INTERVIEW OF ALOK VAJPEYI, ASSOCIATE AT SINGHANIA & CO. BY MUSKAN NARANG

Introduction

Advocate Alok Vajpeyi is an Associate working with the Disputes Team at Singhania & Co., Mumbai. His core practice areas are commercial arbitration, litigation under Indian Arbitration and Conciliation Act, and general commercial litigation before National Company Law Tribunal. He has also advised on matters relating to the Foreign Exchange Management Act, Securities Laws, Labour law & other regulatory compliances. He is also a qualified Tribunal Secretary certified by Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC). I got the pleasure of a Telephonic Interview with him on 22nd May 2020. I provided him with the questionnaire beforehand for his convenience. I appreciate the time he has given for this interview.

Purpose

I wanted to get knowledge of the legal profession in-depth from the lens of a lawyer.

Q1. Why did you decide to go to law school?

Ans- Choosing law was something that didn’t come naturally to me. I was a Science student and gave regular engineering exams. However, one thing was clear, if I am unable to crack IIT, then I am not going to pursue engineering.

I was not able to make it in IIT and was confused as to what should I do in life. My father came to me and said, “Look Alok, take some time and give yourself some space for a month or two and think what you really like. Find out what your core strengths are and through which profession you can serve the society the most”. I discussed with a lot of my friends and family members regarding my strengths and weaknesses, noted them down and compared them with different professions. After analyzing everything, the final answer I came up with was law, and I think that was the best choice I made in life till now.

Q 2. Do you recommend that every student should do this exercise to choose a profession?

Ans- Well, this is one way of doing it. But I always recommend doing things from one’s own choice because that brings self-accountability. If you do something for your parent’s sake, then you will always have the option of saying “I did this because of my parents”. You will play the blame game. However, if you have chosen something, then you are the person who is accountable, so you really put your heart and soul into what you have chosen.

Making your own decisions also allows you to make your own mistakes and learn from them. You might discuss and take suggestions from your mentors, seniors, family, etc but the final decision should be taken by you. One can try some other brainstorming exercises, but the choice should come from within. Even after entering this profession, the choice of where you want to work should not come from what everyone is doing.

“You should analyse and evaluate things for making a decision.”

Q3. How long have you practiced law?

Ans- I graduated in May 2018. Therefore, it has been 2 years.

Q4. What do you think makes a good lawyer?

Ans- In my opinion, the following 5 skills are essential for a good lawyer:

  1. Reading: One of the core requirements of the profession is how well you can read and comprehend things. Your understanding of the case and the legal concepts largely depends on your reading. As a lawyer, you are required to have knowledge of everything under the sun, you never know what kind of case may come next, therefore reading is a must for lawyers. A good lawyer should not only read law subjects but whatever is there under the sun. Good reading further improves vocabulary which will improve the writing skills as well.

“The more you read, the better equipped lawyer you become”

  1. Presentation (both written & oral): As a lawyer, another skill that holds value is presentation. If you are working as a litigation lawyer or even if you are a transactional lawyer, you have to present your research in a very simplistic way. If you are presenting in front of the court, you have to explain a detailed case matter in a very simplistic manner to the judge. Similarly, for a transactional lawyer, when the client comes up with queries, then you have to make it very simple and explain it to them.
  2. Analytical: A lawyer must possess a distinctive attribute of analytical skills as if to crystallize the information received either, half or wrong. Analysing events helps in a better understanding of the case.
  3. Networking: This profession is mostly about networking. How many clients you have largely depends on your network. Similarly, in a law firm, your partner promotions depend on how much business you can bring to the firm, which will again depend on what kind of network you have. Networking is not just about going and asking a favor, it is about building a relationship. These things build up eventually, you cannot just approach someone with a favor, try to build the rapport over time.
  1. Listening: To be a great lawyer or advocate one must have and possess the quality and skill to listen to each, and every individual who is to speak before him, develop the ability to listen to others patiently and carefully. In practice, this skill helps the lawyer in every possible manner to effectively responding to queries of the judge, cross-examining the witness, or to the finding of the opposite counsel and facilitate in an effective rebuttal. These law courses are designed in such a way that even if you do not end up being a lawyer, you will excel in whatever you chose to do. One of my batchmates is into sports journalism and he is doing extremely well.
Q5. What area of law most interests you?

Ans- I practice disputes therefore the law of obligations is one of my interest areas. On procedural front, I like Arbitration because Indian courts are burdened with caseloads and so the demand for ADR is rising. Arbitration as a concept really interests me as it is more flexible when compared with traditional litigation. Parties are at full liberty to determine what law would apply to the contract, disputes, procedural law, etc. My other interest areas are White collar crimes, Regulatory laws including FEMA and Securities law.

Q6. How has your education and experience prepared you for the practice of law?

Ans- I studied at the Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad. College prepared me in terms of skills that are required for a lawyer. My speaking skills were enhanced as the courses mandated presentations every semester. The researching skills were improved as there were courses like Legal Research which taught me how to research, use databases (Manupatra, SCC online ). We were also prepared to deal with the work pressure as there were a lot of assignments.

Students were encouraged to participate in Moots. My college provided me an opportunity to represent the college in international moot’s held in Hong Kong and Kuala Lampur. This experience improved my networking skills and I also got the opportunity to observe students from best law schools in the world.

The college gave internship breaks every semester. The internships are extremely important as they give a reflection of the actual practical life. You need to do internships at places where the person is ready to teach you or give you feedback. Choose internships after taking feedback from others.

Q7. What views do you have about the legal system?

Ans- There is a lot to talk about on this topic. However, to put it briefly, I believe that the legal system has a lot of issues and the capacity to deal with those issues is also there. But certain conceptions are already there, and we lawyers have accepted them. For example, it is often said that in India a case takes years to get over, now we as lawyers have accepted this fact and don’t do anything to change that conception. The same lawyer who is efficient in international arbitration matters will take time for domestic matters. The system is slow and overburdened. People are used to it now. We still take adjournments and blame judges.

“As lawyers, we should take collective responsibility and improve the legal system”

Because we are the biggest stakeholders in this profession.

Q8. How do you handle a disagreement with someone over a legal matter?

Ans If that colleague is Senior to me and someone who can take offense of things, I will be polite. A lot of times, you might be correct but the senior will not agree because admitting that they are wrong, to a junior, might be too threating for their egos to tolerate. Even if you are showing him the law, judgment, commentary, still he will not believe you. In such situations, you cannot really do anything. You can just say that and put it in writing, that I personally believe that this is the correct position of law, however, if you believe something on the contrary, I will take the matter forward in that direction.

If the colleague is your age or 3-4 years senior, the best way is to show the authority to back your claim like show the judgment or the commentaries. Just arguing to prove your point is never a good thing. The best way is to pull out some authority and show it to the other person.

Q9. Can you elaborate on a situation where you were unsuccessful and how you handled it?

Ans- If you are unsuccessful or have made any mistake, the best way to handle it is to admit that you made a mistake or you did something wrong. Honesty towards your client and colleague, in your professional and personal life, is very important. If you admit something that you did wrong, then half of the battle is won. Honesty reflects on your values.

If there is any justification for the mistake which I have made, I would give it. If there are no justifications, I will simply apologize.

Q10. What is your routine work?

Ans- As I am a dispute practitioner, mostly my work relates to proceedings in lower courts, NCLT, high court, and in front arbitral tribunal. There is corporate advisory, opinions drafting, etc. There are drafts related to statement of claims, petition, and general applications to the court. And of course, there is Research to strengthen the argument. I also indulge in discussion for the final argument of a case.

Follow up question– Do you handle all matters yourself ?

Ans– If the matter is not that complex, I handle it myself. I seek advice from seniors with certain complex matters where I have no previous experience.

Q11. What is your major achievement till now?

Ans- I don’t think I have really achieved anything great in the profession. However, the small achievements which I count are of significant value are as follows:

  • Representing clients in front of courts and the arbitral tribunals;
  • Representing the firm in client meetings;
  • To have few speaking engagements in conferences, seminars, and webinars;
  • To be able to complete the HKIAC Tribunal Secretary training programme alongside my work commitments.
Q12. What do you consider yourself good at doing? Or What is that one skill that you believe to be of great help to you?

Ans- I believe it is the way I put my point. I really do not involve ego. So, even if the senior is shouting at me, I will not be angry. I remove the tone of the person from the way he is speaking. It reflects how good you are as a team player.

I have been appreciated for my research skills also.

Q13. What do you think will be the situation of legal practice after the coronavirus?

Ans- This topic needs another session altogether! As a legal practitioner, I don’t think there is any recession in the legal sector anytime soon. In some areas, there might be reduced cases but overall it is a great opportunity for lawyers as you’ll see a lot of joint ventures happening, increase in e-commerce related issues, increase in banking related disputes, debt restructuring as many companies have gone into debts during this period, they need lawyers’ assistance on how to restructure, how to finance. Other things like e- gaming and e-commerce have increased. We have also seen the emergence of virtual hearing, e filling, etc. Therefore, post the pandemic, there would definitely be a lot of opportunities in the legal market.

I would advise the law students who are in their final years, to read about the impact of past recessions in order to understand what kind of legal transactions would increase.

Q14. What would you do if you were assigned a case that you were morally opposed to?

Ans- As legal practitioners, we keep morals aside. We only look for procedural irregularities that we can point out in the case while defending a client who we know has committed the crime. For example, If you know your client has committed murder, your job as a lawyer is not to go into whether, he has or has not committed murder. You have to see that on the procedural front, the prosecution should prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your client has committed the murder. You are doing nothing but securing what is guaranteed by the law. As a lawyer you are required to protect, what has been mentioned in the law. You can justify your ethics by thinking that I am not defending this person, I am just securing what law has promised.

Having said so, I have not come across any case where I was faced with any moral dilemma. Such ethical dilemmas arise mostly in criminal matters.

Q15. Can you tell me about a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty? What was the outcome?

Ans- If you invest extra on anything, I think the output will be really good, so whenever I have worked long hours on the case or the research arguments, my senior has appreciated me.

“If you invest extra on anything, the output will be really good”

Q16. What was your most creative successful argument in a case? How did you come up with it?

Ans- It was a spontaneous argument. Once, I was representing my client who is based in the US and his cross-examination was done on video conferencing because he was unable to come to India. The court allowed the video conferencing. The matter was placed for the Commissioner report on the first two days of cross-examination. Two dates were given for cross-examination and then the court wanted us to come back to determine if the video conferencing will continue or not. It was held in the computer department of the City Civil Court, Mumbai. Initially, there were a lot of technical issues. But the client wanted to continue because he could not come to India. The opposite counsel was bashing that there are a lot of technical issues and cross-examination is not possible through video conferencing. The case I presented in front of the judge was that “Your lordship there were 150 questions asked in 6 hours (150/6= 25). In an hour, there were 25 questions asked by the counsel of the opposite party. Which means that every 2 mins, 1 question was asked.” The judge got convinced by my argument and allowed conducting the cross examination through video conferencing.

Q17. How do you explain legal options and set expectations for clients?

Ans- When directly interacting with clients, you mustn’t be sitting there as a lawyer, but you are sitting there as a legal advisor. The difference lies in the fact that a legal advisor will understand the business interest of the client. You should evaluate the case on merits and should also consider the financial situation of the client. If you suggest him for settlement, then the client would think that you are not thinking about money, because a lawyer might want to go to litigation, for the sake of his benefit.

You should provide them structured advice, the pros and cons of choosing different options. Be sympathetic towards the client and help them with how they can get out of a given problem.

Regarding the time limit of the case, tell them what the expectation is, and don’t guarantee. Be transparent from the first meeting itself.

Q18. What kind of Internships have you done and how was your experience?

Ans- Decide what is the rationale of doing an internship. For me, the rationale was to understand how different sectors work, Law firms, trial courts, NGOs. I did three internships in NGOs. It was mandated by my college to intern in a district court so I did one month under a criminal lawyer and one month under the civil lawyer. This helped me to understand how the law functions at the lower stage. I also interned with a lawyer in Allahabad high court. It was a good experience. I did 3 internships for Intellectual property law firm in Delhi, Mumbai, and Ahmedabad respectively. After 3 internships in IP, I realized that I didn’t want to do it. Then I did an internship at Wadia Ghandy & Company, Ahmedabad, and with time I developed my interest in arbitration. I did my final internship under the Chambers of Mihir Naniwadekar, Mumbai. This was the best internship in terms of learning and I have recommended this to a lot of my juniors.

“While choosing an internship, you should be very careful who is your senior because that will determine your learning”

Q19. How do you deal with high profile clients?

Ans- Very professionally. There is no dearth of options for them. You have to be quick with your email replies and setting up meetings. After any conference call, the minutes of the meeting should be prepared and sent to the client. You have to be on your toes all the time. The level of efficiency should be high in terms of high profile clients.

Q20. What do you believe lies in the future for you? Or what are your future prospects?

Ans- I believe that the future holds great learnings and challenges. I hope I can tackle these challenges and become a better professional. I wish to better serve the client and their interest. I want to maintain work-life balance as well and also play sports. I also plan to do LLM in the future.

Till the time I’m working hard, my future is in my hands and nobody can take it from me”

Q21. Would you like the future generations in this profession? If yes, then why?

Ans- Of course! With the improvement in legal education, it can reasonably be concluded that the future generation will be very well taught and nurtured. And I believe we have great competition from juniors. The best of the bunch is coming. The future has a lot of good lawyers who are more focused, disciplined and tech-savvy. I see a lot of potential in the coming times. The only thing I fear is that respect is reducing. Maybe they won’t respect the senior anymore based on age or experience.

The country has a lot of lawyers but there are only a few good lawyers that is why huge pay disparity exists in this industry.

Q22. How have the senior lawyers treated you when it came to support?

Ans- My seniors have treated me extremely well. I have been fortunate enough to have worked under some prolific seniors. They have supported me, guided me. They also gave me space to do mistakes and correct those mistakes, and therefore, whatever small achievements I have made is because of them only.

Conclusion-

It was a truly enriching experience to interview Alok sir. He has a charming personality with an astounding knowledge of his practice. He devoted time to address all questions and I am deeply grateful to him. He is the face of the youth in the field of law. His enthusiasm to share information openly made me learn so much about law.

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