In conversation with Rajat Jariwal on his journey in the field of litigation and arbitration

Rajat Jariwal is a Partner in the Dispute Resolution practice group at Khaitan & Co. With diverse litigation experience of over 15 years, Rajat has practiced extensively before different courts including the Supreme Court of India and High Courts. He regularly advises clients on constitutional, commercial and environmental law matters.

He has been interviewed by Bhavna Harsha, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from Army Law School, Mohali.

 

  1. Please give us a glimpse of your journey from being a law student to being a partner at Khaitan.

I graduated in law from Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi in 2005. While most of my friends went abroad for their LLM, I joined a chamber at Tis Hazari to gain practical court experience. Thereafter, I worked briefly at Suri & Company before joining Mr Sunil Fernandes, Advocate-on-Record. I joined Khaitan & Company in 2010 and was made Associate Partner in 2015 (as salaried partners were called then), and an equity partner in 2017. As a first-generation lawyer, I have worked my way up, and every part of the journey has been exciting.

 

  1. When did you know that litigation is what you wanted to pursue?

While law happened accidently to me, litigation did not. I made that choice in my first year in law school.

 

  1. How would you recommend a student should prepare for a career in the field of litigation, what are the skills a professional must have before entering the field?

Carving out a space for oneself in litigation is not easy. More so, if one is a first-generation lawyer. While good oral and written communication skills are a must, listening abilities would also serve a litigator well. Practice of law requires constant learning, and a lawyer is expected to remain abreast with the developments in law. Developing good research and analytical skills, ability to absorb and process information and time management are essential. Law firm lawyers, in addition, are also expected to be team players and possess basic organisational skills. Adaptation to technology is a must for every lawyer. Specialisation is the need of the hour. In every field, specialists are preferred over generalists, and law is no exception.

  1. What are the possibilities of gaining exposure on an international level in the field of commercial arbitration? Is it a good avenue for a student who eventually wishes to practise outside India?

The possibilities are immense and growing by the day. All good law firms in India have specialised international commercial arbitration teams. Some chambers too have good commercial arbitration practice. With arbitration becoming the preferred mode of dispute resolution, I expect this trend to grow.

Yes, it is a good avenue for a student who wishes to practise outside India.

 

  1. What kind of work does one usually do as part of the litigation team? If you could please tell a little about what a normal work at day for a partner looks like.

Litigation teams in law firms are always bustling. My workday begins early. I spend the first hour responding to important emails and planning my day so that I arrive in office already aware of the business for the day. With courts returning to physical mode, a large part of the day is spent in court. Once back in office I check in with my team, return calls/attend scheduled calls, attend physical meetings, if any. Evenings are usually spent in briefings or preparing for matters. However, it is not all work – I take breaks and make frequent calls to my 6-year-old daughter.

  1. In what ways do you think arbitration can play a role in achieving our environmental goals?

Arbitration is being increasingly relied upon as an attractive forum for resolution of environment-related disputes. However, there are reports to suggest that arbitrations have huge carbon footprint. Serious efforts are being made internationally to reduce the carbon footprint of arbitrations. Some of the small, yet significant steps being taken include, reduction in printing and switching from having printed bundles/paperbooks to e-bundles, reduction in air travel. The pandemic has showed us that soft copy filings are effective. Post pandemic also, these green practices may be continued to reduce the carbon emissions of printing. The way in which the arbitrations are being conducted need a change for the carbon footprint of arbitrations to reduce.

  1. Is it possible to see mediation negotiation forming a strong base in India considering arbitration and conciliation are the main focus?

Non-adversarial forms of ADR mechanisms including mediation and conciliation have not gained their due share of popularity and recognition in India, despite being both cost and time efficient. Lack of trained mediators, lack of awareness to the benefits of mediation and an overall lack of recognition of mediation as an effective ADR mechanism are some of the factors that have obstructed the growth of mediation in India.

However, there are encouraging developments. The Chief Justice in his recent speech at the inaugural event of the two-day national conference on “Mediation and Information Technology” has laid a lot of emphasis on mediation. He said that active efforts must be taken by courts to make negotiation and mediation mandatory, as part of case management. I firmly believe that parties must try to bring about an amicable resolution of their inter se disputes through mediation or negotiation, and litigation/arbitration should be the last resort.

  1. How important is doing proper legal research and how should law students equip themselves with legal research skills?

Proper legal research lays the foundation of a strong legal argument, and its importance cannot be overemphasised. Litigators must conduct sound legal research in support of a legal argument in court. Law students may be best advised to always do the basics right. They should understand the facts of the matter properly. It is only when they know the facts that they will be able to identify the legal issue properly. Since time is of the essence, effective usage of legal search engines is paramount. In this day and age, a law graduate is expected to use primary and secondary sources of law effectively. One word of caution for every law graduate – never cite overruled precedent or bad law.

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

To me it implies conducting a detailed and exhaustive legal research. As I said in my response to the question above, lawyers cannot afford to cite bad law in support of a legal argument. Search can be said to be concluded only when the topic is fully and logically researched.

  1. What is the most challenging part of your job?

In the current times ensuring the well-being and mental fitness of my team and support staff is the most challenging part of my job. I am lucky that my firm Khaitan & Co., has introduced “People Well-Being Framework” which provides for “switch-off period”, wellness leave for mental stress/burnout. The other measures include special sick leave for COVID-19, guidelines to partners to appreciate the personal time of lawyers, and sessions on wellness and work-life balance. I firmly believe that good work-life balance is achievable in our field.

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