Cortado Q&A: Shantanu Majumdar QC


Cortado Q&A is a series of short interviews taking you on a caffeine-fuelled tour of some of the most interesting folks in litigation and arbitration.

Shantanu Majumdar is a commercial disputes silk and Negroni enthusiast.  Our paths crossed following an impressive result on Optaglio v Tethal where Shantanu, Chris Felton and Jack Hobbs secured an order for security for costs less than four weeks before trial.

When I invited Shantanu for a coffee I promised him a beverage of his choice at one of London’s finest establishments…  Then lockdown happened.  Instead, we caught up online; me with a builder’s tea and Shantanu with something that looked a little more refined.

What’s your career highlight?

Actually I have two.  The first is taking silk, which has taken on a surreal quality for me.  It was odd enough getting dressed up and going to the ceremony – it’s as if you are getting married.  But unlike marriage, you can’t take silk more than once!

The second highlight is a case that I worked on with Chris Felton (and I’m not just saying that!)  We had issued an application to challenge the jurisdiction of an arbitrator.  Chris and I have done a lot of very difficult cases together, but this one really stands out.  It was one of those cases where you are constantly doubting your sanity and we both found it really trying.  When I read the Judge’s words “I find that the challenge succeeds”, I don’t think I’ve ever had a moment of greater satisfaction.  If there is a lesson to be learned from that, it’s the importance of holding your nerve.

What do you think is the next big thing?

This is a tricky one.  A few months ago I would have said the next big thing is how technology is taking over the legal industry, particularly in international arbitration.  Then the lockdown was announced and things like virtual hearings have become routine.  Over the past few weeks, all sorts of changes have happened which might otherwise have taken years, if they happened at all. We are all going to have to adapt and that will be challenging, but equally I think there is a growing realisation that virtual hearings really do work.

What topic or issue always makes you read deeper?

Various things come to mind but the one thing that always exercises me is the rule of law, even though none of my own practice involves litigating about it; all of our practices depend on it.  The news stories, cases, films and TV programmes that I find most worthwhile are all about that.  One only needs to think about the proroguing of Parliament – people have different views about what the Supreme Court did, but there really was a sense of the law being upheld and imposed.

In 1608, James I granted charters of land to Inner Temple and Middle Temple.  In 2008, those charters were renewed and the Queen and Archbishop of Canterbury came to the Temple Church to mark the occasion.  During his sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury said, “the law exists so that power shall not be everything in human society”.  I don’t think that it can be expressed more powerfully than that.

Which leader in your field inspires you and why?

If I had to pick anyone from my career at the bar, it would be Jonathan Sumption.  He grew up as a commercial advocate and he still did lots of that in his senior days, but he became primarily an advocate.  He was brought into cases that were very different from his previous practice because of his intelligence and powers of advocacy.   There are others too, like Sydney Kentridge – there was nothing he couldn’t do.

To some extent, I think that focus on the power of advocacy has been lost at the bar.  There is a fashion for people to become very specialised and as a consequence you don’t tend to get instructions beyond your perceived niche.  People like categories, but I try to avoid that.

If you could be anything other than a lawyer, what would you be and why?

I would be a photographer.  It’s a strange thing, I only recently realised how keen I was on doing it.  On holidays I would always lag behind my family and take pictures, but even then I didn’t realise how much time I was spending on it.  One day, a photographer friend told me that I had an eye for it.  I’m not saying that’s true, but it made me think about how much I enjoy it.  It also fits in with other things that I enjoy, like being outside and visiting exotic places.

Where should I go for London’s best coffee?

What immediately comes to mind is this place in Peckham – the Old Spike Roastery – it’s extraordinary.  Whenever I got a coffee there I savoured it and drank it so slowly that it was usually cold by the time I got to chambers – but that didn’t matter because it still tasted so good!

Katie Dyson

Commercial Disputes

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