Author: Yash Dev Upadhyaya, Advocate Allahabad High Court
I completed one year in the legal profession as a litigator at the Allahabad High Court Principal Bench, Uttar Pradesh, in March, and this has been the most challenging and amazing experience. From the perspective of a budding lawyer, I would like to list certain takeaways that I think are imperative to imbibe and practice, which we are oblivious of until we enter the profession.
1. Courtroom Etiquettes
Yes, I know we have all studied ‘Professional Ethics’ in law school where we are taught about principles of morality and the duties we owe towards the society at large as officers of the Court. However, what we are usually not fully told and what plays a crucial role once we enter the profession are the ‘Courtroom Etiquettes’, which we confront once we enter the profession.
For example, you ought not to cross your legs while sitting in the courtroom (well yes, I learned that the hard way), secondly, when arguing a case, you should know what ‘not’ to say and ‘when to stop’, as we should conform when asked to stop by the bench and that too immediately. But, at times reiterating arguments, though with dimensional differences, could also help, though with caution.
Other things like your robes, demeanor, respect and modesty towards fellow learned friends, exhibiting perseverance before the bench, being respectful towards the court staff, crossing the courtroom with a small bowing gesture if at all you need to be on the other side (yes you can’t just run around inside the courtroom), bowing before the bench whenever you enter or are leaving the courtroom etcetera, all form a very important part of Professional Ethics.
2. Preparation and Luck (*two knocks on the table* Any Frank Underwood fans here?)
Meticulous preparation of your case is an extremely important part of practising law. Though in a very short period, I have seriously learned that ‘No counsel can be better than his case’. Be ready with precedents and customs backed by laws in support of your case and your arguments, all of which help you sail across.
Drafting the case is an extremely vital aspect of the profession. Just like court-craft, drafting also comes with time, and both make you stand out and catalyze your climb as they are quite rare skills.
We may assume that the bench doesn’t have time to read each and every file as it deals with hundreds of cases every day, however, it is to the contrary, the judges do read them and are also quite often generous to appreciate the drafting and presentation of the case file (yes, I learned and experienced this first hand too, not the hard way though).
I think networking is an essential, irrespective of what field you are in, and similarly, it is an integral part of the legal profession as well. It expands your opportunities, plays a major role in self-growth, and makes you visible in this vast profession, which is a challenge in itself.
One of the best things about the profession is that you can sit in any courtroom and listen to any proceedings you want, this way you can interact with various lawyers, ask them about their cases, seek the help of senior lawyers regarding your case, commend someone if you liked how they argued, ask them for guidance and much more. This acts as a boon in the long run.
5. Client Relations
Again a very important aspect of the profession. This might not seem so important when we read and study about them in law school, but when a distressed person comes to you with his/her case, they put their trust in you, hoping that you can get them the relief they deserve, which is a very sacred duty cast on us.
Client dealing is not something that you can learn overnight. Clients come in various hues and it can take a couple of years to understand the entire spectrum. Therefore, a budding lawyer needs to closely observe client dealings as it is a practical exercise and one gets better with time and experience. I have been taught to see ‘what’ and ‘how’ maximum relief can be availed for the client because that is what matters ultimately.
Value vis-a-vis quantum of the advocate fee varies subjectively from client to client, and especially in a developing country like ours with rampant illiteracy, we as legal professionals must bear an onus to do the right. In this profession, public opinion can either make you or break you, so tread carefully. To conclude I would say that hard work never goes unpaid.
6. Financial Expectations
This one isn’t pretty but if you are planning on being a litigator, be prepared to ride a bumpy road. There have been various outcries regarding basic wages for the budding lawyers, which I think is a bit of a futuristic expectation. The legal profession is extremely demanding.
My father says that it is not easy to carve a niche as the competition is cut-throat. This is one of the most, if not the most competitive profession, with the law schools around the country churning out close to 10 Lakh lawyers annually, out of which a majority enter the legal profession, without any promise of even minimum wages, which are required to atleast sustain oneself.
Recently the Allahabad High Court and other courts across the country witnessed agitations regarding the same issue, but to no avail, yet. This is a very serious matter and it has been gaining momentum and I am hopeful of a political will in the country for a viable solution to this. But until then, let’s just stick to Nescafe over Starbucks?
The Profession of Law demands grind, deftness and discipline; however, it can be one of the rewarding fields if one is resilient. I, for one, am eagerly looking forward to the presentments that await me in this profession.
Read the chapter on litigation as a career from Tanuj Kalia’s book.