This article is written by Richa Ray, pursuing a Diploma in Advanced Contract Drafting, Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from Lawsikho.com.
Before I start to deal with the main topic of the article, let me first discuss a little about the history of legal practice.
The history of legal profession during the British rule starts from 1726 when Mayor’s court was established in the presidencies of Madras, Bombay and Calcutta. Until the establishment of this court there was no established legal profession. There was no qualification, education or training as such for the people who were entitled to plead as legal practitioner and English Law was administered.
Before independence, there were six grades of legal practice in India after the founding of the High Courts – a) Advocates, b) Attorneys (Solicitors), c) Vakils of High Courts, d) Pleaders, e) Mukhtars, f) Revenue Agents. It was in 1876 that The Legal Practitioners Act was introduced which brought all the six grades together in one system and under the jurisdiction of High Courts. Till 1961 the letters Patent and Legal Practitioners Act was followed but only till the time Advocates Act was introduced in 1961.
If anybody wanted to be a vakil he had to study at a college, master the use of English and pass the vakil’s examination. Later, in 1940, the rule was made that if someone wants to become a vakil he has to graduate with an LL.B. from a university in India, in addition to three other certified requirements. The certificate should be proof that a. he had passed in the examination b. read in the chamber of a qualified lawyer and was of a good character. In fact, Sir Sunder Lal, Jogendra Nath Chaudhary, Ram Prasad and Moti Lal Nehru were all vakils who were raised to the rank of an Advocate.
India has come a long way since independence and now we have hundreds of Law Firms. Here, I would like to mention some of the oldest law firms of India Fox Mandal, established in 1896 Wadia Ghandy & Co. established in 1893 Khaitan & co. established in 1911.
According to the Indian Contract Act
Another important point that we have to understand is that according to the Indian contract act following are the persons who can enter into a contract:
- A person who is competent to enter contact
- A major person
- A person who is of sound mind
- A person who is not disqualified from entering into a contract
A person is not defined in the Act. A person means any individual and also includes Firm, a Company, Trustee, a partnership firm, Karta of Hindu Undivided Family. To understand more clearly let’s take the case of Commissioner of Income Tax Vs Kala Babu Lal Chand (AIR 1959 SC 1289) where the honourable Supreme Court held that the person under the Act means either an individual or any other legal entity such as limited company registered under the Companies Act or any other Corporation constituted by or under any Act of the Legislature as a body corporate. Further, it was held by the Supreme Court that since HUF is a fleeting body therefore it cannot enter into a contract with another person but an individual as Karta of HUF can become a partner, but he will be considered as an individual member.
We can clearly see from the above points that a non-law graduate can become a partner in law firm.
In a Law firm there are several departments which deal in different matters such as Litigation, transaction matters, Arbitration matters, matters related to Company law etc. therefore, we can see the structure of a law firm is such that it needs more and more lawyers. Now, some law firms are popular because of their expertise in specific areas and since most of the issues and cases they receive are related to law so they prefer to hire law students as they have studied law and are familiar with the provisions of law. It can be explained better by an example here, If we talk about power generation company like NTPC, they require more and more engineers. Although they have other departments but the structure is such that the issues can be solved by the engineers.
Same way law firm has department like IT department, Accounts department, Human Resource Department etc. here non-law graduates are required for the smooth functioning of the law firm and if these non-law graduates perform their role effectively, they can be made partner in the law firm.
Any law graduate, when starts working with a law firm does not immediately become a partner, they have to go through years of hard work. They have to start with Associate first, then Senior Associate, Junior Partner and then Senior Partner and so non-law graduates cannot also become partner immediately when they join any law firm and they might also take the same amount of years. When it comes to litigation matte, non-law graduates cannot appear in courts as it is against Advocates Act which indicates that a non-law graduate cannot represent any client in court.
Non-law graduates as partners in a law firm
The times are changing. Some times in Law firms non-law graduates are preferred as they are equipped with some very useful knowledge which can prove to be helpful for the law firm.
For example, modern languages graduates are preferred by law firms as they know more than one language and these firms usually deal with multinational clients have and have offices across the globe.
Again, anyone who has a degree as well as expertise in the field of science can prove to be very helpful for the law firms that deal in intellectual property rights where these non-law graduates work on the design rights or patents scientific and technological inventions.
Sometimes these non-law graduates are trained in advising clients or knowing the client better which can come very handy for the law firm.
Much of being a lawyer is about skills rather than knowledge, today, the legal industry is evolving very fast and where all the legal procedures need to be faster and which could deliver even complex legal service. Though because of a law firm’s structure a law firm is mostly having lawyers in it, now-a-days more and more non-lawyers are preferred by the law firms for the various roles like admin, managerial and professional roles etc. and as we know none of these positions require a law degree. I am listing down the career in law firms for non-lawyers.
Law Firm Administrator
Law firm administrator works at the executive level also known as Executive Directors, Chief managing Officer etc. Business side of law practice is managed by them. Their role mostly includes strategic vision, competitive intelligence, knowledge management, hiring, branding, marketing etc.
Paralegals are individuals who are employed by a lawyer, law firm etc. to perform a delegated work for which a lawyer is responsible. Paralegals help in keeping the cost down where the clients want the reasonable legal fees. In large firms paralegals can be promoted at a senior level.
A legal secretary is basically a legal assistant who is trained in the procedures of law office law office. Mostly they are trained in clerical functions like answering phone, typing, filing etc. but many times they possess with specialized knowledge which helps the smooth functioning of law firms.
After studying the above article it is quite clear that a non-law graduate can become a partner in a law firm if that individual fulfils all the necessary conditions to enter into a contract and also some amount of expertise which is required by the law firm. Also,there are no restrictions for a law graduate to become a partner in any other firms.
In United States there was a rule that only lawyers could become partners in law firms but this law was codified by the American Bar Association in the Model Rules of professional conduct which declared the non-lawyer ownership of law firms legal. Still there are some states like D.C. where equity ownership to non-lawyer has been allowed only to those who are actively assisting the firm’s lawyers in providing legal services and do not sell their shares.
There are various sectors in India that have many proprietorship firms and partnership firms and if and a non-law graduate can become a partner in these firms why not a law graduate. In this Article I’m dealing with non-law graduate becoming partner in law firm. However, there are several starts ups in India which start as a Partnership Firm, but after that, if the need arises, they form a Private Limited Company. A non-law graduate can become a partner in such firms based upon his area of interest and expertise and venture capacity in a particular area. In the Indian economy and commercial world, Partnership Firms have significance and day by day their scope will be expanded.
As discussed earlier, it is not mandatory that only a law graduate can become a partner in law firm but considering the structure of law firm and mind set of people, it actually, becomes imperative for a law graduate to become a partner. In broader sense, today, law firms prefer both law as well as non-law applicants as these applicants come with diverse knowledge which can be used by the law firms.
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