LexTalk World interviews Geetanjali Sethi. Ms. Geetanjali Sethi was enrolled as an Advocate with the Bar Council of Delhi, India on June 22, 2011. After successfully qualifying the All India Bar Examination (AIBE) in July 2011, Ms. Sethi was issued the Certificate of Practice by Bar Council of India (BCI) on August 4, 2011. Ms. Sethi is IIAM (Indian Institute of Arbitration and Mediation, India) Accredited Mediator and a Certified and Empaneled Arbitrator on the panel of IIAM, India. Ms. Sethi is an alumna of D.P.S. R.K. Puram, India and Lady Shri Ram College for Women, India. She has been a Topper (First Rank Holder) in her LL.B. She has done two post graduations, in Cyber Laws and Business Laws, from NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, India (First Rank Holder in Cyber Laws) and NLSIU, Bangalore, India respectively. Currently, Ms. Sethi divides her time in attending to litigation and corporate law assignments on one hand and arbitration and mediation assignments on the other.
Ms. Sethi has an experience of more than a decade into litigation, arbitration and corporate advisory work. She started her legal career with distinguished legal luminary Late Mr. Ram Jethmalani. She has worked with leading legal professionals and law firms of India including L&L Partners Law Offices. She has handled matters independently comprising of, but not limited to, contractual disputes, company matters, shareholding disputes, intellectual property matters, banking frauds, real estate matters, consumer complaints and constitutional matters. She has handled domestic and international commercial arbitrations. She has expertise and sound knowledge of commercial and infrastructural contracts. She has the unique distinction of having handled along with Dispute Resolution, the most complex transactional work for some of the leading multinationals and brought it to a successful conclusion. Ms. Sethi has successfully rendered legal opinion to domestic and foreign clients and has represented clients before courts, tribunals and quasi-judicial authorities in New Delhi, India and in arbitral proceedings.
Ms. Sethi has contributed the India Chapters of certain books and is a regular contributor of articles to different legal platforms.
Host: Kindly let us know broadly about your professional journey and academic accomplishments.
Geetanjali: Thank you for your kind introduction. I sincerely believe that the journey of any professional has two parts- the academics and the practical aspect when you enter the profession. It is the academics which lay down the foundation on which the edifice of a professional is built. So, I will start with my academic background. I am an alumna of D.P.S. R.K. Puram and Lady Shri Ram College for Women. After completing my graduation from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, I pursued my LL.B. (3 year course) from New Law College, Bharati Vidyapeeth University, Pune, wherein I topped amongst all the candidates of LL.B. (3 year course). Thereafter, I pursued two post graduations, in Cyber Laws from NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad and in Business Laws from NLSIU, Bangalore. I topped amongst all the candidates of cyber laws as well. I pursued a number of certifications in mediation and arbitration and professional advanced training courses into mediation and arbitration. As a result of these professional advanced training courses, I became a Mediator and subsequently an Arbitrator.
I enrolled myself with the Bar Council of Delhi in June 2011 and subsequently qualified the All India Bar Examination in July 2011. I started my practice in August 2011. I have been fortunate enough that in the first 5 years of my practice, I got an opportunity to handle the portfolio of certain Indian and foreign companies, multinationals and Fortune 500 companies. As part of that, I was handling not just assignments concerning litigation across courts, tribunals and quasi-judicial authorities in India but also assignments on intellectual property, corporate law assignments and domestic and international commercial arbitrations. I have handled the corporate advisory and complex transactional work for foreign clients and brought it to a successful conclusion. After a practice of more than 5 years, I wanted to have a value addition and focus mainly on litigation and arbitrations. I joined L&L Partners Law Offices (formerly Luthra & Luthra Law Offices), where I got an opportunity to augment my skills into commercial matters, civil litigation, arbitrations, commercial and infrastructural contracts. I have had an association with L&L Partners Law Offices for 5 years. I had an intellectually stimulating and a great learning experience with L&L Partners Law Offices which contributed greatly to my growth as a professional, as an Advocate and also helped me to develop the skills as an Arbitrator. It is indeed a great experience to get to learn both sides of the story, first as an Advocate representing the client in an arbitration and then subsequently elevate to the level of an Arbitrator. After an enriching experience and a great professional journey with L&L Partners Law Offices, I thereafter started taking my independent assignments on mediation, arbitration, litigation and corporate advisory work.
As I mentioned at the outset of this conversation that academics are my foundation. I still believe that I am a learner and by way of different matters and situations which I handle, I am learning everyday. So, I believe in regularly sharing the knowledge which I have gained in a span of more than a decade by way of articles and books. I strongly believe that the comments and feedback will help me to grow, evolve and blossom as an author and as a writer. At a very young age, I authored India Chapters of two books entitled “Enforcement of Judgments, Deeds and Awards in Commercial Matters” and “Commercial Litigation- International Series”, both of which were published by Thompson Reuters Group. I have also been instrumental in regularly contributing articles to different legal platforms. Amidst this pandemic, I had contributed two articles on Force Majeure and Mediation.
I am also instrumental in regularly guiding law students on tips regarding mediation and the skills which they need to develop to grow, evolve and practice as a Mediator.
My decision of pursuing law is not something which happened abruptly or suddenly or accidently. It is rather an apt case of dream becoming a passion and passion becoming a vision. As a child and school student in Class VI, I liked to access and analyse the situations, plan and organize and arrive at a rational judgment. In Class X, we had a subject Civics which contained ‘Constitutional Law’. I liked Constitutional Law. Gradually, by pursuing law degree, I lived my dream and pursued my passion. When I entered this profession and started my practice, I realized that my expertise lies into business laws and cyber laws. Gradually, I realized that I have the potential to access and analyse the parties and to help them in arriving at a settlement or to adjudicate their disputes. It subsequently evolved into a vision. That vision helped me to become a Mediator and subsequently an Arbitrator. In a sum and substance, this professional journey has not been a cakewalk but has been a path full of struggles. This professional journey as a first generation lawyer has inculcated the spirit of a fighter in me. It has helped me to come out victorious inspite of all odds and for that, I express sincere gratitude to my parents. My mother has indeed been the pillar of my strength. She stood by me through thick and thin. She encouraged me to pursue my passion in law, inspite of the fact that she has been a former Physics Lecturer. My mother is indeed an integral part of my existence and an indispensable part of my professional journey from a law student to an Advocate, an Author, then a Mediator and an Arbitrator.
Host: Kindly let us know about the most complex matter which you have handled and the challenges you faced in the same.
Geetanjali: I strongly believe that every case is peculiar in its own way and not exactly complex. It is the skill of the lawyer whether it is complex or not. It is the legal acumen of lawyer to study a matter in the light of the pleadings, supporting documents and evidence and arrive at a favorable result as desired by the client. There may be certain difficult situations, which I will not term as ‘complex’. I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to handle the profile of certain multinationals. In one matter as a fresh law graduate, I was handling the basic corporate compliances aspect. It may appear to anyone that there is nothing much in that matter. That one matter thereafter had a number of angles to it regarding corporate litigation, intellectual property and international commercial arbitration. It not just helped me to augment and fine tune my skills as a lawyer but taught me a lesson that no job is big or small. With your hard work, dedication and sincerity, you may get best opportunities.
I do not take anything as a challenge but an opportunity to pave the best path forward for the client. Nothing is a challenge. There may be difficult situations which are nothing but God sent opportunities to you to grow, evolve and blossom as an professional. These difficult situations are nothing but a God sent message to enhance your skills and to add another feather in your hat as a professional and as a lawyer.
I take this opportunity to share some of my professional experiences. In my first international commercial arbitration, I got an opportunity to handle an arbitration which involved intricate questions of corporate law and certain technical aspects of accountancy to it. I am not a Chartered Accountant. I was at that point of time absolutely raw in this profession and had to handle an area which is not my expertise. That was a difficult situation. However, I moved ahead with full confidence. I had no option but to rise to the occasion, understand the technical aspects of accounts, read the transcripts, prepare for cross examination thoroughly and was successful in that matter in getting favorable results. I consequently earned the appreciation and respect of the client as well.
I had the opportunity to handle a number of infrastructural and EPC contracts. These contracts involve technical aspects of engineering. It may be difficult for a lawyer to understand these technical aspects but I handled the same to the satisfaction of all concerned. One should rise to the occasion and handle any technical matter or situation which comes your way.
Similarly, there are certain matters involving medical deficiency. In sum and substance, these matters involving technical aspects and subjects which are not your expertise are opportunities to grow and evolve as a professional.
Host: What is your opinion about arbitration as a mode of dispute resolution?
Geetanjali: Arbitration is a very structured and streamlined mode of dispute resolution. It has evolved very well over the years. India has a pro arbitration regime as evident from the amendments made in law and the jurisprudence evolved by the courts in India. The companies mostly prefer to have arbitration as the preferred mode of dispute resolution. It also helps in saving the judicial time. We however need to have specific statutory provisions on emergency arbitration in Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996. There are certain provisions in India under the rules of different High Courts and arbitration institutions. The judiciary has certainly made an attempt to evolve the jurisprudence in this direction in Amazon.Com NV Investment Holdings LLC v. Future Retail Ltd. and others, which is a welcome step. I am of the considered opinion that we need to evolve this jurisprudence further. Once we are successful in evolving the jurisprudence related to emergency arbitration, it will not only help in saving the precious judicial time but sometimes an emergency arbitration develops the maturity amongst the parties to settle.
Host: Could you kindly explain our viewers who are not lawyers, the difference between arbitration and mediation?
Geetanjali: Arbitration is a mode of dispute resolution where the parties try to resolve their disputes outside the court with the help of an independent third person that is an Arbitrator or a Panel of Arbitrators, as specified in the Arbitration Agreement. The Arbitration Agreement specifies the law relating to the arbitration and the law related to the conduct of the arbitration proceedings (Curial Law). The Code of Civil Procedure does not apply to an arbitration, which are the trappings of the court. However, the procedure of an arbitration that is filing of Statement of Claim, Statement of Defence and other pleadings which are part and parcel of the arbitration proceedings are akin to the procedures in civil law. So, the procedures specified in civil law indirectly apply. Arbitrator hears and adjudicates the dispute between the parties in the light of the pleadings, the supporting documents and evidence. The Arbitrator is more like a Judge and the parties submit to his authority. The award pronounced by an Arbitrator is binding on the parties and enforceable in the court.
Mediator on the other hand, is not a Judge. Mediator is not concerned with what is right or what is wrong. Mediator only facilitates and assists the parties in arriving at a settlement. It is a facilitative mode of dispute resolution. For this, we conduct private sessions with parties to access the hidden feelings of parties behind their anger, ego and animosity. The Mediator is not concerned with the evidence and what is right or wrong. An arbitrator certainly has to access and analyse the Evidence.
This is broadly the difference between arbitration and mediation.
Host: What are your suggestions to reduce the pendency of cases in India and role which mediation could play in the same?
Geetanjali: That is a very good question. It is indeed a matter of great concern to the complete legal fraternity. Well, the need of the hour is the change in the mindset in first place. Currently, litigation is considered as the first and primary mode of dispute resolution. Litigation should not be resorted as the first and primary mode of dispute resolution. Under our law, mediation and arbitration are termed as ‘alternate dispute resolution’. We should not consider mediation and arbitration as alternate dispute resolution mechanism but as primary modes of dispute resolution.
The professionals should be given proper training into mediation and take up mediation as a full fledged profession. They need to develop and evolve the skills required for a Mediator to assist the parties to settle their disputes. They should be conversant with the process of mediation. The faith in mediation as a mode of dispute resolution needs to develop. The best example is Ayodhya matter in which the Learned Members of the Bench gave an opportunity to the parties to settle their dispute through mediation. Mediation should be resorted to in first place in matters comprising of, but not limited to, civil, commercial matters, contractual matters and matters concerning torts. If mediation does not work out, then and then only arbitration should be resorted to.
Additionally, on the litigation front, I am of the considered opinion that the jurisdiction of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India should be confined only to constitutional matters, urgent matters and those of grave national, security concern or related to the interest of public at large. Currently, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India hears and adjudicates upon appeals from High Courts, tribunals and quasijudicial authorities. As a result, the precious judicial time is spent on that. In order to adjudicate upon appeals from High Courts, tribunals and quasi-judicial authorities, there should be separate courts of appeal. Further, there should be finality to the Judgment or Final Order pronounced by the appellate tribunal in case of quasi-judicial authorities and there should be no further appeal against that.
Suggest that if we make these changes in legislations, it will not only save precious judicial time but also save the time of litigants or persons aggrieved. We will definitely be able to solve the problem of pendency of cases to a great extent.
Undoubtedly, mediation has great potential to play a major role in reducing the pendency of matters, once it is resorted as the primary mode of dispute resolution and not as a stepping stone or a means to reach litigation. There has to be a change in thought process. Litigation is not required in every matter.
Host: What is your suggestion to law students?
Geetanjali: The law students or fresh law graduates mostly try to accomplish the targets set by someone else, either their parents or seniors. They do not assess and analyse their abilities. My suggestion is that you do not have to compete with anyone. You have to compete with yourself, assess your hidden talents, your hidden abilities and acumen. Pursue the area of law which you think attracts you, corporate law or litigation or intellectual property.
Have faith in yourself, things will work out. Do not follow others but set an example for others. Target to be a leader. Target to be a path setter. I will not say read law books. When you pursue your passion, you will definitely stay updated with the recent developments in law and that is something which comes as a follow through. Have fire in your soul, dreams in your eyes, passion in your heart and courage to accomplish your targets and make your dreams come true. With your patience, perseverance, determination, sincerity and hard work, you will be able to accomplish even the most difficult milestones in life and success will definitely come your way. This has been my personal experience as well.
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