Parekh: From Bombay to LondonParekh: From Bombay to London

Scores of Indian lawyers have made the transition from India to become English solicitors. However, Karishma Amit Parekh’s path to becoming a barrister in the UK from the Bombay high court is much rarer and more arduous, taking her three years. Legally India asked her how it’s done.

Karishma Parekh, or Karishma Vora as she was then known, started her career in Mumbai after graduating from GLC Mumbai in 2006, worked at the chambers of senior counsel Janak Dwarkadas, at Wadia Ghandy and the chambers of counsel Zal Andhyarujina.

However, after getting married in 2009 and moving to London with her husband, a banker, it took her the better part of three years to qualify as a barrister in London.

Unsurprisingly, the experience of the Indian Supreme Court’s senior counsel Harish Salve, who will be fast-tracked to the English bar with the help of Blackstone Chambers, is atypical.

Parekh explains that while it is indeed possible for an Indian lawyer to become a barrister in the UK, the massive bottleneck in the English system is the availability of traineeships – called pupillages – and workplaces for young barristers.

“It was an extremely tedious process,” she says. She had applied as a “transferring barrister” from another Commonwealth jurisdiction, which exempted her from the one-year Bar Professional Training Course (or Bar Vocational Course, as it used to be called).

To benefit from the exemption she had to produce detailed career and case references right from the very beginning, demonstrating her litigating and specialised experience, and a character certificate from the Maharashtra bar council, which she had to pick up in person from Mumbai.

However, exemption from the Course also meant that unlike traditional English barristers-to-be, she had to cram for the qualifying exam without any tutelage.

Ironically, the ancient ritual of dining at Inns of Courts came to her rescue. Budding English barristers are required to go for 12 dinners, literally, at one of the four Inns of Courts in London.

“Friends at these sessions helped me through the exam, and they would pass their notes to me, various test exam papers, and the syllabus.”

The system is often decried as archaic, but Parekh says that “it’s actually very useful”.

“I’m totally for it - I would encourage a system like that in India as well. Bookish knowledge is one thing but you do really learn from your seniors. Life is too short to make all the mistakes and learn from them.”

And also the advocacy training is very rigorous, she explained. “At Middle Temple there is a [two day to] two week advocacy training course, which is compulsory to pass in and do well in.”

Her Indian qualification also shaved six months off the length of pupillage, which normally takes one-year. And the Bar Council of England & Wales also waived the requirement to apply for a pupillage one-and-a-half years in advance during a three week window that chambers advertise. As such, she was allowed to approach and apply to chambers directly.

But this would prove to be the hardest part of the ordeal.

“Getting pupillage is actually almost impossible,” claims Parekh. And in fairness, that's the case even for the stereotypical commercial barrister, who is still more often than not a white male with a public school education from Oxbridge.

She recounts a speech of the under-treasurer of her Inns of courts, ceremoniously congratulating the batch on getting called to the bar, then adding that everyone should keep an “open mind” because “95 per cent of you will actually not make it as a barrister”. “My husband attended the ceremony and was shocked,” says Parekh.

“It is much easier to qualify as a solicitor than as a barrister. They [solicitors] have to do something called the training contract but of course there are so many more solicitors than barristers, probably 20 fold or more. And therefore it is much easier to get into a solicitors firm than a barristers chamber.”

Her experience is backed by the Bar Council’s figures. A total of 2,865 wannabe barristers applied to only 444 pupillages in 2011 – a success ratio of only 16 per cent. Out of those, more than 55 per cent went to men, at least 78 per cent of pupils were white and more than a third came from Oxford or Cambridge.

Though she concedes it might have been easier if, instead of aiming for the commercial bar, she had opted to become a barrister in a less competitive area, such as criminal, immigration or family law.

Nevertheless, Parekh got a lucky break, at least partially, in a pupillage at Fountain Court Chambers, which she calls “England’s leading set in banking and financial”. However, that offer did not include an offer of tenancy – in order to practice, all barristers after pupillage must work in a chambers of barristers in order to be allowed to appear before court.

“I was told about that before I started my pupillage – but of course I had to take chances, because it’s impossible to break into the system otherwise.”

She was advised to apply for a so-called “third six” pupillage, traditionally for those who did not secure tenancy directly after the first pupillage. “I would look at least every week for a third six pupillage. But for the first seven months I was looking, there were no third sixes. Just two – including one in Liverpool.”

As far as Parekh recalls, during her avid networking about the process she didn't bump into any other Indian qualified lawyers who had managed to make the transition to tenancy, although she remembers three who scored a pupillage but failed to secure tenancy. One eventually moved to an international law firm in Singapore, two others returned to Mumbai.

Parekh, meanwhile, joined the litigation department of English law firm Fladgate as a foreign-qualified lawyer for just over a year until finally, in August 2013 after continuously applying for a tenancy to complete her transformation to barrister, she was accepted as a tenant at 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square Chambers.

So far she says she’s had some good experience in London.

Her first cases have included a construction dispute, and on the advice of her heads of chambers telling her it would be useful, representing the UK government in appeals against visa rejections in order to gain valuable experience.

“The quality of advocacy is very high and that of course is because it’s just so hard to get in, and there’s so much training we have to go through and so much advocacy training that is compulsory before we can just make our first appearance.”

And for the most part, the quality of judges has been “phenomenal”, according to Parekh. “They know the changes in law and are aware of the latest judgments. They don’t need to be explained from scratch – they get straight to the point and straight to the law.”

To be fair, compared to Bombay, the work load of a London judge is very different. Having shadowed a Court of Appeal judge before her tenancy, she recounts that he had only four matters on board that week with only two full reading days.

So, at the end of one path and the beginning of another, would she do it again?

“I would have never left Bombay, if I had a clue,” she admits about the arduous process. “I would have never left Bombay, because I just really enjoyed the Bombay high court and the camaraderie – it is a great court to be at.”

So why did she go through all this pain? “For the love of advocacy actually,” says Parekh. “It’s been such a high to feel the pressure in preparation before going into court. And the fight. And interruptions from the other side. And just making it. You just get the high.”

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Like +14 Object -2 AX 30 Oct 13, 17:05  interesting  top rated
A nice article (for a change). It would be good if you can publish more interesting articles like this.
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Like +8 Object -6 OM 30 Oct 13, 18:12  controversial
An excellent article Kian.
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Like +11 Object -1 anonmumbai 30 Oct 13, 23:19  interesting
Congratulations and Good luck to you karishma! I know how hard it is to become a barrister and worse of all to get a pupillage these days. While I was trying to qualify as a Solicitor I came across many barristers trying to qualify as solicitors because it was impossible to get a pupillage. Such is the position of barristers these days.

Very proud of your achievement Karishma! Good luck to you!
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Like +9 Object -1 Chief Court 31 Oct 13, 01:46  interesting
A true 'legal high'!
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Like +9 Object -1 Info - the other side 31 Oct 13, 12:58  interesting
Without a residence permit for the UK, one cannot follow Karishma’s footsteps. A residence permit can either be a dependent visa or sponsored by a UK employer. Leading firms recruiting from India can easily sponsor visas as they have obtained such permission, but no chamber is likely to sponsor a visa.

English solicitors can practice advocacy at UK’s superior courts if they obtain higher rights of audience, which is much easier than directly qualifying as a barrister. Subsequently, they can seek exemption from the pupilage requirement and then apply to chambers. Solicitors who use this route successfully do not face the uncertainty of obtaining a tenancy during a pupilage. Solicitor firms are known to show a preference to brief candidates with solicitor experience due to their understanding of the solicitor’s requirements.

Hope this is useful.
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Like +1 Object -0 anonmumbai 08 Nov 13, 19:15
Well even if she did not have a residence permit, she is capable of it. If not a barrister in UK, she would have definitely become a Senior Counsel in India. All I am saying is that she has the caliber to achieve it. I know of so many Indian lawyers from various law schools across India, who are permanent residents or even citizens of UK, yet not able to achieve like her.

I think we should stop trashing her and commend her for what she has achieved. Well if Gopal Subramaniam and Harish Salve still strive to work with Chambers in UK in their 60's (not sure if they are appearing in Courts), then it really means that working as a Barrister means something special!!!!
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Like +2 Object -17 NLS 31 Oct 13, 15:37
NLS grads don't have to face such issues- they easily get a 'job' and a salary!
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Like +15 Object -3 anon 31 Oct 13, 17:25  interesting  top rated
Let's not make this about NLS and the rest... this is a positive story... let it remain that way.
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Like +1 Object -0 Guest 31 Oct 13, 23:20
Quoting anon:
Let's not make this about NLS and the rest... this is a positive story... let it remain that way.

By bothering to reply to that ridiculously stupid comment, you are getting it publicity it doesn't deserve!
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Like +3 Object -1 Bored 01 Nov 13, 00:20
Her Indian qualification also shaved six months off the length of pupillage, which normally takes one-year.

"Shaved" Really?
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Like +2 Object -0 Genuine 01 Nov 13, 11:28
why not?
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Like +9 Object -4 Guest 01 Nov 13, 00:32  interesting
I work in London (as a solicitor, not a barrister). Although she had the benefit of not needing a visa, I think most people reading this don't understand just how difficult it is for someone to achieve what Karishma has achieved - it is virtually impossible for someone without absolutely stellar academic credentials to get a look in, no matter how good you are - you're just very unlikely to be considered (when I say "exceptional" - I mean like that NLS guy a couple years ago who got the best student prize in the Oxford BCL and could have walked into any barristers chambers, but chose to go back to litigation in India).

Karishma's academics aren't mentioned in the article, so I'm going to assume they are nothing great - which makes the achievement even more impressive. Especially the pupillage at Fountain Court, which is one of the top 2-3 sets at the Bar (even if tenancy wasn't offered). In fact it is so rare for someone to achieve this without a ton of academic prizes that you almost have to wonder if some kind of influence was used (apologies to Karishma if that isn't the case)). Mind you, the kind of influence you'd need to get into Fountain Court is so great, that pulling that off is an achievement in itself. And influence or not, she's obviously an exceptional networker.

The other thing that's a bit odd is: why Fladgate? It's a decidedly second-rate (if not third-rate) law firm, especially in commercial litigation, so why go there? Any of the top litigation firms in the City (Herbert Smith or anyone in the Magic Circle) would have gladly taken on someone who had done pupillage at Fountain Court - so why the massive step down?

Tenancy is even harder to get than pupillage so no surprise that she found it difficult - it doesn't reflect badly. Mind you, the tenancy she finally got is nothing great - 4-5 Grays Inn Square was never in the Fountain Court league, but it was decent enough - but they've essentially collapsed in the last year or so (something like 2/3s of the set have left) and the remainder are basically the people (barring a few) who weren't good enough to get off the sinking ship. In that situation, they are desperate just to keep the lights on and the doors open and will have sharply relaxed their hiring criteria - anything to get some fee income through the door to meet their expenses (also, she probably told them a good story about how she could bring in Indian arbitrations and stuff - essentially a smaller scale version of what Harish Salve is planning to do).

Anyway, I'll stop rambling on. Just some thoughts that occurred to me on reading this. Kudos to Karishma - however she managed it, this is an incredibly difficult thing to achieve and I have nothing but respect - and a touch of awe - for her.
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Like +7 Object -2 Response to 8 01 Nov 13, 17:56  interesting
One would think you were damning her with faint praise, but your message is far more insidious, so I would prefer to call you out on it.

Apart from the polite homilies you begin and end with, the substance of your message is as follows:
- you question her academic credentials
- you wonder if she used influence to gain pupillage
- you describe her interim work-place (Fladgate) as third rate, indirectly querying her ability to get into one of the more well known solicitor's firms
- you describe the set she has got tenancy in as one that is "a sinking ship" and insinuate that, even there, she might have got it due to lax hiring standards.

Of course, you claim to be in awe of her, "however she managed" to achieve her tenancy.

If you want to pillory someone, come forward and do it with honesty. Hiding character assassination behind mild platitudes only exposes you as a vicious and envious hypocrite.

Karishma, by courting publicity, you have (unfortunately, given the times we live in) also opened the door to criticism (petty or otherwise) of your endeavours. That is your lot now, all the best with it!
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Like +1 Object -2 Hey Imposter! 04 Nov 13, 12:02
I recognised you .... not only are you NOT working in London but also surreptitiously blowing your own trumpet.

Keep your ego to yourself and learn to appreciate good things about others.

P.S. Did you distribute Diwali gifts to government offices this year, as directed by The Boss ?
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Like +0 Object -0 A fan 06 Nov 13, 19:18
thats nice
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Like +2 Object -1 Guest 01 Nov 13, 12:18
Does anyone know the status of the foreign law firms case in the Supreme Court? Media coverage seems to have come to a standstill.
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Like +2 Object -0 Anonymous 04 Nov 13, 00:52
Having read a lot of comments above, to me this is a story of someone who through her hard work, dedication and perseverence along with being really good at her work has almost achieved the impossible.i know how hard it is. I am proud of this story and it gives hope to so many young aspiring barristers in l
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Like +1 Object -0 London 04 Nov 13, 01:20
Those who have any knowledge of the English Bar will know that those without an impeccable academic history cannot break through. Perhaps the fact that she attended the London School of Economics which invited her back to teach Commercial Law at their Summer School (as stated on her website profile) will speak for her record.

As far as 'using influence' to get pupillage is concerned, the comment is a joke. Anyone who has joined the English Bar recently knows the Bar Council of England and Wales has set up a rigorous system that prevents the sons and daughters of prominent QC's from getting pupillage without going through the thorough application process!

A set of chambers can be judged by their silks. 4-5 Gray's Inn Square has prominent silks who remained after the mass exodus, one of whom won Silk of the Year not so long ago and another who is a member of the MCC (Lord's) committee, a feat the head of chambers of One Essex Court, Lord Grabiner QC, has also not achieved!

As a fellow member of Gray's Inn, I know the article does not mention the following - her credentials have recently got her elected to the Gray's Inn Barristers' Committee (her post is effective from January 2014).

Well done Karishma!
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Like +4 Object -0 Asbo 06 Nov 13, 19:12
Wonder why so many negative comments. Lets be happy at what she managed, which most of the people commenting did not even think of achieving, forget getting there eventually.

Lets wish her well and that people will follow her footsteps. Keep it at that?
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Like +2 Object -0 Bolo aa su 06 Nov 13, 19:14
Fladgate is a third rate law firm? really? does it even get a ranking?
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Like +0 Object -0 goodread 06 Nov 13, 20:53
Nice article. Please publish some articles about law grads pursuing non-conventional careers, e.g. politics.
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Like +3 Object -6 Bullshit Detector 07 Nov 13, 00:48
Obviously things are easier when you have a husband funding your stay in London
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Like +3 Object -3 Jealousy Detector 07 Nov 13, 13:04
Feel free to find yourself a sugar mamma or a sugar daddy. Funding sources aside, belittling someone's achievement only makes you look petty and jealous.
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Like +0 Object -0 Dazed and Confused 07 Nov 13, 11:31
It continually mystifies me why we see such coverage of minor UK India developments and so little about the U.S. Sources, I suppose.

The progress of Indians in law may be a big deal in the UK and warrant remark; in the US it happens all the time and is no big deal. And I'm not talking about ethnically Indian lawyers who have never spent a working day in India, but people born, bred and educated here who progress to positions of power in the US. Maybe if the US had something sexy and Dickensian like "taking silk" or prancing about in horse-hair wigs - maybe that's what gets the coverage. But how sad and blighted a place the UK must be to warrant coverage whenever an Indian is recognized there.
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Like +4 Object -0 kianganz 07 Nov 13, 11:38
Maybe it gets more coverage precisely because it's so rare? (Man bites dog, rather than dog bites man).

Plus the whole reciprocity...

Though I admit I also have a weak spot for English lawyers' prancing.
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