Mr Shahezad Kazi is a partner (litigation) at S&R Associates and has an experience of around seventeen years in the legal field. He primarily deals with commercial litigation and arbitration (domestic and international), regulatory restructuring and insolvency. Recently, he has been identified as a Future Star (commercial and transactions category) in India by Benchmark Litigation in its Asia-Pacific 2023 rankings.
1. To begin with, please tell us something about yourself, your journey in the profession and your early years with our readers.
Studying law was not my first choice. I first graduated in commerce from H.R. College.As was popular with most youngsters during my college days in Mumbai, in pursuit of a degree in MBA (Master of Business Administration), I began preparing for the CAT (Common Admission Test) to secure admission into one of the IIMs (Indian Institutes of Management). While I was unsuccessful in securing a CAT score good enough to secure an admission into an IIM, I managed to clear the three-year LLB course from Mumbai University through Government Law College (GLC) which I was parallelly pursuing alongside the CAT. Upon reflection, I consider myself lucky to have received what I needed and not what I wanted.
Post qualification, I started my practice as an Advocate Associate with M/s Negandhi Shah and Himayatullah (NSH), Advocates and Solicitors, Mumbai. I had the most brilliant seniors at NSH willing to devote time and attention in training juniors. I owe my clarity on the first legal principles to my training at NSH, where I continued for more than (8) eight years.
2. How did your law school experience shape you to what you are today? Please also share your interests and motivations.
If I recollect correctly, Mumbai University's rule for students to have a minimum attendance in classroom was introduced somewhere in the middle of my journey at GLC but such rule was still in its early years of implementation. I was one of the few students to regularly attend lectures at GLC. Since my focus was CAT, the credit for me clearing the law exams goes to my professors at GLC. Attending lectures made studying for the law exams simple and time efficient. Generally, I have realised over time that I am better at remembering what I hear, when compared to what I read.
My interest and motivation to remain in the profession began developing after I started practice. Observing in awe the confidence with which my seniors interacted with clients, the ease with which they provided solutions to complex legal issues, the comfort they provided to clients, the respect they commanded in society, witnessing first-hand counsel and senior counsel in the Bombay High Court narrating the facts and articulating the law on the subject, served as a motivation and generated my interest in the profession. Such motivation continues until.
3. How has your journey from a first-year associate at NSH to a partner at S&R been so far?
It has been a wonderful journey full of memorable moments, many to cherish and many to learn from. Someday, I wish to write a book on this journey, the people I met and my interesting experiences with them.
In brief, I began my career working on real estate transactional matters. During the process of diligence, I had the opportunity to review pleadings filed in and orders issued by courts. Initially, I never really understood why court pleadings and orders read in the manner they did. After having spent about a year or so as a transactional lawyer, a day came when everything was about to change. My senior who was in Delhi for a hearing before the Supreme Court, suddenly telephoned and instructed me in the morning to appear that afternoon in support of an application for appointment of an arbitrator. I was told that the counsel and the associate handling the matter were both unavailable that day and the matter had been listed for hearing unexpectedly. Until that day I had never stepped into a courtroom knowing I had to appear in a matter. Scared and nervous (as one can possibly be), I read the pleadings, the relevant provisions of the arbitration law and appeared before the Bombay High Court's then Chief Justice, Mr Mohit Shah. I do not remember what submissions I made that day, but I still remember how great it felt to appear before a Judge and to speak in a courtroom filled with lawyers and about 30 people sitting in the audience attentive to every word you spoke as it echoed inside the courtroom. Lucky for me, we received a favourable order and my firm started staffing me on litigation matters, sending me to attend court regularly. That was my transition from a real estate transactional lawyer to a litigation lawyer.
After NSH, I joined as an associate with M/s Majmudar and Partners, Advocates and Solicitors (M&P) at their Mumbai office and continued for about two years. My seniors at M&P were very kind to acknowledge my work and there I grew from an associate to a principal associate for the real estate and disputes teams. In between, I worked briefly with M/s A&L Goodbody, Advocates at their Dublin office and finally joined M/s S&R Associates (S&R) in 2016.
My journey at S&R has been interesting. In a set-up of some of the finest lawyers in litigation, capital markets, mergers and acquisitions, competition and general corporate, I started my journey as their first litigation associate in the Mumbai office. I received tremendous support from my litigation colleagues in the Delhi office before we could organise a litigation team in the Mumbai office. I took some time to adjust to the corporate litigation style of working and the firm was patient with me. I was promoted to counsel in 2018 and eventually to partnership in 2020. I have the satisfaction of working with a talented team, doing quality work for clients (domestic and foreign), in many cases arguing matters and conducting trial myself as also co-working with my non-litigation colleagues on some of their deals.
4. You primarily practise commercial litigation. In your opinion, when is it ideal to decide specialisation or career path as a law student? What are the traits that one should develop to be a successful litigator?
Since I have been associated with law firms, my practice has largely been commercial litigation and arbitration (domestic and international). But again, in the commercial litigation space, I have had the good fortune of working on a wide range of matters including in relation to real estate laws, securities laws, shareholder disputes, regulatory investigations, insolvency laws, enforcement proceedings, environmental laws, etc.
In the last few years, I have observed that most law students already know what they want to do and where they want to be in the profession. Most of these decisions are made on the basis of internship experiences, exposure to a certain practice area through moot courts and writing opportunities or are based on certain prejudices or pay scales. I sincerely believe that, in the long run, candidates who are open to career paths during their student life are more content and happier when compared to candidates who had already made their decision too early on. One must be mindful that what you may enjoy doing may not necessarily be what you are good at and vice versa. Certainly, work will flow to a professional depending on what the professional is good at.
My advice to law students will be to remain flexible on who or what they want to be and to explore and experience various facets of the profession in the initial couple of years post qualification before they finally decide. I quote a Japanese proverb: The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists.
5. According to you, what qualities of an intern can make them stand out during their internship?
The one quality that I admire in an individual, be it an intern or associate, is “discipline”. Once there is discipline, other qualities like punctuality, effort, quality of work, morals, professional ethics, responsibility towards clients, respect towards seniors etc get taken care of automatically.
6. Not many people are familiar with the concept “exhaustion of research”. What are your views on it?
I sincerely believe that one is never entirely prepared for a matter; one can only do one's best within the constraint of the time available. Therefore, to me, “exhaustion of research” is efficiently utilising the time available for research. Research on case law and literature is a never-ending exercise. Your understanding of the subject increases, ideas are born and thoughts keep renewing themselves, the more one reads.
With the advancement of technology, access to information and data is within the reach of most. For instance, in my early years in the profession, SCC Online was the most sought-after and reliable database for case law search. In those days, such a database was available through a pen drive and only one person at the firm could keep, use the pen drive and access the database. Now, SCC Online database is available on cloud storage and multiple users can access the database from home, office or anywhere in the world using login credentials. Also, now, most statute books, rules, regulations, judgments of High Courts and Supreme Court and other legal literature are easily available on the internet in searchable portable document format (PDF). Many lawyers and law firms regularly write articles on a variety of topics and judgments and post them on the internet. There are many websites which provide regular and, in some cases, live updates of court proceedings in important matters. We are living in an era of information overdose. What matters is how much of such information one absorbs, remembers, and applies in practice.
7. Is there anything that you would like to share with the readers and researchers of SCC Online?
To those who are in the profession and those who want to be, this profession is a demanding profession; there are no shortcuts here. If one wants to excel, one will need to give it time and one's best. Being disciplined and consistent is the only way one can succeed. Haste to succeed may lead to heartburn (disappointment) or health burn.
Being a lawyer also carries with it other responsibilities which are not limited to rendering legal advice or safeguarding your client's legal rights. The people around you observe and then imitate your actions or inactions with the notion that this is how a person with knowledge and understanding of the law is expected to react to a given situation. A lawyer should be the ideal citizen of society.