In Conversation with Adv. Namrata Pahwa
Updated: Nov 19
Namrata Pahwa is a practising advocate based in Delhi and has advised Clients from across the world. She was awarded an LL.M degree from the National University of Singapore. After just a few years from graduation, she decided to start her own practice, specialising in IP, entertainment, technology and legal metrology. Her Chamber, however also takes on matters of family law and arbitration.
Ms Pahwa was a part of India’s first standard essential patent litigation before the High Court of Delhi. She has represented pharmaceutical companies to start ups and fashion houses before the various courts Pan India and has providing strategic advisory on how to leverage IP to scale. Ms. Pahwa also advises production houses and actors from the OTT and the movie business with regard to their contracts.
With a background in international business, IP and law, Ms. Pahwa has been working extensively with companies ranging from early-stage brands to publicly-traded retail giants and well-known luxury goods giants, giving her a dynamic understanding of the fashion business and global consumer culture.
Ms Pahwa and her team offer wholesome advice, preventive and curative, on aspects of advertising and product liability to ensure regulatory compliance, strategic opinions on the packaging and labelling issues, representation before advertising and metrology bodies, and prosecution of product disparagement and false advertising actions.
When the world was in lockdown, Ms. Pahwa decided to bring her experience and expertise to the world. She created a pedagogue on Fashion Laws and has delivered over 50 webinars and seminars on the topic. Ms. Pahwa has been invited to speak about the many cutting edge legal and commercial issues facing the retail industry by law firms, non-profit organizations, trade groups, and educational institutions. With immense love and passion for the subject she is currently working on a book on the world of Fashion Laws, with an Indian perspective.
Student Assistant: Mr. Uzairulla Khan, Student, IFIM School of Law, Bengaluru
I would first like to start this interview by posing the very basic question, can you please share your journey as a practicing advocate based in Delhi and venturing into diverse fields such as IP, entertainment and technology?
Thank you for having me as somebody you would like to interview. I have immense gratitude that I am at this position where I can share my experience and help somebody else. I hope my words find meaning to someone. I was born and raised in Calcutta. Having pursued my bachelor's from Calcutta University, I wasn't really satisfied with my college experience.I not only wanted to see the world, but also understand how international students think and write and speak and of course litigate, which is why I chose to do my Masters abroad. National University of Singapore, as we all know is one of the best in the world where I pursued my Masters in International Business Law. Thankfully it wasn’t a thesis oriented masters by which I mean I was free to choose modules of my preference. Entertainment, IP, Customs, Sea Law, International Arbitration and Taxation were all part of my curriculum.
After graduation, my first job brought me to Delhi. I think I've been lucky, to be honest, to have great mentors right from the beginning. All of immediate seniors were women and they were not only brilliant but very focused on training their juniors. They took time out of their busy schedules to train their juniors, to make them understand the small technicalities that I think you know a lot of firms or litigants take for granted. I had a great peer circle. I had great women, strong women who weren’t shy from telling their juniors few tricks of the trade. I just so happened that, in the last 8 years, the jobs that I took up were IP centric. I didn't actually plan it that way, but even the firm that I used to work with dealt purely in IP prosecution matters and then the advocate that I worked for in the High Court, she had a beautiful practice based on entertainment law. So I think through them I was able to light that passion of IP in me and having to deal with the clients and their matters that they very graciously allowed me to take over.
However, during all of that I wasn't quite completely satisfied and with one client in hand, I started my own practice.It was a risk but it’s now one of my great loves of life.
That does sound like a really enriching experience with such helpful seniors. Ma’am, I also noticed that your LLM curriculum in particular sounds very interesting. How exactly has that influenced your present legal practice? How do you think that has helped you in your current legal practice?
NUS absolutely changed my life. When you think of a Master’s degree, you think of meeting great lecturers, professors, being amongst and in the midst of great minds. It's so incredible to be sitting in a class of 50 students and being encouraged to speak your mind. Being encouraged to think logically, technically and analytically which NUS really brought out of me. So apart from it being a great school, NUS always looked at students as a whole in the sense that they wanted a very holistic outcome to come out of their master’s programme. So we were not only pushed for our papers and assignments, but we also to participate in extra-curricular activities which build team building, supporting your peers and the art of networking.
Something which I also took from them and I tried to sort of incorporate in my practice is to always look at the bigger picture. If my advice to the client can just solve the client’s misery and query, I don't need to go on to filing or pursue any sort of an aggressive approach towards the matter. So if just by arbitration, if just by mediation, if just by advice and counselling, it can work, it should work. Because at the end, a lawyer’s ultimate goal is to sort out the matter, not to garner more business, not to generate more clientele, it is to solve the matter that your client brings to you.
When you say you need not particularly perceive litigation when you can solve it through ADR means, do you think this varies from different industries and sectors because you have represented clients from pharmaceutical companies, start-ups and fashion houses pan India. Do you think a same uniform approach can be adopted to all of the sectors or would that differ based on the clients?
It would definitely differ, but not based on the sectors but based on the matter that comes to you. I have noticed that clients in the design and patent domain usually prefer their matters to be settled out of court. But that, like I said, completely depends on matter to matter, how aggressively they want to enforce and protect their IP. Moreover, ADR methods have been known to really evolve and remove the Courts burden to a great extent.
How do you balance handling matters between family law and arbitration with your specializations in IP, entertainment and technology? Because after a point they stop overlapping with each other. They are completely 2 separate fields of law, so how would you handle matters? Do you have your preferences as such?
I don't really have a preference to be honest but of course I love working on matters of IP and entertainment.
Fashion law is an umbrella encompassing various laws. So I anyway have to have an understanding of various laws. But when it comes to family law, when it comes to taxation, when it comes to cross border mergers and what not, my great tip and my great understanding and how I work is that if I don’t know anything and if I am not completely confident, I will do my thorough research. I will study for hours, for days before I accept the matter. I will collaborate with some other lawyer who may be is a specialist in those kind of matters.
Please don't shy away from asking for help. Nobody is big enough. I don't think I have reached any high point in my life where I can say no to somebody else’s help. But don’t be scared to challenge yourself.
I have always said that you should always do what you love. Otherwise you can't last in it for a very long time. At least that's how I approach it. For me, that love is for IP and Entertainment, Fashion law being the focus of it.
I love to read. I have always wanted to know new things, to feed myself of more information. In fact if I'm doing some very menial sort of work in my chamber, or maybe if I am organising something I will always have some podcast on or listening to a seminar where somebody else is speaking, so that I can always understand their thoughts and views. It's always important to listen to other people and not just focus on what you are thinking and doing.
Ma’am I noticed that you speak really highly of fashion laws. What in particular motivated you to create a pedagogue on Fashion laws and deliver over 50 webinars and seminars on it?
When the world was in lock down, I used to write a lot of IP articles on my website, on LinkedIn and I used to read a lot of matters relating to IP litigation. I always used to write my point of view. And from there, I think people started approaching me for webinars wanting to understand the nuances of intellectual property. Also, it just so happens that through my practice, I have met a lot of artists, designers and creative individuals. So I understand the ongoings of the fashion industry very well. It also helps that my husband is famous photographer and artist so I understand his perspective. Having to deal with artists every day, I have always felt that artists don't understand or are not aware of the nitty grities of law. Something that is so practical and important to grow and absolute need. Which is why I thought that I should create something which is not available in India; a pedagogue on fashion law. Through webinars and seminars it has grown to such an extent that today I see every other person is talking about fashion law, wants to read about it, wants to work with me for it. It's such a great feeling that it has become a topic of discussion.
It’s basically passion and love for the subject that drives you, if I am getting it right?
Yes, absolutely. For me, my time is important. I wouldn't spend time on something that I don't like doing. I might miss out on some clients but it doesn't bother me. I can only put in time and effort on something that I like doing. This may or may not work for anybody else. People might think that you know it's just not practical. If you want to build a big firm then that's not how it works, but that's how I feel right now.
In my opinion, women have to work doubly hard in the legal field. This is the unfortunate truth. I am not saying it's not difficult for men, but it’s very difficult for women to deal with the pressures of society, family and litigation. So if you don't really love what you are doing in court or in office you will not be able to create a fulfilling lifelong career.
Ma’am could you please shed some light on the soft skills that you in particular have inculcated through your various interactions with be it colleagues or clients or creative people?
When it comes to soft skills, I think it is something that should be taught either in high school or law school. The most importantly is respect. When you speak to any client, when you speak to your peers, have the respect of number one being on time, number 2 having the understanding of the matter. When you are going to speak to your client and you have no understanding of where they are coming from, then that could come across as being disrespectful. Do some due diligence before meeting the client. Be honest with your advisory. Other than that always stay connected with your colleagues and peers.
What advice would you give to somebody like me, who aspires to excel in the field of law and especially in the area of IP?
Every lawyers journey is different. But the thing is, you can't do law half-heartedly. Either you go in guns blazing or let it go. Because you are in your second year you still have a long way to not only finish law, not only finish your graduation, but maybe do your masters, maybe do something else entirely. Always be open to hearing other people. I would say that my Bachelors degree was a blessing in disguise because in Calcutta University they didn’t have a minimum attendance requirement. So I could actually intern all through my course. This actually gave me the insight as I worked and interned in all sectors like criminal, civil, arbitration, family IP etc. I would advise to you that as a second year law student, try to do as many internships as you can.
But don't focus on the brands of the internships that you are getting. Don’t do it with a really big law firm just because you want your CV to look good even though the work you are going to do in that internship is negligible. Focus on the work that you are getting. Focus on the senior that you are probably wanting to work with. Because tomorrow at a job interview, they will ask you what you worked on and you will have nothing to say. So always focus on the important thing which is the kind of work that you are getting, the senior that you are working with. Try to learn as much as you can. Try to write as much as you can. The thing is that when I was in my law school, we were always told to write papers which have to be published and that always discouraged me because I am not a thesis writer. I am instinctively not somebody who would write 500 or 1000 pages at a go. So for me writing a full blown article or a published article was a bit intimidating for me. But I would suggest to inculcate the habit or writing anything, be it one page, two pages or even a commentary. This way you will understand how you argue and figure out how your arguments flow on paper.
Do internships in various sectors so that you understand what you love and what you don’t. Believe me, you will get through it. Law school is great if you can make the most.
What are your future plans and aspirations or that one particular goal that you want to achieve in your legal career?
My most immediate future plan is to finish my book. I'm on my second draft, so hopefully this year I will be able to finish it. It's a little difficult to balance litigation and my practice and writing a book and of course my personal life. Apart from that I think even though I'm a big planner and I'm a big scheduler of many things, I feel like my goal is to pursue Fashion and Entertainment law as much as I can. May be doing international webinars and seminars.
I would also like to add that there are no shortcuts in law. When it comes to something you are going to make a career out of, try to put in your whole heart in it. Otherwise you will end up regretting not doing something else entirely. I have so many of my friends and colleagues who have quit law and done something else entirely in the end and they are more than happy. They have generated a lot of wealth. It's just that they are giving up something which didn't work for them. So make that choice, but make that choice wisely by giving your best shot.
Law is something which requires a lot of time and effort. But it's also something which is very fulfilling and rewarding because if you as a lawyer can solve somebody else's problem be it anything from like a small dispute to a large scale litigation, it's just a very fulfilling feeling.
I believe that the field of law constantly evolves and something or the other keeps coming up. So how do you in particular stay updated with recent cutting edge legal issues or commercial issues that are happening around us?
Like I previously said, nothing beats reading, learning and researching. That's how you keep abreast with all of the new developments. Always have it handy. Even the biggest lawyers have various experts and counsels assisting them in matters every day. Take time out from your day like maybe half an hour dedicated to only reading up on recent developments.
I would also like to know how do you handle challenges and pressures that come with this profession? Because I often find myself, questioning and reconsidering everything, questioning if I made the right decision. How do you deal with this?
I get excited to be honest. If something challenging comes my way, I'm very excited. It’s a character trait, I guess. Even while the world was discouraging me to start my own practice ata young age, with barely any clients, I did so anyway.When life throws challenges, either you work it or you quit. I don't look down upon quitting. I see it as closing one chapter and starting another.
I read up on everything that is probably there on that particular matter. I talk, I discuss, I understand and try to make the most of it. If I can't deal with something, of course I will collaborate, or I will have another colleague of mine join me in that matter. But it's all about balance.
Challenges will never cease, probably will only grow with age, which is what I have learnt. Back when we were in law school challenges looked very different than what they look now and probably they will look different 10 years from now. Have a balance as to what is worth your time and effort and what is not. What is worth your mental stimulation also and what is not. That balance is something only you can understand but never be afraid of challenges because that’s just life unfortunately. Life and law often mimic each other, I have noticed. I think what works in law works in life too.
What do you think was the biggest challenge that you faced while authoring a book? Was there anything in particular?
My book currently has gone through a couple of evolutions also as I have been writing it since last year. I started writing it as a guide book for students and my peers to understand what IP is, what fashion law is, what are the problems that may or may not come. It had a very different flow to it than what I am writing it as now. The main reason for the change is that now since everything is online, I need this book to be a reason for people to pick it up as opposed to searching online. These are the few things that you have to ask yourself before writing - why am I writing this? Who is it going to benefit? Who is going to read it? The purpose of the book?
The most important reason for me to be writing this book is to solve practical problems. That is what I am focused on right now. The book is now framed in a way that it's a problem-solutionread. Thankfully, I've had that experience with artists and entrepreneurs where I have gone through many practical issues and have helped them with probable solutions for it. So when you have reached that stage where you can help somebody else, that's probably when you should start writing.
However, another very real challenge that came my way was that I can never write say 100 pages at a go. I can only write a little bit at a time. But when I do put in my focus in writing, I come up with content that I would want my readers to grasp. I want the reader to understand what problems a fashion designer will have and what solution a fashion lawyer can provide in that instance.
So this might sound like a slightly odd question, but this just came across my mind because you're practically living life as a lawyer. Were you an avid participator in different competitions during your law school. If yes, how has that helped you and if not do regret missing out on those opportunities?
During my 5 years of law school, we had one moot. There weren’t many avenues that I could explore during my bachelors. I used too still read and write as much as I could. However, it all changedin NUS which is very aggressive in the sense that it really pushed me towards not only having theoretical knowledge but also practical. Most of our assignments were practical based, involving team activities. That was probably the first time in my life that I understood how to really argue a matter. All through my bachelors it was just me trying to understand and to make the most out of the situation that I was in. But if you are not in that situation, if you are in a particular law school which encourages you and gives you opportunities where you can participate, please do. Even if you fail, even if you say nonsense on the podium, it doesn't matter. It's going to give you an aspect of your understanding that you don't know yet. So just try it out again and again so that it will build your arguments style and your speaking skills. Your analytical skills are very important as a lawyer. If you are getting the opportunitygrab it and grab it again and again.
One last question. After you are done pursuing your under-graduation and say you are further interested in pursuing masters, what is the process usually? How do you select a course or a college or the location that you want to study in?What was your thought process during that time?
I did my masters right after my bachelors. So in hindsight, I feel that I probably didn't make the most of my masters. Because going from a university that did not provide much to going to university that offers you the world was very intimidating to me. I did how much ever I could. But if you are not in that position, I would always suggest to not do your masters immediately after your bachelors. Take some time to work in the practical field for little bit. Maybe like a year, two years or three years to understand exactly what your style of litigating is, what is your inclination, and what you like doing.
When you start working you understand that theory is completely different than the practical world. It takes you as a jolt, but at least you will have an understanding of that. Now once you have decided to pursue your masters, always do it in something specific. Something specific in the sense that you can do it around IP, entertainment, arbitration, international human rights or any particular subject.
Once you have decided what topic you want to do it on, do your research as to which university is worth applying to. There are various factors that come in to play. For example, USA has a 2 year’s masters but it’s very heavy on the finances. It's slightly less in the UK and it's slightly less in Asia. But I would say finances come secondary. First thing what you need to do is of course you need to not only choose the school but choose the professors and what is really taught in the modules. Because they are the ones who are going to teach you, they are the ones you are going to learn from, who you are going to communicate with and have multiple discussions with. They are the ones who are going to tune your brain in a way that makes you either love or hate the topic, or love or hate the law school even. Do your research as to who is teaching in that university.
I want to give you an example of one of my interns who also wanted to pursue fashion laws. She wanted to do her masters and she was discussing it with me and asking for my opinion. She wanted to join fashion law school based in Rome. Even though it was just a 6 months curriculum with 6 months practical aspect attached to it, the core point that actually made me tell her that you must do it is that the entire curriculum is taught by practicing advocates and attorneys and not tenured professors. That tells me that the amount of knowledge practicing advocates and attorneys will provide and give to a law student is far greater than that of law professors. Therefore I would rather choose to learn from a practicing advocate than learn from a tenured professor.
You have to pick and choose as to what you want to do. Suppose you want to pursue academics, then maybe your thought process will be very different from a person who maybe wants to pursue litigation or maybe start his own chamber. Have slight understanding of what you want in your career.