In Conversation With Chirag Dhananjay Naik, Principal Associate, MZM Legal

Part of BW Legal World’s 30 Under 30 Best Lawyers and Legal Influencers 2021 club of achievers, Chirag Dhananjay Naik works as a Principal Associate at MZM Legal LLP. A white-collar crime specialist, he wants law schools to introduce courses on money laundering.

Tell us a bit about yourself. What made you choose a career in law? And how was the experience of studying law? 

I am a graduate of Symbiosis Law School, Pune. My decision to study law was very last-minute. I had secured admission in various programs across streams. Law seemed to be the most interesting. My experience of studying law was quite engaging. I was at a dynamic law school in a very charming and student-friendly city. Our law school had opportunities and resources to accommodate all kinds of interests.  I spent a lot of time working in the Student Council and cells such as the Human Rights Cell, Legal Aid  & Literacy Cell, Placement Cell etc. 

I eventually went on to head the council’s Co-curricular Committee and our annual fest’s (then Pune’s largest) Administrative Committee. These were early lessons not only in law but also in management.  The College laid great stress on mooting and conducted elaborate internal mooting eliminations. I had the opportunity of visiting RMLNLU for its International Media Moot Court Competition.  All in all, college gave me great exposure to the legal world and some of the best minds in terms of course-mates, seniors and faculty. 

If you could suggest one reform in the legal education system, what would it be?

One reform that I would suggest to the legal education system in India is to restructure the course to have a  greater emphasis on introducing courses in the areas of  Financial Services, Taxation and Money Laundering. 

Please tell us about your specialization and the array of work you handle at your firm?

My practise area covers white-collar criminal defence, criminal compliance, government investigations, IT law and regulatory enforcement matters.

I regularly act and advise on high-profile criminal investigations initiated by India’s premier investigating agencies viz. the Central Bureau of Investigation (“CBI”), the Enforcement Directorate of Enforcement (“ED”) and the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (“SFIO”) and respective state agencies – the Economic Offences Wings (“EOWs”) and the Anti-Corruption Bureaus (“ACBs”). 

I have had the privilege of representing clients in courts right from the trial courts all the way up to the Supreme Court of India.  At MZM Legal, I have gained significant cross-border litigation experience  which encompasses corruption, money laundering, extradition, cyber-crime, fraud, embezzlement, black money, undisclosed foreign assets, corporate governance, defamation, foreign exchange management, sexual harassment, etc. Further, I have conducted various sensitive internal investigations for leading multinational corporations. 

What advice would you give law students seeking the best internships in their area of interest?

My advice would be to go personally and visit lawyers/law-firms/judges/office-bearers in addition to emailing them. There is no substitute for it. Emails have made communication very easy, but this also means that all law offices and organizations receive a barrage of emails. Organizations with small HR functions may not have the capacity to go through all that volume. Here, I would like to give a personal example. 

Except one, all my internships were obtained solely by personal efforts and follow-up. I interned during each college break and never repeated the same practice area until I interned at my current firm, where I was offered a PPO. Even where there were no vacancies, most senior lawyers and office-bearers were encouraging and always sent me back with useful two cents and guidance. This helps you gain confidence and allows you a recce of the place you intend to work at.  

Investigating agencies are habitually intruding into lawyer-client relationships. What are your thoughts on this issue?

This is a tricky and evolving issue. In my opinion, privilege in any situation would strictly apply to advocate work product (including advise in whatever mode), lawyer-client communications, including any form of instructions based on the client’s personal knowledge. “There is a misconception amongst many clients that materials relating to a case, including original documents kept with a lawyer, are also covered by lawyer-client privilege. This is not the case.” On the other hand, there are  crucial issues affecting investigations and prosecutions across the country that I believe need to be addressed at the earliest: 

  1. There are no procedural guidelines for the review of data seized by way of duplicating servers, hard disks, pen drives etc. 

  1. Treatment of communications with in-house counsels based abroad. Though it is clear that lawyer-client privilege does not extend to in-house counsels based in India, the same is not true for in-house counsels based abroad. 

  1. While investigating a lawyer for an alleged criminal offence, the investigating agencies tend to review communications of all cases concerning a particular client. This would be a serious infringement of lawyer-client privilege.

Many Congratulations on joining the BW Legal World Elite 30 Under 30 Club of Achievers 2021. What to your mind has helped you get to where you are and what advice would you have for others who want to set off in a similar direction?

I am honoured and thankful to be made part of such an illustrious club. I believe the best decision was to choose a practice area based on what I enjoy doing, rather than thinking of the commercials or returns from the profession. I was extremely fortunate to find an excellent mentor in my managing partner, Mr Zulfiquar Memon, who harnessed my potential, gave me a vision and trusted me with the best mandates available. It’s absolutely crucial to have good mentors.

I am very happy going to work every day and look forward to working with my colleagues to take on the next challenge that awaits us. Building good relationships with colleagues (including clerks and the support staff) and networks with lawyers both within and outside your organisation is a major advantage –  there is something to learn from everyone. This profession is all about collaboration. Last but not the least, pure hard work (day in and day out) and dedication to  the case at hand.

As a final note, would you please recommend to our readers your favourite book that left a lasting impression on you?

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari 


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