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The story of the Amarchand-CLB order and why being a lawyer is (perhaps) the world’s fourth-most stressful job

It's not easy being a lawyer
It's not easy being a lawyer
Exclusive: Just behind being a brain surgeon, an air traffic controller, and flying remote control UAVs over civilians in Afghanistan from Nevada, being a lawyer can be one of the most stressful of jobs in the world.

You only ever get Damini-style courtroom oratory or Grishamian boardroom antics of suited and attractive people on the really good days, if at all. In fact, merely getting to the glamorous side of the profession will require one prerequisite above all others: an obsessive attention to detail even after the 42nd consecutive hour of working without sleep. On a Sunday.

Few humans are born with this kind of single-minded focus and most learn it through the kindly instruction or verbal lashings of a senior; either approach can work well.

The aim is to become the ideal lawyer, who can be trusted absolutely and who never makes mistakes. And that is basically what clients are paying for: either to fix mistakes that have already occurred (a litigation, say), or to prevent mistakes or problems from happening in future (in an M&A deal, for example).

The dirty secret is that actually every lawyer makes mistakes but that usually they get away with it, perhaps because they know their way around the system and the magic that they perform seems so arcane few clients actually want to understand it.

Therefore, the idea of a mistake that escapes into the wild is what keeps many a lawyer awake at night. In those nightmares they tell themselves, “I wish I’d proofread that document one more time”, “I pray that the judge won’t ask me about the one case that I did not read”, or “I should not have relied on that research note produced by that intern”.

The reality of nightmares

Lawyers at Amarchand Mangaldas in Delhi were acting in a fairly routine corporate family dispute before the Company Law Board (CLB). To support their clients’ case, the firm had to prepare some affidavits.

Alas some pretty fundamental mistakes were made in the drafting, notarisation and signing of the original affidavits. The person who signed the affidavits on behalf of the petitioners did not have a valid power of attorney at the time that the affidavits were signed, for example, and when signing he did not state that they were being signed under a power of attorney. Despite these and several other defects, the affidavits were also notarised and verified.

However, apparently none of those mistakes, however serious, are particularly uncommon.

“Happens all the time, no biggie,” comments one advocate, explaining that in most courts the registry would probably have filtered out such errors and have the documents withdrawn and re-filed. Furthermore, he says, “lots of lawyers who write ‘I Identify’ and sign next to a signature never actually see the deponent because of convenience reasons”.

One partner at an uninvolved firm says that “there are a million cases that are a hundred times worse than this”, in which “nothing really happens”.


In fact notarised affidavits are usually such routine documents that barely anyone, including the judge, examines them in great detail, claims a lawyer close to the dispute. But in this case the respondents are understood to have been sent hardcopies of the executed affidavits ahead of time and, luckily for them, they spotted an irregularity. Kicking off a more detailed investigation, they discovered several more problems, which were raised with the judge in submissions; there was a case to win after all.

Alerted to the errors, the CLB chairman Justice DR Deshmukh took the unusual step of beginning his own investigation, dispatching a CLB officer to examine the notarial registers, who discovered that neither petitioner in the affidavits or power of attorney had actually visited the notary. (Again advocates claim that this is a rather common practice - “I don’t know a single lawyer who gets affidavits notarised with the client there. Getting a client past the court [security to where notaries sit] takes two hours,” claims one who works at a law firm.)

Deshmukh in his 17 August order failed to turn a blind eye to the shortcuts, however endemic. He was scathing and quipped humourlessly that the affidavits “instead of being notarised” were “notorious” and borderline criminal.

Camel’s back

But the final straw appears to have been that instead of withdrawing the faulty affidavits, the firm attempted to “cover up” the earlier mistakes as “trivial” or “bona fide” by “pouring in a plethora” of new affidavits, according to the judge.

He also noted that the petitioners had “suppressed material facts” and had made “statements on oath which were false to their knowledge… with an intention to gain advantage which would not have been available if true facts were revealed” - referring to the fact that one of the petitioners, contrary to the petition, actually held no shares, depriving her of a legal remedy to file under sections 397 and 398 of the Company’s Act, while also omitting to mention that one of the trustees in a trust had died.

The judge described the conduct of “the law firm” as “shocking” and “appalling”, adding that “a Law Firm of the present stature is expected to aid the courts in determining the truth and not stifle it with traverse miscarriage of the procedure”. While he took a “liberal view” (i.e., stopping short of recommending criminal sanctions against any of the lawyers) he also ordered that the licences of the two independent notaries involved in the preparation of the dodgy affidavits be revoked.

As far as metaphorical tight courtroom slaps go, this was already resounding. But Deshmukh then did something that is said to have been unprecedented in recorded Indian legal history. He ordered costs of Rs 50,000 on the petitioner and fined Amarchand exemplary damages of Rs 50,000. That money – admittedly spare change for most law firms - should be sitting with Delhi’s High Court Legal Aid Committee as of today.

“It is a very hard hitting order and nobody expected it to be so hard hitting,” comments one non-Amarchand lawyer who was in court at the time.


A lot went wrong, perhaps even more so in the aftermath of the order, which has been well documented. Amarchand claimed that the partner in charge of the matter was not to blame because she was unaware of the associates’ actions – although it is understood that the partner did attend all hearings in the matter.

Instead, the firm pointed the finger squarely at the younger lawyers and dismissed them on Monday (however, according to authoritative sources, one of the associates had already resigned two weeks earlier, allegedly in protest at his treatment at the hands of a firm’s partner in connection with the botched matter. The dismissal was intended by the firm to supersede that resignation, if that is possible).

In retrospect, the entire episode can accurately be described as a PR disaster.

Blame game over

In the absence of comments from the associates themselves – reasonable and not surprising - establishing who exactly was at fault in triggering the judicial smackdown is more difficult, if you want to avoid relying on hearsay. An argument can be made that at least morally a partner or the firm as a whole should carry part of the blame for the mistakes made, even if only vicariously, but that too is fast becoming a moot point.

Amarchand’s client has lost nothing and is allowed to and will refile the petition, if it hasn’t already.

The CLB sent a strong message to all lawyers, whose submissions and particularly affidavits are likely be unimpeachable, at least for a while.

Meanwhile, Amarchand declined to comment further, and lawyers close to both associates said they foresee few difficulties for the young lawyers – who are by all accounts bright and talented, if unlucky, individuals - to continue their legal careers elsewhere.

Everybody, even a lawyer, occasionally makes mistakes, and most lawyers become partners only after having made a few. And it is worth remembering that lawyers’ mistakes, fortunately, are only very rarely fatal.

Download the order, names of associates and notaries redacted

Photo by US Army

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