INTERVIEW: How They Nearly Won the Nani Palkhivala Moot Court Competition : Being Cocky, Bitter Teams, Toughest Competitors

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Neeati Narayan wasted no time in catching hold of the Symbiosis Pune team who were the finalists at the coveted 10th Nani Palkhivala Memorial Moot Court Competition, 2013.

The team comprised of Speakers Gourav Mohanty and Shruti Raina and Researcher Adishree Chakraborty.

And for me, nothing beats the pleasure of interpreting and twisting the law in your favour.

Q. Hey guys, congratulations on your victory! Basic questions first, what made you choose the moot in the first place?

Gourav: Thank you, Neeati. It is THE Nani Palkhivala Tax Moot. Res ipsa loquitur.

Shruti: The best thing and the worst thing about tax (for me at least) has always been the fact that it’s beautifully complex.

So when you indulge you must go all in. Hence Palkhivala it was.

Adishree: Thanks for the felicitations Neeati. To answer your first question, Nani Palkhivala Moot Court Competition being the epitome in the field of tax happened to be the unequivocal choice.

Q. How was the process of preparation? How did you go about the entire stage? 

Gourav: Gruesome.

The problem was based on an uncharted area of law in India, transfer pricing, and based on the highly controversial (read outrageous) actions of the Revenue authorities in the Shell case.

There was no precedent for such an action. So drafting arguments required an outofthebox approach, which I am glad to say, we achieved.

A lot of the credit goes to Ameya Mithe, our team strategist, who provided a solid support to our team.

Being in III Year, I had never dealt with direct tax before. Ameya sat down with me and helped me sail through the basic concepts of taxation and this process continued throughout the entire stage of preparation.

Shruti: The first stage is always the toughest.

When you encounter a new sphere and the problem is as brilliantly drafted as the Palkhivala problem was, with each issue being more ‘taxing’ than the other, the initial apprehension is what I find most daunting.

If you have your ball rolling past the first few hiccups, it might still not be a smooth road ahead. But like Gourav said, an out-of-the-box approach is what made the difference for us. Some issues were one-sided, as they often are. Arguing them was the real task.

Adishree: It was an intensely grilling process to begin with. The problem was beautifully drafted yet intricate in its complexities.

We had to be consistently updated with the latest circulars and notifications that were being released because the dynamics of the problem were pivotal to it.

Gourav and Shruti adopted many unconventional ways of addressing the issues which were our rallying points. We were fortunate to acquire the skills of a virtuoso strategist, Ameya, without whose help this win would be an impossibility

Q. How was it like working with the team? What do you think are your team’s fortes? What were the roadblocks?

Gourav: Shruti and I have worked together on many occasions in the past. It however did not prevent an all out war at every chance of conflict in opinion. But as they say, intellectual conflict is a blessing. Adishree was a great support. It was a pleasure working with them.

Team Fortes- Our team’s single-most outstanding point, which was well noted by the Judges in the moot, were the uniqueness of the arguments.

As mentioned before, there was no precedent per se for the actions of the Revenue and thus building up a strong case for them was quite gratifying.

Shruti was good with rebuttals. Adishree was hands on during the moot and kept the optimism alive at every point (Shruti and I are pessimists).

Shruti: When different styles of pleading come together it can either be a disastrous combination or a healthy equation adding up negatives and positives to make a balanced formula.

Gourav and I, having two distinctive styles of speaking, helped each other to arrive at the right equilibrium.

Team fortes: apart from unique arguments, what in my opinion also worked in our favor was being able to judge the judges’ reaction and altering the rest of the pleading accordingly.

For instance, on a particular occasion when Gourav was being hammered consistently about an argument, he saw that it did not sit well with the judge and smoothly transitioned (as smoothly as it was possible within the 10 minutes allotted to him) into an alternative argument.

As mentioned by Gourav, Adishree was a blessing during ‘heated’ moments when we needed a case law to be presented to the Judge.

Adishree: Working with Shruti and Gourav was very smooth. Both of them were very proficient.

Shruti was exceptionally adept at rebuttals, much to our advantage!

Gourav shone like a phoenix and outperformed himself. Last but definitely not the least, the efforts put in by our team strategist, Ameya were indispensable.

Good cocky and bad cocky

Good cocky and bad cocky

Q. How many teams were you up against in the competition? Which team would you consider to be your toughest competition?

Adishree: Jindal Global Law School in my opinion was our strongest opponent.

Their adept oratory skills coupled with their arguments were truly admirable.

Shruti: A total of 5 teams including two prelim rounds, one quarters, one semis and the finals. Yes, there’s nothing like good competition and Jindal was a great team to go up against.

Above all I believe their confidence was there strongest card. The team from NALSAR also made some good arguments.

What I most appreciate about an opponent is also the ability to accept the verdict. Some are far too bitter.

Even if you lose, you should be able to shake your opponents hand and wish them luck. Be a good sport. Being a gracious loser is just as important as being a good winner.

Gourav: The teams we went up against in every round were excellent. It felt like a close call every time we moved on towards the next round. The toughest to crack was Jindal Law School.

Its not because we lost to them as the difference between the final scores was a mere 1/60. It is because they were confident and well prepared. Since they went up first as appellants in the final, I was impressed with the composure they displayed.

Q. How was the final round up against JGLS?

The fact that the final rounds were more humorous than solemn was also something I really enjoyed.

Shruti: The final round up was intimidating on account of the fact that J. Sanklecha, J. Vazifdar and J. Syed  constituted the Bench.

Its an altogether different feeling to plead before the judges whose judgments you have read and appreciated.

The fact that the final rounds were more humorous than solemn was also something I really enjoyed.

Gourav: It is another ball game altogether to convince the judge in a huge packed auditorium when you can hear your voice booming from all sides due to the mike. Keeping the right distance from mike and maintaining the posture is very important.

The Judges were exceptional. The questions were right down till the root. They kept us on our toes with extremely thought-application questions.

Its very important when you face judges like them, that you proceed slowly and take the Judges with you while arguing. Make sure they do not have any further queries before moving into your next submission.

As far as Jindal is concerned, I have already stated that they were our strongest opponents. When both the teams give their absolute best to achieve something, it does not matter who comes out as a winner.

I mean it does. But it does not really hurt to lose because you know that you did not let them win without a tough fight.

Q. What message would you like to pass on to the mooters and the non-mooters?

Gourav: Mooters: Keep your law straight and true. Don’t be shy to move away from convention. Also in the court room, judge the judge and plan your advocacy accordingly.

Non Mooters: It is probably true that mooting is not the true representation of actual practice. But what mooting allows you is a shot at deep research in a field of law you would not come across in usual academic curriculum.

And for me, nothing beats the pleasure of interpreting and twisting the law in your favour.

Adishree: The first clichéd but critical advice would be to build a firm foundation before venturing further.

To mooters, being thorough with the legal provisions is a necessity to which innovation and creativity in arguments add feathers to your cap.

To non-mooters, mooting is a fun journey of research that allows you to access islands of knowledge.

The rigorous process of mooting should not be a deterrent as it inculcates and develops the faculties of oration, interpretation and application that all budding lawyers require.

Shruti: Research! Research! Research!

For a tax moot there is no real substitute for good research. You cannot talk your way out of all the conceptual questions the judges hurl at you.

It makes your job easier, knowing how to break the other side’s argument beforehand. Having something new to throw at the opponents is what makes the cut.

Also try to break the other side’s argument. Let the judge know how, why and where the flaw in the opponent’s argument lies.

Be sarcastic and cocky, but only if you can pull it off. Not many can 😛

To non-mooters, I know what it feels like, I’v been on the other side. But you really don’t know what you’re missing till you’ve tasted the poison. Tax moots are mostly all law. So in case you think you’re not the kind to twist facts, tax moots maybe your way to go.

But If you try it and didn’t enjoy it much, it’s not the end of the world. There’s plenty else to do. Law school offers you ample opportunities. Experiment.

Thank you, Neeati.

The rigorous process of mooting should not be a deterrent as it inculcates and develops the faculties of oration, interpretation and application that all budding lawyers require.

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