Meet the AoR exam toppers: Sahil Tagotra and Deepayan Mandal

Meet the AoR exam toppers: Sahil Tagotra and Deepayan Mandal

Vasudha Misra

The results of the Supreme Court Advocate-on-Record (AoR) examination were released earlier this month. While for some, judgment day meant disappointment and regret, for Sahil Tagotra and Deepayan Mandal, it was jubilation all the way. The first and second rank holders had some interesting insights to share from their experience.

In this interview with Bar & Bench’s Vasudha Misra, the victorious duo reveal how their respective journeys have fared thus far.

Vasudha Misra: Who or what influenced your decision to be a lawyer? Any inspirations?

Sahil: I was a science student in my school, and as such, was typically expected to compete in the JEE and pursue a career in Engineering. The mere thought of having to take a competitive exam of which mathematics and organic chemistry were mandatory parts would often give me cold feet. I realized (just in time, but no sooner!) that I was probably not cut out for the same.

I am sure my parents apprehended this as well, which was probably why one evening, my father asked me whether I would like to pursue a career in law. Law had been in my mind for about a year then, having seen some seniors take it up. Therefore, I fell in the way of law, essentially by a process of elimination rather than by way of design.

Deepayan: The field of law always interested me and its impact on the society at large was the key reason for me to decide to be a lawyer. All my seniors whom I have worked under, especially Senior Advocates Rupinder Singh Suri and Gurukrishna Kumar, are sources of inspiration for me.

VM: How easy or difficult has it been so far?

Sahil: For the first five years of my career, I did not get to devote a lot of time to getting independent work. I am fortunate to be trained at the chambers of Gourab Banerji and made a studied call to invest most of my time in the matters he was briefed in. I was on the Government of India Panel in the Supreme Court for a couple of years while Mr. Banerji was an ASG. The flow of panel work, which included drafting of Special Leave Petitions, briefing the law officers and occasional appearances before the Supreme Court, was pretty much constant.

In terms of private work, the volume has been comparatively lesser, but there has been tremendous support from friends from the law school and the University, and lawyers from my parent High Court, who keep passing on work intermittently.

Deepayan: The challenges faced by me initially to establish my own independent practice are challenges which are common to all independent practitioners. However, with time and experience, I have been able to establish my practice.

VM: Why the inclination to be an Advocate-on-Record?

Sahil: Having spent about six years in the Supreme Court, I realized that it was critical to be able to do filing in one’s own name. For a young lawyer intending to practice in the Supreme Court, it is a usual progression to take the AOR exam at some point.

Besides, when a client approaches you for initiating any proceedings in the Supreme Court, they would often enquire as to whether you are an Advocate-on-Record. It is, therefore, always prudent to remove any handicap, perceived or real, while dealing with your client for a matter in the Supreme Court.

Deepayan: Being an Advocate-on-Record of the Supreme Court is a distinction of immense pride considering that there are only a selected few. Besides, the contribution of the AoRs on a daily basis, in assisting the Hon’ble Supreme Court in shaping the law of the country and thereby the society, was the primary reason for me to aspire to become an AoR.

VM: The exam is touted to be a tough and grueling one. What was your level of preparation for it? Any particular preparatory program or technique you would like to share?

Sahil: The questions in almost all papers are quite application based, and unless one is thorough with the subject, it might be easy to trip. Of all the things that are vital to crack the exam, the most indispensable are the guidance lectures taken by the Senior Advocates, usually at the Indian Law Institute, about a month prior to the exam. The lectures will give you a fair sense of the direction you are expected to follow and the basic framework of the preparation required. Such seniors are almost invariably also the examiners and the evaluators for that year.

Other than that, a subject like Practice and Procedure, is probably best prepared by reading and getting acquainted with the Supreme Court Rules over a period of time. Personally, one of my big advantages has been getting day-to-day exposure of the Supreme Court’s practice and procedure. The same goes for drafting. The Leading Cases paper requires one to do quite a bit of reading up. Interestingly, many of my law school fundamentals came in handy. Finally, it goes without saying that a lot turns on your management of those three hours.

Deepayan: There was no specific preparatory program or technique which I adopted for the exam. However, I did refer to previous years question papers and attended the AoR lectures for guidance.

VM: How did you manage a balance between studying and active practice?

Sahil: Speaking for myself, I was eligible to take the exam two years ago, but could never take time off work and study (read ‘cough up the courage to’). Finally, I took about two weeks off and got myself to sit down and prepare. It was during those two weeks that I fully realized what an eminently gainful exercise it is to prepare for the AoR exam.

Having said that, the approach one employs to manage time between studying and active practice differs from person to person. Whatever it is, there is one thing I can definitely vouch for: irrespective of the result, a sincere preparation guarantees a significant upgrading of your knowledge base.

Deepayan: While studying and managing active practice is difficult, it can be managed by planning the preparation for examination in advance.

VM: These days, the filing skills of AoRs are under scrutiny, with RS Suri urging them to be careful with every document before filing. There is also a practice of “name lending” where few AoRs lend their names for filing of case but don’t take up the responsibility to review etc. Your thoughts?

Sahil: It is important for the AoRs to be under what I would call a supervisory vigil of the Hon’ble Judges, because the entire purpose of the institution of the Advocates-on-Record gets defeated if the practice of “name lending” takes place and goes unnoticed. Such scrutiny, in my opinion, is constructive, and ensures that the system continues to cater to its intended purpose, which is premised on accountability.

If an AoR is to merely lend his name to a case, he is derelicting his responsibility. I believe that on the whole, the AoRs in the Supreme Court have been performing the onerous tasks that they are called upon and expected to perform with a lot of dignity and aplomb, and the legacy they leave each day in Court leaves us younger lot with much to look up to, admire and emulate.

Deepayan: I believe that an AoR has a responsibility towards the Supreme Court to ensure that the filings and documents are in order and are authentic in their content and form. Besides, an AoR must also ensure that the filings through him/her must have merit in them.

In so far as the practice of name lending is concerned, I can only say that since an AoR is an important link between the Court and the Client, he/she must take the responsibility of following up the case after filing the same.

(Views expressed in this interview are of AoRs Sahil Tagotra and Deepayan Mandal. Bar & Bench neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)

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