In conversation with Jyoti A Singh on her journey as a Dispute Resolution Lawyer and starting her own Law Firm

Jyoti A. Singh, the founder of AJA Legal and Associates, has two decades of noteworthy corporate advisory and dispute resolution experience. Jyoti Singh studied law at Maharshi Dayanand University and graduated in 2000. She worked at Dhir & Dhir Associates and Phoenix Legal before founding AJA Legal and Associates.

Jyoti has been recognised as “Dispute Resolution Star Insolvency 2021” by Benchmark Litigation Asia-Pacific and one of the top 100 Women in Litigation by Benchmark Litigation Asia-Pacific 2020.

She has been interviewed by Akshita Totla, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is pursuing law from Nirma University.

 

1.   What motivated you to pursue law as a career? Also, what are the most important lessons that you learned along your journey from being a law student to the founder of AJA Legal and Associates?

My late father Mr Balbir Singh Dahiya, a celebrated lawyer from Sonipat, Haryana has inspired and motivated me in more than one ways. His sincerity and hard work has always inspired me from my childhood, to do each task with full sincerity and hard work. I would say that I have quite an exciting journey from my student life till now. I have been fortunate to work with some of very good seniors in nascent years of my practice as a lawyer. Be it studies or profession, I have always enjoyed every bit of my time in legal world. Despite being in profession now nearly for 22 years, I still feel that there is so much to learn and I truly believe that the learning does not stop. A few important lessons that I have learnt are: (i) be your only competition; try to be better version of yourself every single day; (ii) each failure is an opportunity to become better; (iii) take criticism positively but never look down upon yourself; (iv) no work is small; even making a list of dates or organising files will contribute to your growth as a lawyer; (v) do not be harsh on yourself; own up your mistakes and work on the same instead of begrudging and feeling guilty; and (vi) last but not the least, each day is a new beginning as long as you have the desire for the same.

2.   What drove you towards the field of dispute resolution and insolvency? Would you like to share your inspirations and motivations? 

I was advising clients in the distressed space for over a decade before Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC) was enacted so it was a natural progression for me to jump into this field. As regards dispute resolution, again I started my journey in law from the lower courts at New Delhi and quite enjoyed learning the basics of practical training for the same. The only advice that I wish to give is that there is no shortcut to hard work and daily reading. We as lawyers should be on top of each business, economic, financial, political and legal news and to be up to speed for the same, we need to do a daily reading over and above our day-to-day legal work. Sooner we inculcate this habit, better it is. A good lawyer is the one who understands his/ her clients’ business need and the same is only possible if we know what is happening around us.

3.   You founded AJA Legal and Associates around two-and-a-half years back. Was starting your own firm always in your mind? And what are the challenges you faced in the initial days of starting AJA Legal and Associates?

No, it was never on my mind. It happened very mystically. After my beautiful and really valuable journey as a partner in Phoenix Legal, I was looking to join a bigger firm where I could deal with more complex and high stake matters. However, as the luck would have it, the same did not materialise within the timeline that I had fixed for myself, which gave me the strength and wisdom to start my own law firm. Within less than six months of setting up the firm, the world went into lockdown due to COVID-19. We used the lockdown period to enrich our knowledge base to diversify in other promising areas of law by having regular online meetings internally. This resulted in taking up some very exciting work from varied practice areas, which helped the firm expanding its overreach on corporate advisory and transactional work.

4.   How important is engaging in legal research and drafting and how should law students equip themselves with these skills? Also, what are your views on the concept of “exhaustion of a search”.

 

Legal research is the backbone of sound legal advice and drafting. Law keeps evolving and hence it is extremely important that each lawyer in making (law students) makes this a habit from the law school itself. The only way to equip themselves is persistent reading and following up the legal updates including the precedents set by various courts and tribunals. My mantra, which I also ask my associates to do, is to take a break from that particular work for a while, focus on some other work or take a tea break and then again sit on that work. It will help in breaking the long pause, and one can improvise on their research. So, as long as the issue to be researched upon is clear and you have inquisitive mind, no fatigue of exhaustion will stop you from coming up with good research work.

5.   Other than the legal changes, what according to you are the behavioural changes that the COVID Pandemic has brought in the IBC landscape?

COVID Pandemic had slowed down the entire IBC process as the entire world was grappling with keeping the economy going despite being hit by the deadly pandemic. But the Government and the regulator acted swiftly in making changes in IBC in order to ensure that the businesses which defaulted due to worldwide lockdowns should not be dragged into IBC. I believe that the COVID Pandemic has influenced the corporate debtor’s behaviour to settle at an early stage after they commit a default so that they do not have to go through the whole corporate insolvency resolution process, which is considerably taking much time due to pandemic.

6.   What according to you are the most important activities that every law student should focus upon while being at law school? And what are the key skill sets that you consider while hiring an associate at your firm?

I believe attending and participating in moot courts, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) sessions, and doing internships are crucial for any law student to gain exposure in the legal field. Further, while hiring any associate, I expect them to be utmost honest with their resumes and have sincerity towards learning. One should have eagerness and dedication towards learning, and that should reflect in the way they conduct themselves during the interview. I also expect them to be aware of the recent legal developments and be updated with the basics of law they have studied during their law course.

7.   With the onset of the pandemic, there has been a shift towards online court proceedings. Are there any challenges you face as a dispute resolution lawyer because of this virtual set-up? Do you believe that online dispute resolution mechanism is effective and should be continued in the post-COVID world?

I believe there is nothing in this world that we humans cannot adopt or adapt to. This pandemic has indeed taught us a lot in multiple ways. While we all are managing to accustom ourselves with the digital ecosystem, we sometimes face issues during detailed hearings of any matter where there is a pile of documents to rely upon or to be presented to the court/tribunal. While I believe that the online dispute resolution mechanism has been very effective in many aspects mainly it saves a lot of travelling time, I feel that it in a hybrid mode that is most effective so that the smaller applications, pass overs, adjournments can be sought over an online medium, but for crucial and final hearings the physical appearances can be made.

8.   Lastly, what advice would like to give to law students who are aspiring to be a dispute resolution lawyer?

The legal field is all about your legal skills which includes interpretation and application of law in the matter that you are dealing with. Therefore, I recommend every law student to read regularly and gain practical insight by doing internship. One should give 100% in internship

and should not do internship just because it is a mandatory requirement in their law school. Internship should not just be done for the sake of having internship completion certificate, but to evolve as a lawyer and imbibe the legal practical process as much as possible.

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