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First Generation Litigator? So What?

Roshan Santhalia

After having completed my BA LL.B. (Hons) in 2011 and Masters in Criminal Justice in 2012, I started practicing at the Delhi High Court and the district courts. During the course of the five years spent in college, it was usual for us to sit down in our hostel rooms and discuss the merits and demerits of the various career options one could pursue after completing the law degree.

By the fourth or fifth year, most of the undergraduate students at my college were fairly clear as to whether they wanted to be a corporate lawyer, an IAS officer, an in-house counsel or an advocate practicing in the courts.

In the discussions that we had, it was clear that every career option was full of its own challenges and high points. One thing, however, which was consistent in almost all the discussions, was the fact that litigation as a career option was not really a feasible choice for first generation litigators having no family background in law.

Inevitably, all the discussions ended up castigating the current situation across the country, where nepotism was more than obvious. It was suggested that only the sons and daughters of judges/lawyers should take up litigation as a career option.

This trend has definitely not been great for the overall objective with which the relatively new law schools were set up, where the intention to promote bright and well trained students of law to take up litigation as a career was fairly clear. A constant repetition of the idea that only those who come from a family of lawyers could “make it” in litigation has only demotivated those very few who were not allured by the dreams of a cushy corporate job.

This repetitive thought has resulted in creation of an exaggerated perception, which if tested against actual numbers (especially in the post 2000 era), will turn out to be incorrect. The constant bickering of the perceived nepotism at the Bar only leads to the discouragement of a brilliant career option on the basis of a factor which is not even in the control of the aspiring law student.

What is indeed in the control of the aspiring law student is his ability to work hard, write, moot and ensure that he has the best possible command over the language and the law during the course of his law school and beyond. All of these qualities are a must in an aspiring litigator. Aspirants of litigation who have been clear right from the beginning about their wish of being a litigator have seldom failed. The Supreme Court of India and various High Courts like those in Delhi, Mumbai, Madras, Kolkata etc. are full of examples where first generation lawyers from law schools have done tremendously well.

The idea of my piece is not to dismiss the imbalance that exists in the litigation circle. I am a first generation litigator myself, struggling my way through the last eight years to setup some sort of practice at the courts in Delhi. While it will be safe to say that I have been able to establish some semblance of a practice and goodwill, clearly there is a long, long way to go. I have indeed seen my counterpart colleagues at the Bar having more opportunities and more attractive briefs to argue. But that only makes the entire equation a little more difficult for the first generation lawyers at best.

My father, who was instrumental in my taking up litigation practice rather than his business, always used to say that a person who ventures out into something in which he or she does not have a legacy, inevitably tends to put in that much more effort simply due to the joy of doing something different than what his predecessors did. First generation lawyers have to just put in that little bit of an extra effort. All the other rules of the game are the same for both lawyers having no family background, and the ones who do. Familiarity with judges and knowing the judge through family connections are all external factors which eventually don’t make much of a difference in the long run. One needs to trust and have faith in the neutrality of the erudite judges on the Bench a little more.

It is often seen that in the process of thinking and talking about the perceived nepotism at the Bar, one loses sight of what actually should be done in order to become a good litigator. I have sustained at the Bar for eight years now, which admittedly, is not a very long time in our profession. But on the basis of the limited experience that I have had at the Bar, I can safely say that a determined, hard-working and punctual lawyer will inevitably end up being a successful litigator, notwithstanding his being a first generation lawyer.

The profession demands a lot of reading of legal and non-legal text. It also requires immense amount of patience. But, the fact that one enjoys his/her work on a daily basis is reward enough to make all the sacrifices demanded by the profession. It is important for an individual to keep doing good work at the chambers of a Senior or while representing his/her own clients. Wait for the opportunities that will inevitably come, where you can show the skills and experience that you have gathered in all those years.

The author is an Advocate-on-Record at the Supreme Court of India.

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