#10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Srikanth Navale, Simha Law
This week’s #10QuestionsWithMaxwell interview series features Srikanth Navale, arbitrator and counsel at Simha Law. Srikanth has extensive experience in Tax and International Customs and Trade-related litigation and controversy, both in India and across the wider Asia-Pacific region. He is currently serving as part of the counsel team for a State party in two significant investment treaty arbitrations involving Tax claims. Based in Singapore, Srikanth also accepts appointments as Arbitrator for proceedings seated in Singapore, India and other jurisdictions.
In this interview, he shared the most interesting arbitration he was a part of, the best piece of advice he received, fun facts about himself and more.
Simha Law is a boutique foreign law practice in Singapore providing services as counsel, arbitrator, mediator and expert witness (on Indian law) in cross border transactions and disputes. The firm was established in Maxwell Chambers Suites in 2019 by Mr Shreyas Jayasimha, Ms Kamala Naganand, and Mr Srikanth Navale (who is based in Singapore).
Read his full interview below:
Q: For a large part of your career, you had worked with leading multinational companies and firms, advising businesses on Tax-related matters, and dispute resolution in various forms. What inspired you to take up arbitration practice full-time now?
A: I’ve enjoyed being involved in dispute resolution in various forms throughout my corporate and consulting career. For over two decades I’ve worked along with seasoned business and finance professionals, thereby instilling in the lawyer in me a keen business-first approach to negotiations and dispute resolution. With my background, I felt I could bring a unique set of skills to the disputes space. Having taken up residence in Singapore, I was obviously inspired by its growth into one of the pre-eminent centres of International Arbitration. Bitten by the bug, I completed a course in International Arbitration at NUS, added practical skills by shadowing eminent arbitrators, and underwent a professional internship with SIAC. My decision to take the plunge full-time was catalysed when I met Shreyas Jayasimha, a fellow lawyer with a growing international reputation in the world of dispute resolution, who had been invited to open an office in Maxwell Chambers. The opportunity to build a practice out of the dispute resolution HQ in Singapore was too good to pass. That resulted in us (Shreyas, Kamala, and I) setting up Simha Law, a licenced Foreign Law Practice.
Q: What did you find most challenging about entering arbitration practice?
A: For someone with little background in arbitration, and a relatively late entrant to the game, seeking to break in was somewhat daunting given the number of established players and the high entry threshold that the arbitral institutions maintain. I have however been extremely lucky to be guided by some of the most experienced and helpful members of the profession (such as Mr. Jaya Prakash and Prof. Lawrence Boo) who have been more than generous with their time and sage advice. I remain very grateful to them.
Q: What is the most interesting arbitration you have been a part of?
A: That would have to be the two ISDS claims brought against the Republic of India (‘RoI’) where I was fortunate to be part of the counsel team for the RoI. The cases involved inter alia complex questions of International Taxation, Arbitrability, and International Law which allowed me to apply my subject matter expertise, and also presented me an opportunity to further my learning.
Q: What do you think clients look for in an effective arbitrator or counsel?
A: Clients like to see an arbitrator in control of the proceedings at all points. Counsel for uncooperative clients will always seek to derail the proceedings and a good arbitrator is quick to spot that and address it effectively without getting weighed down by due process paranoia.
There are several traits of a good counsel, but I’ve found that clients generally appreciate one that leaves the door open for settlement at any stage of the proceedings. Enforcement of an award is always fraught with uncertainties, hence leaving the door open for settlement and closure at any stage in the proceedings is appreciated by clients especially in the current environment.
Q: In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed arbitration proceedings? What are some significant challenges you have seen and how do you think they can be navigated?
A: Apart from the usual challenges around virtual proceedings that have been discussed at length and largely overcome by now with the help of institutions and platform providers (including the likes of Maxwell Chambers), some of the recurring themes are delays and funding challenges.
Repeated requests for extensions and condonation of delays in meeting submission deadlines appears to be the theme under the pretext of COVID-19. Additionally, parties cite cash flow challenges as an excuse for their tardiness in meeting demands for deposits. Tribunals and institutions are taking a very accommodative approach, which is understandable in the early days of this pandemic, but a firmer stand may need to be taken going forward to ensure that compliant parties are not unfairly prejudiced.
Q: What skills and traits would you encourage in the next generation of arbitration lawyers?
A: As someone who is still new to this (albeit with significantly greying hair), I don’t think I am yet in a position to advise the next gen. I can however, certainly repeat what I have been told by my own mentors:
- Help the Tribunal get to the facts.
- Avoid obfuscation – Tribunals are smart enough to pick up on that.
- Never badger the witness, especially a fact witness. Tribunals don’t like it.
- Save your ammunition for the legal arguments.
Q: Share with us the best piece of advice you had received.
A: Be thankful for your blessings, stay humble and remember where you started from.
Q: How do you like to wind down after a long day? Share with us your favourite pastime.
A: As has likely been the norm with several of us in the last couple of years, I have been contributing greatly to Netflix’ fortunes. To compensate for all that sedentary time, my wife and I make it a point to take really long walks at least 3 times a week.
Q: To get to know you more on a personal level, tell us some fun facts about yourself.
A: I enjoy motorcycling rides particularly in and around the Himalayas. It is something that I started doing about 5 years back with a bunch of mates from law school – the pandemic has obviously interrupted that, but I hope to resume the rides in the coming year when travel to India and back becomes more convenient. My chosen ride is a Royal Enfield – Bullet 500.
I also scuba dive occasionally and am Advanced Open Water certified.
Q: Lastly, share with us your favourite corner at Maxwell Chambers / Maxwell Chambers Suites.
A: That would have to be the offices of Simha Law at 02-24! Do drop by.