Reflecting on your journey from law school to becoming an Advocate-on-Record at the Supreme Court, what were the pivotal moments that shaped your career?
“Qabza dila diya mujhe mere makaan ka
Mere jo hain vakil adeem-un-nazeer hain
Poochho jo unki fees, tou ab us makaan mein
Khud hazrat e vakil rihaaish-pazeer hain.”
“My lawyer helped me get possession of my house.
He is blessed with unmatchable foresight. The fees, however, were so high that it cost me to cover the house itself.”
The aforesaid lines I came across in my law school days stirred a profound transformation within me, redirecting my aspirations from a corporate job towards the realm of practicing law and aiding those in need as much as possible. I harbored a persistent dream of exerting every effort to alter the public perception of advocates for the better.
Though my odyssey of the profession of law commencing from law school has not been an easy one but an arduous endeavor. As I was a Hindi Medium Student, even in Law school I encountered myriad problems. I got back in two subjects (English and Economics) in my inaugural semester. My peers hesitated to form a moot team or collaborate on articles with me, exhibiting their professional reservations despite amicable personal relations. In that time some latent sense of inferiority had pervaded my psyche. I don’t blame anyone for this. As humans, everyone wants to be with the best, which I was certainly not in the sight of my colleagues. I decided to fight this and transcend these challenges. I made all possible attempts to hone my linguistic prowess after reading various literature and Judgements. I started writing various articles on different topics. I decided to become the only Speaker in Moot Court competitions to conquer the fear of facing the judges. Colleagues now started trusting me for all kinds of work. Ultimately, I topped my last semester and earned the accolade of Student of Excellence. While I secured a few placements, I opted to practice law in Delhi. I joined the office of my senior with a stipend of Rs. 10,000/- in the Supreme Court of India. However, this was not enough to survive. I also realized that learning the trial court work for any first-generation lawyer is highly essential. Thus, I used to work in Trial Court from 9 am to 6:30 PM and earn Rs. 10,000/-, take personality development classes from 7:30 PM to 9 PM (Monday to Saturday) and earn Rs. 5,000/-, and then work for the Supreme Court drafting from 10 PM to 2 AM and earn Rs. 10,000/-. These circumstances fortuitously instilled in me resilience to confront challenges with unwavering resolve. I also initiated pro bono law classes for the underprivileged students for the preparation of Judicial Services Preparation from 2016. When people around reposed trust in me, they gave a few really challenging cases to fight. I tried my best and the same resulted in fortifying the trust of people in me. I decided to write an AOR exam in 2023. My foundational academic expertise, cultivated through instructing judicial services aspirants, facilitated success in the AOR examination. In the legal profession, while supreme intelligence may be optional, mastery of patience remains an indispensable requisite.
As someone who handles diverse cases, including civil and criminal, could you share an experience that was particularly challenging and how you navigated through it?
Allow me to recount a pivotal case, which was like a litmus test for my tenacity and devotion to the legal profession. It was my first big case, which I got by god’s grace merely after seven months of my practice. I had a very small office in Pocket -2, Mayur Vihar Phase-I, Delhi. It was the evening of 12th of February 2016, which unfolded a narrative that would indelibly mark my legal journey. A group of around 8 to 10 people entered my office and told me that the Government of Delhi was cutting thousands of trees in the green belt area of Sector 15-16 Trilokpuri in order to build flats for the people whose land had been seized by the Delhi government for the Nizamuddin Metro project. Their plea was urgent, as the matter was slated for final arguments in the High Court on February 14. They implored me to initiate proceedings before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on February 13 and concurrently file an Impleadment application in the High Court on February 14.
Those people divulged to me that since they were unable to get other advocates to file the matters in such a short duration for a reasonable amount of fee, which led them to seek my assistance. They further asked me if I would be able to file the case in such a short duration before NGT and in the High Court. Undaunted, I seized this opportunity without a moment’s hesitation and said “Yes”. Despite lacking experience in filing Original Applications before the NGT and possessing no format for such applications, I committed myself to the challenge. They endowed me with three hundred pages of representation and other notices in Hindi. I enquired about the format of Original Application with other friends. My inquiries among legal peers yielded no guidance, as they were unacquainted with NGT proceedings.
I knew that it was a daunting task to go through the entire file and draft the application in a 12-hour window. I read the file till 5 AM the next day. I thought it was impossible for me to complete the same. I thought of giving up. I was quite broken. Faced with exhaustion and contemplation of capitulation, I discerned a divine test of my dedication to the legal profession. Resilience prevailed, I again started working and completed the draft by 10 AM without any sleep. I filed the matter before NGT after serving the copy of the case to five different counsels on the other side. I mentioned the matter and after fearless arguments secured the stay from NGT on the same day. Next day again I could not sleep because I had to file an impleadment application before the Hon’ble High Court. I filed the application just in time and it was allowed by the Hon’ble High Court. The bench, after giving me a patient hearing, held that it is the duty of the Government to provide home to the aggrieved persons but not at the cost of cutting trees.
This case not only introduced me to local communities but also attracted independent clients seeking my advocacy. I share this experience as a testament to the crucible moments faced by young advocates. In the face of adversity, it is imperative to rise, sprinting with unwavering determination, for it is the endurance forged in such crucibles that propels young advocates forward in this demanding profession.
Your book, “Iudexcracy vs Democracy: Revisiting Fourth Judges Cases,” is noteworthy. What motivated you to write it, and what key message do you hope readers take away from it?
My fervent inclination to contribute to this work predates the NJAC case escalation to the Apex Court. As a law student, I harbored a profound interest in Constitutional law, initiating my engagement with the field early on. With guidance from seniors in Law school, I started writing articles and presenting papers from my first semester itself. In the beginning of sixth semester, my team participated in a Moot Court competition centered on Judicial Appointments and the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC). Later in my final year, I thought of extending the research on Judicial Appointments and NJAC through my dissertation. When I graduated from law school and started practicing law in Delhi, I found that the 99th Constitutional Amendment Act, 2014 along with NJAC Act had been passed in Parliament and the same had been challenged in the Supreme Court. My co-author (who was interning in the Supreme Court at that time) and I diligently used to observe daily proceedings every day from 10.30 AM to 4 PM captivated by the profound legal minds presenting eloquent submissions. Amidst this intellectual panorama, we envisioned ourselves as solitary islands, fervently desiring to contribute our perspectives to this ongoing debate. Our initial intention evolved into a more concrete idea – encapsulating our insights in the form of a book. Then, we were astonished to see the voluminous judgment consisting of more than 1,000 pages. Undeterred, we scrutinized it meticulously, identifying flaws that spurred our decision to conduct a critical analysis. The book meticulously explored judicial appointment procedures in other nations, drawing comparisons with the Indian context. It articulated arguments both for and against the basic structure doctrine, delving into its genesis. Additionally, the book elucidated arguments supporting the constitutionality of the NJAC with few suggestions. The book lauded the dissenting opinion of HMJ Chelameswar and called him an unsung hero because he was the only judge who fearlessly maintained in his dissenting opinion that there is “nepotism” in the judiciary.
Winning the Atam Samman and the Udbhav Cultural Award reflects your significant contributions to the legal field. How do you handle the balance between a successful legal practice and your role in academia?
I am really humbled and honoured to receive these awards. It is my deep interest in academia which has given wings to my legal practice granting me a multifaceted perspective. When any academician studies any law subject for teaching the student, he studies that from beginning to the end. Thus, whenever I find any case to represent in Court be it Civil or Criminal, where interpretation of any provision is required, I in the dual capacity of academician and practicing lawyer can see various angles which may sometimes be overlooked by few practicing lawyers. As far as I have researched, almost all legendary advocates and Judges have been great academicians. For instance, Shri Nani Palikwala, despite his busy practice, used to devote his time to teaching law to students and was a part-time Lecturer at Government Law College, Bombay. He endeared himself to students by his clear exposition of the subject—always with a dash of humour and eloquence (At that time he was lecturing on the Evidence Act.).
I would like to narrate one of my real stories which is connected to academics and legal practice. In the year 2017, when I was waiting for my item to reach before one Single bench in Delhi High Court, one of my colleagues at the Bar was making his submissions before the Court that he sent the representation to the Government. Then the Ld. Judge posed him a question that, “When a Communication of proposal and acceptance is complete and under what provision of law is it provided?”
Then my colleague at the Bar started referring to some Judgements. The Court specifically pointed out that it does not want judgement but provision of law. When the counsel could not answer, Court posed the same question to the members of the bar present in Court to be answered. Upon receiving the opportunity I raised my hand and answered the question, as at that time I was teaching my students Indian Contract Act, 1872 only. The court, acknowledging my response, expedited my case, demonstrating the tangible benefits of a robust academic foundation in legal practice. I believe that the marriage of academia and legal practice is indispensable for cultivating a flourishing and enduring legal career.
Your involvement in guiding judicial services aspirants pro bono is commendable. How important do you believe it is for legal professionals to contribute to legal education and mentorship?
If you have knowledge, let others light their candle in it.-
There is really a dire need in the Society of the “good legal professionals”. I regularly interact with Law students across the country. I feel that they really want to study and aspire to be good advocates but lack proper guidance and mentorship, causing them to veer off course in their pursuit of legal excellence. Problem is many law students are neither given proper practical insights by their law college nor guided by any experienced law professional. One can become a good legal professional only when one gets proper guidance, right mentorship and proper exposure to the law field. Study confined to four walls of law school is not sufficient. One must dive into the ocean of cases to understand the real intricacies and interpretation involved in Law. It is the bounden duty of all experienced legal professionals to extend a guiding hand and to give back to Society whatsoever limited they have. It is the duty of the Law professionals to instill the sense of honesty, integrity and confidence in the young minds for their future. This noble profession demands a commitment to service rather than a mere quest for financial gain, and imparting these values to aspiring lawyers is pivotal. I request all law professionals through this platform to treat law students with respect even if they don’t know anything. They don’t know that is why they are students. Don’t neglect or demean them even if they do not have the basic understanding of law. They would be natured and nurtured through your profund guidance.
You recently spoke at TEDx. Could you share the central theme of your talk and any key takeaways you want the audience to remember?
My TEDx talk was not related to Law or the legal profession. It ventured beyond the legal sphere. The title of my talk was “Why we need to relearn the art of Crying”. It was related to the perception with which we should see the world. I have discussed why we need to let go of our ego, and why it is required to leave everything on nature when we have already acted and when our true faith and the situation has gone beyond karma. I discussed how this nature gives you everything without even demanding it. My talk emphasized the superpower of crying. It explains why respect and power of this world lies under softness (in Hindi “Komalta”) and not under hardness (in Hindi “Kathorta”), and thus why you need to be soft and gentle. I would to place the Urdu couplet from Habib Jalib which matches my TEDx talk and is apt for the people with ego considering themselves as God specifically in the field of law:
“tum se pahle vo jo ik shaḳhs yahāñ taḳht-nashīñ thā
us ko bhī apne ḳhudā hone pe itnā hī yaqīñ thā”
“ab vo phirte haiñ isī shahr meñ tanhā liye dil ko
ik zamāne meñ mizāj un kā sar-e-arsh-e-barīñ thā”
Outside of your legal endeavors, what are your personal hobbies or interests that help you unwind and find balance in your busy schedule?
Beyond the legal realm, I find solace in playing Chess. It is like a booster dose for me. I also love indulging in the rich tapestry of Indian Philosophy (Bharatiya Darshan) from Charvak Darshan to Mimansha Darshan etc. In my free time I also read old Hindi Literature. Nowadays, I have immersed myself in the world of Munshi Premchand as I am reading his novel namely Gaban. It soothes my mind as it takes me to the old lifestyle of the village and makes it dreamy and nostalgic at the same time.
What advice would you give to aspiring legal professionals, considering your own experiences and the evolving landscape of the legal field?
I will give the following advice:
- Find your right mentor:
The first and one of the most difficult challenges for any young advocate who wants to dive into law practice is to find his/her right mentor who is not only a good lawyer but also a good human being. A mentor who gives his juniors the opportunity not only to seek adjournments and conduct research but also to argue some small matters in the beginning of his practice. A mentor who does not disrespect his juniors and can show his junior the right path and guide him in case of any need. Thus, the journey of finding the right mentor should start from the first year of law school itself.
- Read Judgements consistently:
Cultivate a practice of reading judgments every day. There should not be even a single day when you have not read any judgement. Take small judgements in the beginning and not the long judgements like “Keshavanada Bharti (1973)” or “K. S. Puttaswamy (2017)”. Completing small judgements will boost your confidence. Keep reading it for 6 months without having any expectation. Reading judgements will improve your drafting skills, court language, legal vocabulary, interpretation of law, knowledge, and communication of law.
- Do anything and everything to improve your communication Skills:
Recognize that effective communication is as vital as legal knowledge, with the ability to express ideas clearly a hallmark of a successful lawyer.
- Try to have positive social media presence specially if are first generation lawyer:
Harness the power of social media specially if you are First generation lawyer, but with caution, ensuring accurate and verified information to avoid negative repercussions.
- Try to start your practice from Trial Court or at least learn the work of Trial Court specially if you are First Generation Lawyer:
There are a very limited number of cases which come to the Supreme Court. Thus, the first-generation lawyers who start practicing in the Supreme Court find it difficult to survive after four to five years of practice as they get very few cases. I have witnessed many first-generation lawyers leaving practice and joining firms or companies with meagre salary because of high instability in their legal practice leading them to depression and anxiety. Thus, as far as my opinion and experience is concerned, for first-generation lawyers, gaining experience in Trial Court work is crucial for survival and growth in the legal profession.
- Embrace hard work, dedication, and patience:
These virtues are the cornerstone of success in the legal profession, fostering resilience and long-term prosperity.
Get in touch with Pawan Reley-