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Thirty years ago, nobody could have accurately predicted the job market of today. The intervening technological progress must be blamed or credited for it. However, we seem to be able today to satisfactorily predict the job market we will have thirty years hence – plenty of machines and Artificial Intelligence doing many of our current jobs!

If somebody is offering you career advice without talking about inroads into your career from Artificial Intelligence, I have a recommendation for you. Run! Run as far away as you can from that person; he has no idea of what he is talking about.

Today, we are on the brink of a technological revolution, and there is a name for it – Artificial Intelligence (AI) (known at times, as ‘Machine Learning’ or ‘Deep Learning’). Just ask Google’s Sergey Brin. Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon barely existed twenty years ago but are today, spearheading mind-blowing AI applications and technologies. And, your job of the future – whatever it is – is going to be tremendously influenced and even curtailed by such AI applications, technologies and innovations. The Institute of Medicine in the United States estimates that around 10% of patient deaths in that country could be blamed due to an error in medical diagnosis; the situation in India is likely to be worse. And, today, several AI applications have proven themselves to be better than human doctors or radiologists in reading a patient’s body scan or blood and tissue sample and are quietly being deployed in leading hospitals around the world, including in India.

I still remember about a criminal case from three years ago, in which certain persons were charged in Bangalore for selling a seat in a super speciality course in medicine, ‘MD in Radiology’ for about one crore rupees. This year, the data shows that there will be very few takers for specialised courses in Radiology in the United States and Western Europe given the rapid progress in AI in the field of medical imaging. I am, therefore, quite sure that those charlatans won’t have any incentive to repeat their crime in the coming years in India - with barely any takers for a specialised course in Radiology, much less a heightened demand for it. Recently, Oxford University researchers studied the automation potential for 702 different jobs and concluded that within the next 20 years, there is a very high probability of half of those jobs entirely or substantially automated and more importantly, human beings rendered redundant for those jobs!

Anyway, the person who paid a bribe to obtain an MD seat in Radiology in that criminal case cannot ask for a refund of that money. Who says so? A lawyer. That’s me. And, it could be you as well.

India is currently, a fascinating place to be a lawyer.

What’s the difference between a lawyer and an advocate? In the Indian context, a lawyer is a person who has completed a degree in law. An advocate is something more than a mere lawyer; a lawyer who practices in any Court of law and represents another person in that Court. An exciting thing about being an advocate in India is that the licence that you are given to practice law is of a ‘national character’, and you do not face legal barriers while crossing from one locality or State to another. So, if you qualify as an ‘advocate’ this morning and receive a certificate to that effect, you are technically permitted to argue in any of the Courts of India or any of the hundreds of Tribunals or Government Departmental hearings anywhere in the country. However, rarely does anybody set out to do so. And, unlike movie sequences in which the advocates and the judge seem to be only concerned about charming speeches and argument, in actual practice, an advocate may only argue upon matters that he has given written notice of and so, what an advocate has actually filed into a Court or Tribunal is of critical concern. Therefore, in actual practice, most courts and tribunals impose a few conditions such as a requirement that you be reachable through a physical address in their locality and that your certificate be readily ascertainable and verifiable by their filing systems if you want to file any document or petition with them. So, if you cannot file a document into the Court but want to argue there, you usually team up with another advocate who is already entitled to file in that Court or Tribunal and, there you go! You may then, argue in that Court. Such a large practice jurisdiction is practically unthinkable in most other parts of the world.

As things stand, you may become a lawyer in one of two different ways in India. After 10+2, you may enrol in a 5-year course. There are 19 government controlled and run universities known as ‘National Law Universities’ (NLU). Admission to these NLUs is on the basis of your score in a single common entrance test that is conducted every year known as the ‘Common Law Admission Test’ (CLAT). And, there are other government-run and private institutions that offer a 5-year course and may, in some cases, use your CLAT score itself to evaluate you or conduct an entrance examination on their own. It varies widely.

The other way to become a lawyer is to enrol for a 3-year course after your graduation (10+2+3). Though the demand for a 3-year course in law is steadily declining, there will always be enough number of colleges and institutes offering this course. There are many people that decide to take up a career in law after they complete graduation and so, they do not have to fret about not opting for a career in law soon after their 10+2.

And, once you become a lawyer, you will not suffer any legal disability or derive any legal advantage based on whether your course was a 3-year course or a 5-year course. However, you may face some financial disadvantage in the job market if you are a 3-year course lawyer and seek employment; you may be thought of as indecisive or unplanned and therefore, command a lesser pay and recognition in the initial months of your employment.

However, if you instead, want to enrol as an advocate, you will have to forego employment and get set for the life of a professional. You will have to take another examination known as the ‘All India Bar Examination’ and if you did well as a student during your study of the law, you would effortlessly pass this examination; every passing student is issued a ‘Certificate’ of practice that will enable him to act as an ‘Advocate’ anywhere in the country.

Coming back to you preferring to seek employment with any person, firm or company and monitor their legal compliance, the market is generally skewed in favour of a few NLU graduates and other reputed institutions. However, mind-blowing AI applications in the just the last two years will soon allow corporates to cut down on their need and reliance on in-house lawyers. And, it is estimated that today’s 7 out of 10 corporate lawyers will be without much work to do in just a decade. The pay is highly variable and most often, a lawyer who doesn’t care to understand the basics of the business that his employer is engaged in turns out to be of very little help to that employer and is very soon, shown the exit door, irrespective of his academic laurels. You see, laws are made by men to deal with human situations and therefore, unless you truly care about the unique or peculiar characteristics of your employer’s business, someone else that cares more is more likely to be able to better apply the law to circumstances that he has greater familiarity with. So, practical knowledge of the day to day world and of the specifics of your employer’s business is very much essential for you to thrive in that environment.

Coming to litigation, that is, your work as an advocate, you must know that your academic achievements may not matter much except to get you more cases than others, initially. Your actual performance in litigation is what will carry you through. The pay in litigation under another advocate varies widely and is generally, less in comparison to salaries offered to lawyers with comparable experience that seek employment instead of advocacy. Artificial Intelligence is also making tremendous inroad into litigation and while most experts agree that advocacy will be the last of the professions to be encroached upon by Artificial Intelligence, there is consensus among experts today that only litigators with very advanced arguing and reasoning skills could afford to stay immune from AI for a longer time; most litigators may not be so lucky or fortunate.

AI is changing most things today; lawyers and advocates will find themselves more AI challenged with every passing year. Clarity of thought, higher reasoning skills, a firm command of the English language, firmness in outward thought and a pleasant communication appear to be most necessary for a career in law. However, if you currently feel that you are deficient in any of these, don’t let it stop you from pursuing a career in law. These are skills that anybody could cultivate with sufficient devotion over a longer period of time. Finally, honesty and integrity are the two factors that you must possess if you truly desire a lasting career in law; you cannot make up a deficiency on these two fronts merely with the passage of time.

I didn’t stress much on the money aspect of a career in law. A talented and hardworking advocate is unlikely to be without work or remuneration at this point of time in India. You should know that you may even earn hundreds of crores of rupees every year in litigation. Equally, you may choose to freely work for the poor, the weak and vulnerable sections of the community and forego lucrative assignments in favour of nourishing your soul. Numerically, almost all the advocates fall somewhere in between. It’s up to you.

I can tell you this much, in the end. A career in law could be the most rewarding career you could ever aspire for. However, you may not even know today if you would make a good or a better or a great lawyer in the future. So, it doesn’t matter if you still doubt your aptitude for law. Take a plunge and you will rarely regret your decision.

Because, almost two decades into a career in law, I am yet to come across any individual that regrets, however small, his choice of a career in law. None, yet. And, you are unlikely to change this widespread observation if you do pursue a career in law. All the best to you, no matter what you choose to. Remember, however, that the more your society benefits from your career, the greater is your career’s worth for you and to the society.


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