Dhritiman Roy is the Principal Associate in Khaitan and Co., engaged with the dispute resolution practice group and has represented clients in a wide range of cases before the Supreme Court and High Courts. His primary areas of expertise include commercial disputes, arbitration and white-collar offences. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Hyderabad National Academy of Legal Studies and Research University.
1. To start with, why did you decide to pursue law as a profession?
I always wanted to pursue a career that is dynamic, exciting, as well as challenging. I was certain that a monotonous 9 to 5 job was not something I would be happy with. Hence, law as a profession suits my preferences well because law in general, and particularly court litigation, is pretty exciting. Although I must confess, I eventually arrived at my decision to pursue law as a profession through a process of elimination of the mainstream career options. For instance, I had seen my elder brother studying science, and the subjects did not interest me at all. In fact, I used to hate science and mathematics when I was in school. As far as commerce is concerned, I grew up seeing my father, who is a chartered accountant, and his work also did not interest me at all. On the other hand, I was quite interested in subjects in the humanities stream like political science and history. That is how my career path in the field of law was gradually laid down.
2. What are the essential steps that a law student can take to acquire requisite skills to become a good disputes lawyer?
I would advise the law students interested in disputes to not confine themselves to academics. While the grades are extremely important, the opportunities that you get in law school have the potential of teaching you a lot. Therefore, students should actively take part in different activities such as moot court competitions, debates, negotiations, and research projects. I say this because after graduating and starting to work, you realise that being a lawyer is not just about knowing the law. It is much more than that. You need to know how to deal with different kinds of people, work together as a team, a decent management skill, etc. Further, in my opinion, participation in such activities helps grow outside the domain of academics as well. In addition, internships are a source of great learning, and choosing the right internship is extremely crucial. Internships also allow you to make an informed choice about the area of practice as well as the nature of job you wish to do. Therefore, students must do different kinds of internships and explore different aspects of the legal profession. My advice is to maintain a good amount of diversity in the internships. There is no need to try to specialise at such an early stage of your career. Instead, try out different things and explore as much as possible.
3. With your practice in the field of arbitration, what are your suggestions to make arbitration a better option as dispute resolution for the parties?
I believe India is slowly becoming a mature jurisdiction as far as arbitration is concerned, considering the way arbitration jurisprudence has developed in the past few years. However, I feel that arbitration is primarily limited to high-stake disputes between parties who have deep pockets. In fact, one of our clients even said that they are not a fan of arbitration, especially when the stake in the dispute is not high. Therefore, in order to further develop arbitration in India, there is a need to make the process of arbitration more affordable and accessible, so that the same is not limited to high-stake litigations and only a few venues such as Delhi and Mumbai. It is common to observe a significant difference in the number of arbitration cases in a few prominent jurisdictions like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore as opposed to rest. If we have to develop arbitration as a successful alternative dispute resolution mechanism, so as to relieve the courts of the excessive burden of cases, we need to make it accessible enough to allow a wider range of parties to pursue the same. However, we also need to keep a check on the quality of adjudication in arbitrations, since the scope of Section 34 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 is extremely narrow, and unlike a regular first appeal in a commercial suit, courts cannot look at interpretation and appreciation of evidence. Therefore, if there is erroneous finding in the arbitral award, it is relatively much more difficult to challenge the same under Section 34. Normally, you need to highlight some grave perversity in the award to challenge the award successfully. Therefore, it is imperative to maintain and uphold the quality of argumentation and adjudication in the arbitration proceedings.
4. Third-party dispute settlement is always more expensive than traditional litigation. What are your thoughts on this, and can you suggest some potential solutions?
While arbitration is prima facie more expensive than traditional court litigation, we need to analyse the specific heads where the parties incur costs. Fees of the arbitrator(s) will most likely be more than the court fees payable in case of a commercial suit. However, a lot of cost such as counsels’ fees, logistical costs, etc. will most likely be the same. Further, I have also seen certain expenditures which are certainly avoidable, such as insistence on physical hearings and booking of expensive venues. Having said that, the cost analysis should further take into account the time taken in the disposal of case. Arbitrations are certainly more expeditious, which means that the parties are going to pay lesser appearance fees and arbitrator’s fees. To put it in perspective, arbitration proceedings (with relatively higher costs) will prove to be cheaper in the longer run if it only concludes in just a year or two, as opposed to a court litigation which can take a significantly higher time to attain finality. Lastly, since the scope of challenging an arbitral award is extremely narrow, the dispute will attain finality sooner and the parties are going to spend much lesser time and money on litigations at the appellate stage.
5. What is one quality you appreciate in interns? If you have to give advice to the upcoming generation interested in arbitration, what would it be?
The quality that I appreciate the most in interns is proactiveness. It does not matter which year you are studying in and what your prior experience is. Like I said before, internship is a great learning experience, and if you are proactive and eager to take in as much as your internship can offer, you will develop a wider set of skills as compared to someone who gets good grades. Therefore, if you are enthusiastic and curious enough, your learning curve is definitely going to be steeper, resulting in faster growth as a potential lawyer. As far as arbitration is concerned, I would like to suggest keeping yourself abreast with the current legal developments, since arbitration law is such a dynamic law, which keeps changing at a rapid pace. Once in a while, another landmark judgment comes which significantly changes the existing position of law or settles an ongoing dispute.
Therefore, it is important to be aware of the developments that are taking place. In addition, students interested in arbitration should attempt to do at least a couple of internships, since the arbitration courses in law schools only teach you the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 and not the actual practice of arbitration, which is very different in real life.
6. Can you give our readers, especially the students, some tips on how to conduct reliable research, how to improve their research techniques, and how crucial effective research techniques are to our field?
If you are given a proposition to research on, always try to figure out the law it is concerned with. I have seen a lot of interns simply putting the words in the search bar and looking for cases. Understanding the applicable law will help you understand the context, in which the legal proposition is sought. It helps you channelise your research and come up with the appropriate keywords for your case law search. If you know the applicable law, you can also search in the commentaries or filter your search results by the applicable statutory provisions.
Know that the algorithms on various legal research tools work differently and it is possible that you find something on one tool if you are not getting any success on the other. Sometimes, even Google would be able to produce better results. Therefore, do not stick to just one way of researching and keep improvising. Lastly, please be thorough with your research before you hand it over to your senior. At times, your senior is heavily relying on your research and might not get the time to verify it properly. Therefore, know the facts well, do a proper authority check and organise/present your research well. (In terms of the relevant excerpts, brief facts, ongoing/disposed of appeals against the judgment concerned).
7. Recently with the growth of IPR as a field of law, specialisation of Judges is an ongoing debate. What are your views on the pros and cons of specialised benches for arbitration?
I believe specialisation of Judges is important where the dispute involves highly technical industry-specific issues. A Judge with requisite specialisation would be able to appreciate the issues in its relevant context. For instance, where the dispute involves intricate issues relating to intellectual property, issues relating to construction, maritime law issues, etc., a Judge with the requisite understanding of the law and industry will be helpful. This is particularly important in arbitrations where the underlying agreements are extremely technical at times and require a basic level of technical knowledge to able to effectively adjudicate the dispute. Notably, even Section 28(3) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 has been amended to state that the arbitrator shall take into account trade usages applicable to the transaction while deciding and making the award. However, at the same time, it is crucial to ensure that the Judge does not deviate from the binding principles of law such as rules of interpretation of contract and appreciation of evidence.
8. Some provisions of the Mediation Act, 2023 recently came into effect. What effect do you think will this Act have on the existing caseload on courts and tribunals in India?
This Act had been a much-awaited reform to promote ADR, reduce caseload, provide faster resolutions, saving cost and relieve some burden from courts/tribunals. However, we cannot really say anything on the effectiveness of this Act as the actual impact will depend on the effectiveness of its implementation, the willingness of parties to mediate, and the quality of mediation services available. Many a times, litigations are prolonged, not because of the unavailability of any alternative mechanism, but because of the parties’ egos and their unwillingness to cooperate with the counterparty. Nevertheless, it is a positive step towards easing the caseload on Indian courts and tribunals.
9. Finally, what is a piece of advice you would like to share with our readers?
Law is really a noble profession. No matter what, be open-minded and keep your passion, enthusiasm and curiosity alive. Success will naturally follow. Further, in your initial years of career, try not to focus much on the factors which are not so significant in the longer run, such as salary, perks, etc., and rather think about what is good for your career such as the kind of work you are doing, the learning curve in that job and whether that job is adding some value that aligns with your long-term career goals. All the best!