Life of a young lawyer: what to expect, and what to do?

Recently, after a long time, we saw the Indian Lawyer Community holding strike for the cause of All the Advocates, on the real issues, the Burning issues: "Insurance, sitting places, chambers Medical, Stipend to young Adv, Housing Schemes for lawyers etc from Govt."- Ad verbatim extracted from the mass scale messages being circulated from the torch bearers of the Lawyers' Cause.

As a young Lawyer myself, I have been flooded with 4 emotions: Pride, Sadness, Hopelessness, and Anger.

This is an Article not about the Nationwide Lawyers' Strike per se, but about Life of a Young Lawyer, as I see it: the one who is harassed in chambers, scolded in courts, defrauded by clients, and paraded on roads during elections and such mass gatherings. I shall also try not only to explain the situation, and expose what really lies ahead for the benefit of Law Students and Fresh Graduates, but also try to offer some solutions- systematic changes.

Let me first begin by the 4 emotions: Pride, Sadness, Hopelessness, and Anger.

The 4 Emotions describing the true state of affairs of a life of a Young Advocate

1. Pride: One thing that the Lawyer Community does have is Unity, and the readiness of holding strikes. We work very hard, and while we may have ill will towards fellow Lawyers, we always show unity. Lawyers come together for causes, to help a fellow Lawyer against a rowdy client, a hot headed cop, or during times of a tragedy in the family of one. We sure do come together, and that's our biggest strength. In fact, I remember even seeing huge posters in Tis Hazari, bearing faces of Advocates who dare attended courts on a strike day, and were so labeled as a traitor to the likes of 'Vibhishan' or 'Jaichand'. True Story. I must confess, I also kind of liked the fact that even the worst of criminals fear Advocates, for if they become Rowdy/Violent, they'll be sent home on stretchers. It has so happened a few times in Karkardooma and Rohini Courts as well. On such occasions, I am proud of the fact that our seniors, our community is looking after the interests of the Lawyers in need.

2. Sadness: I think that the civilians/muggles will never understand the Life and struggles of a Lawyer. It's a thankless job, to say the least. I cannot help but feel dismayed that people will not think that Lawyers' Community even deserves these benefits. Why do they need Medical Insurance, why housing, why stipend, and all that? Well, because, the country runs on Law, and ours is the only community which facilitates that. When a person is most cornered in his Life, he comes to a Lawyer for help, and is sure glad to have his help. Not glad to pay him, but sure glad to have his help. When, post independence, the city of Delhi as we know it was being built, post independence, it was the Lawyers' Community who took the burden of executing, drafting, typing, processing millions of documents and applications, sitting without a roof, through years, in Tis Hazari, and that's what made Delhi Functional.
However, sadly this can never be understood by non lawyers, and that's what somewhat makes me sad. We were not the ones who manufactured profits for Delhi, but we sure did legitimize it.

3. Hopelessness: This Nationwide strike, to my short memory and experience, seems unprecedented; but why would the Government even take any interest in it? These issues of Lawyers' welfare have been floating for decades, with no result. I have personally seen the neglected conditions of Legal Departments of Government enterprises.. Nobody takes interest in the Law, or in doing things according to the book, or making Justice Delivery an efficient system, and surely the Government doesn't think the welfare of Lawyer Community is a Burning Issue. One one hand there are so many other big issues in the Nation - malnutrition, poverty, unemployment, defence deals, corruption, incorrigable neighbours, and on the other hand, we intend to make welfare of Lawyers an issue. I don't know whether in the bigger schemes of things that affect a nation, the issue of lawyers would take priority, but it certainly is not a glamorous issue. I have serious doubts whether the government would take huge leaps towards welfare of Lawyers. Even when Hitler was coming to power, and he was promising everything to everyone, he never promised anything to Lawyers.

4. Anger: My anger is not towards the Government: because they perhaps have other issues to deal with. My anger is also not towards clients: Because clients who try to defraud the Lawyers (believe me, clients defrauding the lawyers and not paying their fees, is a bigger issue than vice versa), end up defrauding themselves and their case. My anger is towards the senior/successful Advocates, who mistreat their juniors: and they're the overwhelming majority, not the rarity. In fact, a good senior, who teaches and pays well, is like a unicorn. I am an Advocate with 5 years' experience, and in my 5 years of practice and 5 years of internships during Law School, I only came to know of 4 Seniors/Successful Advocates who teach and pay well: Mr. Salman Khurshid, Mr. KTS Tulsi, Mr. Salil Kapoor, and Mr. Harish Salve. That's it. I'm not counting those Advocates/Firms who do pay well, but make you work for 14-16 hours. Let me tell you: that's ever more disgusting. Working for 14/16 hours? That's slavery.

But let me tell you about what the Senior/Successful Advocates think about a junior: "This person doesn't know anything, but is expected to know everything, he/she must not expect to be taught anything from me, should run around all day if I need him/her to. About Pay: He/she is so lucky, that despite him/her being worthless, is getting the chance/exposure of working with me. Plus, I was paid with derision when I was a Young Advocate. But, me being such a magnanimous person, I'll pay him/her Rs. 7000 (for a district Lawyer junior)/ Rs. 12000 (for a High Court Lawyer Junior)". Yes, you read that right. These figures may fluctuate a bit, even double, but still grossly insufficient. I also know of an instance, where a poor, fragile, young, hardworking Lawyer from outside Delhi, having had come here, working under a Successful Lady Advocate of High Court for more than a year, was not paid her last 3 months' salary when she left the office of the so called successful Lady Advocate. Such is the nature of Legal Profession with respect to Litigation.

Today, so many successful, powerful, Senior Advocates are marching on the streets, fighting for Lawyers' Community, and I'm proud of them. But I don't know how these 'Leaders' treat their own juniors. A senior colleague of mine told me once, that people would go to Places of Worship and do 'Seva' of cleaning shoes, sweeping floors, and all other such things, but would not even fetch their own glass of water at home. Such is the state of affairs here as well. India, if nothing else, is a nation of passing the buck, and whatever fallacy or lacuna we see in our lives or country as such, we pass the blame and responsibility to the 'Government'. Imagine you're a Junior Advocate in someone's chamber, earning Rs. 15000 per month for at least 70 hours' work a week, not taught anything by your senior, tormented by abuses, expected to work for free by friends and family, watching your senior make lacs of rupees a day, and then being paraded on the streets for a 'Strike', for a cause, which may never take precedence in nation bridled with poverty. Why can't the seniors simply pay more? I can understand that not every senior makes a lot, but at least those who do make enough, they should do it. Not as charity to us juniors but because we have earned it. The seniors need to realise that while they may know astronomically more than we do, and while we only draft simple applications, attend non effective hearings, do filings, but even these are essential to their practice, and all these seniors stand on the shoulders of all the underpaid juniors, and owe a great deal of success to us. The seniors perpetually live in the hangover of all the troubles they had when they were young advocates themselves, and think it's only just that they pass the baton of misery to their juniors. I heard Justice Badar Durrez once say in Delhi High Court, 'Jo jitna dabta hai, log usse utna hi dabate hain'. This is what happens to Junior Advocates as well. Some people may think I have gone overboard in criticism of senior/successful advocates, but I have not even addressed the Sexual Harassment of young female advocates, which I think demands a separate article altogether. It is such hostile conditions, that more than 60% of Law Graduates give up litigation altogether. Yes, you read that right. From my batch, when it was the first class (ice breaking session) of first year, 99% of students wished to become an Advocate. Now, entering into 5th year after graduation, it's less than 30%.

Now let me discuss the Stakeholders to this tragic state of affairs, and what they can do to make things better. Essentially, there are 4 parties: Law Students, Law Schools, Advocates, Bar Council.

Solutions: Many Masters, Many Steps

1. Law Students: If you are a Law Student, who posts on social media about how Law School has taken away your social life, let me tell you this: get over it. First of all, your 'Social Life' was never this good to begin with. Secondly, let me tell you something about Law Profession: It's for people who are serious about themselves, the society, and the nation; those who wish to be change makers in this world. Lawyers become the best Judges, the best Politicians, the best Debaters, and the best Social Activists.

Law is the back door entrance to all the major fields of whatever controls the society. A Lawyer is not unlike a Doctor, who saves lives. A Lawyer on a daily basis, tends to the people who are cornered in their lives, be it by an abusive husband, be it by a criminal, by a fraudulent transaction that took his life's savings, or a family property dispute that may make or break one's family. A person only comes to an Advocate when all other doors are closed; thus it is a Lawyer's fundamental duty to save the livelihood of his client. A Doctor saves Lives. A Lawyer protects a Person and his Livelihood. I have seen big empires and institutions fall because of incorrect legal advie. It is this burden you carry as a Lawyer, and thus you must be absolutely sure of your seriousness, your merit, your willingness to do hardwork, before you join a Law School. Otherwise, please don't waste a seat. Don't include 'boozing', smoking ganja, etc. in your daily schedule. I meet so many students in their final year of Law Course, and they don't even know the meaning of 'cognizable offence'. It's shameful. I did 11 internships in my 5 years of Law School, and still that was insufficient. So, the solution from your end is simply to become infinitely more serious, study hard, do as many internships as possible, read case files, attend court hearings, and enjoy the Law more than any supposed Social Life. Go be a change maker rather than the 'Life of a Party'. The thrill and high of arguing well in courtrooms is bigger than anything else.

2. Law Schools: Please stop hiring incompetent teachers just because they take less salary. So many incompetent teachers are hired because they take less salary, and then these young teachers jump the ship to greener pastures, or wait till they become old enough to get a comfortable salary, whilst simultaneously pursuing other degrees/ doctorate to upgrade their CVs. All these Law Schools and incompetent teachers need to understand that we understand their scam. I remember a teacher of my Law School, teaching IPC, who didn't even know the meaning of 'Censure' (as an exception to Section 499-Defamation), and she started explaining what is the meaning of 'Censor', and that too so poorly. Let me tell you some Laws about Law School Education, that will blow your mind:

a. Only a non profit institution (NGO) can open a Law School. Imagine that. Your Law School is technically being run by a non profit organisation.

b. When such an NGO applies to open a Law School, they have to first fill a form, and out of many particulars/requisites in that form, one is that there shall be a Court nearby, and that the Law School should have association with at least one Bar Association. Thus, the Lawmakers understood, that each Law student must have a continued relationship with Courtrooms and Lawyers throughout their 3/5 years of education. Mere academics would not suffice. But this doesn't happen. We only pass examinations by writing long answers in university examinations, by buying our dissertations, by bringing sponsorships to our college, and by getting fake internships certificates made from known Advocates. The Law School is opened where land is cheap, and a Law Student visits a Court when he wishes to have 'wonderful and cheap Biryani of High Court'. No Advocate comes to give any lecture in a Law School regularly, and the teacher giving lectures thinks that CPC is Takwani, and CrPC is Ratanlal & Dheerajlal. Good show.

c. There are actual regulations on the number of books in the Law School Library, the Library space, till when is it supposed to open, how many students can be seated in a classroom (it's 60), and so forth. To know it in detail, visit: http://www.barcouncilofindia.org/about/legaleducation/ education-rules-2008/, and also see Rules of Legal Education, Schedule III at http://www.barcouncilofindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/BCIRulesPartIV.pdf.

d. Each Law School is supposed to have a Legal Aid Centre, under the supervision of a Senior Faculty Member who may administer the Clinic run by the Final year students of the Institution in cooperation with the Legal Aid Authorities with list of voluntary lawyers and other Non- Government Organizations engaged in this. Does your Law School have such a Legal Aid centre, and not just as a decorative piece?

3. Advocates: The ones who are successful, simply need to pay more. They need to understand that while they may wish to work for 14-16 hours, it's because at the end of the day, it's their practice, it's their life, it's they who get to take home 90% of the money, and it's they who have chosen and glorified this lifestyle of working for so many hours. This does not need to be a norm.

Those who are Young Advocates, must seek satisfaction not only with money, but also in the knowledge that the Law Profession is a noble profession, and the one which is also partly social work. Young Advocates also need to tone down the attitude, and remove any thoughts that take them away from pure hard work. You need to first learn everything that the Office Clerk can teach you, then what the Senior can teach you, then what you can teach yourself from reading the files. A senior colleague of mine once told me, 'You must devour the files'. And that's what I tell all my juniors now. Devour the files. Also, if you're serious about Law, then persist. Though it's somewhat unsophisticated to put a number to it, but just for an understanding, let me tell you, it takes about 8 years for some success to come. Forget the luxuries of moot court of worrying only about law. Legal Profession is much more than that.

4. Bar Council: Just like the Bar Council has imposed restrictions on Advocates regarding no advertising, or not taking a 'share' in outcome of a case, it must also implement a Law on Minimum Wages for a Junior Advocate, with year wise increments. It's necessary. Somewhat shameful, but necessary. Secondly, the Bar Council needs to tighten its noose on Law Schools. Another important aspect on Law School Education pertaining to the Bar Council is that each year, the Bar Council is supposed to do inspection of a Law School. We must have seen that every year or so, the Law School is put on high alert, we are seated in our classrooms with fingers on our lips, the hallways are decorated like a bridal home, and the inspection squad comes and goes, after having 'High Tea' with the Law School Management, and we all know what transpires there. Do you know that In the Bar Council Inspection Manual, 2010, there is a provision that the Inspection Team must meet with the Students? The manual states:

"Students' views about the functioning of the Institution is very important. Some facilities that the Committee may initiate at the level of Bar Council of India for the betterment of professional education and the profession as a whole, may be discussed with the students, such as, holding of Inter College Moot court Competition, and then stage by stage organizing Inter‴┐ŻUniversity, Inter‴┐Żstate and National Contest. Similarly developing close connecting with District Bar Association and the High Court Advocates Associations for internship training, holding occasional training program and workshops by the State Bar Council concerned, linking the Institutions with the profession with more organized structure etc. can be discussed with students of the Institutions."

To my mind, this is the most important provision of The Bar Council Inspection Manual, and the one which is followed the least. If the Inspection Teams were to talk to the students at length, in confidence, surely the Law School would have done much better (not in terms of Balance Sheet, though).

We are all worthy of blame in these sorry state of affairs, and we all need to pitch in, roll up our sleeves, do better, work better, fight for our rights, and serve the society. Unless all the stakeholders do their part, the Law Fraternity will be the only one to realize that 'The Law is indeed a Noble Profession.'

 

Keshav Datta 
on 14 February 2019
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