The following is an excerpt of a conversation that was held between our correspondent and a senior lawyer whose name has been withheld on purpose to comply with a particular rule of the Bar Council of India (BCI) formulated under the Advocates Act of 1961.
To give the entire transcript a swift flow, the lawyer has been christened as ‘Law’ and the correspondent would be christened as ‘Me’.
Famous for his unconventional tactics and slightly unorthodox style of approach, the charismatic veteran initiated the interview in a very convincing fashion.
Law: Let’s get the obvious things out of the way here. A legal profession is one of the best professions in the world. There is always a sense of satisfaction and a feeling of gratitude towards the society in this profession. It is recommended for every individual who has the capacity to shoulder responsibilities and a conscience to feel empathy. It is not just a profession where you practice what you learn or learn with practice, but it is a profession where it is obligatory to emulate high sense of honour and uphold noble conduct. It is because of the harbingers of the law of a land that prevents it from getting engulfed in anarchy. Like the cleaving of a diamond, a lawyer has to undergo many tribulations that would really test the mettle and subsequently equip him/her for all the ordeals in the future. It is expected of the lawyer to be well-versed in human nature and the complications of various relations. Being agile and sharp is one thing, but being familiar with the most contriving minds and the motives of their actions is what differentiates an astute from others. So yes, even if we are responsible for upholding the general moral code of the society, there are instances of nefarious conduct that needs to be addressed at the institutional level itself. It is up to the practitioners to ensure that people never lose their trust on the law of the land.
(He noticed me roving through my pages)
Law: I think I have answered quite a few questions of yours.
Law: Lesson 1, A Lawyer is not expected to know all the answers, but is expected to know the next question.
The current scenario of the legal industry in India is quite promising. With the growth projected at more than 40% per annum, India, the largest recipient of project-driven foreign direct investment, is directly reliant on the Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO) industry. However, if we consider the traditional scheme of things, fresh graduates easily lean towards serving the corporate clients or the domestic legal services.
Me: Will the presence of foreign firms bring any massive disruptions in the Indian legal scenario?
Law: Well, the other way of seeing it is, whether the entry of Indian litigators in the global scene make a drastic effect in the global legal industry, the way it has been observed with BPO and KPO. If we see the US sector, there has been quite a shift in the usage of less expensive resources, including talent. Even though the Indian government has given its consent for the entry of foreign firms in the Indian legal fraternity, the domestic cartels have expressed their inhibitions in involving themselves with their foreign counterparts. Yet, we can see many of them benefitting from their mutual understanding with the foreign firms through constant interactions and sharing of resources. Eventually, all that matters is job security to millions of livelihood entwined with the legal industry of the country and better dissemination of justice to the lay people. There is no harm in getting a share of the $20 billion that is generated from the global annual trade in legal services.
Me: Any words for the freshly sprouted lawyers?
Law: Get ready to toil. Honour the oath of a lawyer and keep high regards for the law of the land. For the first-generation, financially self-dependent, ill-networked lawyers, it is better to swallow pride and accept the long and arduous struggle to stability. In the initial days of practice, any kind of remunerations that helps sustain a meager livelihood should be considered as a blessing. With little or no exposure to court proceedings, the onus is on these fresh graduates to develop an inquisitive attitude and absorb everything that comes in the way. An optimistic outlook will go a long way in surviving the initial turbulence.
It is better to be a protagonist in a small independent case than being a paltry figure in a mega money-spinner. At least the capital risk is low in case of any administrative gaffes. It is better to be an affordable lapse than being an irretrievable disaster.
The fresh graduates may not be entertained by any clients due to their inhibitions that stem from a popular prejudice that they are inexperienced. In that case, the best path to choose is to keep an update with all the current hearings in the court, go through oceans of case papers, and the void of inexperience should be abridged through these grueling efforts in study and research.
Another point to keep in mind is to aim for becoming a lawyer of international stature, but first, learn to champion the local cause and build up the tempo. Once the foundation is strong, there is little scope for crumbling down, ever.
Me: Any reforms that you eagerly look forward to?
Law: Well this is a shout out to all the corporate honchos out there. Don’t judge a litigator by the posh life style he/she lives. There is this popular perception that the success of a lawyer is judged by the car he/she drives, when it should be based on their success rate. Banking industry in the past was famous for enrolling the most swankiest lawyers. They were ready to enroll these lawyers if they were convinced that they did not need the work. However, thanks to the cut throat competition and lessons learnt from the recent recessions, things are looking quite promising for a real talent house.
Another big reform that would pump some new energy into the legal industry is the right to advertise. In some countries, it is quite common to see large hoardings of personal injury lawyers and ambulance chasers. A positive mandate over this would only give respite to the initial struggles that many freshers go through. However, if we look at the cross-argument, it is plausible that publicity could degrade the overall quality and the dignity of the profession. The biggest clause that needs to be administered in this regard is that the publicity should not mislead the general public and at the same time should not demean the contemporaries. In short, publicity mechanisms would give a huge boost to many lawyers, but it should not be at the cost of defiling the image of the noble profession. If a concrete policy is drafted, there should also be an elaborate consideration of the practice of ‘touting’.
So, on a closing note, it is a humble request for the practicing seniors to set a standard in the profession and be an example in the fraternity. Refrain from blindly following a baseless tradition, reimburse with at least the bare minimum and endow the message of pursuing brilliance through perseverance only, as it is the only viable option for long term stability.
The All India Bar Exam has gone a long way in setting a high threshold for entering the legal profession and the Bar Council of India should make all the possible amends in ensuring the delivery of the highest quality of legal education. The LLB degree should epitomize Intelligence, Nobility and Trust. It should be viewed at par with other premium professions, such as doctors and engineers. From where I come from, there is no existence of a bar exam, but to become a barrister, one needs to obtain a two year training contract with an established law firm. It is one of the reasons why there are so few British law graduates. However, I would prefer the American system.
One welcome reform that has been brought forward by the Honorable Supreme court is the end of the age bar. So, if a doctor turns into a lawyer, then he/she has a huge upper hand in medical lawsuits. Finally, bringing the legal industry under the ambit of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. It does kind of sound like stamping one’s own foot, but it would definitely make the lawyers more responsible towards their own liabilities.