The agony and ecstasy of litigation

ALL SET: There is a sense of independence when you are a litigating lawyer. Photo shows students at NALSAR, Hyderabad. Photo: P. V. Sivakumar   | Photo Credit: P_V_SIVAKUMAR

Almost ten years ago, fresh out of school, when I chose to study law, most people around me reacted in horror, for law did not seem to involve the respectable daily routine of sitting at a desk staring at a computer modifying and re-formatting existing work and earning pots of money. Once in law school, I learnt that a lot of what transactional lawyers do in corporate firms involved exactly that, and I chose, perhaps buoyed by fiery lawyers wearing superhero-esque black gowns screaming “ Milaard” and “ Yoraanar” in popular culture, a life in the courts.

Let me tell you at the outset that life as a litigating lawyer is not half as glamorous as it sounds. A typical day starts with an early morning scan of the court lists to find out what matters you have listed that day. Then, you determine what stage the matter is at and prioritise matters depending on how high or low they appear on the list, and how important your presence is at that hearing. That’s a fine art you'll learn only with time.

Once you have done all this, you go to court and engage in the most dreaded part of a litigating lawyer's life — waiting. Courts, unlike in the movies, list anywhere between 50 and 100 items a day and often hear a substantial number of these cases. Obviously, many cases get adjourned because the lawyers are not free, or some vital document is missing, or some order from somewhere else is awaited, or the judge thinks it is better for it to be heard in detail on a freer day, or sometimes for no real reason at all. But many cases are heard and disposed of, and while the judge is dealing with other cases, you are stuck with just sitting in the back rows of the court hall and waiting. Evenings are spent in office, drafting, meeting clients and preparing for the next day's work. And so the cycle runs, from court to office to home and back to court in the morning, seemingly endlessly, day after day, matter after matter.

But more than the waiting or the daily drudgery, what puts fresh graduates off litigation is the long gestation period. One starts in the offices of a lawyer as a junior and must cut his teeth in the courts and slowly build a practice. Offices pay substantially more today compared to even a decade ago, but even that does not compare favourably with the salaries that transactional firms can offer to a fresher. Even when one branches out, the litigator's professional life is all-consuming — a jealous mistress, as the old-timers say.

Still, there are compelling reasons why people choose litigation. The first is the independence and thrill it offers one of being on one’s own. You are the king of your own life, and that freedom is invigorating.

Secondly, building a solid case for a client, and convincing the judge of one’s point of view using logic, research, reason, persuasion, and occasionally, dramatics, gives one a high that few other professions can offer.

Strategising for a case, knowing what to file and how to file it, how to stress the strengths of the case and work around its weaknesses, when to make a technical argument, when to appeal to the judge’s sense of equity, when to do both, are all equally important and exciting, especially when you have a shrewd opponent. Arguing in court or cross-examining a witness are like a game of chess — nuanced, difficult, terribly intense, and a lot of fun!

Thirdly, it gives one the opportunity to engage with subtleties of the law and push its boundaries. While an advisor needs to be cautious, and with good reason, the litigator can engage in intellectual and verbal jugglery to break new ground.

Fourthly, a career in litigation, even in a specialised field, offers staggering variety. No case is like another. Obviously, no two disputes can have the exact same set of facts, and very often, small distinctions make all the difference. Finding these dissimilarities means work does not get monotonous. No day is like another. Some days, you are done with all your work by afternoon, and on others, you could find yourself working all night.

Fourthly, every nook and cranny is filled with strange people and stranger stories, emotions run high, wounds are raw and open. But even in this charged atmosphere, there is space for lightheartedness, laughs and gossip.

Even when the waits in the courts seem interminable, the courts hold a variety of quirky characters to keep you amused. And this, for someone who loves studying people, makes the court an exhilarating place to work.

The author is an

advocate practising

at the Madras High Court .

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 8:30:21 PM |

Next Story