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How nuclear physicist Anup Bhambhani became a first-gen media law darling and Delhi senior counsel

Bhambhani: Not in it for the fame and money
Bhambhani: Not in it for the fame and money

One of the three new Delhi high court senior counsel neither had a legal alma mater such as NLSIU Bangalore, Oxford, Cambridge or Harvard, nor even a relative in the profession. He did, however, have a degree in nuclear physics.

After graduating from Delhi University’s (DU) St Stephen’s College with a bachelors degree in physics in 1987, followed by a master’s in nuclear physics in ‘89, Anup Bhambhani’s tryst with the legal profession only began after completing his undergraduate law degree from the DU’s Law Faculty in 1992.

Yet, barely into the third year of enrolling as a lawyer Bhambhani was practicing from his own chambers and will now, 22 years later, be draped in the coveted gown of the senior lawyer.

And while a large proportion of the Delhi senior bar has parents who were lawyers, Bhambhani’s only relation to the profession came by marrying fellow Delhi high court lawyer Nisha Bhambhani in 1996.

His progression, Bhambani explained, is made up as much of a multitude of interesting work as by what lies at its core: the commitment to treat his practice as a profession more than as a revenue model.

“I have never been interested in converting my profession into a business where the central consideration is money. Money is, well, an outcome but not the guiding consideration,” he comments.

Doing my own thing

Bhambhani’s brief two year stint of working in someone else’s practice began after his enrolment in 1992, with the chambers of Rahul P Dave, continued in old school Kolkata law firm Orr, Dignam and Co which Dave had taken over, and a few weeks in New Delhi Law Offices, before finally setting up the Chambers of AJ Bhambhani in 1994. The office today retains 5 lawyers.

“I was never the law firm type. That is why I left Orr Dignam and New Delhi Law Offices. Never wanted to do desk work.”

A media law practice with criminal lawyering fringes

The Outlook magazine’s 1995 launch was the defining point for Bhambhani’s practice which is now distributed between media and criminal law. The magazine has only retained him since then, he has been the News Broadcasters Association retained counsel, thus being exposed to the 26 news organisations and 53 news channels under its wing, has represented and advised the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) when it was under the chairmanship of late justice JS Verma, and has acted for news channels such as the Aaj Tak, NDTV, TV Today and Headlines Today among others.

“[Outlook] is where my first media brief came from and since then I did that work well. You know how in the industry the word goes around that this guy knows media law. After that several media companies [retained me]” he says.

Noting the influence of Justice Verma whom he assisted closely as NBSA’s counsel Bhambhani said: “From him I have learnt not only the law but more importantly the ethics of the law.”

Bhambhani argued for the NBSA in former Chief Justice of India SH Kapadia’s constitutional bench project in March 2012 to look into a set of new regulatory guidelines for the media.

Additionally, Bhambhani practises criminal law at the appellate level, focussing on jailed undertrials. He argued for the juvenile accused in Delhi’s 16 December 2012 gang rape, against the victim’s parents’ challenge to the Juvenile Justice Act.

Craft and creation

As a beginner in the profession, with neither pedigree nor antecedents, Bhambhani encouraged a case flow that was sufficient to build a chamber in his name with the blessings of supportive seniors, whom he assisted, and through seeking inspiration in the craft from those with whom he never had a chance to work.

“The way it really worked for me is that the law firm I worked with, although very briefly, they reposed a lot of confidence in me and they were happy to entrust briefs to me and say that [I] carry on doing them. Even people who I was technically leaving were very encouraging to me. So I always had people around who showed a lot of confidence in me,” he notes.

Bhambhani began his career by filing public interest litigation (PIL) for the NGO Common Cause and notes the significance of the NGO’s founder HD Shourie in mentoring him through the PIL on proper maintenance of blood banks.

“I have also learnt a lot from just observing and interacting with Mr Soli Sorbajee, Mr Ram Jethmalani, Mr Fali Nariman, and Mr Anil Divan. For example when I began in 1992 I was one of a group of lawyers who were advising Win Chadha in the Bofors matter, so it was a collaborated thing but that’s when we saw Mr Jethmalani in action, although he was opposing us.”

“You learn a lot from these seniors even when you’ve not been in their chamber. I have never been a chamber junior with any of these gentlemen, but have been fortunate to have briefs which involved them,” he says.

Art and business

“[Law aspirants] see eminent lawyers all the time on television and they say I want to be like that. Then they read about super seniors making huge amounts of money and get attracted. The legal profession has become very appealing to people but in some cases for the wrong reasons like fame and money,” he reflects.

Bhambhani says that he has rejected recurring opportunities to “succumb to the temptation” of merging his practice with bigger law firms because the merger would have meant “converting his profession into a business where the central consideration is money”.

“There must be the will to continue, you must be very very committed not to lose your heart and run away after five years. Just to stick with it. That is very important,” he says about braving out the financial hardship inherent in a nascent litigation career. But at the same time, he says he sees promise in the “genuine talent” that the higher threshold of entry into the bar is attracting lately.

Bhambhani is part of eight seniors who were designated at the high court since the notification of its new December 2012 rules for senior counsel designations. The rules now require not just two recommendations, but five recommendations and 15 judgements that have led to the growth of law in the three years immediately preceding the proposal for being designated, in order to be considered for the seniority gown.

In March 2013 the high court had designated five advocates, including two women, as seniors, and last Thursday Bhambhani, Krishnan and Sibal were designated.

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