For many litigators, identifying an appropriate senior can be a big challenge. It is also a career-defining question.
Starting with the right senior can make your career take off while the wrong seniors will create impediments for you.
Before we proceed to explore the answers, let us revisit the reasons why this question is important.
- You expect to obtain an enormous amount of training, guidance and mentorship from your senior. A good senior will go out of his or her way to guide and train you, from their own personal commitment to contribute and give back. They will take an active interest in your growth and development (provided you are serious and committed too, of course).
- You will consciously and sub-consciously imbibe the thought processes and mannerisms of the senior, with respect to handling clients, drafting, structuring and presenting oral arguments, dealing with other lawyers, ethics etc.
- You will work on matters in which the senior has a practice. There needs to be some alignment in your interest areas and the matters your senior works on.
- Ultimately, your goal is to become independent, and you expect to be self-sufficient within a reasonable time.
Given that these are the expectations a young litigator has from a senior, I am listing the most important concerns that cross a person’s mind below.
Question: Is the brand name of the senior relevant?
Young lawyers are fascinated with the idea of starting out as a junior in the office of a very famous lawyer. However, finding a senior is not about getting the best lawyer’s brand name. Most of the top lawyers have a very busy practice and a huge team of juniors. You may not receive any personal attention or mentorship directly from the lawyer whose office you work in, for this reason.
One of the exceptions to this rule is if there is someone in a senior lawyer’s office who is willing to take on the role to mentor and groom you. Otherwise, this may not be a great idea.
Here are some alternative criteria you can look at.
Possibility of personal mentorship and training
If a lawyer has a huge office and is very busy, he or she will not get time to train you. If you are working with someone who is already very famous and successful, chances are that he or she will have a lot of work, too many juniors and very little time to groom you. If you are fortunate, you may find an experienced junior who is willing to personally mentor you.
Ideally, you need to identify a senior who is known to take an interest in the growth and development of his juniors as well. Often, it may be an emerging litigator, who is not yet a senior advocate, and who has, say, not more than 8 to 15 years of experience, but who has a lot of client briefs to handle.
Sometimes someone doing good work since last 5-6 years will be able to give you great guidance and training as well. Look for people with a reputation for training their juniors well.
Nature of work and causes, types of clients and volume
The nature and quality of work, the causes your senior stands for, the clients (or client interests) he or she represents are important factors for you to consider while choosing a senior.
The nature of work refers to the legal subject (e.g. Companies Act, Insider Trading Regulation, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code) to which the lawyer’s work primarily pertains. Many lawyers are generalists and may handle a variety of matters (ranging from civil suits, family law matters, arbitration, service law matters, rent matters, property disputes, etc.) and it is fine to start your career with them.
However, if you have a special interest in particular areas, you may want to start off as a junior under a lawyer who specializes in legal work around that area. Make a note of the forum in which the prospective senior practices – you are likely to work on matters at those forums if you choose to work under that senior.
In addition to the subject matter of work, the types of causes that a lawyer works on and whether they appeal to you can also be an important factor for you to consider. For example, preventive detention, minority rights, right to education, securities law, restructuring of companies are different types of causes. They may be slightly different from the exact subject or statute.
For example, a banking and finance lawyer who acts for Indian banks will run his practice in a different way from as compared to someone who primarily represents corporate borrowers.
Similarly, if your senior does intellectual property work around pharmaceutical patents, does he or she represent pharma patent owners (usually foreign companies) or Indian generic companies? This will be important for you to know.
I am emphasizing on these criteria because once you start work, by default, your professional habits around client development and management will be oriented towards meeting the needs of the group of clients that your senior caters to. Attuning yourself to a different set of clients will require a different kind of exposure and circumstances, and you may not be able to develop that on your own.
It is like learning and practising Indian or Western classical music everyday from a music teacher when your real goal is to learn to play a heavy metal or a rock song on a guitar. I did that when I was 15, and it just made reaching my goal much harder.
While researching the causes and clientele a lawyer has worked for, also identify the quality and scale of work, either in terms of the size of the matter (monetary amount in dispute) or the impact of it (for example, legalization of consensual intercourse in a private space amongst adults).
Lastly, the number of filings and court appearances are relevant. If there is more work in an office, you will get more exposure and opportunities to work on a variety of matters. For example, Agarwal Law Associates filed 645 matters at the Supreme Court in 2018 (see here). Working in such an office is more rewarding than, say, working at an office which files 30 cases in a year.
Will you have an opportunity to take up independent work?
The opportunity to take up your own work is an important factor to consider, before you identify a prospective senior, for three reasons:
- You will learn to manage clients on your own
- You will get an opportunity to build face value before the bench at the forums where you represent
- You may earn a supplementary income
Now, some seniors are not comfortable with this idea because for them it means that someone whom they trained is no longer available to them as a resource for the work of their chamber. They may be vocal about their stance or may otherwise communicate indirectly that they do not encourage this.
Others may not discourage that, but you may be so overwhelmed with the volume of work all the time that you have no real opportunity to serve any client of your own.
The best seniors, however, encourage you to take up work on your own. Further, they will even personally refer to clients whose work they cannot take up, even while you are working with them.
They encourage you to start independent practise as well. After you start independent practice, they may refer matters to you and even recommend you to panels of government departments, statutory undertakings and PSUs.
How can you identify a senior who meets the above criteria?
The next challenge is how to identify a senior who meets the above criteria. There are some simple pointers for that:
- First, identify your area of interest, the forum you want to practice in, and the city/ state (if that is relevant)
- See which are the most important and recent matters in that area of interest which have received media coverage. Make a note of which lawyers’ names have been mentioned.
- See the reported orders and judgments in different cases pertaining to the matters and statutes you are interested in. The names of lawyers who have represented a party and argued the case are mentioned in the judgment. Make a list of the lawyers who have filed their appearance. You will notice patterns and trends. See which lawyers are arguing and filing the most number of cases. You will also be able to identify whether a lawyer is consistently representing, say, companies (borrowers), or banks (lenders) in a lending transaction, and similar kinds of trends.
- You can ask your seniors who worked as litigators for 1-2 years or more, and use your LinkedIn profile to look up the names of lawyers mentioned above for more details. You can also find out the names of others who are working in the chambers of such lawyers (or have worked there in the past). Start a conversation with them to understand how it is for a junior to start his or her career at such a chamber.
- You can also perform a judicial clerkship in the relevant forum.
Remember, the real challenge is not about whether you will find a senior or not, it is whether you will take the pain to do the research, then reach out to the relevant people and ask the relevant questions. If you take the trouble to research, add about 150-200 people to your network and have 50 conversations with people, you will get enough insights and your own answers about this, which will be far more nuanced and suited to your needs, in comparison to any straitjacketed advice that one person can give you. We teach you how to do this in the Lawsikho Master Access (currently closed), the Lawsikho diploma courses and the executive certificate courses.
Of course, when you find the right senior, you need to possess sufficient skills to enable the senior to identify whether you are the right person for the senior. You will need to have a meaningful conversation and crack the interview (whether it is formal or informal) and show that you have the relevant skill-sets.
How can you use this information to find a senior? Are there other questions that we can address regarding this? Let us know by writing to us by replying to this mail or just call us.
In addition, how do you plan to acquire the relevant skill-sets so that your dream senior shortlists you for working with him or her? Write back to us and let us know.
By the way, I just thought I’ll let you know that our courses on civil litigation, criminal litigation, arbitration, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) train you to perform independent work for clients, irrespective of which senior you work with. In some areas, the work you perform for clients is not limited to litigation, but extends across advisory, contractual and compliance aspects as well. The courses in IP, media and corporate laws and on corporate taxation train you in such work on IP, media and entertainment laws and corporate tax.