Interview with Shriya Maini, Advocate on Record, Supreme Court of India

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Ms. Shriya Maini is an Advocate – on Record, independently practising at the Supreme Court of India, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court and District Courts at New Delhi. She specializes in cross–border dispute resolution and enjoys criminal and matrimonial litigation.

She has majored in International Crime from the University of Oxford, United Kingdom on a full scholarship {BCL (Oxon)} sponsored by Mr. Harish Salve, Senior Advocate. Being a recipient of the Oxford Global Justice Award 2015 for Public International Lawshe recently returned from the Cabinet of the President Judge, International Residual Mechanism for the Criminal Tribunals seated at The Hague, Netherlands. Currently, she is also a “Visiting Faculty” at National Law University, Delhi, Renaissance University and Llyod Law College, Noida.

Below is the transcript of the interview conducted with Ms. Shriya Maini.

Interview with Shriya Maini, Advocate on Record, Supreme Court of India

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Sannidhi Buch: You have currently been appointed an Advocate-on-record, how would you describe your journey as a legal practitioner as well as a professor?

Shriya Maini: Well, it’s been an incredible roller coaster! Dynamic, productive, challenging and yet very satisfying! I think those are the words that best describe my journey as a legal practitioner and faculty today when I look back.

To be honest, graduating first class in law ensured I landed a job with a swanky law firm, the erstwhile Amarchand Mangaldas& Suresh A. Shroff. As an associate at the Dispute Resolution Team, I worked on some very interesting matters but essentially felt underutilized. I always yearned to be closer to the law and courtrooms. Making my way to the University of Oxford and then interning at the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague, I realized early on that I was the happiest in two odd places of the world – a courtroom and a classroom! So I was back on Indian soil practising the law, shadowing under my lawyer father at his office. In the meantime, NLU Delhi was looking for a visiting faculty for International Criminal Law and my tribunal experience came in handy.

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I fell in love with academia in the first Semester itself and realized I loved teaching the law, as much as I fancied practising it. I wrote and read extensively during the first three years of my teachings, be it articles, research papers or just case laws and the daily newspapers. The student interaction kept me young. Little did I know that all of these readings had secretly prepared me for my Advocate – on – Record Examination and unlike my colleagues, diving into textbooks amidst practice felt like a breeze. As an Advocate – on – Record practising at the Supreme Court of India, I feel nervous and excited before every court hearing, as much as I feel refreshed after every law class. In a nutshell, a journey of my passion and not profession really, dabbling between court hearings and law classes has been absolutely stunning!

Sannidhi Buch: Seeing your interdisciplinary approach towards the profession, how did you decide to pursue BCL?

Shriya Maini: After a year of practice and being at Amarchand Mangaldas, I realized that skill and subject knowledge were two aspects I lacked as a young practitioner. While no one can possibly jump the years of practice, one could augment their subject knowledge and skill by undertaking a detailed study of law. Also, please remember that the field of law is inter-disciplinary and inter-connected. There is nothing particularly as a civil or criminal lawyer. Sometimes, cross–FIRs may prove to be fantastic strategies for settlement of civil disputes and commercial transactions between parties could be excellent grounds for seeking bails. So, as a young lawyer, gaining a tryst with all the laws (by as much study and practice on the way) is the best technique to follow.

The BCL (a Master’s degree ironically called the “Bachelor of Civil Laws” for it retains the Cannon Law name!) offered by the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom is undoubtedly rigorous litigation orientated Masters’ training in law. It has a tutorial-based methodology of teaching that makes it unique. Every term (and we have the trimester system at Oxford) the teachers interact on a one on one basis with all their students, analysing their writings in person, clarifying and revising the entire course content. Also, I took subjects like International Crime and Commercial Remedies, which is an unthought-of combination in Indian law schools! Hence, the BCL was an organic choice and even in the legal profession, you get to adorn a multitude of hats at a time! A litigator, solicitor, academician, teacher who may not get a weekend, but there is professional satisfaction (and the green notes), to make up for it!

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Sannidhi Buch: What process did you undertake to select your college for pursuing your masters and how did you go about the application process, particularly about deciding the area of interest?

Shriya Maini: Well, there is no golden formula really! Let me give you some effective pointers for selecting colleges and making a successful LL.M Application thereafter. Firstly, it was a conscious choice to pick an Oxford, because of course, the University name matters.

It gives you an intellectual kick-start and ensures that the tag of an “Oxford” or “Cambridge” carries through the years of practice. So, try and target the best of the Universities and make an application almost everywhere. Secondly, I realized I wanted to be close home, to my parents and the UK was yet again, an organic choice of country. Thirdly, I spoke to a lot of people, discussing and debating at length how the BCL course was different from a conventional LL.M.

I focussed on what subjects I wanted to major in and played to my strengths, being Criminal and International Law. Lastly, I knew that I wanted to come back to India and litigate. Hence, I chose subjects that helped me augment my subject knowledge for a pathway to practice, whether it was contractual injunctions or commercial law based penalties, alongside reading cross–border criminal laws.

Sannidhi Buch: You have majored in International Crime in your BCL and have also been a visiting faculty at various colleges and have conducted various courses on a plethora of topics like Immigration Laws, Humanitarian Law, Energy Law, and many more in addition to practising in the District Courts, High Courts, and the Supreme Court. Is it necessary for students to have a specific area of interest and work on it or they can actively work towards many areas of interest together?

Shriya Maini: I am often asked this question and it always brings a smile to my face. As confused young practitioners, we always look at legal stalwarts in the business, aiming to emulate their career paths. Personally, I am of the strong belief that irrespective of the law you’re dealing with or the jurisdiction you’re in, the law requires research and reading. One could have an area of interest, in which they specialize, write research papers, participate in moot courts etc. However, the law is today all about advocacy and excellent legal research! As they say “I was half lawyer for I always noticed the loopholes”. Simply put, Advocacy is the art of critiquing any legal proposition with sound research, logical reasoning and acumen. Post-Covid, VC hearings have ensured that solicitors are arguing and barristers are drafting and filing via their offices’ matters. So the lines have blurred and so have the subject barriers. As a practising Advocate – on – Record, my office drafts, files, researches and argues its own matters, irrespective of the area of law. Be it criminal, property, civil or commercial, the original and appellate practice today at the Courts ensures that you end up dabbling in almost all subjects! Besides, teaching is always a breather, for I like giving back to the profession in whatever little way I can.

Sannidhi Buch: You have undertaken litigation, have also worked at various corporate offices, and have also been visiting faculties at many colleges, which, unlike the general notion, does not require you to limit yourself to a specific area, so what has been your experience in all of them and how should law students incorporate such a diverse work which can enable them to pursue such a dynamic career?

Shriya Maini: Indeed, it has been a fantastic journey which is also very challenging and there are days I burn out. But I pump myself up that my goal is to reach the top, do the best I can with the resources that I have. The law is an ocean and advocacy it’s waves, surfing up and down. A diverse work experience and zeal for creativity have landed me today as a practising AoR who is also a visiting faculty for 3 law schools. Being a young independent Advocate – on – Record at the Supreme Court of India, I must admit that the profession has been rather very welcoming. Of course, my father’s legal practice and office ensure I have a buffer, but one cannot sustain in the profession without daily performance. For the five minutes Court hearing, we prepare for months at times. In contrast, as a solicitor at the law firm, I was only drafting and vetting client emails. So, I believe students must go out and explore for themselves where they best fit in. Internships are the perfect taster course that I recommend, be it at law firms, advocate’s chambers or start-up organizations.

Sannidhi Buch: A lot of law students do not wish to indulge in the criminal practice of law considering that the same involves serious questions relating to the moral standards which the lawyers have to overlook sometimes to support their client. How were you able to keep the moral balance intact while working in the area of criminal litigation?

Shriya Maini: I’ll take the liberty to quote Hon’ble Justice Midha herein, who at his farewell speech beautifully summed up the answer to this question in a line –“In Court of Justice, both the parties know the truth, it is the judge, who is on trial”. Our job is to present the case to the best of our abilities as a lawyer keeping the attorney-client privilege intact, subject to the exceptions in the Indian Evidence Act. It is for the Courts to decide right or wrong. Additionally, the Bar Council Rules as well as the Advocates Act mandate that no criminal briefs be ever refused, for it is the judges who decide the culpability and not lawyers. Even otherwise, ethics is a fundamental prerequisite in any profession and not just the law, the primary object of which is to maintain the dignity and integrity of the profession. The legal fraternity must serve society honestly so that litigants have faith in their lawyers as well as the criminal justice system harbouring them.

Sannidhi Buch: You have worked with the United Nations, particularly Cabinet of the President Judge, International Residual Mechanism for the Criminal Tribunals, could you brief us about their working and how did you become a part of the same?

Shriya Maini: The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (“MICT”) seated at The Hague, Netherlands is a body of the United Nations (a court of law) designated with the task of carrying forward the legacy of the ICTY and ICTR – the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda respectively. My work ranged from drafting opinions, written memoranda, case law notes (for the then President JudgeTheodor Meron) to legal research, cite-checking and proofreading judicial orders and judgements. Splashed with a touch of both, the civil and common law elements, working on the MICT Statute was a fantastic experience. I interacted with lawyers from diverse backgrounds – be it Lebanon, Italy, America, Turkey, Scotland. Additionally, I saw the interplay of International Humanitarian Laws, Human Rights Laws and International Criminal Law i.e. how these laws play out in practice.

I was picked up by Judge Meron who happened to be my visiting faculty at the University of Oxford on the BCL, and we had a formal internship application procedure post the initial rounds of selection. I was awarded the Oxford Global Justice Award 2015 – 2016 for Public International Law and a generous donor named Mr. David Trenchard readily agreed to fund my internship at the Tribunal. And there I was, living my life at The Hague!

Sannidhi Buch: You have judged many international moot court rounds and have participated in them too, so how beneficial are these competitions for a law student and how can they prepare better for the same?

Shriya Maini: Participating in any extracurricular activities like moot court competitions, research paper writings and debate competitions look great on a lawyer’s CV. Besides, these activities form an integral part of a law student’s life and can prove to be highly beneficial for legal practice (mini/mock Courts). I participated in the Nani Palkhivala Moot Court Competition and Manfred Lachs, both of which taught me so much about International Taxation and International Space Law respectively. So you see the range of legal subjects that I studied. Teamwork, how to research and summarize key finds, drafting of memoranda are some of the crucial legal learning that can only be imbibed by embarking on a moot court competition journey. As for preparation, I would suggest doing 2 – 3 moot court competitions during law school and judging as many as you can, once in practice.

Sannidhi Buch: Covid has now been in our lives for over a year and considering the hardships that the graduates of this year and the previous year have faced, what would you advise them to motivate them?

Shriya Maini: No doubt that the legal profession is facing glitches and some are also finding it hard to sustain. Graduates, young lawyers and even some of the older ones are struggling to survive. However, as a practising Advocate – on – Record who has worked all through the pandemic in the last year, I want all the young law graduates to see the silver lining in the post-Covid – 19 litigation era! Armed with excellent virtual skills and computer knowledge, the young graduates intending to practice must focus on their English language, alongside learning the tricks of the trade like e-filing, listing matters online, swift drafting, how to operate court websites and coding conversions to facilitate a conventional advocate/firm’s office. Online networking is recommended but I strongly feel if you are good, the work will inevitably walk in! Just remember to never refuse a brief, don’t focus too much on the monetary aspect initially and undertake any sort of legal work that is offered to you, and you shall be good to go. VC hearings are the new normal and offices that have adapted are rather doing well for themselves.


 

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