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This Supreme Court lawyer and Apeejay alumna loves going places

An Advocate-on-Record and independent law practitioner with the apex court, Apeejay Panchsheel Park alumna Nishtha Kumar specialises in regulatory and commercial litigation and is passionate about baking and travelling



Apeejay School Panchsheel Park alumna Nishtha Kumar is an Advocate-on-Record and independent law practitioner with the Supreme Court of India. With more than a decade of rich experience, her areas of expertise include Arbitration and Alternative Dispute Resolution, Civil and Criminal Litigation, Regulatory Litigation (Aviation and Electricity) and Commercial Litigation.  In a wide-ranging interview, she discusses among other things, the learnings from being part of boutique and large legal firms, the landmark cases that she has been part of, her passion for baking and travelling and fond memories of the time that she spent at Apeejay School, Panchsheel Park, including teachers who inspired to pick her vocation. Edited excerpts:

From studying at Apeejay School, Panchsheel Park, to setting up your own law practice, please tell us about your education and professional journey?

I joined Apeejay when I was in class 2 and I studied there throughout till I completed school. Initially when I was in class 10, I wanted to take up Science or become an architect and in fact I had taken up Science in class 11. But a month or two after having done that it wasn’t quite feeling right. I had a nice conversation with my family and the conversation gravitated towards law. So, I went back to school and changed my stream to Humanities.  Those were the first few steps in my journey. I began studying Political Science and in class 11 it was very different from what I had studied in Social Sciences till class 10.  I remember Sapna Guha Ma’am, who taught us Political Science and Urvashi Ma’am who taught us Geography. Having changed streams I had some catching up to do and my teachers were really accommodating. That was a turning point in my life and it put me on the path to where I am today. In fact Sapna Guha Ma’am was such a big influence on me that I ended up pursuing Political Science at the Lady Shri Ram College (LSR). After LSR, I studied Law at the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi and embarked on my professional career.

Please tell us about your profile as Advocate-on-Record, Supreme Court? What does an average day look like for you?

Once you graduate from law school and enroll into a Bar Council, you can file and argue cases anywhere as an advocate and in any court except the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has a threshold. They have an examination called the Advocate-on-Record exam that you can only take after you have completed five to six years of practice. It has four papers with four days of back-to-back written tests. A lot of people across the country apply for it and only a few get in. The exam that is held once a year is not easy to crack. Since I had practiced at the Supreme Court right after college, the content was not very difficult but for many people the habit of writing an exam for four back-to back days is not easy. It is more of a physically gruelling undertaking. We are so used to typing on the computer that writing by hand is not really easy.

An average working day for me at the Supreme Court mainly involves filing. Filing is the primary job of an Advocate-on-Record. Only an Advocate-on-Record can file in the Supreme Court and that in itself entails a lot of drafting work and making sure everything is in the format that the apex court wants. At a lot of times the Supreme Court would want a designated Senior Counsel or stalwarts for the case, so we may have to brief the seniors and show them documents related to the case, apart from going to court and assisting them while arguing. At a lot of times when the seniors don’t themselves appear, I have to myself argue cases. That essentially is what my day is usually like.

Congratulations on clearing this coveted exam. You have worked in the legal industry for more than one decade. Which are the kind of cases you focus upon and specialise in and why?

For the initial two years I began with Chitale and Chitale Partners, a small boutique firm. They used to do a lot of corporate civil work and very few criminal-related cases. After that I joined the Chambers of Senior Advocate Indu Malhotra. This was before she became a judge in the Supreme Court. Indu Ma’am again had a lot of civil work and dealt with a lot of civil and corporate commercial litigation. She also dealt with a lot of medical negligence cases. That’s where I really built my base in civil litigation in the first five years. After that I joined a firm called J. Sagar Associates. Here I tried something different and joined their regulatory team that would essentially deal with aviation-related, telecom and electricity related cases. So for the next five years I focused on specialising in these fields in the infrastructure sector, particularly in electricity and aviation. When I started my own work, since I had this niche practice experience as well as civil litigation I wanted to bring that together and take it forward in my own practice. Not that I say no to the one or two criminal cases that come my way. But most of my experience is focused on corporate commercial litigation and since I have built my contacts there, I am taking those forward and this finds a reflection in my client profile as well.  

You received a lot of industry experience in both small and large firms before you started your own practice. How important is getting hands-on experience for a young and emerging lawyer?

It is important to gain hands-on experience from both ends of the spectrum. I picked up a lot of things working for smaller firms as well as working with Indu Malhotra Ma’am. Smaller firms give you a lot of exposure in terms of responsibility. In a larger firm the exposure is of another level in terms of dealing with high-profile clients and big companies and being part of sensitive cases where the stakes are high.

Over the last decade of your experience at the country’s apex court, which are the cases that stand out in your memory?

Over 10 years I have been involved in a variety of cases, ranging from issues pertaining to medical negligence, alternative dispute resolution including arbitration, land acquisition, medical college admissions, service matters, criminal cases and also commercial disputes, cases that I have been proud to be part of.

For instance, I was part of a curative petition that was only the second curative petition ever to be allowed in the history of the Supreme Court. Another case related to land acquisition that laid down the principles to be applied and then I was also part of the Pune Municipal Corporation case.  Aviation is something I’ve done a lot of work in. I was involved in one of the first cases relating to airport tariffs that is pending in the Supreme Court. After starting my own practice I worked on a matter in the Supreme Court relating to suo motu powers for the National Green Tribunal.

What are your memories of the time you spent at Apeejay, Panchsheel Park?

I have really fond memories of my time I spent at Apeejay. As I mentioned, apart from Sapna Guha Ma’am and Urvashi Ma’am, I fondly remember Madhu Ma’am, she was my class teacher when I joined school. Being fond of debating and poetry recitation and being a part of the school magazine, I always connected very well with my English teachers throughout my school years. I also remember Reeta Kale Ma’am. Given a chance I would go back to school and meet them again. The best part about Apeejay was that students were never typecast as just one kind of person. Even when I was debating, I was also participating in basketball and the choir. The emphasis was on all-round and holistic development

What are your interests outside work? You are a foodie and an inveterate traveller we hear…

Travelling is something I am really fond of. At the end of the day I am working so that I can travel.  Also, baking is one of my big passions. Whenever I get a chance I open a fancy cookbook and try my hand at non-conventional, exotic recipes. Interestingly Japan is one place where baking is really, really good. People generally associate Japan with Sushi and other Oriental delicacies but they have really mastered the art of western baking. Every café and bakery makes really good stuff. Their aesthetic values are high and they make precise and beautiful bakery creations. For me it came as a pleasant surprise. 

Aasheesh Sharma is a seasoned journalist with an experience of more than 25 years spread over newspapers, news agencies, magazines and television. He has worked in leadership positions in media groups such as Hindustan Times, India Today, Times of India, NDTV, UNI and IANS. He is a published author and his essay on the longest train journey in India was included in an anthology of writings on the railways, brought out by Rupa Publications. As the Editor of Apeejay Newsroom, he is responsible for coverage of the latest news and developments in the Apeejay institutions. He can be reached at [email protected] He tweets @Aasheesh74