From his years as a bright student of Government Law College, Mumbai to becoming one of the youngest designated Senior Advocates of Bombay High Court, Sharan Jagtiani has maintained his humility and his passion for everything about law..Jagtiani belongs to a family of eminent lawyers including his father, Senior Advocate Haresh Jagtiani. His mother, Shobha Jagtiani, was a Partner at DM Harish & Co. A specialist in commercial cases, Jagtiani has also been appointed as amicus curiae by the Bombay High Court in several cases about Mumbai's infrastructure..In part I of this interview with Bar & Bench's Neha Joshi, Jagtiani expresses why he thinks the profession of law is unique in India, offers a glimpse into counsel practice in Bombay and talks about his heroes at the Bar..Edited excerpts follow..Neha Joshi (NJ): What prompted you to take up a career in law? .Sharan Jagtiani (SJ): Many people say that they became lawyers accidentally. But mine was perhaps exactly the opposite. I come from a family of lawyers. I am third generation of lawyer. And from as long as I can remember anything about myself, the one thing I can remember is that I wanted to be a lawyer. And more than that, I wanted to be the kind of lawyer who stands up in court and argues. Both my maternal grandparents are lawyers. My grandfather was an eminent tax lawyer. Both of them qualified as lawyers in India after they moved here post partition. My father, Haresh Jagtiani, is a Senior Advocate. He is a first generation lawyer on his side of the family. My mother, Shobha Jagtiani, is a lawyer and partner at DM Harish & Co with her brother (Anil Harish). My wife is also a lawyer. Her family are lawyers. So I am surrounded by lawyers..NJ: How were you law school days? .SJ: I started studying law in Government Law College in 1995. I was part of the second batch of the five-year law course. So it was very much early days in a new law programme, although the institution has been around for over a century. My five years in GLC were absolutely an immersive experience for me and a lot of other students who I am lucky to have shared my time with. .When I started at GLC, you had two options: one was to get through law college on the surface and be critical of the lack of infrastructure and the lack of regular attendance and a structured classroom experience etc, which is what people generally tend to say. The other option was to really make up your mind to make the most of it and to completely commit yourself to a great student life. And I am very lucky that I was there at a time when there were a lot of students who had the latter mindset. I think as a result of that, I learnt a lot in GLC about the law, by doing so many co-curricular activities and several moot court competitions etc, being part of a group of students that tried to emulate the good things that we were hearing about National Law Schools and trying to implement them in their own way and with the limitations in GLC. That was a huge phase of my life. And I would not trade one day of GLC with anything else in the world. When people sometimes hear this, they think I am exaggerating about my time and experiences. But I am not. If you speak to my contemporaries who shared this experience - we had 50-70 students - they really felt the same kind of commitment and derived the same benefit from it. It is one of those institutions where much of the good that happens comes from your own involvement and your own enthusiasm. .If you choose to be on the surface and want to just be there to attend exams and go back to the law firm you are working in, much like what most students do, then your experiences will be different. It is not as structured as other institutions, where the curriculum requires you to commit to a huge amount of time. Here it was voluntary, or at least it was the case back then..NJ: Did you intern during these five years?.SJ: Unlike what students do today, which is lot of short internships throughout, what we tended to do back then was during the fourth or fifth year, to do a one-year long stint as a paralegal. It was more in-depth than a typical internship. The very short internships do not really give you much benefit. During my fifth year, me and a few of my closest friends all ended up getting positions at Desai & Diwanji. We would go to college in the morning and do our activities till 10.45-11 AM and then get to work at office. There, we were at office the full day like regular associates and worked till 9-10 at night. Because by that time, we were all so dedicated to college, it was not something we could just give up and be focused on work. I actually stayed on there for another year even after I got my sanad and then I went abroad for my LL.M..NJ: How was your LL.M. experience?.SJ: I went to Georgetown University in Washington DC for my LL.M. in International Legal Studies. It was an eye-opening and brilliant experience in terms of learning and being independent. It was about exposing yourself to people from different places. When I look at the profile of LL.M. classes today, one thing that was unique about my experience was that in a large LL.M. programme, I was the only Indian student. That was very unusual even for 2001. The faculty was fantastic. The advantage of Washington DC as a centre for an LL.M. programme is that you can draw on many of the top professionals who are either working with government or who are working with private law firms in some cases, former judges, and members of the judiciary who come and teach, because there is proximity between law school and places where they work. After the LL.M., I gave the New York Bar examination. I cleared it and then I worked for a year with a law firm in Washington - a very established American firm called Sidley Austin Brown & Wood. I worked with their international trade and dispute settlement practice group. They would specialise in international trade and arbitration disputes. It was a large body of professionals, wonderful people. Despite how established they were, one thing that stands out is by and large, the humility and generosity of spirit and willingness to work with someone who is not American and who was not exposed to their legal system. When you meet them or work with them, they have a unique ability to make the conversation about you rather than making the conversation about themselves. That was really one of the learnings from working with this group of professionals..NJ: Why did you give up that practice and come back?.SJ: You see, that was always my idea. Growing up in Mumbai, in a family of lawyers, hearing my dad talk so often about his day in court, being in GLC and exposing myself to the way it worked over here, I only ever thought that this is the law I want to practice. The practice of law abroad was not about being in court on a regular basis. because their systems are geared differently. Even as a litigator, your courtroom experience is not anywhere with the same degree of frequency, by and large. You have your trial or hearing dates set months in advance. And that was just not something I could get my head around - of being at a desk or a chair for long months before you are inside a courtroom. That too, it is something you would experience many years later into your career. I did not have much exposure to the practice of law in England, except for an internship I did when I was 19. At least of what I saw in the US, it is a wonderful practice of law, but a lot of it is writing briefs, researching, preparing, sitting on a desk and chair. For me, the journey abroad was something to experience, something to witness, something to enjoy, learn from, but never permanent..NJ: After you came back, you joined Senior Advocate Janak Dwarkadas..SJ: I met him when I came back in October 2003. At one point, I thought maybe as a stepping stone, I could spend some time with my dad. But my mom, who is very objective and clear, said no. She was categorical that I should not be with the family and said if you want to do counsel practice, the earlier you start with Mr Dwarkadas, the better. So my dad, who only knew Mr. Dwarkadas as colleagues at the Bar, got me an appointment to meet him..I went there with my CV and expected he will ask me a few questions, because I had gone through some interview processes abroad. It was a Saturday afternoon and courts were resuming on the coming Monday. I went there, all nervous. He did not even bother with the CV. We exchanged a few pleasantries. He then said, “When do you want to start?” And I said, “As early as possible, maybe Monday”. He asked, “Have you consulted an astrologer?” and I replied, “I do not believe in astrology” and then he said, “Okay start Monday”..When I was a paralegal at Desai & Diwanji, there was an extremely contested contempt matter involving a bungalow and violation of Coastal Zone Regulations. Mr. Dwarkadas was one amongst the seniors appearing for the contemnors. That was the first time I saw him work. I was completely mesmerised. I had it in my mind, as and when I come back to India (just like I had in my mind that I had to be a lawyer), I had to be in his chamber. So, that is the way it worked..NJ: What was your experience of working with Dwarkadas?.SJ: I still only look at him as my senior. Even now, when I have a conference with him, if you make a point in a conference, you’re hoping your senior will validate that point. Many people feel that way about their seniors.And of course, what Mr. Dwarkadas did for us, in terms of giving us the opportunity, his temperament. He never made you feel you have done anything wrong, the encouragement that you get from him. In a conference, if the junior-most person is making a valid point, he will make sure that in a room full of people, credit is given to that person. And what that does is naturally, everybody else in the room is going to take notice even if you are youngest or junior-most person in the room. I think that is really an attribute which is exceptional because you are one of the most renowned lawyers, yet you can have that kindness and humility to make sure everybody is getting noticed because of the contributions they make. It is not all about you. I have noticed this trait in quite a few other seniors and whenever I have worked with my dad as well. .Then there was, for me, the obvious learning in terms of court craft, court skill, how you approach a matter in a conference and how you develop that in court. That is one of the main reasons why you have to be in a senior’s chambers. Not just what actually happens in court - it is about the germ of the idea in the conference, how you work on it, how you develop it, how you discard what you think will not on closer analysis make for a logical and sustainable argument. And then take your initial thoughts and refine it, and then in the next phase, how in court, you have to have the ability to be flexible to think on your feet. Some of the things you thought of in the matter require instant reconsideration depending on how the matter is going in court. That is really where we learn from the seniors we work with.The beauty of the profession is that you are an independent professional from day one, although you belong to a senior’s chamber. You have flexibility to appear against your senior, along with other seniors, or on your own. There are very few institutions in the world that work in this fashion. You try and explain this system to people abroad or people in other cities in India and they take some time to understand it. They cannot comprehend that you can be an independent professional and yet work in the chamber of somebody else. But I think that there is a huge merit to that, and I hope it does not wither away or change..NJ: Apart from Mr. Dwarkadas, whom would you consider as your mentors? .SJ: Many! My parents have played a huge role. I admire my father's versatility as a lawyer. He has successfully practiced across diverse areas like criminal, commercial and constitutional laws. That is not easy to do. I have seen my mom as a working professional. Being in court, often times with a number of tax matters on a given day, the pressure of work, but yet being a mother having to run the house, taking care of school and all of those things. So there is that balance, which is so difficult for women in the profession. I only hope that we have more women who do that and who advance in the profession, because I think their role is so challenging.Also at the top of influences is my uncle, Anil Harish. Admired by many, coupled with his legal ability and knowledge; I marvel at his skill to find simple solutions to complicated problems.Navroz Seervai, Darius Khambata, to whom I am close, for whom I have such high regard and respect for as a constitutional lawyer, or even otherwise. I don’t like to typecast them, because I have worked with these people across maters. Aspi Chinoy, Dinyar Madon, Fredun Devitre, Ravi Kadam - as a junior, for some reason, the senior I tended to end up opposing more was Madon. And it was obviously intimidating, but he would always tell me, that because it is you, I am not letting you ask for a keep back or adjournment. And I did not how to interpret this at that time, I knew he meant well. .Then, Iqbal Chagla. I saw him at such close quarters. Especially in a matter where Bombay Environmental Action Group (BEAG) was the petitioner. The team was spearheaded at that time by (now Justice) Gautam Patel, and led in the Bombay High Court by Chagla and in the Supreme Court by Chagla and Harish Salve. I had drafted that petition and it was settled by many people; there was a galaxy of brilliant lawyers on either side. For that one litigation in 2005, I was so involved as a junior on the team, in the drafting, researching and preparation. We were successful in Bombay, but lost in the Supreme Court. I remember Chagla's commitment to the cause. For weeks and weeks that the matter was going on in Bombay, he didn’t take up a single other brief. . Another matter I must mention was in a Company Law Board in Delhi. There was a star-studded line up of lawyers on both sides. We were being led by Senior Advocate Ashok Desai. There was also late Senior Advocate Saleh Doctor, Dwarkadas, Suresh Parekh and Shyam Mehta (who was not the senior then). On the other side, there was an equally impactful line up - Rafique Dada, Sudipto Sarkar, Khambata, Jimmy Avasia, Fredun Devitre, again somebody with whom I have worked closely. All these professionals would travel to Delhi for hearings. They would keep aside a week for this one matter, which is very atypical of how we work. But when you do that, you learn a different way of working. Dwarkadas could not go running to 10 different courts for matters. As a junior most in the team, you were expected to work hard. The fact that everyone is looking at you as an independent professional, that they are prepared to listen to you in a conference where you have these superstars exchanging thoughts on law, no one talks down to you. You share ideas and you see how the ideas will play out in court. .One experience will stay with me. Doctor was arguing, all seniors were arguing one part each. I was the common junior to all. Very enthusiastically, I made him argue a point, because by that time, there was a regular trust and reliance. I told him to rely on a Bombay High Court judgment, only to be told by the other side that it had been overruled by Supreme Court. I apologised to him profusely, because it was my mistake. Not that it impacted the matter in any direct sense. But it was more of his way of treating or dealing with me after that. There was not a harsh word. It was only a pat on the shoulder saying, “It happens, it has happened to everyone” and "don’t think too much about it, and we will move on from here." Those are the experiences that shape the way you would want to be with people you work with when you are arguing matters or leading a team of professionals. The other thing that I learnt from them is how multi-dimensional they are. We spent so much time together. They have such a great sense of humour. They make jokes at each other’s expense. Jokes you could tell in a close group of people. They could discuss philosophy, religion, science, especially Mr. Ashok Desai, who is renowned for that, apart from being a master of advocacy. Part of his genius is how well-versed he is in literature and music, and the same can be said of the other professionals..NJ: Which of the three - SAT, NCLT and High Court practice - do you enjoy most? Which do you find the most challenging? .SJ: I enjoy the law, period. I enjoy the challenge of arguing matters. Each form of the practice comes with its different challenges. But I feel, amongst all, the High Court is most challenging..I think there is a certain pressure that comes from being in a public environment. In an arbitration, yes, the arbitrators are often very knowledgeable, very experienced, but it is a closed door setting. In contrast, there is a certain pressure that comes when being in a public environment where you are in the middle of the courtroom and being observed by lot of people, though in that moment you try and completely shut it out. All of this when you are most likely to be up against an adversary of high calibre and skill, no matter whether elder or younger than you. .Also, there is a very high level of judges in the High Court, who, despite the number of matters they are hearing in a day, would have the ability to really get to the heart of the matter very quickly because of their experience and breadth of knowledge across areas, or because they have read the papers, or both. When asked these questions or when engaging with the Bench, your responses have to be instantaneous and to the point. In my experience, matters are won and lost in these moments. When you put all these elements together, and the fact that so much of the instantaneous back and forth often times shapes the outcome of a matter, I find it is a real learning experience and challenging. Therefore, you have to be as welprepared as you can be, to be able to deal with these three or four elements. .I keep saying that the profession of law in India, especially litigation in India, is unique. There are so many cases heard in a day, because of which courtrooms are crowded. You have your colleagues and professionals who are observing you. The entire fraternity can observe other people in the fraternity. And that is why it is so unique. To give you an analogy, can you imagine a top surgeon performing a surgery in an operating theatre with the top 20 surgeons just floating around in the operating theatre consciously or subconsciously making notes of how he goes about his task? Or an artist, who is in his study painting on a canvas for 3-4 days, but 20 other artists are just floating around the room observing him. .Here, when I tell you that so-and-so is an outstanding lawyer, I am saying it because I have had the fortune of opposing him so many times. So, you know up close and personal what his strengths are. Or you are in the same courtroom observing him and thinking that this is really somebody who is on top of his game. That is what is so unique about being in court. Because of the by and large generous spirit where the seniors in our profession want the next generation to do better, there have been so many times, as a junior lawyer, you argue a matter, outcome notwithstanding, no matter how difficult the experience may have been before a particular judge, you walk away having held your own. And the first persons to come up to you will be your seniors in the profession, who will say, “You have done a very good job,” and they mean it. None of this would be possible if you are doing this in a closed room. Equally, many times, juniors will go up to seniors who are bystanders and solicit their views. People will honestly give their answers.It is a very, very unique institution in the way we function.