a conclusion as regards what would be the most appropriate legal position on the point which you are searching. This is indeed very difficult and has become a bit easier today because of technology. There are many online platforms to make the process of finding case laws simple and the internet is a treasure trove of information which law students should make use of it. The investigative venture which is needed by every lawyer to dissect any point of long thread is something which may be analogous to the term “exhaustion of a search”. In simple words you have to be exhausted to your limit and convince yourself that, yes this is what it is. This does not mean one has to give up at the earliest instance but one has to be fighting to the nail with himself until he is not convinced.

 

  1. What advice would you like to give to young lawyers who are interested in this field and are looking forward to practise in this field?

The answer to this is very difficult to sum it up in a few words. A young lawyer should bear in mind that he is to be good at marketing i.e. finding clients. He is to be good at constructing the case after good clients are with him. He is to be good at human relations as most of the clients are lost not because of the lesser legal acumen of the lawyer but because of his behavioural idiosyncrasies and aberrations. Lawyers should learn the art of good human behaviour and I have always believed what J.R.D. Tata said that good human relations are necessary for success of any enterprise. Only those young lawyers will be successful who are liked by their clients. If your client respects you but if he hates you then his stay with you will be very short lived. Every client likes a lawyer who burns his midnight oil. The client may be illiterate but he understands that you have put in efforts for him. The client likes a dynamic lawyer who while doing something is looked up by his clients as well as society. A lawyer should either be reading or he should be studying or he should be arguing or he should be doing something which is of value for his clients in general. It is the practice which pushes him. It should appear that he is well read and should be in a position to deliver. I am afraid I have not been able to sum up all the good qualities that make a lawyer successful but this is something basic which is needed in every lawyer.

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