Pranav Mago (CEO and Founder of ELF Partners Pte. Ltd.) sat down with Debolina Saha Narayanan (Editor, Apprentice Lawyer-Bar and Bench) for our “Fireside Interview Series.” Fireside Interviews are exclusive chats with senior persons of international organizations.
Prior to his role at ELF Partners, Pranav was Head (South Asia) for Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) and was based in the SIAC’s Mumbai office and also worked at Clifford Chance Singapore.
ELF Partners Pte. Ltd. provides consultancy services to litigants who require litigation funding. Also, apart from connecting litigants to fund providers, ELF Partners, helps clients with the initial due diligence of a matter by evaluating the legal merits of the case, works out a quantum analysis of the claim amount, and investigates into the assets of the other side. In this way ELF Partners, helps in making a consolidated pitch to the litigation finance providers.
In this interview the Singapore based lawyer among others, provides an insight into the relatively new avenue of litigation financing, shares details of various roles and responsibilities that helped shape his career and provides some insightful tips on how law students interested in dispute resolution can have a successful and insightful career in this field!
What motivated you to study law and how was your journey at law school? Further, when did you zero down on dispute resolution as your preferred area of practice?
My interest in law developed during my formative years in school. I often participated in debates and derived great satisfaction in being able to convince the judges of my point of view. I also come from a family of professionals. My father is a chartered accountant and my mother was a tax attorney who used to represent clients before income tax tribunals. The conversation around the dinner table often ended up around topics of tax law, and strategy on income tax matters before income tax tribunals. This influence of my parents, along with my love for arguing in debates made me opt for law.
I graduated from Amity Law School (GGSIPU), Delhi and did several internships during my law school years. Most of these internships were in the litigation departments of law firms. The experience during these internships helped me zero on dispute resolution as my preferred area of practice.
In fact early on in my career, I had a secondment opportunity with the dispute resolution team of Clifford Chance, Singapore. This was where I received exposure to life in a big law firm and the world of international and institutional arbitration. I was motivated by working with some of the brightest international lawyers and being part of a team that represented clients in some of the biggest cross border disputes. All of this steered me to learn more about the arbitration space. Fortunately, I was able to convince the Clifford Chance team to offer me a permanent position in their Singapore office and my roller coaster ride in the arbitration space started from then!
How has your experience been working as the Head (South Asia) of SIAC and Foreign Legal Consultant at Clifford Chance, Singapore? What role has SIAC played in your professional journey?
My experience at SIAC was very different from my experience at Clifford Chance. I was no longer advising or representing clients. However, I was given the mammoth responsibility of educating the market on institutional arbitration and familiarizing interested parties about SIAC’s work.
As a Foreign Legal Consultant at Clifford Chance, Singapore, I worked on several arbitration matters and undertook global investigations of regulatory breaches. I worked on several arbitration matters before the SIAC, ICC International Court of Arbitration, London Court of International Arbitration, and International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. Additionally I acquired experience in insolvency and restructuring matters.
As Head (South Asia) I was responsible for SIAC's operations in India (Mumbai and GIFT City, Gujarat) and business development activities in South Asia. I mainly focused on helping companies, investors, and lawyers in the region understand how they can efficiently resolve their international commercial disputes by availing the dispute resolution services offered by SIAC.
Coincidentally, India’s extensive amendments to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (Arbitration Act) made my then task of spreading awareness on the arbitration process quick and easy. I was also able to discuss various developments in arbitration with some of the most experienced global professionals and represent SIAC on various public forums. The experience was exhilarating. Today, I feel very proud looking at the continued success of SIAC among Indian parties.
What led to the establishment of ELF Partners, a consultancy focusing primarily in the sphere of litigation finance?
After my time at SIAC, I wanted to work in an area where I could combine my experience gained at Clifford Chance and at the SIAC. During my time at Clifford Chance, I learnt about the nuances of international commercial arbitration and at SIAC, I developed an extensive network of dispute resolution professionals from different parts of the world.
In 2017, Singapore as well as Hong Kong allowed third-party funding for arbitrations and arbitration related court litigation. As global fund providers entered the Singaporean market, I got the opportunity to interact with them and learn about the world of litigation finance. I felt that I could contribute to this field by bridging the gap between third-party fund providers and litigants. Since then, I have been able to use my experience in private practice and the world of institutional arbitration to work with clients and identify cases which could be viable investment options for funding providers.
In the coming days, do you feel that India needs a dedicated legislation to regulate third party litigation finance providers? Further, what measures can be taken to motivate litigation finance providers in India?
In my personal opinion, I do believe that India is a jurisdiction that can benefit from a dedicated legislation for litigation finance. Litigation finance is still at a nascent stage in Asia and the awareness around it is limited. Many professionals are still unsure about the legality of such agreements in India.
A dedicated legislation will definitely help regulate the industry from an early stage, instill confidence in all parties, and most importantly help educate the market about nuances of such deals.
The development of third-party funding will be similar to the path that institutional arbitration charted for itself. It is only after years of work put in by all stakeholders (including the SIAC, Mumbai Centre for International Arbitration, and efforts by the Indian government, (including amendments to the Arbitration Act, enactment of the New Delhi International Arbitration Centre Act 2019, Maharashtra Arbitration Policy 2017 and others)) that institutional arbitration is now being preferred for domestic arbitrations as well. A dedicated legislation on third-party funding will help clear the path for funding providers to set up shops in India. It will also help remove uncertainties around the industry and encourage litigants to look at third-party funding as a source of finance.
What impact do you see in the Indian disputes landscape after the notable decision of the Indian Supreme Court allowing two Indian parties to arbitrate in a foreign seat? What probable effects can this judgment have on deciding the future trend of dispute resolution in India and abroad?
The Indian Supreme Court’s decision provides much needed clarity on the topic and strongly reinforces the importance of ‘party autonomy’, which in my opinion is a cornerstone of the arbitration process.
The decision is great for Indian subsidiaries of foreign companies as they will now be able to choose a foreign arbitral seat in contracts with other Indian parties making these consistent with their global contracts as well as allowing for arbitrations of the same series between related parties to be consolidated. The decision will also have a positive impact on the litigation finance industry as funding providers to litigation may prefer funding arbitrations where Indian courts do not have supervisory jurisdiction over the proceedings, and any award rendered will not be subject to set aside by proceedings in India.
The Indian Supreme Court also clarified that while parties can choose a foreign seat, the Indian courts would remain available and grant any interim relief to aid the arbitration process. This is of huge significance as the parties, being Indian domiciled, are likely to have assets that are predominantly based in India.
Even though the decision allows two Indian parties to take their arbitration outside of India, it remains consistent with the overall position that Indian courts have taken in recent years in making India an arbitration friendly jurisdiction.
What steps should students interested in international dispute resolution undertake for a successful and impactful career in international dispute resolution?
The dispute resolution space is continuously evolving and recent trends reflect that courts all around the world are considering not just the domestic law but also international practices. It is always a good idea to keep up to date with such global developments.
It is also incredibly helpful to have some practical experience. Practical experience certainly bolsters the knowledge gathered through theoretical learning. To give an example, while I was working with Clifford Chance, Singapore, I had the opportunity to be the ‘tribunal secretary’ for one of the matters the team was assisting with. That experience gave me some useful insight into approaching a matter from a tribunal’s perspective. I was able to take this insight and use it in my strategy for matters where I was advising in my capacity as counsel. At the same time, I also got a better understanding of the working between arbitrators and institutions.
I would therefore, encourage young professionals to take up roles such as that of a ‘tribunal secretary’ which will not only help in developing their overall skills but also help them keep abreast with the constantly evolving best practices in the international dispute resolution space.