"Don’t do what everybody else is doing", Founder and Managing Partner of Trust Legal, Sudhir Mishra
A lawyer from rural India who got a Fulbright fellowship and later becomes an environmental lawyer, eventually diving in for mainstream success.
A lawyer from rural India who got a Fulbright fellowship and later becomes an environmental lawyer, eventually diving in for mainstream success. Sudhir Mishra completed his graduation in History from Deshbandhu College, Delhi University. In 1997, he finished his degree in Law from Campus Law Centre, Delhi University. Soon after graduation, he started his own law firm, Trust Legal, which specialises in environmental, health, financial services, securitisation, banking, oil and gas law practice, as well as alternative dispute resolution.
Mr. Mishra had also been selected for one of the US Government’s most prestigious professional exchange programs for foreign opinion makers offered to very few people across the world called International Visitors Leadership Programme sponsored by the USA May 2005.
Mr. Mishra has vast experience in representing clients both on the corporate and litigation side. He regularly appears before the SC, various High Courts, NGT, various statutory bodies such as SPCBs, CPCB, and Committees of MoEF. Mr. Mishra is a corporate strategist advising MNCs on environmental, infrastructure , music laws, merger & acquisitions, strategy etc.
How have the last 100 days been for you in this pandemic? Can you tell us about how TrustLegal has been working and how your schedule has been impacted due to the current scenario?
I took it right in the first week of March when I returned from Europe. I knew this was going to be a long haul and that it will go on for at least six months. We started working from home on the 21st of March. However, I was already thinking that every crisis is an opportunity. I can tell you in a nutshell what happened in a hundred days. We have been busy in the Supreme Court, and matters on section 9 Arbitration in Delhi High Court. We have done 4-5 criminal law matters and a few landmark opinions on hospital waste.
Personally, I spoke to a foundation to talk about the price of drugs in Delhi hospitals. I wrote articles to Hindustan Times, BW Businessworld, and Financial Express. I started doing podcasts with the help of four eminent radio jockeys Sharad, Panky, and Rahul. My first series is going to be launched on Amazon, Gaana, and Spotify next week.
You have been practising for 22 years in the legal profession. Are there people whom you look up to?
I look up to Zia Modi, Parag Tripathi, and Justice Rohinton Nariman. Nariman was somebody who had the fastest sense of law. These are the three people I get my inspiration from.
Can you tell us why you decided to take law as a profession? What made you make the decision?
No one focused on me in 1998. I only got 64 percent in my 10th and 59 percent in my 12th. I could get admission to Delhi University mostly in history honors in my third attempt in Deshbandhu college which is in South Delhi. I was told in my first year that you will not be able to cross this hurdle.
From 1992 to almost 1998, I was on the UPSC journey. I was 28 and I just had a law degree from Campus Law Center. Within five months since graduation, I was forced into a legal profession and then had to give the Bar Council of India examination.
I was with a lawyer who at that time had just two rooms. He knows I can't take the name. I was a Trainee with him for 6 months after which I went back to my father.I told him, “If there are a hundred people who would succeed in the city, I'll be one of them”. He said I'm sure.
Can you tell us a bit about your formative years as a lawyer?
I started working for NGOs and I was representing Wildlife Trust of India WWF Wildlife Protection Society of India. In 3 years, I was already doing much better than most partners in a law firm. I kept on doing environmental law for almost 10 years non-stop.
This is a complete dose of quality in the legal profession. It was the same 20-30 years back. So the hard work was that I was taking complete expertise in environmental issues. I would travel the forest areas and see workshops. I used to get information to file PILs from NGOs. It was all a well-stitched plan as there were very few lawyers practising environment law at that time. I was taken into the International Visitor's leadership program under the Fulbright programme as well.
So which was the year when you finally decided to start a trust legal? Can you tell us about a few landmark cases which you undertook?
I would say it started in 2005, although it was dormant. There were hardly 2-3 people working with me at that time. By 2010, I was travelling abroad very regularly after my Fulbright program. I realized that you need to go into the firm culture. In other jurisdictions, corporates were already getting involved in environmental audits. Environment law was more than only animal rights, and pollution. But this was not present in the Indian landscape.
In 2009, I was one of the first lawyers who went on that route to a lot of big corporates. For example, I was advising Himalaya Ski Village in 2009, which was one of the largest tourism projects in the Himalayas. I did matters on environmental issues for the Gujarat government.
I was advising an IT company that had the largest IT Park in India, they had environmental clearance issues. So we started doing their due diligence. Then the road companies told us that can you help them with the arbitration. In 2015 Zee Group came to advise them on mining and infrastructure issues. We realized that we can also advise them on other things. However, seeing our hunger and competence, they let us do media, music, and broadcasting matters as well.
We are advising largely to healthcare companies, some of which are MedicaBazaar, Meditronics, Boston IVI, and many others. Our four practice areas of dominance are environment and climate change, healthcare and life sciences, media, music and broadcasting, and dispute resolution.
Although I had a successful national stature as an environmental lawyer, I left that comfort and security to search for a bigger challenge. Hence, Trust Legal was born with a full-service practice, which is now 37th best commercial law firm in India as per report released by RSG Consulting London in 2019.
I came to the belief that if a client is very convinced about a lawyer, he can take you into newer practise areas.
Can you tell us why you took the area of environmental law for practice?
One of my closest friends at Campus Law Center was Raj Kumar. Later he founded OP Jindal University. We were inseparable in college. He took me to the Wildlife Protection Society of India when I told him I want to pursue environmental law.
Also, when you want to do disruption, don’t do what everybody else is doing. Even today when I speak to you, we are working on cryptocurrency. We represent a lot of e-sport companies, gaming companies. You have to think of doing the practise which others have not thought of, and then try to make a practise out of it.
You mentioned small and medium enterprises are confronting difficulty to meet legal charges. Is this a result of the pandemic or has been a roadblock earlier as well?
First, the legal departments are under tremendous pressure inside the company to reduce the cost because the guy who is the in-charge of the legal department has also got a reduced salary, by 15 to 30%. The second thing is the luxury of unregulated billing. The luxury of unregulated billing hours is something that our jurisdiction has been struggling with for a very long time. Many Indian firms are now introducing cap billings for the first time. Most of my clients have also asked us to charge less for our appearances and retainership.
What do you think is the current scenario in the current situation of environmental law in India? Do you think any specific development needs to take place in this area of practise?
Environmental law was in its golden age in India from 1999 to 2010. We had Forest Benches, Environment Law Committees, every High Court was having jurisdiction over such matters. We had no NGT at that time. We had a National Environmental Appellate Authority. 2013 onwards NGT became very active. In 2014 when NGT was at its peak, there was a gradual decline in the number of cases being filed. There are also reasons for this because most of the laws were neutral, probing, and had a detailed public consultation process or stricter terms stated as per the pollution control board transformed to having a more auto-inspection process, and became more self-regulatory. Licensing requirements are being reduced now. This is because governments believe that there has to be a balance between environmental issues and infrastructure development of the country.
Over the last 22 years, have you followed specific habits and practices to pursue your specific goals in your life?
First, integrity, trust, and a huge sense of gratitude to the client. Right from the first matter, I was always driven by emotions and my sense of purpose to serve the client. This is a departure from most of the perceived notions about lawyering. I was always a decision-oriented lawyer. I was always clear that the resolution of the issue, solving the problem for the client is the fundamental goal.
The second aspect is I always believed in empowering and being a reverse mentor. I work with Partners who are almost 18 years younger than me. Two of my partners have been there since 2010 and 2014 respectively. Since they joined the kind of empowerment, they never thought of leaving despite many larger law firms offering them partnerships. Nurturing people, staying by them, and taking reverse mentorship and understanding how to work with a younger generation.
In the third aspect, money is only a by-product. You have to walk the journey. I have never thought about it, more than building client relationships.
The fourth aspect is having a detachment with everything, with regards to how many clients you have, how many people refer you, how many cars you have, how many ties you have, how many fear you or rever you, etc.
Has TrustLegal done anything unique to overcome the hardships confronted due to the pandemic?
We spent three months in our basement, spending two to three hours searching for lawyers in different jurisdictions who will be part of Trust Legal Alliance. We now have 53 lawyers in 55 jurisdictions across India who are referring us to work, and we refer work to them. They are from Madurai, Dharamshala, Amravati, many more locations.
We are not paying their salary or rent. But they are part of a beautiful setup where we are finding knowledge. Most of them have different language skills. We are training each other and we are growing together. I expect this to have a larger impact in the future.
A lot of young lawyers are reading this interview. What is your message for them?
I am the only lawyer who has trained forest and police staff across 20 states on wildlife prosecution from 1999 to 2009. I have done nearly 65 public action litigation, conducted more than 309 legal workshops in most of the national parks and wildlife centuries across India. I was also a special counsel of the Gujarat Government for environmental matters in 2007 and 2008.
I started my practise at 29. You possibly started your practise at 23. A lot of my batchmates started their practice at 24-25. So, if you do not manage to have a huge opening in your first year of practise, do not get disheartened. Do not get over-anxious, and overly worried about this.
You have to create your own story. If you do that you will find your purpose. The moment you find your own purpose, you are then competing only with yourself. That is the journey you have to build.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house
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