Updated: Jul 31
Being a first-generation lawyer and even no legal background remotely too, it was very difficult for me to start a practice in a small town like Bharuch in the State of Gujarat in the last phase of the year-1989. Though, it was a District place, but some known lawyers of the District have already established their very good practice on Civil and Criminal side. I joined the chambers of very well known Advocate on a Criminal side, who is also a first-generation lawyer and struggled a lot to succeed in the field at the District Court level.
I encountered the first hurdle of the language barrier, as my entire study up to Three Years LL.B Course was in Gujarati Medium. Although, before the lower courts, recording of evidence and even arguments are allowed in vernacular and many advocates used to address the Court in vernacular (today also), however, without getting a grip over the English Language, one cannot succeed completely and satisfactorily, as all the Acts and Laws are in English and interpretation of the law as well as the construction of documents is found more suitable in English (for the purpose of explaining to the court), barring few examples. Hence, it takes almost 5 to 7 years to cross this hurdle, as I realized that merely legal English would not be sufficient, but one has to understand the full language perspective by a holistic approach.
Apart from the language barrier, another difficulty I found – how to deal with clients. Though in the initial years one may hardly get one or two clients in a month, but many would come to you to take your free advice/opinion, as they know, you would be very enthusiastic to give them freely. Some also come to test your knowledge. But one has to entertain them to make a repo.
Besides, in the initial years, one has to accept the case on any subject, if s/he wants to occupy in litigation. More particularly, in most of the District Places, there are no opportunities of specialization, as you don’t get sufficient work, if you choose to practice only on a particular subject. In Metros, you may find much more expertise and specialized lawyers of a particular field or subject, but in smaller places, everyone is doing everything. Even, I have seen this at the High Court level too, especially in Gujarat High Court, when I shifted to Ahmedabad after practicing at the District Court up to 15 years, I found that in the High Court too, the specialized lawyers in a particular subject is hardly one percent. Most of the Advocates used to take all kinds of cases, which come to them. Specialization would be limited to the field of Taxation or Company matters, otherwise, all are doing multifaceted practice.
The moral is: one has to be all-rounder, if he begins his/her practice at smaller cities/towns other than metros. And the reality is: we being a litigation lawyer cannot decide: on which side we will practice, but clients would decide, as they come with the cases and they determine your fate. Because, ultimately the cases, which you conduct in your earlier days and if you are successful or even if your performance is good initially, then, that will shape your career on a particular side. No doubt, again, if you are in Metros, you can very well choose your specialized subject and can work on it with a specified chamber, but if you are not in Metros, one has to take up a brief/case, which naturally comes to him on any day at any time and one has to work on it with his/her full potentiality.
Additionally, in litigation, one is required to engage himself/herself in courts, even though, one may not have any cash on hand, because court craft is such that one can learn and re-learn only after attending the courts. To get success in courts, one has to understand, how courts work, more importantly, how judges see the case and what is their opinions on different aspects of the case. Everybody in this profession knows Law, but facts always vary from case to case and so, each court primarily more interested in facts of the case then application of law. Hence, one is required to learn – how to master the facts and then, how to present it in a lucid manner. In law schools, now, they teach storytelling – in moot courts that train the students/mooters that how to begin, because the judge must get interested, when you start saying/addressing him/her.
Litigation, thus, has many facets, and sometimes, the first thing that comes to the mind of a new entrant is: Which Court would be ideal to start practice? Answers are not easy, but I am trying, according to my experience. If we look at the lower courts [though, now the use of ‘lower’ courts is not found favor with the Karnataka High Court, which said: no court is a lower or subordinate court, each court is a court in their own way, so, we should not address it as ‘lower’ or subordinate court, but here I have referred it lower courts is only to understand the hierarchy and not in any other way] i.e. up to District Court level, they are having original jurisdiction and so, normally they are known as courts of facts, where evidence is to be led or adduced. The strategy is required to be chocked up at the courts of this original jurisdiction. Whereas the higher courts are more concerned with law, interpretation of law and so, they work on principles. High Courts and Supreme Court do also have large writ jurisdiction powers and constitutional matters directly addressed to them in addition to appellate and supervisory jurisdiction.
However, my experience says: if in the initial stage of practice, if one starts practice at the High Court by keeping eye on the lower courts, s/he will have double advantages. Understanding the analysis of the facts and learning of interpretation of law. However, begin with High Court practice does not mean not to go to the lower courts at all, as one is required to take up the case at the lower court too, if it comes to him/her, as it is very much necessary to learn the drafting of pleadings before the civil and criminal courts and also to understand the filing procedure at the lower courts and then, production of documents and cross-examination, etc., as and when one gets the opportunity.
Hence, my suggestion would be: keep your feet at the High Court and keep an eye on the subordinate courts with a view to learn both – how to construe documents and how to interpret the law. Then, in the future, even if one wishes to go to Supreme Court, by then, fundamentals would be clear, and then it would be smooth sailing rather directly begin practice at the Supreme Court without any roots.
[Advocate practicing at the High Court of Gujarat and Visiting Faculty at the Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad]