Panel Counsel, Delhi High Court & Supreme Court of India
Nidhi Singh completed the MSc in Law and Finance in 2016 and her career so far has spanned the public and academic sectors. She is currently Panel Counsel with the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court of India.
Nidhi Singh, MSc in Law and Finance, 2016
My journey to Oxford is quite interesting in a number of ways. I was accepted onto the advanced taught programme in Law at Oxford in the penultimate year of my law school while studying in India. However, I could not accept the offer on account of deficiency of funds. I applied to Oxford each year for three years with the possibility of availing some scholarship to fund my education at Oxford. I was accepted into Oxford every year and finally in my fourth attempt, I was not only accepted for one of the most competitive courses of Oxford but also offered full scholarships viz. a Weidenfeld-Hoffmann leadership scholarship, a Chevening scholarship and the MLF Faculty of Law scholarship, apart from being shortlisted for all the prominent and well-known scholarships in India.
My MLF degree sits at the vantage point of my public sector experience and subsequent engagement with startups, financial market and corporate clients. Studying the interplay of Law & Finance and with post qualification experience, today I am in a better position to appreciate financial jurisprudence. The initial working years in the Government sector had given me a deep-seated understanding of public policy, public-private interface and regulatory underpinnings. My experience of working with the Indian Government in identification of stakeholders, financial inclusion, writing issue notes on Financial Bills, data analysis and regulatory impact assessment had helped me to identify the environment within which business and market operate. Treading the path in similar direction, I decided to integrate my practice of Law & finance with theoretical knowlege in this domain. Thus, MLF came as a strong preference in terms of pursuing a degree that overlaps with my area of practice and expertise, thus far.
What is your favourite memory of your time at Oxford?
One of my few best memories of Oxford is studying in the Bodleian library with a view of the majestic and iconic Oxford landmark, the Radcliffe Camera; going for a morning run in the University parks and visiting the top of tower of University Church of St. Mary the Virgin that offers a good view of the Radcliffe Square and central Oxford. Apart from this, I really cherish the memories of the leadership training programme that I received as a part of the Weidenfeld Scholars cohort. If Oxford taught me to think, the Weidenfeld Scholarships imbibed in me the leadership traits to implement that thought process. This exactly, is also the change that I underwent post my education at Oxford that eventually helped me find my 'purpose' in life.
What was the most important lesson that you learnt during your time here?
Oxford taught me a number of things. I saw the best of the best students not being hooked to their books all the time. People are social. Time management is one of the best skills that I could develop while studying here. It is a place where people lay a lot of emphasis on fitness. You can see people running even at 11 at night! They take steps to de-stress themselves from the heavy workload. I found myself both challenged and motivated at Oxford, as one is expected to be creative in their thought process and perform under immense pressure. Oxford has helped me appreciate the beauty of diversity, importance of socialising, working hard and learning to be creative.
What is your current role? What is a regular day like?
I am currently a practising lawyer with the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court of India. I have also recently been empanelled by the Delhi High Court on the Labour & Service Laws panel. My chambers mainly deal in litigation and dispute resolution with cases broadly encompassing the laws concerning tax, competition, mergers & acquisitions, financial crime and economic regulation. My regular day involves preparing for my case listed before the Hon'ble court, attending the hearing and arguing for my clients to seek best possible relief and conducting meetings with the client in the evening, post the hearing of the court. A typical day revolves around advising Indian and foreign clients on commercial agreements, licensing and distribution arrangements, joint ventures and regulatory compliance in various sectors. Conducting client meetings & negotiations, representing clients in various commercial disputes including drafting of arbitration pleading, apart from drafting petitions and advising on Regulatory & Policy issues are some of the essential activities I engage on a daily basis.
Apart from this, I run a legal policy think-tank, the Institute for Commercial Policy & Legal Research in New Delhi that focuses on Commercial Policy & Legal research. The idea behind setting up this Center is to promote legal scholarship and in-depth research in Commercial Law & Policy and to promote good governance in Indian Financial System. I also continue to engage with students via guest lectures in both private and National Law Schools in India. I contribute legal write-ups to national newspapers and journals of repute on aregular basis, to keep my interest in legal academia intact. As part of pro-bono services, I serve as an Expert in Antitrust & Big Data with Institute for Internet & the Just Society headquartered in Berlin, Germany. The Institute explores at an international level, the conundrums of competition law in digital sphere.
Your expertise spans many different areas of law - competition law, financial regulation, and artificial intelligence, to name a few. What do you see as the most exciting questions and trends in these fields at the moment?
Recent times have seen an upsurge in online markets and a distinct change in purchasing patterns. This change is attributable to the advance of technology, which has widened our spectrum of choices and opened the markets to competition. The companies working with sophisticated technologies, which at least appear to be dynamic, have created a class of industries with strong network effects. As a result, the markets tend to collapse into a narrow set of players. The rapid ‘creative destruction’ through online innovation has possibly entrenched market power by extracting consumer surplus. Some of the exciting research questions in this area pertain to: (i) exploring how algorithms and data crunching are changing the nature of market competition to the disadvantage of consumers; and (ii) analyzing the behavior of market players which amounts to algorithm-driven collusion, behavioural discrimination and abuse by the dominant super-platforms. It can be said that the changing market reality is resulting in concentration of powers. Also, another aspect that can possibily be looked at are the consequent potential risk to tangible proposals offered by legal academic and policy makers to address the challenges for competition policy in the digitalized economy.
As a practicing Counsel for the Delhi High Court & Supreme Court of India, what would you say have been the biggest challenges to and opportunities for legal systems in India during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The second wave of COVID-19 has hardly hit the judiciary and the overall legal system in India. However, it has presented the system with both unfortunate opportunities and challenges. The remote working facility has largely benefited the lawyers, law firms and the clients and can be said to have increased the overall productivity. It has forced the lawyers to venture into technology and challenge themselves to navigate through various apps in order to attend virtual hearings, make e-filings and online payment of court fees. This could be seen as a welcome step in the long run with a vision to make the entire legal system digital, eventually saving time and money. However, it has raised privacy issues given that the apps being used are controlled by third party users. The government in this case needs to develop its own software that is equally efficient at par with the private players. COVID-19 has opened the gate for judicial modernisation wherein the judiciary has been actively contemplating to start live-streaming of judicial proceedings. These are few encouraging signs on the judicial front. However, COVID-19 has financially impacted the young lawyers and lawyers who did not have a large array of cases. To address this issue, various state Bar Councils have been trying to come to the rescue of such lawyers.
What aspects of the MLF have you found most useful to your career so far?
In the past five years, I have actively advised clients on issues they encounter or are likely to encounter while they make investments or want to secure their investments. Advising my clients at various stages of market entry and exit, client’s financial needs, risk assessment and legal caveats being duly addressed to design a suitable investment plan in light of normative theories and empirical market is something that I learnt through the lectures in Law & Economics of Corporate transactions as part of the core courses of the MLF programme. My initial exposure to the investment sector from the regulatory perspective usually comes to my rescue to successfully conduct due diligence for my clients. I have built a vivid experience of Indian Capital market and its laws while simultaneously drafting loan agreements and those for Portfolio Management services. The Competition law lectures have helped me in successfully doing merger control analysis and conducting overall due diligence from a competition law perspective.
But going by the books and being conventional does not always help as market is a fast changing place and investment is subject to catalytic acts and impediments. Under such situation one needs to keep abreast, possess an ability to anticipate things and embrace innovation. In one of my recent discussion at Harvard Law School, I have explored the competition concerns in Artificial Intelligence. With the fintech buzz, we are venturing in an arena with lot of legal compliances and concerns involved. Where my peers consider it as a challenge, I see this as an opportunity to increase my professional competence.
MLF opened up numerous opportunities for me and gave me a drive to give back to the academia. I have been nominated to the Academic Council of KIIT University in India, inducted to the Advisory Board of KIIT School of Law, Centre for Studies in Business & Corporate Law, India and appointed as Deputy Director for spearheading the Centre for Competition Policy & Law, GLA University, India. Along with this, I serve as a visiting faculty at National Law Schools in India.
The academic excellence in finance and law, acquired over the years through successive degrees/diplomas at Harvard Kennedy School, Kings’ College London, Universitat de Barcelona, supplementing the preceding knowledge base and professional competence in the relevant industry has helped me carve a path to Phd at Stanford Law School, USA where I am currently enrolled as a JSM candidate & SPILS Fellow.
Even though, Chevening and Weidenfeld Hoffman Scholarships at Oxford have recognized my leadership skills, the process does not end there. Of late, I have also been working as a Global Shaper with the World Economic Forum, where I mentor less privileged school students in acquiring equal access to higher education, and conducting workshops at the intersection of Law & Economics.
Which charities do you support and why?
I teach less privileged high school students in government schools in Delhi (Alohomora Foundation NGO), train young adolescent girls in pursuing higher education, applying for vocational jobs and impart english speaking skills to make them better prepare for the job market (Feminist Approach to Technology NGO), train women cab drivers in using technology for payments and understanding maps to help them increase their employability (Women on Wheels Sakha NGO) and spending time with HIV+ kids at Desire Society NGO, Delhi, India. As a member of Global Shapers New Delhi Hub, an initiative of the World Economic Forum, I also conduct legal awareness sessions on Domestic Violence laws to sensitize Indian women about their rights and remedies in law.
What advice would you to give your past self?
Studying at Oxford can be an enriching experience for any student. I wish as a student, I would have explored more of Oxford which is historically so rich. I feel I could have possibly drawn a better balance between academics and life in general. This could have helped me in building stronger networks and getting to see more historical constructs in Oxford.
I found myself both challenged and motivated at Oxford, as one is expected to be creative in their thought process and perform under immense pressure. Oxford has helped me appreciate the beauty of diversity, importance of socialising, working hard and learning to be creative.