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‘Brilliant’ JSA partner Promod Nair to start multi-lawyer barristers-style chamber [UPDATE]

Pramod Nair: Going solo
Pramod Nair: Going solo

J Sagar Associates (JSA) Bangalore partner Promod Nair has started an independent arbitration practice.

Nair had confirmed to Legally India last week that he would be starting his own counsel practice specialising in arbitration but was unable to comment further today at the time of going to press.

He wrote on Twitter yesterday: “[I] look forward to being a full-time counsel (and occasional arbitrator).”

Nair had joined JSA as a salaried partner in 2011 from Herbert Smith in London, where he was a senior associate. He is a 2001 NLSIU Bangalore graduate who also holds an LLM from Cambridge University.

JSA Bangalore partner Sajai Singh commented in an email: “He wants to and should become (because he is brilliant as) a (arguing) counsel… And to establish a niche as a counsel you ideally need to practice solo.”

Singh added that while the firm’s disputes practice in Bangalore headed by partner Murali Ananthasivan, was “fairly large”, but that he was sure they would “send work to Promod, where his skills are required (specially for arbitration work)”.

Interview: To follow English barristers chambers model

Promod Nair revealed that he dreamed of setting up chambers styled on UK barristers’ sets, that would be used by both clients and law firms.

“The plan as we evolve is to get a group of specialists who also have an interest in advocacy, both in arbitrations and before the courts, to come together and create a chamber with a broad spectrum of expertise. This will be organised along the lines of a barristers’ chamber and not a law firm,” said Nair. “The idea is to provide specialist assistance and litigation services to clients and law firms.”

“I hope that such a set will be home to people with different specialisations - commercial litigation, public law litigation and arbitration- and we will work together and complement each other’s skills where required.”

An English barristers chamber is traditionally literally an office space or chambers where the rent and office overheads are shared by its barristers, with all barristers also jointly working on business development and occasionally sharing clients and expertise, despite all billing clients separately and earning their own income.

Nair added that the chambers’ atmosphere and philosophy would ideally provide “excellent training and mentorship opportunities to younger lawyers during their early years in litigation and allow them to develop as full fledged members of chambers in due course”, similar to the pupillage model followed by UK barristers chambers.

A few other lawyers who are currently serving their notice are likely to join the chambers in the next month or two in Bangalore, while advocates in Mumbai and Delhi had said they might participate in the initiative, said Nair.

Unlike in the UK, where the rules have recently been liberalised allowing barristers to work with clients directly without a solicitor (law firm) intermediary, Indian rules have never prevented advocates from dealing directly with clients, explained Nair. Nevertheless, the chambers would not compete with law firms, as much smaller teams would be working on matters – perhaps two to three lawyers on arbitrations, for instance – in order to “supplement what dispute resolution practices in law firms have to offer”.

The tentative name for the chambers was the Greek word for the pursuit of excellence, Arista, said Nair. He speculated that the reason a chambers model was not the standard in India, unlike in the UK, was because of the individualistic nature of counsel practice in India. Such a practice typically involves a well-known lawyer with “face value” around whom the entire practice is based with the main focus of junior lawyer being to assist the “senior”.

However, the increasing complexity of work, the inevitable need for specialisation, the excellent talent coming out of law schools and the urgent need to create a large pool of specialist dispute resolution lawyers are all drivers to re-invent the way in which dispute resolution practices have traditionally been run in India.

Nair acknowledged that the model was “a bit of an adventure” and “not something that has been tried before” but there was no reason why it should not succeed. And unlike at large and full-service law firms with a long list of corporate clients, conflicts would be less of a worry for a practice structured as a chambers, he said.

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