In conversation with Geet Rajan Ahuja, topper of the 2022 AoR exam

Ahuja shares the approach he adopted while preparing for the AoR exam and the tips and tricks to do well in one of the most competitive exams.
Geet Rajan Ahuja
Geet Rajan Ahuja

Advocate Geet Rajan Ahuja recently topped the Advocate-on-Record (AoR) Examination 2022 along with Anmol Anand.

Ahuja is a graduate of DES Law College, Pune and has an LL.M. in Business Laws from National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore. He started his professional career at the office of Senior Advocate Basava Prabhu S Patil.

Ahuja also had his independent practice primarily before the Supreme Court, Delhi High Court, and various other courts and tribunals Additionally, he is empanelled as a counsel representing the Union of India before the Supreme Court and as a counsel representing the Department of Telecommunication (DOT) before the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT).

In this interview with Bar & Bench, Ahuja shares how he cracked one of the toughest exams.

Since when have you been preparing for the AoR exam? How did you go about preparing for the same?

For me, writing the ApR exam was always on my mind as most of my practice has been before the Supreme Court. The eligibility to appear for the exam is five years of practice experience. Naturally, it becomes a task to spare time for preparation, especially if it is the first attempt. My senior was gracious to relieve me from work a month before the exams. I saw the detailed syllabus for the first time on November 20, and about 2-3 days were consumed in arranging books and notes, taking guidance from current AoRs, reading and analyzing all previous years' question papers and strategizing the study plan. The actual heavy lifting in terms of serious preparation started from late November.

This is an exam with wide syllabus; thus preparing a plan of action based on the past trend of question papers is essential. My plan of action was to allot about five days to each paper, except drafting, to which I allotted two days. The reason being that I was already familiar with most of the Supreme Court drafts. Of course, time allocation may vary from person to person, depending on past knowledge and experience.

Another strategy I followed was to cover the ‘most asked topics’ of each subject (except drafting) so that while revising I could focus more on the topics suggested by the lecturers and also eliminate some topics if the lecturer had so hinted.

How difficult was the exam? 

In my view, the easiest exam was that of ‘Professional Ethics’ since they also asked objective questions which made our life easier. My finger was literally swollen after writing the drafting exam!

The pattern of the ‘Practice and Procedure’ exam changed this year. There was less optional choice provided and the questions carried 10 marks or 5 marks instead of 20 marks, which was the trend earlier. However, the examiner was kind enough to tell us in advance that there would be no or fewer optional questions compared to previous years. On behalf of all the successful candidates, I must thank the examiner for informing us about the change in exam pattern in advance, otherwise it would have literally been a shocker. I also feel that the quality of questions asked in this year’s P&P exam were more pointed and practical and could be answered by any regular practitioner before the Supreme Court. 

Coming to the Drafting exam, though I scored well, I must say it was an unexpected paper. It was made amply clear during the lectures that we would have to draft complete petitions/appeals (till affidavit or certificates as the case may be), unless specifically exempted. With this clarity in mind, I ensured that I complete the entire draft so that I get marked for each component. We were asked to draft about four petitions and some applications/certificates, which, I felt, was too unrealistic to answer in the given time. I was constrained to cut down the grounds, list of dates, repetitive cause title etc, in order to finish a particular answer in the limited time allocated. Also, the detailed factual narrative was not provided in some of the questions and hence we were tricked into assuming facts, which again consumed some additional time and created confusion. 

Lastly, the Leading Cases exam was simple and had ample optional questions.

What advice do you have for future exam takers?

This is an exam requiring smart study as the syllabus is wide. Thus, elimination of some topics is helpful. The Leading Cases exam is tedious and may itself consume a lot of time if you start preparing all 64 cases in detail. It is advisable to cover about 35-40 judgments in detail before the lecture series commences, and then add other cases suggested by the lecturer. For the remaining case laws, you may read the basic outline and know the ratio, which will be helpful in not only this exam, but other exams including Drafting.

For the Drafting exam, if an entire draft is asked, marks are allocated for each component/element of the draft. Therfore, it is advisable to finish the entire draft, though the length of grounds/synopsis, etc, may be cut short. Remember, unlike other exams, the Drafting exam is not a test of the knowledge of law, but a test of drafts. Of course, if you cite some case laws in the grounds/synopsis it would help you score well.

The Ethics paper is mostly based on precedents. It may be helpful to make a separate list of all case laws covered in this exam in order to learn and revise them before the exam. The most helpful tool is to pay special attention to the lectures of the examiners as also those conducted by the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association. The lectures of the examiners will definitely provide you with great insight into the examination pattern and the questions likely to be encountered.

How does it feel to have topped the exam?

I was confident that I would pass the exam, but the rank was unexpected as this was my first attempt and the competition was amongst advocates having enough experience at the bar.

How does becoming an Advocate-on-Record change a lawyer’s career?

In my view, becoming an AoR is essential for any regular Supreme Court practitioner. This is even more significant for a first-generation lawyer like me, who is dependent on building a career based on merit rather than sources. Speaking for myself, the day result was announced, lots of new opportunities opened up.

Having said that, I must also add a caveat here. With time, the Supreme Court seems to have shown leniency in permitting advocates (who are not AoRs) to appear even without the presence or involvement of the AoR who may have filed the matter. It is witnessed that the role of AoRs has, in some cases, not been one of an ‘active involvement’ in the conduct of the case. This has paved way for non-AoRs to easily practice in the Supreme Court without clearing the AoR exam, which has, in a way, diluted the intent and object behind the introduction of the exam and the esteem attached to being an AoR.

However, I hope and trust that this shortcoming will be duly taken care of with time.

Did your law school background and LLM from NLSIU help you in any way while preparing for the AoR exam?

The college I graduated from played a vital role in helping me develop my career as a practicing lawyer because of its huge library, prominence given to research and moot competitions. However, I do not think the AoR exam has anything to do with my experience at the college, except that I was used to writing long answers since the pattern of Pune University exam was such.

In so far as the LL.M. course is concerned it was a specialization in Business Laws covering subjects like IPR, Competition laws, Mergers and acquisitions, Trade law etc, which were not very relevant as such for the AoR exam.

Do you think the work experience of a lawyer matters before attempting the AoR exam?

This question is often asked by lawyers working in firms or courts other than the Supreme Court. Strictly speaking, one year training under an AoR is mandatory for attempting this exam. However, this condition is implemented only on paper and not in practice. 

In my view, it is comparatively easier for regular Supreme Court practitioners to pass the AoR exam since they already have a good experience of the Supreme Court drafts. Though a regular Supreme Court practitioner may have an added advantage, any lawyer who has put in five years of hard work in any area of practice, whether taxation, mergers, corporate etc may also be equally competent to pass the exam. Special attention may have to be given to the Drafting and P&P exams, if a candidate has not practiced before the Supreme Court. The overall syllabus is not restricted to any particular area, but covers topics to which a lawyer having five years of experience in any field would have some exposure.

 Any further comments you would like to add? 

My best wishes to the fellow bar members for the upcoming AoR exam. I would also urge all members of the bar to allow their juniors/colleagues reasonable time for preparation by relieving them of work pressure. My senior was gracious in not putting any work pressure for almost one month, because of which I could focus on my preparations. I must express my gratitude to Senior Advocates KM Nataraj and Basava Prabhu S Patil for being a strong support system and benevolent teachers.

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