In this article Sarang Khanna, Content Marketing Executive at iPleaders, talks about a day in the life of a lawyer. Read this interesting piece through the eyes of an intern for a smile-worthy experience.
“I see you have brought the entire library with you, Mr. Advocate”, remarked the Judge noticing the excess of books and manuals. “Indeed I have, My Lord”, said the lawyer, “I have brought all these books to teach you a little about the law.”
Arguments are the fuel that drives the legal profession. It would be appropriate to say that a healthy argument is an art which is practiced on a daily basis in all courtrooms across the country. Yes, advocacy is perhaps the only profession where you can reply in the above manner to your superior, and still get to keep your job. From the rush of the heated arguments one after another, to taking subtle digs at each other, lawyers are a breed that continuously feed on an intoxicating and almost addictive urge to outsmart each other. The sense of power that comes with the black robe and the stiff collar band, is known only to the ones who wear it.
Coming from a generation that has been largely awestruck by the charm and wit depicted in the courtroom dramas on television, I always wanted to have the lawyer’s way of life for myself. Choosing law school was the obvious choice for anyone who considered their tongues to be sharper than the shredding machine. But I always knew it wasn’t going to be as fancy all the time, not at least in college.
Life at law school can be extremely demanding, and rightly so. I knew internships were the best way to get on the ground and start learning from the horses. Well, many might assume that internships are an easy time before their yet-to-commence law career, but no. The experiences that you have during them, give you an opportunity to direct your professional training in one serious direction. Litigation or Corporate? – I think it is a cusp every law student finds themselves at. For me, I knew this question was best dealt with as quickly as possible.
Practicing lawyers and corporate lawyers are like flipsides of a single coin. The Yin and Yang; the same, yet so different. While the early years in litigation are a constant hustle, corporate counterparts can enjoy the glorified and well-cushioned desk jobs. For some, the vast difference in initial earnings itself gives them a clear winner, but I knew I was in it for the arguing, for the intoxication. And hence, litigation it was for me.
I figured early on, that internships are a time to perform and figure what’s working out and what is not. Most will give you only a glimpse of what it is going to be like, but the true story still remains behind the curtains. Of course, you have to lift the curtain for yourself and find out the reality.
For example, while interning at a big law firm, one might feel that the job profile will be about research work, and making notes to present to the partner. But alas! This is not even a percent of what these dexterous associates are required to do. One might think the practice of criminal law is fancy, and just because the subjects are interesting they are good to go. Though you probably have no idea of what it takes to build a stable clientele or how to deal with court-room politics.
Which is why, internships are a beautiful way to get some real world insights, but yes, your entire decision to choose your path cannot be completely based on that.
Personally, what I didn’t realize during previous internships were the challenges that were in field of litigation. There are times when you are put in situations you did not imagine could exist; right from appearing for cases you do not know anything about, to advising clients on laws which you didn’t know existed. From appearing in the courts prepared (or unprepared), to struggling to put a case file in order, a litigating advocate’s life is anything but about arguing in the court and wearing the glorious black robe. It is struggle, struggle and some more struggle.
However, what was it that made it so intoxicating, so addictive and so worthy?
Unlike the popular belief, litigation can be extremely rewarding. There is just one challenge when it comes to litigation – lack of knowledge, whether procedural or substantial. Everyday you will need to know about something you never really knew about before. What can you do about it? Earlier, I would have asked you to do nothing. Learn how to swim by jumping into the waters. There are two possibilities to that. Either you learn how to swim through the currents, or you drown. But of course, drowning is not a good feeling.
To save myself from drowning, I naturally started looking around as hard as I could. What if I could find a rope to help me climb up? Thankfully, I did. I increased my reading, indulged in extensive researching, and found whatever ways that could add to my knowledge. It was during my research that I learnt of online studying, and I found these online courses covered everything I possibly needed to know, even the insights that only practical court-room experience could get. I could learn on the go, without having to feel embarrassed everytime I made a mistake. It was a boost to my knowledge, my confidence and my career.
Let us fast forward to the present day where ‘Mr. Advocate’, with whom yours truly is interning, continues to flip through his plethora of books and documents, and makes his case invincible in a soft but assertive exchange of expressions. A few jibes here and there at his not so ‘learned’ friend as the opposing counsel, and he walks out of the courtroom with an aura like no other. “Surely, there’s no paycheck bigger than multiple such ego boosts throughout the day”, I thought to myself.
Next up on the task list was the big one. A matter listed in the Chief’s court, Courtroom No. 1. Mr. Advocate needs a mandatory coffee after almost every hearing, especially before the big ones.
Walking past the several greetings and salutations he makes his way to the coffee shop where strategy is discussed for the next hearing, while work for the evening flows through texts and emails which are constantly being swiped up and down the mobile on the side. I was amazed by the amount of effortless multi-tasking all lawyers around me were accustomed at doing. The energy of the High Court premises can only be felt, not described. Apart from the quite apparent task of trying cases in the courts of law, a lawyer certainly has exponentially more to do. I soon realized, the job is certainly not restricted to just arguing and polite exchanging of subtle one liners. It differs from case to case and client to client. To cope with this dilemma, this is what came to my rescue.
While corporate lawyers are mostly drawing documents for businesses, a litigating lawyer represents interest for both individuals and businesses which may fairly complicate things. Corporate offices often have teams working on a single project, whereas a litigator is, more often than not, a one man army.
But wait, how did the big one go? Things took the usual route at the Chief’s court as well. The classic my-interpretation-is-better-than-yours debate, until it is mutually agreed to commence arguments at a later date. This is followed by some out of court chit-chatting, networking and some business card exchanging, and all that important stuff. Somehow, conversations with the clients and especially prospective clients is very amusing to me. To me, how a lawyer deals with his client is an instant tell about his stature in the profession. Never mind, moving on!
A typical day in a lawyer’s life is never restricted to just one courtroom or even to the one High Court premises, for that matter. In the capital city, a lawyer must know exactly when to wrap things up in one matter, to be able to reach in time for the other – which might sometimes even be at the other end of the city. And if this was not all, the real preparation for the next day begins in the evening back at the chambers, where plans for the next day are laid out; strategies are discussed, documents are drafted, and arguments are framed. Do you think you are ready to take such challenges?
Definitely, the captivating portrayal of a lawyer’s life on TV is the mere tip of the iceberg. But in all those things, what the TV courtroom dramas do manage to get right, in my opinion, are the long working hours, the stressed personal and social relationships, the overwhelming office hubbub, and the sly “greasing” and “string-pulling” to get things done. So well, after a long night of lengthy researching, lengthier drafting, and adjusting fonts, numberings and footnotes, we finally call it a day; only to experience another unknown adrenaline rush the next day. You never know what you get to see in the courtroom tomorrow.
I have often wondered, though I can only imagine, what a successful lawyer’s mornings must feel like. Would they be anxious, excited, or just indifferent (having experienced both of the other emotions way too often)? I frequently wish to take a trip inside a lawyer’s head to know what the world can’t really see. What is the real emotion of a lawyer when they casually sip their morning tea accompanied by a mass of opened files before them.
This philosophical approach – because the one thing that lawyers are often restricted to bring along with them to the courtroom are their emotions. Of course, there is always the good fight once in a while – for the right, for the poor, for the unrepresented, for change; but the moral flexibility that the legal profession demands is almost perplexing. The job requires you to be only analytical, persevering, and also justful, in your own right.
The room for emotional over-thinking is minimal in a profession so black and white. It is a consuming job, but you never come out of it empty. You either come with a burden or with a baggage full of learnings; but always stronger, always mightier. In law, your challenges are your rewards, for they seek your steadfast involvement and that is what keeps a lawyer going.
I quickly sip my thoughts down my throat with my morning intern-tea and get ready for the first matter of the new day. We reach the courtroom almost in time, while another matter is going on. The atmosphere seems intense, I can sense a certain chill on everyone’s faces. When suddenly, “You think we are fools?”, asks the angry judge, to the lawyer, who seems to have had enough already. There is a brief pause and the ambiance intensifies further. “My Lords have put me in a rather tricky situation here. If I agree, I am in contempt; and I commit perjury, if I don’t”. The light courtroom humor gets everyone including the judge to share a little laugh.
Surely, there’s no other profession as intense and simultaneously entertaining as the legal one.