In Conversation with Suadat Ahmad Kirmani, Partner Indus Law
Mr. Suadat Ahmad Kirmani is a highly experienced legal professional with over 11 years of expertise in a wide spectrum of dispute resolution and advisory services. He has established himself as a skilled practitioner in the field of arbitration, particularly focusing on construction disputes, civil commercial litigation, infrastructure sector projects advisory, insolvency and bankruptcy matters, consumer disputes, mergers and amalgamations, and White-Collar Crimes.
Mr. Kirmani is experienced in handling arbitrations conducted under the rules of International Chamber of Commerce, Singapore International Arbitration Centre, Indian Council of Arbitration, Delhi International Arbitration Centre, Hyderabad International Arbitration and Mediation Centre and other similar associations and institutions representing a wide range of domestic and multinational clients including public sector undertakings and contractors before various courts, tribunals and in arbitrations.
He also regularly advises a range of foreign companies regarding their projects in India and represents them before various arbitral tribunals and courts in New Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Kolkata etc. He also regularly advises on their contract and claims management. He has advised private developers on issues faced by them in the day-to-day dealings with various stake holders and domestic and international contractors.
Mr. Kirmani is also a member of Young IAMC Steering Committee for 2022-2024.
He regularly speaks at various conferences and seminars on topics concerning Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms and delivers lectures in various law colleges.
He is currently a Partner in IndusLaw, one of the premier law firms of India at their Bengaluru office.
1. Thank you for graciously accepting our invitation to be a guest on the legal chat series hosted by Nyayshastram. It is our utmost privilege to have you join us and share your knowledge and expertise with our esteemed readers. May I request you to introduce yourself to our readers?
Response: Many thanks for reaching out and giving me an opportunity to share my experiences with your readers. I am a dispute resolution lawyer with over 11 years of experience currently working as a Partner at one of the top law firms in the country. I was born in Srinagar, J&K and completed my schooling there and then I moved to Jammu where I graduated from University of Jammu in 2012.
2. Can you tell us what motivated you to pursue a career in law?
Response: That is an interesting question – what motivated me to pursue law! Frankly, when I was in school, I wanted to join the Air Force and hence took up Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics as my subjects. However, for some reasons, I could not pursue that. Then the obvious choice was engineering, given my PCM background. While I got though in a few colleges in engineering, I was not excited about the same. Having been a debater in school who was always trying to prove his point (sometimes in complete futility) and having a flair for writing, my friends and family used to joke about me becoming a lawyer someday. I guess they saw something in me that I was unable to see at that time. So, I decided to study law. Since it was already September when I decided to study law, I could not sit for CLAT or any other examination and was lucky to get admission in a college under University of Jammu – 2 months before first semester examination. I did not want to take a break year, which now in hindsight doesn’t seem so bad as it felt that time. That’s how I landed up in law.
3. Can you tell us about your journey in the legal field so far?
Response: The journey has been full of ups and downs but satisfying. I have had the privilege of working at some of the most fascinating places where the learning opportunities were ample, which shaped me into the professional that I am today. I started back home in Srinagar in the trial courts which I believe was the foundation that I have built my career on. Often, students say they do not want to work in trial courts for many reasons. But I tell everyone that trial courts are where we learn the basics and one should spend at least 2-3 years in trail courts in the initial phase of one’s career. Anyway, after spending little over a year in Srinagar, I moved to New Delhi and took up a corporate job. This was for two reasons – one was to get a flavor of something different than litigation and secondly, to be able to support myself while I found a decent chamber/firm which would take me. Although this was supposed to be a short experiment, I ended up spending around one and a half years there. While I was away from litigation during that period, I was able to hone many other important skills like attention to detail, improving soft skills, how to put systems and processes in place which would save you the time in doing heavy duty tasks.
4. Could you kindly provide insights into your internships and how they have contributed to your professional growth during the early stages of your legal career?
Response: Internships are an important part of our legal education system. When I was in college, internships were still not that big a rage except in the national law schools and some private institutions. However, I see a lot of change in that. Now when I see some CVs from students studying in lesser-known colleges or colleges based out in smaller towns and cities applying for internships, it gives me a lot of happiness. I did not start interning until I was in my 6th semester. So, if someone hasn’t interned in their initial years, please don’t lose hope. However, after that I interned in all semester breaks. Since I was inclined towards litigation from day one, I interned mostly at chambers of senior counsels except twice when I interned at an NGO in their litigation team and once with a Member of Parliament. In fact, I chose the internship at the NGO over a Tier-1 firm because the NGO was placing me in their litigation team. My internships helped me a lot in understanding court procedures and learning the mannerisms in which counsels addressed the courts. When I would go to the courts, I would sit even when our matter would be over to hear other counsels address arguments which I believe have helped me a lot in shaping my own skills as an arguing counsel. The reason I am sharing these things is because I want my younger friends to know that there is no fixed formula for success, and it is never too late to start. It is okay to make mistakes.
5. What challenges did you face during the start of your legal journey, and how did you overcome them?
Response: Initial years were full of challenges. There were times I felt that I was not good enough for the profession or I did not have it in me to make a successful litigator. Of course, then there is the issue of many chambers not paying basic stipend also. Further, since I had moved to Delhi, being in the new city came up with own set of challenges. In fact, for lawyers to even get rented accommodation is a challenge. However, patience is the key. The initial three years are very crucial, which will form the bedrock of your career in litigation. I worked as much as I could, didn’t shy away from working on any so called ‘small matters’ and when I did them right, my senior entrusted me with more complex matters. I also was blessed with very encouraging mentors and friends who believed in me even when I did not. I speak about these experiences because I see a lot of potentially good litigators quitting litigation in the initial years of their careers. There will be many challenges which you will face and sometimes you would feel like quitting too but please know that it is totally fine to feel like that. Work hard and be honest with your work and better days will come.
6. What do you consider to be your biggest achievement(s) in your legal career so far?
Response: I think I am too junior to talk about achievements as yet and there are miles to go before I sleep. There have been instances where I have argued matters against some of the biggest names in our field and have been complimented by them on many occasions which gave me a lot of confidence and overwhelmed me with joy. However, what I feel most satisfied about is seeing some of the students I started mentoring many years ago do well in their careers. They are currently working at some of the biggest firms in India and abroad and some even have their own independent practice. I would like to call that my biggest achievement so far.
7. As a partner in one of the most prestigious law firms in India, can you tell us about the challenges that you encounter in your daily work and how do you overcome them?
Response: Well, the challenges aren’t significantly different than what you would face at a chamber. One must ensure doing quality work while meeting the timelines. Since our work has to take into account the functioning of courts, there can be some uncertainties. For example, a matter may be listed for arguments, but the matter may get adjourned for some reason not attributable to us, then explaining the same to the client and managing their expectations is also required. Further, as a Partner, you are leading a team which looks up to you for your experience and guidance. Different members of the team come with different experiences and skillset. So as a Partner, I must be conscious of the same and ensure that we take everyone along and provide proper guidance and help to the team members.
I believe that when it comes to clients, earning their trust is essential and that will come only by ensuring you are doing quality work and at the same time honoring your time commitments. Further, one must always be honest to the clients and to other colleagues and not compromise on integrity. Within the team, we believe in having an open-door policy where any team member can walk up to a Partner and discuss any issues being faced by them.
8. In order to maintain a balance between your professional and personal life, what approaches do you employ to effectively manage your time and commitments? Could you share some strategies or techniques that you find beneficial for achieving this balance?
Response: That is a difficult question, but I will try and share some of the things I follow. Firstly, there is no fixed formula for achieving a work-life balance. Over the years, with experience, one learns to manage time. I try to make a weekly plan for my work based on the work that I am to deliver. This, of course, depends on any last-minute filings and listings or even unscheduled meetings. Further, as far as possible, I try to keep Sundays free but that again is subject to the above caveats. I strongly suggest that lawyers should go for vacations with their families at least twice a year. I haven’t been able to do it in the last few years, but I am planning to implement this from now onwards. But like I said, there is no hard and fast rule, we must find what suits us best and try to develop a routine which allows us to take care of our professional and personal life in a balanced manner.
9. What qualities do you consider indispensable for achieving success in the legal profession, and what strategies would you recommend for aspiring lawyers to cultivate and nurture these qualities?
Response: Hard work. Integrity. Honesty. These are the most important qualities required to become successful in any field and law is no different. It sounds like a cliché but there is no substitute for hard work. I often say ‘hard work eats attitude for lunch and luck for dinner’ and I live by this line. Then, of course, integrity and honesty are absolutely indispensable. You must be honest towards your work, the courts, your colleagues, your clients and yourself. For example, as lawyers, you will come to know of a lot of sensitive information which if leaked could cause a deal to collapse of a client losing their case. Such information must be always kept confidential. One must also never lie to the court lest one’s reputation be tarnished forever. You may win the case, but you will lose the court and your reputation for ever. There are no strategies to develop these qualities except by being honest and putting in the actual hard work. Do not take shortcuts even if you see someone doing it and succeeding for that success will always be short-lived but the loss of reputation, which is one of the most important aspects of this profession, will be permanent.
10. In light of the growing prominence of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms, such as arbitration and mediation, we would greatly appreciate your insights on the future of ADR and your projections regarding the evolution of these mechanisms in the years to come.
Response: ADR is indeed the future of dispute resolution. Presently the judicial system in India is belabored with pendency, with a multitude of cases dragging on for years on end. Specialized tribunals that have been set up, such as the NCLTs have made some progress in easing this burden but there remains much to be done. Therefore, ADR mechanisms like arbitration and mediation will be preferred modes of dispute resolution. While arbitration is being widely used as a mode of dispute resolution, in coming days mediation will also gain more prominence. The Mediation Bill, 2021, if passed, will give a huge boost to mediation as an ADR mechanism. India is a party to the Singapore Convention as well, so there is an expectation that a formal structure for mediation will be put in place. In fact, many parties are now leaning towards mediation rather than arbitration or at least trying mediation before going into arbitration. Thus, we see a lot of what we call ‘Med-Arb’ and ‘Arb-Med-Arb’ clauses being incorporated into the contracts. However, there is a huge dearth of professional mediation practitioners in India as well as subject matter expert arbitrators which means that there are ample opportunities for the upcoming lawyers to take up these areas and eventually become experts in them. Mediation requires a lot of unlearning of the rigid ‘win or lose’ mentality which some lawyers like me who have been in the profession for some time now may find difficult, but the younger lawyers have a very fertile and open mind and thus can excel quicker. For this, I would strongly suggest the students take these subjects seriously, go for trainings wherever possible, take up internships which focus on ADR mechanisms, read and try to write papers which would help them understand the subject more.
11. As an accomplished individual who has attained notable success in the legal profession, what guidance or advice would you offer to law students who are embarking on their career paths?
Response: Thank you for calling me accomplished although I hardly think so. I am just a student of law and will remain so for the rest of my life. I would repeat some things that I said above, i.e., be honest, work hard and do not integrity ever. Also, whenever you have spare time, read up on the subjects other than what you may be currently working on, it would come handy when you get to work on those matters in future.
Further, I want the students to also enjoy their time in college and not make things like number of internships, moots, paper writing a matter of life and death. This is a marathon and not a sprint. Even if you have missed out doing something in the first few semesters doesn’t mean the end of the road. It is never late to make a fresh start. Be critical of yourself but don’t be harsh on yourself. Even if you don’t have 10 internships, 5 moots, 5 papers etc on your resume, you will still have a lot of chances to prove yourself and make your career worthwhile. Also, for those who can, please find yourselves a mentor who can guide you on various aspects of life and career. Many people I know have or would be happy to take mentees and guide them. Even if you don’t have a mentor, seek guidance and help from people you know and if something is bothering you, don’t keep it bottled up, speak to your family and friends. They are your best support system.
Thank you once again for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts with your readers. I wish the Nyayshastram team the very best.
The Interview was taken by Abhishek Bhushan Singh (Advocate Litigation and Disputes Resolution, Founder and MD Nyayshastram)