Becoming A Lawyer: The Fali Nariman Way
Once you become an advocate, you become a student of law for life, Fali Nariman said to young lawyers tuned into the Indian Law Institute Inaugural Lecture 2021, delivered virtually. "Becoming an advocate is both a responsibility and a badge of honour," Nariman said in the lecture themed on "Becoming A Lawyer".
Nariman, 92, is among India's most renowned jurists. After a second degree from the Government Law College, Nariman began his practice in the Bombay High Court, working in the chambers of Sir Jamsetjee Kanga, alongside many other senior and junior lawyers who grew to prominence, from Nani Palkhivala and HM Seervai to Soli Sorabjee. Nariman went on to be appointed Additional Solicitor General of India in 1975 and was also awarded the Padma Vibhushan and Padma Bhushan in later years.
Commenting on the difficulties faced by young lawyers in the Supreme Court, due to the pandemic, Nariman said he hoped physical hearings would resume fully soon. The apex court recently started physical hearings on a limited basis for the first time since March 2020.
But mostly Nariman spoke about the qualities required to become a good lawyer.
Improve Knowledge And Proficiency In English
"This is not in order to make you anglicised – far from it: it is to give you an opportunity to establish yourself and be successful in the legal profession – because the law in India is, and will remain, English in origin: all the great concepts in the Constitution are Anglo-Saxon: like Liberty, Equality and the Rule of Law."
Keep Yourself Informed With Case Law
"In this way you will be useful to your senior in the profession, and later to yourself as well when you appear in court - but even when you or your senior are not briefed in a case you can be useful to someone – unknown to you - who is arguing a case in court – you can be of help to him, because when you are of help to him by giving him some very recent judgment relevant to his case, he will remember your good deed and will surely be of help to you!"
Read, Re-Read And Reflect
"Remember that a good lawyer keeps his important pending cases always in mind - they must travel with you whether at lunch parties or dinner parties, or when you are out for a walk - especially when you are out for a walk! You must give your subconscious mind an opportunity to soak in a case: and when you do that you will find quite often, to your advantage, that problems gets solved; solutions emerge as if providential!"
Never Cite Overruled Cases
"Never cite an overruled case - it is unethical. Sir Jamsetjee Kanga used to tell us that in the old days there used to be a solicitor in Bombay – who was a tricky fellow – because he kept a separate book containing all overruled cases - and when the going was rough in court for his client he handed over to his advocate an authority which he knew had been overruled! The advocate would cite it – the judge would get confused and the other side would get confounded - but not for long – ultimately it would be discovered that the case cited had been overruled. And the consequence will be disastrous. The judge would then look at you and always remember your face - as a person who has misled the court. Counsel citing an overruled case is invariably black-balled by the judge."
Better To Understate Your Case Rather Than Overstate
"Never tell the judge you have a cast-iron case, in nine cases out of ten his natural urge will be prove to you that you have not! Do not say in court about the other side’s argument. “I never heard this argument before”. When I used this phrase, when I was ten years old at the Bar, I swore never to use it again. Because the Judge smiled and immediately retorted: “you are still at the beginning of your career Mr. Nariman. In course of time you will hear and learn many more things that you have never heard before!” For me it was a perfect squelch."
Do Not Be Nasty To Your Opponents
"Your compatriots will always speak well about you if you have not been mean or uncharitable to them in word or action. Remember: the old English adage 'Dog don’t eat a Dog'."
Importance Of Addressing Judges Correctly
"Sometimes omission to observe this elementary rule can be disastrous - as it was for my opponent in a case that I recall. There used to be in my time Justice JM Shelat who was first appointed a judge in the Bombay City Civil Court, then in the High Court and finally in the Supreme Court of India. Now, in the city civil court a judge is always addressed as “Your Honour”. In the high court he (or she) must always be addressed as ‘My Lord’. Shelat was sensitive about the change in forms of address when he became a high court judge – and as a high court judge he was allergic to being addressed as “Your Honour” – whenever that lawyers inadvertently addressed him as such they would suffer by losing their case!
It happened to me in my young days when I opposed another young lawyer – the opposing advocate is today a brilliant commentator on public affairs. He kept referring to Justice Shelat as “Your Honour”, and so brittle did the judge become that he ultimately delivered judgment in favour of my client! It was of course a wrong judgment, and when the appeal came up for hearing before a bench of two judges in the Appeal Court in Bombay, the appellant was not called upon, to argue: appearing for the respondent it was I who was immediately asked to defend the judgment! (And of course, the judgment was reversed). But to his credit you must know that Justice Shelat worked himself out of this blemish, and in the Supreme Court to which he was finally elevated he became a fine seasoned judge."
Do Not Criticise The Judge Before Who You Appear
"When you are in a calm or collected mood reflect on what transpired in court - and ask yourself whether the judge may not have been right. Otherwise consult a senior lawyer and follow his advice. If you must say something about the conduct of a Judge - say it in the Court of Appeal – never outside court. If not, hold your peace - remain silent. Francis Bacon who was Attorney-General in England in the 17th century and later Lord Chancellor used to describe a much-speaking Judge as an “ill-tuned cymbal”. A much-speaking lawyer is worse - he is like a broken drum – it sounds horrible when beaten."
Lose With Dignity
"Please remember only one side in the case can win - the other side must lose. And you must always be conscious of the fact that the judge is compelled to decide for one side and against the other. Don’t jump to conclusions about the judge hearing your case."
No Media Interviews For Cases In Which You Appear
"It smacks of cheap publicity – and it is unfair to the judge who cannot retaliate. If the judgment in the case in which you have appeared needs to be criticised, such criticism will be more appreciated when it comes from disinterested quarters – not from you."