The post colonial-era building with the red sandstone dome on Delhi’s Bhagwaan Dass Road is home to an elite class of lawyers, who are likely to be the most expensive in the world: they are typically paid between Rs 5 and 15 lakh per hearing.

Interviews by Legally India with more than 32 Delhi lawyers who brief seniors in the Supreme Court and Delhi high court have revealed that the top bracket in terms of pay is dominated by advocates who are or were also politicians (overwhelmingly from the Congress party). All the lawyers spoke on condition of anonymity.

Elder Statesmen

Senior advocates Supreme Court range per appearance (lakh Rs) Delhi high court range per appearance (lakh Rs) Comments from the seniors
Ram Jethmalani 25+ 25+  
Fali Nariman 8-15    
KK Venugopal 5-7.5 7-15 Large number of cases handled free. State governments & gov't institutions charged far less.
Gopal Subramanium 5.5-15 11-16.5 Rs 25 lakh at tribunals, no trial courts.Does 8-9 pro bono briefs per month.Does not charge if does not appear.
P Chidambaram 6-7 7-15  
Harish Salve 6-15 6-15  
AM Singhvi 6-11 7-15 Figures broadly correct but vary according to category of case and workload. “There is no size fit all formula possible.”
CA Sundaram 5.5-16.5   Does not negotiate on fees, also handles pro bono
Salman Khurshid 5+ 8-11 Accommodates young lawyers and accepts pro bono briefs. Works with more than a dozen junior colleagues whom he provides reasonable earnings unlike other senior lawyers
Parag Tripathi 5-7 5-10  
KTS Tulsi 5-6 8-9  
Kapil Sibal 5-15 9-16  
Shanti Bhushan 4.5-6 4.5-6 Confirmed
Dushyant Dave 5.5-10 5.5-10 Never charges armed forces, civil services, teachers, doctors, NGOs, lawyers and their relatives and usually does not charge individuals. Appears in 3-5 pro bono matters weekly. Charges much more in outstation briefs.

Most of the ‘class 1’ seniors (although there’s no actual such term for them) can be retained to represent clients on ordinary matters in the Supreme Court for between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 7 lakh, said one of the lawyers interviewed.

The nonagenarian Ram Jethmalani is one of the oldest senior advocates still regularly practicing and is also one of the highest paid senior advocates in India at the apex or any other court.

According to several briefing lawyers, it generally costs at least Rs 25 lakh to have Jethmalani’s name attached to the case file and for him to read it.

Jethmalani can afford to price himself out of the market for all but the most affluent clients, since a majority of the matters he does act for these days, he handles pro bono, without charging a fee, according to lawyers, and he only appears in a few cases per week.

Former finance minister P Chidambaram charges in the range of Rs 6-7 lakh for one appearance before a bench of Supreme Court judges.

Former Rajya Sabha member Fali S Nariman, who by most accounts takes barely any cases anymore, charges between Rs 11 Lakh and Rs 15 lakh per appearance in the Supreme Court. “(Nariman) like Chidambaram is very choosy. He only accepts (a case) if it involves a challenging question of law. (He accepts) not more than one [case] in a day,” explained a Delhi advocate who has previously engaged Nariman and Chidambaram for clients.

Former law minister Kapil Sibal charges at least Rs 8 lakh and up to Rs 15 lakh for one appearance before the Supreme Court.

Congress politician Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Harish Salve, the son of former Congress politician NKP Salve, who is now also a London barrister, generally charge upwards of Rs 6 lakh for one day’s appearance in a case in the Supreme Court, with Salve charging up to Rs 15 lakh.

However, the fees charged in that top bracket are fairly variable, depending on the complexity and interestingness of a case, the relationship with the client or briefing lawyer or a variety of other factors, including the day of the week.

The rates are usually lowest in the Supreme Court on Mondays and Fridays – the so-called miscellaneous days when the apex court hears new matters before deciding whether to admit them for proper hearing.

On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays the Supreme Court hears arguments in cases and fees for advocates such as Sibal, Singhvi and Salve can range between Rs 11-15 lakh.

The grass is greener

Some of the Supreme Court seniors can also be enticed to leave their traditional home turf of the Supreme Court and cross the road to Sher Shah Suri Road, but it will cost you – usually a minimum of Rs 7 lakh at the top end.

One extreme is that since most successful senior counsel on the above list are extremely busy, those specialising in one court generally don’t want to waste their time travelling between courts when they could be arguing another matter in their home court in the same time.

Various Delhi advocates told Legally India that preparation for appearing in the high court was similar to preparation required for final arguments in the Supreme Court since the high court hears full and detailed arguments every day.

Seniors therefore usually appear in the Delhi high court on any day, for around the same fee which they charge to appear in the Supreme Court on a Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays – a non-miscellaneous day.

Sometimes their high court fees are also intentionally set at a bar so high as to discourage all but the wealthiest from retaining them.

Gopal Subramanium is one extreme example. His Supreme Court fees of Rs 7 to 15 lakh per appearance is up there with the rest of the elder statesmen (despite Subramanium never having been in elected office, other than his short stint as solicitor general under the previous United Progressive Alliance government).

But when Subramanium goes to the Delhi high court he charges Rs 11 to 16.5 lakh. And when he heads to tribunals, his rates are at least Rs 25 lakh per hearing.

Rajya Sabha member and congress politician KTS Tulsi, who is also a former additional solicitor general (ASG) of India, charges between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 6 lakh in the Supreme Court. But the sought-after criminal attorney is busier in the lower courts and the high court where he charges around Rs 9 lakh.

SC: Between 3-5 lakh

Senior advocate SC DHC Seniors’ comments
Ranjit Kumar 4-5    
L Nageswara Rao 3-5    
Sidharth Luthra 3.5 4-5 Declined to confirm or deny figures. 30-40% of his matters are pro bono.
Rajeev Dhavan 3-5    
Balbir Singh 2.7 1.7  
Gopal Jain 2.2-3 2.2-3 Figure not cast in stone. Is very flexible. Does not charge fee in advance. Does 6-7 matters a day easily, sometimes goes up to 12. Hasn't done any pro bono matters yet but enlisted himself with the Delhi legal aid cell recently. Reduces fee for needy clients. Doesn't raise fee comparable to primary senior if he is the second senior counsel on a case.
Ajit Sinha (former judge) 2-5    
Raju Ramachandran 2-4    
Shyam Divan 2-4    

Others charging in the range of Rs 5-6 lakh in the Supreme Court are CA Sundaram, former ASGs L Nageswara Rao and Parag Tripathi.

Dave and Sundaram are rarely seen in the Delhi high court by most accounts, but Rao charges in the range of Rs 3-4 lakh and Tripathi charges in the range of Rs 7-10 lakh for one Delhi high court hearing.

There are also seniors in Delhi who appear almost exclusively in the high courts. The more popular ones among them charge in the range of Rs 3-5 lakh per appearance while the ones in nearly as high demand charge in the range of Rs 1-3 lakh.

Senior advocate SC DHC Comments from the seniors
KV Vishwanathan 2-3 3.5  
Dhruv Mehta 2-2.5 2.75  
Harin Raval 1.65-3.3 2.2-3.5 Only seldom appears in Delhi HC and if appears (like National Herald case) then generally pro bono.
Indu Malhotra 1-3    
Jayant Bhushan 1-2.2    
Ravi Sikri 0.75-1+   Correct but in respect of miscellaneous matters. For non miscellaneous it is much higher but very variable.
AS Chandhiok   5-7 Does 15 cases per month for free.
Rajiv Nayar   4-5.5  
Arvind Nigam   3-3.5  
Sandip Sindhwani   3  
Sandip Sethi   2.5-3.3  
Pinky Anand   2-3 Is ASG. confirmed rates for PSUs.
Pratibha Singh   1.5-2  
Joy Basu   1.5  
Meet Malhotra   1.5 This is a minimum fee. If private individual find it difficult to pay he waives it completely and does pro bono. Doesn't negotiate. Is more experienced in telecom, broadcasting and electricity regulations so rarely appears in Delhi HC.
Sudhir Nandrajog   1.1  
Amit Sibal   1-3.5  
Dayan Krishnan   0.55-1.1 Declined to comment.
Geeta Luthra   0.5-1  

There are also a whole range of senior counsel who can be retained by clients for between Rs 1 lakh and 5 lakh, and many younger non-senior counsel are also coming up and becoming acceptable to clients in high-profile matters, said several lawyers interviewed.

From outstation to free

The fee for any senior, be it in the outlier, high, or low division, will sky-rocket even further if they are called to appear outside Delhi, after adding the bills of business class or charter flights and potential five-star hotel accommodation.

Add to this the billings for losses incurred on unattended cases in Delhi during the outstation trip.

My colleagues do four "outstation matters" per month and are set for a month with a crore in income, half-joked one senior counsel when interviewed.

But then there's also cheap or free, as several of the lawyers contacted for this story were quick to point out. Subramanium said he does eight to nine pro bono briefs per month; KK Venugopal said he handled a large number of cases for free and charged less for government institutions; Dave that he did three to five cases for free per week (particularly for individuals, members of the armed forces, civil services, teachers, doctors, NGOs, lawyers and their relatives): Luthra that 30-40% of his cases were pro bono; Chandhiok that he did around 15 matters per month for free; and out of the other senior advocates contacted who replied, Sundaram's junior, Khurshid, Harin Raval and Malhotra also said they accepted briefs to argue for free in some circumstances.

Battles half-won

While seniors charge for “appearances” in courts, their role in these appearances according to the Advocates Act 1961, is to argue for the litigant who has engaged them. And yet, there is little the litigant or lawyer can do to ensure they honour their obligation, short of filing a bar council complaint against them if they don’t (and who wants to fight lawyers on their own turf?).

A Delhi law firm advocate who engaged a senior in the Rs 5-7 lakh range for his firm’s client, on a retainer of Rs 18 lakh and an appearance fee of Rs 12 lakh, recounted that the senior was “exploitative”. “He didn’t even get up to argue. It was bloody disappointing. I argued myself on the next hearing, (with big names as opposing counsel) and kicked their ass – something he couldn’t do,” he commented.

One Delhi high court senior who, as per the concurring accounts of most advocates we spoke to, was “great at getting interim orders – like how (now attorney general of India) Mukul Rohatgi used to be” but is “not the best orator or legal mind” and “is even crass”, is also known to often “ditch clients at hearings”.

One advocate explained the repetitive cases of not turning up at hearings in which the senior was paid to appear. He said that this senior was overburdened with Delhi high court cases.

It is common for Delhi seniors to appear in between seven and 15 hearings in one day.

If a litigant is engaging Singhvi, Salve or certain other very busy seniors, it is usually common to engage other seniors too as back-up, related one advocate, adding that in such cases if the back-up senior is from a lower-fee range, they are usually prompt to demand an increase in fees comparable to the top-tier senior engaged.

But short of these measures, the litigant, who is usually asked to pay up 100% of the appearance fee in advance, can only hope for the best. On failing to turn up most seniors have been known to refund the fee, after some deductions – usually the fee for one appearance includes one case-discussion meeting with the senior and fee of the senior’s clerk which is 10 per cent of the total. Although one top-of-the-line senior is known to not refund any fee in any situation.

As one advocate commented: “The seniors do not directly interact with the client unless the client is a real big shot... It is up to (the advocate acting for and engaging the senior on the litigant’s behalf) to ensure that the senior gives him a reasonable rate and does a good job of it.”

Most Delhi advocates we spoke to concurred that their aim is to win their clients the best bargain, and their first step in this direction is to suggest not hiring a senior at all.

But clients whose land titles, bail and huge sums of money, among other things, are at stake are cautious to heed to this advice.

When contacted, Venugopal, Subramanium, Singhvi, Dave, Khurshid, Shanti Bhushan, Balbir Singh, Gopal Jain, Harin Raval, Ravi Sikri, Chandhiok, Pinky Anand and Meet Malhotra confirmed that the published rates were either accurate or in the right ball park.
Sidharth Luthra declined to confirm or deny the fees, while Dayan Krishnan declined to comment.
Others of the more than 40 senior counsel contacted in the story or table did not respond to email or phone requests for comment.

Additional research by Kian Ganz

A version of this story appeared in Mint whose association with LegallyIndia.com will bring you regular insight and analysis of major developments in law and the legal world.

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1
Like +6 Object -0 Sor 08 Sep 15, 19:14  interesting
Delhi lawyers are more expensive than New York lawyers, however its opposite in law firms
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Like +0 Object -1 Trident 08 Sep 15, 21:06
nothing surprising in the figures ! But how many matters in a day to these guys have??
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Like +31 Object -0 RS Sharma 08 Sep 15, 21:23  interesting  top rated
Will you also publish the figures of income tax paid by the Seniors?
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3.1
Like +7 Object -3 ABC 09 Sep 15, 10:08
Exactly! An investigation must now be ordered.
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4
Like +4 Object -0 Guest 09 Sep 15, 10:10
A selective list full of Dilliwalas and well-connected politicians. Some true top-class lawyers from Bombay, Madras and Calcutta left out.
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Like +4 Object -1 Prachishrivastava 09 Sep 15, 12:29
Hi,

Thank you for your comment.

That's exactly what is planned next - Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai. Couldn't accommodate all cities in one story alas.

Best wishes,
Prachi
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Like +0 Object -1 Guest 10 Sep 15, 03:57
Chennai and not Calcutta? You must include Calcutta as well.
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Like +1 Object -1 Prachishrivastava 10 Sep 15, 13:07
Interesting. Who are the big seniors at Calcuttta whom we should focus on?

Best wishes,
Prachi
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Like +1 Object -1 Groupie 10 Sep 15, 20:48
Heard Deepak Khosla's a visiting rock star in Calcutta these days ! Charges Rs. 8 lakhs plus expenses per day ; but pro bono if 3 conditions are met : (i) if he is already there and (ii) the other side is Shaitan & Co. and (iii) the client agrees to also shoot at the counsel if caught in the cross-hairs.
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Like +0 Object -0 Pankha 04 Dec 15, 15:12
Troll identified as SAMian :P
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Like +2 Object -0 Prodipto 11 Sep 15, 10:26
Senior counsels in Calcutta are much cheaper than ones in other High Courts. Senior advocates such as Anindya Mitra, Samaraditya Pal, Saktinath Mukhopadhyay, Gautam Chakraborty, Pratap Chatterjee etc. can be engaged easily by litigants.
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5
Like +7 Object -1 Sai 09 Sep 15, 12:27  interesting
Very good article, Kian. Can you also give an indicative list of the trusted litigation partners of law firms at Delhi. There is a serious dearth of knowledge in this area. The top law firms do not, necessarily, have the best litigating partners at Delhi.
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Like +1 Object -0 Mx. X 09 Sep 15, 14:31
A very good point. Will be extremely valuable but Kian may consider it too risky. Maybe ask one firm to shortlist partners from another?
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6
Like +14 Object -1 Doctor sahib 09 Sep 15, 15:00  interesting  top rated
You should also have a column on which senior is the most difficult to deal with and the most money minded. We all know who will top that list now don't we?
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Like +1 Object -1 Trident 13 Sep 15, 18:59
Navroze Seervai can get difficult sometimes, but nothing to do with the money.
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Like +0 Object -0 Alumni from some NLU 23 Oct 15, 15:50
I can't believe you. He is one of the best seniors in Bom HC. Firstly he doesnt take more than 2-3 briefs in a day. Second, he turns up all the time and that too very well read with the matter.
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7
Like +4 Object -0 Ram Jethmalani 10 Sep 15, 09:24
"Top lawyers (who) easily charge Rs 15+ lac per hearing"

Hum ko maaloom hai jannat ki haqeeqat, lekin
Dil ko khush rakhne ko Ghaalib yeh khayaal achcha hai :)
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Like +0 Object -0 Abdullah Ishak Khalifa 10 Sep 15, 14:17
India
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9
Like +12 Object -1 LITIGATOR 10 Sep 15, 14:42  interesting
Your list of Senior's in Supreme Court and High Court of Delhi, is most amusing. Some of the most effective and popular names for your information and who charge a reasonable fee are set out as follows:
a) Soli Sorabjee
b) P.P. Rao
c) Rajiv Dutta
d) Rakesh Dwivedi
e) Dinesh Dwivedi

Your information is highly selective and you ought to do service to your readers.
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10
Like +7 Object -1 A Dollar a Day 10 Sep 15, 14:53  interesting
Nice. Very nice indeed. Nice racket this club of prima donnas are carrying on!

Do these guys - or anyone for that matter - realize that for individual litigants (the "aam aadmi"), this is nothing short of daylight robbery. Looks like extortion by IS mob. When three out of 4 Indians are eking out a living on less than a dollar a day. And after all this expensive fuss...at the most you would get a "stay order" or some interim relief or a date for the next hearing.

The entire justice delivery system in India is so screwed up - and no one is interested in overhauling this rotting edifice.
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Like +0 Object -0 Menace 10 Sep 15, 16:42
Boss.. its hard to disagree with ur point that our justice delivery system is screwed up. There are plenty of changes that can but will probably never be done. But just a though - No one is forcing these 'aam aadmi' individual litigants to engage senior counsels. As LI points out in this article -

"Most Delhi advocates we spoke to concurred that their aim is to win their clients the best bargain, and their first step in this direction is to suggest not hiring a senior at all."

the litigation partner in my firm does the same thing; but parties typically 'do not want to take a chance' and want salve or jethmalani without having an idea bout what they specialize in or what they cost. I moved to a desk job and I havent appeared in courts for a few years but please dont tell me that there is a dearth of competent counsel. But if a big name is what these 'aam admi's want - its going to cost them.
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10.1.1
Like +9 Object -1 A Dollar a Day 10 Sep 15, 17:25  interesting
I'd rather be afflicted by some horrible disease and pay my doctors and care-givers, rather than pay the amounts mentioned to these leeches.
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Like +0 Object -0 everywhere bonded labour is in 01 Oct 15, 14:37
engaging counsel is for expertise like specialist doctor in surgery. however, in judiciary there are many extra factors that matter for engaging counsels - some of these counsels are leading politicians who, when out of power, engage in this profession and earn their livelihood. power or without power they are never unemployed.
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Like +2 Object -1 Bombay Lawyer 10 Sep 15, 15:25
Whoa! I look forward to the Bombay list. Won't be surprised if it matches the Delhi figures.
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11.1
Like +5 Object -0 Trident 10 Sep 15, 22:28  interesting
Janak Dwarkadas should in the top of that list i assume!
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Like +0 Object -0 Vakeelon ki Pushti 10 Sep 15, 18:30
Mr Soli Sorabjee not mentioned??? This is blasphemy. He is the person who inspired all the 'enlisted' senior lawyers and you leave him out completely. No mention of him at all? Has he retired? I don't think so. I still see him in the court.
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Like +0 Object -0 kianganz 10 Sep 15, 18:34
We spoke to 32+ briefing lawyers and not a single mentioned Soli or had briefed him...

There are several others missing from the list too but that's purely from a lack of data and / or coincidence.

Does anyone know how much Soli charges? We'd be happy to update our table...
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Like +2 Object -0 DontEatMoneyForDinner 11 Sep 15, 05:57
Does anyone else notice the trend in legal profession esp. Corporate legal profession to be driven to extreme lengths by money and salaries? If you review this site regularly, then max stories about people quitting, people jumping, people backstabing those that trained them etc etc.. Whats the motivation behind this constant restlessness in this legal circuit in India? Is money the sole driving factor!!

Is there no concept of loyalty, attachment to work, relationship, commitment left in this profession?

Just thinking aloud..

From,
BeenThereDoneTHAT
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Like +0 Object -0 Saboo 11 Sep 15, 12:00
I don't think Sri KK Venugopal ever goes to any High Court or even does arbitration. His practice is confined to cases involving important question of law in the Supreme Court. He even does not take Rent, Matrimonial Bail matters. So, am not sure how his DHC fee is mentioned here. Even if he ever goes to HC, it will largely be probono/really important matter and not really for money.
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Like +1 Object -1 layman 11 Sep 15, 15:43
Can someone explain to be what does pro bono mean - for a layman with acute interest in our legal industry
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16.1
Like +24 Object -1 expert 11 Sep 15, 16:50  interesting  top rated
Hi layman,
"pro bono" means when a professional lawyer (Pro), during the course of his arguments, supplements his arguments with famous philosophical quotes by the U2 lead singer, Bono, thus adding weight to his arguments and hence the term "acting pro bono".
I hope you found this information useful.
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Like +1 Object -1 hey expert 12 Nov 15, 00:13
Thanks for your advice. And the manner and arrogance of your response means all you do is listen to U2 n read legally india. Probably career gone down the drain as well with such torrid teachin skills
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Like +0 Object -1 gum 04 Dec 15, 02:19
For free; without any fee
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17
Like +7 Object -0 Wannabe AOR 12 Sep 15, 15:13  interesting
While it is interesting to know about the fee structure of the seniors, I hope there is an article on junior lawyers in SC many of whom don't even earn 1% of what these seniors charge per appearance. There are many practicing in SC who earn a meagre salary of Rs.3,000-5,000 per month.
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18
Like +9 Object -2 Confused Zeus Says . . . . 12 Sep 15, 20:37  interesting
Switched over to corporate after going through the litigation grind and making decent money for 15 years. Now I still continue to make good money. Additionally, I have time to play scrabble with my children, go to the park and walk bare feet in the grass feeling the dew between my toes, play gully cricket with the neighbourhood kids, read and re-read my Astrix and TinTin comics which I have preserved from my school days, go to a late night movie with my wife followed by a long drive and dinner at a highway dhaba, learn the keyboard, watch Kapil's Comedy Show, spend time with my parents, wake up at 10 am on Sundays, play badminton with friends . . . . . . . The list can go on.

Bottom line - at some stage of my life, I chose not to become a victim of my own success.
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Like +0 Object -0 Errata 12 Sep 15, 22:47
"But when Subramanium goes to the Delhi high court he charges Rs 11 to 16.5 lakh. And when he heads to tribunals, his rates are at least Rs 25 lakh per month"

Now that's a charge I would like to pay for GS.
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Like +0 Object -0 kianganz 12 Sep 15, 23:14
Thanks for pointing out that unintentional error, been corrected. :)
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Like +1 Object -0 NT 21 Sep 15, 13:07
I have no problem with able advocates earning more, but I would like to be sure that it is based on reasonable parameters, as applicable to other advocates also.

My specific question is whether their compensation is related to their quality of advocacy, or simply because Judges are more likely to hear them. In other words, is the scheduling of cases skewed to favor the advocates in the list for whatever reasons? Are these advocates able to get more court time (or there is generally no correlation)?

Hopefully we will have systems that measure these parameters and there is objectivity in the way the Courts are conducted at the highest level in the country.
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Like +1 Object -0 bhavak 27 Mar 16, 13:57
its nonsense going to so called big balls like jethmilani they good for nothing if you are little educated go straight and argue the case yourself it far better then engaging this type of national liabilities
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Like +0 Object -1 Savita Bhandari 17 Aug 16, 22:20
I think Ram Jethmalani is one of the best Lawyer in India and he is charged 28 Lakh in criminal cases and property cases and easily handle in 1-2 hearning.

Thanks
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23
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Like +0 Object -0 Fide Mihi 13 Oct 16, 17:00
As John Adams said
Quote:
It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished.
But in these days only rich people are innocents in the scarcity of talent which is affordable. Delhi being the hub for elite lawyers is promoting this phenomena.

Advocate Musarrat Dhanse Husain
www.fidemihi.com
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Like +0 Object -0 Guest 10 Jun 17, 18:13
There must be Cap on fees of lawyers. The maximum must be 2000 rs per hearing.
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25
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Like +0 Object -0 Guest 12 Jun 17, 19:44
Doctors are beingpaid pennies but lawyers are earning crores. The fees of lawyers should be capped at 50 rs per case.
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