Young EFILA in conversation with… Himanshu Setia

Himanshu Setia[1]  is an advocate at Dua Associates, India where he specialises in arbitration and commercial litigation. He advises and represents parties in international arbitration matters (under Rules of the Singapore International Arbitration Centre, the ICC, UNCITRAL as well as ad hoc) and in arbitration matters seated in India. He also advises and represents parties in commercial litigation and in arbitration related litigation (such as setting aside and enforcement of domestic and foreign arbitral awards).

Young EFILA sat down with Himanshu to discuss the start to his career, his impressions of the world of arbitration and tips for aspiring young lawyers.

Young EFILA: What attracted you to a career in arbitration?

Himanshu Setia: My first and significant introduction to the world of arbitration occurred when I got an opportunity to intern with Dr Justice Adarsh Sein Anand, a former Chief Justice of India and an Honorary Bencher of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, London. The Justice was acting in several arbitrations, so I had the opportunity to learn more, in a hands-on manner, about some procedural aspects of arbitration.

In view of this practical experience, I decided to specialise in litigation and arbitration and dedicated the first two years of my professional career to practising litigation before trial courts, the High Court of Delhi and the Supreme Court of India. Thereafter, I obtained an LL.M (Master of Laws) with a specialisation in Litigation and Dispute Resolution from University College London (UCL). While in London, I also participated in the Annual Willem C. Vis & Vis (East) International Commercial Arbitration Moot Competition, held in Vienna and Hong Kong, and further developed my interest in arbitration.

All in all, these experiences attracted me to a career in arbitration.

YE: What is the most underrated element of being an arbitration lawyer?

HS: The most underrated element of being an arbitration lawyer is the integrity of the arbitral process, which can sometimes be overlooked. An underrated element, which is also a skill, can be the willingness to listen. I believe that sometimes not enough time is dedicated to truly listening to what others are saying, be they clients or colleagues. It is crucial to listen to the client, witnesses, the opposing counsel and most importantly, the Arbitral Tribunal. This can make the difference between winning and losing a case.

YE: And the most overrated?

HS: The most overrated element is the advantage of timesaving. Arbitration is considered less formal and less time-consuming. Typically, in international arbitration, parties must adhere to a procedural timetable issued by the Arbitral Tribunal. The procedural timetable and guidelines issued by the Arbitral Tribunal in its procedural order have various stages. This process is quite formal in nature, and most of the stages take considerable time, especially the filing of pleadings and document production, which can at times be very extensive. Another overrated element can be the misconception that the arbitral process is ‘fancy’ as the parties meet at posh venues, such as hotels or specialised institutions, and may sometimes require international travelling. However, in my view, arbitration is way less glamorous – it is just an alternative dispute resolution mechanism chosen by the parties for their convenience, and lawyers should focus on the convenience of the parties. The international nature means that there are sometimes time differences that are difficult to bridge without working odd hours, and one also has to compensate with creativity for all the ‘flexibility’ that the process allows. It is an interesting job but less glamorous than sometimes portrayed.

YE: What is the best professional advice you have ever received?

HS: The best professional advice I have ever received was after the completion of my bachelor’s degree when I decided to make a long-term career in disputes. I was advised to spend at least two years practising litigation (before the courts) to understand the functioning of courts on a regular basis and see through all stages involved in a civil or commercial dispute. The experience has really helped me in the long run to understand typical issues and the process involved in arbitration. Further, the experience comes in handy in arbitration-related litigation, when parties approach the relevant court to obtain interim relief, to challenge or enforce an arbitral award etc.

YE: What qualities and skills make a good arbitration lawyer? 

HS: In my opinion, the following qualities and skills may lead to becoming a good arbitration lawyer:

  • Reading skills (careful reading – mastery over the facts of the case);
  • Technical know-how (understanding technical aspects of the relevant industry sector – for example, construction contracts);
  • Writing skills (lucid writing – with emphasis on most important points – build a roadmap and be specific);
  • Research skills (effective and accurate legal research – answering the issue at hand);
  • Analytical skills (reasoned analysis – supported with facts and evidence, a convincing case theory);
  • Advocacy (clear strategy and persuasive style of advocacy – focus on key points and relevant legal authorities); and
  • Perseverance (hard work and continuous self-improvement).

YE: Is there room for innovation in arbitration? If yes, what forms does innovation take?

HS: I must say that we all have witnessed technological innovation in arbitration during the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly the predominant use of virtual hearings. In my view, there is still room for innovation in technology. First, security could be enhanced, especially during the virtual cross-examination of witnesses. Second, there could be more competition and a larger pool of service providers to provide a platform for virtual hearings with real-time transcription, electronic presentation of evidence and virtual hearing bundles at a reasonable rate. This could save parties a lot of time and costs. Third, an extensive and easily accessible database of arbitrators could be made available, with their qualifications, past experience, industry knowledge and other relevant information.

YE: What would you do if you were not working as an arbitration practitioner?

HS: I am inquisitive and enjoy analysing information by delving deeper into diverse topics. I relish working through puzzles in order to arrive at an optimum solution. Joseph Story (Former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States) once said, “The Law is a jealous mistress, and requires a long and constant courtship. It is not to be won by trifling favours, but by lavish homage.” In the same vein, I consider myself to be a perennial learner who gets energised by challenges. Law is a service-driven vocation that resonates with me, so it is difficult for me to think of anything outside the realm of law. If I were not working as an arbitration practitioner, I would probably be working as a legal editor or pursuing further legal education/a career in academia.

YE: Thank you for taking your time to chat with us, Himanshu!

**** This interview was conducted by Ioana Maria Bratu and forms part of Young EFILA’s Interview Series with Arbitration Practitioners ****

  1. Advocate (2015) (Qualified in India), LL.M (2018) (University College London), B.A, LL.B (2015) (Symbiosis International University, India. Disclaimer: Views expressed in this interview are solely of the interviewee and do not express the views and / or opinions of the organisation he is retained with.