June 19, 2021

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Delhi div bench pleads for cool heads: Saraf gets email back but not office, which could turn ‘ugly’

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The Delhi high court’s division bench has uploaded its order in the dispute between L&L Partners co-founders Mohit Saraf and Rajiv Luthra.

In a nutshell, the order by justices Rajiv Sahai Endlaw and Sanjeev Narula said:

  • Saraf will get access to his main email address from home, and Luthra is not allowed to restrict Saraf’s access.
  • Saraf is not “entitled to physically access the offices of the law firm as we are of the pinion (sic) that the same, as of today, is likely to lead to an ugly situation” (Luthra had reportedly posted bouncers outside of the office last year to keep Saraf physically out).
  • Saraf and Luthra should both use all firm IT systems for “bona fide use” for the “benefit of the law firm”.
  • Luthra would not be allowed to be “interfering with [Saraf] servicing the clients”.
  • Gag order on both sides, who would be restrained from “making any communication any manner whatsoever to any person, prejudicial to the affairs of the law firm or prejudicial to each other” (except in arbitration).
  • Hiring freeze: both sides would not be allowed to add any new partners or associates.
  • Neither side would be allowed to change the status quo of the firm in any way.

The judges also pleaded both sides for calm and sanity, “implor[ing]” both sides to not wear their “personal hats” but instead “their lawyer’s hat” and not air disputes in public.

Both sides should either attempt to “revive the partnership” – which seems remote if not impossible right now – or to “amicably part ways in the spirit of give and take and realize that what is going on, in the long run will not benefit either”.

“This is the least expected by the clients of the law firm from their advocates and advisors,” added the judges.

Furthermore, they asked Luthra to submit the firm’s full accounts to the court on the next date of hearing.

Full order below.

The operative part of the order states:

15. We have considered the aforesaid arguments and are of the view that for the time being the implementation of the impugned judgment be confined in the manner as hereinbelow provided:

A. The appellant is directed to forthwith restore the respondent‟s access to the law firm‟s e-mail ID […]@luthra.com and the appellant is restrained from directly or indirectly preventing or otherwise restricting the respondent‟s access to and use of the Delhi firm‟s IT infrastructure such as personal laptop, desktop, e-mail, domain name @luthra.com, servers, database, software subscriptions; however the respondent shall be entitled to the said access, not from the offices of the law firm but remotely from his home or from any other place he may desire and his personal laptop and desktop if not already with the respondent shall be forthwith delivered to the respondent through his advocate.

B. Both, appellant and the respondent shall use all the information on such system of the law firm for the bona fide use of and in the benefit of the law firm and are restrained from putting the information on the said database including the client information to any other use and are also restrained from divulging the same to any other person or use the same to the prejudice of the law firm.

C. The appellant shall also stand restrained from directly or indirectly interfering with the respondent servicing the clients of the law firm.

D. Both appellant and the respondent are restrained from, (i) making any communication in any manner whatsoever to any person, prejudicial to the affairs of the law firm or prejudicial to each other (save before the Court / Arbitral Tribunal); (ii) inducting any new partners / associates or any other personnel and / or from adding to a regular financial liability of the law firm; (iii) doing any other act towards changing the status as existing immediately prior to the filing of the petition and if already changed since then, as existing today; and, (iv) from interfering in any manner whatsoever, directly or indirectly in performance by each other or by any other advocate or personnel of the law firm, of their respective roles in discharge of their duties and in servicing the clients and affairs of the law firm.

16. We however clarify that the respondent, under orders of the Single Judge or under this arrangement, shall not be entitled to physically access the offices of the law firm as we are of the pinion that the same, as of today, is likely to lead to an ugly situation.

17. The appellant to also, by the next date, on affidavit, furnish accounts of the law firm, with effect from 13th October, 2020 till date, in a sealed cover.

18. We also implore upon the parties to instead of their personal hats, wear their lawyer‟s hat and instead of airing their disputes in public and in the Court, attempt to either revive the partnership or amicably part ways in the spirit of give and take and realize that what is going on, in the long run will not benefit either. This is the least expected by the clients of the law firm from their advocates and advisors.

Saraf v Luthra division bench HC order 23 January

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