The Lawyer Who Never Goes to Court. Member Spotlight: Mohit Mokal

Born and raised in Navi Mumbai, Mohit Mokal is a lawyer and mediator whose family has worked in law for generations. However, after exploring both traditional law and arbitration, Mohit’s life path was changed by a personal study of mediation, and an internship with the renowned mediator Sriram Panchu. Today, Mohit has dedicated his whole career to mediation and works as an independent consultant at his own firm Mohit Mokal Mediation. Mohit has made such a name for himself in the field that he was responsible for designing a completely novel mediation course for law schools across India. As Mohit continues to use innovative and highly effective techniques in both his mediation work and trainings, his mark on the field only continues to grow.

The Lawyer Who Never Goes to Court

Before he even began his studies in law, Mohit Mokal was one of the few young people who are already familiar with the ins and outs of the legal system. Mohit is a third-generation lawyer, and both his grandfather and his parents have their own practices. In his free time, Mohit used to spend time with his parents and family members in the courts and observe them interacting with clients and going about their work. One of the most striking things to him was the sheer abundance of cases. It was clear to him that the Indian court system was overburdened, if not completely overwhelmed.

“If today all the courts in India were working at 100% capacity and efficiency, with all judge vacancies resolved, it would take about 200 years to address all the cases that have been filed.”

Mohit learned that according to official estimates, if today all the courts in India were working at 100% capacity and efficiency, with all the judge vacancies resolved, it would take about 200 years to address the cases that have been filed. And every day, there are hundreds more. Mohit saw from a young age that this takes away from the practicality of delivering justice to the Indian people. However still hoping to make a positive impact, he decided to go to law school, and graduated from Jindal Global Law School in 2019. He completed his Master’s degree in International Dispute Resolution from Queen Mary University in 2021.

During his studies he became interested in arbitration, however, he came to realize that unfortunately most of those who practice arbitration often were judges or lawyers themselves. The heavy overlap with the legal world had caused arbitration to become essentially an expensive, private replica of the legal system. While arbitration wasn’t quite right, in his last semester of law school, Mohit found mediation. He had jokingly come to refer to himself as “the lawyer who never goes to court”, because he know that it was not the place for him. Mediation offered an exciting alternative that was truly separated from the legal system, and by end of his studies, Mohit had an experience that would convince him of that more than ever.

An Internship with the Godfather of Mediation

In his last semester of Law School, Mohit applied for an internship at the office of a very senior mediator, Mr. Sriram Panchu. Since Mohit had finished all his credits early, he had filled all the time in the second semester of his 5th year with researching mediation, writing research papers, and taking electives on it. The semester that he had crafted based on his interests reaffirmed his passion for the field, and as an intern, Mohit saw quickly why Mr. Panchu’s practice was considered exceptional. Mr. Panchu is known by many as a legal luminary and the godfather of mediation in India. He was responsible for introducing the first Court Annexed Mediation Center in the country in the Madras High Court, which by now has grown nationwide. Mr. Panchu is also on the Mediation and Conciliation Committee that was brought forward by the Supreme Court of India, which was tasked to set up the first training program which is now delivered to all organized mediators in the country. He is highly respected for his work, and has truly helped lay the framework for the field in the country.

Mohit says that Mr. Panchu liked him particularly because of Mohit’s love for mediation, and headstrong determination to pursue solely mediation for his career, unlike most mediators who have side jobs usually as practicing advocates. Mohit had seen that mediation truly gave clients the solutions they were looking for. In the court rooms and after legal battles he had witnessed clients cussing at each other and expressing continued discontent about the results or the fees. However, after the mediation process, these clients were happy. The mediators were able to truly get rid of their problem. Beyond just the retributive measures of the court systems, Mohit saw the true power of restorative justice.

“For people who are looking for solutions, litigation is often not a good option, and arbitration is very expensive. But mediation, it gives them that solution. After the mediation process, these clients were happy.”

Mr. Panchu has continued to be Mohit’s mentor and role model since that first internship, and gave Mohit all of the opportunities to grow, practice, and develop his skills. Working with Mr. Panchu gave him amazing opportunities in mediation, like working on the highly controversial and explosive Ayodhya Babri Masjid Case. In 2020, the Bar Council of India reached out to Mr. Panchu, and informed him that they wanted to make mediation a mandatory course in law school. They asked Mr. Panchu to design the course, which he promptly assigned to Mohit. Recognizing the time and effort that Mohit had put into designing his own mediation curriculum in law school, Mr. Panchu knew he would be the perfect person for the job. Mohit was already training and coaching people on negotiation and mediation, and drafting this entire course allowed him to apply all of this knowledge at once. Now, his course remains the single mandatory mediation course in law school curriculums around India.

“Students need to be inspired. They need to know, yes you can have a profession only in mediation. That’s the next step.”

Tips for Developing Mediators

“Don’t think that mediation is your main skill.”

Mohit recognizes that the idealism of mediation draws many people, but he cautions that mediation cannot be your only skill. He explains that as a mediator, it is important to have marketing skills to market yourself and your firm, business development skills to develop your clientele, a customer-service mindset to make sure your clients are well-heard, and you need to be an academic to keep researching, writing, and developing. To stand out, you need to be able to do all of the practical things as well as mediation itself.

Mohit also believes that as a mediator you need to be fully focused on the outcome for your clients. If you get personally involved in the dispute and affect the outcome in a biased way in favor of what you think is right, it might not be for the best. If both parties reach the settlement that allows them both to sleep at night, then that is the best result.

Mohit’s last piece of advice for anyone interested in a career in mediation is to just follow through. While he recognizes the challenges, he says that it is difficult to set up anything of value, and in the end the message of mediation has always been clear. Mediation is a people-focused process, and the parties who are involved do end up with peace, closure, and satisfaction with the outcomes. Mohit encourages new mediators to reach out to other mediators, and emphasizes the importance of community and connection in the field. He invites anyone looking for that type of guidance to reach out to him anytime, as he would be more than happy to help new mediators on their professional and personal journey. 

A Future Vision for Mediation

Mohit hopes to see a world in which mediation becomes much more of a mainstream way of resolving conflicts in India and beyond. Though he has witnessed first-hand the way that the court system in drowning in cases, he still sees that mediation has only a tiny fraction of the market impact that litigation and arbitration do.

“Mediation still has a microscopic market impact in comparison to litigation and arbitration.”

Mohit believes that for this dynamic to change, there need to be people who are fully dedicated to pushing the field forward. Making mediation and online dispute resolution more mainstream in India is one of his personal missions and goals. He notes that the COVID pandemic was a good wakeup call for everyone, where it became clear that it is not possible to solely rely on courts for all of the country’s needs. Mediation and online dispute resolution was finally able to kick off, and gain clients around India.

However, Mohit also explains that they do not have enough mediators in the country, which is one of the main reasons why the government has not made mediation processes mandatory yet. More mediators becoming interested in mediation and joining the field as a full-time career could finally help make a mandatory mediation process, and have a huge impact countrywide.

“Arbitration became more expensive and a replication of the same process, populated by the same practitioners. That’s what we don’t want to see happen to mediation”

Mohit lastly notes that when arbitration gained prominence, many people were excited to see an alternative to litigation. However, it became very costly and a replication of the legal process run by on the same practitioners. Mohit believes that mediation is also at risk of this, and strongly believes we need to make sure mediation is not just a community of lawyers. Making mediation more inclusive allows for expertise of professionals from different fields, from architects to engineers, who can combine the knowledge of the field with a mediation background. This could also make mediation more practical and less focused on the nuances of the law itself, and overall better capable of seeing the outcomes that a community really needs.

Mohit Mokal Mediation

As previously mentioned, Mohit is now an independent consultant and has his own firm Mohit Mokal Mediation, that provides a range of services based on mediation and negotiation consulting for clients. Something that Mohit incorporates in his negotiation and mediation trainings and consulting work is “conflict coaching”. During this process he aims not to tell the clients how to solve a problem, but to ask them how they envision solving it already. He coaches them through their reactions, responses, and guides their thinking process in a structured way. Clients are taught how to ask open-ended questions, and how to become better negotiators themselves. This makes them much more confident in themselves and their own ability to solve their conflicts.

Conflict coaching is only one of the ways Mohit Mokal Mediation brings innovative approaches to the field. Mohit has begun to explore working with investments companies, not exactly as a mediator, but to sit with the investors and the investment funds to help the parties understand their clients better. Mohit sees the same communication and understanding gap in business as he does in other conflicts, and has leveraged his insight to help people in this field too.  

A last tool that Mohit has learned to incorporate in his consulting services is AI. He’s recognized that sometimes it is difficult to prove to people that mediation is the right solution for them, especially when they are not familiar with the field and the use may not seem explicit to them. 

“Based on objective data, users can now see that they were prefer to use mediation, as it seems the most effective”.

So, Mohit uses data from similar cases to give the clients an estimate of the time, costs, and the probability of success, and the benefits of their different options of litigation, arbitration, and mediation. This AI data analysis shows the clients whether or not mediation will be the most efficient and cost-effective solution to their problems in comparison to legal avenues of dispute resolution. Based on this objective data, that clients often realize how beneficial mediation really could be for them. As a next step they help them connection with a legal service provider based on their preference of experience, cost, language, and budget.

Overall, Mohit’s commitment to mediation and work in the field has proved both impactful and inspirational. His passion has driven him to work on high-level cases, train young mediators and negotiators, empower people to solve their own conflicts, and find lasting solutions to conflicts throughout India. 

Article by Elise Webster, MBBI Writer