Paying young lawyers well helps attract and retain talent: Harsh K Sharma, Founder of Prosoll Law

In this interview, Sharma shares, the changing dynamics of the legal ecosystem, the nuances of starting a law firm, advice to law students and more.
Harsh K Sharma
Harsh K Sharma

Harsh K Sharma has been practicing in the Supreme Court of India, the Delhi High Court and the district courts in Delhi for over 35 years. He is the founder of Delhi-based law firm Prosoll Law.

Over the course of his career, Sharma has represented a wide range of clients ranging from bureaucrats and high-ranking officials to politicians, high net-worth families and individuals, institutions and NGOs. He was Standing Counsel for the Bar Council of India from 2014 till 2021.

In this interview, Sharma shares, the changing dynamics of the legal ecosystem, the nuances of starting a law firm, advice to law students and more.

Why did you choose to pursue a career in law?

After graduating and completing my B.Sc. (Hons) in Botany from Hansraj College, Delhi University, I spent an entire year working for my father at his automobile components company. Growing up in a business family, I had exposure to the world of commerce and entrepreneurship from a young age. However, I was always fascinated by the legal aspects of running a successful business. I viewed the law as a complex and intricate puzzle that needed to be pieced together with precision to achieve success in any business. I began to realize that my true calling would be something that was intellectually more stimulating and decided to formally pursue a career in law after discussing with my family. 

Once enrolled, I was enthused to learn that a career in law would allow me to use my analytical and critical thinking skills. Law is a constantly evolving field and presents new and unique problems that require creative solutions. While the reason to pursue law was to get familiarized with legal aspects of running a business, I found myself more interested in criminal law and criminology. With a fair understanding of forensics and science, I was keen to understand how can these learnings be applied or used in connection with the detection of crime. This was reason to set up a practice that focused on white-collar crimes. 

Looking back on my career, I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunities that being a lawyer has provided me. It has been a challenging and rewarding career that has allowed me to make a real difference in the lives of my clients, and I wouldn't have it any other way. As a lawyer, I feel empowered to use my advocacy skills to make a tangible and lasting difference in the world, every single day.

What differences do you see in today’s legal market as compared to when you started?

The legal industry has experienced significant transformations in recent decades. In the past, the legal profession was considered niche, and lawyers were revered as saviours. Today, the industry has become a sought-after field, attracting numerous young people every year. With an increase in the number of law schools and lawyers, the competition has significantly risen.

When Prosoll Law was established, generalist lawyers were the norm, and only a few practiced in specialized fields. As one of the first few lawyers to venture into the niche area of white-collar crime, I had the first-mover advantage in handling some of the most complex and high-stakes cases. In contrast, present-day lawyers specialize in specific areas of law right from the beginning of their professional journey, and it's impressive to witness the clarity in their thought processes.

Technology has revolutionized the legal sector, with law firms adopting advanced software for document management, research and communication. This technological shift has brought about significant improvements in the sector's efficiency and productivity. The legal profession has also embraced diversity and inclusion, a stark contrast to the male-dominated industry of the past. Today, we see more women entering the field, and law firms are becoming increasingly welcoming of change and diversity. Many law firms recognize the importance of work-life balance for their employees, with more offering flexible work arrangements and parental leave policies.

Was there a particular defining moment of your career?

One of the key defining moments was the successful acquittal of one of my clients in a highly publicized trial. The case was complicated, with multiple charges of assets disproportionate to income. It was against a politician and former minister, who was facing the possibility of a long prison sentence and the loss of his political career. We knew that the prosecution's case was based on flimsy evidence and that our client was being targeted for political reasons, but we had to carefully navigate the complexities of the case to achieve a successful outcome. Despite the odds, our team was able to mount a strong defence and cast doubt on the prosecution's evidence, leading to an acquittal. This case was a turning point for my practice, as it solidified our reputation as top-tier white-collar criminal defence attorneys.

Is specialization in an area a key factor that determines the success of a law firm?

Specialization in a particular area of law can be a key factor that determines the success of a law firm, but it is not the only factor. There are many other factors that contribute to a law firm's success, including the quality of its attorneys, its reputation, its ability to win cases, and its growth strategy. Specializing in a particular area of law, however, gives a law firm a competitive advantage in that area, as clients seeking legal services in that specific area are more likely to turn to a law firm that has a strong reputation and track record in that field. Our specialization in the field of white-collar crime has also allowed us to develop deep expertise and knowledge of the particular legal issues and nuances involved, which has given us an edge in the court.

However, it's important to note that diversifying also helps law firms in expanding their practice areas, developing new skills, and deepening their legal knowledge. In fact, Prosoll Law has plans to diversify into commercial and civil law matters owing to a significant requirement from our clients who have seen our successful track record of handling white-collar crime cases and now require assistance in commercial and civil legal matters. By diversifying our practice areas, we are looking to widen our reach to a broader range of clients, retaining current clients and generating repeat work.

What are your thoughts on juniors in litigation not being paid adequately?

It is true that historically, the legal profession in India has been known for paying relatively low salaries, particularly to junior lawyers. This has been especially true for litigation lawyers, who often have to work long hours and take on a large amount of responsibility without receiving commensurate compensation. However, the situation is slowly changing. One reason for this is that there has been an increasing demand for legal services in India in recent years, which has led to more competition for skilled lawyers. This, in turn, has put pressure on law firms and other legal employers to offer more attractive compensation packages in order to attract and retain top talent.

Litigation is often a challenging and time-intensive area of law, and young legal minds play a critical role in supporting senior lawyers in preparing for hearings, drafting pleadings, conducting legal research, and interacting with clients. At Prosoll Law, paying young lawyers adequately has helped us attract and retain them. None of the internships we provide are without a stipend as we want even our interns to feel valued and motivated. Also, by doing this, we are not doing anyone a favour; we are just demonstrating our commitment to the principles of fairness and equality, which are essential values in any profession.

What qualities do you look for while hiring and onboarding fresh law graduates to the firm?

I personally feel that successful litigators must be strategic thinkers who can develop effective litigation strategies and think on their feet. While onboarding fresh law graduates, although it is too early to assess them on anticipating legal issues and coming up with creative solutions to complex problems, I look for lawyers who have a strong work ethic and are committed to putting in the effort required to succeed in litigation. Also, as lawyers, we need to communicate effectively with clients, judges and other lawyers. Therefore, I look for lawyers who are articulate and persuasive, and who can write and speak well as, these qualities will help them argue their points effectively in the long run.

Lastly, the legal profession requires a great deal of attention to detail. I look for lawyers who can demonstrate that they are meticulous in their work. Sometimes, this quality enables them to spot even the smallest details that could make a difference in a case.

What is your advice to law students aspiring to enter litigation?     

Litigation is undoubtedly a challenging and high-pressure field, but for those who are passionate about the work and committed to achieving success, the rewards can be tremendous. For aspiring litigators, practical experience is the crucible in which their skills and knowledge are refined. Endeavor to gain as much hands-on experience as possible, whether through moot court, trial advocacy competitions, internships, or clerkships. Developing the requisite research and writing abilities is fundamental to success in the field, and law students should devote themselves to honing these essential skills through coursework and participation in legal writing contests.

Additionally, building robust relationships is crucial to launching a career in litigation. Participation in bar association events, joining legal forums, and establishing connections with peers, law school alumni, etc. can open valuable opportunities throughout the professional journey. Furthermore, keeping abreast with legal developments in one's area of interest is essential. By subscribing to pertinent publications and attending continuing legal education courses, one can stay informed and up-to-date with the developments in the law.

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