In Conversation With Manisha Chaudhary, Managing Partner, UKCA and Partners

Manisha Chaudhary speaks about her illustrious journey, mentors, building a practice at NCLT and much more in this exclusive interview with Ashima Ohri, Managing Editor, BW Legal World.

Manisha, 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 the early years of your life, education, and the decision of becoming a lawyer. 

This is the first question I usually get asked i.e. “So, when did you, or what made you decide to be a lawyer?” And honestly and as clichéd as it may sound, my answer usually is “I was born to be one!” My parents had always encouraged my brother and me to follow our dreams. My parents thought that I would take up medicine as a profession. However, during school, I took a keen interest in debating, dramatics, creative writing, the book club, and other related co-curricular activities, which I assumed would help me expand my intellectual abilities. I am sure if Philosophy was a subject in high school, I would have been the first to enrol. If fact, as a child, I would have my parents sign illegible, handwritten contracts to make sure I get paid in cash or in-kind for the chores I had done and all sibling disputes were handled in the High Court of “Mother” and I would put across detailed arguments as to how I had been wronged and have my brother compensate me for the same. Also, I have been sitting in my father’s office since I was in the 9th grade, for hours reading law books at random, which at the time made no sense to me. So as far as I remember, I would bolt to our front gate to get the High Court ‘Cause List’ to find my father’s name, read his files and point out the grammatical mistakes (concepts of legal English were lost on me) and organize the office files and Bare Acts. I would strut into his office and take dictation from his juniors and then type it out for them, which they sportingly let me do. I truly believe that the inclinations towards the right subjects, an inquisitive attitude towards life, and the constant need to learn and try new things, are inherent qualities of every lawyer and the very fact that I declared myself to be a future ‘financial’ lawyer to all my near and dear ones in the 8th grade was probably one of my first declaration of my love for law. 

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

I could not impress upon this more that my greatest inspiration is my father, Dr U. K. Chaudhary, an eminent Senior Advocate. I consider him to be the epitome of hard work, humility and excellence in the legal profession, something which I as well as any young lawyer would wish to emulate. We may not agree on every proposition of law or life, but there is no doubt that his feverous passion for the profession is inherent in me and I try to hone my skills basis the same. Apart from him, there are some women lawyers and judges in India and abroad who are great inspirations as well. I pick and choose qualities from each of these women which I believe is their crowning glory. Naming a few would be an injustice to the others so let’s just say that I have a galaxy of stars I look up to. 

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

I am the Managing Partner at UKCA and Partners and my forte lies in the field of Corporate and Commercial Dispute Resolution. I also handle general advisory and transactions/ deals related to Corporate Restructuring, M&A, Private Equity and Debt. Incumbent to the same is to handle matters related to the capital market or securities regulations as well. Apart from practicing law, I handle all the aspects of running the firm and am proud to call myself an entrepreneur as well. 

Would you please share with our readers your expert views on ‘Building a Practice at NCLT’? 

NCLT and NCLAT, depending on what law you choose to practice, have very peculiar and specialised jurisprudence applicable to them. In Company Law it’s a court of equity and that aspect changes when its acting like the Adjudicating Authority in Insolvency cases, or when the NCLAT sits as an appellate court in Competition Law matters. One of the ways to have a great practice before these forums is to ensure that you understand the foregoing distinctions and appreciate the summary nature of the proceedings. To further build a practice one must be well versed with the commercial aspects of business and think from the point of view of the client. Of course one must be thorough with the Companies Act, especially compliances, SEBI regulation, FEMA, RBI guidelines, accounting principles, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code and its numerous regulations, SARFAESI, banking law and regulations, Competition Act, Arbitration and Conciliation Act etc. These are what I refer to as base laws for any good corporate/ commercial law practice, be it dispute resolution or transactions. It is also necessary that you constantly update yourself with the recent amendments, landmark judgments, reforms, and major transactions happening in India and around the world.  

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

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has certainly undergone many changes, both good and bad. Though no one can predict the end to this scourge, but as the sun rises each day, so must we. The one big and much-needed welcome change in the legal profession is the widespread use of technology. It used to kill me every time I had to file something in courts. Some courts, despite of e-filing still wanted physical copies, which made no sense to me. All this came to a stop and has in turn increased efficiency and turnaround time for deals and cases. Our judges have quickly and earnestly embraced these changes and now I wish that the use of technology will be the norm and not an exception. Unfortunately, this is still not the scenario across all the courts and many lawyers and litigants are still suffering. I hope that the legal professionals can rise to the occasion and use technology to their advantage and not see it as a burden. I fully appreciate court craft and the charm of a good ole hearing before the bench, but must we carry bags after bags of files to the court. Technology is the serving need of the profession and we should embrace it.  

 What can law firms do today to ensure they survive in an era of disruption? How is your firm staying futuristic? 

The laws of a country are the gauge by which its society is judged, and thus lawyers or law firms have a huge responsibility to be the flag bearers of positive change. For any firm to survive, they may either be the disruptor or get on board with the positive changes. Disruption is the norm now and it may be the only way to shake things up in the timeworn legal profession, however, as much as I embrace the use of technology and data, I also love the charm of antiquated traditions in law. Thus, in my opinion, what the legal profession needs, is not to close ranks at every change but accept change and use it to our advantage.  

To remain relevant and futuristic, UKCA continuously updates software and tools to ensure we are at par with foreign law firms and something other non-legal sectors. We use advanced data management and encryption tools to ensure the safety of our client's data and are well versed be international laws, practices and norms. We also have technology consultants in place who advise us regularly on what is new in the business world and not just the legal sector. In fact, we had remote working models/ technology in place much before 90% of the legal industry and thus went into a self-imposed lockdown from March 16, 2020, itself without any issues to our clients or us. Our next steps are to try to incorporate limited AI into our working however since legal work is very different from other professions and there are no set rules, I am a bit skeptical but always open to change. 

Other than work, what else keeps you busy? Would you please share your other interests and hobbies with our readers? 

I believe that finding some “me” time is as essential as being devoted to your work. I devote Saturday evenings and Sundays entirely to my family and friends. During the week, an afternoon or two is available for me to run personal errands or catch up with a professional colleague. In the near future, I see myself giving more time to my family yet ensuring that all commitments are met on the work front. I have a great team at work and an exceptional support system at home which hardly lets me feel any work stress. I believe in smart and efficient work that helps me meet my targets and deadlines, which significantly helps in reducing stress. Many older colleagues have told me that a fit person is an intelligent person and I agree with them even more since I started paying attention to my physical and mental health. I practice yoga in the mornings, a proper workout in the evening. I meditate and read a book before going to bed. There is no better way for me to de-stress than to meet my friends and family. I am also guilty of binge-watching my favourite TV shows in order to let go of the week’s stress. I love art and you will see me painting random surfaces or canvases. I also love to dance, so you may catch me humming or playing a song and dancing around in the office (mostly my cabin!) or at home. Finally, I plan two-three weekend getaways and a long vacation once a year to get my much-needed break (however, COVID-19 has ruined these plans). 

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? 

What I say here is something I absolutely practice and thus preaching. I am passionate about my career and I expect everyone to be same. Law is arduous, so come to it fully prepared to give it your all. One has to make conscious endeavours to improve their court craft, drafting skills, analytical abilities and knowledge of the law on a daily basis. I try practical application of the law outside the book, research like my life depends on it and I always back my arguments or a legal opinion with hard facts, which to me is the cornerstone of the profession. All my drafts are made while thinking of the possible consequence of every sentence that I write. I have also made it a point to be honest, fair and never suppress any document or information. I am candid with my clients and work on every case as if it’s my only case. I do not bury myself in work for the sake of making money. I work to learn, to outsmart my opponents and to ensure the best for my clients. Further, humility goes a long way, so I am always respectful to juniors, seniors, judges, staff, etc. Most importantly, I enjoy being a lawyer and consider it as my life’s passion. Anyone who wishes to be a good lawyer inherently knows these things and ought to embrace them. I always say that the medical profession is not the only noble profession, so is law. What lawyers do every day, changes the lives of people and charts the course for the future generation. Law embodies within itself history, culture, tradition, religion, politics etc. and we must uphold it and mold it for the welfare of all. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our lawyers of the future, any golden piece of advice from the treasure trove of your experiences in the industry? 

Though I am still learning and that never ceases in the legal profession, I do have a few things I employ in my professional and personal life, which may be of interest to upcoming lawyers: 

  • Draft thinking about each possible consequence of every sentence and not only from your client’s perspective but also from that of the opposition. 
  • Be organised, on time and willing to put in long hard hours. 
  • Be ethical. No client or their money, position, or fame is more important than your allegiance to the profession. 
  • Be respectful 
  • Be willing to learn at all times.  
  • Enjoy being a lawyer and consider it as your life’s passion and not just as a bread earning source. It is an admired profession but if you do not love it, leave now else you will always be miserable.

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

To be honest, I am not at all mindful when watching television. However, I am an avid reader and have read a lot of literature from various countries and India. I am also a fan of philosophy, history, religion and mythology, both Indian and foreign and you’ll probably see me reading these subjects on my phone. Side note: I don’t like to carry books or Kindle, because I would probably leave them somewhere! So, there is no one book, or show, or movie I can recommend but since I love to explore, learn and embrace varied subjects, I suggest that every person should expand their horizons. You’ll see that the most learned amongst us are the most humble and tolerant. For me, knowledge is the ultimate salvation.

Nominations for the second edition of BW Legal World's 40Under40 are now open.

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For more details, please contact Gareema Ahuja, Business Lead: +91 7827590848, [email protected]  

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