Associates, In-House Counsels & Advocates

Sirsanya Bandopadhyay, Advocate, Calcutta High Court, on building a career in litigation and experience in Politics

Sirsanya Bandopadhyay is a practising Advocate at the Calcutta High Court. He graduated from Jogesh Chandra Choudhuri College of Law (Calcutta University) in 2010.While in college, he was an active participant in the student political body of the University and gradually grew along with it. He became the General Secretary and subsequently President of the Students’ Union. He is also the youngest member to have been inducted into the Trinamul Congress’ Party Core Committee. Currently he practices at the Calcutta High Court.

In this interview he talks about:

  • Studying law at JCCCL, Kolkata
  • Students’ union and joining politics
  • Building a career in litigation

 

How would you say your parents or close family members inspired you in taking up law?

Though my father is an Advocate by profession and several others, from his maternal side, are in the same profession, the decision to pursue law was entirely my own. The same was taken while I was in the 3rd Standard. When I was in my third standard, one fine morning, the first thing that caught my attention was a huge picture of my father in his robes on the front page of the Bengal daily, Ananda Bazar Patrika. And I suppose that impression lived with me throughout my life and each day thereafter I imagined myself in those robes and in that corridor of the High Court at Calcutta. In fact, there have also been times when I wore his robes at home, when he wasn’t around as that gave me profound happiness.

 

Please tell us a bit about your father, Mr. Kalyan Bandopadhyay’s practice. As a mentor, how did he influence your career? Did you get to hear a lot of legal discussions right from your childhood?

My father was into business before various events led him to his senior, Late Mahitosh Mazumdar, J., under whom he practised till his senior’s elevation on 17th February 1986. As I have heard from my father, his life as a young advocate was not very easy but he worked really hard to climb up the ladder, gathering and embracing every bit of work that came his way. In his initial days he stayed in a mess with others and after his marriage he and my mother started a family in a one-room rented shelter on the terrace of a house in Dhakuria. From there his hard work has taken him to where he is today. His dedication, diligence and love towards his work has fetched him respect and repute in legal and political fields as well.

Such stories of hard work are an inspiration in itself and surely they have inspired me to work hard and remain dedicated and grounded always. But my father never dictated what I should do in life, apart from regular reminders that I need to study hard. I must also mention that while nurturing the thought of becoming an Advocate, the stories and works of Late Siddhartha Shankar Ray had influenced me all the more.

Legal discussions were mostly restricted to his chamber. My sister and I did eavesdrop on his telephonic conversations at home, talking about some matter or some interesting point of law, but they cannot be termed as hearing proper legal discussions.

 

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Your father is also a  Lok Sabha MP and  a member of  All India Trinamul Congress Party. Did you ever think of joining politics after him?

I joined politics even before I could realise that I had done the same. When I was fourteen years old, my father contested his first Assembly Elections from Asansol in 2001. I took a month off from school and stayed back in Asansol with him to manage his office work. Whenever I used to feel bored I used to go out with him and be a part of the campaigning. After he won in 2001, I made regular visits to Asansol from time to time and in the process got acquainted with many party workers from that area. While joining JCCLC in 2005 the only advice that came from my father was not to join the Students’ Union. But situations in college had led to factions and I happened to become a voice in the anti-incumbent faction. The students’ election in 2005 was shady and that gave fuel to the anti-incumbent motives. But I tried to abide by my father’s advice by not contesting the elections and not going to political meetings till the year 2006. But gradually the state of affairs worsened in college and it somehow demanded my active participation. I was too scared to tell my father that I was not being able to act upon his advice and contested the 2006 college elections without his consent. However, the same was brought to his knowledge by a so-called leader of the other faction during one of his morning walks. But surprisingly he didn’t tell me anything, probably because he also heard that I too had voluntarily associated myself with Trinamul Congress’s Students’ Wing.

Stories of our anti-incumbent movement started spreading like forest fire and other colleges started inviting us for public meetings and rallies against SFI, which back then had a strong hold in most of the colleges in Bengal so much so that at one point of time, I had covered almost all the colleges in South Bengal in order to speak against SFI. The factions in rightist wings in college led to the growth of SFI/AISB in my college as well and hence the fight became a full-time job both inside and outside college. After handling matters in college till 12 noon or 1 pm, sometimes I along with my friends or at times I alone used to travel to remote locations and distant colleges in order to carry on our fight against the communist parties. In 2007, during the Singur agitation I was asked by Ms. Mamata Banerjee to speak in a public meeting at Singur to be held on 28th August 2007. The previous night I was at the southern tip of South 24 Parganas but the offer was too lucrative to be turned down and hence there I was, at my first public gathering at Singur in front of lakhs and lakhs of workers and general people who had gathered on the National Highway during Ms. Banerjee’s historic fast. After a string of such meetings I was inducted as a member of the Party’s Core Committee and I was the youngest among all the members. In the meantime, my friends and juniors in my college elected me as the General Secretary and thereafter President of the Students’ Union. The period between the year 2008 and May 2011 was spent in a state of madness. Family, friends and social life took a back seat while I and my friends/associates strived together towards the sole goal of toppling the Communist Government.

 

Tell us about your years in Jogesh Chandra Choudhuri Law College (Calcutta University). What made your journey at JCCLC worth it?

My studentship in JCCLC had started off like any other student freshly out of school. The 1st year of college was mostly consumed by fun & frolic. But the shady elections of 2005 planted the seeds of anti-incumbency in me and my friends. From then onwards, a lot of time used to be spent behind political activities. Such political activities continued till my final year in college in the year 2010. When my father came to learn about my active participation in Students’ Union, he didn’t tell me anything probably because a latent rider of good results at the end of each session played in my favour. Thus, studying hard became a ticket to an unlimited time in Students’ politics. But I was never a believer of year-round studies in law courses. Instead I spent some 20-30 days studying before exams and luckily that saw me through with palatable marks. While many of my batch-mates relied upon private tuitions during the five year course, never did I think of any such tuition for myself. What our teachers taught in class and my sister’s notes from Hazra Law College was enough for me. In fact, our Companies Law & Tax teacher Dr. N. Bhattacharya lent his free time and cleared out our doubts in Taxation Laws after college hours in the college library. In the same breath, I would like to say that our Constitution Teacher Mrs. A. Kundu is probably the best in Kolkata. Whatever I have learnt in her Constitution classes still remains a reference point from time to time. The others whom I didn’t specifically name have an equal contribution to the little knowledge I have.

There is something in the air of JCCLC which is unmatched as compared to any other college. The closed doors between 7-11am breed a feeling of family and camaraderie. The fact that we had nowhere to go once inside the college premises made us dependant on and habituated with each other. I not only give credit to JCCLC, it’s teachers, staffs and students for my legal acumen but also for my much important social knowledge and administrative vis-a-vis leadership skills.

 

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What were your plans after graduation? Did you consider joining the Civil Services ever? Which career options were available to you as a fresh graduate?

As I said, my plan since childhood was to practise law. I never wavered on that until I actually joined practice in December 2010. In the meantime I did consider every other job/profession/business but honestly the legal profession stood out every single time. In fact, in my Higher Secondary I had opted for Science so that my options post school remain open for every other field, in case I decide not to study law. As far as Civil Service is concerned I never thought I will be able to crack those UPSC or WBCS examinations.

As a fresh graduate several career options were available like MBA and LL.M as far as higher education is concerned. Management with law is still considered to be a lethal combination. Other job oriented options included Law Firm, LPO, BPO or private practice. While I chose the latter one, several other friends and juniors opted for the other three and are doing well.

 

As a fresher just out of college, how did you manage to get a mentor for yourself? How important do you think a mentor still is in the arena of litigation?

Coming from a legal background, I knew several other Advocates whom I could join. Since I used to go to Court sometimes, during my college days, I had my own favourites as well. But choosing a mentor wasn’t quite planned. In the latter part of Part V, I used to attend my father’s chamber but sometime in July 2010, I was badly reprimanded by my father for some reason and my rage made me decide that I wouldn’t go to his chamber anymore. But since I wanted to practise, attending someone’s chamber was important and necessary. While I was fuming with anger, my current senior’s name came to my mind and I rushed to Mr. Kishore Datta’s chamber at Dhakuria. He used to be my father’s junior since 1991/92 till around 2000. His long standing association with our family makes him a part of my family too. Thus, on 16th July 2010 I landed up in his chamber and said “ কাল থেকে আমি এখানেই আসব ” (I shall join here tomorrow).  In his usual unperturbed way he said, “Why from tomorrow? Take the D. D. Basu (on Constitution) and start today.”

In our generation, many choose to work without a mentor or without joining someone’s chamber because they must be comfortable that way. But as far as I am concerned I will not be able to manage. Though at times when the matter or situation so demands, I appear before the Courts alone, I am extremely dependant on my senior and will like to continue under him as long as I can. In the past four and a half years of my practice under him I have never been able to satisfy my senior with my work, but I believe my perseverance & endeavour to satisfy him with my work is my path to knowledge and success.

 

What were your areas of interest during your graduation? How did you go about developing expertise and knowledge in these areas?

During graduation there were several favourites. Some because of the teachers who taught the subject while some because of the slim books. Arbitration, Constitution, C.P.C. and Environmental Laws are some favourites I remember from my graduation days. But interest brings with it disinterest. And one subject which totally repelled me was Intellectual Properties. As a matter of fact in one Academic Session I did not attend a single IP class. When my attendance in other six subjects was 80%, I had 0% in IP Classes. But such absenteeism was calculated so that I was not debarred to sit for the final examinations.

 

After your graduation in 2010, you started practising at Calcutta High Court. What influenced your decision to work in litigation?

Since the inception I wanted to be in litigation and not in some legal/government job. I always found a desk-job too monotonous and clerical. This is strictly my personal opinion and not meant to hurt or demean anyone. In an advocate’s career no two cases can be similar, just like finger-prints or human ears. The possibility of waking up to a new challenge or going to sleep with a new thought, a new understanding of law, drives me to work day in and day out. Such possibilities are remote in desk jobs. Law firms may provide such an opportunity if one lands up in a litigation oriented law firm, but being dictated by someone is not my cup of tea. And I have always been a bad employee, since the days of part-time-jobs at an event management company. The day I had quit, was probably the happiest day in the life of my boss, Mr. S. Kamal.

 

A lot of law students prefer corporate jobs over a career in litigation. What is your take on this?

The corporate sector has no relation to litigation as such. Experience in the corporate sector will not lead anyone anywhere in litigation. Litigation is a different ball game altogether. Corporate skills don’t help when the Judges ask you a question of law out of nowhere. Learning to deal with the Seniors and Judges in court needs a different expertise which takes years. Like all roads lead to Rome, all legal matters lead to Courts. I prefer to be at the juncture of certainty than at the point of probability.

 

How is the work atmosphere at the Calcutta High Court presently? What have you faced as a fresh graduate?

Calcutta High Court is like my second home; advocates there my family. No matter how bad the work atmosphere is, I shall always find it rosy. Rather, I believe if 7000-8000 Advocates can come and make a living there, the work atmosphere cannot be that bad. But then again, there is no standard to measure the same. It is as good as your perception and as bad as your negativity. True, that there is room for improvement. Advocates here areunder paid as compared to Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai or Bangalore. There is also a chord of gender-bias. The ratio of male to female advocates is still appalling and the ratio of male to female Judges is not encouraging as well.

Life as a fresher is still as tough as it was two or four decades back. But back then, a fresh graduate had no option whatsoever to advertise and/or market himself which is readily available these days; courtesy: the social media. The concept of Public Relations was less important back then as compared to this day. Though I myself am quite fresh in litigation, the only advice to the even fresher graduates venturing into the field of litigation will be to be honest and dedicated. It is not about pedigree or clientele. It’s about discipline, dedication and delivery. If one chooses to work in the field of Litigation, one must come to court regularly, whether he/she has work or not. Coming to Court regularly fetches work by itself. Secondly, one must observe. In the field of litigation no one has the time to teach anyone else hands on. One has to learn by himself and for that one has to observe; not only big or high profile matters or Counsels, but everything under the sun. One has to observe the presentation of facts, the law, the other Court-crafts, how one deals with the clients, how one delivers. The domain is so huge that even after five years, I sometimes feel that my learning is worth only of a day. I sometimes feel it was only yesterday that I joined and that leads me to the third most important thing, patience. One has to be patient; patient at every juncture. One has to be patient when there is no work, one has to be patient when there is ample amount of work. One has to be patient in victory as well as in defeat. Lack of patience has driven several fresh graduates out of Court and I do not want the readers of this blog to face the same. Thus, the conclusion I would like to draw is that litigation is not difficult but very time consuming.

 

What should be the way forward for legal education in India? Doesn’t legal education need a restructuring?

I do not agree with such a notion. As per my understanding, two industries shall never face the bear, one is religion and the other is legal. To quote my senior Mr. Datta, “This is one place (to be read as legal industry) which has maximum revenue but zero production”.

The process of legal education is two-folds. One, which is being imparted to law students and the other, which should be imparted to other citizens, lay men, as we may call them. The first, needs to be fortified by current affairs and up-to-date case laws. Not only the Advocates but also the teachers must be well versed with the recent judgements of the Hon’ble Supreme Court and concerned Hon’ble High Courts. A habit must be inculcated amongst the students to be philosophical about law and not just mechanically memorise the statutes. New understanding, new thoughts, out-of-the-box ideas must be given a channel towards public and/or expert gaze. The second, process must be simplified and made accessible. Spreading legal awareness is of utmost importance and the same must be done, with honesty and sincerity and not for the sake of doing it. It is sad that even today, across the world, people have family physicians but not family-lawyers. Law must be made affordable and accessible to everyone.

The above is irrespective of my dissent in calling legal profession an industry. The lack of processing raw materials and manufacture of goods disallows the legal profession to be termed as an industry.

 

Do you think having a legal background is a great advantage to flourish in this profession?

It is a myth according to me. Having a legal background is more of a disadvantage than an advantage.

First of all, when one joins the profession one doesn’t only inherit friends but also foes. For no reason a fresher is thrown into work politics by some seniors who are double the fresher’s age. In our social structure, an Abhishekh is expected to give the same performance like a Amitabh Bachchan in his very first movie and an Arjun is expected to make the Indian Team and score a century in his very first match like a Sachin Tendulkar. The constant comparison, the loads of expectation and the unending attempts to be pulled down is very unnerving. But as I said, patience & hard work is the only cure all these not so pleasant situations.

At the same time, having access to my father’s library at wee hours of the night or early hours in the morning as per requirement is definitely an advantage. In a place where everyone is for himself, having someone your own whom you can trust and/or rely upon blindly is definitely a psychological advantage if not anything else. It gives one an internal strength to push through the odds.

Since I have not flourished in the profession yet, I do not know what it takes to flourish, but what I have learned is that being honest and dedicated fetches you work. It is a continual cycle where you have to be honest and dedicated to receive work and to do the work to the best of your ability for the next and thus the cycle goes on.

 

What is your workday like? Are there new challenges every day or did work fall into a predictable pattern?

My workday generally starts at 7.30 in the morning and ends according to the work pressure but definitely not before 12 at night. The hours in between are dotted with little naps, rest and ‘adda’. But in my five years of practice in Court I have not considered my work as “work”. It is more of a hobby than a profession. Even during holidays or days off when I have nothing else to do I go to my chamber and sit down with a journal. My legal profession is my favourite pastime. Everything else seems like work to me. To me, nothing can be more interesting than talking to my clients, drafting new matters, preparing for matters on the day prior to every working day or just reading journals in the vacuum. I reiterate that every matter is different from the other. Every matter requires some other research. Even if two matters are same, the experience gathered from the first makes me research and go to the depth in the second.

 

What are the difficulties one may face starting out? How difficult would you say it is to build a reputed practice?

Since I love every bit of my profession I do not think there have been many difficulties apart from those stated above. I have enjoyed work, as well as the phases without work. I am a learner. When I have work, I learn through the work, when I do not have much work, I learn randomly. When I started, I neither had any expectations of income nor did I have any expectation of work. Everything fell into place with time. But to build a reputation, it takes a lot of hard work. One needs to decide how he wants to be known. Since I could not fathom how much knowledge I would be able to gather, I decided to be known as being honest. And I have built on it each day. I have tried to remain dedicated and deliver work as and when asked for. I do not know for sure how many exact years it takes to build a clientele. It may take 10 years to have one returning client or it may take 1 second to lose 100 clients. All these variables of income, expenditure, clients, etc are actually immaterial at the end of the day. Working with honesty and integrity is of primary importance. I repeat, building a profession, a reputation is not difficult, it’s just time consuming.

 

Lastly, what would be your parting message for our readers?

I do not think I am someone important enough to be interested in. But I have taken this process of interview to remember who I am. Amid a lot of work pressure and various events in life, we often forget who we are. This interview turned out to be a good deal of introspection and was a good way to remember what I knew about myself and learn what I didn’t.

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