Enatoli Sema graduated from Campus Law Centre, Delhi University in 2005 after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree from St. Stephen’s College. In the pursuit of her determination to do litigation, she joined the chambers of Mr. Neeraj Kishan Kaul, Senior Advocate before starting her independent practice in the Supreme Court. Being the first from Nagaland to have passed the AOR examination of the Supreme Court, she talks in this interview about:
- Her decision to pursue law
- Experience at Campus Law Centre
- Professional and personal challenges after graduation
- Working at the chambers of a Senior Advocate
- Cracking the Advocates-on-Record examination
- Following her passion for litigation
Please introduce yourself to our readers. Where did you grow up and attend school? What was your initial career plan?
My name is K. Enatoli Sema, I come from the State of Nagaland. I grew up in Kohima and that is where I did part of my schooling and then shifted to the Convent of Jesus & Mary, a boarding school in Shimla.
You completed your Bachelor’s degree from St. Stephen’s College in Delhi University, which is a very prestigious and difficult college to get admission into. How was your college experience? Did you decide from the beginning to study law after graduation?
I feel privileged and blessed to have attended this prestigious college during the most crucial years of one’s life. It is during this period that I was constantly faced with situations and circumstances that questioned my roots, faith, identity, foundation and my core values. At first, I did not know how to respond to them but as a result I was forced to grow up and decide who I am and who I want to be rather than being defined by others.
Studying law was also an option for me because of my family background but I was not too sure if I really wanted to do it immediately after graducation. In fact, after graduating from St. Stephen’s and after a year in CLC, I took a gap year just to be sure that I really wanted to study law.
How was your law school experience? Looking back, do you wish you had done anything differently?
(Enatoli graduated from Campus Law Centre, Delhi University in 2005)
CLC was a very different experience altogether, something I wasn’t prepared for. I realised how sheltered and protected I was in St. Stephen’s. At first it was overwhelming, the sheer number of students in the class was enough to make you feel small and insignificant. There were some classes I enjoyed more as compared to others. We had execellent faculty members because of whom my love, interest and curiousity for law started. The one thing I wish I could have changed about law school was probably being more active in campus. I would usually try and find a quiet place in a corner and read and did not interact much.
How was your first year after graduation? What were your thoughts and in hindsight how did they work out?
The first few months after graduation was difficult for me. Nothing prepares you for what you are going to face especially if you choose to do litigation. There is no similarity between the theory and practice and it takes time to get used to it. As time passed, I grew more intrigued with the drama and process of how law evolved in court room proceedings. My first year went just fine, there is nothing I would like to change about it. But yes, I wish someone would have told me that it is OK to feel lost and clueless in the first few months of practise and that everyone goes through it.
You worked as an associate in the chambers of Senior Advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul from 2007 to 2009. What did your work consist of? Were you free to take up your own cases, independent of the ones your senior allotted you?
Joining the chambers of Mr. Neeraj Kishan Kaul, Senior Advocate, was the one of the wisest steps I took as a young lawyer who was interested in doing purely litigation. Being in the chamber of a Senior Advocate, the work of the junior associates mostly revolved around legal research, analysis and assisting him with our notes and preparations. Working in his chambers trained and exposed me to the basics of law in a variety of subjects within a short span of time. In his chambers, I was not only taught law but I also learned professional ethics and discipline which is crucial for any Advocate who views this profession seriously.
Mr. Kaul’s chamber was very demanding as working in any top notch Senior Advocate’s chamber would be so there was really no time to take up any independent cases and since I was just freshly out of law school, I don’t think I had the experience to take up cases on my own.
You became the first from Nagaland to pass the AOR exam of the Supreme Court. How did you prepare for it? What do you think are the reasons that no person from your state has ever passed it?
As I started my independent practise in Supreme Court, I realised that it was very important for me to take the AOR exam. I was encouraged and guided by AOR’s who had taken and passed the exam. I was blessed to get sound advice and guidance by fellow colleagues who were already AOR’s.
There are very few lawyers from Nagaland practising in Supreme Court and partly that is the reason why there were no AOR’s from Nagaland. I hope that in the coming years there will be many more AOR’s from Nagaland.
Please tell us more about the AOR exam. When do you think one should start preparing for it and attempt it?
It is important to familiarize yourself with the syllabus and the study material that is available for taking the exam. I started preparing for it around the month of February-March since our exam was in June. It is always better to start preparing earlier because you have to juggle your work and studies at the same time. Sitting for an examination after years of gap did not help but the idea is to remain focused and hydrated in the Delhi heat! For me attending the lectures given by the examiners helped a lot while studying because they give you an insight of what to expect.
Currently, you are Standing Counsel for the state of Nagaland in the Supreme Court of India. What do the duties and responsibilities include?
Being a Standing Counsel for any State is a matter of great honour and a privilege. Since I have been away from Nagaland for so many years, personally I see it as a chance to stay connected to my people. I also see it as an opportunity to contribute towards my society as a legal professional. The duty and responsibility is to ensure that your State is effectively represented and that the Government is given sound legal advice and guidance at all times.
What are your plans for the future?
As of now, the only plan is to be a lawyer whose work is respected.
Lastly, what advice would you give to law students wishing to make a career in litigation?
Litigation has its share of fun and adventure but it is also taxing. Choosing to do litigation while your other friends from law school may be joining fancy law firms is certainly tough. But if your heart is in litigation and that is what you want to do, then don’t let go of your dream and be prepared to slog and work hard towards it.
When I expressed my desire to do only litigation after a year into practise, I was advised and warned by a wise man to be prepared to put in a lot of hard work for at least 10 years. As a naive young lawyer, I thought that that his ‘old school’ philosophy talking. I now understand what he meant. This profession, specially litigation will also remain ‘old school’ and I hope that it continues to do so. There is no short cut if you want to be someone who truly works for justice. So, take your time to decide if litigation is really what you want.