INTERVIEW: Pranav Khatavkar on [1] Writing a Book, [2] Legal Research and Writing and [3] Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code

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Pranav Khatavkar is a Mumbai based independent legal professional. He has penned India’s first commentary on the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016. He is also the founding editor of a journal called International Commercial Law Review.

He may be reached on-pranavkhatavkar1991@gmail.com

  1. Tell us about yourself.

Professionally speaking I am a Mumbai based independent legal professional. I completed my bachelor’s degree in law from Symbiosis Law School, Pune in 2015. I am also retained as a Counsel at a law firm called M/s Synlitigators.Otherwise, I am a simple and an unassuming person just sailing through life.

  1. How did you go about writing your book? What advice would you like to give future authors?

Before I speak about how I went about writing the book, I believe it is necessary for me to speak about my reason for writing this book in the first place.

I had been following up on the Code since it was a Bill as I knew that this Code would be a complete game changer once implemented. While I did not have any ambition to set a record by writing the first book on the Code, I will say that it happened rather intermittently.

So, once the Code was passed by the Parliament (i.e. on 11th May 2016), I foresaw a demand for some intellectual material on the Code (since you cannot rely entirely only on the bare Act, some literature is always required).

Before I undertook the task of penning the book, I made some enquiries myself. I asked around if any book had come or whether any book was coming up to which everyone replied in the negative. So, that’s where the thought to pen the book set in.

I thought that if nobody had written or was writing a book on the Code then why could I not do it myself ? At least, that way, I knew I was setting a foundationby providing some literature on the Code for everyone’s benefit. This was my impetus to penning the book.

My primary objective behind penning the book was simple- to simplify and elucidate the provisions of the Code as much as I could for everyone’s benefit primarily in the legal and the financial industries and for anyone who was interested in understanding the Code otherwise.With this thought, I began writing the book.

The first big task before me was chapterization. With respect to the same, I preferred retaining the original flow of the Code as this being a new law, I did not want to obscure the legislative intent by chapterizing the book as per my thought.

Once I had clarity regarding chapterization, I began the herculean task- penning the book.

It began with collating a truckload of information from all sources and of course long hours of legal research. For everyone’s information, I believe it’s necessary for me to state here that I penned the book while being employed at my erstwhile workplace.

I had office deadlines to manage and there was no way that I was going to write the book in office or use office resources for the book as that would have contravened the work policy. Hence whatever that had to be done with respect to the book, had to be done at home. That meant less sleep and a tight schedule for me.

Once my draft manuscript was ready, I started approaching different publishers.

Some showed interest (but did not offer me a good deal) and some did not (primarily because they felt that I was too young to write a book)and some publishers did not even pick my calls or reply to my emails.

After weeks of letting go off bad deals from interested publishers and facing rejections from others, I finally found a publisher that offered me a good deal and valued what I had to offer.

Thereafter, things were set in motion. The first was the review process. It started with a preliminary review of the manuscript. That was followed by a legal review and it ended with a grammar review.

Some edits were carried out but most of the original manuscript was retained. The manuscript then went into printing. The end product was of course, India getting its first book on the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016.

I would like to give the following advice to prospective authors:

1. Be crystal clear about WHY you are penning a book– It is really important for you to know as to why you are writing what you are writing or are planning to write. Once your “WHY” is clear, then there is a lesser possibility of you losing mental track while writing.

Once you have a well-defined and a realistic end in sight, then automatically all your efforts will be steered in the right direction. So much so that ideas will begin unfolding themselves to you rather than you trying to ideate stuff.

For e.g. my reasoning for writing a book on the Code was twofold.

Firstly, no one was writing/had written a book on the Code then and that there was need for some literature on the Code and secondly (but more importantly), I wanted to simplify the new law as much as I could for anyone who was interested in knowing about the Code (even for a complete novice for that matter).

While my reasons will sound logically convincing, prospective authors may or may not face the same situation that I did.

In that case you should first undertake a thorough reconnaissance of the field/subject that you are planning to write on. You might encounter some of the below mentioned circumstances during the course of your intellectual investigation-

  • Is there any deficiency in the current scholarship surrounding your area of interest?
  • Is there a scope for improvement in the existing scholarship in your area of interest?
  • Has the existing scholarship become otiose over a course of time and are there any new developments in the field?
  • Have you during the course of practice or study gained an important insight in a particular field that you believe should be brought in the public domain?

Please note that the abovementioned circumstances have been enlisted only for triggering your thought in the right direction and you should not constrain yourself in any way while arriving at the WHY.

Keep that window of creativity and innovation open all the time. That is something that readers always appreciate.

In a nutshell, undertake a thorough investigation of a particular field and zero down to specific issues. This will certainly help you arrive at the “WHY”.

2. Choose your publisher wisely– As a prospective author you must be very careful while dealing with publishers especially if you are doing so for the first time.

While I don’t say that publishers are bad folks, I do say that most of the publishers are extremely commercial and money minded.

Due to which, they might in all probability, offer you a deal that is probably not in your best commercial/intellectual interests. Hence you must be extra protective of your interests while dealing with publishers. 

Seen from the publisher’s perspective, even he is right in his own way. He also has a business to run and your book is one of the several books that he will be publishing. So it is obvious that he will be driven primarily by financial considerations.

That nevertheless, does not discount or undermine your manuscript in anyway. His revenues are his concern. Not yours. You should be only concerned with what you are getting out of the deal. Hence make sure that you cut out a good deal for yourself.

You must keep the following considerations in mind before zeroing down on a publisher:

  • His reputation and market standing.
  • His seniority in the publishing industry.
  • His outreach when it comes to your target audience.

Before you sign the publication agreement, do take a note of the following clauses:

  • Publication deadline (if any)
  • Royalty (this is the most important clause in the agreement. Read this clause word by word. If you feel there is any ambiguity, get it clarified in writing over email from the publisher)
  • Restrictive covenants such as ownership over copyright of the book, reprinting decision, preference to revise the subsequent editions of the book, right of first refusal etc.
  • Dispute resolution clause

Lastly, your publisher might pressurize you to sign the agreement as soon as possible. However don’t do so without being 100% clear about the terms and conditions.

3. What must a law student know about the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016(“IBC”)?

I will answer this question in two parts. Part A will deal with the conceptual aspects of the IBC that a law student must know. Part B will deal with the practical aspects of the IBC that a law student must know.

Part A- Conceptual Aspects

From a conceptual point of view, a law student must know about the following in the IBC:

  1. Insolvency Professionals
  2. Insolvency Professional Agencies
  3. Information Utilities
  4. Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India (IBBI)
  5. Corporate insolvency resolution process
  6. Liquidation process for corporate persons
  7. Fresh start process
  8. Insolvency resolution for individuals and partnership firms
  9. Bankruptcy for individuals and partnership firms

Part B- Practical Aspects

From a practical point of view, a law student must know the following about the IBC:

  1. Regulatory movement as far as enforcement of the provisions is concerned by the IBBI and the Central Government.
  2. Judicial movement to the extent of important orders/judgments passed by the Adjudicating Authorities established under the Code.
  3. Following up on expert opinion that’s published in newspapers and finance websites pertaining to the Code.
Pranav Khatavkar
  1. How should a law student go about developing his/her research and writing skills?

I will begin the answer to this question on a slightly philosophical note (but relevant nevertheless).

Before you go about developing your legal research and writing skills, it is important for you to have a good look within and see whether you have a certain amount of interest/liking/passion for legal research and writing, which I believe is absolutely essential. Do not delude yourself.

Be absolutely honest with yourself. Ask yourself, “Am I willing to let go off the things that I usually like to do in my free time in order to develop my research and writing skills?”, “Am I willing to put in long hours of hard work and labour into this?” (Because you have to)

Don’t condemn/criticize yourself if you don’t seem to have an inclination towards legal research and writing and certainly don’t be worried if you are unsure about what you feel. It’s totally fine.

There is no hard and fast rule that you have to have good legal research and writing skills. If you don’t have any interest and are absolutely sure that you don’t, then do not waste your time. Do what you like to do.

If you are unsure about what you feel or if you think that you might have some interest, then there is absolutely no harm in testing the waters. Even if after doing so, you don’t feel like it, then you are free to drop the idea and move on.

Now, coming to the answer to this question, I recommend that a law student should do the following in order to develop his/her legal research and writing skills:

  1. Read, read and read– Before you undertake the task of developing your legal research/writing skills you must be a good reader. Start by reading legal articles that are published in newspapers/websites/blogs etc.

Most of the law school libraries in India subscribe to law journals. Pick up any law journal in your law school library and read any article. Even if your law school doesn’t have a decent library, don’t worry. There is enough and more free material available online. Read Supreme Court and High Court judgments.

Most of them are very well written and are intellectually enriching. Voracious reading is the precursor to developing your legal research and writing skills. The reason I recommend extensive reading is simple. When you read extensively you train mind to process words and information at a faster pace.

Your outlook is significantly expanded. You are exposed to different schools of thought. Lastly, you end up enriching your vocabulary and also tend to develop an intellectual mindset that is necessary to be a good legal researcher/writer.

2. Just take the plunge!- Many law students while getting their hands around legal research and writing for the first time, are often overwhelmed and intimidated by the quantum of information that they need to process and hence, even before starting they tend to lose hope and sometimes even worse- they start on a negative note only tohalt midway.

Many students don’t know where to begin from and often wait for the perfect moment to arrive so that they can finally begin. They think that they should wait for some more training. They think that they need more time to settle into the law school cycle.

Sometimes students even think that since they haven’t been taught a particular topic at law school, its best that they should probably not touch that topic even if they find it interesting.

I am going to be blunt here- this is nothing but a disguised and a more subtle form of fear, indolence and procrastination.

I would like to quote Shri Rabindranath Tagore here- “You can’t cross the sea merely by staring at the water.” You have to take the plunge.

You have to start somewhere. It’s okay not to know everything before starting. It’s okay to begin without having full clarity or complete information.

Even the stalwarts from different fields do not know the entire field. It’s humanly impossible to know everything. So there is no perfect time to begin. The time is now. You begin right here right now.

Fire up your laptop, create that wordfile and start typing. Even if you finish one paragraph, it’s absolutely fine! At least you are doing something. While engaging in legal research and writing it’s important to have a results oriented mindset. There is no perfect way to start or a perfect place to start. You start now. You do it now.

3. Start with a simple topic and eventually elucidate and expound the same- Many law students while trying out legal research and writing for the first time feel that if they write a paper then it has to be published in some journal or presented at some conference, and in pursuance of the same, they usually end up choosing a complex topic and eventually either give up or produce something that is not upto the mark and that often that results into they get disillusioned when they face rejection from the journal or the selection committee of the conference. 

Hence I recommend that you should first start with a simple topic.

For example, the concept of One PersonCompany (“OPC”) under the Companies Act, 2013. Start by writing a two page note on what an OPC is, the provisions governing OPC and more importantly as to what is your understanding of it (you will eventually realize that your understanding of a particular topic is the ultimate value addition/intellectual contribution in your paper).

Once your two page draft is ready, take the next step. Dig up a little more. Do you think there is a lacuna in the present provisions governing OPC? How have other common law countries regulated OPC’s?

Do you think you that something is missing or can something be improved?  By taking one step at a time, your thought will be automatically steered in the right direction and you will eventually zero down on a specific topic.

4. Analyze previously published papers and other available literature– Once you have prepped and set your mind to it, taken the plunge and chosen a topic (congratulations, you have already come a long way through),start by analyzing previously published papers and literature that is already available (online as well as in print).

In today’s information dominated world, unless you are trying to write on something super specific, there is a large possibility that somebody has already written and published something on the topic that you are targeting. Even if there isn’t, don’t worry. Referring to other papers on other topics will also serve the purpose.

While analyzing the papers/literature observe and take note of the following:

  • The manner in which information has been presented.
  • How has the author opened his/her argument?
  • The manner in which assertions and arguments have been made.
  • The kind of words the author has used toelucidate his/her thought.
  • The manner in which chapterization has been done.
  • Wherever references have been made, how have they been blended into the body of the text?
  • How has the author concluded his/her argument?

While taking a note of the abovementioned points,it is possible that you might like something and would want to incorporate the same in your work. While that’s a good thing, it’s important that you remain cautious while doing so, else, you might end up plagiarizing stuff inadvertently.

5. Put your thought on paper-All the tips that I have mentioned above, if applied correctly, boil down to this one step.If you have sincerely applied the tips that I have mentioned above, then your mind must have certainly gained a certain amount of momentum.

Taking advantage of this momentum, you must now put your thought on paper.Do not worry about how your thought comes across.Get the thought out first. Refine it later. It may be challenging, but I assure you, it is equally fun. 

At the same time I will say that while it is good to learn from the other writers, keep some space for being yourself and for your original thought.Keep a timeline and adhere to it strictly.

I suggest that you give yourself 15 days to conceptualize your first draft research paper. Then another 5 days to refine your draft and another day or two finalize your draft. You might also want to send your draft paper to some trusted colleagues and friends and elicit their opinion and consider their edits if any.

You can show it some trustworthy faculty members from your law school as well. Incorporate their edits only if they resonate with your original line of thinking.

In conclusion, have a clear line of thought, use simple language, be smart about the references that you make and keep as much space as possible for original thinking.

  1. Any closing thoughts for our readers?

Legal research and writing is a great skill to possess and is also a fun skill to learn. Don’t get too serious while applying these tips and don’t be too casual either.

Keep a balanced approach. Be flexible with yourself and enjoy the learning process.

 

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