Senior advocate and Rajya Sabha MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi talks about his education experience at India's and the world's top educational institutions and explains how tough it is to become a senior counsel, despite having a famous father.

Video and below interview summary reproduced with permission of Rainmaker. Interview conducted by Delhi advocates Gopal Sankaranarayanan and Haripriya Padmanabhan (left and right).

On the subject of being the son of a famous lawyer, senior advocate and Rajya Sabha MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi said that it is not correct to say that one is born with a silver spoon and progresses through a platinum system. "It clearly gives you a push and a backup of infrastructure, with a library and a certain amount of resources. But this is a very unforgiving profession and very early on, if you do not work hard enough and if you are not able to prove yourself in a few cases, the system rejects you. The initial push is only like a rebuttable presumption in your favour. It is up to you to see that it is not rebutted."

Talking to Rainmaker, he said that he never felt a direct attraction to law even till his days of doing an undergraduate in economics. "The omnipresent sights and sounds of law if you are from a family of lawyers makes a difference."

"I did my schooling in St. Columba's and did very well. I used to joke that academically everything has been downhill since then because I stood first in India. Even though during those days, law was distant in my mind, I saw my father getting dressed and going to court, I had the books of law all around me and my grandfather was a lawyer, so it does make a difference. However, there was absolutely no pressure in my case to enter the profession. In fact, there was a kind of anti-pressure. It happens by a process of elimination."

"You think at times that you will not do what your father is doing and you examine other options. And it is the same with my two sons, I have scrupulously avoided pushing them into the profession but by a process of elimination, one is a lawyer and the other is studying law."

He also described his study of law as having possessed a "peculiar trajectory". "While I was doing my BA in Economics from St. Stephens, I got admission into Trinity College in Cambridge. But during the gap before the term started there, I also joined the Law Faculty of Delhi for about two months but went straight from there to Trinity, where I stayed on and completed my undregrad and my PhD and came back after six and half-odd years.

Abhishek Manu Singhvi also said that while being a good student, he was a complete introvert at school and retained some of that even in vibrant St. Stephens. It was only when he went to Cambridge, partly for survival in the strange context and climate, that he became more confident and extroverted.

He also said that there was no question of him staying on abroad after his PhD. "In my case it was always a fixed case immigration. During my PhD, I also taught at St. John's college in Cambridge to supplement my income and also to keep my foot in academics. I was also doing my dining terms at Lincoln's Inn. But the moment I finished my PhD, I did not have a second thought and I came back to India."

About his initial foray into profession, he said that though he had technically not studied the nitty-gritty of Indian law, his fears were misplaced because he learnt soon that it was a vocational profession where you learnt on the job. "Also, I had done a PhD in law - something that 99% of people, including my father who was a doctorate LLM from Harvard and a doctorate from Cornell dissuaded me from doing. Statistically in Cambridge, 50% of the people who join for a PhD do not complete it, and the remaining take up to six to seven years to complete it. The fear that you are wasting your time and your colleagues are getting ahead and there is no tangible nexus between a PhD and success in the profession were with me."

"The third set of apprehensions set in when I returned to India and went looking for a senior and found that there were very few systems here that actually encouraged a junior-senior relationship. The few which were available were also filled up. So I decided to be with my father for a year and a half and then I remained on my own. The fourth major problem was that Delhi in particular, unlike Mumbai and Calcutta, had no slot for the intermediate counsel at all. People would be happy with drafting, your hard work and the fact that you could put a point across, but they would insist that you either had to be there at the side of the senior or you had to be the Advocate on Record on the vakalatnama. And the only reason I went into counsel work was the tremendous fear that I had of procedure. So it was a difficult period of about four to five years where you had good work and good clients but could not hold on to them.

He also said that the system has changed substantially over the years. There is a greater appreciation and awareness of a person who assists a senior counsel. There is a greater willingness to brief a person who may not be a senior. "In those days, Delhi had no tradition - being a district court as late as 1966, so the practice was based on a principle of distrust, that if you were an intermediate counsel, you would walk away with the Advocate on Record's clients."

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Recommend! +0 Objection! -0 Anonymous 2010-02-06 06:43
Interesting insights on Dr. AMS's life and career.... Was he not an NTSE scholar and the yongest Indian lawyer to be voted as a senior counsel? I Remember having read those facts in his CV many years back.
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Recommend! +0 Objection! -0 Anonymous 2010-02-06 07:18
Brilliant job, yet again by Rainmaker's team. Btw am not sure if Gopal Sankaranarayanan and Haripriya Padmanabhan are with Rainmaker. Atleat their website doesn't tells so. Can we get a clarification?
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Recommend! +0 Objection! -0 Anonymous 2010-02-06 08:15
#2, appreciate the response we've been getting. Gopal and Haripriya are not employees of Rainmaker. They have been enthusiastic and kind enough to conduct this interview with Dr. Singhvi.
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Recommend! +0 Objection! -0 Anonymous 2010-02-06 14:19
complete farce...
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Recommend! +0 Objection! -0 Anonymous 2010-02-06 19:48
excellent post! As a young counsel I wholly agree with Dr. AMS's views on the change in litigation practice and the opportunities it offers today. However, sadly the same situation prevails with respect to seniors chamber's and good lit. offices, the ones who mentor are few and these are "clogged up". hoping for more such lit. related posts!
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Recommend! +0 Objection! -0 Anonymous 2010-02-07 03:54
Oops was it a diamond spoon then, eh? Begs the question if the rise to fame of AMSS(Bhagwati), Zia(Sorabjee), Fali(Rohinton) is also based purely on merit.
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Recommend! +1 Objection! -0 Anonymous 2010-02-07 06:15
more promotion for Daddy's kids and family connections whether it is singhvi or Sankaranarayanan. This is sad. Why not focus on people who have actually achieved something the hard way.
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Recommend! +3 Objection! -0 Anonymous 2010-02-08 08:02
When you grow up dining and playing around with lawyers who later turn into judges and you get to argue before them. When you have a long list of cases and empanelments knocking at your door from start of your practic. When you have an established office, a support staff trained through years. When daddy's name opens the doors that few would even dare knocking. Certainly, you dont have any advantage. Certainly, you go through the same rigor. Certainly you pay 'your dues'. Like Bachchan Jr. didnt have to rely on his father's name tag to get through his initial flop shows, similarly sons of senior counsels never have it easy. Thanks for making me laugh after a hard day.
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Recommend! +0 Objection! -0 Anonymous 2010-02-08 20:56
Thanks Kian for arranging to have this interview posted on Legally India. I see that theres lots of criticism focussing on Dr.Singhvi's background. Some have indicated that were it not for his lineage he would not have succeeded. In my view the measure of a man's success is the number of critics he has.

Off course there are some aspects that do not entitle any admiration but I'd certainly like to highlight the positives of this brilliant advocate (mind it not lawyer). Dr. Singhvi would have succeeded anyway even if he did not have Dr. L.M. Singhvi as a father. Abhishek Singhvi is brilliant and youngsters have a lot to learn from him specially his temperament and alertness. Without the lineage perhaps it would have taken a longer time but certainly Dr. Singhvi was bound to shine some day or the other.

I am a young lawyer myself and had the opportunity to be on Dr. Singhvi's opposite side in a high stake complicated matter. It was a bitter battle but at the end of it one could not admiring this man. Ever since I have been a fan and do try to see Dr. Singhvi speaking official for the Congress on national media. I also feel that Dr. Singhvi is yet to achieve his peak. Do look out.
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Recommend! +0 Objection! -0 Anonymous 2010-02-08 22:58
#8 I agree with you. So far as corporate law firms are involved, the same holds true. Kids of famous fathers get to work on prestigious matter from the moment they enter into the legal arena, whether they are qulaified or not.

I have nothing personal against people who are born with a silver spoon in their mouth - this stems from the practice by aristorcats who used silver spoons to baptize their children. What I have a gripe about
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Recommend! +0 Objection! -0 Anonymous 2010-02-09 02:49
Being your daddy's son is fine. No problem with that. But then charging the clients more than what daddy charges is another issue that I would request you to please address this topic in your upcoming issues. The way the senior advocates in Supreme Court charge their fees is just incredible and many times it feels that there is 'rampant looting' going on in this sector. There is no concept of capping at all. Gone are the days when the senior advocates like Daphtary, Sen charged according to the level of substantive merit in existence in the matter they were engaged for and not purely on the procedural role of 'per appreance' or 'per hearing'.
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Recommend! +0 Objection! -0 Anonymous 2010-02-10 03:41
I dont think the son of Dr. AMS would agree with his father. He def. has a silver spoon.
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Recommend! +2 Objection! -0 Jyoti 2010-02-24 09:17
Hearing AMS spout all this is laughable at best and hypocrisy at worst. Let me substantiate - legal careers in India can be broadly divided into courtroom practice and drafting practice (which combines solicitor firms such as AMSS, Zia, etc and law officer jobs in the public and private sector). The latter is slightly professional to some extent (though it is some distance away from being as much of a meritocracy as core sales / marketing/ finance jobs are at firms such as PWC / HUL / Siemens / Banking). The former though is a diabolic gerontocracy perpetuated by a set of established lawyers (including Mr. Singhvi senior) who conspire to keep bright and fresh law graduates (from just about any university - no discrimination there) out of the courtroom. The means by which they do it is simple - they pay nothing to prospective juniors. What this means in quantifiable terms is that a fresh graduate from the lower or the middle class who has no family practice and no family money to sutain him gets not more than Rs. 5000-7000 p.m. for acting as junior to a lawyer such as Mr. Singhvi. Keep in mind that the poor junior has to clothe himself, feed himself, pay the rent and travel bills within that amount. If he complains, he's asked to leave. (In metros such as Bangalore and Kolkata juniors receive even less - often less than Rs. 3000 p.m.) If he continues, he operates at a loss and will continously require fresh capital from home - an unacceptable option to anyone who is determined not to fall back on parents. What is the result? - These bright minds go off to the firms and the companies where they earn twenty to fifty times as much and the sons and daughters of our gerontocrats such as Mr. Singhvi are all set to inherit the next generation of courtroom practice. To add insult to injury they (the gerontocrats i.e.) then go on record lamenting how the bright talent (especially from the new law schools) keep away from court practice, apparently for the love of money.

So please Mr. Singhvi, lets not play games about silver spoons.
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Recommend! +1 Objection! -0 Anonymous guest 2010-03-14 04:53
i don't understand why people go crazy about the achievements of those who have inherited lucrative law practice. be it Dr. Singhvi's political appointments or his elevation as a senior counsel, they cannot be appreciated without the exclusion of being a 'senior's' son. arguably, he is one among the countable 'sensible Indian politicians'.
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Recommend! +1 Objection! -0 Anon 2012-04-17 21:40
Quoting Anonymous guest:
i don't understand why people go crazy about the achievements of those who have inherited lucrative law practice. be it Dr. Singhvi's political appointments or his elevation as a senior counsel, they cannot be appreciated without the exclusion of being a 'senior's' son. arguably, he is one among the countable 'sensible Indian politicians'.


I wonder after the sex-scandal how far would you still say that he is among the "countable sensible Indian politicians"?
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Recommend! +4 Objection! -0 Anonymous Guest 2012-06-13 13:49
Replying to comment no. 9 statement:

"I also feel that Dr. Singhvi is yet to achieve his peak. Do look out."

I looked ! Apparently the CD shows nothing of him achieving his peak, or atleast it was hardly noticeable.
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Recommend! +0 Objection! -0 HiHi 2012-09-19 21:55
Quoting Anonymous Guest:
Replying to comment no. 9 statement:

"I also feel that Dr. Singhvi is yet to achieve his peak. Do look out."

I looked ! Apparently the CD shows nothing of him achieving his peak, or atleast it was hardly noticeable.


Hahahaha
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Recommend! +0 Objection! -0 Bharjes 2012-09-20 02:14
Why would somebody want to watch "that CD"?
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