Gandhi was a lawyer; so was Ambedkar. Former got us independence and latter was instrumental in getting us a system which recognizes inherent equality of all human beings.
Role of a lawyer is notable in every path breaking development in society, be it in India or abroad. It was the lawyer in President Lincoln who mustered courage to abolish barbaric slavery based on race.
Hence, the 'noble profession' holds an irresistible charm, which attracts thousands of youngsters every year. I am just one of those youngsters and it has been almost a year since I joined the 'Bar'. In the words to follow, I share my experience as a lawyer and also the way this 'noble profession' has been functioning.
Law School to Bar
Law faculty of University of Delhi offers three year LLB course and on completion of that course one gets entitled to practice at Bar on the condition of qualifying All India Bar Examination within two years of joining Bar. Annual fees at Law faculty of University of Delhi is around Rs. 6,000. Such affordable fees in Law Faculty of University of Delhi makes it one of the most egalitarian institute of not only this country but also of the world. Around 2,500 students join law faculty every year and get quality education in aforesaid nominal price.
So, it's no surprise that a lot of famous lawyers and judges on bench in Hon'ble Supreme Court are from this esteemed institute and it remains a dream institute for many law aspirants, particularly those from marginalized sections of society. My stay in this institute was very special and I enjoyed every bit of it. Towards the end of second year it became clear to me that I wanted to practice at bar and as per peer advice I started looking for internships under lawyers. These internships, as per advice, were a window to see how my future professional life would be like and what kind of remunerative possibilities would be there. None of the all five internships which I did were paid or had any stipulation for stipend. Mentors rarely had time to talk .
Towards the end of my law degree, I started to approach those internship mentors and one of them was indeed kind enough to offer me the opportunity to join his chamber/office as an 'associate'. Though I was yet to get my law degree and to get myself enrolled at bar as an Advocate, this gentleman was kind enough to voluntarily give me a five-digit stipend, which was very encouraging as it is not the usual practice at bar. Most of the seniors/mentors ask or want their inexperienced associates to work at their offices on voluntarily basis round the clock without having any expectation to be paid. I do not know how can a middle class or lower middle class person survive in a cruel city like Delhi without any financial support. But then options for a first generation lawyer (someone who does not have anyone in their family practicing as a lawyer or sitting on bench as a judge) are limited and anything which comes to them disguised as an opportunity is to be taken with a smile.
Working as a Lawyer/Advocate
After initial difficulty in drafting simple applications like one which is filed for condoning delay and getting them cleared from filing department, things started to smoothen gradually. Soon I realized that getting anything done in Court remains a task. Miscellaneous works like inspecting court records and getting certified copies of the documents can at times become a night mare and it could take days to clear the objections. The realization dawns on you that being humble and polite can help you at a lot of places and asserting oneself at all occasions may not be effective always.
District Courts in Delhi, where most of my practice was, are considered to be the best in country because they start at sharp 10 AM in morning and all matters are called out as per the cause list which could be availed online a day or two back before the date. This mode of functioning brings a certain kind of objectivity in Court working and excessive reliance on 'court staff' also gets reduced for all good reasons. But this is not so in District Courts outside the Delhi and a visit to not too far District Courts in National Capital Region (NCR) can give you a reality check. In these Courts, it's a task to get your file put before the Judge and at times Reader might decline all your requests, treating your matter 'not to be important'. Judges do not always like to hold the open court and prefer to work from their chambers. Such ways of functioning can keep even a small application like impleadment of Legal Representatives in place of deceased litigant pending for years and from here alone starts the never ending saga of dates and pendency which has already been articulated well by Bollywood in movies like Damini. At times, District Court judges become entirely mechanical and despite your best efforts they do not even show inclination to even turn a single page of paper. But soon you learn to cope with all that and start to manage your ship through all the 'weathers'.
In higher courts, excessive reliance on 'face value' of lawyers has become an impediment for access to justice. Anyone having a sound practice in High Court is likely to be unaffordable for a common litigant. For middle class or lower middle class litigants, any chance of being heard will come through only a young lawyer who will be affordable. But these young lawyers have low chances of being taken seriously by most judges and hence access of justice remains elusive for a commoner. Not that young lawyers are not heard and considered at Bar per se. Some of them are heard and taken seriously. However, these 'meritorious' young ones, almost all of them, come from illustrious legal families, armed with expansive foreign degrees and accented tongues, having lawyers and judges in their generations. Courtesy to Collegium system, which finds no mention in the constitution of India, judges appoint judges and virtually control whole 'justice-delivery' system without even allowing a say to the democratically elected representatives of the people, contrary to the scheme provided in the Constitution of India. Hence, such aforesaid state of affairs prevails uninterrupted and remains a constant topic of discussion among lawyers at bar.
One day, surprisingly, I reached Delhi High Court before the time the official entry starts and it being a sunny winter day I stood in the lawn. There, I over-heard three senior citizens sharing their decade long experience as litigants in courts. They were not happy with slow wheels of justice and the looming uncertainties and expenditure which never ending litigation brings. One of them shared that his case was decided almost after a decade by trial court and now for last two years it's pending in appeal before High Court. In last, one of them said that our judicial system is of the rich, for the rich and by the rich. So, this is what commoner is making of the bar and bench as the dispute resolver!
How society looks at young Lawyers/Advocates
There is a saying that once you join the 'noble profession', three things become really difficult for you:
"Firstly, no one wants to give his/her house on rent to you; Secondly, no one wants to lend money to you; Thirdly, no father or mother wants their daughter to marry you."
Such deductions come from the fact that despite your best efforts, you earn very less or remain underpaid in initial years of your practice.
If someone comes from lower middle class background like me, every time you meet a relative, they would definitely tell you how some nephew of yours worked hard (implying that you did not), and have become 'successful' in life by getting a regularly paid job. They might also tell about the dream run some people had had and how by the virtue of their hard work some of them have even become influential bureaucrats having huge power to get 'anything and everything done'. You listen all this as a reprimand and at times you try to tell them as an Advocate you want to make positive changes in society like Gandhi, Ambedkar or Lincoln did. People are going to definitely laugh on such explanations and such discussions leave your parents anxious and worried about your carrier choices and future prospects. People also tell you that they know how entire judicial system works on 'setting' and lawyers are very much like a 'middle-man'. Such discussions can leave you disheartened.
Was it worth?
At times you work till late in night, draft some application, arrange some documents and find law, Acts and Judgments, supporting your proposition. In morning, you skip breakfast, travel for two hours and reach court with the hope that you will get the desired relief, only to be informed by the Reader informs that the judge is on leave. You come back dejected and think all the work has gone wasted. Such occurrences are part and parcel of your life as an Advocate and soon you learn to live with it.
The money you earn is not sufficient enough to pay the rent and buy the bread properly, leave aside the idea of going on some recreational 'Malana Trek'. You do not have an aura of a bureaucrat; no mountains will move on a call of yours and no one is going to salute you. Client will, at the end of the day, blame you for all the delays and deficiencies of the system. You go to government offices only to be found that you are not taken seriously. Every day you feel humbled and at times humiliated.
You might find the system apathetic, and this could make you feel disillusioned. You will also realize that great strength of character is necessary to reconcile professional ethics with drive for success. One can witness instances where ambition would seem overpowering moral conscience.
The only thing which keeps you moving is the faith in the ultimate ideals of justice; and also the faith which your client puts in you. A person leaves all his work behind and comes to court with you thinking that you will get him 'justice'. At times, you get to be on the side of justice, and giving relief to a deserving client brings meaning and joy to your life. This trust and expectation alone keeps you moving and inspires you to do something every single day.
It has not been a smooth ride so far. However, as one who finds law and justice meaningful, despite the human follies of the systems managing it, it has been a rich learning experience.
(The author is practicing law in Delhi. Views are personal)