The Madras Tax Bar held a webinar wherein Senior Advocate Arvind P. Datar was invited to share his experiences on his lessons from 40 years of his professional journey comprising of successes and setbacks.
Datar commenced the address by remarking that every setback had one silver lining. "I was looking back at my life, and I realized that every success was after a setback. So, it was a cycle of successes and setbacks. Nobody has only successes and nobody has only setbacks." He further commented on how there was a striking change in the way practice was conducted in the last 40 years, i.e. from 1980 to 2020. "When I joined the Bar, there was no concept of a computer. There was no question of any kind of mobile phone, technology, WhatsApp. And, today, it's difficult to imagine how we conducted our practice without these." Datar stated that the life of a lawyer was never really easy and that the term "briefless lawyer" was part of the daily lexicon. LIFE AS A LAW STUDENT AND AN ADVOCATE Due to strikes in the 1970s as a consequence of Indira Gandhi losing the election and the Emergency ending, the classes of Datar's college, Dr. Ambedkar Government Law College in Chennai, were held intermittently. Datar took this as an opportunity to visit the Madras High Court. "The advantage of that was that I was able to see very many senior lawyers practice. That was a phenomenal learning experience. I remember listening to Seervai for half a day." Datar continued, "One lesson that can be learnt here is that watch the greats arguing. I made it a point to listen to them, and I tried to observe what were the plus points and what were the minus points." Therefore, the first lesson here is to keep observing people and be like a sponge in court as every day is learning experience. It is important to learn from the Seniors. For instance, Datar learnt from Sr. Adv. Soli Dastur was to never interrupt a judge. Datar, when not attending court proceedings, spent his time at the Connemara Public Library, where he read selections of legal biographies. "I got to read the biographies of great lawyers. There were biographies from England, from US, from India. India has so many interesting biographies. There is Roses in December, that's just one book. I don't know how many of you have read the autobiography of Justice KN Katju? It's a slim volume packed with wisdom, worth its weight in gold." Therefore, the second lesson is to "devour biographies" due to the amount of learnings that can be imparted through these. "This is not only for young lawyers, but for the seasoned ones as well. There's a lot to learn from these biographies." Datar wanted to pursue tax law, however, he had been advised to practice civil law before doing so. The example of renowned Senior Advocate and Indian parliamentarian, Ashoke Kumar Sen, was cited to showcase that he had also pursued civil law, before taking up any specialization. Accordingly, Datar also decided to practice one year of civil law, and then work for three years on the tax side, before going independent. LESSONS FROM A 40 YEAR PROFESSIONAL JOURNEY Datar then displayed a slideshow to impart lessons he had learnt during his professional journey to law students and junior advocates. He initiated the lesson by stating that the initial years of practice are very important. "If you are blessed with a good senior, good colleagues, that in itself is a great, great blessing. I had wonderful seniors and colleagues at the Bar. The sheer help and encouragement pushed me along the way." In 1984, after four years of practice, Datar decided to go independent, and to his horror, he realized that no work was coming in. However, he made it a point to go to Court every day. "I was told to never sit at home. Whether you have work or not, go to Court every day. Go to the Court, walk around and go to the library." Datar then started taking up civil cases and gave lectures to keep the money coming in. He remarked that he used to get Rs. 60 for rent control cases and Rs. 90 for appeals in those days. "Things often go wrong. I thought I would leave Ramamani's office and do tax work. But, I had zero tax work coming in. And things just went on. But, my love was tax." Datar had further set a target to write a nationally known book by his 30th birthday. He managed to do so by the age of 32. "You see we can't advertise, we can't solicit work. The only way to get known is to write. I would write articles, take part in seminars, but how to get to the next level? That was the problem. So, I said let me write a book on a national level. The book was meant to be a stepping stone to be get into practice and be more well known in the profession." However, from 1984 to 1986, Datar's writing efforts met numerous hurdles in the form of copyright problems, figuring out a topic to write on etc.; this was another setback. This setback was soon converted into a success with the advent of Excise Law. "Writing a book really, really helps a lawyer. The day my book came, my income went up by 4 times." Datar explains the lesson behind the anecdote: "If I had not set the goal, I would have never written it. It was just a setback. Even if it gets delayed, there is no need to get disheartened. You're on the track. If not now, tomorrow, it will come." Quoting a couplet written by Constitutional scholar HM Seervai at the beginning of his book, Datar says, "For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are 'it might have been'." With this, Datar begins the slideshow by stating that there are two versions of a person: Who you actually are, and who you are capable of being. "One thing you should sit down and think is what is the greatest potential that you have. Where can you go and what is the gap?" Therefore, one needs to first jot down where the person stands currently, and then jot down what the person wishes to achieve. "You're at X, you want to be at Y. And by when; 'when' is the gap you have to fill. You should have a clear goal and a clear target." Datar then refers to the 7 steps of goal setting, formed by Zig Zigler. This includes defining a goal, understanding the real purpose behind the goal, setting a deadline, identifying the skills/knowledge necessary to achieve the goal, then to identify the groups of people who would help you to achieve your goal, then to foresee the road blocks/obstacles that might hinder your path to your goal (a 360-degree SWAT analysis). The most important of all is the last step: the Plan of Action; the proper steps that need to be taken without faltering. Datar further clarified that goals could be extended to health, family and community. It was not necessary for the goals to be limited to one's profession. He also encouraged the listeners to formulate "audacious/stretch goals",i.e. those goals which would force one to venture out of their comfort zones. These could be further broken down into "sub goals". "If you're really passionate, if you're mad about your goal, you can make it". Post the setting of goals, Datar emphasizes on the habit of reviewing one's performance on a daily basis. "There's a Japanese word called 'Hansei'. You need to spend 15 minutes in a day to review where did you go wrong, where can you improve. In management, there is P-D-C-A: Plan, Do, Check and Act. I have underlined 'Execution' here because this is where I fail. We just don't implement what we want. One should also visualize their goal." Datar then spoke about time management and referred to Peter Drucker's Management Theory. He stated that it was important to track one's time for a week in order to analyse what one was doing with their time. "I have done it and it was very embarrassing. It's shocking, the amount of time one wastes their time. We don't waste hours, we waste minutes and that ends up logging up to hours." Datar suggested that one should employ working in time blocks, i.e. by setting a timer to work for 60 or 90 minutes at a time without any disruptions or distractions. He then underlined the concept of scheduling one's day. "In the morning, list down three things that you have to do that day, no matter what happens. That's priority A, B, C." NO SHORT-CUTS Datar referred to the works of Stephen Covey and Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers to emphasise the importance of the patience one requires to cultivate to achieve anything. "A lot of well-known lawyers had a long waiting period. So, do not be discouraged or disheartened. It is the general rule. MC Setalvad had no work for almost ten years, Chagla had no work for 8 years. There are no shortcuts at all." MASTER OVER YOUR FIELD "You pick up one subject and become a master in it. You cannot be wandering generality as Zig Zigler says, you have to be specific." SINGLE-MINDED FOCUS Datar brought up the age-old adage of how law is a jealous mistress. "I see people wanting to do different things. It does not work like that. If you want to get to the top, it has to be law and nothing else. Just keep one or two other social activities that you like, but I don't think you can have a hectic social life and get anywhere at the top of the game. That's my personal view. Single-minded focus is extremely important." KEEP A NOTE BOOK Datar remarked about how he always kept a book with himself whenever he was in Court. If any case was mentioned in Court, he would make it a point to note it down and read it later in the evening. FUTURE LITIGATION LANDSCAPE Datar noted that in the 1950s, it was mainly zamindar litigation/land litigation. In 1960s-1970s, there was more of public law as writs started being filed. "The younger generation can figure out what is the future litigation landscape as we go into the digital world. We are going into an e-commerce world. This leads to so many opportunities. You need to see how civil litigation will be affected, how will tax be affected. We have to be ready for it and we have to start preparing ourselves." THINGS WILL GO WRONG "We have Murphy's Law. Things will always go wrong. Only thing is that you have to course correct." NO COMPARISON "There should be no comparison. There is no point comparing yourself to X or Y. You will always feel disheartened; jealousy sets in, envy sets in. Rather, set bench marks. Learn what are the particular plus points of a role model and just try to improve yourself." SUCCESS LEAVES CLUES Datar stated that a successful person always leaves clues as to how a goal has been achieved. He advised the listeners to emulate that formula. MAKE SURE YOU GIVE IT YOUR ALL "Make sure that you do everything humanly possible to achieve your goal. See if you have left any stone unturned". IMPORTANCE OF THOUGHTS "You are what you think about all day. Thoughts are incredibly powerful. What you keep thinking turns into actions, actions turn into behavior and that behavior turns into your personality." Datar concluded the session with a few random thoughts. He advised his listeners to never chase money and that it would follow as a result of one's professional excellence. "Every day is a new beginning. We should strive to be the best version of ourselves and to reach our greatest potential." On responding to a question seeking for advice for tax enthusiasts, Datar conveyed to the listeners that they should focus on digital taxation, cross-border taxation and e-commerce disputes. ASPECT OF COURT CRAFT Responding to question on the bearing of court craft and eloquence on a person's success, which is a handicap for most lawyers, Datar remarked: "I think court craft is very, very important. Otherwise you could have just given your written submissions and the Judge could decide. What you say is at a lower percentage than how you say it." Datar quoted Greek statesman Cicero and stated, "If truth was self-evident, then eloquence would be unnecessary." ON THE YOUNGER GENERATION OF LAWYERS On being asked about his perception of the younger generation of lawyers, Datar stated that he coud say, without any fear or contradiction, that the younger generation was extremely bright. "The younger generation is far more intellectually capable than our generation. On the minor side, I feel that they are very much in a hurry. They want everything within two or three years. I keep telling them that it took me ten years to buy my second-hand car." Datar further commented that he had noticed that everyone wanted to go abroad for an LL.M and/or straightway wanted to go to the Supreme Court. "I don't see what is the logic. This is what is called 'herd mentality'. So, please think whether it is worth it. The last thing is that everyone straightaway wants to go to the Supreme Court. I keep telling the younger generation that be patient." Datar underlined the advantage of internet that is available to the younger generation. "They have the fantastic advantage of internet. They have the entire library of the world in their fingers. If we wanted to read something, we would have to take permission, go to the Judges' Library. We had nothing; everything was hardcopy. They just need to be patient. Younger fellows are much, much brighter. I have no fear about the future of the profession." ON HOW TO DEAL WITH JUDGES AND OPPOSING COUNSELS On being asked about how to deal with things when a judge is unable to under the legal nuances of a case, Datar noted that due to a lack of specialized judges, the situation could arise at times. He further noted that a lawyer's job was to make the judge understand and there was nothing that could be done in these cases. One had to treat the incident as a learning experience and take it in their stride. "I personally take such situations as an opportunity to improve my advocacy skills. I have learnt to be patient, trying different approaches. I just enjoy going to Court. One thing I miss today is the sheer oxygen of just arguing in Court. It's part of the game." On an incident wherein a personal remark had been passed against Datar in open Court and his lack of a reaction to the same, Datar told the questioner to read MC Setalvad's autobiography, "My Life: Law and other Things". "I kept that in mind. I should never ever lose my temper at somebody. That makes my advocacy suffer. Secondly, I should not give importance to him. He's saying something, he should not have made a personal remark. If he does not know legal etiquette, why should I get down to his level?" Datar additionally remarked on the importance of maintaining 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 dignity. We are all Officers of the Court". ON SPECIALISATION Datar stated that he had been telling all his interns to not go for specialization right after graduation. He emphasized that learning the basics of civil and criminal procedural laws would aid young lawyers more than any LL.M degree. "Looking back, if I lived my life again, I would do one year of Civil, one year of Criminal and then take up tax. That is one mistake I made, and this is something I learnt from Ashoke Sen's life." Datar also referred to a piece of advice that had been given to him by his senior, N. Natarajan on the importance of not losing one's temper with a judge: "Remember, for you this is your bread and butter. For your client, it is his life." On that note, the enlightening webinar concluded.