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?
In the latest segment of the series, we spoke to lawyers from Gujarat to understand the dynamics of money paid to juniors. We found that seniors here are particular about paying those juniors who bring value to the table.
Interestingly, with the Gujarat High Court having only 54 designated Senior Advocates practicing, there's a fierce competition among junior advocates to join their chambers.
Senior Advocate Asim Pandya underlined that it takes for a junior fresh out of college to be of benefit to a senior.
“It depends after some time — six months or one year — a senior could realise how much they are useful to his office,” said Pandya.
His office sees to it that a junior earns a stipend in the initial six months up to a year, and once they have amassed the requisite experience, they receive a monthly compensation.
Pandya ensures that each individual junior advocate is engaged with at least one case, and are paid an adequate compensation.
A junior lawyer who joined his chambers a few months ago started with ₹20,000 upfront and additional ₹10k or ₹15k or ₹25k, depending on the nature of the case and assistance provided to Pandya.
He referred to the different policies adopted by different chambers in Ahmedabad and illustrated that a few big offices in the city pay huge amounts.
"But they don't allow them to practice independently," he pointed out.
Pandya knows one such office that pays a huge amount to its juniors.
“There, a junior fresh out of college starts with ₹75k per month but won’t be entitled to practice and is confined to look after the work of that senior only,” he said.
But working for Pandya can attract its own perks if you’ve shown your mettle. One of his juniors has been associated with his chamber for the last eight years and is currently earning over ₹1.5 lakh a month.
“I see to it that he gets per matter basis, so that he must be earning more than ₹1.5 lakh from my office plus his independent work,” said Pandya.
For someone who has authored five books, and amassed ample experience in the field of litigation, keeping abreast with the latest case laws is a high priority.
He also demarcated the initial payment by the senior to a junior as an incentive and not as salary, considering the “vast” difference in experience between the two.
“There is a gap of 20 years at least. So considering for the first six months or one year, it should be ₹10,000,” said Pandya, who currently has three juniors under him.
Though the Bar Council Rules outline a senior lawyer's duty towards a person who briefs them, Pandya argued,
“I think only 10% of the lawyers are paying good amount to the juniors. Most of them are not paying much.”
Juniors walking into the chambers of Senior Advocate Yatin Oza start with a stipend of ₹25,000, which he feels suffices to bring a smile on their faces.
Oza has devised two ways through which he compensates his juniors. One is of course paying them directly, and the other is through matters.
“I'm very happy to share that none of my juniors who have given more than two years of junior-ship in my office earn less than ₹2 lakh a month on their own in the matters that I give them,” he said.
He assigns a particular matter to a particular junior who enjoys expertise in the respective domain.
“Suppose a client comes for a service matter, it will be assigned to a particular junior. Similarly, a junior with experience in commercial domain will get a commercial matter. And clients with commercial matters can afford to pay well. But this is just to illustrate. I actually believe that if you want best of them to come out, you must keep them happy,” declared Oza.
Two new law graduates who joined his office a month ago earn ₹25,000 each, but he maintains that on the completion of two years, they would be inclined to go independent, besides having a monthly pay cheque of ₹2 lakh.
“You have to keep them happy. Not only the junior colleagues, but your office staff as well. I charge 10% per hearing for clerkage.
Now that goes to the entire staff, office peons, operators, PA (personal assistant), clerk. Clerkage doesn’t mean it would only go to the clerk. It'll go to the entire staff attached to the court with me in the office,” he explained.
He announces matter-of-factly that one has to follow "these basic things” but expresses “extreme unhappiness” over the existing tendency of paying juniors in Gujarat.
“I know offices paying ₹3,500, ₹5,000, ₹10,000 to most juniors. Alright you don't pay them more, but compensate them with cases. That is also not being done. It is really a very sorry state of affairs. You must countercheck also from our juniors,” he demanded.
He sees juniors working for no less than six hours a day without proper renumeration and wants them to live with dignity.
“If they feel that they want to go in a good restaurant and eat, they should not feel short of money. They must have that feeling of comfort that my senior pays me enough. I can live a decent life, if not luxurious,” suggested Oza.
Senior Advocate Percy Kavina has two juniors who work with him. He too gives them a fixed remuneration.
"But the one who does more work gets over and above some component from the fixed remuneration," he said.
Most seniors in Gujarat have a "back office” where they get clients through juniors.
"Like juniors will bring in clients and file the same on their vakalatnamas. Then they will quote the amount including the portion of the senior to the client. The senior will then argue the matter. So in a way, they are kind of employed by the juniors," he explained.
Kavina pointed out that the system of payment in the legal system was akin to any other profession and a capable junior who brought value to a senior's desk, should be rewarded.
"Similarly, a junior who works well, would know he is being exploited and would eventually ensure he doesn't. But yes, seniors are not exploiting juniors the way they are being exploited by the law firms," he added.
Advocate General for Gujarat and Senior Advocate Kamal Trivedi has had a long stint at the Bar, just like Kavina. He "firmly" believes that every senior must have a junior, who can be groomed well.
"And juniors must get a minimum of ₹1 to 2 lakh per year. Seniors should also try and give some portion of their fees to the juniors as this will only encourage the juniors to work more effectively," he said.
While he agreed that most juniors get work through references, Trivedi said seniors cannot go to colleges during placements like law firms.
"But yes, most seniors, I know are paying decently to the juniors. I myself have four juniors. I pay them from my pocket as I am an Advocate General. They get a fixed amount per month," he added.
Government pleader Manisha Lavkumar Shah - the only woman to be designated a Senior Advocate in the State - works along with three juniors and supports a “fixed and decent” amount for junior advocates.
"I make it a point to pay them some honorarium and given the fact that I am a government pleader, I have more of government work. So whatever private work I get, I give it to my juniors," she said.
She believes that juniors need to be taken proper care of, as the next generation of the legal fraternity must be groomed properly.
"So not only financially, they get to learn a lot from a senior. Like from doing research, drafting, marshalling facts, arguing and best part is ethics. So being under a senior they get not only money but even learn the basics of this profession. I therefore believe that we as seniors need to take their proper care and ensure they are paid well," opined Shah.
As per the practice in the Gujarat High Court, young seniors pay a part of their fees to the advocates-on-record (AORs). Older seniors outsource research and other work to law firms, said Shah.
"The reason is simple that the young seniors have too much of work while the older ones have less amount of work so they think why to keep a junior or an office? Thus, there is this competition among the juniors to work under some senior," she pointed out.
She stated that she always encourages her juniors and interns to even get into private practice.
"They must also understand that this isn't a resting place for them, but is a phase of their career and they need to move ahead. I believe that a junior who has worked under a senior would learn a lot and eventually will stand on their own feet and even get handsome pay," she added.
Advocate Manan Bhatt, who has worked with Pandya and a few others, started his independent practice in 2017 and remains associated with the senior’s chamber.
Recounting his initial days in the profession, he said,
"For the first six months, I didn't get any payment from seniors as I was interning. I used to do all clerical work, drafting bail applications, used to attend clients, mention cases in the court, prepare citations, assist seniors with notes and sometimes with arguments, but was not allowed to argue."
Back the, even the peons were getting ₹10,000 as a salary and the juniors were being paid only ₹2,500. But the scenario has changed a lot now, he claimed.
The norm of not paying juniors has started to change gradually, although the amount of money paid remains small.
"Earlier, we used to believe that it is upto you whether you want to continue in this profession or not. Only if you are helpful to the senior, you will get paid. You won't get paid for the first six months or a year. One should always fix this in their mind that seniors do not need anyone but we as freshers need seniors. But now, the scenario has changed a bit. Most freshers are getting paid today, though a mere ₹5,000 or above that," he said.
Bhatt pointed out that when his senior Pandya was heading the Gujarat High Court Advocates' Association (GHCAA), he had tried to bring in a scheme to fix some stipend for freshers. However, this plan did not materialise.
A fresher or a junior could take up to three to five years to get a "decent payment," which can be ₹35,000, Bhatt added. But now, in the post-pandemic period, he said that juniors have started getting some matters and money through social media.
"Due to social media, many juniors get ₹5,000 to ₹7,500 only for consultation. After COVID-19, more juniors are willing to work independently. They garner clients through social media, which is a good sign," he said.
Advocate Shyam Shah, who joined Pandya's chambers in 2022, started his journey in the legal profession in 2019 and currently earns around ₹30,000 every month.
Through a "unique" practice prevalent in Gujarat, juniors like Shah end up making more than what has been fixed for them.
"Apart from this fixed amount, we also get the portion of the fees charged by our senior. This is a practice which only few of the seniors follow. Getting a portion of the fees of the senior means you get a good amount," he said.
Given that there are only 55 senior advocates in the Gujarat High Court, Shah said that there is "cut-throat" competition to get a chance to work under a senior.
As a result, juniors working in Gujarat not only have to be competitive, but must also build a solid network to attain work.
"Most juniors are on their own. It isn't very easy for a fresher to get under a senior. It's all based on reference and nothing else. To get a good chamber and good senior, you need to have a good contact so that you can be referred to some senior advocate," he added.