Ashima Ohri

A business economist, lawyer, and writer.

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In Conversation with Mishi Choudhary, Managing Partner—Mishi Choudhary & Associates; Moglen & Associates; Software Freedom Law Center, India

Is India's technology space heavy-handed and unpredictable? Hear it from Mishi Choudhary as she shares her insights, experiences, and journey in the legal industry with Ashima Ohri.

Mishi, would you please tell us where did this illustrious journey begin and at what age did you decide to study law. Please walk us through your early years of education and the decision of becoming a lawyer. 

I wanted to study medicine but went to law school to fulfil my father’s dream of being a lawyer. He had to quit college mid-way to start his pharmaceuticals business. A class at Hindu College on Indian Government and Politics introduced me to the fascinating text of our Constitution and what it means to us. After graduating from Campus Law Center, University of Delhi, I practised for a  few years at Delhi High Court and Supreme court of India, studied briefly in Europe and thereafter at Columbia Law School as the First Open Source Fellow.  

Who have been your guiding North Stars and the biggest inspiration in this journey? 

Biggest inspiration: I am always getting inspired by people  I meet.  Richard Stallman, Barack Obama, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Amal Clooney, Sudha Bhardwaj, Hon’ble Justice H.R. Khanna, women who are building tech companies, girls who are coding on borrowed laptops at Ambedkar Community Centers, film-makers, actors, artists, stand-up comedians. Mr Neeraj Kishen Kaul (my first boss) and Professor Eben Moglen have been life-long mentors. 

Would you please tell us more about the array of work you handle at your organization? 

I work primarily with technology companies, represent the world’s leading Free and Open Source Software Projects, companies that use FOSS products on trademarks, copyright, patents. A major part of my practice involves Open source software licensing, including IP strategy, compliance, transactions, and disputes, data protection laws, privacy, intermediary liability issues, copyright infringement, export control laws, code of conduct investigations,  technology transactions, including licenses, sales agreements,  technology transfers, and consumer contracts. 

Would you please summarily tell us the current status of the sectors of the economy you work in, the roadblocks in our path and the way forward? 

All my clients in the technology space are constantly complaining about India’s heavy-handed, unpredictable, ever-changing regulations. There is no clarity on laws that govern Data Protection, AI, surveillance. Every day some ministry or regulatory body issues a new paper announcing a  different set of regulations on a matter previously assumed to be under a different body. For India to emerge as a leader in creating “IT for humanity”, we need light-handed, clear regulations with a system of contractual and tortious damages instead of criminal punishment for businesses and specialised, efficient courts. 

What in your opinion has been the biggest change or challenge looming over the legal landscape of India amid COVID-19?  

The courts did a  commendable job adapting to virtual hearings but challenges in our system started to show. The need for the courts to digitize and modernize existed before the pandemic, of course, but now the urgency for reform is even greater. We should target technological resource disparities, work with better legal information portals, which change the way people access the justice system, and other technologies that move targeted court processes online. 

I can do a lot more in the U.S. without ever leaving my office than I can do in Indian courts. The use of videoconferencing technologies has quickly emerged as an essential strategy and should continue in some instances. Courts and our judicial system need a new paradigm. one that is more efficient, more convenient and accessible for litigants, more transparent, and less costly 

Many Congratulations on joining the BW Legal World Elite 40 Under 40 Club of Achievers 2020. 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 too young and inexperienced to offer any advice. Stay true to your values, keep working smart and re-assess your choices periodically so as not to lose the sight of the forest for the trees.  Stay internally-oriented. Find great friends who can teach you to laugh at yourself. 

Other than work, what else keeps you busy? Would you please share your interests and hobbies with our readers? And as a final note, would you please recommend to our readers your favourite book or movie/series that left a lasting impression on you. 

I read a lot of fiction for pleasure. Yoga, travel and theatre are my other interests. 

The last play I saw before the lockdown and loved was “What the Constitution Means to Me” which is now streaming on Amazon Prime. 

Books change every year based on what I have read. This year, I loved The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Talking to Strangers, 1Q84, Spillover and When Breath Becomes Air. I re-read Animal Farm and The  Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for comfort. 

Some authors that I love are George Orwell, P.G. Wodehouse, Fyodor Doestoyevsky, Amitav Ghosh, Kamleshwar, Rohington Mistry, Haruki Murakami to escape reality and James Balswin, Malcolm gladwell. Daniel Kahneman, Yuval Harari. 

Same with movies. Tamas, Ardha Satya and Dil Se are old hindi classics. This year I loved “I am not your negro” and “Schitt’s Creek”. 


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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