The very purpose of setting up of the National Law Universities was to improve the standard of the Bar. The Bar is not what you think it is (though lawyers are known to loyal patrons) – it is the collective body of lawyers especially litigating lawyers. It is a sad fact, that not everyone considers bar to be their first choice but for those who do, they get the best gift of the profession- the power to wear a robe, an indication you are a learned doctor of law.
What does a Litigating Lawyer Do?
Originally in England, there was the concept of the profession divided into two parts. When a case would arise, the drafting of documents and basic legal advice would be given by a person called a Solicitor. When the case had to go to trial he would brief a barrister, who would argue the case before the court. The Indian legal system does not strictly adhere to this dichotomy but rather bases itself more on the Scottish concept of Advocate, who does both drafting as well as arguing. As a litigating lawyer, you hear out the case, draft it for the client and either by yourself or assisted with a team fight the case in a court of law or tribunal.
In addition you may be required to do a variety of ancillary legal work as well including giving legal advice on matters which come up from time to time, advising the client in both business and family requirements, preparing legal proformas required by him in various Govt. Departments, advising your client in matters of taxation and being called at 2:00 am in the morning as he/she has run into a wrangle. What Kinds of Litigating Lawyers are there? Do they specialize in certain areas?
The common lawyer next door is called a General practitioner. He is like a M.B.B.S doctor who takes care of your general health. Similarly, the General Practitioner deals with a wide variety of legal problems as and when they arise. They do most of your legal cases from almost all areas.
The law is a very fast field and there are various branches of law. But generally there is a division between Civil and Criminal law. Lawyers mostly identify themselves as one of these. A Civil lawyer looks after your corporate commercial and everyday matters, whereas the Criminal lawyer tries to ensure you do not go jail for a crime to the best of his/her abilities.
Of late there is an increased move towards specialization with the coming of new and novel areas of law. There is therefore a breed of Tax lawyers, Intellectual Property Lawyers, Arbitration lawyers and Constitutional lawyers. Specialization can also be forum or level specific. Eg. X is a lawyer who only appears before the Supreme Court or Y only appears before the Central Administrative Tribunal or Z who only handles original suits or Bablu who specializes in Writ Petitions before the High Court.
What is my workplace going to be like?
Workplaces in litigation are divided three fold. First, territorially. Namely that X only appears before the Courts in West Bengal. Barring the Supreme Court and the Delhi and Bombay High Court’s most Bars usually draw their members from their states and local areas. Clientele is a function of a strong network. And starting out a practice from a place you belong to gives you at least some advantage. Secondly, forum wise. At this stage it would be pertinent to understand the court structure in the country.
Most litigation’s in India start with small local courts. These courts/forums are therefore called “original” courts or forums. The atmosphere here is not the most professional one you shall come across, but it is always advisable to begin your practice here as they help you build your basics. Mastery in these courts has rich dividend payouts throughout the professional career. Next come the appellate courts. These are usually senior courts have wide territory in their cover.eg The High Courts and the Supreme or Apex Court as it is sometimes called. The atmosphere here is far more professional and there is better sense of delivery and arguments in these courts.
It may also happen that you may become a practicing lawyer even without appearing before any courts but before departments. For example if you are an IT lawyer you will be appearing before the IT Cell. If you are a Tax lawyer you shall be frequent before the Income Tax Tribunal. The tribunals being newer usually tend to have better infrastructure and more specialized outlook.
This is your workplace in the morning. In the evening you shall be meeting clients and preparing cases. This office is called a Chamber. Most lawyers start by joining an established chamber and over time leave the chamber to establish their own. Chambers once again to offer a wide variety and would depend on a wide variety of factors.
What is the level of Compensation one can expect?
The rule in lawyering they say is, In the beginning, lots of work, no money. In the middle lots of work, lots of money. And towards the end No work, lots of money?. Although this maxim may be judiciously debated, no pun intended, it is commonplace to find that more experienced lawyers tend to earn better than the ones who have just started shop. You compensation is divided on a huge variety of factors, namely your experience, court craft- the ability to handle a difficult court, your knowledge of the law, actual and perceived competence and luck as well. Though, the start far more modestly than their law firm peers there is no limit to what lawyers earn and some of them are the highest tax payers in the country giving equal competition to industry captains and Bollywood lasses.
What are the non-monetary benefits in the Profession?
For all the criticisms for being pan chewing oafs, vampires with poor fashion sense and the only office necessities being a black umbrella and a trunk announcing Advocate, this profession is highly rewarding in terms of respect and recognition. As a lay person not from the profession the poster boys of the profession are litigating lawyers like Palkhiwala, Nariman, Salve, Dorabjee and Jethmalani. Courts are a difficult but compulsory experience for all people and you as the key in your circle begin to enjoy much respect for them. Lawyers are defenders of rights and fight prolonged battles for clients with religious zeal. It is for this reason that this profession besides that of Doctors is so respected. And a litigating lawyer alone gets the advantage of being a Vakil Sahib.
What are the milestones in this profession?
Fresh off the boat from law school you usually tend to join the chamber an established lawyer. The lawyer which you work with is called your Senior and you his/her Junior. The selection of a senior must be a very intelligent and diligent process. Your pedigree and learning of basics is largely dependent on which chamber you select. Here you learn the ropes of the trade. Over time your fledging practice becomes flourishing and you open your chamber, gratefully leaving your Senior’s chamber. This is a great moment in your life and in the profession this is called becoming independent. Over time your chamber grows and you yourself hire many juniors, secretaries Court clerks and support staff.
At least a decade into the profession when and if your perceived to be an established and learned figure at the court, especially the High or the Supreme Court, the Court may designate you as a Senior Advocate.? Senior Advocates enjoy at least State if not national eminence and your name is usually considered by all clients in the allocation of important cases in the court /tribunal you frequent. This is the tipping point of your career and it is not unusual to see tax returns of seniors stepping from to Crores. You gain prestige in court and you are considered to have arrived in the profession.
There are two important career decisions a lawyer makes irrespective of becoming a Senior or not. The person. The first is that do you want to migrate or extend your practice to the Supreme Court at Delhi. This is a difficult, expensive and ardous decision but if it works and you hit it off, you become a national figure. Even if you do not get national eminence, your bank manager treats you no short of a seven star celebrity for the eight figure deposits in your bank accounts.
The second decision which you have got to make is that you wish to give arguing and listen to arguments by becoming a judge. An established lawyer is considered by the Court for the position of becoming a judge and he/she is elevated from the Bar to the Bench. Direct elevations happen to the High Court and Supreme Court at an average of twenty year’s practice. Most judges debut at the High Court and the journey can culminate into becoming the Chief Justice of India. You are appointed directly by the President of India and enjoy eminence and respect any day much more than even a IAS officer.
The Judiciary is the custodian of public trust in the country and for all its shortcomings, the Higher Indian Judiciary is recognized to be one of the most powerful, activist and respected in the world. Alternatively if you do not wish to surrender the gift of your baritone and are slightly politically savy you can be considered for the posts of Attorney and Solicitor General of India, their Assistant and Additional variants and at the level of the State the Advocate General.
Always remember if you are looking to become the Chief Justice of India or the country’s next Attorney General you can only do it only through the route of a litigating lawyer.
Are Courts a safe place for women?
Yes and No. If you are a bold independent, intelligent , professional and confident, then yes. Usually the Higher Courts, the High and Supreme Courts have a better environment, which is not to say that women do not practice in Civil and lower courts.
It is true that the profession was long dominated by men but gender equality has made significant steps. Personages like Indu Malhotra, Gyan Sudha Mishra , Nalini Chidambaram are global figures.
Do I have it in me to become a litigator?
You must have often imagined a lawyer arguing. Yes good oratory and communications skills are extremely important. But the most important skill for a practicing lawyer is listening. You should have the gifts of listening your client, appreciating your adversarys argument (so you can better counter it, and grasp the essence of the judge’s question. Reading happens in tonnes and if you have an eye for the details, presence of mind, ability to think on your feet and the gift of the pen as much as the gab, Welcome, the courts are wait