“A good lawyer is not one who knows the law, rather one who knows where the law is”- An In-Depth Conversation with Siddharth Batra, Advocate-on-Record, Supreme court of India

This interview has been published by Namrata Singh and The SuperLawyer Team

From your diverse experience in the legal arena to your recent recognition with the ‘BW 40 Under 40’ award, can you share a bit about what motivates you in your legal journey?

My journey in the legal field has been fueled by a combination of factors. At its core is a deep-seated passion for justice and equality, using the legal platform to advocate for these values in individual cases and broader policy realms. The legal profession’s intellectual demands and ever-changing landscape provide ongoing challenges and learning opportunities, which I find stimulating and rewarding.

The impact of legal work on society is a significant motivator for me, as I aim for excellence and integrity in all my endeavors, understanding the substantial influence my work can have on people’s lives and societal norms. 

The recognition and achievements, such as the ‘BW 40 Under 40’ award, validates my efforts and propel me to continue contributing meaningfully to the field. 

Being part of a community of legal professionals and mentoring emerging talents enhances my journey, helping to shape the next generation of lawyers. This amalgamation of personal passion, intellectual curiosity, societal impact, professional recognition, community engagement, personal growth, and advocacy for change continues to drive my legal journey.

You’ve had an extensive legal career, from district courts to the Supreme Court. How has your approach to cases evolved over the years, and are there any experiences from your early days that significantly shaped your legal philosophy?

Reflecting on my extensive legal career, which has spanned from district courts to the Supreme Court, I have noticed significant change in my approach to legal cases. I moved to the Supreme Court in 2014 before which, I was at the Punjab and Haryana High Court at Chandigarh for 10 years. I essentially started my practice in 2004 at the District Courts Rohtak and later moved to Chandigarh when I got the opportunity to become an Assistant Advocate General in 2005. I left the office of the Advocate General in 2008 to start my own private practise and became retainer to the Haryana Urban Development Authority. In 2011, I became Additional Advocate General, Haryana.

In my early days, my focus was primarily on learning and applying basic legal principles. However, as I delved deeper into the intricacies of law, my understanding and approach became more nuanced, especially when arguing before the Supreme Court.

One of the most profound changes has been in my analytical skills. Initially, my approach was straightforward, centering on the direct application of the law. But with time and experience, I’ve shifted towards more complex legal reasoning and constitutional interpretation, considering various legal precedents.

Moreover, my legal philosophy has evolved considerably. Landmark cases and mentorships in my early career significantly shaped my views. 

I treat every new case with a new perspective and fresh outlook. My first major trial as a young attorney remains an experience that has definitely shaped my legal philosophy. It taught me the importance of thorough preparation and the profound impact of the legal system on an individual’s life. My father’s advice – “a good lawyer is not one who knows the law, rather one who knows where the law is” captures a profound truth about the practice of law. Over time, I realised that what mattered more was developing the skill to research efficiently, understand the context of the laws, and apply them appropriately to different scenarios. It is not just about what you know, but how you use your knowledge to find solutions. 

You have worked as an Additional Advocate General for the State of Haryana in the past and presently you have an independent counsel practice at the Supreme Court. What do you think is the difference in both the kinds of practice? Would you go back to being a government counsel?

Transitioning from being an Additional Advocate General (AAG) to an independent counsel practicing at the Supreme Court in India marks a notable shift in roles and responsibilities within the legal profession.

As an AAG, my primary focus was on representing the State’s interests in various legal matters. It involved offering legal advice to government departments, handling constitutional issues, and representing the state in litigation proceedings. Working closely with government agencies, providing legal opinions, and defending the government’s stance in court were key aspects of this role.

In contrast, as an independent counsel at the Supreme Court, I’ve had the opportunity to represent private clients or organizations across a wide spectrum of cases. This entails a broader range of legal issues spanning constitutional law, civil matters, criminal cases, and public interest litigations. The autonomy to select cases and clients and the diversity of legal subjects have been enriching aspects of this practice.

The transition has brought about a shift in focus and clientele. While government counsel primarily revolves around serving the state’s interests, independent practice offers a more varied landscape, allowing me to choose cases aligned with diverse interests and work across multiple areas of law.

The decision to return to government counsel or continue as an independent practitioner depends on various factors. While government service offers a sense of duty and the opportunity to serve the public, independent practice provides flexibility, a wider scope of cases, and personal career growth. My decision would be guided by a balance between these factors and my aspirations within the legal profession.

As a legal professional with a commitment to growth and development, how do you balance your role as an Advocate-on-Record with your position as a Visiting Faculty and your involvement in various professional and academic bodies? How do these diverse roles contribute to your overall professional fulfillment?

Balancing my roles as an Advocate on Record with my position as a Visiting Faculty  and an active membership of various professional and academic bodies is indeed challenging but immensely fulfilling. Each role complements and enriches the other. As an advocate on record, I deal with complex legal issues firsthand, which I then bring into my role as a Visiting Faculty, making my lectures more relevant and dynamic. On the other hand, interacting with students keeps me abreast of fresh perspectives and emerging legal theories, which informs my practice. My involvement with various professional and academic bodies allows me to keep myself updated with the latest legal development and professional standards. My diverse roles provide me with opportunities for networking with legal professionals, academicians and students. At times, these interactions lead to collaborative projects, thereby enriching my professional experience and contributing to my growth. Juggling these roles is not just about career advancement; it’s deeply fulfilling. Teaching allows me to give back to the legal community, shaping future legal minds. My court practice keeps me grounded in the practical realities of law, and my involvement in professional bodies lets me contribute to the legal profession’s evolution.

Beyond the courtroom, you’ve been recognized as a BW 40 Under 40 Best Lawyer and Legal Influencer. How did it feel to receive such an award, and what does this recognition mean to you personally and professionally?

I remember quite vividly that I received the email stating that I had won the BW 40 under 40 at 1:30 am at night and I felt extremely elated and joyous. I remember feeling extremely grateful for people who have supported me throughout my career and have pushed me in the right direction. Receiving an award of high stature indeed brings numerous rewards, including recognition and visibility, both personally and professionally. On a personal level, such an honor serves as a validation of my hard work and dedication. It’s a tangible acknowledgment of the countless hours, effort, and perseverance that I have put into my legal career. This recognition goes beyond mere professional achievement; it resonates with my commitment to excellence and the values I uphold in my practice.

Professionally, an award of this nature symbolizes the high standard I have set as a lawyer. It enhances my credibility and reputation in the legal community, signaling to peers, clients, and the industry at large that my contributions are significant and impactful. This visibility can open doors to new opportunities, collaborations, and professional growth.

Moreover, such recognition can serve as an inspiration to others in the legal field, especially emerging lawyers who may see in my journey a path to aspire to. It is a reminder that dedication and quality work are noticed and appreciated.

In essence, while the award is a personal achievement, its implications extend far beyond, enriching my professional journey and potentially influencing the broader legal community.

Your involvement in the Indo-French Chamber of Commerce & Industry highlights your connection to international matters. How do you navigate the legal landscape when working with French companies, and what unique challenges or rewards does this bring to your practice?

My involvement with the Indo-French Chamber of Commerce & Industry indeed adds an international dimension to my legal practice, particularly in navigating the legal landscape when working with French Companies. Working with French companies requires an appreciation of cultural differences in business and legal practices. This includes understanding formalities, negotiation styles, and the general approach to contracts and disputes. Being culturally sensitive and adaptable is key to building strong professional relationships and trust. This provides an opportunity to work on diverse and often complex international legal matters, enhancing my expertise and broadening my professional horizon. It also allows for significant networking opportunities fostering a global perspective. 

Outside the legal realm, what activities or hobbies do you engage in to unwind and recharge? Is there a particular hobby or interest that you find complements your legal profession in unexpected ways?

Outside the legal realm, I engage in several activities and hobbies that help me unwind and recharge. 

I used to be captain of my University Lawn Tennis Team at the time I was pursuing BA LLB. I really enjoy playing sports, whether it is Lawn Tennis or Cricket or Badminton. I regularly take part in SCBA Cricket Tournaments. 

One of my favorite pastimes is reading. Delving into various books, without any specific genre preference, allows me to explore a wide range of ideas, cultures, and philosophies. “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom is a personal favourite of mine. It’s narrative is centered around Morrie’s reflection on life as he confronts ALS, and it provides invaluable lessons on the essence of human existence and relationships. 

Apart from this, I greatly enjoy watching movies. They offer a complete escape into different worlds and narratives, providing a mental break from the rigors of law. My favourite movie is The Godfather.

Each of these hobbies, in their own unique way, complements my legal career. They provide balance, enhance skills relevant to my profession, and keep me grounded and focused.

With over two decades in law, what advice would you give to young lawyers starting their journey in the legal field, especially those who aspire to make a significant impact?

The best advice I would give someone who is just starting their legal journey is that there is no substitute for hard work and there is no shortcut to success. A legal professional should always work hard and have faith in what he/she does. 

Arguing in court is what every law student strives for. However, initially the focus should be entirely on honing your drafting skills and developing the skills of doing extensive and exhaustive research. In law, learning never ends. Even today, after practicing for 20 years, I continue to learn something new every single day. Law is constantly evolving and changing and you should try to keep yourself updated. Whether it is through legal news apps such as SCCOnLine or LiveLaw or following your mentors and senior lawyers on LinkedIn or through conferences and seminars. 

When it comes to arguing in court, it’s okay to stumble occasionally. Everyone has ups and downs. The goal isn’t always to be the best but to make your point clear. Judges often understand and are patient with newer lawyers. Prepare well and present your case in simple terms. A solid grasp of the relevant law and case facts is essential.

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