LexTalk World interviews Sameer Abhyankar, Founding Partner at Innovatus Law.
Sameer enrolled with the Bar Council of Delhi in 2008 and has since worked in prestigious chambers in the Supreme Court of India, to gain a vast experience in commercial litigation before the Supreme Court and before other Courts and Tribunals in New Delhi. Commercial dispute resolution being his forte, he also represents the firm in arbitrations for the firm’s clients.
Sameer is an Advocate on Record of the Supreme Court of India and as such has represented a wide spectrum of the firm’s clients before the Supreme Court on diverse issues arising out of the Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code, Company Law, Consumer Protection Law, Mining and Environmental Law, Electricity Laws, Competition Law, Constitutional Law, Contractual Disputes, Service Law, Education Law and Taxation. Sameer also advises and represents the firm’s clients before various Tribunals headquartered in New Delhi, particularly the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT).
Sameer has a flair for legal writing and regularly writes articles on various issues of commercial law.
Host: Tell us about your journey in the profession so far, and about the journey of your firm, Innovatus Law?
Sameer: So I joined the bar in 2008 and I started my practice with a law firm that had its practice across various courts and tribunals in Delhi in the area of commercial law. The focus of practice was the Supreme Court, but as any youngster should, I also made my bones, so to speak in the trial courts. Being a first generation lawyer, my endeavor was always to explore all possible areas within the field that I wanted to specialize in- civil commercial law. And I threw myself into it.. I started getting noticed, and one of the persons who did notice me was a senior counsel of the Supreme Court whom I joined later, and learnt almost all I know, from. I was then ready for independent practice.
Amish, my partner, who also graduated around the same time as me was a natural ally in the sense that his area of practice is also Corporate Commercial law. What we also did share was a passion for the law, and a desire to build something in the field that will last. So after finding ourselves working on cases and transactions together, we decide to join hands and form Innovatus Law in 2017-18.
We’re a young firm, but at the cost of modesty I’ll say we have an impressive client list that we cater to: Airlines, Mining conglomerates, Banks and financial institutions, and other corporations across various spheres of industry. We’ve gone from a small team of 3 to about 12-13 now, even at a time when firms our size haven’t survived the pandemic.
So I’d be tempted to say its been a good journey so far, but I know its only the beginning and this isn’t really the time to size up experiences, but to expand them.
Host: Tell us about a complex legal issue you worked on. Describe the complexity and tell us how you approached it?
Sameer: There is actually an ongoing issue that I can think of. The complexity of it stems from the void that is usually left behind when a legislation leaves gaps that cannot be filled by even a stretch of the imagination.
So this particular issue arises under the IBC, which is the latest in the field of commercial law catching everyone’s eye. Our client was the purchaser of a Hotel which formed part of a larger real estate project. Now the real estate project has gone into insolvency at the behest of one of its financial creditors, before we could secure our rights in the Hotel strictly in the manner required by law. Now the piquant situation is that neither are we persons with absolutely no right in the property, nor are we registered owners of the property so as for that property to be excluded from the insolvency process. Further, ours is not even a transaction which could fall in the category of reversible transactions under the provisions of the IBC.
Unfortunately, the IBC does not contemplate such a situation. And the answer therefore lies in navigating the provisions of at least 3 other statutes at their intersect with the IBC. And that’s how we are approaching it. What happens ultimately is in the hands of the Courts which are seized of the issue, but its complex questions like there that keep you on your toes as a lawyer and make the whole process enjoyable.
Host: The pandemic saw some courts begin moving towards more remote proceedings and availability. Is this sustainable, and a possible way to increase access to justice, in your opinion?
Sameer: In fact most Courts moved towards virtual proceedings. Honestly, if it is not sustainable at present, there need to be thought of ways to make it more sustainable for the benefit of everyone involved- first and foremost of them being clients, then lawyers, judges, traffic! Saving time etc.. there are more benefits than there are cons to the whole concept, except the fact that the whole system needs to be made more robust to match up to the behemoth that is litigation in India.
Clients are happier, because the proceedings are available for their viewing, lawyers are also happy for the same, and more reasons. For example, for an international client for whom we are engaged in managing litigation across India, we are now able to conduct the litigation from our office in New Delhi, without having to engage new teams for each city at a considerably greater cost to the same client.
But I do see and recognize the flipside of the debate: the infrastructural set up in India is not up to the task, notwithstanding the strides we have made during this pandemic. So I’d say the ideal scenario would be a mix of physical and virtual courts.
Host: Time is money in any profession and in legal it's most of all. How do you ensure to make the best of you time as a lawyer?
Sameer: My senior used to tell me that one never stops being a lawyer. So in that sense, its not just a profession, it’s a way of life. Especially in the competitive environment that exists in the legal profession in India, its most important to be on your toes if you harbor any dreams of being a cut above the rest.
While I strive to achieve that goal, its easier said that done.
This question attains a certain different dimension, when viewed from the perspective of a partner in a law firm, such as I am.
Honestly, I wouldn’t trust anyone who says that excellence, or even maximization of efficiency can be brought about by one person acting alone. If I intend to make most of my time as a lawyer, I must have a team to back me up and which can work together with me to achieve our goals of professional success. I try to maintain that.
If I am engaged in an assignment which is consuming my time, howsoever profitable it may be by itself, I am not making the most of my time as the partner of my firm if even one of the teams I have is sitting idle. So maximisation of efficiency will come only from being able to manage your team and time and ensuring that each limb of this body that the firm is, is able to contribute to ensuring that time is profitably spent for the best interests of all of us.
Host: What would you rate as the biggest change that the pandemic has brought about in your professional life?
Sameer: The biggest change in my professional life is that it has become more efficient and easier. This is because you get to spend more time. You don’t waste your time in travelling. Sometimes you sit and wonder why these virtual meeting concept you did not think of prior to the pandemic. Because it certainly makes life easier.
The caveat here is that we are discussing the positives of the pandemic. There were of course negative effects on professional life, which one cant ignore: the foremost in our case being that our entire office was shut for a fortnight since almost all of us were diagnosed with Covid during April in the Second wave.
That apart, on the positives, professionally it has certainly made life more efficient.
Personally, at that time (the initial part of the first wave in 2020) when all of us were confined to our homes, I got more time to spend with my (then) one year old son! I could not spend time with him because of work commitments, and the lockdown came as a blessing in disguise in that regard.
To sum it up, professional changes could be broadly defined by the following: more time at work, ease of doing meetings, better connectivity, higher efficiency, adapting to and optimizing the use of technology.
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