Managing Partner of Trust Legal Sudhir Mishra was called to No5 Barristers Chambers in London as Door Tenant in 2020, and most recently received the Guardians of Sustainability Award 2022 at the House of Lords. .In this interview with Bar & Bench, Mishra shares his journey of setting up Trust Legal and how he established himself as a foremost environmental lawyer..What inspired you to pursue a career in environmental law? Was there a particular case that set the tone for your career as an environmental lawyer?.Joining the legal profession was not a matter of choice for me. In 1998, when I was interviewed for IAS by Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), I failed to get my name in the final list. My late father, SK Misra, who was a distinguished officer, had great belief in my capability of being a lawyer one day. While pursuing graduation in History (Hons) from Delhi University, I secured 68% marks in Mughal India and had a great desire to pursue a Master's in History. My father and I had a showdown, as he was very clear that I should not pursue MA in History and should rather study law.Unlike many others, who take rejection of UPSC very badly, I was full of confidence that I would make a mark in life. Very soon, however, my hopes came crashing when even after months of effort, I failed to join any eminent lawyer or Delhi-based law firm even at a late age of 28 in 1998.I was now full of self-doubt and a sense of resignation was setting in my mind. What I gradually realized was that most of the law firms used to get repulsed with my poor academic background as I had completed my 10th from Siwan, Bihar with 64% and 12th from Banka, Bihar with 59%. These initial marksheets became the biggest bottleneck in allowing my resume to fly any further.With every passing day without a job, I started going to the Delhi High Court daily to find some temporary work as a local commissioner or appear in random matters for any acquaintance or friend in trial courts for a nominal fee. I had a 10-year-old Priya scooter as my office and mode of communication and I used to appear in bail matters and matrimonial cases. Suddenly, a strange new thing happened. During my final year of law and after my IAS interview, I had briefly worked on a few assignments of the Wildlife Protection Society of India as a trainee and was paid a stipend too. As a registered lawyer, I went back to them and they were keen to use my services for opposing bail applications of prominent poachers and wildlife traders, in designated wildlife courts in Tis Hazari, New Delhi. This effectively actually meant researching on judgments, reading the complaints and chargesheets and assisting the public prosecutor to ensure the refusal of bail to a wildlife offender. My environment law career was born with these extremely challenging opportunities, which sometimes turned life-threatening.Coming to the question of how environmental law became a career of choice for me, I would say it is destiny. I had a deep sense of connect with forests, wildlife, and also took great interest in environmental law during my Campus Law Centre days. In fact, I did not do any moot court internships, but did work for almost a year on periodic intervals for the cause of wildlife as a trainee for a few organizations. I decided to focus on environment law as I thought there is no competition in it, I have a deep connect with the subject, and I can co-create this practice with new initiatives.My hard work and perseverance led to a remarkable change in my settling down as a busy environmental lawyer. Between 1999-2004, one case or rather a series of cases against Sansarchand, who was called the Veerappan of North India, set my practice on course so far as wildlife litigation is concerned. The NGOs which I represented had a single purpose - to put an end to illegal wildlife trade in India and save the tigers and elephants. Sansarchand was one offender who used to deal with illegal wildlife on a scale which was unprecedented, and I was one of the first lawyers who assisted the public prosecutors in Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand to ensure that his bail applications were rejected and his conviction took place..Tell us about the journey of Trust Legal? How was it set up?.In 2005, I went to the United States of America and to my pleasant surprise, I was nominated for the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP), a fellowship program for foreign opinion makers conducted by the US Secretary of State Office. This one-month trip completely changed my way of thinking and my commitment towards environmental law as a lawyer.I realized that global environmental lawyers invariably are more neutral in their approach and they are not completely tilted as activists, which had become a case for India, as most of the environmental lawyers here are primarily available for NGOs and civil societies, and not for companies and corporations. In the months following my return from the USA, I decided to set up a full-fledged law firm specializing on environmental issues and hence Trust legal was born.One of my first clients was Alfred Ford, the great-grandson of Henry Ford, who in partnership with the late Cyrus Mistry, was setting up India’s first ski resort in the Himalayas. This one particular mandate helped me create an alliance of various environmental impact assessment organizations and also allowed me to work closely with Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM), The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and various large financial institutions in India and abroad..Is specialization in a particular area of law a key factor that determines the success of a law firm?.For me, specialization in Environmental Law was divine intervention. If I had got an opportunity after my IAS interview to join any established law firm, I would have become a tax, constitutional or IPR lawyer. However, since I had to start my own practice, the practice of Environment Law became my rescue.After 22 years, I would say God led me to a path where specialization in Environmental Law became synonymous with my name, and today, while other larger practice areas of media broadcasting, healthcare, arbitration & dispute resolution, and general corporate are hugely successful practice areas of Trust Legal, they were all created on the bedrock of a solid foundation in a specialized practice area.I would say the Trust Legal story is more or less like Amazon and Flipkart, which initially dabbled in book-selling and later became omnipresent in every business. I believe that if a specialization can leapfrog you to such a trajectory that in two decades you are known as one of the top thirty law firms in the country, then I don’t mind starting with a specialization..I would say the Trust Legal story is more or less like Amazon and Flipkart, which initially dabbled in book-selling and later became omnipresent in every business.Sudhir Mishra.Your core team has stayed with you for several years now. What is the people mantra of Trust Legal?.Trust Legal is still a very small and modest boutique firm. The three partners of the firm including me have stood united, for more than a decade now. My other two partners - Ritwika Nanda and Petal Chandhok - joined this firm in 2011 and 2014 respectively and are largely responsible for the kind of go-getter firm we have become today. One major reason why the partners remain united is mutual respect, complete respect for privacy, opportunity to build on their own, and freedom to lead the practices independently.I truly believe the only job of a Managing Partner in running a law firm is to identify critical talent and empower them. His goal has to be to inspire and create motivational, gritty, passionate leaders at all levels of the firm.My people mantra has a definite element of gratitude, loads of humility, trust, zero expectations and natural ability to connect. A lot of my fellow leaders in the Bar feel surprised how I manage to freely interact with a large number of interns, law students, lawyers, and anyone who needs my attention through my shows, podcasts, and social media, especially LinkedIn.I think hierarchy has to be superseded by humour and humility within an organization. In fact, I have an open door policy within the firm and feel happiest if I am told what measures I can take to improve myself, work on myself and make Trust legal a better place to work at..What are the growth plans for the firm?.In 2020, in the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was invited by No 5 Barristers’ Chamber to become a Door Tenant at United Kingdom for my contribution to the Environment and Climate Change laws. This has led to a definite plan for a great India-UK legal synergy. Some of the top UK law firms regularly send us work and few of the Indian clients in metal and infrastructure use me for their UK issues.As a law firm, Trust Legal aspires to be a dispute resolution firm of choice at Delhi with the kind of sincere reputation which Karanjawala and Agarwal Law Associates have. Some of the noticeable areas where the firm is getting new mandates are general corporate, IPR, med-tech, legal issues and sports.So far as the growth of the firm is concerned, I strongly believe we will remain a Delhi-focused firm with a large litigation team which can undertake any complex litigation issue on a magnitude unseen in the present legal market..As a law firm, Trust Legal aspires to be a dispute resolution firm of choice at Delhi with the kind of sincere reputation which Karanjawala and Agarwal Law Associates have.Sudhir Mishra.Burnout of lawyers is an issue that plagues most law firms in India. Are these measures in place to ensure a healthy work-life balance for lawyers at the firm?.I once had the privilege of asking the late Soli Sorabjee at a US embassy dinner how he maintains his work-life balance. He simply said work harder, and balance will find its place.In my last 22 years of my practice, I feel burnout only on Sundays. In fact, I treat my work as my hobby and workplace as a playground. It’s entirely in your mind why you face burnout or fatigue or loss of interest in the legal practice. I think to a large extent, mismatched expectations from both sides - the lawyer and the profession - is to be blamed for this issue. The day we start enjoying the hard work and celebrate perseverance, the issue of burnout will not arise. Maybe as lawyers, we need to take ourselves a little less seriously, inculcate humour, detach emotionally and develop a burning desire to mark a distinguished path in a crowded market..You have played an instrumental role in developing India’s relations with other countries. Tell us about some of these initiatives..Apart from being a lawyer, I have always been fascinated with our history and culture. I cannot forget that lawyers during Independence Struggle were prominent social and political thinkers like Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, J.B. Kripalani amongst others.I developed a great interest in writing regular articles in newspapers and leading magazines on variety of issues from Mirza Ghalib to women rights or even to review the autobiography of Vir Sanghvi for Hindustan times. I still candidly remember that one of my Senior Advocates, whom I tremendously admire, is a man of fine taste who has extraordinary linguistic understanding, a patronizer of Urdu and can recite poetry like no other. He often tells me that a lawyer’s life needs to be more complete with various allied and varied interests. He should invest in causes beyond commercial gratification.Being a history student, I was always fascinated with the silk route, which existed between India and Central Asia historically. In 2021, taking advantage of the pandemic, I created a corridor, called the India Uzbekistan Investment Corridor (IUIC) for creating trade, economic, legal, cultural and commercial opportunities between India and the Republic of Uzbekistan. I travelled the young republic in March 2022 and cemented ties with the leading law firms in Uzbekistan and also delivered a keynote address in The Tashkent State University of Law (TSUL)..What are the charms/challenges of first-generation lawyering?.The biggest charm of being a first-generation lawyer was that you can make mistakes, correct them on your own, set your goals daily and sleep peacefully with a sense of satisfaction.When my world came crashing down in 1998, I was given up by virtually everybody except my parents. So everything which I did thereon was a bonus, a surprise, and a huge achievement for my parents. The sense of satisfaction of self-creating a first generation law firm which is regularly being treated at par with large law firms in several key areas of law is an unparalleled feeling.At the same time, the challenge of first-generational lawyering is that even if you achieve so much and win the best of the cases in the courts while battling nepotism and competing with legacy law firms, there is often a question about your capabilities on a daily basis and you never know when this examination will end. The second aspect is that sometimes, first generation founders like me are hesitant to take giant steps in amplifying and creating a larger law firm due to the multiple challenges of execution, client engagement, business opportunities, and miscellaneous issues..What advice would you have for law students and young law graduates aspiring to pursue a career in law?.My one single advice is that you should be ready to be mentored. Being 'ready to be ready' is when you are not conditional, not closed, not against, not confined and have a feeling of acceptance attached to your learning curve. Don’t be judgmental, conditional, and reactive. Millennials have very big advantages which my generation never had. In my own assessment, they study harder, they take up careers early, and by and large understand the meaning of financial independence.However, where they collapse is in trusting, being conditional, reclusive, narrow-minded, self-centred, and mostly contemptuous about the experience and grittiness of becoming a great lawyer.If young lawyers or law students are ready to be mentored unconditionally and look for a specialization later, and are willing to put in a few years of hard work, there is no competition he or she will face in making a huge career in law.In conclusion, I will say that from 1998 till 2022, I had never faced any competition except competing with my own fault lines, my academic challenges, my confidence, and sometimes my under expectations about my own abilities.