It is tough to start an independent litigation practice, especially if you are a first-generation lawyer – Every lawyer ever.
Why is establishing an independent practice as a first-generation lawyer considered tough? Is it the truth or just a hoax popularised by the sitting lawyers to avoid competition. It is tough to make a statement with absolute certainty but there are challenges involved in this journey and there are no doubts on that.
There are many challenges involved in an independent litigation practice as a first-generation lawyer. Some of which are
You start from scratch: While starting as an independent litigation lawyer, you have no clients, no office, no money and no credibility in the courtroom. All of this is available before starting off if your family has an existing practice.
Income: Needless to say, when you start you independent practice, there will be little or no money. This does not mean there won’t be any inflow of money but the expenses will be more than the income. This happens in any venture, it takes a few months (or more) to break even. It is safe to assume that you might have to live off your savings for a year.
Work: When you are a new independent litigator, you do not have control over the work you receive. Also, since you will be searching for clients so anything that comes your way is a boon. So, you might have specialised in cross border mergers or venture capital or international humanitarian law but you will have to entertain clients with basic bail applications.
Infrastructure: To function well as an independent litigation lawyer, you need a few basic things such as an office (enough to accommodate you and four other people at once), a small library and legal database subscription, a law clerk and a few machines such as a computer, a printer and a photocopier etc. There has to be a systematic method implemented to handle bills and files. All this requires money, money which you are yet to earn from that practice.
Publicity: Since you cannot advertise in India as an advocate, you depend on your popularity and people to spread your name as a lawyer who is good at his work and people should approach him. This might not seem like a challenge on paper but once you start asking for money in return for your services, that 2000 members friend-list on facebook suddenly looks small.
These challenges are going to come inevitably and it hits almost everyone who goes down this road.
These are very common to everyone and as time passes, each of these challenges gets dealt with on their own. You must focus on being fully prepared before you enter the independent practice area. As a young junior working for an advocate, you MUST try and learn as much as you can to be able to handle issues independently.
Procedural laws: You might have heard most people saying that most of what you study in law school does not help you in the practical world. While that statement is up for debate, it is a fact that knowledge of procedural laws are a must for litigation. If you plan on becoming an independent litigator, you should spend an hour on Takwani and Kelkar brushing up your knowledge. Tomorrow when you are in an office, you’ll realise how useful this turned out for you.
Drafting: This is a deep sea. There is a lot to drafting that one must learn and yet there will be a lot left to be learnt. However, what you must learn before even becoming a junior is learning about the font size, paper type, spacing and margins involved in the submissions before different courts. Also, it is important to learn the format of the first page. If you do not ask for templates and figure these things out on your own, the senior will be impressed.
Standing out: When you don your black coat and gown, you are the centre of attracting at your home. Unfortunately, that is not the case when you are at court. There are potential clients all over at courts, especially at district courts. You need to stand out, dress crisp and have a graceful body language.
Basic terms and flow of suit: As a junior associate, it can be quite embarrassing to be in a position where you are not aware of what is filed after a rejoinder or what is rejoinder for that matter. These terms like rejoinder, reply, replication, caveat etc are commonly used terms and are a part of basic knowledge.
Whereabouts and knowhows of courts: Ask those who have just started practice in Delhi about how to reach the consumer court in Dwarka. Also, ask them about the costs of getting a document notarized. Which document goes to the oath commissioner and which goes to the notary? These are simple things and do not take long to know but can save you a lot of time, effort and frankly, from some major embarrassment in your office or worse (with a client).
Some additional advice for young litigators
Physical fitness: Litigation is a career which takes a toll on your body. If you are blessed with family money, you may own a car and travel may not be an issue but that will not save you from hours of standing on your feet in the courtroom, running between courtrooms etc. Ever been in Saket court with simultaneous cases on the first and fourth floor in the morning? Most senior advocates reflect stamina and fitness while arguing for hours in the courts that it shames the young bloods who search for chairs after 15 mins in the room. That comes with a disciplined life and fitness regime coupled with a balanced diet and fixed sleep schedule.
Litigation without enrollment: This applies to a very small subset of people but it affects them greatly. Students who graduate and do not have the degree at their disposal immediately (mostly campus hires) join offices and are given court work. According to the law, they are not allowed to appear in court for any client but this rule is flouted casually. While it may not cause you harm to seek a passover for your senior, it is a bad idea to argue on any matter without enrollment in the bar council. The worst thing you can do for yourself is LIE to a Judge when asked whether you are an advocate or an intern. If your senior at the office or the advocate you work for asks you to say that you’re an advocate if the judge asks, it is time to find a new office.
Stay hydrated: You must have interned in Delhi in the month of May. It is no picnic to wear a black coat and roam around in 47 degrees amidst pollution and smoke from cars. This does not change much for you unless you are working for someone who pays you well. It is important that you keep a bottle of water with you at all times since the availability of fresh drinking water is a problem and you cannot be buying water every time you need a sip.
Work is important, Food is more important: You are new at the office, you have a hunger to shoot to fame in no time and you want to impress your boss. You may be more than willing to skip meals or work during lunch hours to be noticed and even stay late at the office when not required. All of this is going to play with your health, you need proper nutrition to be a good litigator since it involves a lot of moving around. If you keep ditching food when your body needs it, you might find yourself being nostalgic in the memories of the long morning assembly in summers when your classmates used to faint one after another.
Litigation is tough and not everyone who enters makes a mark but it is the core essence of law. Weigh yourself before you decide to enter it and consider all your assets and liabilities before you decide. This will rule out the possibility of second thoughts in the way.
Once you have decided, do not leave any stone unturned.
Read the excerpt from Tanuj Kalia’s book ‘Law as a career’ on a career in litigation here.