Adhitya Srinivasan completed his BA LLB from the National Law Institute University, Bhopal, and thereafter, started his career as an associate with Nishith Desai Associates in Mumbai. Following this, he pursued an LLM from Harvard Law School and then moved to London, where he qualified as a Solicitor whilst working with Herbert Smith Freehills and then Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. Three-and-a-half years later, he returned to India to pursue a career in litigation. He recently co-founded Mittal, Swarup and Srinivasan Law Chambers. Here, we are sharing quick conversation with Adhitya Srinivasan on his journey so far and the comparison of law school and legal practice in India and abroad.
1. How did you decide to choose law as a career, and what was your motivation behind the same?
I wish I could offer an enlightened response. The truth is that I probably watched too many courtroom dramas on TV. I know that most people today think of “suits” when asked about lawyer shows. When I was in high school, the pre-eminent TV show relating to legal drama was “The Practice”, which was then rolled over into the somewhat lighter but incredibly powerful “Boston Legal” — both of which were created by the great David E. Kelly (who also co-produced a little-known show called “Harry’s Law” and a more recent show called “Goliath”). Characters like Denny Crane and Alan Shore really animated my idea of a lawyer, and I quite wanted to be like them.
Although I grew up outside the country, I was raised by very patriotic parents and grandparents and closely followed political developments in India. As it happens, an outsize proportion of prominent politicians were seasoned litigators or had undergone at least some training in law. That could not have been a mere coincidence. As someone who was interested in lawmaking and politics, I suppose a career in law was a natural choice.
2. How was your experience at NLIU Bhopal, and what contribution do you think your undergraduate experience made to your personal and professional growth?
I unreservedly credit NLIU, Bhopal for my personal and professional growth. It has been more than 10 years since I graduated from NLIU and I would like to think that I now have better perspective of my time in law school. Spending 5 years in any place is a long time and I was fortunate to have an excellent circle of friends and seniors — one of whom is Rajat Mittal, co-founder of MSS Law Chambers. I now have only fond memories of my time in NLIU although I recall being quite restless and wanting to get out. I do not recall any serious academic regimentation at the time, which was good because it allowed me to pursue things that interested me and that too at a pace of my choosing. I also credit my time in NLIU with shaping my outlook and work ethic and building huge reserves of perseverance and resilience. Unfortunately, there is no way of quantifying that for the purposes of the annual law school rankings.
3. You have had the experience of doing a masters degree from Harvard Law School. What difference in the teaching method did you notice between foreign law schools like Harvard and the Indian law schools?
Compared to NLIU, Harvard was definitely more regimented. I had to spend a few hours on coursework every day or risk being clueless in class the following day. That was just a given. What I liked about Harvard was the emphasis on practical training and clinics. There was a dedicated effort to involve practitioners in the academic instruction, which I think really elevated the learning experience. Many of these practitioners were HLS alumni who had ascended to prominent roles in law firms, politics and Government. Also, the faculty comprised well-respected scholars, who were frequently sought out for their expertise and guidance and were thus, in constant touch with real-world practice.
4. You mentioned about the involvement of practitioners in academic institutions in foreign universities. What actionable steps do you think Indian law schools can take to enhance the practical experience for their students?
Firstly, I think some Indian law schools already go out of their way to involve practitioners in the teaching process. To my mind, there are at least three things that law schools can do: (1) engage with practitioners across subject-matters on a regular basis and involve them in designing the course material and curriculum — that by itself will make a huge difference; (2) craft working arrangements that allow practitioners to actually teach courses to law students — as much as this would benefit law students, I also think practitioners will benefit immensely from going through the motions of explaining nuances to a relatively inexperienced and untrained audience; (3) encourage (and incentivise) senior academics to engage with industry, think tanks and the like. These are hardly novel ideas, and I am fairly confident that most law schools implement these (and related ideas) in some way, shape or form. I realise that there may be a host of issues from an implementation perspective — geographical access, to take just one example — but I cannot stress enough how a push in this direction is well worth the effort. That apart, there are some very laudable initiatives that have been taken by the Bench, which can truly revolutionise practical training. Law students today have easy access to virtual hearings in most courts and tribunals. The Supreme Court now also makes argument transcripts available for its Constitution Bench matters. I see no reason why law schools should not capitalise on these tools to develop sharper, better prepared and more confident lawyers.
5. As someone who was admitted to the LLM programme in one of the most prestigious law schools in the world, what advice would you like to give to law student aspiring to pursue PG courses abroad?
Look, I think the decision to pursue a postgraduate degree is one that needs to be carefully deliberated. It is well-known how expensive it is to pursue these degrees, and I understand that they have only become more expensive since I completed my LLM in May 2016. These are academically rigorous programmes and you should probably stay away if you are not interested in (or by) research and academia. I say that not to discourage anyone but rather as a caveat to prospective candidates. I understand that many law students think of an LLM as a ticket out of India and a means of finding a job opportunity abroad. The overseas job market has always been somewhat tepid for postgraduate candidates, so it is a good idea to do a thorough recce of the hiring market before pursuing a higher degree. Other than that, I have nothing original to offer by way of advice. Whilst I do not think it is possible to design an ideal candidate for a postgraduate degree in law, I encourage students to maintain a consistently good academic track record, conduct quality research and publish articles and papers in reputed journals, participate in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. Be authentic when you write your personal statement. Take recommendation letters from people who know you well. That is all.
6. You have worked in Indian as well as English law firms. What are some of the differences that you noticed in the working style, and the workload between the two?
I have actually worked with Indian law firms, an English law firm and a US law firm (albeit in the London office). Although I am not a fan of generalising on the basis of geography or headquarter culture, I think it is undeniable that most law firms have adopted a fairly hectic, fast-paced approach. I can speak perhaps through my own experiences, although you must excuse me for not taking names. I have worked in law firm environments that encouraged young lawyers to back themselves and lead projects and transactions; I have worked in an environment that placed a huge premium on training and ensured that associates were put through robust, time-tested processes; and I have also worked in an environment that perfected client delivery by investing significant time and resources on preparatory work. I think each of these approaches come with their own advantages and disadvantages. As someone who has experienced all three and now runs own practice, I try to retain the lessons and learnings and craft a method that works for me.
7. You shifted to working in litigation after having the experience of working as a tax and corporate lawyer in different law firms. What difference did you notice in the nature of the work you undertake?
I think this really comes down to what you mean by “nature of work”. As a litigator, I certainly come across a much broader range of work involving different subject-matters. I quite enjoy this because it compels me to expand my knowledge. In my day as a Transactions Lawyer, my work revolved around drafting and negotiating agreements. There are still elements of drafting involved in my work as a litigator, although the drivers are quite different. The focus now is on presenting a case to a third-party adjudicator in a way that is lucid, captivating and persuasive. Writing a brief is an art form and there is a lot to be said about finding a balance between saying some things explicitly and leaving other things unsaid. Of course, the thing I enjoy most about litigation is oral arguments — it is a truly special feeling to argue a brief (particularly, a challenging brief) in court. It requires a great deal of preparation and even then, you are left to deal with a host of known unknowns and unknown unknowns.
8. If you were to make an alternate career choice as a young adult yourself, what would it be?
A fighter pilot.
9. With significant experience in diverse practice areas, how do you view the role and significance of legal research engines such as SCC OnLine in facilitating legal research?
Let me preface my response by saying that high-quality research is fundamental to being a good lawyer. It is no secret that SCC OnLine is perhaps the most widely used legal research engine in India and a lot of us rely on it when preparing our briefs. I do however feel that recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) will make your customers more aspirational. We are all familiar with the case of the New York lawyers who got into trouble because ChatGPT generated fictitious citations. There needs to be a way to deliver the benefits of generative AI in the field of legal research without creating fictitious citation scenarios. I understand that some of the legal research engines in the US have developed solutions that are being adopted rapidly. I am also aware that some solutions are being developed for the Indian legal market. We look to stalwarts like SCC OnLine to similarly revolutionise legal research in India.
10. Among others, our readers comprise law students and law aspirants, aiming to start a career in the field. What is a piece of advice you would like to give to them?
A number of things come to mind, but I will stick to two. Firstly, the legal profession is not a walk in the park, meaning, that it demands huge amount of time, attention and dedication. It would therefore be foolish to start a career as a lawyer without preparing yourself mentally. I have no hesitation in admitting that I was not prepared when I started out in June 2013 and would have crashed out in 4 months, but for some terrific support from my seniors. I, therefore, recommend that law students and aspirants should find ways to build stores of perseverance and resilience. The second piece of advice is maybe a little more actionable. To my mind, the single most important skill of a lawyer is writing, because it helps you distil your thoughts and articulate them in a manner that is convincing both to yourself and your reader. For that reason, I regard writing as the one skill that deserves every bit of time spent on it, and more.