Interviews

Manisha Karia, Advocate on Record, Supreme Court, on quitting law firm and setting up independent practice

Manisha Karia graduated from ILS Law School, Pune in 2000. Soon after graduation, she started working as an Associate at Thakker & Thakker, Solicitors & Advocates where she worked for a year. Later she switched to Dua Associates where she worked as a Senior Associate. Thereafter she left her job and started practicing independently before Supreme Court of India, Delhi High Court and other appellate forums at New Delhi. She has been practising independently from last nine years.

In this interview, she talks about:

  • Work experience at Thakker & Thakker and Dua Associates
  • Co-authoring a chapter in “Electronic Evidence” by LexisNexis, UK
  • Building reputation and clientèle
  • Independent practice and experience of a decade in litigation

 

You graduated from ILS, Pune in 2000. What was the legal profession like back then? What were your objectives as a law student?

I always wanted to peruse challenging carrier to have my own identity as professional and at the same time to serve society. My father always aspired me to take up civil services. There were apprehensions and opposition from friends and relatives about a girl taking up law especially when I was to become first generation lawyer. My parents have been a great support for me throughout. I still remember that with great difficulty, I admission in ILS, Pune as that time five years law course was offered by very few colleges.

My sole objective was to give my best and to do justice to the opportunity and choice I had made. I made library as my second home and worked really hard to overcome language fear as I have studied throughout in my mother tongue till class 10th. In my 2nd year I participated in moot court competition and I was among top 3 that gave me confidence. My professors were encouraging and involved me in research for Hindu Law and Constitutional Law workshops organised by college. That really diverted me from civil service exam preparation and I was more fascinated to peruse law as my law career and took every opportunity coming on my way and in my 3rd year itself. I started attending chamber of a senior advocate, Mr. S.V. Kanitkar in Pune to understand nuances of original side of civil litigation at trial courts. Initially for 6 months after college, I used to attend court, which gave me clarity about original side of litigation, which is still helping me in my practice in Supreme Court.

 

When you pursued law, not much of an importance was laid upon internships. But the scenario now seems to have been changed. How relevant do you think are internships for a present law student?

During my student years, we only had one internship in final year. Now almost all law schools give prominence to internship as part of curriculum, which I feel is very vital for every law student. Students have options to work with senior advocates, law firms and individual lawyers, PSUs and NGOs. These opportunities provide students an insight into how each practice of law is different from other and they are better equipped to decide about their career in law profession. Also, internship with the judges of High Court and Supreme Court gives fair idea about decision making processes in the Courts. Today is an era of specialisation. Internships immensely help students to determine whether to pursue corporate or litigation practice either in law firms or with Senior Counsel or individual lawyers and also decide area of specialisation.

 

How valuable would you say your legal education was at ILS? When did you actually experience the learning curve? What is your opinion when people say that all that they have learnt is in their years of practice?

As I said, my learning during five years at ILS still helps me every day. Starting from 1st presentation to participating several competitions and workshops and special courses conducted during student days, prepared me to face the challenges of the legal profession. Our professors are still our mentors and guides of lifetime. They treated us as family and guided throughout. We were always encouraged to participate in moot court competitions and many other opportunities for research and presentations. It all depends on how you make best of the opportunities. The Legal Aid Cell helped us to provide practical advice to litigants in early days of student life. The Mock Trials gave us insight into art of cross-examination and in-depth analysis of Evidence Act in practical way, which has become rare in today’s legal education where the subjects on procedural law are being taught in less than six months.

I believe practicing law is never ending learning process, the older you grow, the expectations and learning increases. Yes, there is no doubt that you learn a lot when you actually start practicing, but if you take student years seriously, that forms a strong base for your further learning. Five years is a long period to built a foundation which none of the law student should miss as once you enter profession with added responsibility and demanding work, one really doesn’t get time improve or devote time to any special skill. I strongly feel that one can only achieve something by investing time and this profession requires dedication in formative years at law school, which can be best used for development of these skills including research, basics of drafting, presentations, debating etc. If the beginning is right, one gets a different level of confidence and clarity in terms of basic knowledge and skills for this noble profession by the time you actually enter the profession.

 

How was your work as a corporate lawyer at Dua Associates? Please tell us a little about your work profile while working there. What were the responsibilities you were entrusted with?

After passing out, being eldest in the family, my siblings were still studying. I wanted share financial responsibility of my father and also gain some law firm experience as I had never experienced firm work culture. Therefore, I joined Thakker & Thakker before even final year results were out. I really learnt a lot starting from how to work long hours (12-16 hours a day) and what is billable and non billable hours, maintaining time sheets and pending work list, drafting of several contracts, FEMA, RBI, SEBI regulations and I got to do my first arbitration and learnt a lot about IPR registrations. I also assisted in two big IPR litigations in Bombay High Court and also got opportunity to do some Tax work.

Thereafter, I joined Dua Associates, Mumbai office and there again it was branch office of Delhi based firm, so I got to do all kind of work including due diligences, property documents drafting, lots of IPR work (mainly worldwide trade mark and patent registration assignments), attending hearings in Trade Mark Registry and IPR litigation in Bombay High Court along with other corporate commercial litigation. Also I had an opportunity to prepare guidelines/manual for police officers for IPR and information technology law related cases as law was new in India. I was lucky to work in this office and concerned partners had given lot of responsibilities and freedom to work as I was communicating with lawyers / firms from almost 40 countries for trade mark and patent work. I worked in Bombay for about 5 years which were tough years as I used to travel 3 hours every day from New Mumbai to Fort and back, but I really enjoyed work culture and those were foundation years of my life, which really taught me many things in all respect and it was a true struggle as first generation lawyer.

 

How did you decide to quit your job and start up with your independent practice?

That’s like a every girl’s story! I got married in 2004 and shifted base to Delhi. I initially worked with Delhi office of Dua Associates for some time. However, I had to take a break for my daughter’s birth and focus on her upbringing. During this period, I contributed and co-authored a chapter on India in book published by LexisNexis, UK on “Electronic Evidence”, which is an authority on the subject. I also started working with my father-in-law, who is a Senior Advocate and Former Judge of Gujarat High Court and started attending Supreme Court on regular basis.

I considered options of joining back law firms, but to be able to manage both family and career and to strike that right balance, I decided start up my independent practice. One of my friends from Pune referred Special Leave Petition of her sister in which there was issue as regards to interstate transfer of matter from one state to another state by High Court and I got a chance to argue that matter pro bono before Supreme Court where other side was represented by Senior Advocate. I did my best and it was well appreciated by the Hon’ble Judges as well as other seniors present. I became more confident and I knew that when I do what I love and feel passionate about, I will find a way and can handle the family and my profession too. Then, I started taking matters before High Court of Delhi, NCDRC, Company Law Board and other Appellate Tribunals along with the Supreme Court and after having a few years’ experience in the Supreme Court, I decided to appear in Advocate of Record examination. This has been tough experience with multiple responsibilities, but, yes, I had choice to do my own work at own working hours (apart from courts hours) and family was also taken care of. The clients and briefing lawyers have been really supportive and understanding. Today, after years of struggle, I have my own office and am being able to give full time to my practice.

 

What are your main practice areas? How has been your experience so far?

As an Advocate of Record in Supreme Court, I handle multidisciplinary practice as one cannot have specific practice area we represent and file every type of matter. I have been handling both civil and criminal Special Leave Petitions, Transfer Petitions and Writ Petitions before the Supreme Court. Off late, I have been doing more of Tax and IPR related matters.

I have been appearing in Constitutional, Company, Consumer, Property, Service law and Environmental law related matters. My journey as a lady lawyer has been full of ups and downs. Legal profession has been somewhat male dominated, however there a change in past few years. I only know how to put my head down and do my work to the best of my abilities and like to take limited work and do justice to the matters I have taken responsibility of.

 

As a practising lawyer how did you manage to learn the basics of court room practice? Did you have anyone to guide and mentor you during the initial days of your practice?

My experience at lower courts during my internship as student gave me real understanding of evidence and procedural aspects and working in a Firm and Bombay High Court really helped me how to handle clients, drafting, preparing for cases and briefing seniors and, yes, I am really blessed to be guided by my father-in-law, who is my mentor and many other seniors who always corrected me and encouraged me. You can really understand court room practice by being vigilant and observant in court rooms and each matter teaches you something new. As young lawyer, in initial days I used to spend lot of time listening to many Senior Advocates arguing in Court during regular hearing days.

Many things as regards to court room practice, one learns by everyday experience and Supreme Court has wide variety of matters work and has lawyers and clients coming from all over from India. Mastering facts and applicability of law and logical thinking and strategy can really get you through in complicated matters. There is no shortcut and working hard always pays.

 

How necessary is it to have a mentor/guide to handhold a young lawyer while still in the formative years of the profession? Did you have one?

It is very important to have able and good guide/senior in formative years as there are so many things which seniors can help you with their vast experience. It is very necessary to work under an ethical senior and proper guidance as many young lawyers hardly work with seniors or organisations and jump into independent practice and find short cuts to earn fast money. In formative years one needs to work on detail, cultivating habit of reading and full research before drafting and arguing new matters. I was always told by seniors to be updated on recent case laws and by reading judgments one can really improve on legal language. I really learnt basics of litigation from Mr. S. V. Kanitkar and Mr. J. V. Thakker and seniors from the Firms I worked with and in Supreme Court my father-in-law made me understand how to go to the root of the matter by marshalling the facts and doing detailed research before drafting or arguing.

 

What were the difficulties you faced in the early days of your practice? How difficult would you say it is to build a reputed practice? How many years of hard work does it require to build a firm clientele?

Being leady with added responsibility of family, small baby it was very difficult to start and continue with independent practice and survive in the profession in Delhi. It was difficult to revive contacts and get back the trust to come back full time in practice. It takes about 6-7 years to set up full-fledged practice and one need lot of patience, consistency and dedication. Many clients don’t want to pay the due fees to junior lawyers and one has to really struggle hard. In initial days of practice I could barely mange to recover even expenses and to save on cost and time I had office cum residence.

 

Did you build everlasting relation with your clients? Please share some of your secret tips on how to boost fiduciary relations with the people we serve?

Yes, many of my clients and briefing lawyers are old contacts and relations which were developed while working in Mumbai and references from others states. Clients are always result oriented. You may not always get good case, but it depends on how you present it before the Court. If you show your performance by trying your best, many times efforts are well appreciated irrespective of result. I believe in giving clear idea to the clients about favourable and against points in their case and reasonable chance success/failure in the matter before filing any case. Many times this is really helpful and they come back with more work even if the result was not favourable in one of their matters. I have even refused client to file SLP where I felt there was no point when they were advised by others to file the matter. I strongly believe that one has to be honest and sincere to the client. Also being proactive to call or email to keep client updated before they call and to answer queries promptly at any time helps to develop good relations and builds confidence with clients.

 

The Bar Council of India has recently come out with new Certificate of Practice and Renewal Rules, 2014. What is your take on this?

I see the logic and I am sure it is in the interest of young lawyers joining the profession. According to me, basic knowledge and experience of trial court and high court is necessary before starting practice in Supreme Court as that gives better understanding, perspective and ability to conduct cases in efficient and better manner.

 

How is the work atmosphere at the Supreme Court presently? Do you think it has become more difficult for a fresher to be successful compared to a decade earlier? What would you advise a fresh graduate as he enters the world of litigation today?

In the Supreme Court has lawyers and judges coming from all over India and one gets to see diversity and different level of performance, which makes it a very challenging atmosphere. The numbers of lawyers have really increased in past few years and at the same time elevation of eminent practicing lawyers as judges of Supreme Court has really helped in changing the scene. Numbers of designation of AORs as Senior Advocates by Supreme Court and number of practicing lady lawyers and Senior Advocates have also increased. Many Judges are very accommodative and encourage junior lawyers and AORs to argue matters. My advice to the fresh graduate who enters in litigation is to choose good senior or law firm where you will get variety of work to do, improve your drafting as much as you can in initial years, clear your doubts by discussing with seniors, spend maximum time attending court hearing and read judgements on daily basis and research work without entirely relying on online resources. One should never appear in Court without knowing or reading the brief.

 

Indian criminal law is, to a large extent, influenced by its British counterpart. Do you think if Indians would have framed our Penal Code, it would have been better?

Although Indian Penal Code was drafted more than 150 years before it is still effective. Indian laws and entire legal system is largely influenced by English legal system and I do not see that it would have been better if we would have drafted it as over last so many years, we have made several amendments to all archaic laws to meet the changes in society and technology.

 

When you hire interns under you, what kind of qualities do you look for? What should an intern do to get noticed in a positive way?

I prefer interns who are eager to learn and ready to do any legal work assigned with dedication and without any hesitation. As fresher, one would not know how to go about case, but they should ask relevant questions and understand from seniors the subject matter and scope work and research required. To be noticed in positive manner, reading the brief before conferences and hearings and doing detailed research and preparing note on matter in paramount.

 

In the last ten years you must have seen the change in litigation field. What would you say about this?

The litigation field has considerably changed. With e-filing and use of technology, the processes have become easier and faster. It saves time and costs for litigants. Litigation is also becoming very expensive for quality of legal advice. Backlog of cases is increasing every year. With elevation of many eminent lawyers as Judges of Supreme Court and High Courts, the things are really improving. Hopefully, we would see major changes by reducing delays in justice delivery system and making the best legal advice affordable for everyone in coming years.

 

What would be your parting message to law students who want to litigate just after graduation?

In the end, I would like to covey to students to make use of their student years to the maximum, develop writing and speaking skills, do as many internship and participate in moot court competitions. It would really help one develops skills of doing right research and work hard in early days of practice. I wish all students a very best luck in their legal pursuits.

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