In Conversation with Akash Gupta: LLM from Stockholm University (Sweden), Ace Mooter, Mom-Dad’s Boy, Arbitration’s Gold-Mine

Akash Gupta interview

Interview By Varun Sharma.

 

Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Hello, my name is Akash Gupta and presently I am pursuing an International Commercial Arbitration Law (ICAL) LL.M. Programme at Stockholm University.

I have been selected to represent the Stockholm University at the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot, Vienna, 2019. Before LL.M., I completed B.A.LL.B. (Hons.), equivalent to Juris Doctor (J.D.), from Tamil Nadu National Law University (TNNLU), Trichy.

Though I have lived most of my childhood in Varanasi, Patna, and Gorakhpur, my native place is Champaran, Bihar where Mahatma Gandhi started “Satyagraha” in 1917 after returning from South Africa.

Please tell our readers something about your school and why did you choose law?

I did my high school from Kendriya Vidyalaya -1, AFS Gorakhpur. After Class 10, I opted for Science stream with Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Computer Science.

Back in 2011, the craze and herd falling for engineering were high. In addition to that, my dad and three siblings are engineers, two of them did M.Tech too.

After the half-yearly examinations in Class 11, I realized that engineering is not something I like. Then the question ongoing in my mind was “if not engineering, then what?”.

Some random day, I saw the TV series “Adaalat” and the role of “K.D. Pathak” inspired me and I started thinking about law as a career. I had a discussion with dad regarding pursuing a career in law, he was supportive and said: “do what you like”. Hence, I made up my mind and wrote the Common Law Aptitude Test (CLAT) 2013 and landed up in TNNLU.

Since many of our readers are college-going young people, please share your experience about the law school life? Did you pursue extracurricular activities such as moots and debates in law school?

The first batch of Tamil Nadu National Law University (Batch of 2018) had its own pros and cons, but now I can confidently say “I had a good time in TNNLU”.

Beginning from the first semester, I was into mooting. I still remember the standing ovation when our team was awarded “Collin J. Wall Spirit of the Moot” at the Willem C. Vis (East) International Commercial Arbitration Moot, Hong Kong in 2016.

Akash Gupta interview

After I came back from Hong Kong, TNNLU conducted its first Intra-University Moot Court Competition, 2016 where I was adjudged the “Winner” and “Best Speaker” out of 200 plus individual participants.

Being the Best Mooter of TNNLU gave me a morale boost and I decided to focus on mooting. Because of my preference for mooting, I did not participate in other activities like debate and model united nation.

However, I have participated in the Quiz Competition and tried my luck on singing “Tujhe Dekha To Ye Jaana Sanam” with the signature step of Shahrukh Khan in the Cultural Fest. The audience liked it but honestly, I was not the best at that.

In my final year, I participated in Intra-University Moot Court Competition, 2017 and was declared the “Winner” and “Best Speaker” again, I was happy to receive the award for two consecutive years.

The last moot representing TNNLU was 1st State Level Moot Court Competition, 2018 conducted by Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University, Chennai where we received the “Runners-up” and “Best Researcher” prize.

Apart from participating in moots, I did some courses outside the academic curriculum of TNNLU. Some of the subjects were commercial like Construction Industry Adjudication, WIPO Summer School, Contract Drafting, Cyber Law, Infrastructure Law while other subjects were non-commercial in nature like Water law, International Refugee Law, Health Law.

How was your internship experience? Please share your experience of interning at the Asian International Arbitration Centre, Malaysia.

During the semester break, I used to do internships and I still remember the times when I used to intern back to back and not going home. Even now, my mom complains to my dad “Why Akash is not coming home when the University has holidays? What is the need for an internship?”.

Dad is always on my side explaining to mom that he is a student, and this is the time he should focus on learning rather than enjoying holidays.

While doing internships, I learnt cooking and learnt how to manage everything by myself.

Jokingly, the most frustrating thing at that point was to see some people chilling at home and their Facebook posts, Instagram stories. I remember telling this to dad and he said: “focusing on somebody else will never get you to the result you want, focus on yourself”.

Now I realise the importance of internships as it grooms you for both the fronts, professional as well as personal. In the final year, I interned at the Asian International Arbitration Centre (previously known as “Kuala Lumpur Regional Arbitration Centre”), Malaysia.

The internship went well and taught me a lot about the different types of work done by the arbitration centre. The main responsibilities were to assist the Case Counsel in coordinating case management, the appointment of the arbitrator and processing conflict check.

India and Malaysia have a lot of things in common especially Bollywood and food. Malaysia is a country of mixed culture and Kuala Lumpur was a beautiful city to intern in.

Akash Gupta interview

During your under-graduation, you have been extensively engaged in mooting and short courses. How did you manage time? Do you want to give any suggestions to the law students?

My dad always says, “there is adequate time for everything you want to do”. The problem is, people do not use time efficiently.

I asked him once “how to use time efficiently”. I thought his answer will be a bit complex and tough to implement in life. But, to my surprise, he said: “plan your time”. I think the key is “planning”.

The law students who say the schedule does not allow them to participate in moot, debate or model united nation are those people who do not plan.

Moreover, there is a false rumour ongoing in the law schools that “first-year/second-year students do not know anything, hence they should not participate in the co-curricular activities”. I say this is “false” because unless you start learning, you know nothing. It does not matter if you start in your first year or final year.

The point is “just start exploring the field and don’t wait for the opportunities, look for the opportunities”.

Talking about my personal experience in TNNLU, I think apart from classes there was plenty of time to polish my skills.

Here, I would like to talk about another false rumour, some people advice that one should do moot, debate, research paper, everything possible in law school. I do not support this idea, nobody expects you to be a master of everything.

If you like singing or sports, do that. There can be a situation where you like to participate in different things, do everything you like. The point I am making here is “don’t pretend, be genuine and do what you like”.

You have played cricket throughout your under-graduation, tell our readers how did you manage cricket with other co-curricular activities?

In TNNLU, I was the opening batsman for the University Cricket Team. Sometimes, I had to compromise and bunk some classes for playing the match. The consequence was to make up for the class and cover up the portion by myself.

Again, I love cricket, so it was not a big deal for me. So, if you like something, you find 100 ways to do that even in adverse situations. Therefore, I played all the matches starting from the first year to final year which had no effect on my academic grades.

Now comes the third false rumour I want to talk about, “just focus on getting the job after passing out, do not participate in any co-curricular activities in the final year”.

The process of learning never ends, one should never stop doing things which they like. It does not matter if you are in the first year or final year. If you think the activity is helping to improve your personality in some way or the other, “just do it”.

You were awarded the 1st Ram Jethmalani Excellence Awards 2018 for Students in the Moot Category. Please tell our readers something about it?

The award was conducted by Legitquest and it had six categories. The six categories were further divided into two, undergraduate and post-graduate.

After a scrutinisation of approximately 1000 participant applications from all over India, 3 rounds, 100 legal questions, 3-panel internal jury and a 4-panel external jury selected by Mr. Ram Jethmalani himself, I was selected as a winner for the Moot Category.

The tasks to complete and making it to next rounds were challenging as I was in the final semester of law school. I was undergoing the LL.M. application process and internship during that time.

At the end of the day, the award made all my efforts worth it. As the felicitation ceremony was scheduled in October, I could not attend the same.

I was happy that my mom-dad and elder brother attended the same. Seeing my mom-dad receiving the award on my behalf from Mr. Ram Jethmalani was rejoicing for me as all the credit goes to my parents and family for what I am today.

 

Akash Gupta interview

How did you decide that you’ll have Arbitration as your area of specialization? Why did you choose Stockholm University for your specialization?

While doing Vis Moot twice, I learnt arbitration at length. In due course, I realised that I want to learn more about it and master it. Therefore, I decided to do LL.M. in arbitration law.

The Vis Moot helped me to enlarge my ambit and exposed me to the best law schools in the field, which helped me to find out which law school I want to join.

For arbitration law, Stockholm University and Geneva Law School are most sought after in the world. The only difference in between them is that the former teaches commercial arbitration while the latter teaches international dispute settlement including commercial arbitration.

As I was interested in commercial arbitration, I chose Stockholm University.

Your student phase seems very fascinating, was there any low points in your life with respect to student life? Can you share some of the experience with the readers relating to the moot?

People who see my LinkedIn profile praise me about the things which I have done till now. Everybody looks at the brighter side of my life. For instance, I have travelled to Hong Kong, Austria, Malaysia. But nobody knows how much effort it took to make it to the Vis Moot Hong Kong.

When I decided to participate in the Vis Moot, I faced a lot of criticism. As far as I know, none of the law schools in India participated in the Vis Moot within three years of its establishment.

Apart from moral support, there was no sponsorship. Fortunately, our parents decided to support us for which I am thankful to them and enabled us to participate in the moot.

When our efforts were recognised and we received the “Colin J. Wall Spirit of the Moot”, the same people who criticized us turned into our well-wishers.

After returning to India, our team proposed to the Government of Tamil Nadu to sponsor the Vis Moot Team of TNNLU every year and reimburse the money for our participation at Hong Kong too. With the support of the then Vice Chancellor, Mr. Arun Roy (IAS) and the administration of TNNLU, we received the Government Order accepting our proposal for the sponsorship.

For nine months, I was all engaged with the paper works, writing e-mails, reminding the concerned officials about our proposal. I invested a lot of time in that, now I can proudly say that because of our combined effort, the Government of Tamil Nadu sponsors the Vis Moot Team of TNNLU for both Vienna and Hong Kong.

How was your initial phase of mooting?

Talking about my mooting experience, in the initial days I did not get any awards. I was sad and thought, why I don’t get any recognition for my efforts, the judges are biased against new law schools and so on.

I evaluated myself and worked extensively on the weak points. For instance, one of the problems with our team was “Memorial”. We worked a lot and before ending law school, we got three “Best Memorial” award including one for the Intra-University Moot Court Competition.

During the Intra-University Moot, the participants used to talk about the authorities, case laws and the structure of arguments in our memorial.

Even after learning all this in under graduation, it took a lot of time and effort to draft the “Memorial for the Claimant” for the Vis Moot 2019. Here, at Stockholm University, the Coaches push you a lot and motivate you to improve yourself.

In all moots, there are some things which you need to completely remove and start from scratch just before the deadline. At that point you feel so much pressure, however, the amount of learning you receive in the whole process is a big add-on to your skills. That’s the reason why I chose to participate in the Vis Moot in my LL.M. too.

Everyone has their dark side, but if you convert it into motivation and work for improvement, you make it to the top. So, keep working hard and things will start to change sooner or later.

As said, Rome was not built in a day. At the same time, be humble, helpful, positive and most importantly enjoy your life with family and friends. Working is a part of life, not life.

You have done impressive internships, was there a low point for you with respect to internships?

As I am a first-generation lawyer, it was tough for me to secure an internship in a law firm. Whenever I applied, I received rejections because the policy of the law firm is to accept interns only from final year. It’s a fact that even first-year law students get an internship in the top tier law firms and you know the reason behind it.

There was a point of time when I decided to quit from doing internships, but then I kept on saying to myself “try for one more time”. Also, once I had to make a new e-mail, as my application for an internship was rejected from the law firms I was looking for.

It was so discouraging and saddening that I used to complain a lot about the lacunas in the system and thought this field of law is not good at all.

Still, I kept on hitting the opportunities and received my first law firm internship in Kochhar& Co. From there, I never looked back. I think getting the first break is the most difficult. Because once you get an opportunity to work, along with it comes subsidiary opportunities which you just need to catch timely and diligently.

So, I just trusted myself and kept on saying “I am the Best, I will do it” to me.

Your advice/message for future law students who wants to pursue LL.M. from a foreign University.

For applying to foreign LL.M., the students should find out answers to two questions before starting the application process:

  1. Which course do you want to learn?
  2. Which law schools are the best in the world for that course?

Afterwards, students should start preparing for the application process. Generally, the application consists of the following:

  1. Statement of Purpose (SoP)
  2. Letter of Recommendation (LoR)
  3. CV
  4. Marksheet
  5. TOEFL/IELTS

The most common error students do while writing their Statement of Purpose is to get affected by reading someone’s SoP.

If you ask me what is SoP, I will say “it’s your own story”.

The intended reader wants to know who you are, why you want to join the law school and what makes you the best candidate for the law school.

The students should request the Referee to write the LoR and provide them ample time to draft a personalized letter, otherwise, it’s of no use. Sometimes, the Referee takes more time than usual, hence one should take this into account.

The most important part of LoR is that the Referee should “know you”, only then he/she will be able to judge your capability and endorse you for LL.M.

Some students draft their CV by neglecting the fact that the intended reader is not interested in everything you did in life. The intended reader wants to see the “highlights” of your professional career. Therefore, anything beyond 2 pages is not recommended.

Some law schools give exemption to Indian students from the English language requirement. Please check the requirement carefully whether it is required or not before signing up for TOEFL/IELTS. For instance, Sweden gives exemption to Indian students from the English language requirement.

Can you tell our readers about the curriculum in ICAL LL.M. Programme at Stockholm University? 

The teaching method is a bit different at Stockholm University with respect to TNNLU. In Stockholm University, there are prescribed readings per week and the same is tested in the following week by way of Multiple Choice Examination (MCE).

Though MCE does not affect grades, it is compulsory to pass all the MCEs. Also, the classes here consist of lectures and seminars. The grades are largely dependent on the final exam. The curriculum requires the student to write an essay and thesis also.

One of the best features of ICAL Programme is the law firm visits and a guest lecture from the leading arbitration experts on the trending topics. In the curriculum, mock arbitration is a group event where every student must perform their assigned role.

The mock arbitration follows the same process as in an actual arbitration proceeding. The scheduling of classes is released at least a month before the beginning of the semester which helps the student to plan their routine accordingly.

Apart from the great collection of books, the Stockholm University Library has high tech features where you do not need to do things manually like renewal and booking.

What are your plans after finishing your LL.M.?

While teaching as Guest Lecturer in Career Launcher in Gorakhpur, I discovered that I have a soft corner for teaching.

At the same time, I want to work in the arbitration field. I am the kind of person who lives in present, so I am not focusing much on after LL.M plans. Instead, I am concentrating on Vis Moot, master thesis and the curriculum now.

What inspires you the most?

In terms of personality, the biggest inspiration of my life is mom-dad. Talking to them, I get motivated to explore further and push myself more. While in terms of events, I think Vis Moot had a huge impact on me because it changed my career upside down.

Moreover, foreign internship motivated me as I wanted to learn more since the people working there were experts in the arbitration field. I never thought of LL.M. or foreign internship before the Vis Moot.

The amount of exposure and network of the moot has shown me how diverse legal field is. So here I am, trying to absorb as much as I can from people from different countries and the culture of the world.

As said in Sanskrit in the Upanishad, “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” meaning the world is one family.

What do you want to advise students who want to explore the field of arbitration while studying law?

The starting point should be to “stop complaining about the curriculum, faculties and non-availability of resources”. Nowadays, almost everything is possible with the “right use” of technology. I say “right use” because a lot of students do not follow on the internet, what they should do and expose themselves to better opportunities.

Kluwer Arbitration is a website which has everything related to arbitration on earth including the famous books on arbitration penned by Gary Born and Martin/Hunter.

It has certain tools on the website which can be used for the research. The database has some well-reputed arbitration law journals including the Indian Journal of Arbitration Law which helps to look at the subject from different perspectives.

Though it’s a paid subscription, Kluwer Arbitration Blog is totally free and provides an insight into the trending topics related to arbitration.

Global Arbitration Review has an option where you can “Sign up to GAR alerts” and receive the latest news in the global regime relating to alternative dispute resolution. This service is free and the notifications will be received in your e-mail.

People who don’t like to read much should listen to the podcast on international arbitration on “The Arbitration Station” website. The podcast covers commercial arbitration and investment arbitration.

Listening to the podcast is fun and learning at the same time, as it has the subject seriousness as well as the gossips.

Depending upon the interest, one should do moots which has arbitration as the subject matter or write a research paper of their interest area. Some of the reputed moots with arbitration as the core of the problem include the following:

  1. Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot
  2. Foreign Direct Investment International Arbitration Moot
  3. NLS-Trilegal International Arbitration Moot
  4. NLIU Justice R.K. Tankha Memorial International Moot Court

What is the mantra of success you follow? Please share some tips with the law students.

“Everybody has plenty of opportunities, the people who make the difference are those who grab it”. Moreover, “If you are confused whether you will be able to perform for the given opportunity, always say YES”.

I was open about the opportunities and I never stopped myself from trying something new and it worked for me. I have done internships in different fields of law. Finally, I concluded that arbitration is my interest area.

“If you want to do something, you have to push for it and nobody else cares about your dream.”

There will be some low moments where you think it is not working out well, but you must be persistent and patient enough to “bounce-back”. Life does not move only in forward direction, sometimes its “one step forward two steps backwards”. But that does not mean you cannot change it to “two steps backwards, three steps forward”.

Moreover, some people dream and just stop. To convert your dream into reality, you need to plan and work for it. But some people just dream and talk about it and never do the “work required” to achieve that dream.

In life, you should be happy with the resources available to you. Try to use whatever resources available to start working for your dream. Don’t be discouraged by the circumstances and people against you.

If you work for it, the situation changes. The same people who discouraged you will praise your efforts. Be the person who motivates their friend circle, not somebody who hates their peers getting placed. At the end of the day, all your peers will be your colleagues. One should respect each other and maintain a cordial relation.

All the Best!

Lawctopus

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