Libertatem Magazine

Interview with Vikrant Nehra, Associate at Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan

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Mr Vikrant Nehra graduated with B.A, LL.B from Vivekananda Institute Of Professional Studies (VIPS), Delhi in 2017 and pursued his LL.M in Comparative and International Dispute Resolution from the Queen Mary, University of London. Vikrant is one of the youngest to practice before the Supreme Court of India. He has more than three years of experience in international trade, arbitration and litigation. At present, he is an Associate at Lakshmikumaran and Sridharan and also an Arbitrator at Chandigarh Arbitration Centre. Apart from this, he has also been the Vice President of ‘Young India – Youth Ki Awaaz’, a national level Non- Governmental Organisation.

Libertatem Magazine recently interviewed Mr. Vikrant. Here is a transcript of the interview.

Apuroopa: Why did you choose to pursue law as your career? At what point of your life did you decide to study law? Is there a guide or mentor who inspired you to choose law?

Vikrant Nehra: Well, pursuing law was not my first choice. I was a Science (non-medical) student during my senior secondary school. I wanted to pursue B.Tech and thereafter, ultimately become an Astronaut. Although my father is an Advocate-on-Record (AOR) but I was never inclined towards the law because I thought that it was a very hard profession. I saw him leaving at 9 every morning, six days a week and coming back home at around 9 in the night. Even after coming back home, he would be busy discussing with the clients and other lawyers to prepare for the next day. I was sceptical as a teenager of getting into a profession where I would hardly get time for myself. Needless to say, that you have different priorities when you are a teenager.

While I was preparing for the engineering entrance exams, my father suggested that I should also have an alternate plan and asked me to consider giving some law entrance tests as well. Although, I sat for a few engineering entrance exams but unfortunately, I could not get admission in any University of my preference.  Thus, I was at a crossroads in my life.  I could either opt for a gap year and take the engineering entrance tests next year or to go to a Law School. I opted for the latter as the gap year plan involved a lot of uncertainty and because of my apparent dislike for studying ‘Mathematics’ anymore.

What started as a disaster, turned out to be a beautiful journey. The first law subject I was introduced to, in my Law School, was ‘Law of Contracts’. I was amazed by my interaction with the law, unbeknown to me, in almost every step of my life. For instance, when I went to McDonald’s to buy a burger, I realised that actually, I was entering into a contract. With time, I started enjoying studying law. I can say that going to Law School has proved to be a life-changing decision for me. Without a doubt, I can say that my father is my guide. I still go to him sometimes when I need advice on a point of law or any procedure of the Court.

Apuroopa: What influenced you to choose Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies (VIPS), Delhi, for pursuing B.A, LL.B. (Hons.)? What activities did you take part in during your time at Law School and how did the college help you in shaping your legal career?

Vikrant Nehra: Before joining VIPS, I completed my first year from ICFAI University Dehradun. For some reasons, I wanted to shift back to Delhi. So after completing my first year, I sat again for the law entrance exams. After getting good ranks in the entrance tests, I got admission in the Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) University and the University School of Law and Legal Studies of the Indraprastha University, Delhi. I even attended classes at JMI for a week. At the same time, I was trying to migrate to VIPS directly in the second year which I eventually was able to do. After getting admission in four top universities/colleges in India, I can surely say that VIPS is one of the best colleges when it comes to imparting legal education.

During my Law School, I participated in various National level moot court competitions, Model United Nations and other seminars/conferences. I also represented my law school in a few Table Tennis and Cricket tournaments including the ICFAI Premier League where our team emerged as the winner and the VIPS Intra-College Cricket Tournament in which we were one of the semi-finalists. Apart from that, I was also a Volunteer at the VIPS Legal Aid Clinic.

Apuroopa: You have done a wide variety of internships during your time as a college student. Could you share your overall experience of the same? Also, how did the internships help you reach your present position?

Vikrant Nehra: Definitely, getting practical exposure while being a student helps not only in better understanding of the theoretical concepts, but doing a variety of internships also helps you in deciding your future career path. It is difficult to quantify the role that internships played in helping me reach my present position. I believe that there are different factors which contribute at the same time in order to achieve the desired results. There is no single equation, there is no theory of everything. However, I can recall one specific instance when an internship helped me. I was sitting for the final exam of one of my subjects during my postgraduation. There was one specific part of a question that I was not well prepared for, but I was still able to attempt it based on my internship experience and eventually, I was one of the top scorers in that subject.     

Apuroopa: After you graduated from VIPS, you did your masters in ‘Comparative and International Dispute Resolution’ at the Queen Mary, University of London. Why did you decide to do your LL.M. in a foreign University? Also, what motivated you to choose Comparative and International Dispute Resolution as your specialisation?

Vikrant Nehra: Well, I had always wanted to do a postgraduation from a foreign University although I was in a dilemma if I should do it right after my graduation or after gaining a few years of work experience. I decided to go with the former. There are various values attached with getting a foreign degree, especially if you live in a country like India – be it getting the exposure of living in a different country, the tag attached to your name once you complete the degree or the possibility of better opportunities.

Although I was clear about doing a postgraduation, but I was not clear about the specialisation.  To overcome this doubt, I  spoke to some people who had done there LL.Ms from abroad so that I could have an idea as to which subject would have the maximum scope in India in the future (no prizes for guessing the winner). Arbitration and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) emerged at the top of the list. As I was more interested in Arbitration, I decided to go ahead with ‘Comparative and International Dispute Resolution’ which is also known as ‘International Arbitration’. Needless to say, that the Queen Mary, University of London is one of most reputed universities in the world for this course.

Also, I do not think it would make much sense to pursue a specialisation in areas like criminal law or constitutional law from foreign universities as most of the syllabus would focus on the criminal law or the Constitution of that country. A better idea would be to pursue it in a field of law which has a more universal application.

Apuroopa: How was your life at the Queen Mary, University of London? You were a Contributing Editor at the Postgraduate Law Society and also part of Queen Mary Pro Bono Society. What kind of skills and experience did you gain being the same?

Vikrant Nehra: It was a fantastic experience to study and live in a great city like London. While being a Contributing Editor at the Postgraduate Law Society, my role was to write quarterly for the newsletter. I authored a case note on a famous international arbitration award and the ‘news’ section of the newsletter which helped me polish my writing skills. Because of the Queen Mary Pro Bono Society, I was able to be a part of a great initiative, of providing pro bono legal advice to the clients, between an organisation and the world’s largest firm. By working directly with the solicitors of the firm, I was able to gain the key skill of dealing with the clients and also learnt various aspects of the English law.

Apuroopa: After studying at both an Indian and a foreign University, what kind of differences do you see in the legal education in India and foreign? Do you think that pursuing LL.M. from a foreign University is a better choice as compared to Indian universities?

Vikrant Nehra: In my opinion, the experience of a foreign University should not be restricted to studies. Rather, it is the overall experience of living in a foreign country that matters, which apart from studies, includes interacting with people from different cultures, overall personality development, travelling and having fun. Managing yourself in a foreign country, especially if you are living away from home for the first time, is a skill which is often underrated. I remember that when I went to London for the first time, I was even hesitant to ask people for directions thinking whether I would be able to speak properly, whether the other person would understand my accent, how would the other person react etc. With time, I became more confident and lost my hesitancy.

When I went to South Korea later to work with the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, at least the accent was not a problem anymore as most of the people did not speak English. I remember reaching the Incheon International Airport in the evening with no place to stay. Fortunately, I was not only able to find a permanent place to stay, the same evening but also to live in South Korea for a few months without facing any great difficulty. I even used the sign language while communicating with others to ask for directions until I got a sim card with the internet.

Another advantage of studying at a foreign University is that you can choose the subjects you would like to study from a wide variety of options, which would be true for most of the good foreign universities. This is unlike most of the Indian universities where the curriculum for all the students in a course is prefixed and does not offer many options. For example, though most of the other students from my specialisation chose subjects related to only international arbitration, I also studied WTO Law and IPR subjects. I can confidently say that living in London was the best year of my life so far. So yes, pursuing LL.M. from a foreign University is a much better choice as compared to pursuing it from an Indian University provided that you can cover your expenses.

However, being an Indian, one disadvantage which I felt of studying at a foreign University is that it does not offer much value for money. The teaching hours are much lesser and the fee is much higher in comparison to the Indian universities.

Apuroopa: As an Arbitrator, do you think arbitration is going to have a good scope in future? Why do you think people still prefer litigation over arbitration?

Vikrant Nehra: Arbitration has been going around for centuries in some form or the other. India already has a significant amount of domestic arbitrations. International arbitration in India is still in its nascent stages, but with time, it is only going to grow. However, one of the essences of arbitration is that it is cost-effective but with time it is getting expensive.

I think one of the main reasons for the preference of litigation over arbitration is the lack of awareness of the latter as a method of dispute resolution among people. The common man still has the stereotypical approach that says ‘I will see you in Court’ when a dispute arises. Arbitration arises from the agreement between the parties. If there is no arbitration clause in the contract or a separate arbitration agreement, then there can be no arbitration. When two parties execute a contract, they do not want or expect to enter in a dispute later. Everyone wants a happy ending, be it in movies or life or otherwise. However, if they end up in a dispute later, then many of them do not have the option of arbitration as there was no arbitration clause in the contract and thus, they end up litigating.

If in the future, the parties decide not to include an arbitration clause in the agreement for any reason, be it the availability of other cheaper alternative methods of dispute resolution or let us say, there is a drastic change in the judicial system which significantly improves the timeline of litigations then we might see a decrease in arbitrations.

Apuroopa: You have worked as an advocate at the Supreme Court of India for more than a year and now, you are working as an Associate at Lakshmikumaran and Sridharan. What kind of differences do you see in the role and responsibility you took up as an advocate at the Supreme Court and as an associate at a corporate law firm?

Vikrant Nehra: These are two different yet very similar roles as the basics remain the same – you act as a lawyer providing services to the client. However, when you are exclusively into litigation, you have more independence and less hierarchy to follow while in a law firm, you have to adapt and adhere to the culture, policies and values of the firm. The team structure in a firm can be very vertical.

Moreover, my scope of work has also changed. While I was practising exclusively at the Supreme Court, I was mostly doing civil litigations which covered a wide variety of work depending on the client. At Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan, I am a part of the International Trade Practice, therefore, my scope of work is limited to this particular field although our team also has some matters going on before the Supreme Court as well as other courts.

Apuroopa: Recently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is reduced international trade, falling purchasing managers’ indices (PMIs) across the globe and deep cuts in GDP forecasts for the year, which indicate we have entered the anticipated recessionary period. As an international trade lawyer, what is your take on this? Also, in your opinion, how can we overcome this situation?

Vikrant Nehra: WTO expects that world trade may fall by 13% to 32% in 2020 though recent trade developments suggest that the decline may be closer to the optimistic scenario. IMF has projected that the world economy will contract by 4.9% this year. It is also estimated that the recession would be worse than the 2008-09 financial crisis. The situation does not look very hopeful.

To overcome this situation, the first and foremost step is to control the pandemic, try mitigating the damage and strive to reach normalcy as soon as possible. Policymakers from around the world would have to come together and plan not only for the near future but also for the aftermath. Fortunately, the world economy is in a better position compared to what it was a few months back. An example of this is China – earlier it was anticipated that in the second quarter, the growth rate would only be 2.4% but the actual growth rate has been 3.2%. I am hopeful that with normalcy things will improve more than what we expect now.

Apuroopa: Lastly, what are your message to law students and law graduates who are looking forward to doing their LL.M. at a foreign University and build a career in International Dispute Resolution (International Arbitration)?

Vikrant Nehra: Go ahead and do it if you have the money or get a scholarship! Most likely it would be the best year of your life. I would suggest doing it after the pandemic to get the full experience. However, an LL.M. from a foreign University is not worth it if you would have to take a loan or your parents would have to mortgage land. I would also like to caution them that international arbitration is still very niche in India and it is not easy to get a job in major international arbitration jurisdictions mainly due to the stringent immigration restrictions, especially if you do not have substantial previous work experience in arbitration.

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