Authored by: Ms. Heena Merchant, Lawyer at Infosys
Edited by: Shreya Agarwal
Since I was raised in a family of businessmen around me, being a lawyer was a distinct imagination. I only saw courtrooms in Hindi films where the only job of the judge seemed to be to reiterate the standard ‘dialogue’, “ORDER ORDER!” and the only job of the hero (the lawyer) of the film seemed to be to create a scene in the court room by shouting at the judge and trying to prove a point with any regard for or ‘due consideration’ to any existing points of law (one can’t help wondering what happened to Contempt proceedings!).
Needless to say, soon after having watched some of the famous law-related Bollywood movies, I started imagining myself wearing the stylish black lawyers’ robe with the sophisticated white band around the neck and appearing before the court with a fearless booming voice, presenting my case, with everyone- right from the silent spectators to the cranky judge- spellbound by my impressive monologue.
My grandfather’s dream of making one of his grandchildren a barrister at law (what you call LLB in India) came true and I was successful in completing the heavy degree in legal studies.
I often wondered and asked people what the famous abbreviation ‘LL.B’ stood for. Usually, even the best lawyers could not answer (not to my surprise). What was surprising, and pleasantly so, was when the answer to this famous question came from a non-lawyer. “LL.B. stands for Les Legum Bacchalaurus,” he told me with a look so condescending that I felt ashamed.
In my first year of study itself, I was taken by the concept of criminal law and later, as my knowledge about law improved, I developed an interest in Intellectual Property Rights by the end of the third year.
As a student I often visited various courts: the sessions court, the magistrate court, the high court, the tribunals. I was at the Debt Recovery Tribunal once and saw a woman wearing a dark pink top and white pants. The dress code for lawyers was defined in the Indian Advocates Act, just like our articles in the Constitution where free speech is provided for.
I couldn’t help questioning myself about why exactly this provision was required. Suppose this wasn’t mentioned- then would the judges wear pyjamas and the lawyers their tracks to comfortably give judgments/ argue in court? I think not.
Some years down the line- perhaps in the beginning of the year 2000 itself- came the big moment of my life: I had to choose whether or not/ which law firm I was to join. Pretty complicated that business was. Conventional law firms or independent lawyers who made juniors follow those holding files in their hands.
Five years of practice was considered just the beginning of your career. The conventional law firms would not pay the interns or some of them would pay you a stipend of Rs 1500 which was enough for your daily snacks.
To get into a law firm was a big task. I somehow managed through a reference. Worked with the top solicitor firms in Mumbai just near the Mumbai High court which was the old structure build by those who ruled our country for years and gave us telegraph as well.
The High court had some sophisticated lawyers with extremely good command over the English and well versed with the laws. As part of my first internship with the solicitors firm of 100 lawyers, my immediate boss told me to prepare a precipe, I wondered what is this word, is it Latin or English.
My senior being the most senior partner in the firm never spoon fed anyone. I was told to swim in the pool without a lifeguard. I was nervous did not know what is precipe. I was given two huge files called the Court file and the correspondence file, all arranged in the ascending order of date.
I started to look backwards to read the correspondence file and saw the precipe, it was merely a letter send to the Court for a copy of the order, but thanks to our profession one more word added to my aam janta English.
My senior called me in his cabin and told me “A good lawyer does not know the law but knows where to look for it” and asked me to scan through the huge in house library in the firm.
In the first week of my job, my boss 69 years then, a short old man with a memory so sharp that his generations would never ever require the memory plus tablets.
He remembered his first case, the opposing lawyer, the court room, the judge’s name, the order passed, and the date of arguments and so on, even the color of his clothes black and white which can never be forgotten. WOW, I was amazed because I could not even remember what I ate the previous day.
Here you go on the sandwich guy outside the Mumbai High Court, one of the best sandwich guys who have been captured by the media for selling the best sandwich in town, but not to forget the chaatwala.
I went for my first arbitration proceeding at the residence of a retired judge. I had heard of him during my studies and read his judgments, was highly excited, imagined him as a tall, sophisticated man with a hoarse voice, but it came as a surprise. We rang the doorbell; a small, old, shy, soft spoken person opened the door.
He was the retired judge. The proceeding began and he was on the list of the top two men who did not require chavanprash or memory plus. WOW again I was amazed with his tremendous knowledge and memory; I told myself “He is a renowned judge”. We proceeded back to office and I made the first MOM and drafted a letter to the client. Great beginning.
My internship came to end with this law firm in 3 months’ time, and beginning of another internship. Here I met the top most counsel of the High court a down to earth lawyer with brilliant knowledge. Here I was involved in Intellectual Property rights infringement and passing off cases.
My senior being a brilliant IP lawyer who knew the entire Act at the tip. This was my dream to be an IP lawyer. I worked for one year and moved to one of the top IP law firms and worked for 3 years on a full time basis as a junior lawyer. I knew the entire Trademarks Act on the tip of my tongue and was dealing with clients independently.
Here came the hindi movie villain who could lure lawyers with money and grab them to work for LPO industry.
I got lured and swayed towards the LPO industry, life changed from a lawyer running to Courts and interacting with the top legal counsel in the Mumbai high Court to in house lawyers only sitting in front of the screens with no knowledge of the Indian legal system.
My seniors were some of those who never tasted the Indian side of the legal experience, I thought of them as interns who need some guidance in life. But I got swayed with the lavish life that these corporates give you. I bought a house with the bonus that I earned there, but lost my individuality of being an IP lawyer that I dreamt of.
Message: Don’t get swayed and live your dream, achieve it.
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