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One of the youngest to be designated a senior advocate (he was barely forty-years old), Shreehari Aney began his legal career in Nagpur. After close to two decades at Nagpur, Aney moved to Bombay, becoming one of the most sought-after lawyers in Maharashtra.
At one point of time, Aney had established offices in Nagpur, Aurangabad, Bombay and Delhi. It is not his legal career alone that is of note. Aney is the grandson of Bapuji Aney, one of the most prominent leaders of the Vidarbha movement.
In the second part of the interview (read Part I here) Aney talks about the lack of women in the legal profession, Bar Councils, and the state of our legal education
Anuj Agrawal: Your thoughts on the institution of senior advocates
Shreehari Aney: I think it is a very fine institution, a very important one. But it needs to be re-looked at. I am not per se against the institution in what it is meant to be. These are the leaders of your bar, they have special knowledge of the law and the court has every right to draw on their expertise in order to get on with the business of delivering justice.
I think it has become a little competitive, you know, getting into the senior counsel bracket because of the insistence of all courts on this application process. I think [senior gowns] should be bestowed.
The judges should know pretty well the people who are competent. It is not a fool proof thing because you may still have lobbies.
But by and large, I think it is demeaning to have lawyers make an application. And then down the line to be told, sorry you are just not good enough. It is not very ennobling.
Anuj Agrawal: Why are there so few women senior counsel?
Shreehari Aney: I really don’t know. To begin with, women have a big handicap to even get into the profession. Some of the best lawyers I have seen were women, they are extremely hardworking, extremely bright.
But we have this built-in bias against women. We don’t give them an equal opportunity, we don’t give them a fair chance. You hardly get one or two [women] seniors; Phiroza Anklesaria or Rajani Iyer for instance – they handle constitutional matters with great competence.
It is the fault of the system which does not accept women as lawyers. They have really had a hard time for it. We are not being fair to them.
Anuj Agrawal: What is the solution?
Shreehari Aney: It is not a solution that lies with the profession of law. Historically, we have treated women pretty badly. I mean we talk about a caste system that we are unable to get rid off [but] we have not even been able to get rid of the “caste” called women. They are that badly treated everywhere.
This whole business of allowing women into the Haji Ali dargah was odious. Does this court not recognise the constitution of India giving equal rights to men and women. If a man can worship in a particular way, how can a woman be told otherwise?
Anuj Agrawal: As Advocate General, you were involved with the running of the Government Law College in Mumbai.
Shreehari Aney: Yes and at the moment there are a number of colleges that are better. For one thing, the High Court can not run a college. And we cant have a meeting once in two months, and decide what needs to be done. The college has to be run by a body on its own.
In fact, there is no reason why the government should be in the business of running colleges. That is not what governments are meant for.
Anuj Agrawal: But surely education must be provided by the State?
Shreehari Aney: Education at the primarily level is all that the State can afford. The State better get out of the business of running educational institutions. It can regulate, it can govern but it cannot run them.
There are some things very clear in mind, one of which is our warped sense of prioritisation that needs to be set right.
The government does not have the knowledge, the ability to run an educational institution. What is it doing in the business of running medical, law and engineering colleges? It is a complete misfit.
It should be open to whosoever is the highest bidder to take over and the government should be free to collect revenues from it. If the government wants to be a passive partner than so be it. Running colleges should be left to those who know how to run colleges.
Unfortunately they are not the most scrupulous people. But better an unscrupulous expert than a bumbling generalist like the government is.
Anuj Agrawal: But what about the IIT’s and IIM’s?
Shreehari Aney: See once you give them an autonomous state, it becomes different. Then [the institution] is no longer government run. The properties may belong to the government but running it is a different ball game.
The Government Law College suffers from something similar. They have had ad-hoc principals for some time now. They are good men, but they are usually district judges. They may be great in a courtroom but they have never run a tea shop to save their lives. It is not that they are in fault, they are just trying to keep a system going.
But times have changed. Look at law colleges around the country, the quality of legal education there. And where does GLC rank in it all? It is a conveniently located law college for Bombay people, and will survive on its reputation for a few more years. But younger people are already opting for other law colleges which are far better.
Anuj Agrawal: Do you think there are too many law colleges?
Shreehari Aney: I don’t think so. I think there are too may bad law colleges. We need law colleges, but we need them to be much better. Some things are wrong, for instance they insist that you have to have a PhD in order to be a professor. Now a PhD in law is really very difficult believe me. Or you are a bad PhD.
We are still on contributories where you get professionals to teach for a few hours. But a law professorship has to be 24/7 thing, interacting with the students, staying on campus etc.
When someone enters a law college, the expectation is that at the end of one’s education one should at least be able to understand what is happening in court. It really doesn’t happen. It did not happen with me and I went to one of the better ones.
Anuj Agrawal: Bar Councils – They don’t have the best of reputation.
Shreehari Aney: See, Bar Councils are necessary bodies, and the publicity they get is reflective of the lawyers’ personalities. You can’t change that in an elected system. After all the people who get the most votes, get to sit and that is how the Advocates Act works.
But if I were to point one or two things that the Bar Councils are not doing right, I think we are not managing the professional misconduct complaints as well as we could. There is a huge backlog of these complaints. The general public who has complaints against a lawyer do not get relief.
Somebody should do a PhD on the number of times a lawyer has been found guilty of professional misconduct by the bar councils. You will find it to be abysmally low.
Anuj Agrawal: Do you think self-regulation does not work?
Shreehari Aney: I think it must be put in with more rigour. For one thing, the number of committees that are set up to look into complaints must be increased. The quantum of complaints that are coming in is not matched by the disposals that are being handed out. You should not have a complaint pending for more than six months.
Too few people are looking into the complaints. They have a very odd way of looking into it, for some reason they think they are courts.
If someone has made a complaint, all you need to do is call the chap, hear him and figure out what he is complaining about. You then call the lawyer, hear his explanation and decide whether there is substance in the complaint or not. Mete out punishment if there is substance in the complaint.
Right now, we have a preliminary enquiry. If there is substance in the complaint, then they will start hearing the complaint. In the process of hearing the complaint, people are allowed to engage lawyers. The whole process becomes time consuming, cumbersome, and unwieldly.
Not to mention the fact that these bodies which hear complaints are headed by 3 members of the Bar Council. One member can dispose of one matter, three members can dispose of three matters. Yet, we have three members hearing just one matter. this doesn’t make any sense.
Anuj Agrawal: In Karnataka, there has been some controversy over a High Court judge who is allegedly quite rude to the petitioners.
Shreehari Aney: It is possible for a court to commit contempt of itself. Whether being rude would be sufficient is a moot question. If as a result of being rude, you actually obstruct the process of justice, yes it would amount to contempt. But if you are just plain rude, it is a case of bad upbringing nothing further than that.
Anuj Agrawal: How did you deal with such judges?
Shreehari Aney: Well frankly, I did not have the problem of being before any Bench which went out of its way to be rude to me. Hostility yes but hostility was issue-based; you could see the Bench was hostile to the issue, not to me personally.
Sometimes hostility does lead to very gruff behaviour. But I remember a matter where I was applying for intervention and the Bench was refusing to allow him to intervene. They thought (my client) was a busybody and had nothing to do with the litigation.
The judge said, “Mr. Aney, we will allow you to intervene and address us for ten minutes but we are going to impose cost of 10,000 rupees.”
At this point, I lost it.
I said, “In that case would your lordships allow me to pay 30,000 and allow me to address you for thirty minutes instead of ten”
You don’t take rubbish lying down, you need to give back. You need to be polite, to address the court with the dignity it deserves but if the judge falls out of line, a senior counsel has an obligation to tell him that this is not proper.
I have myself walked into a courtroom in the Bombay High Court where a judge was dealing with a junior in a very rough way. I had to go up and say to him, “Your lordship cannot do this, this is not fair. This is not the way it should be done.” The judge immediately retracted.
There is a duty to tell the judge if he is going out of line. I don’t think I did a good job by telling the judge to give him 30,000 rupees of his time but you can always point out to the court that they are not doing right.
Anuj Agrawal: As an arguing counsel, do you mark heavily?
Shreehari Aney: Every case that I argued would be worked on, indexed, researched. The case law would be noted. I would never be in the courtroom without my notes. You cannot go into a courtroom without being prepared.
I have a bad memory so I have to put down the case laws, the page numbers, the submissions I am making, the arguments I want to make, the points that have to be looked at.
That is because my memory is fading. I know lawyers who can do this by simply writing a few lines in the back of the brief.
Anuj Agrawal: Thoughts on juniors at the Bombay Bar not getting paid enough?
Shreehari Aney: Its not just the Bombay Bar, it is all over. I would say the Bombay Bar pays more than other places. But nobody pays adequate. The juniors must be paid a lot more. I don’t think this will change by itself.
One of the things the Bar Council should do is insist that a stipend be paid to each junior. The stipend would differ from city to city of course, but I still think that a minimum line can be drawn.
Anuj Agrawal: Any advice for those considering legal education
Shreehari Aney: I think it is an excellent move for those who want to use law as a means of not necessarily entering the legal profession but other fields where law is used such as banking, business, international trade and commerce etc.
If you want to become a litigating lawyer, you better think ten times.
I keep saying this, and I am not loved for it, but we are a profession of the mediocre. Mediocrity pays. If you are brilliant you have problems. But if you are pedestrian, middle of the road, dealing with things as they come you will be just fine. You are going to make it alright.
You will wind up with two cars, a reasonable flat, a bank balance, your children can be educated abroad if you want in the post graduate portion of their careers. Those things will come to you. It doesn’t come in other professions.
To those who are fortunate, and make it really big, nobody earns money the way lawyers do.
But the percentage of success is very low in our profession. It is a fiercely competitive profession. You fight each day. If you don’t win a certain number of matters, you don’t get briefed. So you have to show results. All this doesn’t make for sanity.
It leads you to various stages of insanity all your life. Believe me. I remember what a pleasant young man I was before I got into the profession. And I know how sarcastic, bitter and pessimistic I have become as I went along.
Nobody deserves that kind of life. If you need to be a happy person throughout your life, you shouldn’t be in a courtroom practicing law.
Do law, take a job. Lots of them offer good money to lawyers. [But if] you want to practice law, you sell a little bit of yourself, a part of of your soul. You actually lose a part of your happiness. It is not worth it unless it is the only thing you want to do.
Anuj Agrawal: Do you regret it?
Shreehari Aney: I don’t regret it because how do you regret life? You move on. My son, after he did his law from ILS, went on to study economics and got a doctorate.
He took a conscious decision that he did not want to come to law but rather teach as a professor of economics. I was perhaps one of the happiest people on earth.
Had he come to law, he would have inherited a practice. He has a fine mind, but I know what a happy child he was. And I know what he would have become had he remained in the profession.