“Work life balance is important, because careers are marathons, not sprints.” Says Ishita Bhardwaj

1. Before I begin, the team at EBC-SCC Online extends warm greetings and welcomes you. It is indeed a privilege for me to interview you on behalf of the team for our readers. Before proceeding further with the interview, would you please take a moment to tell our readers about yourself?

I am a first generation lawyer. I always had an analytical (and some would say argumentative) bent of mind, so I was attracted towards the law early on, even though I did not know a single lawyer personally before I went to law school. I am now also a first generation entrepreneur – I started my independent corporate law practice last year, at it has been a truly fulfilling experience.

2. You were a gold medallist of your batch at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, and received CALI Award of Future Excellence while at University of Illinois (College of Law), would you please tell us about your law school life and what inspired you to pursue law?

My time in law school feels like some of the best years of my life. I found it exacting, but also invigorating. I studied with people I consider brilliant, with an inspiring work ethic to boot. The competition was always fierce, for every opportunity, and I am a better, more hard-working lawyer because of that competitive spirit.

While academics were my focus, I also participated in moot court competitions and cultural events, and was part of the Student Bar Council at NALSAR.

In my fourth year (2012), I participated in the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot Court Competition along with two batchmates, and we won against more than 200 teams from all over the world at the finals held in Vienna, Austria. This showed me that nothing is impossible, if you make your dreams big enough, and I still thank my teammates for this learning. In my fifth year, my team was the semi-finalist in the International Criminal Court (ICC) Moot held in The Hague. These experiences shaped me as a lawyer and a professional, and I would advise all law students to participate in different types of extracurricular activities.

I was inspired to pursue law because to me it represents the power of logic over all else. I enjoy reasoning with people, whether it is to negotiate a mutually acceptable commercial middle ground for a transaction, or to explain to a client why their business idea might run into regulatory issues.

3. Can you please tell us about your initial career and how you started in the field of law? What made you decide to be an independent corporate lawyer?

I joined Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co. (then, Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A. Shroff & Co.) right out of law school – in fact, I was hired from the campus in my fourth year at NALSAR. I was fortunate to have excellent seniors and mentors from the very beginning – they trained me with patience and kindness. They taught me to make every effort to find a workable solution as soon as a problem is identified – this has kept me in good stead to this date.

Since then, I have been a partner at KT Advisors LLP, a boutique firm with a focus on corporate law, and a principal associate at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co. In 2021, I was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, and I started my own law practice and there has been no looking back. It is a niche practice focussed on mergers and acquisitions (M&A), private equity and venture capital. I have had the opportunity to advise several startups during this time, and work has been very exciting and fast moving.

Work is even more enjoyable when it related to sectors of interest to you. For instance, I consider myself an environmentalist, so when I got the opportunity to advise a startup working on increasing financial access to electric vehicles, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands, and it has been deeply rewarding.

4. How has been your experience working as a corporate lawyer? What does a day in your life looks like.

I have had the fortune to work with some of the finest legal minds in the last nine years. In terms of experience, the learning curve is very steep. I think I have learnt the value of hard work and preparation as well as being able to think on your feet. While each transaction is different, it is always my job to enable the transaction and help the client achieve its commercial objective. As trust develops, clients also look to us for advice on commercial aspects of the deal – in those situations it is good to be armed with knowledge of market practice as well as the exceptions to it, so you are able to advocate in your client’s best interest.

Truth be told, no two days are alike. If you were to catch me on the closing day of a deal, it would be non-stop activity – you would see my juggling several things, all with the aim to ensure that the transaction gets completed on that day, no matter what it takes. On that day, it is all about the little details. On other days, I could be negotiating transaction documents with opposite counsels, or explaining specific provisions of a contract to my client – so that they know exactly what they are signing up to as part of the deal. I also spend considerable time drafting and reviewing the transaction documents – making sure that the agreements clearly represent the commercial intent and objectives of my client, and that they are contractually protected from the fallout of breach of contract.

5. You have advised several startups, including in the technology, finance and healthcare sectors, how do you feel is the startup culture growing in India and what are the legal backlashes which they face?

Startup has become a buzzword, and that itself shows how this phenomenon has grown in the last few years. There has been immense government support for startups, and this has hastened their growth by a great measure. The regulatory exceptions created for startups have also helped immensely. For instance, while the promoter of a registered startup can receive employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), other promoters cannot. Similarly, a registered startup can raise funds through a “convertible note” (a form of unsecured debt, which can convert into equity at a later date). Such exception has helped the burgeoning startup ecosystem. On the other hand, frequent and unexpected regulatory amendments have harmed legitimate businesses, even when aimed at larger public good. For instance, the regulatory tightening of “buy-now-pay-later” products has rendered several business models unworkable, threatening the business of several startups and the people employed by these companies.

6. Tell us something which interests you apart from law which you would like to share with our viewers?

I am interested in reading, travelling and music, as clichéd as it may sound. I have also been trained (albeit briefly) in Hindustani classical vocals.

I think lawyers, in general, have poor work-life balance. I often find myself working on weekends or keeping unusual hours, however, I have been trying to spend more time outdoors and on leisure activities. When I am not working, I like to spend time with my dog, Hukum. I have recently become interested in Indian history, and having been trying to read and learn about ancient India.

7. How important is doing proper legal research and how should law students equip themselves with legal research skills. And could you please throw some light on “exhaustion of research” and its importance in law.

I think the ability to research is the single more important skill for a young lawyer. Research is hard work, but I think it pays rich dividends for lawyers.

Mastering a practice requires that we study and understand the history and possible trajectory of that issue – that is what research represents for me. For example, this could mean analysing how a regulator has interpreted a provision over time, and the gradual shift in that interpretation. Research may not always give us the solution directly, but it does help in formulating the solution, especially when it is a matter of interpretation.

For transactional work, in addition to regulatory advice which requires extensive and constant research, we also have to advise on market practice (for instance, as to the limits of indemnity), and research becomes key.

I think “exhaustion of research” need not be the goal, as it is likely that there will be several (possibly overlapping) precedents that support and oppose your position. However, research should be taken to its logical conclusion and be in-depth enough so that one is well aware of all sides of the issues – in fact, I believe it is more important to focus on and understand the precedents that oppose your stand, rather than those that support it, so that you may effectively counter them.

Today, more than ever, all the knowledge of the world is at our fingertips, literally. Students and young lawyers should take full advantage of the excellent digital databases available for research – they have made research easier, more intuitive and efficient. NALSAR had access to several online databases and had an excellent library, and this helped me hone my research skills, and was critical for moot court success.

8. Any advice you would like to give to the readers of SCC blog? Apart from this is there anything else that you would like to share with the readers of SCC Online which would help them in their journey as a legal professional?

Law is a promising but demanding profession, requiring us to be on our toes at all times. There is no place for complacency. Any slip-ups can seriously harm our client’s interests, and sometimes the stress of this fiduciary responsibility keeps me up at night.

I think the legal profession offers accelerated growth and learning, and the opportunity for creative out-of-the-box thinking to solve complex problems.

I would advise that young lawyers remain open to exploring different legal practices, because the actual practice in a legal practice can be quite different from studying the law in law school. Take from my example for instance, when I graduated from law school, I was certain that I wanted to work in dispute resolution, and now, nine years I have found my niche in transactional law.

Lastly, I would advise law student and young lawyers to work hard, but also try to find a balance between work and life, because it is easy to burnout, and I think our careers are marathons and not sprints.

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