This article is written by Harsh Jain, Senior Associate, iPleaders.
“Why you have chosen this field? It will take at least 10 years to you to establish yourself as a criminal lawyer.”
“Freshers do not have any knowledge about practice and hence, we don’t want to hire them.”
If you have chosen criminal litigation as a career or looking to choose it as a career, such statements would have become a part and parcel of your life. When I used to tell people that I want to become a big lawyer as Ram Jethmalani, my near and dear ones used to get worried about me. Many other used to laugh at me. According to the prevalent rules and stories of law fraternity, a lawyer can not get success before he spends at least 5 to 10 years learning practical things in the court and then also success is very hard to come by.
I used to think that at least few lucky students who went to big law schools would be acquiring skills needed to practice from the very first day. After all they get opportunities to go into highly reputed and valued moot court competitions, special training is given to them to develop their research skills, they have access to internships in many high profile law firms and with many big shot legendary lawyers.
I don’t think so anymore.
I decided not to join judiciary even after I cleared the judiciary mains. I did not join as a bank law officer even after I cleared high profile SBI specialist law officer scale 2 online exam. I refused to apply for any other government jobs or join an NLU as a lecturer even when I had cleared NET twice and was a JRF and could have got a job easily in any good NLU or other law college.
The only thing in my mind was that I wanted to fix the gap which existed between legal education and legal practice. I gave all these exams and cleared them just to gain personal experience and knowledge about how to prepare for them and what is the importance of practical knowledge in such exams. It was a great exercise in self development.
When I faced various interviews and also when many of my students used to face interviews, everyone used to say that practical knowledge is very important to crack these. I always used to Wonder. What is this knowledge which is not available in the law books and which we cannot learn in law colleges or cannot be taught in law colleges which take such high fees from us and pay such huge amount of salaries to the professors?
Even after struggling to crack CLAT exams or get admissions in other law colleges and devoting 3 to 5 precious years of our life and paying such big amount of fees what we gain leaves us stranded in our career. No job guarantee and no social reputation or security as compared to those friends who have cleared their engineering or medical or IIT entrance exams. In the top 3-4 NLUs the situation may be different, but according to my knowledge, everyone else struggles to get jobs or practice law after graduating from law colleges.
What is the benefit of doing law from any big or small university when you have to struggle at least for another 5 to 10 years to establish yourself? Even after putting huge efforts, doing number of internships, attending number of conferences and moot court competitions, what we get to hear is we don’t have enough experience to get hired or you don’t have enough experience to get selected in a particular interview.
So I decided to research on why I succeeded in practice and why I was able to crack these exams in my first attempt while other fail to establish themselves for years and crack these exams even after giving number of attempts? What I found was very shocking.
When I started getting various applications from various NLU students from all over India, for our Dream Job Boot Camp (see details here), and I started mentoring them, I got to know that even the NLU people were lacking practical skills needed to excel in their practice. Similarly when I started taking classes for our Criminal litigation course (see details here), I got to know that no matter how big or small the law college of the student was, they were not having any practical insights to tackle real life situations which they will face in the courts.
I found that the very teaching methodology adopted by most law colleges is faulty.
Look, there is not a single line which you can find in any single file of any court of India where you will find anything which is not written in the law books. Everything is done according to established provisions of law and judgements passed by the Supreme Court or High Courts. There is not a single legal question which is asked in the interviews or exams, which is not present in one or the the other law.
You must be wondering that if everything is available in the books, then why people say that you need practical experience to establish yourself as a lawyer or crack legal competitive exams?
They teach us to cram up things and pass the exams. They never tell us what, why and when about the application of the same law which we read in the books. As a result, we know the sections but we don’t know how to deal with real life situations. We don’t know about which section of which law will apply when and how to push towards your desired outcome. We are never taught about what our clients will ask for and how to counsel them. We are not taught how to manage a live ongoing litigation. How should we collect and present evidence in the court? We are not even taught why a particular section will apply and why the other will not. We are not taught the strategic and tactical part of law practice at all. Which kind of tactics should we deploy to meet our clients interest in best way? What we know is just sections and some case law.
Even the practicing advocates lag behind in relevant skills. Even if they knew about the provisions or could draft applications and petitions, they didn’t have in-depth knowledge of why a particular application is made and when it will be accepted and when it will be rejected.
For instance, I was teaching How to Draft an FIR (see sample material on How to draft an FIR so police takes action here and Checklist for filing FIR here). This is a very basic thing and needs no specialised skills. I found out that freshly minted law graduates and students (including NLU guys) didn’t even know about the structuring of the application. They had never been made to think about what to write in a police complaint and what to not. They were not aware about the fact that even a slight fault in mentioning the correct information in an application to register the FIR can change a bigger offence into a smaller one or a cognisable offence into a non-cognisable one. They didn’t know the impact of their complaint disclosing only a non-cognisable one.
Similarly, when I was teaching about How to Draft Complaints, I found that they were not even aware about when a complaint can be filed. They didn’t know what are the various types of complaints, when a complaint can be filed even in a cognisable matter, what all must be mentioned in a complaint so that court takes some action on it, when a court will give instructions u/s 156(3) Cr.P.C. to police to register an FIR and start the investigation and when a court will record statements u/s 200 and 202 Cr.P.C. and when a court can reject it straight away.
Without knowing such basic things, starting or trying to make it in your criminal law career is like trying to grasp at straws in a flood.
I had the same experience while I tought for Drafting Bail applications and anticipatory bail applications. People were not aware about the types of bail, difference between interim anticipatory bail and an anticipatory bail, how many time they can apply for bail, where they can appeal on rejection of bail, when they can apply to the same court after rejection of a bail application, why sometimes lawyers get their own bail applications rejected from the lower courts, why a person is arrested even when he has an anticipatory bail, when you can apply for a normal bail and when you can apply for an anticipatory bail, can you apply to a lower court even after your bail is rejected by the High Court, when a court has discretion in granting you a bail and when you can ask for a bail as a matter of right? and so on.
All these things are supposed to be taught in law college and mere reading of the bare act would clarify a lot of these things for any law student. But it is hard to learn from bare act and case laws. And the reality is that a huge majority of law students struggle to learn even the basics. This applies to a large number of lawyers also.
I teach these concepts by giving exercises based on real life situations. Students have to attempt these exercises and submit them to get feedback. There is a concept class for the exercise and a feedback session for the submitted exercises. Every student gets a personalised feedback without any exception (subject to his submitting exercise). I help them to improve their drafts and gain perfection in these concepts. So there is no chance that a person can’t achieve what he desires to. I can challenge that you will not find any other place (specially NLUs) where people are taught with this methodology.
These are few of our exercise which will give you a hint that how we explain concepts regarding bail. Many more concepts are explained during the sessions (see here).
I can keep on writing the issues faced by the students and lawyers which they face on a day to day basis in the courts. Just because they are not trained on how to use that which is taught to them in the books in their real life situations. When I went to court and spent some time, what I observed was that a vast majority of lawyers lacked deeper knowledge of the provisions of law, they didn’t knew how to draft effective applications, petitions, etc. and what to include and what to exclude in them to convince the courts to accept their applications.
They were just using common drafts used and handed down by lawyers while drafting such applications and petitions without applying their mind.
Our conventional legal education has failed at this point. They do teach you how to use drafts and templates in some cases, but what they don’t teach you is how dangerous it is to use these templates without accurate knowledge of drafting them.
For instance, one of my students used the template of a complaint requesting the court to give instructions to the police to lodge an FIR and start investigation while the situations suggested that the offence was a non-cognisable offence. Similarly, another student used a template for an application of bail stating that the applicant is the sole earning member of the family and he does not have any history of committing crimes while the situations suggested that the person was not sole earning member and he was a history sheeter. This happened due to blind copy pasting.
Such kind of mistakes can be very dangerous for your client. Instead of getting a complaint registered or bail application accepted, it can draw negative impact on the case of your client.
Similarly, drafting and judgement writing have a very high weightage in judiciary and other legal competitive exams these days. It plays a very crucial role in various judiciaries like Rajasthan judicial services, Gujarat judicial services, Himachal Judicial services, M.P. Judicial services, U.P.J.S. etc.
The drafts and judgments which examinees write, are checked by very experienced lecturers or judges in different states. For instance, in Rajasthan such copies are checked by sitting session judges. Such judges, who daily decide appeals against various orders and judgements of the lower courts are looking at your answers.
Do you think that such mistakes, however small they may be, will be ignored by them? My experience says that such mistakes bring an impression to them that you do not have any practical experience and hence, they give very less or even no marks at all to you in these exams.
Usually when you’ll go to the coaching centers they’ll not teach you anything about judgement writing unless you have already cleared prelims. Till then it is too late for you to learn various aspects of drafting deeply and practice them.
Even if they organise classes, they are taken by retired judges generally. These judges are very well aware of the legal aspects and insights to be written in the exams, but what they don’t know is how to write it in a given word limit and complete the exam in a given time limit.
If you follow them it is for sure that you will not be able to complete your exam in a given word and time limit. If such classes are taken by a person who was not a judge, I am afraid that he will be lacking those skills and insights which are available to draft a tight and a full proof application, petition, judgement etc.
In both the situations, you will lose marks, either by not including practical aspects in your draft or by not writing it in a given word and time limit. Also they never give you practice tests and feedbacks after solving questions related to drafting and judgement writing.
My students always felt that there must be a full fledged judgement writing course. There was a need to make a unique course which is designed in a way that it not only enables you to write an academically well designed application, judgement, etc., but also will ensure that you are well equipped to attempt it within a given time and word limit. We wanted that students not only gets concept sessions, but they also gets practice exercises specifically designed to enable them to attempt questions in the exams. Not only this, they get to solve past year questions of the judiciary exams and get personal feedback on how to improve their drafting skills. Had there been a course like this (see here) before (to me or my students), their performance and ranks would have been better.
To conclude, I can say that whether you are a criminal law student or a criminal litigator or a criminal law lecturer or a legal competitive exam aspirant or willing to become any one of these, you’ll need exceptional drafting skills. Having better drafting skills ensures that you get better placements or better senior advocates.
You also need to focus on acquiring practical knowledge – in the form of what to do and how to do. Do not rely on studying bare acts, textbooks and case law alone, while you will be blind in a court without knowing those, you will be crippled if you don’t know the what, how and when part as well.
It also ensures to improve your observation power during any proceedings in the court. You cannot understand anything which is going on in the courts unless you have full academic as well as practical knowledge about that proceeding.
Just try to ensure that you learn law in a manner that can enable you to connect what you have learnt academically with what you see practically in the courts. If you get success in doing that, no one can stop you from becoming a great personality of the field you are willing to go. If you cannot do it by yourself here are some unique courses on Executive Certificate Course in Advanced Criminal Litigation & Trial Advocacy and Judgment Writing and Drafting Course for Judicial Services. You can also join Dream job Boot Camp where you will be trained and your skills will be improved so that you can get your dream job.