The best lawyers have the ability to turn a case in their clients' favour with their impressive arguing skills and attention to detail. Their courtcraft demands the attention of judges they are arguing before and inspires the next generation of lawyers.
But how do they do it? What happens behind the scenes? What are their mantras for success?
In this series, Bar & Bench's Aamir Khan delves deeper into these aspects. Inside Legal Minds captures the inner workings of these lawyers through visual storytelling, from the point of preparing a brief to arguing it in court.
For this photo essay, we followed Senior Advocate Sidharth Luthra, who practices in the Supreme Court and other courts in the national capital.
On a sultry July evening, we meet Luthra at his Delhi office. The staircase of a three-storeyed building in the posh Defence Colony leads to the senior lawyer's capacious conference room on the first floor.
The frames mounted on the walls and those resting on the furniture demonstrate Luthra's proclivity for art. Some of the frames are of his family members.
Clad in a pair of stonewashed denims and a chequered, half-sleeved white shirt with salmon pink stripes, Luthra gears up for the multiple conferences lined up for the day.
One of the conferences is about a case of criminal negligence that resulted in casualties.
The team is seeking his legal advice in order to determine their next course of action. It is learnt that the other side has been relentless. Luthra carefully listens to the briefing counsel and examines where the case currently stands, before questioning the lawyers critically. He has been noting down and underlining relevant points for his record as he goes on examining the facts.
Another conference has a team from Mumbai briefing him. He asks for the previous order that was challenged in the case.
Amidst a serious legal discussion, Luthra shares a light moment with a team of lawyers.
"What else do we expect from you?" he quips when a briefing lawyer refers to the plea's "clever drafting".
The meeting lasts for about 20 minutes during which Luthra assures the lawyers of devising a legal strategy to extricate his client from the legal tangle.
"We have to just fight it out," he declares.
One conference follows another. A different set of lawyers enter his conference room with a bunch of files. They pull out a file from the deck and hand it over to Luthra, who wants to know the stage of the matter. He discusses how the case has progressed so far.
A party has joined Luthra's conference virtually. Luthra tells him,
"We can't have this lingering for no reason."
He asks the lawyers present in the room for the reply that has been filed in the case.
Luthra laments that the conferences haven't been running on schedule. On learning that the next conference will happen virtually again, he asks a briefing counsel to connect to the party.
"Late chal rahe hain. Jaldi karo (We are running late. Connect quickly)," demands Luthra.
Someone appears on the screen.
"Dada bhalo? (Big brother, how are you?)" Luthra waves at the person and greets him in Bengali.
The fact that the clients have not joined the investigation of what perhaps is an alleged case of a white-collar crime doesn't go down too well with Luthra, who refers to a page in the special leave petition.
The briefing lawyer on the laptop screen promises to take more instructions, only to be cautioned by Luthra metaphorically,
"Better take instructions because without this, we'd be dead."
The skies outside are grey when we meet Luthra again the next morning, this time at his home in Defence Colony. He is preparing for the day's legal battles in the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court.
Luthra begins reading the files at around 7:45 AM, scrutinising every minute detail. The hubbub from last evening's conferences is missing.
"Time is of essence to anybody as a professional," he begins. "So every night, I finish reading my files. In the morning, there's a finite amount of time before you are in court."
Until 2004, Luthra seldom slept owing to his work schedule. Upon being medically advised to sleep more, he goes to bed at 11 PM.
Acute memory and quick-wittedness are hallmarks many senior advocates showcase in court. We ask Luthra the secret behind his elephantine memory, which was noticeable during his conferences.
“Genetics,” he smiles, "You train yourself. You study your files with utmost sincerity. Working casually won’t work. Otherwise you have to work harder.”
“Discipline" and "concentration” are the two virtues he advocates for. The younger crop of lawyers, he observes, are too busy with their phones.
“The younger generation is distracted with social media. It hampers their concentration,” he says, clearing out his table.
An exquisitely painted ceramic tray of floral prints placed next time to him on his desk has fountain pens having black, blue, green and red ink. Each colour he uses indicates different things.
He pushes a piece of paper with his own notes scribbled on it to show how red indicates a point against his client or a highlighted portion. Green, on the other hand, means a fact in the client's favour, whereas blue and black are neutral markers.
The use of arrows in his notes denotes the link between two legal or factual circumstances of a case.
Luthra calls a briefing counsel who puts him on a conference with someone else. The inquiry is about some of the medical terminologies of the conditions his client is suffering from.
The lawyers promise him a call back with the details.
"There was something discussed in one of the conferences a couple of days ago. I had a query and something was written somewhere, which I can't find now. That's the point — when I'm very exhausted physically, my memory naturally won't be that clear," he points out.
The morning reading session lasts exactly for one-and-a-half hours.
That same day, we observed Luthra argue in three matters in the Supreme Court. In one case, while the opposing counsel made a high-pitched protestation, attracting the Court's brickbats, an unperturbed Luthra showcases a calm demeanour. He points out "twists and turns" to demonstrate the complexity of the case. He is interjected by his briefing counsel on the date of filing of the chargesheet.
"As I grow older, I need to be reminded," he quips, but corrects the counsel on the date of the chargesheet.
He places a law on the first informant's limited rights, only to be opposed by the Senior Advocate appearing for the first informant in a criminal case. Luthra is also quick to respond by referring to an overruling judgment placed on record by the opposing counsel.
Certain learnings from the legal stalwarts of previous generations have shaped Luthra's outlook in his journey as a lawyer. He emphasises that a lawyer should place every fact, even perhaps the poorest ones, before a judge.
“The judge needs to see that you're not shying away and failing to disclose facts. I learnt it from my father. Senior Nariman sahab also taught me this. That you should put forth every single fact, no matter how poor it is, and deal with it. Don’t be afraid,” he says.
"Chidiya ki aankh dekho. Uski body nahi (Focus on the eye of the bird, not it's body). You must know every fact, but you need to learn to balance. Especially in the Supreme Court, you need to look focus on the bird's eye, else you will miss the point," he suggests.
"There is no substitute to hard work," he concludes.