Kaustubh Sinha is from the batch of 2002-2007. He was part of the team that organised the first Novices Moot Court Competition. In 2009, he started his own legal firm, Adhrit Legal.
The Blue Pencil: Why law? Was it a planned, conscious decision?
Kaustubh Sinha: I think I was too influenced by TV and the idealistic representation of legal practice. I remember watching a series called ‘JAG’, where the protagonist practiced law along with flying a Tomcat, which seemed like the coolest job in the world. It was planned, but I cannot recall it to be conscious.
TPB: How were your five years at AIL?
KS: Fantastic. Some of my closest friends and partners in my profession are from the college (and also, am married to an alumni!). During my time there, the greatest part about college was that it was new, so we were not held back by past traditions or rules and could experiment freely. There wasn’t much active support, but there were no hindrances either. The concept of holding novices moot for freshers and 2nd-year students was developed by me and Achintya Kaushik, inspired from the novices’ competition in NLU Jodhpur. When we meet, we still laugh about jumping the college walls to go and purchase trophies, for which we shelled out a royal 200 bucks from our own pockets. We always had a free hand to order books and resource materials of our choice for the library and they were made available without much fuss. Initially, there was very low interest to the competition. So, we went from class to class and virtually forced a lot of freshers and 2nd years to participate in it. To incentivise it, we got the college administration to waive off 25 lectures for all participants which (for obvious reasons) quadrupled the participation.
During the initial years of college, there wasn’t much of a mooting culture and we had to start from an absolute scratch. Novices were the starting point for us and then there was no looking back thereafter. In all the inter-institute competitions that we participated in, we would coerce out memorials from other teams, which we used for reference for further competitions. Personally, Moots were a window that allowed me to travel a lot and I still have a lot of friends who I first met through mooting.
I got a lot of good professional exposure, while in college. Of the five years, I spent almost a year only on interning and travelling. The first major contractual document that I drafted independently was in the college itself, which was for inviting vendors to bid for installation of wi-fi systems & routers in the campus. Also, we had a very good faculty and were taught by stalwarts like Prof. Vir Singh, Prof G.I.S Sandhu, Late Dr. Kakkar, Mr. Ajay Tiwari (who was elevated as a Judge of P&H HC) and Ms. Jasmeet Egan. Overall, the academic schedule was quite light and it wasn’t very difficult to keep up. Also, I really enjoyed my internships, which was a lot of work albeit the actual responsibilities (and wrath of the clients).
TBP: Looking back, what do you miss most about the college?
KS: The sheer luxury of time, lazy afternoons and late night discussions over card games. Also, the cafeteria (not the food!) and the view of the Kasauli hills after it rained. Can’t say that I miss my friends because I still remain in regular touch with them.
TBP: You were awarded a scholarship by the International Bar Association. Tell us more about it.
KS: IBA is the largest lawyer body in the world with transnational presence. More than 6000 lawyers participate in its Annual Conference, which was held in Tokyo last year and in Vienna this year. They have a scholarship program for young lawyers, for which you have to present a research paper. The lawyers whose papers are selected get to participate in the conference and the expenses for the first conference are on the house. It is a good business-networking event and you get to interact with your peers from other jurisdictions. You will be surprised how legal practice is similar across jurisdictions.
There are various committees entrusted with the organisation of the conference. I got the scholarship through the International Sales Committee. I have continued with my participation in the conference and am now an officer in the Mediation Committee. It is now one of those annual events that I really look forward to. There are scholarship programs for law students as well. The current students should look into it.
TBP: You have your own firm, Adhrit Legal. How did this decision take place? What were the initial years like?
KS: During my initial years in practice, I worked with a law firm as a part of a team which handled litigations, transactions and compliances. This experience introduced me to the multiple dynamics that law profession has to offer and I owe it to the firm that they did not have a practice of departmentalisation. After that, I spent a couple of years experimenting and taking up additional assignments, like part time teaching, workshops, etc. During this period, many of my friends from my internship days, from the Development Sector field, were also in a start-up mode. Invariably, they would discuss their business plans with me. That got me thinking about expanding my area of work. My plans would have required the substantial investment of time, without the entitlement of getting quick results. This could not have been achieved while being a part of a pre-organised set-up like a firm, where my growth would have depended on a variety of other factors, which way lie within the overall vision of the firm. I thought that since age was on my side (I was barely 2 years into the profession), I could afford to make mistakes. So, I took the plunge. It was an instinctive decision and I am happy to have taken it.
During the initial days, the simple objective was to keep busy. I used to spend a lot of time conducting training workshops for Delhi police, social workers, doctors, etc apart from working with start-ups and some consumer litigations for friends and family.
Very soon, Surbhi Mehta (from 2005 batch) also joined in, followed by Virender Negi who was from my batch. Surbhi had a good background in IP and Virender was working with an Asset Reconstruction Company. With our diverse backgrounds, we were able to present good execution capacities. We used to be (and still are) engaged by lawyers, law firms and consultancy firms to undertake assignments that do not form their core practice areas. Gradually, the clientele expanded and our capacity to execute got better.
Initially, every project or assignment required the involvement of multiple minds. Gradually, as we became confident of our roles, our involvement in each other’s work became absolutely minimal. In hindsight, I think our biggest advantage was that we made all the efforts with a ‘nothing to lose’ attitude, which has helped us a lot so far.
TBP: What are the responsibilities of a Founding Partner in running an independent? What is a usual day like?
KS: Well, the most important responsibility is to ensure efficient turn-around and meeting the deadlines (to which, more often than not, we have committed ourselves!). Also, a lot of time is spent on administrative work and monitoring/follow ups. Though most of these responsibilities are divided, but it becomes important to keep a track. When we started off, we would spend a lot more time in undertaking the actual assignment, since many cases are the first of their kind for us too. The amount of time taken to complete such a draft would be much more, simply because we cannot afford to make errors (and there was no shield of the seniors) With time, the actual time incurred in turning around an individual task has receded and we have been able to scale up more on an individual level.
Can’t really categorise a day. It is highly unlikely that any given two days are the same. One has to multitask and create ways and means to minimise overheads. The concept of weekday/weekend does not apply, and all that matters are the impending deadlines. The advantage of working as a team is that you are able to create and sustain support structures, to ensure that you can become inaccessible in a vacation.
TBP: Lastly, any advice for students looking to explore their entrepreneurial spirit?
KS: Law profession in almost all its variations, whether it be core litigation practice, being part of a corporate law practice firm or an in-house counsel, requires an independent thought process. For example, as an associate with a law firm, any steps to growth will entail setting up of your own practice within the firm and you start growing only when you grow the capacity to handle responsibilities individually. Similarly, as an in-house counsel, you will be coordinating with outside counsels and you would need to be on top of things since the business team would be dependent on you.
What I intend to imply is that all the areas comprising legal industry, are thoroughly driven by individual roles, so, entrepreneurship is intrinsic to your growth. Do whatever that interests you and makes you an independent person. While you are in college, take up independent responsibilities and pick up more projects. To begin with, these could be something as basic as responsibility for a regular administrative function or becoming part of the newsletter. If you find success in your initiative, scale up. If not, assess why it failed and never ever blame anyone else for its failure. The day you realise the importance of your role in a process, and how you, in an individual capacity, can decide the success or failure of an objective, you are ready to be an entrepreneur. Also, take your internships seriously. The legal industry is facing a severe crunch of good talent and the crunch increases every level. This is a god time to be a lawyer.
I would advise the entrepreneur of tomorrow to read and travel as much as possible. You will be surprised as to how many lessons of life a treacherous trek can teach you. I would advise you to check out and become a member of forums for entrepreneurs where you meet like-minded entrepreneurs of tomorrow. If you can’t find a forum of your choice, create one!
Kaustubh Sinha can be reached at email@example.com.