Ms Shruti Swaika is a Principal Associate at Fox and Mandal, Kolkata. She completed her graduation in law from Symbiosis Law School, Pune whereafter she started her journey in pursuing corporate law. She has also won the Young FICCI Ladies Organisation in their Timeless Achievers Award in the professionals’ category in 2021.
- Would you please tell us about your law school life and what inspired you to pursue law?
I come from a business background and presumed that would be my future too. However, my mother was very keen that I study law. I never really considered law as a serious option, so I never took formal classes for the entrance exams. I did study for like an hour once a week with a friend, who guided me with what I should read and how to prepare for the entrance exams. Even though I sat for law school entrance exams, I had not closed my options for other streams. It is only when I cleared the exam and decided to go to Symbiosis Law School that being a lawyer became real.
Symbiosis Law School, during my time, was a much smaller set-up than it is today. Since it was located in the city, on Senapati Bapat Road, where most of the other colleges were also located, we had a really good 5 years. College life was a good balance of studies and fun. We had good teachers who you could talk to and who would encourage you to think and read. Pressure was never too much, so there was always plenty of time to engage in extra-curriculars. I spent a majority of my time interning, since college would get over quite early in the day. I interned with Asian School of Cyber Laws, Legasis, Tata AutoComp, all of which taught me things which come in useful even today, and were also a lot of fun. I would say each student of law should immerse themselves in various spheres and not narrow down career choices so early. Like Steve Jobs said, you cannot connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.
- What would your advice be to students who want to make a career in disputes resolution?
Patience and constant reading are the two most important things for a career in dispute resolution. It takes time to make your mark, so stick it out. Read client briefs thoroughly. The answers often lie there itself. Remember, the devil is in the details. Read beyond what is necessary for your cases at hand. Read SCC digests, legal updates from the various websites that are now available, or anywhere else really. One thing that lawyers starting out in dispute resolution may consider, is keeping their own database of their research. This comes in very useful a few years into your practice. Start from the bottom-up. Attend District Courts, this is where you will learn procedural law. Most importantly, choose dispute resolution only if you enjoy it. Not every day will involve working on glamourous cases and unless you enjoy what you are doing, it will be difficult to remain consistent on the dull days.
- What are your primary day-to-day tasks and objectives as a Principal Associate?
A typical day involves a lot of time spent on client calls, meetings with clients and e-mails. If there are court matters, that will happen in the first half of the day, second half usually includes client meetings. Reading briefs, researching and drafting is planned around court and meetings. Of course, one does have to look at billings and other administrative aspects of work too. Counsel meetings to prepare for matters typically happen post 7 p.m. As a practice, I make it a point to spend some time updating myself on law, beyond just my matters at hand.
- With increasing conversation around mental health in the legal domain, what would you suggest students and young practitioners should do to strike a work-life balance?
Honestly, when you are starting out, work-life balance may be difficult to achieve. It is a stage when you really need to put in the hours. However, as soon as you can, try to streamline work and introduce the balance. Exercise, meeting friends unrelated to work and spending time on your hobbies are a must. Segregate time for these and block it off on your calendar. Plan in advance. It may sound silly to people at first, but I sometimes plan even dinners 2-3 weeks in advance. When starting out, you may need to be available on call, but a couple of years down the line, you should be able to juggle your work and personal life. Whether or not you are religious, try meditating. Grounding activities of some sort are important and go a long way in improving mental health. Meditation, journaling, light exercises, sound sleep (even if for lesser hours) help tremendously in mental health, and can be practised even when you do not really have work-life balance.
- What is your view on the hybrid mode of functioning in the Supreme Court? Do you think the impact is different for firms versus litigating lawyers?
The hybrid mode of functioning, specifically for Supreme Court, has its pros and cons, much like in other courts. It has reduced litigation expenses for litigants across the country since legal teams do not need to fly down to New Delhi for a matter and it is easier to engage local senior advocates to appear through video conferencing. Practising in Kolkata, I have been able to effectively attend to matters in the Supreme Court, and matters in Calcutta High Court and National Company Law Tribunal in the same day, which was inconceivable pre-pandemic.
However, local senior advocates may sometimes not be as effective as a counsel who is regularly appearing before the Supreme Court. Briefing a counsel on a complex matter can be difficult over video conferences and there is immense scope for miscommunication and/or delays in communication at critical times. To avoid this, the legal team is sometimes required to travel to New Delhi anyway, which defeats the purpose of online courts. Also, as we know, a lot of communication is non-verbal and we pick up lots of nuances of the Judges take on the matter when we are physically in front. Whether he is registering a point, or would like it to explain further, etc., there are lots of non-verbal cues which are lost on audio-visual modes. One of the greatest challenges of the “hybrid mode” specifically, is that if the opposing party is appearing physically and you are appearing online, you can miss out critical exchanges happening during the hearing, since the cameras and microphones are limited in what it picks up. In any important hearing, I would not opt for appearing online if I am aware that my opposing counsel will be physically present. This practically defeats the purpose of the hybrid mode.
Initially, the impact was different for law firms and counsels, at least in Kolkata. While law firm lawyers are more habituated to reading documents on the computer and have a lot more systems which come with the law firm set-up, counsels were traditionally more habituated to physical briefs and had a minimum technical set-up at their chambers. However, within a few months, most counsels have adapted well to the situation and today, I do not think there is much difference in the impact.
- 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.
Extremely important. As a lawyer, the one thing you need to know is the law (contrary to popular jokes about knowing the Judge). Proper legal research is a sine qua non for this. Start with reading the relevant legislation, then read commentaries on the point and case laws. This should give you a complete picture. The last mile comes with experience, when you can add to the issue beyond what is in the books, simply because of knowledge you have obtained with experience. “Exhaustion of research” comes with some experience. Once you have read the law and case laws on the topic, and done a citation check, it will typically be sufficient. Since most searches are now done online, the latest law is generally reflected in the judgment that comes up on top and should be the one holding the field. Even so, once you have found a few case laws discussing the point you are researching, and these being recent ones, it should be a conclusive search. However, law is a constantly evolving system and what is good law today, may not be tomorrow. Especially for new and evolving practice areas like insolvency, do not always rely on your old research and always do a recheck when relying on a judgment. It is also important to not get caught in the perfection trap. I have seen many lawyers who are unable to complete an assignment simply because they always think there is something more or something better that they can do. Give yourself reasonable time and complete your work.
In India, SCC Online and Manupatra are the basic search engines one should be comfortable using. Distil the facts and get clarity on the exact point you are looking to answer. Learn the various features these platforms provide to ensure you get meaningful results to your searches in limited clicks. As I mentioned earlier, maintain your own database for case laws and make reading a habit. If you have a practice area, this makes it easier since you can spend more time on a particular subject and get more indepth knowledge, as opposed to those who are general practitioners. Talking to peers also goes a long way. Cultivate a group of lawyer friends who can bounce ideas off. Teamwork makes the dream work