When I was a raw junior in the profession, I was best acquainted with one part of the High Court. Its corridors.
No cases to work on, draft or argue; no chambers to attend (my father had kicked me out of his chambers within 2 months of my enrolment: something to do with my insufferable arrogance, he said later) and no one there to guide me.
This is the bane of our profession. When we have the most energy, we have the least to do, at least officially.
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Imagine yourself fresh out of law school and without uncles, parents or family friends to sponsor you through those first awkward years in Court. No Senior whom you know, no chambers to attend since you do not have the proper references and those who are willing to take you without references being slave drivers or worse.
Yet every morning you have to dress up and come to Court, somehow spend those hours until recess when you can have a lonely lunch – or nothing but water, depending upon the depth of your purse – and then on again till its 4:30 PM and the Court day is over.
What do you do in the evening? What answer do you give to your parents, who have borne you tirelessly and uncomplainingly for 23 or 24 years, and now expect you to be at least self-sufficient since you are licensed to practise law?
You start getting angry with yourself and curse the day that made you take the black gown instead of the easier academic ways to well-paid jobs.
We have all gone through these dies irae. Some of us have survived. This is a story of that survival. The things that we can do – and most of us did – to walk from nothingness to nowhere.
In every court – room, whether you have a case or not, some case is going on. An advocate is making submissions, an Hon’ble Judge is listening to him and asking questions and precedents are being cited.
The first trick that a lawyer learns and which sets him apart from the layman is comprehending what is being said – both by lawyers and the judges. The first time you hear arguments, possibly from the back of the Court all you can hear are indistinct mumbles in accents that hardly qualify as English.
The trick is to stand on one of the sides of the Bar, where you are at the apex of an isosceles triangle, the equal sides of which form an acute angle with the Judge as well as the submitting lawyer. You can watch both their faces.
So when they speak, you can hear them clearly and when you cannot you can make out the words by the movement of the lips. So the first thing that you do, to dispel boredom, is to attend the Court rooms, regardless of your level of unemployment, and follow what is being said. This will be a gainful use of the time.
The second thing that we did was to become absolutely familiar with every nook, corner, cranny, spiral staircase and niche of the buildings themselves. Though I do not recommend this for you, as a heavy smoker, I made it a point to discover the ideal places where I could smoke without fear of detection.
Such private spaces or places where very few venture proved in later days, to be useful for other purposes as well. In between watching cases and boldly go where thousands of youngsters like you have gone before, you will find time has done what it does best – flown.
You need private spaces for another thing; day-dream.
To dream of that perfect argument that you would make before the toughest Judge to such effect that he would tap on the table in front of him with a sharp pen and when the Court Officer rose to ascertain his pleasure, he would whisper audibly, “Ask the boy what his full name is” and then he will address you by your surname every time you argue before him.
To dream, I am sure, of the awestruck nubile junior lawyers of a particular gender, who would hang on every word of yours from after that dream argument, and admire every move you made. Such are the stuff that dreams of young lawyers are made of. At least they used to be in my youth.
Now perhaps you will dream of a Jaguar that you will buy from your first year’s earnings, the apartment that you will take with a fantastic view…you get the drift. You need somewhere secluded to dream. You will find it, if you search the Court building hard enough. It will fill up your time.
Time hangs heavy at lunch when you have little money. Perhaps you still take money from your parents, though are ashamed to do so. Perhaps you are thinking of tutoring law students for a small fee to earn your pocket money.
At any rate you need your daily bus fare to and fro, some money for cigarettes or whatever addiction you prefer, at the very least a cup of tea now and then, and some money for lunch. The worst time to be down and out is when you are hungry and its lunch time in Court.
I have a few sovereign remedies for it: first, drink a lot of water. Thankfully, these days the High Court abounds with filtered water dispensers both chilled and normal. Invest in a cheap cake that costs around five rupees or so, if you can afford it.
If you cannot, just order a cup of tea from the High Court staff cooperative society canteen on the first floor. It is hot, very strong and almost burns off the lining of your liver, so you do not feel like eating at all. It will be do until you go home.
There is always our study. On the second floor, the last room on one side of the quadrangular corridor, it has a good collection of reference and text books including a complete set of the 4th Edition of Halsbury’s Laws of England, which you can go through at your leisure. It has most of the journals we use in the High Court too so you can keep yourself updated.
If every day you can do a little of each of the things I have written about, you will find that your Court day has flown, if not on golden wings, at least pleasantly. Just grit your teeth and carry on.
My juniors tell me that this article started with misery, became more miserable as it went on, and ends on a pathetically miserable note. They say that I should write something that approximates a happy ending.
I am sorry, fellow students of law. There are no happy endings in a lawyer’s life. There are only days when you have work and days when you don’t.
You start out with idealism, and then you become successful and need money to fuel your lifestyle and soon you are doing cases which get you the fees that you need and in the end you recognize ideals when you see them in the eyes of a young lawyer; your own eyes have lost that gleam long since.
Mr. Protik Prokash Banerji, popularly called Protik da by law students is an advocate at the Kolkata HC. Interning at his chambers is an experience of a life time. People who learn drafting and oratory skills from him swear by the excellent teacher he is. He talks about movies and literature as authoritatively as he talks on law and wrote on such subjects for the Economic Times in 1994-1995. Presently Protik Da is the Junior Standing Counsel, Govt of West Bengal, HC at Calcutta.
Image from here.