In Conversation with Petal Chandhok, Partner, Trust Legal

Ms Chandhok speaks with Ashima Ohri on her amazing legal journey. She also talks about the biggest change or challenge looming over the legal landscape of India amid COVID-19 and much more in this exclusive interview with BW Legal World.

Petal, 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 am a Delhiite who grew up in a middle-class family with my own variety of challenges and limitations. When it comes to education, I finished my studies from the Banyan Tree School (erstwhile Rai School), then graduated in History (Hons) from Delhi College of Arts & Commerce, University of Delhi, further for Masters -  Comparative Religion, I enrolled in Jamia Millia Islamia University and eventually completed my Law degree from Lloyd Law College. My constant struggle with limitations and challenges made me bold and fearless which in turn is a salient feature for this profession. Although I discovered my love for law during my formative years, but soon I decided against it. Eventually, it was my mother who coaxed me into taking up this profession along with the fact that my elder sister was pursuing law, hence, in due course of time I was once again fascinated with this legal vocation. In all honesty, I believe this is one such profession which brings out a powerful side of an individual. 

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

I think nothing challenged me more than my resolve to get ahead in life and nothing taught me more than my failures. The rule of "Never Giving Up" has been a guiding factor for life apart from my belief in myself. Of course, I do look up to a lot of people who have made a mark in this field, especially those who have risen up from the basic grass root level and made it to the top merely on the basis of merit and hard work. It will be unjustified to not name all of them, therefore, I will save that part and quietly thank them all in my heart for inspiring me and challenging me all the time. Having said that, I would like to mention that it is because of my eternal mentor, Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, because of whom I have been able to walk on this journey of life the way I do with pride and honesty. 

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

When I joined the profession in 2012, my practice was limited to Real Estate laws. I joined Trust Legal in 2014 and was exposed to various opportunities from corporate law to hardcore litigation, especially in the spheres of healthcare and environment laws. In the past few years, the firm has created a niche practice of media, entertainment and broadcasting laws. I personally have developed the copyright practice in the firm from scratch under the leadership of our Managing Partner, Mr Sudhir Mishra. 

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

My portfolio still consists of a number of healthcare clients who have been the frontline COVID warriors during the current pandemic being faced by us all. Said sector, i.e. healthcare, has had their own challenges but have done fairly well and have sailed through these rough times. I also have few clients in the F&B industry who have also been able to sail through, if I may say so. Dealing with my corporate clients during this time has also kept me fairly busy as we witnessed that the business somehow kept on moving. I believe the major roadblocks for us has been with the general litigation clients which has taken a back seat. The way forward for us is to create newer ways of providing more value to our clients by developing and improving ourselves on a daily basis.   

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

The pandemic has been severe which has equally affected every trade. Most of the businesses have increased legal work due to the locking of horns amongst stake holders. The biggest change this pandemic brings to legal practice in India is that complacency will not work anymore. Only exceptional value-based client focused advocacy will flourish. There will be far more service providers but the legal stalwarts who will rule this storm are the hungry ones, ethical ones, lawyers who are in love with resolving clients’ pain point. Infarct despite being a service industry which in general is struggling on revenue, front lawyers who were exceptional are riding the storm. 

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

I think staying relevant, having the capability to adapt to newer things, to learn and to de-learn plays a crucial role. As long as one continues to add value and continues to bring solutions on the table, the disruptions cannot shake you out. We, at Trust Legal continuously strive to grow our areas of expertise and be the best in the expertise we already have in our portfolio. As the world is dynamically changing every day, we believe in anticipating challenges for our clients and preparing them to face these challenges efficiently and lawfully.  

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

Work consumes all of me mostly and I don’t even realise because it’s not an effort as I really love my work. Apart from work, my time is spent in my Buddhist practice, which is the anchor of my life, it always helps me get back to my prime point. It is not a hobby ofcourse, but it keeps me busy (in a beautiful way). My other interests or hobbies would include travelling, collecting stationary from around the world, music and spending quality time with my people.

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 Thank BW and the esteemed Jury again for the honour. Its humbling and elevating at the same time. It will be cherished all my life. At the same time, it comes with a lot of responsibility which is sinking in simultaneously. I wish to continue this journey with the same vigour and enthusiasm. This recognition has only given me more strength and courage to do my best. I never shy away from trying new things with hard work and sincerity. My advice to the younger lawyers would be to fully commit yourself to grow (that might include some sacrifices of meeting with friends, going to parties, family functions et al but it will be worth it), take accountability of what you are doing, don’t work as if it’s your employers’ work but as if it is your own, don’t let others limit your canvas, work so hard that you surprise your own self and develop the ability to genuinely value people and the dignity of life.

What’s the secret sauce to becoming a good lawyer? How can a lawyer from a non-ivy -league college tip the balance of success in his/her favour.

Well, I am from a non-ivy-league college and with utmost humility one of the top 40 under 40 lawyers of the country so I feel the ingredient lies in developing the attention to detail, the ability to retain, having the knowledge of application, willingness to learn every day, hard work and more hard work and finally to be able to use your skills in the best possible manner. I believe and practice them all and they haven’t let me down ever.

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?

Believe in yourself, act responsibly and never give up. 

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 do not really spend my time on movie/ series, but I had loved watching ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’. In books, mostly all the books I read are related to my Buddhist practice, but I am currently reading The Count of Monte Cristo and till now it is quite gripping.  

*The interview was published in December 2020.

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