One of my earliest mentors told me, “Litigation is not for the faint of heart.” If you have got the heart of a lion, with balls of steel, you might stand a chance at litigation.
From my internships and litigation practice, however short it was, I quickly found out that to be a successful litigator, knowing the bare acts by heart or being able to research case laws is not going to be enough.
Litigation is a lot about “working the court” apart from your legal knowledge, which is anyway a minimum threshold.
It’s also about being the favourite of the chamber clerk.
It’s about wooing the peshkars with your innocent smile.
It’s about having such a rapport with the local thana that the Officer-in-Charge himself sends potential client leads to you.
Can you imagine?
These are not taught to you in law school, and no offence to the professors, most of them are not the right persons to guide you in the litigation journey.
For one, most of them have never practised law in real life.
Once you decide you would enter litigation, do know that it is not merely a career choice. Litigation is a life choice. You have chosen an adventure to embark on.
You have chosen a path of lifelong learning and continuous self-development. If you do anything else, contrary to popular myths you may hear, you will stagnate at one level or the other.
It’s going to be super-hard but it’s definitely going to be worth it.
Even Ram Jethmalani had faced his fair share of struggles in life. When he landed in Bombay, he slept on the floor in refugee camps. He had to attend the Bombay University and give the law exams all over again to qualify as a lawyer, even though he already had the degree. Without a home and an office, he shared his table space with a cotton merchant, which a barrister rent out to him at Rs 60.
From there, he became what he was—a force to reckon with.
There will be great rewards if you succeed to tread this path.
That’s what we are going to talk about in this article. Essentially, four ways lead to a successful career in litigation. However, the approach in each of them is different.
What are they? In a minute. But before that…
What is the biggest challenge of a litigation lawyer?
Frankly, every little thing seems to be a “challenge” when you begin your career in litigation.
Want to adjourn the case and settle on a new date with the peshkar?
If you never dealt with them at the lower courts before, let me tell you that they are more important than the judge himself as far as litigators are concerned, many a time.
How to get the next hearing date for your case? (Especially in the lower courts where there are no printed cause lists available.)
How to present your argument in a few minutes since the judge does not want to hear any longer? (Happened with me many times where I had to literally trim down a speech of over an hour into a few minutes!)
These are only a few challenges of what I personally faced during my litigation career. I faced a lot more than I can express through words.
You may feel like you have been abandoned in the middle of an ocean, with no one around to help, and you have to fend for yourself, come what may. That also, tagging along with you is a grown tiger that wants to eat you. That tiger can either be your senior, a judge or your client. Your choice.
(Can you notice the movie reference here? Watch The White Tiger if you haven’t yet to understand what I am talking about.)
That’s not all though.
Once you get a hang of how the court works, you face the biggest challenge in your litigation career: getting my own clients. Without clients, you don’t earn income. Working with seniors and earning well is unrealistic expectations in most cases.
I have seen thousands of young advocates get demotivated and ultimately leaving the legal profession. Why? Even after spending years in the profession, they could not reach a significant monthly income.
They too have a family or want to have one someday, and with their current meagre monthly income, they knew it was time to move on because they see no future in continuing the struggle.
It’s like spending years wooing and courting the love of your life and finally, you realized she or he is never going to be yours! *making a sad face*
Okay, enough with these stupid analogies. There is something else that needs to be addressed here.
Most litigation newbies and law students do not have a proper career strategy. Ask them if they had one, and they will tell you, they would follow what their peers and seniors have done.
Join under an experienced lawyer and see how it goes. That’s the plan.
I can tell you right now. It doesn’t work that way unless you stumble onto gold by sheer luck.
It’s like throwing mud balls in the dark and expecting one would stick on a wall somewhere and become a mural painting.
Chances are low.
How do lawyers succeed then?
Mostly after trying this out they eventually start to figure out how to get their own work, and how to do the work. Most of them are self-taught. Finding a senior who will teach you the work or how to get clients is very, very difficult. It doesn’t work for a vast majority.
Self-learning, however, works. It just takes a lot of trial and error and blood and sweat.
And lots and lots of years of labour.
And a strategy.
Perhaps one of the strategies listed below.
I can guarantee you that if you follow the same, you would get astounding results yourself too!
Work under a senior advocate
You could start working under a very senior advocate who not only has a steady stream of incoming clients but has also garnered enough name and fame in their legal practice. These advocates are the ones for whom the juniors would stand up to offer them a seat when they enter the courtroom, makes the judge perk up their ears and listen more carefully every word they say, and even wear a different attire, specially designated for “seniors”, in the court.
What’s the benefit of working under them? For starters, everyone at the court and in the legal community will probably know and remember you. If you work under them long enough, you will start seeing work seeping toward you, sometimes being referred to by your senior and sometimes on its own.
However the best thing about working under such a person, and I have to say this, is the amount of knowledge you can gain as a lawyer. These lawyers haven’t reached where they are without being the “best of the best”. Apart from law, they can literally teach how to think and act like a lawyer.
Whether they will have much time to spend with you is another question. You will probably have to learn by observing them over the years and internalizing what they do.
Look at how they smile when they plead their case in front of the judge, how they shake hands with their clients or maintain camaraderie with every court personnel they come across…
While you would definitely inherit a little of the name and fame that your senior enjoys by dint of your long stay under him or her, you will become a lawyer in the true sense of the term while in association with these gentlemen or gentlewomen.
But even you will have to learn lots and lots of things on your own. There are plenty of juniors of famous lawyers who go nowhere in the profession because they fail at self-learning and continuous self-development.
Work under any advocate
Getting the opportunity to work under a “senior” advocate like the one mentioned above can be a tough job. Not everyone is so lucky. Most of you will never get such an opportunity.
More often than not, the competition is too high and thus, the expectations are high too. You have to have a stellar academic record, be highly knowledgeable in law, extremely active in extracurricular activities and then also, might need some solid recommendations to break into the chamber of such a high-profile lawyer.
What’s the alternative? You go and practise under any good advocate that you find in your chosen niche. In that way, you will keep learning the practical stuff—how the court works, how to handle clients, how to procure stationery at the cheapest rates, heck, everything that matters… and also, learn a bit about the theoretical side of the law.
You would probably not get the name and fame, or a steady stream of well-paying clients. What you will get though is the freedom to work independently when you are not busy with your senior’s work.
Many such seniors allow their juniors to accept work on their own, and also, do their work which they are unable to take because of lack of time and resources.
In essence, you become more of a “partner” and less of a “junior” over time. The vantage point of working under a senior who is not so popular but is still established in his practice is that you not only get to learn the nitty-gritty of the legal work but also gradually become an integral “part of his practice”.
How will fresh law graduates be benefited by our Civil Litigation course?
(Click on the Play button to watch the video.)
Serve an underserved clientèle
This strategy is sneaky in nature and works great in a niche where new forums and new ideas are developing every other day. For example, online arbitration is still a new idea that not many lawyers might not be opening up to today. But SAMA, an online arbitration platform co-founded by a few NUJS grads, is already doing good work in the niche.
Do you know about the terms ‘red ocean’ and ‘blue ocean’? According to W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, who coined the terms: ‘‘Imagine a market universe composed of two sorts of oceans: red oceans and blue oceans. Red oceans represent all the industries in existence today. This is the known market space. Blue oceans denote all the industries not in existence today. This is the unknown market space.”
Likewise, in the legal industry, there are many niches that are extremely crowded and are extremely competitive to break into. These can be considered ‘red oceans’ filled with sharks and if you are not equipped and ready to enter into this field, you will end up shredded to pieces by these sharks. The more crowded the field gets, the redder it gets. The ocean is red because of all the bloodshed.
Then again, there are a few niches that are either new or do not even exist today. The good thing about these niches is that they are yet unknown to most lawyers and thus are not crowded as of yet. If you could carve out your position in such a niche early on, it is likely that the prospective clients who are looking for a lawyer will come across you, since there are none other. And as the rule of thumb goes, once a client, (almost) always a client if you are a keeper.
For this, you need to be on the lookout for new work opportunities and be able to act on them right away, mostly before it becomes known to your competitors. Not easy at all.
You need to have a finger on the pulse of the industry. You need to be ahead of the curve, always.
Start with non-litigation areas
Okay, this might not be what you immediately think of but it can work well, especially in the litigation practice under solo lawyers.
(I am not sure whether it will work in an organization though.)
To start with, it must be understood how self-employed, independent lawyers actually operate. If you think that an independent lawyer only practices law, you are in for a shock! An independent legal practitioner is not a “lawyer”, but rather an “entrepreneur”. He promotes his services, maintains his accounts, manages his juniors and then goes to the court to fight his client’s case. He does a lot more than reading up case laws and pleading in front of the judge.
Now, let’s take a scenario, for example, the COVID-19 situation. During this time, most independent lawyers are starving of work. During this time, a potential junior suddenly shows up at his door and tells him that not only can he help him prepare the statement of claim for his arbitration cases but also help him with writing legal articles and publishing them in India’s foremost journals, arrange webinars for him with potential clients, create processes for client onboarding and retention and help with ethical business development.
Okay, he might not have enough legal work at present but an extra hand (or let’s say an extra mind) at work to bring more clients to him is not a bad proposition, right? More importantly, what happens when new work finally starts flowing in? With a higher workload, he will inherently look for someone to delegate a significant part of it.
If that junior is able to promise him that he is also an equally competent lawyer, the senior would most likely share the workload with him. More so, because by now, he knows how reliable, hard-working and resourceful his junior is.
This might be yet another way to start your litigation practice. The difference is that you are not taking the direct route — targeting where the highest amount of work is, and successfully completing it when allotted to you, but instead, you are taking an indirect approach where you are proving your worth in other areas of the legal profession and finally, shifting your focus to demonstrating your capability for legal practice.
The good thing about this special approach is that, over time, when you are trying to bring in work for your senior, you are learning the ropes of business development and client handling too. Good for you.
It will be very useful later. And your senior will be far more interested in retaining you and therefore likely pay you well.
Litigation is tough. Litigation is exciting. Litigation is not a profession.
Litigation is a “lifestyle”!
If you want to be a great litigation lawyer, you can’t say that “I will work as a litigation lawyer for the next two years and then, I will go for my LLM so that I can get a government job.”
The logic is good but litigation needs you to have the fire burning inside you first.
When you choose to become a litigation lawyer, all you must be thinking, “I got to be the best litigation lawyer ever born. I will be the next Ram Jethmalani or Fali Sam Nariman, and there’s no other goal for me.”
I remember a poem “What It Must Have Felt Like” by Ada Limón:
Palm-sized and fledgeling, a beak
protruding from the sleeve, I
have kept my birds muted
for so long, I fear they’ve grown
accustom to a grim quietude.
What chaos could ensue
should a wing get loose?
Come overdue burst, come
flock, swarm, talon, and claw.
Scatter the coop’s roost, free
the cygnet and its shadow. Crack
and scratch at the state’s cage,
cut through cloud and branch,
no matter the dumb hourglass’s
white sand yawning grain by grain.
What cannot be contained
cannot be contained.
Once you know that your true call is to become a master litigation lawyer, and you want to be so good that you cannot be ignored or stopped, next is learning it from the best and starting your litigation practice.
You can adopt any of the four strategies mentioned above, according to the specific circumstances you are in and the resources you have at hand.
When it comes to the “learning” part? LawSikho is always here for you.
Whichever strategy you may choose, we can help to fast forward your success. In many different ways.
If you are decided on to which area you will specialize in, civil or criminal, here you go.
Interested in criminal litigation? Click here to read on.
Interested in civil litigation? Click here to read on.
Interested in NCLT litigation? Click here to read on.
Interested in trademark prosecution and litigation? Click here to read on.
Interested in SEBI litigation? Click here to read on.
Interested in consumer litigation? Click here to read on.
If you are interested in ALL of them, here is our litigation library for you.
If you are confused as to which niche to choose as a litigation lawyer, give us a call on 011 4084 5203 and have a free consultation with our career counselling experts.
Or, you can comment below to this article with your phone number and a message, “I am interested in litigation.” We will reach out to you.
If litigation is where you want to shine, don’t be discouraged or disheartened with your initial lack of success.
If Ram Jethmalani could do it, then why can’t you?
To your success.
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