Interviews

Avi Tandon, an alumnus of NLU Jodhpur, on pursuing his Masters from Oxford & practicing before the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court


Please tell us something about yourself.

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“Law for me has always been something that is grounded on pure logic and common sense.”

I am a graduate of National Law University, Jodhpur – Class of 2012 and I did my Masters (B.C.L.) from University of Oxford in the year 2013. Currently, I am a practising Advocate in Delhi and regularly appear before the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court.

What were the reasons behind choosing law as a career?

Coming from a family of lawyers, I don’t think that taking up law as a career was a very tough choice for me. Though I was never really a successful debater during my school days but being a Science student I always had the curiosity to find out the rationale behind things in a logical and reasonable manner. Law for me has always been something that is grounded on pure logic and common sense. Therefore, my inclination towards law as a career option was much higher than other career options that I had considered [which includes being a qualified Chef some day:)].

Tell us a bit about your life at the University.

Coming to NLU Jodhpur was really the first time I had actually stayed away from home. Especially in the beginning, college life seemed tough and overwhelming at times. I took my time to adjust to hostel life as well as in making new friends in college. For me doing well in academics was always the primary objective and other things were ancillary. However, I did realise the importance of having an active social life in college, which not only develops our social skills but also gives us an opportunity to express ourselves in public. Some of the friendships that I developed in college will last for lifetime and even today my friends from NLU are the ones who really understand and know me more than anyone else. Anything about my law school life is incomplete without a mention about the 5th and final year; that was the best time ever. 5th year was all about enjoying college life and partying to the fullest before we were eventually thrown into the real world.

What were the extracurricular activities you participated in during your college years?

When I joined college I genuinely wanted to do well in mooting. It was something that I could correlate with for the reason that I could build my arguments on a particular topic and then defend my reasoning before judges/ people who were in fact more experienced and skilled in the subject than I was. Mooting gave me the opportunity to not only compete with my peers but with college seniors and students from other law schools in India and abroad. Mooting was also the closest to what we would ultimately experience as lawyers in our professional lives.

Apart from mooting, I wrote few articles and research papers on topics that were of interest to me. Some of these research papers were also published by few legal journals.

When I joined NLU, I was interested in cricket and also took part in few Intra-College cricket matches. However, cricket matches were never a regular feature in our college days. Thereafter, while in NLU, I developed a liking for Table Tennis as a sport. We had a TT table in our hostel’s common area. A lot of my time, particularly in my 5th year, was actually spent playing table tennis.

In which year of law school you became certain that you will be pursuing litigation after graduation?

After my litigation internships at the end of my 2nd year, I had developed keen interest in pursuing litigation after graduation. However, I still wanted to take a look at the transactional/ corporate side of law before I made the final choice. My law firm internship in my 3rd year of law school was actually a decisive factor. Corporate work, although challenging in its own way, was not something I could immediately relate to. It did not really generate the kind of curiosity and excitement that I experienced while interning with litigation chambers. My litigation internships in 4th year of law school further reinforced my conviction in taking up litigation as future career. By the starting of my 5th year, I was fairly certain that I would pursue litigation.

For litigation as a career, what kind of internships should one look for?

According to me, Trial Court experience is a must for anyone who is looking at litigation as an option. An internship with a good Trial Court lawyer can actually be a very enriching experience since the student is exposed to more of procedural law which does not happen as often at the appellate stages. Therefore, an internship at the Trial Court level is a must. Internships with High Court and Supreme Court counsels are more focused on research on legal topics and case laws, so these internships are important to cultivate analytical skills in framing and developing legal arguments on questions of law. Similarly, interning with a litigation law firm helps a person to harness the skills of legal drafting and counsel briefing, which are also very important facets of being a good litigation lawyer. Last of all, an internship with a judge of High Court or Supreme Court is really helpful in understanding how the judges prepare for the matters listed before them. It teaches the student what are the points that the judges look for in their files and also what kind of points to argue before the judge in a court of law which would be sufficient to get the relief for the client. An internship with a corporate law firms can also help a person in actually deciding where does his interest lie. Unless, one has interned in a corporate law firm one can never be sure of the difference in the work on litigation and corporate side.

In litigation, how should one choose the field of law one should specialize in?

As a young lawyer it is very difficult as well as unreasonable to limit oneself to a particular field/ branch of law. Everyone has his/ her liking to particular aspects/ subjects of law but that does not mean that one should limit oneself only to that filed of law. The initial few years of litigation career is all about exploring different fields of law and learning different facets of law. Over a period of time you develop your interest in a particular branch of law and as more matters you take up in that branch, you start specializing in the same. It is advisable that initially a young litigator should do all types of matters, which comes his/ her way. Every new case is an opportunity to learn something new from the beginning. It is only after working for a reasonable period of time that one should choose and decide which field of law to specialize in. You should not claim that you don’t like a particular field of law unless you have given it a shot once and disliked it.

Is it necessary to start under a senior and work under him for few years before moving on into one’s own private practice?

Working with a good senior for few years in your initial career as a litigator is very necessary. Litigation as a profession is based a lot on perception and image. When you are new to the profession it is difficult to gain recognition and credibility right in the beginning. Association with a good senior not only lends credibility to the junior advocate but also brings instant recognition for the junior. Not only does the senior teach his/ her junior how to handle cases and argue before a court of law but also how to interact with clients and develop social skills necessary for any lawyer. There is a lot to learn for any junior by just watching and observing the senior and how he/ she prepares for the matter and presents the case before the courts.

This association with a senior lawyer lasts forever, since you will always be known as his/ her junior even after you shift to your own private practice. Reputation of a good senior lawyer always precedes your reputation as his junior. Also, in the initial phases the senior lawyer can help a junior advocate financially and professionally till the time junior is able to sustain himself/ herself financially.

How true is the common perception that “the first generation lawyers are ought to struggle”?

To begin with, I am not a first generation lawyer so I may not be best equipped to answer the question. However, first few years for any litigation lawyer are tough and challenging, irrespective of his/ her family background. Initially, when you are start in litigation, you need to learn from scratch, so learning basics from the beginning is a tedious task in itself. Legal profession is heavily based on trust and good faith between the client and his lawyer, so it is unreasonable to expect that from day one any client will trust you to handle his case efficiently. However, there is no substitute for hard work and diligence in this profession. Whoever is willing to put in the required hard work and effort into their matter will eventually be rewarded at the end of the day. If you are patient enough and diligently do the work that is given/ assigned to you,  your reputation will slowly travel far and across.

Financial stability definitely takes its time for any litigating lawyer, however, that does not mean that you will lead your initial days in poverty and penury. With patience and persistence it is possible to do well in the legal profession.

What is a normal routine of an advocate?

Normal routine of any advocate, litigation or otherwise, is generally hectic and sometimes chaotic. On a normal day, I get up around 6 a.m. in the morning to read file papers and prepare for the arguments in the day. By 10 am I am in court premises and attend court proceedings till around lunch-time or till 4 pm depending on the requirement of the day. After that there are conferences and briefings, which are generally scheduled in the evenings. After that there is preparation work for the matters and research work to be done for arguments scheduled for the next day. After 8 pm it is my individual choice to either work from office or work from home, whichever being more convenient. For litigating lawyers, Saturdays and Sundays are rarely off days. Pending work or matters are prepared over the weekend so that the weekdays can be kept free for listed court matters. However, as is very well known in legal circles, Friday evenings are generally free for most litigating advocates.  There are periods when litigating lawyers work for 3-4 weeks continuously without any holiday. However, we do get our summer and winter breaks when the courts are shut and work is relatively less.

How has been your experience as an advocate so far?

It has been a wonderful experience litigating as an advocate till now. No two cases are same ever. Every particular case has its own nuances and challenges. Even the slightest of change in the facts can lead to a completely different judgment in a particular case. Therefore, everyday is a new challenge in the life of a lawyer and everyday we get to learn something new. There is huge adrenaline rush when you argue in a court of law and present your case before a judge. That feeling in itself is unparalleled and unmatched. Also, the fact that when you get a favourable order in favour of your client or help a needy person through the legal process it is really a satisfying and fulfilling experience. The thrill and excitement keeps you motivated going forward. However, not everyday will be as satisfying. There are times when you will feel dejected and demotivated but you just need to push yourself that extra bit to keep it going. If you put in the hard work required success would eventually follow.

Any message or tips for our aspiring litigators?

Litigation as a career choice does not seem to be a very lucrative option to a lot of students, specially for students from national law schools, where high paying corporate jobs seem to be the major crowd puller. However, in my limited experience, litigation seems to be a more satisfying and fulfilling experience in the longer run. Achieving instant success in litigation is highly improbable, if not impossible. If you manage to survive the initial few years in litigation and put in the hard work required then there are no limits to your success and glory. Do not expect any short cuts to achieve success in this profession. As an independent lawyer you will have the freedom to work at your own pace and comfort level without worrying about taking orders from anyone else. Give yourself an opportunity in litigation and you will be surprised with the results. Cheers!

 

A Mooter Then and an Advocate Now: Chidambara Sastry Sarva, an alumnus of NLU Jodhpur, on his litigation experience

Please tell us something about yourself.

I am an Advocate. I graduated in 2013 from NLU Jodhpur and have been litigating ever since.

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Law is a profession where your opinion or perspective is your investment and I wanted to use it for myself.”

What were the reasons behind choosing law as a career?

It was a very interesting choice. A lot of people wouldn’t actually believe me because I hail from a family of lawyers. I was as confused as anyone about my career after my 10th. I had pursued coaching for engineering entrance exams in my 11th class just to keep my options open. In that pursuit to keep ‘my options open’ I met one person who gave coaching for law school entrances. She taught a group of students every year, pro bono. I went and attended her classes for an entire year while pursuing my 12th. I think her classes were the game changer and they attracted me towards law. Apart from that my father has always been a great inspiration growing up. So I can’t deny his influence on me, albeit not intentional.

Tell us a bit about your life at the University.

It wasn’t easy, to be very honest. The initial years were very difficult. One had to first get adjusted and then understand what is going around. There were too many things like assignments, tests, presentations, moots etc. Most of us were doing all of it for the first time. But once I fell in the rhythm, and started planning my time properly, it was good. The exposure I got at the University not only in terms of academics but also people and cultures, has had a lasting impact on me and my thinking. I wouldn’t replace those five years with anything else. It was the best time.

What were the extra-curricular activities you participated in during your college years?

I had given a lot of time to mooting in college. Mooting was more like a curriculum for our entire batch. We took it very seriously. Alongside this, I did a couple of debates and I was also into organising different events in my 4th and 5th year. We tried to experiment a few reforms in the Moot Court Committee. Some were successful and some of them are being implemented now.

Another important aspect which I could not give as much time as I would like to is Writing. Whatever little I wrote, I tried to get it published.

Apart from these, I played badminton. I started playing for the University only in my 3rd Year and was lucky to win a few competitions as well.

In which year of law school you became certain that you will be pursuing litigation after graduation?

To be honest, I never intended to go for a firm job. The only kind of advocacy I had seen was litigation until I reached college. In my 3rd year or so, I was little confused looking at my friend who took keen interest in pursuing a firm job. But most important factor in my decision-making was that I wanted to work for myself. Law is a profession where your opinion or perspective is your investment and I wanted to use it for myself. The kind of internships I did in my 3rd and 4th year were also helpful. I had the opportunity to work with one of the Grand Old Men of the Indian bar, Mr. K. Parasaran. His approach and his conviction to the law inspired me even more. I think that was when I had completely decided to get into Litigation.

For litigation as a career, what kind of internships should one do?

Litigation has various facets to it. For instance, Trial Work is completely different from Appellate Work. And when things reach the Supreme Court, it is a completely different story. So, one should try to get exposed to all these levels through internships before deciding which level one wants to concentrate on. I don’t mean to say that one can’t work at all these levels. But at the beginning it might get a little difficult to do so. I would suggest to choose your internships in accordance with the courses that you just completed. Taking up a Trial Court internship wouldn’t make sense until you have studied procedural laws which are usually taught in the 3rd year or so. Apart from this I would recommend at least one or two firm internships as well only to understand how things work.

In litigation, how should one choose the field of law to specialize in?

A particular field of law will eventually become ones USP. One can choose a subject that interests him to be his USP and pursue it during the internship or the USP will eventually choose you. What I mean is if you start litigating by yourself, you will be identified as being good with a particular field of law. So, those cases start flowing towards you. This field might as well be the field that you chose while in college but there is no guarantee to it. However, one cannot deny a case dealing with other fields. As an Advocate, all subjects are your subjects. A case is a case for you, be it taxation or family law or criminal law. Whoever is aspiring to specialize in a particular area, my advice is that one should go ahead and learn as much as one can but that does not mean you can turn a blind eye to the others.

Is it necessary to work under a senior for a few years before starting one’s own  practice?

Working under a good Senior is the most important thing for an aspiring Advocate. Ideally one should identify whom they would want to work for during their Internships. Very few relationships in life are special. One such relationship is with your senior. He/She is your de facto parent professionally. So this choice has to be made carefully. One should choose someone who can devote time to his/ her juniors. The Senior you choose should be someone who has a credible standing. And standing is different from ‘credible standing’. With credibility, I mean that the Bar has to acknowledge him morally, legally and ethically. He should not be a crook who just teaches you the backdoor skills and spoils the rest of your life.

An Advocate will always be associated with his Senior even if he stops working for the Senior. So it’s a life long choice. There was an incident recently. My father was appearing in a matter and I was assisting him. I think the judge was impressed with the ingenuity of the argument put forth by my father, so he immediately asked him, who was his Senior. My father is a Senior Advocate and has about 4 decades of standing at the Bar, but he is still associated with his Senior. The formative years are very important for an Advocate and one’s Senior plays a huge role in that.

How true is the common perception that “the first generation lawyers ought to struggle”? 

Initial years are tough for anyone. Even if you have a legal background things are not going to be that easy. If you are looking for financial stability, then litigation is not for you. It requires a lot of dedication and hard work. But it also guarantees results in the long run. If you work, you are bound to succeed. There is no hit and miss here. But one must play the patience game. There are no shortcuts to this.

Mr Parasaran once told me that he categorized his career into three phases – 1. No Work No Money, 2. Full Work No Money and 3. No Work Full Money. This is mostly how the career of a litigator will span. So one has to be prepared for that.

What is the normal routine of an advocate?

When I was working under a Senior, I used to reach office at 9 in the morning and wrap up things before the court started. I used to be in the court from 10:30am in the morning to 4.30pm. After a short break, I used to resume the office at around 6.30 in the evening. On a hectic day, I had to be in the office till 10 also. Basically we would work for a major portion of the day and had no social life. I have worked for seven days in a week when I was working for myself and a senior simultaneously. Even Saturdays and Sundays were working days for me. So it is going to be hectic.

How has your experience, as an advocate been, so far?

It has been satisfying to be honest. It has its own ups and downs. But I can say with conviction that I am satisfied with my work even though it doesn’t pay as much as I would like. I had to make my mistakes and learn from them. I was fortunate to have a senior who didn’t get mad at me when I screwed something up. Rather, we worked and fixed things together.

Any messages or tips for our aspiring litigators?

Firstly, one mistake which I committed was that I did not understand the importance of subjects like CPC, CrPC etc. Getting a GPA of an eight or nine in these subject is not hard in college but one has to learn more than that.  There are fancy subjects like International law and IPR, which definitely need a lot of understanding but the subjects which I have mentioned are the bread and butter in litigation. They should not be ignored.

Secondly, do not lose hope. And do not get over awed by the personality of big lawyers you see. Do not worry about the things. All of us can put in efforts and we can reach wherever we want.