Interview with Zulfiquar Memon, Managing Partner of MZM Legal, Mumbai

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Swastika Nandwani
I am a third-year student at NMIMS School of Law, Mumbai. My interest lies in Corporate Law and Alternate Dispute Resolution.

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Mr. Zulfiquar Memon is the Managing Partner of MZM Legal. He heads the Global Disputes Practice including multijurisdictional Disputes Resolution involving the coordination of legal teams in multiple countries for clients.

He closely monitors and spearheads the firm’s growth and works closely with other partners on Litigation strategy, Dispute Resolution, White Collar Crime defense, internal Corporate Investigations, and Compliance. Over the years, Mr. Zulfiquar Memon has built a strong working relationship with powerful, like-minded law firms all over the world.

Mr. Zulfiquar Memon is a Director of the International White Collar Crime Law Firm Association- the Roxin Alliance which is headquartered in Munich, Germany and has a presence in over 30 countries. He plays a key role in all activities of the Alliance including their working group commitments for anti-corruption and governance to the World Bank Global Forum on Law, Justice, and Development (GFLJD).

Libertatem Magazine grabbed this golden opportunity to interact with Mr. Memon and talk at length about what motivated him to pursue law and if graduating from an NLU gave him an edge in career growth. We also talked about the Anti-Corruption Laws in India vis-à-vis in other countries and a plethora of other matters. Read on the transcript to know what Mr. Memon has to say.

Swastika: Your father is a celebrated criminal lawyer. Did that motivate you to take up law or did law practice interest you personally?

Zulfiquar Memon: Yes. From a very young age, I assisted him in taking notes and attending meetings with him. He represented some very high-profile clients and in matters which attracted media attention and which were extremely sensational. All of this was very interesting to me and played a great role in my decision to join the profession.

Swastika: You have been a lawyer for two decades and have expertise in various departments such as Alternate Dispute Resolution, White Collar Crime, Criminal Compliance, etc. What do you give a higher preference to, Litigation or Arbitration? Also, what are your opinions on the fact that Arbitration is considered to be afflicted with the same problems as those of Litigation, for example, high costs, delayed awards, etc?

Zulfiquar Memon: My preference is and has always been ADR. From the time I established MZM Legal, I was instrumental in settling many complicated matters in my conference room. At times, I even invited the wrath of my partners and associates who found litigation so very exciting but even before the matters gathered momentum, I had successfully found truce for the Clients. Eventually, this became the strength of the firm, which is why today most of our satisfied Clients recommend us with the hope that we will put an end to a long-drawn, toxic, and expensive litigation. As far as Arbitration is concerned, this was the case a few years ago. However, the amendment in the Arbitration Act has streamlined the process to a great extent but I feel we still have a long way to go. We need more reforms and changes in the act to make it more cost-effective and robust. Many Arbitral awards are lost in the Courtrooms, waiting for appeal which kills the entire purpose of Arbitration.

Swastika: You are the Director of the International White-Collar Crime Law Firm Association- the Roxin Alliance which is headquartered in Munich, Germany. Do you think that the anti-corruption laws in Germany are more concrete and its implementation is stricter as compared to India?

Zulfiquar Memon: The alliance is no more active. However, my experience with working in Germany and with some of the finest White-Collar Crime Lawyers / Law firms has taught me a great deal about integrity and commitment. Germans have a great sense of discipline and their commitment level to a cause is second to none. Laws are more or less the same. I just feel the way they are interpreted, implemented, and applied is what matters at the end of the day. The Indian Prevention of Corruption Act, if read carefully, covers more or less every aspect of what the United States FCPA or a UK Bribery Act would cover. We need to have better training programs for our investigating agencies and ensure that they are well versed with how international agencies work in the Anti-Corruption space, taking advantage of cutting-edge technology and have a better understanding of global laws related to Asset Tracing and Money Laundering.

Swastika: You completed your Post Graduate Diploma in International Commercial Arbitration from the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR) University, Hyderabad. Do you think students who graduate from National Law Universities have an edge over students who graduate from other Universities?

Zulfiquar Memon: I cannot speak on behalf of the industry but it is not a priority for me. I think a good lawyer is one who focuses on developing an overall personality, regardless of the school. Times have changed and the world has become highly competitive. Today as a firm, we do not just look at the institution from where a student has completed his or her law degree, but an overall personality of how presentable he or she is, how well they carry themselves, and the confidence level. We have hired kids who have shown eagerness to learn and have an undying spirit of becoming leaders. As a firm, we have had young associates work on crucial cases and even directly deal with the clients and that is what makes them confident and trains them to become strong leaders. Regardless of the university, the burning desire to make it big, the greed to learn, the confidence in one’s self, and the ability to remain calm and patient in tough times is what it takes to become successful. A top university can get you a cream but it is what I have stated above, which will give you the wings to grow and succeed.

Swastika: The current COVID- 19 situations might lead to increased White-Collar Crimes such as bribery and embezzlement of money. What are your suggestions to deal with this problem?

Zulfiquar Memon: I don’t think the COVID situation will lead to a spike in WCC cases but it is surely going to lead to a lot of contractual disputes and litigation between business houses. We are already receiving inquiries for advice on Force Majeure clauses in the contract and its implications. There are disputes in the retail industry, F&B, entertainment, events, and the logistics businesses. We have also seen a huge rise in cases of domestic violence and divorces which sadly have escalated due to the lockdown.

Swastika: The concept of Lok Adalat is an innovative Indian contribution to the Alternate Dispute Resolution Systems. Do you think that in this system the judges are pressured to dispose of the cases quickly which leads to limited consideration to the parties’ rights and needs? If yes, what according to you can be the solution to this problem?

Zulfiquar Memon: There is no straight jacket solution to this. In my opinion, we need to establish effective Judicial Academies which trains judges and arbitrators constantly. Learning never stops. A judge, with all due respect, must never think that he or she knows it all and hence as every other professional, there must a constant learning program which will make them effective judicial officers and will not only assist them in effectively dealing with a heavy log of cases but also to dispose of them judiciously.

Swastika: Arbitration is still considered to be a relatively new field in concept in India. However, it has been prevalent in other countries like the USA for a very long time. Why do you think Arbitration has not been that successful in India as it has been in countries like the USA? What do you think can be done to make Indians switch to a more economical and faster method of dispute resolution like Arbitration from filing lawsuits in the court?

Zulfiquar Memon: That is not entirely true. Arbitration has been very successful in India and with time it is gathering more and more momentum. The problem is the sheer size of disputes in our country makes us believe that Arbitration is not a common use of redressal of dispute in India. We must also bear in mind that we as Indians are very litigious and I may not be wrong in saying that every family in India has ongoing litigation, small or big. For this reason, it is very easy for anyone to hire a lawyer and file a case, which only adds to the burden of pending litigation, regardless of the same is pending for years. The volume of pending court cases in India is appalling and hence when one compares the percentage of cases opting for Arbitration, it seems like drop in the ocean. However, there is a considerable amount of reliance on Arbitral Agreements among business houses and opting for Arbitration over classic litigation.

Swastika: These days a lot of Law students want to choose Alternate Dispute resolution as their career path. Do you think that the field of Arbitration has a good scope in our country?

Zulfiquar Memon: Yes, I agree with that. However, looking at the future, more than commercial Arbitration, it is Mediation which is gathering momentum globally. When I attend international conferences and events on ADR, I have seen the rise of professional Mediators and Mediation related conferences in which more and more lawyers / non-lawyers are participating to learn about Mediation and how one can be a trained mediator. As compared to Arbitration, mediation is a relatively much cheaper and effective option, which disputing parties can opt for. As we move towards a new world, post-Covid, more and more cost-effective mechanisms will be opted as a priority and Mediation sure seems like a great way forward in the area of dispute resolution, globally.


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