Manish Dembla is a Partner in the Gurgaon office of Kochhar and Co. He has about 15 years’ experience in manifold areas of law. He began his career as an independent litigator. Thereafter, he worked in the corporate and intellectual property teams of Kochhar & Co. for a few years and later on moved back to dispute resolution.
Over the past few years, the main focus of his practice has been alternate dispute resolution and litigation pertaining to infrastructure and construction projects. He has been involved in complex and high value arbitration (both domestic and international) and litigation in this sector.
He has received various awards and recognitions including being ranked in Chambers & Partners Ranked Lawyers: Up & Coming-Dispute Resolution 2022 & Benchmark Litigation: Future Star for Commercial and Transactional Disputes 2022.
He has been interviewed by Shambhavi Anand, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador, who is pursuing law from Amity University, Lucknow.
1. Please share with our readers something about yourself, your journey in the profession and your formative years.
Currently, I am a partner at Kochhar & Co., and I stay with my parents and wife in Gurgaon. My father was in active litigation practice until 1996 which was 10 years before I completed LLB. My mother retired from the Income Tax Department. I am married to a beautiful Bengali woman whom I met while working with Kochhar & Co. She is currently working as an in-house lawyer. I have an elder brother who is also an in-house lawyer.
My journey in this profession has been quite interesting. I started my career as an independent litigator. After approximately one-and-a-half years, I realised that I needed to make a switch, primarily for two reasons — first is that I was not making enough money which is the bane for most young litigators, and — second is that I did not have any senior or mentor to provide feedback on what I was doing right and where I could improve. Thereafter, I met Mr Rohit Kochhar and, during a conversation with him, I happened to tell him that I was interested in IPR litigation and at that time they did not have a partner in the IPR Department at the Delhi office. So, Mr Kochhar called up Mr Tarvinder Singh, who heads the IP practice at the Gurgaon office, and he informed Mr Kochhar that he has inducted two new associates and that he did not really have room for another one. Consequently, it was decided that my cost will be allocated fifty per cent between IPR and corporate team. Since the IPR team already had several people. Most of the work which I did was with the corporate team. So, I initially joined the firm with the intention of doing IPR litigation but ended up doing corporate work. After about two years, a corporate matter which I was working on went into a dispute and I assisted with that matter. One matter turned into two, two into three and after about a year or so, I was doing an equal amount of litigation or arbitration and corporate work. This continued for about 3-4 years and then I decided to focus primarily on litigation and dispute resolution. Even today, about thirty per cent of the work which I do is what may be categorised as general corporate work. Though I try avoiding M&A transactions, but I end up being involved in one off transaction each year.
2. What made you pursue a career in the legal field and what were the difficulties which you came across in your journey?
I was a commerce student and was perusing BCom from Delhi College of Arts and Commerce, Delhi University. At that time, I wanted to become a Chartered Accountant and I also enrolled in a foundation course. Thereafter, my parents told me that CA is a very difficult course with a low pass percentage and advised me to pursue law instead. This is how I ended up in a law school because, at that time, being a lawyer was perceived to be easier than being a chartered accountant and I would say that the decision was out of convenience. This happened when I was in the first year of BCom. When I started applying for law, I came to know that there is an entrance exam but now I did not have any option the reason being I had not pursued my CA foundation and did not plan anything else. Therefore, I studied hard for the entrance exams and got into Campus Law Centre and that is how the journey started.
As far as the difficulties are concerned, I would say that I did not have any special difficulties which I had to face but there is a certain amount of hard work and time which is required to be put into the profession. That is the nature of work that we do as lawyers. For instance, if a client needs an urgent relief or if there is a deadline in an arbitration or if the limitation is expiring in matter, etc. you have to leave everything aside and put in the work. Another important aspect is that you need to manage your life and your work, which is extremely difficult for young lawyers because as a young lawyer it takes you more time to do everything. But as you grow in the profession and gain experience, you become more efficient and are able to delegate work as well and consequently are able to make time for yourself. Therefore, the more you like your work the easier it becomes.
3. Since you have been in litigation for about 15 years now, so according to you what are the set of skills which are necessary to be successful in this field and what shall be the key focus areas?
In my opinion, there are three basic skills that you need to have – first is that you should be able to articulate your thoughts clearly and concisely (verbally and in writing) and as a junior lawyer particularly in writing because as a junior person most of the work which you would be doing is drafting and you will not get to argue as much before the courts unless you are starting as an independent litigator; second is legal research and here I would like to refer to a quote by Lord Denning “God forbid that a lawyer knows all the law, but a good lawyer is one who knows where to find the law”, so knowing where to find the relevant statute, case laws and judgments is an extremely important skill; and third is attention to detail and that is something which a lot of young lawyers have difficulty in developing therefore one should have that attention to detail right from the beginning as it is something which will be noticed and will serve you in the long run.
4. Can you please share with our readers any personal thing or trait or something which you enjoy about yourself?
I would say that I have this constant endeavour to learn and grow which has served me well and has kept me going. An American writer William S. Burroughs once said, “When you stop growing you start dying”, so I regularly reflect on how I am performing in different areas of my professional life and if there is anything that I can do to get better. The same applies to my personal life as well. So, I want to constantly evaluate as to what did I do well today, for instance if appeared in a matter then did I argue well or could I have raised a particular point in a different manner or could I have said something differently or could I have prepared differently. It is something which can sometimes also lead to excessive self-critique, but I try to maintain a healthy balance and try not to reflect on it negatively. Rather, my focus is to working on it to get better.
5. Could you please share with our readers, how do you feel about being ranked in Chambers Global and Chambers Asia-Pacific?
It came as a pleasant surprise. I was not really expecting it. We as law firms send various submissions to legal directories. For some reason, Legal 500 has always been benevolent to me in the sense that they have recognised me in the past, but chambers has somehow been very difficult. One fine day, a Senior Advocate whom I was briefing in a matter sent me a screenshot and when I saw it, I assumed it to be another Legal 500 recognition. Later on, when I came to know that it is chambers, it made me extremely happy and proud. I believe that if you are working with a leading law firm and if you are doing good work then these recognitions will come, but chambers was a special one.
6. What does “exhaustion of research” mean to you and how much, according to you, is the impact of it in the field of litigation?
I would say that “exhaustion of research” is extremely important in the field of litigation. No lawyer wants to be in a situation where a Judge admonishes you for incomplete or poor research or where you cite a judgment only to realise that it has been overruled or distinguished in a subsequent judgment. Therefore, it is extremely important for a litigation lawyer to be up to date and research exhaustively. For instance, if I am researching on a complex legal issue my endeavour is to become an expert on the subject. Even when I request one of my junior colleagues to research a difficult proposition, I tell them the same thing, become an expert on the subject and then make me an expert. It is never bad to be over-prepared. It gives you more confidence and you can be much more persuasive as you never know what kind of question might come from the Bench. It is always better to be over-prepared whether in terms of facts or in terms of your legal research.
7. Having a first-hand experience in the field of dispute resolution, what would you say your learning has been and how shall young professionals in the field prepare themselves to face the practical world?
It is a gradual process as you are learning every day. I would say that first of all young professionals should give their best to everything that they do. I see a lot of young professionals complaining about the kind or quality of work that they are getting. But in practicality, what happens is that your senior will get confidence in you only when you are doing the most mundane things in an extremely diligent way. As the famous saying goes “the way you do anything is the way you do everything”. If you want to become a lawyer who is capable of handling extremely complex matters, then you need to be diligent with the most mundane things first as it is something which inspires confidence in a senior that okay this person has an eye for detail and would be able to handle complex work as well. Second, keep striving to become a better version of yourself and keep trying to learn and grow. Lastly, whether you are as an independent lawyer or in a law firm or under someone in a chamber practice, treat it as your own work or practice. Take responsibility rather than thinking that it is your senior’s work or your senior’s responsibility. It will definitely help you perform much better.
8. How much importance would you attach to proper legal research and the tools used for doing it? How should law students equip themselves with legal research skills?
I would again like to refer to the same quote of Lord Denning, “God forbid that a lawyer knows all the law, but a good lawyer is one who knows where to find the law”.
No lawyer or law student can be expected to know the entire law. If I talk about myself then where I stand today professionally, is not because I know everything. It is because I did my research, found what was relevant and then applied it to whatever work that came my way. It is an integral part of the practice of law to be able to find the right statute and the right judgment when required. You may not be entirely up to date with the law but whenever any work comes to you. If you can find the requisite legal provision or the requisite precedents that is sufficient. Therefore, proper legal research is an extremely important part of the practice of law and in today’s fast-paced world you cannot take forever to complete your research. I remember, when I was in my law college and was preparing for a moot court competition, I did not have a subscription to SCC Online or any other legal research platform. So my team and I would sit in the library for days and days together and try to find the relevant case law. That was something which was extremely time consuming, therefore you need those tools for legal research. For law students, various competitions including moot courts, client counselling, etc. along with internships serve a vital role in developing legal research skills.
10. Any advice which you would like to give to our readers who are looking to work in the field litigation and dispute resolution?
Tom Hiddleston once said “You never know what is around the corner. It could be everything. Or it could be nothing. You keep putting one foot in front of the other, and then one day you look back and you have climbed a mountain.” Therefore, practice and perseverance are the backbone of everything. The more you practice the more experience you will be able to acquire and the more you will be able to grow.