•  •  Dark Mode

Your Interests & Preferences

I am a...

law firm lawyer
in-house company lawyer
litigation lawyer
law student
aspiring student

Website Look & Feel

 •  •  Dark Mode
Blog Layout

Save preferences

How to make your own luck at the Delhi bar: NLS’ Dayan Krishnan, latest ‘self-made’ senior counsel, in-depth

Krishnan: Self-made (Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint)
Krishnan: Self-made (Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint)

Dayan Krishnan, the second NLSIU Bangalore alumnus to have been designated senior counsel in the space of a week, said that while luck, coincidence and the patronage of three seniors was instrumental in his career to date, the Delhi high court has very clearly voted for hard work in its designations.

Krishnan, got the nod yesterday alongside Amit Sibal and Anup Bhambhani, as first reported by Legally India.

He said that he was very happy that the Delhi high court, in particular, has been recognising the achievements of “self-made lawyers” by recognising them with elevation. “If you put your head down and work hard they will give you the opportunity… The Delhi high court has sent that message, very clearly.

“If you see the designation of the last two or three years, most of the lawyers who’ve been designated are people who’ve come up the hard way, and that’s a great message for the court to send.”

While Krishnan’s father was a lawyer practicing in Ooty, Krishnan said that when he graduated in 1993, he was offered a job under senior counsel Santosh Hegde, whom he had interned with while at college. “I didn’t even look for other offers… When I got the opportunity to work with him I just grabbed.”

Lacking any Delhi connections, he worked under Hegde for six years doing only very few of his own matters until he set up his own practice in 1999, when Hegde was elevated directly into the Supreme Court.

“I didn’t have the luxury of making choices,” Krishnan said about whether there was a strategy about the cases he took when starting out. “I just took everything that came my way, and a lot of people helped me along the way.

Meet Adam

Krishnan singled out three senior counsel in particular, who were instrumental in his early days as an independent: Gopal Subramanium, Rajeev Dhavan and Joseph Vellapally, who has since retired.

“I don’t know if they know me from Adam, I don’t know if they saw me in court, or whatever [but] they really helped me along the way,” recounted Krishnan.

With Subramanium, he handled some “very important criminal cases” which gave him a lot of exposure of trial work, including on the 2001 Parliament attack, and working with the 1999 Justice JS Verma commission when Verma was chairman of the National Human Rights Commission.

“Dr Rajeev Dhavan helped me greatly by making me counsel for the Kavery Kerala petition,” he added. “For me everything has been by accident, nothing has been conscious, and I don’t think many lawyers have that luxury of making conscious choices of I’ll do this and I’ll do that.”

“The profession is structured in such a way in that you do reach wherever you have to but the opportunities that come your way and how you use it is what it’s about. With self-made people, you don’t know where the opportunities come from… Every opportunity is an accident, or a coincidence,” he mused.

Work life

Asked whether it was tough starting out, presumably not making a lot of money, Krishnan joked, “I don’t think I make much money now. I have a mix of work fortunately but the high profile work has been government. But I’ve really enjoyed it – it’s been tough but it’s been good.”

On the criminal side he said that he only works for the government – having famously received laurels in his handling of the prosecution of the December 2012 Delhi gang rapists – and specialises in telecoms in his civil work, having represented S-Tel in the 2G tender notification challenge in the Delhi high court.

As for the future, Krishnan said that he had “no idea”. “From the day I joined this profession, every day has been new, and every day has been different - I’m not even sure what to anticipate. I’m going to take it with the flow.”

“It’s a great honour that the high court has given me and I hope I don’t let them down,” he said. “I have to ensure that we maintain a certain standard, and set a certain example - a majority of judges felt that you deserve the honour.”


The graduate from the first batch of India’s first national law school in 1993 said that more would hopefully join the ranks in future. “A lot of wonderful lawyers from the national law schools [are practising], and I hope that several of them will follow that path in getting designated.”

“There’s a huge line of top class litigators from the national law school – I hope they will follow suit, in the next few years.”

“Some of the finest” from his alma mater in particular, he said, included Sanjay Ghose, who is “one of the most brilliant labour lawyers”; Siddharth Aggarwal, a “brilliant criminal lawyer”; Supreme Court advocate-on-record (AOR) Jayant Mehta (AOR SC); Punjab and Haryana additional solicitor general Nikhil Nayyar; trial lawyer Trideep Pais; and Delhi standing counsel Rajshekar Rao.

In terms of tips for the future young advocates, he said: “My only advice to anyone is, all lawyers who are self-made who feel that they don’t have anybody in the profession and make it themselves should remember, that you don’t need anyone: you need hard work, honesty and that’s it.”

Krishnan currently has four juniors from a mix of law schools. “My first junior – Gautam Narayan [from Delhi University, who has now practiced for around 12 years] – is one of the most sought after lawyers today at the Supreme Court and gives me immense pride.”

And while Krishnan had emphasised the luck in his own career, he said that many years ago he read a “wonderful” anecdote by [cricketer] Colin Croft, who was asked why he was so lucky to get the highest number of wickets in the season. Croft apparently responded: “There’s something very strange here - the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Click to show 9 comments
at your own risk
By reading the comments you agree that they are the (often anonymous) personal views and opinions of readers, which may be biased and unreliable, and for which Legally India therefore has no liability. If you believe a comment is inappropriate, please click 'Report to LI' below the comment and we will review it as soon as practicable.