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An estimated 19-minute read
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They say if you want to die of poverty, struggling to make ends meet, with no money and even less of a reputation, then choose your profession wisely because there are very few professions which can make you into an irritating, socially ridiculed, annoying destitute as law.

Of course things have changed much for the class of lawyers, there are those that daily earn in the range which CEOs make in a year, they are the quintessential movers and shakers of the power circuit in Delhi. Yet there exists the old between the new.

Whilst the word lawyer today is instantly recognized as a clean shaven, suit donning, impeccable English speaking corporate lawyer who you would be hard-pressed to differentiate from a MBA or banker. Yet there still exists the kind of practice that started in pre-colonial India- The Chamber practice is quite unique.

It is an anglo-saxon model of practice where the practice area is litigation only, and is centered around a Senior Advocate (Barrister) who has the task to prepare and argue cases in courts of record (High Courts and Supreme Court of India). This practice is particularly unique in Delhi. If you are in the chamber of a Senior Advocate, by no means a reflection on his age, experience or intelligence, then you are in that rarefied atmosphere where there is little oxygen to breathe. I present to the uninitiated, the anatomy of a Senior Advocate’s Chamber:

1. The Chamber itself-

This is the den where the lion roars. The Chamber is a hallowed place where the worshippers (aka clients) throng for one glimpse of the deity (Senior, of course). When I say glimpse, I mean glimpse, because the time given to a conference is indirectly proportional to the power and prestige of the Senior.

So the logic goes that a Top Tier Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court usually finishes his conference en route to the airport at 11.00 pm, while going to play tennis in the morning, as he enters the Supreme Court and before he reaches the courtroom, and most definitely within 15 minutes of the entry of the last lawyer in.

The logic is summed up for the client as follows: he is all knowing, all pervading, all encompassing, and hence he doesn’t need to know much. So long as he knows the bank balance of the client, and where his next 5 appearances are coming from, the Senior doesn’t care much.

However, it is a known and admitted fact that Seniors are usually not well acquainted with the brief, they don’t read, forget about making notes or applying their mind. They are sometimes just mouth piece of the briefing counsel who keeps talking into his ear, and the Senior keeps reproducing the brief with “I'm Obliged” “My Lordship is very kind” etc etc etc.

There have been cases when Senior Counsels have not known the names of their clients, have stood on the wrong side of podium to address the court (because they did not know the name of their client- and whether they are petitioner or respondent), have been thoroughly humiliated by very young fresh off the boat lawyers simply because they knew the facts of the case and the stage at which the case is. It is an acknowledged fact that Senior is the master of his field of law, be it civil, criminal, corporate, tax, service, administrative, but his knowledge of the facts is only as good as his patience and his briefing counsel or junior.

So if the Senior charges Rs. 15 lakhs per appearance and inadvertently forgets to read the file because of the many social commitments he has to honour everyday or his session of bridge/rummy/tennis/squash stretches over and he is exhausted thereafter, then the client is poorer for that amount with the next date set for 4-5 months later and his fate hanging in the balance.

It is particularly sordid for criminal practice, where there are few second chances, the Senior stands between the client and jail, very often, and his inability to read the file, get briefed on the way to court, immersion is his laterst ipad/iphone, or gossip at Supreme Court could cost the client a few lakhs and a trip to jail. To the Senior, it is one in the hit-and-miss of daily Supreme Court work, something he will shrug off as the fault of the Judge, “the judge just did not understand”, “the judge is an idiot”or simply bad luck of the client “I tried my best but I am no magician”.

The idea of the Chamber itself is to impress the client into believing that the Senior is very well to do and therefore convincing him to part with more fee. Most Senior Advocates in Delhi have large, lavish offices overflowing with rows of cubicles for junior lawyers, fancy rest area/ reception for clients to sit and admire the largess of the Senior while remembering why he is paying so much for his services.

Tea and coffee is served with generosity although there are a few exceptions to this rule, where Senior’s staff is so stingy with tea that you would think they were serving it with a drop of gold. The Senior’s chamber is well decorated, with his achievements- medals, certificates of foreign universities, photos of him shaking hands with ministers/foreign dignitaries or photos of him skiing in the mountains are strategically placed- to further impress upon the client on why the great Senior is so great and why he is paying so much.

There will always be a rush of people coming in and going out, with a dozen or so interns tagging along for each conference alongwith the juniors and the briefing counsel and the client. It is nothing less than a full fair inside the Senior’s den.

2. The Clients-

The air is filled with thick smoke emanating from the cigar of this man, crisp white shirt, light blue jacket over a pair of Armani jeans, brown crocodile leather shoes, talking on his blackberry in the balcony. It you saw him from a distance it would be hard to tell that he is the man about to go to jail, save for the mercy & benevolence of the Senior he is here to meet, beg and plead to take up his case. In return for the generous act of Senior, the Client will shell out 1/10th the value of his company (literally!).

He comes with a string of briefing lawyers, one leading the wolf pack, others nearly scared to death on entering the hallowed chamber. He is more often than not, a rich bloke, or CEO of a multi national corporation, big builder/ colonizer, politician or son/nephew/third cousin of a politician, a big kingpin of the underworld and sometimes a proclaimed offender evading arrest.

No wonder it takes nerves of steel to survive in the Chambers of a Senior.

There are tales told of a Senior who was a great criminal lawyer who was shot by his client for not appearing in his matter on time, there is another of a fat, burly don of Bihar walking in the chambers of the Senior with 5 men all carrying unlicensed arms, he himself carrying a katta (its between a knife and sword- very sharp, absolutely horrifying to notice if you are the junior sitting next to him) in his waistpocket.

3. The Briefing Lawyer-

These come in 2 varieties madam, is what the sales man at the pet store would tell you if lawyers were ever put for sale. There are those who bark loudly and ferociously and seldom bite, because briefing lawyers can never bite, but won’t stop wagging their tails at the first voice of the Senior and then there are those that won’t even have the courage to bark. They will be there to pass files, papers, glass of water, anything else they can lay their hands on.

They will be the invisible layer, never making eye contact lest the Senior ask them something or question them in front of the client. Of course what they tell the client once the conference is over, is another matter altogether. Once outside then den, they are the roaring lions, they walk in the conference as timid rabbits, good to look at , not of much use though, and they usually walk out as triumphant lions, ones who have conquered and eaten their prey alive, while the exact opposite of that happens inside.

They will have a smirk on their face while telling the client, that they were right, the Senior did not understand the point, “he is good, but you see, usse samaj nahi aaya, don’t worry main hoon na court mein”. With this line he has sealed his next paycheck, because now the poor client is even more dependent on the briefing counsel.

Before approaching the briefing lawyer, the client thought he had a good case, the briefing lawyer told him his case is very ‘tricky’, ‘dicey’ with the general air of a doctor who is about to pronounce his beloved patient dead. Then they both go to the Senior Counsel, who tells the client proudly that he ‘had’ a very good case, with emphasis in the word ‘had’ and that it was screwed up by either the briefing counsel or the counsel before him, but worry not, because the Senior is here to rescue him from the metal cufflings.

Once out of conference, the briefing counsel tells the client that the Senior is an idiot, arrogant fool who doesn’t know much, but “you see, we have to engage him for his face value”. Now the client is thoroughly confused, he doesn’t know anymore if he has a good case or not, his case is in the hands of 2 lawyers both of whom think the other is an idiot, and both of whom have charged their fee in advance, irrespective of the outcome.

4. The Clerk / PS

Enter the gunda of the movie.

If the lawyer’s chamber was a movie, the clerk of the Senior who now call themselves Personal Secretary are the big daddys of the office.

They control the chamber with the swift maneuver of their little finger. The entire office shudders at his voice, the junior lawyers tremble and pee in their pants when he shouts. He controls who gets which matter and how much money, he dictates the office working, he reports to the Senior about who comes late, he is in the know of which matter is coming when, and most importantly when the boss is going out of station (aka holiday time for everybody).

While the Senior may think he is the boss, everyone else knows that the clerk of the Senior is the de facto boss. Nothing and nobody dare move without him, so much so that regular clients are mortally scared of his voice alone. He is the most effective money–getter you can ever encounter.

One thundering voice accompanied by a string of abuses (sometimes) is enough to make the most miserly of the client pay up within seconds.

He charges for the appearance of the Senior, any sum that he can conjure at a moment's notice. Although most Seniors have a fixed ‘rate’ for High Court, Supreme Court and out station matters, yet this is not put up on a notice board for all and sundry.

The Clerk can literally charge anything he likes, based on the client's perceived ability to pay, the briefing counsel he has brought, or simply because a figure has materialized in the head of the Clerk that moment.

There are stories of clerks charging obscene amounts from clients, which sometimes the Senior does not know of, there are similar stories of clerks doing undercutting in payments from clients, keeping their share fixed before hand, giving kick backs to briefing counsels, with or without the knowledge of the Senior (usually with the knowledge of the Senior, but which he conveniently forgets in public).

He always charges his commission clerkage from the bill of the Senior as well as from the juniors, who are way too scared to object, not that there is any forum to object, because so far as the Chamber is concerned, Clerk is the Supreme Court, totally arbitrary, always right and hence binding.

4. The Juniors-

They are the bastards who no one wants to claim, they are the unsung heroes of the chamber. The ones who work 90 hours a week, badger on and on, get scolded by the Senior for something they should have done, but no one told them to do, or by the clerk for not paying his commission on time, or not coming to office on time, even though the poor lawyer was in court, waiting for the Senior, who did not show up and everybody forgot to tell him that the Senior won’t be appearing in that matter today because his desired fees did not reach on time.

Of course, there are many kinds of juniors too:

4(i) Junior Bastards-

the actual bastards. The ones who have risen through the ranks, who got bullied so hard, that they are the real bullies of the office, because God knows the Senior’s office would be such a delight withough one mandatory bully. This kind of junior-senior (senior because he is the senior most bully (read junior) in the chamber and hence the final word after Boss) is a force to be reckoned with, he is brutal, raised in the same tradition of ‘cut the competition’, ‘thin the herd’, ‘survival of the worst fittest’ that he need only see a rising young lawyer who seems to be getting some attention from the Senior, and he will waste no time in slaying him.

There are a variety of ways to slay the rising junior lawyer - publicly humiliating him, ridiculing him in front of other lawyers, reproaching him in front of clients, looking at him with disapproval in front of the Senior, jibing at him with the clerk and a chosen few of his friends.

There is a method in the madness, the reason obviously being that the junior lawyer is seen as a threat - there are after all, only so many matters to be handed out, and if the young lawyer rises too fast, he poses a threat to the old boys' association, who have been patiently waiting for their time, working with the Senior for years, facing the humiliation of being called so-and-so's junior when they themselves should have become Senior.

So the rising young lawyer is an additional insult to their already injury laden career, something they must stifle at the first instance.

4(ii) The cool & cunning-

He is the quintessential fast mover of practice circuit. He knows the ropes required for reaching the top without actually climbing, he chooses friends carefully and after due diligence into their surname, pedigree and bank balance, he has templates of all drafts and a few clerks on his speed dial. So anytime he gets a brief to draft anything, he just has to push the button on speed dial.

He is always seen hanging around the Senior, even when the Senior is sitting in canteen having tea, he will be sitting near him, so people can see him with the Senior and think he is important and additionally so that he can meet with whoever comes to greet the Senior.

4(iii) The fool worker-

He is the worst in the lot, not only does he work his ass off for every matter given to him, he does so irrespective of how much money he maybe paid for it.

It is a commonly understood practice in law that one works only as much as one is paid, with the result that free cases- in which no money is expected or which are personal cases of the Boss or his friends are taken ever so lightly and ones in which fee is expected are kept on a different pedestal.

But the worker does not understand this important difference, he is impervious to office politics or the snide comments others make about him, he doesn’t understand the strategic timings for roaming the corridors of the office, so that the Boss catches a glimpse of you and knows you are in office or to bribe the staff so they tell the Boss that you have gone to court when in fact you could be dozing off at home.

4(iv) The Idiot-

He is the one who will be seen sitting at the farthest cubicle from the Senior’s, not necessarily because he is the junior-most, but probably because he wants to avoid the Senior and the work like the plague. Such a junior will always be seen busy, buried behind files, doing something no body else will understand, he will be given complicated research propositions that have no practical application or no hope of coming to court and he will gladly take them on because otherwise he will have to work on an actual case, which will actually come to court, and hence the Senior may ask for a conference, prepare notes, do research, all of which are beyond the intellectual capability of the junior and he has no intention of upgrading his X-86 to Quad core dual processor.

4(v) The Hotheaded-

He should have been a boxer or fighter except that he thinks being a fighter and a lawyer are the same thing. So he is the one seeing fighting with everyone around him, be it shouting on interns on a daily basis, or abusing the staff as a second language, to sometimes even fighting with the Judge when he is not inclined to give relief.

The only people he won’t pick a fight with is the client – can’t bite the hand that feeds you, right? But because temperamentally they are such, there will be times you will see such hot headed guys (yes, they are mostly boys, not girls, not even men, they are young boys aged 18-25, after which age your anger is spent on convincing the client to pay your fee) venting it out on clients outside courts or in their cubicle, at which time the Clerk or a staff member will intervene to prevent a full scale boxing match and tremendous embarrassment to the Senior.

It is another matter that no junior will typically intervene, because one junior’s loss (of client) is another’s gain!

4(vi) The Jugadu-

He is the minister’s nephew’s dog’s neighbour’s son or the son of a Senior Advocate/ Judge, in which case he carries an air of superiority about himself from the moment he enters the Chamber.

He prefers to call the Senior ‘uncle’, after all he has known the Senior as his father’s friend (sometimes father’s junior or as the one who lined at his father’s residence seeking favour), he drops names like it rains in Mumbai, he knows everyone and everything except actual work.

Of course, he is not expected to work or know anything about work because he comes from a privileged background, one that entitles him to progress without necessarily putting in the hours.

5. The Senior Himself-

They also come in 2 types- the real ass**** variety who would make a junior’s life hell alongwith the collective work environment polluted, uneasy and impossible to work in. In which case, everyone in the office unites in their hatred of the Boss, and at least get on cordially with each other.

In such an office, tales are told of the horrible boss, his legends of harshness, rudeness, depravity and cunningness are repeated over and over again by juniors and clerks in pubs and shady drinking joints frequented by lawyers (think 4s and Café Morrison in Delhi) after 9.30pm over chugs of beer (actually make that 2 bottles of whiskey/scotch, no lawyer worth his name drinks anything other than whiskey or scotch).

In a parallel universe, the Senior is the Demi-God, revered, friendly, Bossy but still not as ass****. He treats the junior like a human being (which is a rarity), does not treat him like a brief-producing, research–doing machine who has no life outside work (granted that junior lawyers seldom have life outside work- or just any life for that matter, but still it hurts to think that the Senior would assume so on his own).

This kind of Senior displays emotion, or a semblance of emotion- a smile when the brief is well drafted, a chuckle when the opposing counsel is making an ass of himself in court. They may make small talk with the junior on the way to court or out of it and lo and behold your good luck if they know anything about you except your name and family name.

It is a rather ridiculous practice in High Court and Supreme Court that a small contingent of devotees lawyers gather around whenever there is a celebrity Senior Lawyer’s sighting in the canteen/ common room/ bar room. (its still a shame that Seniors have to wait for their turn to argue in the court, going by the way junior counsels seek pass overs for Seniors- it appears that judges must wait for their chance to be addressed by the Boss- and sometimes the judge, angrily says so as well).

So when the Senior has to wait for his turn in the court, he usually sits in the canteen, bar room, library, and slowly but surely a catena of lawyers gathers around him, some to talk about the recent gossip, some to show their faces, just in case the Senior has a brief lying around somewhere that can be given to the devotee in line (Ya right!), and some gather only for the free samosas and tea going around.

Nevertheless, a small contingent must gather around the Senior, the size of which is usually proportional to the power & prestige of the Senior. Some Seniors have been known to be so insecure about this aspect, that they themselves carry a small army of juniors with them, lest they be seen standing or sitting alone!

***

So, you see, this profession is not for the faint-hearted or those who have an inflated ego (or self respect for that matter); this is not the profession for those seeking work life balance (what's that?) or remuneration that equals their quantum of work or commitment.

There are known to be three stages in the career of a lawyer: the first one is when there is no work and no money, the second is where there is lot of work but less money and third, and the best one is where there is little work but lots of money.

All the dewy eyed lawyers enter into the profession hoping to jump directly to the third phase but as with life, so it is in this profession - success comes before work in dictionaries only.

Disclaimer: The following bears no resemblance to any person, living or dead or to any actual event. All characters are completely fictitious.

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