In Conversation With: Dr Vidyottma Jha, an Advocate practicing at the Supreme Court of India, who is also an Author and a prominent Public Speaker
This interview has been published by Sonali Parashar, Ojuswi Sahay, and the SuperLawyer Team
How would you like to introduce yourself as a person to our readers?
Well…it’s simpler and easier to describe oneself professionally but quite tricky to define oneself as a person. We all have certain characteristics, likes, dislikes, skills, etc. I am an individual who goes by instincts and takes everything and every day of life as it comes. I am a simple, optimistic, honest, and emotional person. But at the same time, I am ambitious and driven, assertive, determined, and focused. I am always looking for opportunities to do better and one thing that keeps me going is that I refuse to settle until the goal is accomplished.
What made you pursue Law? Do you have any particular incident which tilted the balance in favour of choosing Law as your career?
As we know Law is a very vast discipline and inculcates within its ambit a wide dimension of every facet of life that we deal with be it family or property, constitutional issues, environmental issues, commercial or social issues. It touches upon every possible aspect. Hence, for me taking law as a profession means taking up humongous responsibility in terms of time, commitment, and financial investment. Though law school and passing the bar exams can be quite back-breaking and onerous, the motivation can depend largely on the brighter side that this profession offers and the impression of it out there on the horizon; for example; the perks and rewards, reputation and respect that it brings with it as the lawyers are among the highest-paid professionals.
Also, I believe that a career as a lawyer has been a hallmark of prestige for generations. It’s perhaps due to a reason that they not only possess impressive degrees but a certain authority over others that places them in an elite circle of professionals. Lawyers have a unique status professionally as they have an attractive, charismatic and glamorous image eternalized by the media. Besides, it is adhered to as intellectually one of the most rewarding jobs on the planet. Lawyers usually work in various areas which gives them an edge in understanding and dealing with myriad things, whether it is helping to patent a trade secret, devising a trial strategy, or forming a multi-million dollar merger. They are basically problem-solvers, analysts, and innovative thinkers.
Therefore, Attorneys have a very prestigious position in society. They are in a distinctive position to affect societal change as lawmakers and leaders. To add to it, they are the ones who frame the laws, rule the courts and hold dominant positions in government. They also influence top policymakers and leaders and affect change across the globe. Thus, I finally conclude by saying that ‘yes I feel powerful’ as being an Attorney gives me immense strength in terms of every aspect one can imagine. It is fulfilling, constructive, worthwhile and valuable. I had a keen interest in studying law and I looked up to the big famous lawyers as role models from a very tender age.
You did your law degree from Campus Law Centre, Faculty of Law, Delhi University. Do you have any “funny but eye-opening” incidents from your college life?
Yes, I studied in one of the most prestigious Law Colleges and Universities. I take pride in being part of such an esteemed university. I can’t remember any such incident to quote here. But Campus Law Centre, Faculty of Law is a place where students are given umpteen opportunities to hone their skills by way of moot courts, debates and learning.
Apart from practising at the Supreme Court, you are also an accomplished speaker on various matters related to Law and International Relations. How did you manage to build a public speaking career along with the practice?
I am an attorney in the Supreme Court of India and it fills me with pride. Lawyers are hardworking professionals and they are avid readers. So, when it comes to me that I’ve managed both I would like to say that it’s continuous hard work and perseverance and it has come to me naturally because Public speaking is an amalgamation of various factors like research skills, and stronger deductive skills ability etc.
Being in the legal profession we have a duty towards influencing decisions and motivating change. The art of public speaking comes in handy at every important event of our lives. It is not separated from the legal practice but rather a fundamental part of it. It aids in conducting a meeting, addressing a team, delivering an important message to the relevant audience, or putting forth your ideas to a discussion simply.
What are the three most essential factors that law students should keep in mind to develop their public speaking skills?
There are various determining factors for a person to be a public speaker be it a lawyer or anybody else from another stream. The first and foremost is reading and researching, followed by body language and confidence and lastly, one should listen to the celebrated speakers. Public speaking is a continuous process and it does not come to somebody in a day. Also, there are no formulas to follow, rather it’s more about practice.
What were some of the fears that you faced when you appeared at the Supreme Court for the first time? How did you overcome those?
Nothing compares to the fear of failure which is self-imposed by young lawyers. Initially, when I started as an attorney, I was nervous about the many things undivulged in the not-so-distant future. I felt that even a single mistake could be fatal. In fact, every bump, obstacle or setback would bring a premature end to my legal career. But that line of thinking is certainly ridiculous. Soon I realised that all lawyers, regardless of the prefix young, seasoned or old, face setbacks, disappointments and failures and it’s part of the profession.
So, as a lawyer resilience happens to be a necessary character trait to exhibit and it is also a key to overcoming obstacles. Resilience implies the ability to recover from tough experiences, situations, the setbacks, to adapt and move forward. Thus, as a lawyer, resilience means how one handles the given situation which is mostly unknown. Especially while preparing for a hearing wherein a number of challenges are waiting both in and out of the courtroom.
‘Being an independent counsel is a tough path to tread for women’ Do you think this is true? What are the challenges for women in litigation especially at the highest level? What according to you are the three topmost factors that upcoming women legal professionals should keep in mind when establishing their own practice?
Women are always at crossroads and they have to make distinct choices between their personal life and professional life at one point. She is expected to choose but the circumstances vary in the case of men it is not a matter of concern for a man. Women have to choose between marriage or promotion. There is a very tangible choice a woman has to make, to put it precisely she is expected to make because a lot of social undertones come with being a woman. Thus, we see a glass ceiling wherein the women face an impenetrable barrier which prevents them from moving upward. Women are subjected to unequal treatment across the globe because of this ubiquitous glass ceiling.
It is more evidently seen in corporations where despite the availability of women’s talent, they are reluctant to invest in it. They view the cost of maternity leave and benefits negatively. So, it’s not a surprise that approximately 84% of women in law firms and companies thought their employers have performed below average on child care assistance programs while 74% believed that they did below average in terms of promoting or mentoring women within the corporation. Now if we look at litigation, it does not fare any better. The court system is structured in a way where women don’t have 12 weeks of maternity leave.
The systemic discrimination impedes their upward mobility. The critics have often pointed out that women are given unchallenging work and that there are gender biases present in the fraternity. Also, women are less likely to receive investment from law firms, because they fear that they may leave the profession for other reasons later on. Thus, it’s the mindset that hinders the opportunities that women lawyers could’ve got. Gender plays a huge role in the professional sphere as female lawyers face more challenges in bringing a balance between their career and their family.
One of the studies has revealed that, unlike any other profession, even in the Indian legal profession, women lawyers are forced to choose between careers and children. The Researchers interviewed about 81 women lawyers. 75% of women in law firms, 43% of women in companies, and 52% of those in litigation said that their careers are adversely affected by maternity leave. In fact, the worst affected seem to be women in law firms, followed by women in litigation. The three top factors that women should have while establishing themselves in their careers are patience, perseverance and belief in themselves.
What message/advice would you like to give to the upcoming litigants on how to practice perseverance in this field?
I have not only known but have myself undergone the struggle. The law students or upcoming generation has to go through this hardship as well. It is perfectly normal at the initial stage. In fact, everything around them is new. But as time passes they gradually adapt to the given situations and also become familiar with the surroundings and things become easier for them. All this struggle and hardship will make them stronger and it will be a part of their experience.
They need to develop regular hard work and discipline to study daily because for a lawyer it’s the regular habit of reading that plays a big role in their careers, otherwise things would become difficult and messy. Hence, it will be good if one plans a positive, proactive stance by setting up a schedule, establishing an accountability structure with built-in breaks, understanding personal preferences and habits and finding a place which is conducive to work. So, in the end, the more one keeps these pieces in place, the better off they will be when it comes to keeping up with the workload.
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