Sarosh Zaiwalla ,Senior Advocate
LawZ profiles herewith, Sarosh Zaiwalla who is credited with handling more than 12000 international cases relating to Energy, Maritime and Construction. There is no doubt, that he is one of the most discussed solicitors of Indian origin in UK today. His firm Zaiwalla & Co. is ranked very high especially when it comes to litigation matters. Here is an insight into the persona and mind of Sarosh Zaiwalla, with whom LawZ gets up front.
In brief how would you describe your professional journey from his days as a student in India to becoming a leading Industry professional in London.
I was awarded my law degree from the Government Law College, Mumbai. I passed Law Society solicitors qualifying exam in London. I then trained at an English solicitors firm, Stocken & Co, whi¬ch specialised in International Arbitration work. Whilst I was training to become a solicitor, at Stocken & Co, I got to know a Senior London Maritime Arbitrator named Cedric Barclay who I consider to be my mentor in those early years. Cedric advised me that I should start on my own and not take a job in a City firm. He quite frankly told me that I was good and I could easily be employed by a large City of London firm but, not being of English origin, I would remain at the bottom and not rise in the firm. So I decided to take up the challenge and start on my own determined to do my best. I had hoped to build a British Law firm with an Indian foot print which would match the leading British international solicitors firms.
How was your life before you joined Law school and chose law as a career.
My childhood dream was to enter politics in India and become the Prime Minister of India with a view to making India a rich country which would diminish the economic inequality which I saw in the Indian population. Whilst in the Government Law College I started a student movement in Mumbai to start a Students Union. I was successful in establishing the first ever Student Union at the Government Law College in Mumbai. My plan initially was to go back to India after I had qualified as a solicitor in London as my late father had done, but this plan did not materialise and the rest is history.
Some Leading Matters handled by Zaiwalla & Co.
- The Dalai Lama – Sarosh was appointed by the Dalai Lama as a mediator between Tibet and China.
- The Gandhi Family – Acting for the Gandhi family on numerous occasions, including fomer PM of India Rajiv Gandhi.
- Benazir Bhutto, former PM of Pakistan – Acted for Ms Bhutto after Nawaz Sharif, current PM of Pakistan, pressed corruption charges against her.
- Hong Kong Government – Before the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, Sarosh was appointed as mediator by the Chinese ambassador between China and British officials.
- Russian Government – Mr Zaiwalla was appointed by the Russian Federation as their nominated arbitrator for a USD 400 million international arbitration dispute with the Indian Government.
- Iran’s Bank Mellat – On behalf of the Bank, Sarosh
According to you what do you attribute your meteoric rise of Professional success to.
As someone said “success comes to those who dare and act, it seldom comes to the timid” I attribute my success in the legal profession in London to first havinga silent courage to deal with the initial resistance I would be facing as a stark outsider, second to dedicated hard work and third always dealing with all including the opponents with both courtesy and integrity. The family values in which I grew up and the Parsee community ethics which are still important to me and I adhere to even today no doubt played a significantpart to my meteoric rise. For me it has always been all important in personal relationship and in profession to always keep my word and honor my commitments.s currently suing the UK Treasury for £2.3billion for wrongly listing the bank on their sanctions list in 2009. Now in its final stages, the landmark case has been commended for the upholding of international law against national executives. Additionally, Sarosh has spearheaded the debate around sanctions relief for Iran.
Your thoughts on the Indian Legal system.
Since Prime Minister Modi’s election last year, the Government of India has driven through a very welcome reform agenda in a mission to improve ease of doing business in India, aiming to position the country as the world’s most attractive destination for trade and investment. Initiatives such as Make In India and Digital India are unleashing entrepreneurial forces which were initially lacking in India’s manufacturing and financial sectors. Amongst the reforms, the Government has set out on an upheaval of India’s legal system, notably in its newly passed Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment), 2015, in an attempt to promote arbitration as a preferred mode of settling commercial dispute.
The changes in the legal system are essential for India to attract foreign investment. Foreign companies are often reluctant to invest in India as there is a perception that the Indian legal system does not give sufficiently protect foreign investment. The changes to the framework of arbitration is therefore a welcome and encouraging.
What are your thoughts on Lawyers who have studied law in India vis-à-vis their western counterparts.
Higher education in India and abroad are two different ball games. UK law degrees are very difficult and getting a 2:1 at a reputed university can be the toughest part. It will require a lot of time and commitment especially if you want to work in the UK. The advantage of studying in UK is that you canqualify in New York, UK, Australia, Singapore, India band other commonwealth countries upon giving their respective bar exams. You can’t do the same if you study in India. It is next to impossible to get a job in the UK with an Indian law degree but you can get a job in India with a good 2:1 and good internships after you qualify the bar exam. But in the last 15 years quality law schools have come into existence in India keep which one hopes will seek to maintain international standards which will cause International community to accept law graduates from India. An Indian mind is as good as a British mind.
The Nataraja was a case in which we succeeded to get back the ancient pathur Nataraja idol which was smuggled out of India, back to India.
What according to you, has been your most professionally challenging brief to handle and why.
The biggest hurdle I encountered were not from the British legal profession or the British judiciary but from Indian businesses. Indian businesses in London I found still had the colonial mind set of preferring white lawyers to those from India practicing in the UK. At the time I established my firm, the Indian High Commissioner, Dr Seyid Muhammad, was pleased to see an Indian starting a law firm in the City of London with an Indian sounding name and appointed my firm as the Indian High Commission Solicitor. I don’t think this interest would have come about had I not established my own law firm under my own Indian name. When I started, there were law firms started by Asian Solicitors but these were in the outskirts of London, mainly doing crime and immigration work and for some reason almost all of them had adopted English names. I am glad I kept my Indian name because I later found that the local community respected me for doing this and did not respect those Indian Solicitors who had started their firm adopting an anglicised name.
What according to you has been the most personally satisfying case you havehandled and why.
The two most satisfying cases for me were the House of Lords judgment which my firm obtained for Indian Government in a shipping case concerning the vessel La Pintada and the Nataraja idol case. The La Pintada was a test case on whethercompound interest can be awarded by Arbitrators for late payment of debt and there was over GBP5million for IndianGovernment at stake. This was also the first ever win for Indian Government in the House of Lords in a commercial matter. In this case, at the High Court level my firm had instructed Tony Blair as Junior Counsel who later went on to become the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.The Nataraja was a case in which we succeeded in the English High Court for the Tamil Nadu Government toget back the ancient Pathur Nataraja idol which was smuggled out of India back to India. The trial went onfor 55 days and to succeed we had to prove in Court that Nataraja was a consecrated idol and as such was a juristic personality under Indian law who had a right to go back home. The Judge in his Judgment said that “the plaintiff at its maximum was God almighty and at its minimum a mere stone”. Bank of Mellat case made huge headlines how was it significant and different from other commercial disputes that you have handled. We were instructed by BankMellat, which is the largest Iranian private bank, to take over its case at the Supreme Court level from their previoussolicitors, Stephenson Harwood after Bank Mellat had lost up to the Court of Appeal. Bank Mellathad challenged its listing by the British Government under the Iran Nuclear Sanctions list. InJune 2013, my firm succeeded in the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom who held thatthe sanctions imposed by the UK government on Bank Mellat, were both irrational and unlawful.The UK Supreme Court then asked the London High Court to assess Bank Mellat’s losses which the bank can claim as damages for its unlawful listing bythe UK government. Bank has now commenced a claim in the London High Court claiming USD 4 billion damages against the UK government.
The most important advice I can give to young lawyers isto always maintainhigher standard of integrity and courtesy in dealing with the opponents
Any carrier advice for Lawyers starting out.
The most important career advice I can give to young lawyers is to always maintain higher standard of integrity and courtesy in dealing with the opponents. Always be honest with the facts placed before the Court and use ones creative thinking in formulating clever arguments of law. Hard work is an essential ingredient for success as a lawyer along with determination and perseverance. One must try to improveand developing analytic and problem- solving skills, critical reading abilities, writing skills, oral communication, listening abilities and skills in general research. Most important, keep in mind the principle that law is for justice and not justice for law. The zeal to provide justice to a client must be stronger than the motive to earn fees. One always learns new things in the legal profession every day. It is always a learning curve. As long as someone is willing to give 100 percent to whatever they put their mind to, and they have a mind-set to succeed, then they will. The feeling of happiness and achievement you obtain for getting justice to client is a good feeling.