Bar & Bench spoke to lawyers from across India - both senior and junior - to find out how much (if at all) litigating lawyers pay their juniors. What are the trends and practices across different cities? How do some lawyers justify not paying their juniors?
The second part of this series takes us to Mumbai, the commercial capital of the country.
In contrast to Delhi, Mumbai adopts the pupillage system, where opportunity to work and learn from a senior gets priority over payment.
However, there are lawyers in the Maximum City who are of the opinion that junior lawyers must be paid, and paid well, in line with the recent statement of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud.
One of the veterans in the Mumbai legal scene, Senior Advocate Rafique Dada, disagrees with the CJI and underpins an “unsaid rule” of counsel practice in the city.
“With all due respect to our CJI, I do not agree with his statement. Many of my juniors have gone to the bench now and have retired. Juniors are not servants, they are associates. Your job is to get them an opportunity. I obviously was not going to beg for a brief for my junior. It is also degrading for the junior to be handed a brief,” he said.
Dada highlighted a system of counsel practice where a junior was entitled to charge half or two-thirds of what the senior charges.
“Of course, with the kind of hefty amounts that are charged by seniors, juniors may not be entitled to such amounts. However, that is an unsaid rule. Handing over briefs to your own juniors also takes away fair opportunities, which a junior of another senior may have received. One can only maintain dignity and hope and pray that your junior gets some work,” he added.
A senior counsel fixing an amount for a junior was patronising, said Dada, who added that it was the senior's responsibility to get briefs for juniors, an exercise to be carried out tactfully and with finesse.
“My senior (EG Vahanvati) never gave me any money. But I worked under him for five years and then worked as a part-time professor at Government Law College, Mumbai. There are ways to keep yourself going. What CJI Chandrachud meant was to address the issues that juniors face - some include what he or she can do and where he or she can work,” Dada pointed out.
Senior Advocate Gayatri Singh agreed with the CJI’s statement that seniors do not pay their juniors well, and insisted that the latter ought to be remunerated for the kind of work they do.
“Also, it is not that they are doing such work only for a few months. They continue working with you for years, so they should be paid,” she said.
Juniors at Singh's office start off with a basic minimum pay, and when they have picked up after a year, clients pay them directly.
“So over and above the monthly payment, they earn from clients too,” added Singh.
Juniors should be fairly remunerated as they also work overtime, often more than the senior, Singh pointed out.
A young junior in a city like Mumbai is often required to stay in office well into the night, doing tedious amounts of work, sometimes with limited resources, Singh said.
“Parents do not or may not be able to support them and they may be staying in rented places, which is expensive in a city like Mumbai. So without food, travel allowance and rent to be paid, most juniors may be living with a hand to mouth experience."
She remembered working with Senior Advocate Indira Jaising earlier in her career and having the freedom to take up cases on her own.
“She was very fair. I was allowed to do my own work, there was no control in terms of what I was doing. In most firms, you cannot take up your own cases, and you have to do what is given to you, so that way I had freedom. But yes, there was no fixed salary,” Singh recollected.
In the opinion of Senior Advocate Amit Desai, chambers in Mumbai open their doors to the next generation of youngsters to develop and grow by working with seniors and getting reference briefs.
In addition to giving them experience and referrals, Desai underlined, juniors should be supported financially till they reach a stage where they can sustain themselves.
“The gestation period when junior lawyers start their careers in big cities is long. Therefore, the key question is how do you ensure that the talent pool remains in the legal profession?” said Desai.
According to the senior counsel, a fresher joining a chambers should be paid a minimum of ₹30-50,000 a month towards sustenance.
“These juniors often travel far and wide, coming from far suburbs of Mumbai or even other parts of the country. They don’t have much support in Bombay. The chambers have to give them the inspiration that even they can make it in this profession and that they don’t need to leave the city or the profession - they should be reminded that their talent is recognised and appreciated,” he said.
Desai underlined that supporting these juniors can also potentially strengthen the judiciary, as they can aspire to join the Bench.
“So, if these lawyers are supported, then there will be a strong and capable judiciary filled with people of integrity. This will ultimately help protect the country’s constitutional values, the rule of law and democracy,” he pointed out.
The Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa has in fact been advocating for emoluments to junior lawyers since 1985.
Senior Advocate Milind Sathe, who pays his juniors, noted that an individual of about 24-25 years of age may find it embarrassing to ask for sustenance from their parents.
“In a lighter vein, the lawyer also doesn’t have to worry as payment to juniors is a revenue expenditure. It is tax saving. There is no reason for the juniors to not be paid," he said.
Former Maharashtra Advocate General Ravi Kadam, on the other hand, said that a junior in Mumbai is free to take up their own matters and is not bound by the cases handled by seniors.
A junior lawyer putting in efforts would be rewarded, as the senior would ensure that the fees come from the attorney’s office directly.
“I may pass on briefs and may even give stipends. However, this is a pupillage system. A junior is part of the family. Paying them salaries would be a burden on them, because they will be tied to the senior,” he said.
Practicing in Mumbai offers an experience in “mentorship” and “pupillage” in Advocate Malhar Zatakia’s opinion. He works in Kadam's chambers where office space, resources such as books, commentaries and the opportunity to draft a brief — eventually settled by the sharpest legal minds — were some of the key highlights.
“As a junior to Mr Kadam, I have been introduced to various law firms. He does not pay, but gives me several opportunities. But that is part of the training process,” he added.
Another senior lawyer, interestingly, distinguished the nature of emoluments in Delhi and Mumbai, as being “two schools of thought.”
According to Senior Advocate Venkatesh Dhond, the Delhi school of thought shows that a junior is employed with the senior, paid a salary and can only can work with the senior and no one else.
However, in Mumbai a junior “may or may not” be paid, he said.
“But the junior is given a chance. The junior gets a chance and credit (in cases). The senior ensures that the junior gets briefs and they can go independent as and when they want. What some seniors do is they do not pay their junior at all, but the junior gets exposure and a platform to showcase skills before the attorney and the judge,” added Dhond.
The “gestation period” takes about five years before a junior lawyer starts to make money, said Dhond.
“If you cannot wait for this long, then join a law firm,” he maintained.
For Advocate Rashmin Khandekar, “too much” has been made of the gestation period.
“This is the expectation not only of most seniors, but most solicitor firms as well. Hard work, which is an absolute prerequisite, should not be misunderstood as ‘hard work for free’,” said Khandekar, who worked with Dhond.
Advocate Sonal underscored the city’s tradition of seniors not paying juniors, barring a few exceptions, but said that seniors enable their juniors to get work and opportunities to earn.
"Also, many seniors do compensate their juniors who have ably assisted them in particular matters. But the system has ensured that only the well-heeled can sustain counsel practice and needs to be relooked at in order to groom a diverse and equitable Bar including first generation lawyers, women lawyers and lawyers from outside Mumbai,” she suggested.
Advocate Prateek Seksaria, who worked with Senior Advocate Pravin Samdani, said that the pupillage system was inherited from the British era.
“The statement by CJI Chandrachud is not applicable to Mumbai,” he said.
Senior Advocate Sharan Jagtiani, who worked with Senior Advocate Janak Dwarkadas, outlined Mumbai’s “thriving” tradition of counsel chambers.
“My senior, Janak Dwarkadas always treated us as independent professionals. That encouraged attorneys and solicitors to see us that way too,” he said.
Advocate Ajinkya Udane, who practices in the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court of India, worked under Senior Advocate Anil Anturkar.
Udane said that there are times when juniors and interns are taken for granted, even by clients.
He pays ₹10,000 per month to his junior colleagues, in addition to travel and phone allowances, but acknowledges that the amount is less, based on his own earnings.
"Usually, the phone allowance is ₹500, which covers calls as well as the internet bills. For travel, I reimburse them based on bills. If they are travelling by train, I usually pay for the first-class pass. And, if the junior is a bit experienced, or his scope of work is wider, then this ₹10,000 increases. It goes up to ₹15,000 or 20,000,” he said.
Advocate Hamza Lakdawala, has worked with Senior Advocates Indira Jaising and Anand Grover in Mumbai and Delhi.
While fully endorsing the CJI’s statement, he suggested that juniors be given the freedom to work from home whenever possible and reasonable working hours in order to allow them to have a better work-life balance.
Lakdawala pointed out that most freshers practicing in Mumbai are not paid at all.
“If they are indeed paid, the stipend starts at around ₹5,000 a month. This is laughable. Nobody can survive in a city like Mumbai in ₹5,000.”
A way to iron out the issue, he said, was to fix lawyers’ remuneration at somewhere around ₹30,000 plus reimbursements for travel etc.
He added that he was paid a fixed amount even before he had received a degree in law.