Deepak Kumar Thakur is from the batch of 2002-2007. Upon graduation, he joined Titus & Co., Advocates. He then went on to work with JSA as a Senior Associate and is currently an Associate Partner at HSA Advocates.
Blue Pencil: Tell us a bit about your pre-college life as well as educational background. Did you have lawyers in your family?
Deepak Kumar Thakur: Prior to joining AIL, I was like any other average student, whose ambition was either to become a doctor or an engineer. I am a product of Kendriya Vidyalaya, and have studied all throughout my life in KVs, I started from COD Jabalpur an passed out from Janakpuri, New Delhi.
The concept of career counselling was not in practice during my school days and like many of my peers, I was also guided by the wishes of my family, to choose between either medical or engineering. However, I was not sure which way to go, hence I chose PCMB (Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Biology) as my primary subjects in Class XI & XII, so that I have both the options of medical and engineering available to me.
Having said the above, I was least interested in appearing for IIT or AIPMT, and hence, with a limited focus, I chose a very few premier institutions which I was interested in and appeared only for their exams. Due to my unpreparedness and lack of guidance, I could not manage to clear any of the exams. I missed out on a seat in a medical college by two ranks.
At that stage, I was sure of one thing, that I have to do a ‘professional course’, and that I also cannot end up wasting a year just to prepare for exams. So, I took an admission in University of Delhi (“DU”) in B. Sc. Physics (Hons) in 2001. While studying at DU, I had ample of time and I managed to prepare for engineering exams in a rather focused manner. By then I had opted not to continue with preparation for medical.
In the year 2002, AWES had issued notification for entrance examinations for the 4 colleges run by it at that time, namely Army Institute of Technology, Army College of Dental Sciences, Army Institute of Law and Army Institute of Hotel Management. For some unknown reason, at the time of filling the form for AIT, I decided to appear for an examination for one more institute. I was not sure as to which one it would be, so I randomly ended up picking AIL and surprisingly enough I cleared the written exam and the interview, without any preparation or inclination towards law. And that’s how AIL happened.
None of my family member was a lawyer or for that matter I did not even know a lawyer before joining AIL. My knowledge of law was totally limited to the extent of what I saw in the movies and serials, which was obviously nowhere near to any reality.
BP: Tell us about your time at AIL? Did you participate in co-curricular activities?
DKT: My time at AIL was one of the most fantastic times I have had till date. It was the first time I stayed in a residential campus. Living in a hostel gives one a lot of exposure, independence and a different perspective towards life.
I joined AIL when the campus was in Patiala, and we (the boys) used to stay in a dormitory. We were the last batch to join AIL from its Patiala campus. I guess the time spent in Patiala was one of the best. I remember the cold nights, open theatre, aloo parathas on the highway, walking in the dark on unknown tracks and running to the college, if we missed the bus.
I think, it was January 25/26, 2003, and the college was celebrating Republic Day. Attendance was mandatory for the celebrations. I along with several other boys opted to rest instead of attending the function. So, we were resting, and suddenly we hear that Soma along with other officials were ‘raiding’ the hostel, and we all ran from there in whatever condition we were. However, by the time I reached the college, through a long route (which I had taken to avoid being caught), the function was over.
I also remember a rather interesting incident from my last year in college, and it was around August/ September 2006. One day, the Boys hostel decided to boycott the mess food, and went on to refuse to eat in Mess, until the Mess Contractor was changed. Though we used to like the breakfast and to some extent the lunch as well, the dinner used to be pathetic, and this was a constant source of discontentment. The said boycott went on for a few days, and every day, we were ordering food from outside. The Mess Contractor tried his best to convince us to withdraw the protest but we didn’t budge. As the boycott call was voluntary, some boys did continue to have their food from the Mess. Among them, there was one group of boys from my batch. The Mess Contractor then asked that group to convince us to withdraw our support to the cause. A fight erupted between us and that group later that night, and we ended up beating them up.
A complaint was registered against us, and before the inquiry could be completed, I and three of my batch mates were suspended for one month with immediate effect, along with a fine of a hefty amount. As I was in my last year at that time, I took the ‘benefit’ of that suspension and did an internship, and that internship opportunity lead me to ensure a job with JSA at a later stage. So, whatever happened was for my own benefit. In any case, upon the completion of the inquiry by the college authorities, the said suspension was revoked, and we were let off with fine.
The only thing that I regret about my college life is the one incident that took place in my last semester, when I expected college authorities to do justice, but unfortunately, I witnessed the harsh reality of life as to how the system is manipulated to not to serve justice. I won’t mention anything further, and can just hope that the system has now improved in AIL.
BP: You were a Senior Associate at JSA for more than 7 years. How was your journey at JSA? How is the work culture?
DKT: I joined JSA as an Associate in January 2008 on the basis of my performances during my internships. I was later elevated as a Senior Associate in April 2012.
I was at JSA for about 7 years and have worked in both the Delhi and Mumbai office. I was a core member of the Projects and Infrastructure practice at JSA. My journey at JSA had been fantastic and the kind of learning, support and help that I received there, both at professional and the personal front was commendable.
It is a lifetime opportunity and experience to work with such partners, seniors and colleagues. Although there had been some challenging times around, but overall it was a great experience. The tough times gave me a good opportunity and exposure to learn and move forward.
JSA has its own unique features, it is not only considered as one of the most sought after place to work with, but is also considered as one of the best employee-oriented firms. The actions of senior partners speak louder than their words, and I believe that that’s what it takes to take a firm to such great height.
It was not an easy decision to part ways from JSA, and I consider myself fortunate to have worked with such amazing people. I can just confidently say that I found great mentors and friends while being there.
BP: You were recently inducted as an Associate Partner at HSA Advocates. What does an Associate Partner at a Law Firm like HSA Advocates do? What falls within the scope of your responsibility? Tell us about a typical workday.
DKT: I joined HSA Advocates on April 1, 2015 as an Associate Partner in the Firm’s Projects and Regulatory Practice team. It is an interesting role to be an Associate Partner. One is assigned with several responsibilities to perform. The responsibilities vary from executing transactions, mentoring younger colleagues in the team, plan and strategise for the development of the concerned practice area and other activities relating to the Firm.
A typical day starts with meeting the concerned senior partners and briefing them about the developments in various matters and discussing the way forward on those matters with them. Further discussions take place about the recent developments (both legal and market wise) and how such developments can be used for the advancement of the knowledge bank and Firm’s practice.
Following which, there is the follow-up with the clients in order to gauge their expectations in terms of existing assignments and likely developments and how we can work better towards meeting their expectations.
After performing the client management works, is assigning work to colleagues in the team and guiding them the best possible way to get the best output in a cost-effective manner. At such time, I ensure that the output just does not turn out to be a theory but is also commercially practical and sensible to adopt. This desire mandates that I am aware of the law on each and every aspect. Accordingly, the greatest emphasis goes on the research part, and I ensure that substantial time is spent on it so that best possible output can be delivered.
After the allocation of the work to the colleagues, I then complete the pending work, including review of the work done by colleagues, reviewing case laws, finalising the documents, opinions, etc. At the same time, I also perform the role of a mentor to younger colleagues and help them in the problems/ issues raised by them from time to time. The day is also occupied with continuous calls from and to the clients regarding the ongoing transactions, issues therein, and deliverables.
BP: What prompted you to take up Corporate Law?
DKT: I understood pretty early on during college days that it would not be an easy option for me to go into independent practice because I do not hail from a law background. Also, since I wanted to be financially independent post my graduation, I realised that by taking up corporate law, and specialising in corporate laws, I would be substantially independent in the initial stages of my career.
However, once I decided on the subject in the final year, I found it interesting to pursue and accordingly have been pursuing the same since then. In fact, I recently completed my Masters in Business Laws.
BP: You are an expert in Project Financing. What all does it entail?
DKT: My core practice area is Projects and Regulatory, and Project Financing is a related part of it. However, in the age of specialisation, Project Financing is a separate area altogether and is commonly considered as a part of Banking and Finance.
I would hesitate in calling myself an expert in a practice area, but yes, I do have an upper hand in my core practice area (i.e., Projects and Regulatory). Being an expert means one knows each and everything there is to know. Which is not the case with me, I believe there is a lot to that I have to learn in my core practice area.
My core practice area gives me an opportunity to deal with almost each and every aspect of law and also to deal with the practical issues, which we typically hear on news channels. In order to better explain this, it is necessary to first understand, what my core practice area is.
The Projects and Regulatory practice is one area wherein we assist the planning authority (generally Government of India, Government of the concerned state or their concerned departments, multilateral financial institutions like ADB, World Bank, IMF) or the private parties/ companies in developing infrastructure projects, varying from power plant, roads, ports, metros, airports, urban infrastructure in terms of water supply, sanitation, etc.
Our role is dependent on which side we are representing. If we are representing the planning authorities, then, our role commences from making the feasibility reports from legal perspective and what compliances or changes may be required in the existing legal and regulatory framework to make the project successful. In this regard, we are required to study and analyse the existing legal and regulatory framework and submit our report accordingly. Based upon such feasibility reports, the way forward for the implementation of the transaction is finalised which includes deciding on the type of bidding parameters to be followed, the documents required for the consummation of the transaction, stages of implementation and related matters. Once the way forward is decided, we assist in the preparation and finalisation of the bidding documents, perusing the bid submissions, finalisation of the transaction documents and ensuring the compliance of the terms and conditions contained in the transaction documents.
However, if we are representing a private party/ company, then, our role commences a little later in the life of the project. We come in the picture, only upon the issuance of the bidding documents. We are required to identify the legal risks involved in the project and do a proper risk analysis and suggest mitigation measures if any. This assists the client in properly evaluating the Project and submits their bids accordingly. Upon the submission of the client’s bid, and if there are any scope of negotiation/ discussion on the transaction documents, we assist clients in negotiating such transaction documents as well.
Apart from the above role from the perspective of the private parties, the other side of role comes at the stage of the implementation, operation and maintenance of a Project as well, wherein we are supposed to provide our expertise services. At such stage, and depending upon the nature and type of the Project, this role requires the drafting, negotiation and finalisation of the construction contracts, EPC contracts, O&M Contracts, tolling contracts, etc.
Assistance in the projects from private party perspective also includes providing advisory services in relation to various legal issues that arises from time to time in the implementation, operation and maintenance of the projects like issues pertaining to land acquisition, obtaining of approvals, exits from the Projects, etc. We meet the Government and their respective departments in seeking to resolve the issues that arise at any such stage.
As a Projects lawyer, we are also assisting clients in conducting legal due diligence on the Project SPVs, in the M&A deals, and providing key inputs on the transaction documents based upon such legal due diligence and industry experience for such projects.
BP: Lastly, do you have any message for current students at AIL?
DKT: Yes, I do. Listen guys, these 5 years that you are there, are never going to come back. Live and enjoy each and every moment of it. Make use of every minute. These are the only memories that you will cherish for life and talk about when you grow older. It’s fine to break rules sometimes, but it does not mean one destroys or causes any damage to any property or infrastructure.
However, having said the above, it does not mean one would ignore studies and avoid hard work. You can relax a little till 3rd year, but after that you need to be absolutely serious about what you want to be. Make sure your goal clear and start working hard towards that. There is no substitute for hard work. Success, if is not achieved on immediate basis, would eventually follow. There may be a slight delay, but during such a period, you should not lose hope at all, and continue working hard toward your goal and ambition.
There is only one thing that I have learned and would like to pass-on to all, in our profession, only hard work can take you places. Intelligence does matter, but then, that is also not a substitute for hard work. So keep working hard but with a clear and focussed mind. My best wishes to all.
Deepak Kumar Thakur can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.