“The first step of being a professional is to become self-aware by identifying yourself as a person and also identify your interests.”
1. Please tell us something about yourself, your professional journey, and your early years with our readers.
My name is Abhinay Sharma. I am the Managing Partner and founder of ASL Partners, Advocates and Solicitors. I am an Advocate-on-Record with the Supreme Court of India, a member of Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and International Mediation Institute qualified mediator.
I completed by BA LLB in the year 2011 from School of Law, Christ University, Bengaluru. My journey as a practicing advocate started soon after my graduation when I joined the chambers of Mr Virendra Goswami. My work primarily involved trial court litigation before District Courts in Delhi and the High Court of Delhi.
After spending the initial three formative years of my practice with the chamber and gaining sufficient trial court experience in 2014, I joined M/s Parekh & Co., a litigation firm with focus on Supreme Court and High Court litigation. While working with the firm I was exposed to not only high stake commercial and civil disputes but also matters of constitutional significance. In 2016, I joined Karanjawala & Co., a renowned litigation firm where I got the opportunity to handle matters before the Supreme Court of India as well as before various High Courts and Tribunals across India. The time spent at Parekh & Co. and Karanjawala & Co. were quite enriching as apart from general litigation, I was also involved in handling niche areas of practice such as competition law, intellectual property rights and information technology laws.
After having spent more than 8 years with law firms, I along with one of my batchmates from college, co-founded TAS Law in the year 2019. At TAS Law we handled diverse practice areas and were quickly able to build a strong reputation. In 2020, I cleared the Advocate-on-Record exam conducted by the Supreme Court of India. After working together for 3 years, I and my partner at TAS Law decided to focus on our individual practice and, that is, when I founded ASL Partners.
ASL Partners formally came into existence in October 2022. Since the beginning, ASL Partners has a stable and niche client base with presence in courts and tribunals across India, with a steady and motivated team of young lawyers.
2. How was your experience in law school and what were the experiences and motivations that shaped you as an individual?
My five years in law school were a life changing experience to say the least. The transition from an 18-year-old science student studying in a tier-III city in the northern part of India to a law student at a prestigious university situated in Bengaluru, was timely and much needed.
The benefit of joining Christ University was that in addition to law, the university offered various courses and had an established name in liberal arts. The university was a melting pot with vibrant student community. Although I was a diligent student with consistent academic accomplishments, my interactions with students coming from different parts of the country with varied backgrounds and life experiences made me realise how significant it is to have interests other than academics.
During my five years at law school, like most law students, I also participated in several moot court competitions and was also involved in extra-curricular activities and events that took place in the university. Studying in Bangalore also had a location advantage as I could attend seminars and courses offered by NLS, Bangalore.
However, being part of the first batch of law school had its own set of challenges as we had to forge our own path. Securing internships was difficult as we had no alumni network. However, our batch was quite resilient and I am proud to say that most of my batchmates are doing well on the professional front.
I strongly believe that more than college lectures, internships play a critical role in deciding one’s career path. During the five years, I interned with non-governmental organisations, chambers of litigating lawyers including Senior Advocates practising in Karnataka High Court and Supreme Court of India and also interned with leading corporate law firms. Watching professionals working from close quarters and assisting them during internships helped me identify that litigation was my calling.
3. What according to you is the desired skill set that should be possessed by a professional involved in alternative dispute resolution?
Alternative dispute resolution, despite being an out-of-the court settlement process, nevertheless demands professionalism from the advocates representing the parties. It is a process wherein negotiations play an integral role in the dispute resolution process. It is, in my opinion, of utmost significance that the advocate must possess negotiation skills so that the matter or the dispute is settled without approaching the court. Judges always encourage the disputes to be settled amicably between the parties. Further, the advocates must be able to figure out possible alternative reliefs available with the client so that a mutually beneficial agreement could be reached. In a nutshell, dispute settlement by way of ADR mechanism demands cooperation with a blend of assertiveness towards the demands of one’s clients.
4. Since you have done multiple matters concerning commercial laws, including commercial litigation and appearing before the original commercial side of the Supreme Court and High Court of Delhi, what do you think should be the approach adopted while handling the same?
In matters before trial courts, including the original side of High Court, factual narration and pleadings take the center stage as one must be able to put across the legal right as well as legal injury suffered by the litigant in clear, simple and lucid manner. While drafting original side pleadings, it is important to be conscious of the fact that one cannot better the case at an appellate stage and therefore no relevant facts and documents must be missed out.
In case of appellate side drafting, especially drafting pleadings before the Supreme Court, the focus is more on questions of law involved in the case. While drafting petitions before the Supreme Court, care must be taken that the synopsis not only gives a gist of the matter but also identifies the questions of law which require consideration by the Supreme Court.
Also, it is critical for a lawyer to keep himself abreast with the latest developments – be it a new legislation or judgments. Before one starts drafting, it is always beneficial to go through the judgments which occupy the field as they not only help deal with the subject better but also give an insight of how courts have interpreted and dealt with the subject.
While the aforesaid might help understand the legal aspects of the matter well, it is equally important for a lawyer handling commercial matters to have basic understanding of the business and industry practices.
5. As an Advocate-on-Record of the Supreme Court, kindly tell our readers about your experience briefing Senior Advocates, the requisite preparation required and the challenges/fruits of being an AOR at the highest judicial authority in the country?
Although for most part of my practice, I was associated with law firms that had a strong presence in the Supreme Court, clearing the Advocate-on-Record (AOR) examination of the Supreme Court of India enhanced my credibility of handling Supreme Court litigation. As an AOR, one needs to ensure that not only the interest of the client needs to be safeguarded but also one’s duty towards the court must be given paramount importance.
As far as briefing Senior Advocates and preparation for matters is concerned, there is no one size fits all approach – it varies greatly from matter to matter and from one Senior Advocate to another. However, as a briefing counsel what is expected of you is to know the matter thoroughly. Preparing a list of dates with page numbers and a briefing note always comes in handy. Keeping a track of the latest judgments and similar matters pending before the Supreme Court and being aware of and safeguarding your client’s interest in the best and the worst case scenario are also critically important.
6. In your experience as counsel, do you think the oral advocacy skills vary with the sectors and the forums in front of which you present oral arguments? If yes, what is your opinion on the differences that one needs to bear in mind when arguing?
Indeed! Every advocate, in my opinion, must be aware of the nuances of the court or tribunal before which he/she is presenting his/her case. Irrespective of the forum, what is essential is that the arguing counsel must be able to identify and put forth the broad issues in the matter and simplify and summarise the facts before the court especially in matters which involve complicated or convoluted facts and law. Also, one must always bear in mind the stage of argument. Arguments at an interim stage would be very different from arguments at the stage of final hearing.
7. What are some of the hurdles you faced during your shift to your new individual practice?
After having spent 8 years of my professional life in a relatively secured environment, I decide to take the plunge and go independent in July 2019. My experience of working with top-tier litigation firms had helped me develop the requisite skill set required to establish my own practice. Having said that, being a first generation lawyer has its own set of challenges. Building connections takes time and to a great extent depends on your social circle and background. The importance of soft skills in building a client base cannot be ruled out but it is equally important to hone one’s understanding of law to ensure that one retains the client base.
Hardly 7 months after going independent, I faced my biggest challenge – COVID-19 Pandemic, which changed the world as we knew it. Like everyone around, I too had to quickly adapt to the new manner of functioning. However, as a nascent office, changing gears quickly was difficult. Taking care of the running expense especially ensuring that the team of young lawyers working with me were not adversely hit financially and they stayed motivated became my top priority. Fortunately, our office was able to sail through the difficult period.
8. Apart from litigation, you have spent time fighting pro bono cases. Could you shed some light on that experience as well, especially since there is no financial remuneration?
In my limited experience as a litigating lawyer, I have come to realise that although spearheading a commercial litigation is thrilling and is financially rewarding, it is the pro bono work which is the most fulfilling. In most countries of the world, initiating litigation and taking it to a logical end is a privilege and India is no exception. In our country, accessibility to justice is gravely dependent upon affordability. I have had the privilege of being part of the law firms which take up pro bono work on a regular basis and was always clear that once I go independent, I will make it a point to try to strike a balance between billable work and pro bono work. I along with my team at ASL Partners have vowed to offer legal services to those who find themselves wronged and without any professional guidance.
9. Please share a piece of advice for our readers which would help them in their journey as a legal professional?
Each lawyer has his/her own unique personality, socioeconomic background and moral compass which help him/her to go forward in this profession. In fact, along with law, your stand on any particular issue would also be determined by the aforementioned factors. I think the first step of being a professional is to identify yourself as a person and also identify your interests. Once you have become self-aware, it is easier to choose a particular branch of law and work on your skill. The test should be whether as a lawyer are you improving on a day-to-day basis and how content you feel at the end of the day. The satisfaction may come from the amount of money that you make and/or the kind of work you do. As such, there is no need to compare yourself with others and it is always better to focus on yourself and do what makes you happy. Moreover, since law is a profession, my advice is not to consider it as a job even when you are working with a firm or a chamber. Let your work and efforts define you. Hard work, perseverance and honesty never go unnoticed.