Sunayana Basu Mallik is the founding Partner of Common Law Chambers. In this interview with Bar & Bench’s Aditya AK, the NALSAR University graduate talks about her journey in the legal profession, trends in the Bangalore legal market and more..Aditya AK: You had initially worked with Reliance Industries as an in-house counsel..Sunayana Basu Mallik: I chose to join a company after graduating because I wanted to understand the interaction between business and law closely. At Reliance, I did a plethora of agreements and worked on wide ranging issues from petroleum, polymers to retail sector. Since there was no strict compartmentalization, I had the opportunity to engage in a variety of work..Aditya AK: At what point was Common Law Chambers set up?.Sunayana Basu Mallik: After Reliance, I worked for a law firm predominantly doing general corporate work. Thereafter, I started litigating in the chambers of Phanindra Rao and Vaishali Hedge at the Karnataka High Court. I enjoyed litigating and going to court every day. I started getting trial court briefs, and once I felt that my clients liked my work, I started working independently..I started my office in a balcony, simply because I didn’t have enough money to rent an office. It was really exciting..I started my office in a balcony, simply because I didn’t have enough money to rent an office. It was really exciting. Every time I would get fees from clients, I would invest it in buying books and subscriptions, or in doing up the place. But later, that house got demolished, so I was dislodged. I was compelled to move out and I shifted to Brigade Towers..It was in my little balcony that I found utmost concentration. Honestly, through all the diverse work I was doing on a daily basis I realised that I must set up Common Law Chambers (CLC) with the objectives “of empowering rights, dissolving barriers and securing interests”. The three objectives set out would be the guiding force of our practice areas litgation, arbitration/regulatory work and general corporate work and commercial contracts..Aditya AK: Any particular reason for setting up in Bangalore?.Sunayana Basu Mallik: I didn’t have much choice in the matter, as my husband Manu Kulkarni wanted to practice in Bangalore. Also, I’ve always felt comfortable with the people here. Although I am a Bengali I feel Karnataka is home for me..Aditya AK: What were difficulties you faced while setting up your own practice?.Sunayana Basu Mallik: It was hard. There were points when I didn’t have enough money to buy lunch, and I had to skip meals. I would think if I saved some money I could buy another book!!.It was a journey I walked alone and it is hard as you cannot share the anxieties of a litigating lawyer with any of your friends or relatives. When you talk about bootstrapping for a startup in a start up city like Bangalore, ask me about it!.It was a journey I walked alone and it is hard as you cannot share the anxieties of a litigating lawyer with any of your friends or relatives..Being a Bengali, not being able to speak Kannada was another challenge. But now, I have chosen to learn the language..Aditya AK: What is the type of work that comes in?.Sunayana Basu Mallik: At Common Law Chambers (CLC) we primarily do variety of litigations across various courts and tribunals. Increasingly, we are accepting outstation briefs and travel to other cities Mangaluru, Dharwad, Kalaburagi, Arsikere, Kolar. We want to remain focused on litigation..However since inception, I have never said no to work pertaining to general corporate and commercial transactions, thanks to my experience at Reliance..Aditya AK: What is the equity structure at the firm?.Sunayana Basu Mallik: Initially, it was a sole proprietorship. A couple of years back, my husband joined Common Law Chambers. Now we have a 50:50 partnership..Aditya AK: What trends have you noticed in the Bangalore legal market over the years?.Sunayana Basu Mallik: Initially when we came to Bangalore in 2010-11, it looked a lot sleepier than what it is now. Now, more entities have opted to set up shop here. After the division of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh, a lot of companies opted to remain stationed in Bangalore, as opposed to moving to Hyderabad. So, there is a lot more commercial work coming in..Significantly, there has been a perceptional difference within lawyers and non-lawyers in viewing Bangalore as a transparent and efficient place for resolving their disputes. Earlier, Delhi and Mumbai were perceived as hubs of commercial litigation but Bangalore is increasingly tipping towards the same..Perhaps the biggest reason for increase in commercial litigation in Bengaluru is the timeframe..Since our High Court is not saddled with original jurisdiction, all matters per force go before the City Civil Courts and as a normal rule, one can expect a judgment or a decree in 2-3 years..Additionally, there is a huge impetus towards utilization of technology which has made life relatively easy for litigating lawyers. Most of the litigators use smart devices and applications (phone, tablets, Whatsapp, Skype) which tremendously aided in seamlessly seeking instructions, facilitating discussions or clarifications from clients..Aditya AK: Do you feel it is a good time to set up a new practice in Bangalore?.Sunayana Basu Mallik: Bangalore has an active stream of startup law firms and individual practitioners doing various kinds of work. We don’t have a very super-specialized market. It is not like somebody who does arbitration does only arbitration. If somebody wants to come in and lead the segment, they must have a well thought out strategy in mind..A lot of areas of practice are already occupied; a lot of clients already have established bases with their existing lawyers/law firms. If any practitioner/firm wants to crack the market, they have to identify a niche area and market in which they want to establish themselves..Aditya AK: Do you think national law firms will look to strengthen their practice here?.Sunayana Basu Mallik: National law firms have their own advantages streamlined teams, resources, high quality work and experience. However to implement the tested and proven paradigms of growth in Bangalore, they would need a charismatic Partner with a good team, because the client will come to the Bangalore office and not the Bombay or Delhi one..To implement the tested and proven paradigms of growth in Bangalore, national law firms would need a charismatic Partner with a good team, because the client will come to the Bangalore office and not the Bombay or Delhi one..Otherwise, it may be worthwhile to consider integrations, although such integrations don’t happen very often or very successfully. But if a firm can blend an energetic team who would understand clients coming from all across Karnataka or South India within its larger law practice and add value, then you have a better strategic advantage..The strengthening of national law firms in Bangalore would surely be a driving factor for all players to enhance and keep questioning their own manner and ways of representing their clients..Aditya AK: Any interesting cases you have been involved in lately?.Sunayana Basu Mallik: We acted for the Petitioner in the matter pertaining to death of D K Ravi, an IAS officer, which was the centre of controversy in Karnataka a few months ago. We are also representing the victims in the Mangaluru air crash at the Courts in Mangaluru. Manu was also involved in litigation between the Karnataka State Bar Council and Bar Council of India..So far as interesting cases go, in 2013, the Karnataka Plastic Association approached us after a PIL was filed against them with regard to manufacturing of PET bottles. We were impleading applicants in that matter, and similar petitions were pending in four other states. The PIL was dismissed which was surely a booster as other similar PILs were pending before other High Courts..We also attempt to do two pro bono cases every month where we waive the fee entirely. We have successfully represented victims of domestic violence and persons with disabilities in the last two years..Aditya AK: What advice would you give budding litigating lawyers in Bangalore?.Sunayana Basu Mallik: Ignore the popular stories and sayings on the perils of litigation. Overcome the confusion about the tardy process, systemic delay and financial uncertainty by believing that you can be the change you want to see in legal practice. The confidence your client reposes on you may itself tremendously assist in winning the rights of your clients every year, every month or every day you walk into a court. The final verdict may take long but we as lawyers can make the journey worth fighting for!.Overcome the confusion about the tardy process, systemic delay and financial uncertainty by believing that you can be the change you want to see in legal practice.