I used to get Rs 60 in rent control cases and Rs 90 for appeals: Arvind Datar on lessons in his professional journey

I used to get Rs 60 in rent control cases and Rs 90 for appeals: Arvind Datar on lessons in his professional journey

Speaking in a webinar organised by the Madras Tax Bar, Senior Advocate Arvind Datar also noted that a year each in civil and criminal practice is an investment. "It is a basic grounding. Better than any LLM degree."

Meera Emmanuel

A webinar organised by the Madras Tax Bar on Monday evening saw Senior Advocate Arvind Datar impart valuable lessons he had learnt during his 40-year old professional journey that started in 1980.

While speaking on when the ideal time is for a lawyer to dive into a specialised area of practice, Datar emphasised that all lawyers must first consider grounding themselves in the basics of civil and criminal law.

He said, "Every lawyer should learn one year civil law. Go to city civil court. Go to the small causes court - that's where the real India is. There's no point going straightway into the air conditioned rooms of the Supreme Court. Then, do one year of criminal law. See what's bail, anticipatory bail, what's trial. Learn the basics of CPC and CrPC and then you do your specialisation. That's always my belief."

Watch the Video:

He added,

Don't be in a hurry. These two years are an investment. It is a basic grounding. Better than any LLM degree.
Senior Advocate Arvind Datar

During the course of his talk, he also mused briefly on the utility of obtaining LLM degrees abroad.

"Everybody wants to go abroad for an LLM", he observed, while speaking on the newer generations of lawyers. "I don't see what is the logic. It's what's call herd mentality. Please think, whether it is worth it."

Senior Advocate Arvind Datar speaking during the Webinar
Senior Advocate Arvind Datar speaking during the Webinar

All the same, responding to a query over how promising the younger generations of lawyers are, he said that they are far more intellectually capable, adding that "The future is very good. The younger generation is much, much brighter."

On the flip side, he noted that the younger lawyers seemed to be in a hurry, and appeared inclined to go straight away to the Supreme Court.

"It took me ten years to buy me my first second-hand, old, car...We must wait. We must have patience", he remarked.

Every success was after a setback, Datar recounts his early years

The session saw Datar reminisce back to the early years of his foray into the legal profession, starting from he joined the Madras Law College, having arrived from Bombay.

Looking back, Datar remarked that “every success was after a set back. It is just a cycle of successes and setbacks.”

In his second year of college, Indira Gandhi had lost the election and the Emergency was ending. However, with the return of democratic rights, Datar recalled that the college began to witness more strikes and less classes.

He recalled that on one occasion, when a foreign minister from Vietnam came, “the whole college went on strike just to go and receive him at the airport. It was absolutely bizarre.”

This was a setback, as far as college classes were concerned. On a positive note, however, this meant that he could visit the Madras High Court more.

"That was a phenomenal learning experience,” he said, while referring to the various senior lawyers he was able to observe in action in the High Court, including giants from the Madras Bar as well as lawyers from Delhi.

Datar went on to say that this was the first lesson he had for lawyers, i.e. "To watch ‘the greats’ who are arguing."

"I made it a point to listen to them and tried to observe what were the plus points, what were the minus points”, he said.

He added that he continues to observe arguments by lawyers, including younger lawyers, even today given that there was “so much to learn from different lawyers” by simply observing them amid arguments.

The second lesson he learnt was to "Devour biographies." While exploring libraries as his College classes continued to be stalled, Datar spoke of how he stumbled upon a section for biographies, two full cupboards of which were on legal biographies from the US, UK and India.

This included a biography of an eminent lawyer Kailash Nath Katju (also grandfather to former Supreme Court judge, Markandey Katju), which Datar referred to as "a slim volume packed with wisdom, worth of its weight in gold."

"Read biographies, take notes. There is so much to learn from biographies", Datar said.

Datar went on to speak of how he knew right from his college days that he wanted to practice tax law. However, when he started his independent practice in 1984, he encountered another setback:

I found to my horror, work wasn't coming at all.

He added, however, that "I was told that, never sit at home, whether you have work or not, make sure that you go to court every day. I would go to courts, walk around, go to the library."

He took lectures and started doing civil cases to supplement his income.

I used to get Rs 60 in rent control cases and Rs 90 for appeals in those days
Arvind Datar

He added, "Things often go wrong. And things just went on. But my love was tax."

Around this time, Datar said that he focused on a new goal: to write a national level book by his 30th birthday. However, between finding a topic to write, figuring out how to write it and copyright issues, the years between 1984-86 were wasted. Another setback.

In 1986, however, a new branch of law came, i.e. Central Excise Tariff law and by age 32, Datar eventually published his first book on Excise law.

"Writing a book really, really helps a lawyer", Datar went on to add, recalling that after his book was published, his income went up by four times.

On lessons learnt in a 40-year journey

Datar went on to speak on several general lessons that he learnt during his professional journey, with the aid of a slide-by-slide presentation.

Among the various parting thoughts he shared, Datar noted that one may have to venture beyond their comfort zones to achieve their goals. He emphasised that the goal set must be high and audacious enough to motivate the person.

Among other lessons imparted, he also noted that lawyers must never chase money for the sake of money. "Money will come as a result of your personal excellence", he said.

During the Q&A session that followed, Datar also had the occasion to speak on how to handle things when a judge does not appear to understand the nuances of a case, despite the lawyer's efforts.

Datar noted that this could happen sometimes, since we do not always have specialised judges hearing the matter. He noted that there is nothing you can do except to take it in stride and treat it as a learning experience.

Datar added that he personally takes it as an opportunity to improve his advocacy skills and to be more patient. On that note, he also remarked,

I just enjoy going to court. One thing i miss today is the sheer oxygen of just arguing in court.

Responding to another query, he also spoke on how it is important to maintain decorum while arguing in Court.

The Court is a temple of justice. You should never foul the atmosphere. When shouting happens, you lose the decorum and the dignity. We are all officers of the Court.
Arvind Datar

Before the session concluded, Datar briefly recalled another piece of advice given by his senior, N Natarajan, on why it is important for a lawyer to not lose his/her temper with a judge.

Remember, for you this is your bread and butter; (but) for your client, it is his life.
Datar quoting his Senior N Natarajan

Listen to this 5 minute video of Datar on how to manage your time.

Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news