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A Fresher’s Dilemma, A Lonesome Litigator

The smallest stone makes a ripple in the water. This particular stone was big, destructive, indiscriminative and life-altering. Unlike the above terminology tending towards positivity, this was negative. 2019 incorporated a paradigm shift in the entire global structure, consigning a profound diacritic on the global scenario itself. The Judiciary is but a minuscule part of it.

A contrasting outlook as purveyed by the longstanding traditions for a litigator joining the legal profession exists as to one with no prior relatedness varying from one possessing the same. To put it in a nutshell, the contrast appears between one whose progenitors are already a part of the profession and one who has whatsoever no such connections with the system as a whole, and as such, is fresh out of a pothole.

To make things worse, the unfolding of COVID-19 altered the course of the entire judicial process coercing it to adopt an alternative procedure, i.e. online means, for dissolution of lawsuits. This article elucidates the various hurdles faced by a fresher litigator setting foot in the legal profession, constructing a comparative analogy between the abovementioned contrasting types and pivoting its views on the diverse challenges and hurdles faced by them during the initial years.

All opinions and views mentioned herein are personal and based on experience, as viewed through my years of internships in the High Court of Calcutta, simultaneously getting associated with some of the most profound personalities therein.

The Break Is Over! A Lawyer's Equilibrium (An Introduction)

23rd March 2020, followed a paramount resolve by the Hon'ble Apex court to hear all such urgent matters through an online medium[1], opining that as many as forty cases can be heard by a single virtual court.[2] The valiant move avowed that the break is over. But perhaps, this unstipulated break was undesired, as the hotshots of the legal industry are scarce in number. For a practising litigator, the Court was the source of income.

Money was the need of the hour. Employers were itself in a dilemma. The concatenation of transactions stopped. Clients ceased payments. Employers ceased payment to his employees. For the benevolent ones, the payment was meagre. A recent visit to the court premises will give anybody chills, for what were the most crowded corridors, now lay barren; the typical commotion was absent.

The Apex court's resolution to hear cases online came as a blessing in disguise. Ascertainment of remuneration was once again perceptible. A question comes into one's mind that if such is the condition for a litigating lawyer practising for years, then what will be the outcome for the newcomer who just enrolled herself/himself under the purview of his senior.

As already well known, a fresher earns an insignificant remuneration during his initial days/months, the longstanding tradition has been an expectancy to grow over the years, making a name for himself through performance; a self-made man. Conversing with a few known associates who recently joined the profession, one could be made wary of the declining situation, where one only manages to earn a meagre amount or not even that; some of them with significant education loans lurking in the background, and not even enough to make ends meet. Yes! Not all come with a silver spoon in their mouth. The decision of SC came as a ray of hope.

A Harsh Reality - A Fervent Myth

There lies a common misrepresentation that being a lawyer is all fun and glee. A commoner is not to be held superintended as media has time and time again portrayed this profession to be something distant from reality. Media here includes the so-called TV series like Boston Legal or Suits, showcasing a widely misappropriated scenario of big-shot lawyers according to sarcastic arguments and cracking down multi-billion dollar deals, rolling in premium cars.

Life does seem fun. But it's not all Alan Shore or Harvey Specter. Reality is often disappointing.

A lawyer's chamber remains unbolted throughout the day. It is contended that work begins after court hours. Each and every associate working under a lawyer are supposed to be present within a stipulated time to resume their work, furthering preparations for next day matters, preparing briefs on cases, structuring down arguments, and a continuous brainstorming, for as long as required. The pressure is on the newcomers.

The longer you have worked, the easier you can get off. Why do you think that interns leave last? Makes sense right! Call this lack of experience or knowledge, a fresh litigator is contemplated to invest all of his time to his legal career, gasping along with everything he can get his hands on, for one day that will be of assistance. If other associates are working under that particular senior, then he has to make himself recognized to his senior.

As for working hours, he may not leave at all. It's customary for litigators to work throughout the nights to prepare for subsequent matters. The more sizeable the matter; the more the hours of work you have to put in. A newcomer needs to give it his all, for in doing so will make his efforts recognizable, which in turn will lead to further improvements; and with improvements come incentives.

The hierarchical structure is directly proportional to the amount of effort and hard work he puts in, for hard work guides to success. One needs to sacrifice something to acquire something. The something to be sacrificed here signifies his life, which in doing so will tantamount to success. A typical newcomer litigator requires eight to ten years approx. to succeed. The struggle is indeed real.

There are two sides to a coin.

The corresponding side renders it uncomplicated for a newcomer being accustomed to the legal industry, i.e. in close relation to an already established litigating lawyer. Much of the abovementioned complexities get simplified, in so much as the struggle lessens, for he does not have to establish himself. He has only to learn and hone his skills and improve.

Whether he can further improve his progenitor's practice depends solely upon him. As observed personally, a Judge's son already has the recognition he requires to attract clients. Recognition constitutes one of the single most requirements in a legal profession, achieved through hard work and an adequate set of skills.

In either scenario, hard work remains constant. What changes, is the struggle for recognition. One may opine that hard work will eventually lead to success, further leading to recognition; however, what matters is the fundamental element of time. What he can achieve within the initial years, will incidentally take longer for the other to achieve. In the end, it all coincides to sheer hard work, knowledge, and the ability to present oneself in front of the bench, to converse fluidly, something that even many lawyers lack.

Dare to Dream: Interfacing Challenges

Facets of implementing an individualistic litigation practice have its just share of obstacles.[3] For starters, you start from scratch, owning no clients, office, finances and most of all scarce court-room creditability.[4]

As for remuneration, they typically range from zero to earning a meagre amount, insufficient to make ends meet, accompanied by hefty expenditures. One simply cannot hand-pick their work, for whatever comes is a blessing.[5] Work differs from state to state, i.e. the plethora of work that one might get in Delhi will be dissimilar from that in Kolkata or Bhubaneswar.

Delhi being the law capital will surely facilitate more. However, the cost of living in Delhi is also lofty. Infrastructure plays a leading role. One needs to set up certain facilities like an office to conduct meetings with clients, laptops, printers, photocopy machines etc. Last but not least is adequate publicity. Advertisements being barred, one needs to fully support himself through in-court conducts or the art of getting oneself recognized.[6] There exist no guided prescriptions for minimizing such challenges; everyone deals with them differently, the key element being hard and clever work, something that many fail to do.

Delving into the more unconventional aspects, practising under a senior litigator gives rise to further complications. One needs to satisfy his dictates. His wishes are your commands. Outmost dedication, compliance is key terms of acceptance.[7] It is quite onerous to perceive a generous senior, one who will be a gratuitous teacher and an ardent supporter. Above all, he should be engrossed to teach. The world is an egocentric venue; nobody wants to depart any knowledge to others.

A keen resolve or perseverance is all that is required to gain an incomprehensible amount of knowledge. Remuneration as always is another issue. Consolidating with a law firm does solve many of those hardships; however, one does lose his autocracy in doing so. He remains at the beck and call of his employers. Ones delving from a legal background may only join under the guardianship of their progenitors and avoid a greater part of those challenges. Unlike others, they have it all served on a silver plate. The world was never fair; but who's complaining!

To make matters worse, the advent of COVID-19 hindered the entire employment structure, as the senior litigators are now hesitant to appoint any juniors under their kind perusal. The infectious nature of the virus has rendered many fresh law graduates out of opportunity, rendering them incapable of joining the profession. Courts are still suspended, except hearing of urgent matters through electronic means, and as such the load of work has reduced to a significant extent. Payment of remuneration is also another cause, as the lawyers themselves are not being paid enough. The economy has come crashing down.

Last But Not Least (Conclusion)
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. – New Testament of the Bible, Galatians 6:7

In the end, everything hinges on how much we put into it. The ancient proverb, we reap what we sow applies multifaceted, emphasizing throughout the eras. Disentangling, it means that what we get is a mere product of the efforts we put into it.

Whether one is a first-generation lawyer or has progenitors in the same profession is of little significance, for even they had to start at some point. Challenges come in various proportions, and such challenges are to be dealt with efficiently and with dexterity.

Be it Jethmalani or Salve, everyone had to start small. Focusing on the abovementioned discussions, it is verifiable that being a litigator and incorporating a new practice is troublesome and engages a lot of time for the first few years, but upon reaching a certain stage, things take a turn for the good. Personally, I had much rather start my practice under a designated senior, than to sit at a desk with stipulated working hours, going through the consistent facets of work.

The effect of the on-going pandemic has worsened matters to an extent where fresh out of law school graduates remain unable to join. Firms have ceased recruiting and so have the litigating lawyers. The news of courts reopening is indeed a blessing as when work resumes, pressure mounts; recruitments may begin again.

However, this time period can be positively utilized in brushing up the much-needed skills, focusing on the certain areas where one might not consider it a stronghold, learn drafting skills and practice spoken English. Carefully analysing the various challenges and dilemmas, it can be said that nothing has changed, what was there, still is; what has changed is the fact that things have taken a turn for the worse. For where there is despair, there is hope. Things will eventually fall into its place. One should be utterly patient about it.

End-Notes:
  1. Japnam Bindra, Covid-19: Supreme Court to hear cases through video conferencing, https://www.livemint.com/news/india/covid-9-supreme-court-to-hear-cases-through-video-conferencing-11584891831041.html (last visited August 23, 2020).
  2. The Economic Times, One virtual court can hear 40 cases through video-conferencing in day: Supreme Court, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/one-virtual-court-can-hear-40-cases-through-video-conferencing-in-day-supreme-court/printarticle/75807354.cms (last visited August 23, 2020).
  3. Prachi Shrivastava, Why young litigators go independent, https://www.livemint.com/Companies/ZzehrEQC4weh2BtmFKtS0J/Why-young-litigators-go independent.html (last visited August 24, 2020).
  4. Aditya Anand, First Year and First Generation: Things to Note Before Choosing Litigation, https://www.lawctopus.com/first-year-and-first-generation-things-to-note-before-choosing-litigation/ (last visited August 24, 2020).
  5. Id.
  6. Id.
  7. Prachi Shrivastava, Why young litigators go independent, https://www.livemint.com/Companies/ZzehrEQC4weh2BtmFKtS0J/Why-young-litigators-go independent.html (last visited August 25, 2020).

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