Interview with Chiranjivi Sharma, Associate at Wadia Ghandy & Co., Delhi

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Mr Chiranjivi Sharma is an associate at Wadia Ghandy & Co. (Delhi) and specializes in  Dispute Resolution. His work profile primarily consists of handling commercial disputes before Arbitral Tribunals and High Courts across the country, consumer disputes, matters pertaining to constitutional law before High Courts and the Supreme Court. He received his legal education from Amity Law School, Delhi.  During his law school days, he interned at reputed corporates and firms such as K&S Partners, Trilegal, PepsiCo, Wadia Ghandy & Co., Axon partners LLP, etc.

Below is the transcript of the interview with Mr. Sharma.

Chhavi: What factors influenced you to choose law as a career? What motivated you to opt for a career in law?

Chiranjivi Sharma: Honestly, there was no eureka or inspirational moment which made me choose law as a career. I do not have any lawyers in the family, so just like any other school kid, I was exploring all career options in my 11th -12th standard, including law, CA, CS, BBA etc.. So I bought the entrance coaching material for these fields just to see which field interests me more.

When I started reading and solving the course material, I really enjoyed working on the legal aptitude section which rightly or wrongly, made me believe I can do well in the entrance. Another major factor which tilted my interest towards law was the fact that back in 2009-10 when there was a recession world over, I got to know that few of my super-seniors from school had landed corporate jobs at the big firms like Amarchand, Trilegal etc. with packages of several lakhs, right after college. So my only aim at that time was to just get through a decent college and then join one of the big firms as a corporate lawyer. In hindsight, I just feel it was just immature on my part as I did not even understand what the nature of work of a lawyer before committing myself towards it. Though I chose law for the wrong reasons, I am just glad that I chose it as slowly and steadily, through 5 years of law school and 4 years of job, I have developed a love for the profession and I am motivated to excel at it.

Chhavi: Tell us about your experience at Amity Law School, Delhi.

Chiranjivi Sharma: The law school experience had its good and bad times. The first couple of years were tougher as the college was a little too stringent and it did not give the ideal amount of freedom that a law school should give to its students. I personally feel the college curriculum should have been structured in a manner that students be encouraged to regularly have projects, internal moots to understand the subjects, rather than merely focussing on writing exams throughout the year.

A lot of credit for improving the law school environment goes to the students and the younger faculty at the college as they took conscious efforts to engage in co-curricular and extracurricular activities. The mooting society of the law school did really well, the ADR society of the college was also started during my college years. Extracurricular groups for dance, dramatics, singing etc also gained prominence in the law schools circuit over the years. I personally was part of the ADR society of the college and also presented several research papers across various colleges in the country. Having the college in NCR also had its perks as I was able to intern alongside the college in my final year, post attending the morning lectures.

Chhavi: You have also interned at PepsiCo, tell us about the work environment at PepsiCo? Is it any different compared to that of a Corporate Law Firm?

Chiranjivi Sharma: I found PepsiCo to be one of the few places where the interns were really required to be accountable for their work and were entrusted with responsibilities. For instance, in my first few days of the internship, I had the opportunity to prepare the first draft of a presentation for the finance team, explaining the impact of certain legislative amendments on the company.

The PepsiCo internship was not just restricted to company law, but I also had the chance of working on tax laws, IPR, general litigation matters and drafting of contracts for the company. The legal team at PepsiCo actually ensured that the interns actually end up learning something at the internship and hence they were also involved in the internal legal team discussions as well.

I think “corporate field” as such is too wide a term and law students often just want to make a career in corporate law without understanding the actual nature and variety of work it involves. It is important for law students to intern in law firms as well as companies to understand various aspects of corporate law. In-house legal teams of companies have started making progress towards being more and more self-sufficient in recent days and as an intern, a law student would definitely learn different aspects of corporate laws while working in a company.

In fact, even the law students who aspire to work in law firms, interning at a company would definitely be beneficial as they would also understand what do the companies expect from law firms as a client, which is an extremely important quality for any lawyer.

Chhavi: How’s working at  Wadia Ghandy & Co.?  You’ve interned before at the same firm. What difference do you find in the firm, working as an associate as compared to working as an intern?

Chiranjivi Sharma: When I started interning at the firm, the setup was really different and there were only 5 lawyers in the Delhi office. I was thus lucky to work closely with all the lawyers in the team and I was treated almost like a junior lawyer in the team rather than being treated as an intern. I think the timing of me joining the firm has worked really well for my own growth as a lawyer. When I had joined as a fresher, the firm had just moved into a new office and started expanding owing to the increased workload. I benefitted immensely of this process as I was working directly with the partners, got to work on a variety of matters and even got the opportunity to attend hearings at different parts of the country.

Working as an intern and as an associate at a firm are completely different from each other. As an intern at the firm, my responsibility was restricted to the particular research or drafting work I was assigned with respect to the matters I worked on. However, as an associate, my responsibility not only includes drafting and researching, but also entails briefing counsels, arguing in courts, giving inputs for strategic calls for a matter, communicate with the clients and counsels from time to time, understand the nittigrities of filing in various courts/tribunals, or even work on the administrative side for maintaining of records of a matter of assisting the accounting team of the firm. The partners at the firm have always taught all associates to take ownership of their work, thus as an associate, everyone is expected to treat his / her matter with as much importance as they would probably handle a matter as an independent counsel.

Chhavi: What is your opinion about the work environment at big law firms? Do you plan to go independent anytime soon?

Chiranjivi Sharma: In my opinion, one should not be running just after names of the big law firms by looking at their rankings or market perception, rather one should focus more on the particular area of law, team and partner they would be working with. In any law firm, a lawyer ends up working for about 10-12 hours a day on an average, thus it is extremely essential that one has peace of mind at the workplace. I believe that how you perceive a law firm environment is completely subjective and varies from person to person and team to team. Before taking a decision to join a big law firm, one should be sure of the field of law they are joining.

I have seen freshers joining big law firms in areas of law they have no interest in, which of course takes a toll very soon as law as a field requires a lot of passion and one cannot keep on toiling for 10-12 hours in a day if they are not interested in their work. Also, every big firm has its own respective set of rules which one may dislike, however, if you are really enjoying your work and have a good rapport with your team, all such law firm rules stop acting as a hindrance very soon.

At this point of my career, I am getting regular opportunities to work on a wide variety of matters across various courts and tribunals and while I get a fair bit of independence for handling matters, I always have the option of walking up to the seniors for any guidance. Therefore, I do not feel any need for going independent at this stage of my career and my focus is to develop my skills as a lawyer and grow within a firm.

Chhavi: You specialize in dispute resolution. What does alternate dispute resolution provide in addition to ground litigation? Or is it an alternative at all?

Chiranjivi Sharma: I am a firm believer in promoting alternate dispute resolution, especially in India, where the courts are already overburdened with the sheer volume of matters being listed on a daily basis. In commercial matters, the parties are always very solution-oriented and are looking at ways to resolve their disputes in a time-bound manner. The percentage of disposal of cases is much higher in cases being resolved through alternate dispute resolution and the rules also mandate the same to be completed in a time-bound manner eg. Section 29A of the Arbitration Act.

Our legislature and courts are too playing an important role in providing a robust system of alternate dispute resolution for the litigants. For instance, the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2019 focusses on encouraging institutional arbitration, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court has been promoting mediation between parties through its own mediation centre, which has a high success rate as well. Thus, while in criminal matters or matters pertaining to constitutional law, of course, there cannot be any alternative to ground litigation, it is high time that the alternate modes of dispute resolution be encouraged for resolving commercial disputes.

Chhavi: From your perspective, what are the top three global trends that are shaping the field of dispute resolution? What makes you think these trends are so important?

Chiranjivi Sharma: Firstly, owing to the pandemic, the legal field has finally started making a serious move towards e-hearings and e-filings, a move that should have been taken about a decade ago. While several international arbitration centres had been promoting e-hearings earlier too, however, now all courts have been forced to adopt the system of e-filings and e-hearings out of compulsion. Even though the move to switch to e-courts has been out of compulsion, it is essential that the practice is followed in the long run and is more refined to help it reach all classes of litigants.

Secondly, institutional arbitration has been gaining prominence in recent years. There has been an increasing trend for parties to specify International arbitration centres in the dispute resolution clause of their agreements with the SIAC, LCIA and HKIAC leading the way for such institutions. Even in India, the legislature promoted institutional arbitrations through the latest amendment to the Arbitration Act. With well-drafted procedural rules for arbitration, good infrastructural facilities and highly respected panel of arbitrators, institutional arbitrations answer most apprehensions of parties for choosing arbitration as a mode of dispute resolution.

Thirdly, due to the ongoing global economic slowdown, bonafide companies have been found lacking funds to invoke their dispute resolution clauses in arbitrations. Therefore, third-party funding would be playing an important role in the dispute resolution field in the coming years, with international arbitration hubs like Singapore and Hong Kong having already acknowledging it in their legislature.

Chhavi: Lastly, what would be your advice to the students at Law School?

Chiranjivi Sharma: While it is important to score well in exams, that should not be the only end goal of a law student. One should just keep striving to learn more and improve their skill set. For instance, mooting plays an important role not only in understanding different subjects of law but also helps in developing confidence. If mooting doesn’t work for you, get into debating or MUNs or ADR or research papers or anything new that has come up recently, the idea is to keep oneself engaged. Nowadays with work from home becoming the new norm, students can simultaneously do e-internships as well.

The intent for all of it should not just be restricted to creating a fancy CV, but to genuinely develop one’s knowledge bank and network with people, which go a long way in the legal field. Lastly, considering how vast our field is, it is important to also have a mentor guiding you throughout the law school journey, especially the final years.

This can be in the way of teachers, alumni, any known lawyers or just family members. Almost all students would end up making several mistakes at the beginning of their career, a mentor may just help reduce the risk of making such mistakes and help to get out in times of crisis.

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