This article is written by Yash Singhal from Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, New Delhi. The article elaborates on certain activities in which litigators can indulge themselves to utilise their free time when courts are closed.
The spread of COVID-19 has sent a warning sign around the country to take precautionary measures against human interaction that is the cause of transmission of this virus. The social distancing concept to maintain a minimum distance of 1m between two human beings is advocated by the government to prevent the transmission.
The Indian Prime Minister addressed the nation to impose a nationwide lockdown for 21 days from 24th of March to 14th of April. This lockdown would be observed with restrictive movement outside the houses and all public places are to be shut down with immediate effect. The essential services could be procured or movement in an emergency is allowed. Every workplace being shut down, the authorities have adopted work from home principle to reduce the official work loss.
The courts have also accepted the health advisory issued by the government. All courts have ceased to operate physically with a Supreme Court notification to carry out the proceedings through video conferencing. The Supreme Court has also decided to just take up urgent matters during this period and postpone other less significant matters.
The closure of courts has impacted all people associated with them from court staff to all advocates and judges to even the general public who are awaiting justice. With the cases of transmission of virus at an increase in India, the possibility of the lockdown ending on the specified date looks bleak. Thus, all litigants have to search for sources to use their free time productively.
Productive use of free time by litigators
Litigators usually have a packed schedule that includes regular court visits to get justice for their clients. The litigators are required to analyse the cases in hand, prepare arguments and counter arguments to be used in their case and research about relevant case laws to substantiate the argument put forward by them. It all takes a lot of commitment and diligence on the part of the litigator to carry out all these tasks everyday. The productivity of the litigators are evident in their success rates.
The national lockdown has closed all the courts and thus affected the schedule of these litigators. There might be some litigators who would not be having much idea about ways to keep themselves busy while putting the free time into maximum productivity. It is understandably difficult for regular hardworking persons to stay within their homes but the current crisis has left no other option than to maintain distance from human contact while finding solutions to utilise the home time productively.
There is no exhaustive list of techniques to keep oneself busy during this period but some proposed sources for litigators to spend this free time productively include:
Learning new skills
Every individual is expected to learn new skills every time he/she is exposed to some unknown challenge. This is the dynamic quality which is associated with human beings in order to survive through a new challenge. No fixed number is attached as to how many skills an individual can learn in his/her lifetime and at what age they can be acquired. This has motivated people to pick up all the positive qualities in their way and achieve expertise in them. Once the expertise is achieved, the quality becomes a skill that can be used to earn monetary or non-monetary benefits.
Litigators may need a specific category of skills to excel in their careers. An adequate amount of time and practice is required to master these skills. This lockdown period provides these litigators with enough time to add some feathers to their hat. Some of the skills which might prove beneficial to litigators are provided below with a short brief on how it would be useful to them.
Why do litigators need Cross-Examination skills?
Every case, whether civil or criminal, involves cross-examination skills of the counsel to examine the witnesses and extract relevant information from them. The practice of cross-examination is within the statutory powers of the counsel to catch any false information of the witness under oath in the court.
Section 137 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 provides the adverse party the power to examine the witness. The cross-examiner also has the right to pose relevant questions according to the facts of the case under Section 146 of the Act.
The main reason behind cross-examination has been to detect any false information in the testimony of the witness which shall make the statements of that witness inadmissible in court. A court relies on the testimony of the witnesses to the case, to provide sufficient details for the court to analyse them and dispense justice.
The authenticity and credibility of the evidence is questioned by the opposite counsel to disqualify that evidence. Any litigator with the skills to cross-examine has the potential to discredit any false evidence provided by opposite counsel.
What are the advantages of negotiation skills for a litigator?
Every litigator is appointed by a client on the promise that their interest would be at the helm of the litigator’s duties. A court proceeding is concerned with two counsels putting forward their own sets of contentions, evidence, case laws to support both, until any of them is able to prove their side to be the ultimate truth beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal case and preponderance of possibilities in a civil matter.
The prime focus of the counsel is to get the verdict of the case in its favour but might be forced to fall on the secondary option of negotiation to decrease the compensation (civil matter) or lower the term of punishment (criminal matter). The litigators are required to approach the negotiation with calmness rather than aggressively.
In a civil matter negotiation, the damages claimed can be increased or decreased by the ability of the litigator to negotiate. The criminal case negotiation would settle the matter peacefully with saving of time, money and other resources.
Why do litigators require communication skills?
A great deal of attention needs to be paid by legislators to improve their communication skills. The manner of communication within a court is formal with proper guidelines established under the Code of conduct of a court. The art of negotiation and Cross-Examination arise out of the ability to communicate conveniently in a manner suitable to the environment they are present in.
The understanding of the person with whom the communication is required to be established is the foremost concept followed by the objective of the conversation kept in mind. These two principles are significant in developing communication skills by a litigator. These skills of identification and clarity of communication do not come naturally to all, hence, the need to transform these skills is observed. The litigator must have the convincing capability to ensure that the judge takes note of the evidence presented by the counsel.
What is the purpose to develop organisational skills by a litigator?
A litigator must be organised in a court with his/her files, dressing, argumentation and thought process. An organised counsel is favoured by the clients to represent them in court. Organisational skills would allow the litigator to have all the resources in his/her presence thus saving time of the judiciary. It is equated with a litigator’s work efficiency that leaves an imprint in the minds of its clients.
A well organised file with all documents in a particular order is visually attractive to the judge and also helps the litigator themselves to locate a document easily without wasting argumentation time. It works as an assurance to the client in the court about the litigator’s confidence in itself.
Learning new technology
Technology has reached every corner of our lives and it would be clear stupidity to not adopt this change. A smart individual is the one who is dynamic in nature and has the ability to adapt itself to those changes. Courts are also conducting proceedings through video conferencing amid the notification of the Central Government to shut all public offices.
The current generation of litigators are supposed to be tech savvy with adequate knowledge of technology to counter every crisis that they may encounter in future. Digitisation is the way forward for courts to settle pending cases over online video conferencing applications without causing inconvenience to the people to attend court proceedings.
Even in the present situation, courts do allow submission of online documents for convenience of people. The litigators with skills to operate technology do not have to travel to courts to submit those documents. Also, the scope of cyber law or the technology law has been growing since the inception of Information Technology Act, 2000. Litigators who have the knowledge of technology would be able to take advantage by taking up cases from these fields of law.
Information of emerging technology, study on ways to integrate law and technology, online legal documentation, assessing risk and its management are certain areas which are less explored currently and need a deep understanding of both technology and law which can be achieved by devoting this free time into learning a new technology. The advent of legal policy formation of every company registered online is a new field that employs legal professionals to guide on legal implications of the breach. The exhaustive research into the matter would provide more minute information to those interested in venturing into these careers.
Deliver online lectures for law students
The litigators with the experience of attending court proceedings can choose to conduct online video lectures for law students to watch them and learn the intricacies of argumentation in a court. The law students are suffering due to the shutting of their colleges/institutes/universities and cannot even opt for an internship with any legal professional. The litigators should take up the responsibilities of training the next generation of legal professionals to carry on the legacy. This would lead to collective benefit for the litigators and the law students.
Some litigators could make the exercise more productive through interactive sessions where law students could ask their queries. Litigators would have to extensively research about a particular topic to conduct these sessions. This would widen the horizon of litigator’s knowledge of law.
Every legal professional maintains a room which is full of thick files containing old case material. This room is only visited when the person wants a reference from his early cases but it takes quite a lot of time to locate the particular case paperwork. The emails of these professionals are filled with applications from everywhere to take up their matter.
Organising the old case material in that room or mails in the email is ignored by them due to lack of time. The current situation has been an opportunity for these professionals to organise all these old online and offline documents.
Apart from the legal paperwork, there are other issues which can be dealt with in this free time such as evaluating expenditure, calculating earnings, organising books, and keeping track of legal developments.
The nation has gone into a standstill during this period of national lockdown. The courts are closed and the litigators have to indulge in productive tasks to utilise their free time. They have enough time to learn a new skill, learn new technology, online tutoring law students and organising paperwork. These are certain suggestions which would help them to stay connected with their profession while achieving maximum utilisation of resources available.
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