Litigation Skills

What to tell your clients and when – Learn the essential litigation skill of communicating with clients

An advocate’s career is not all about communicating an argument effectively with a judge or assisting a senior colleague. Building lasting relationships with clients is almost equally important. Since legal education, unfortunately, provides very little help in navigating this part of an advocate’s professional life, we asked a few experienced advocates whether they had any advice for young advocates who are commencing their professional journey. This is what they had to say.


Litigation Skills

[Video] What traits are necessary for a career in litigation?

Apart from the necessary skills and the knowledge required to build and present a case before a judge, everybody knows that hard work is essential for a successful legal practice in the courts. But what else? Are there any other “x-factor” ingredients that successful litigators have but not many others have? We put this question to some of the brightest young minds working in Delhi’s courts. Watch the videos below to find out what attributes of character are necessary for a career in litigation.

So to sum up, a junior lawyer needs to have (a) the fortitude to handle long unpredictable hours, the financial uncertainty, and the mental and physical exhaustion of the early years in the profession; (b) a love for law and the profession; and (c) the skill to network and bring in work.


Out of the courts and into the social process – the careers of Harish Narasappa and Amba Salelkar


As a fresh law graduate, Harish Narassappa went to court to be handed a file numbered 1 of 1956. He thought to himself that it must have been a mistake – it must be 1 of 1996, but no, the number was right. Such was the extent of delays in the judicial process, he learnt. In this post, we meet two lawyers who picked up their first legal instincts inside courts – Harish Narasappa and Amba Salelkar – both having taken law degrees at NLSIU, the former in the mid-nineties, the latter in the mid-2000s. They remind us of Ramanathan’s sustained engagement with the question of law and poverty in diverse theatres, but these two lawyers built institutional edifices in furtherance of their queries about law’s role in the social process.

Having completed two stints of corporate practice, in London and in Mumbai, Narasappa returned to his hometown of Bangalore in 2005 and rented a space where he would begin an office. At this point, his vision was to do policy-related work. Two of his friends, Siddharth Raja and Roopa Doraswamy, also alumni of the National Law School of India University, had also quit their jobs, and asked if they could use the space. Over time, this space emerged as a corporate law firm. Their emphasis was on cultivating a space where young lawyers would be recruited and nurtured, where there was gender equity, humane working hours, and so on. The firm, eventually named Samvad Partners, grew over time to have a presence in four Indian cities, but Narasappa’s earlier desire to engage in policy matters had remained unfulfilled.

He started Daksh India in 2006. An idea initially, it took a couple of years to be registered. As a defining question of Daksh, Narasappa and his colleagues were interested in testing the efficacy of ‘democratic institutions’.

“…lot of people do things which makes change visible – volunteer time for a school, give some computers. I wanted to intervene at an institutional level…”

In sheer numbers, India carries an arrogant epithet of the largest democracy, but it is a democracy where the citizen’s capacity is numbed in the five-year period between elections. Further, he may have some form of accountability from elected representatives, but he doesn’t have the same from bureaucrats or other government agencies who may affect his well-being. Often, there is no recourse or clarificatory procedure available unless there has been a violation of a legal right, for which he can go to the courts. He does not know what the stance of his MP or MLA is on important issues like the Lokpal Bill, how he is going to argue in the house, and what his representative’s performance in the house has been like.

Harish Narasappa

Daksh and Narassapa designed a survey, which initially ran in Karnataka, but in the past two years, in other states such as Rajasthan and Bihar as well. The survey results were reflected in ‘scorecards’ for MLAs. Before the 2013 Karnataka assembly elections, leading Kannada newspapers carried their surveys. The representatives who had performed well on the scorecards were happy, those who hadn’t, claimed that the right criteria had not been taken into account. There was great support from people who said that they appreciated knowing these things as they went in to vote. Daksh’s intervention was to make the electoral process more effective by making crucial information available in the public domain, in local languages, for citizens to be able to exercise the franchise effectively. Daksh’s new intervention – the Rule of Law project – addresses the issue of judicial delay. With it, Narasappa attempts to strengthen the bridge between the two legs of his practice – in law and in public policy.

Amba Salelkar moved from a litigating career in a Mumbai criminal law firm to working in disability law and policy, when she quit her Mumbai criminal law career and moved to Chennai to join the Inclusive Planet Centre for Disability Law and Policy. Her work in this realm concerned large sections of the public who suffered physical disability themselves or were caregivers or associates of others who suffered disability, legislators, law implementers, non-legal NGOs, and disability professionals.

After the switch, she could no longer take for granted the literacy in legalese on the part of the large and diverse constituency who were now her colleagues and associates. The other thing she began to get used to was the slow and seemingly non-eventful nature of policy work, involving long hours of deskwork and academic research. Initially, Salelkar wasn’t particularly interested in disability issues. It was the conviction and energies of Rahul Cherian, another older alumnus of the National Law School of India University that drew her in. She started working with Cherian on a shadow report on mental health law in India, something that interested her as she had received treatment for mental health concerns in her own life.

Amba Salelkar

Amba Salelkar

Rahul Cherian envisaged the Inclusive Planet Centre for Disability Law and Policy as an offshoot of sorts from discussions which were taking place on The latter was a social networking website which was accessible for persons with disabilities, and it was through this that Rahul was exposed to the gap in policy and legislative interventions on behalf of persons with disabilities. Rahul was heavily involved in the “right to read” movement, which was seeking an exception to copyright law to allow for published material to be converted into accessible formats, and found that there was a lot more to be achieved when it came to advocacy under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities….”

After Cherian’s death in February 2013, she came to lead the organisation. Apart from work in the legislative domain, trying to influence bureaucrats and legislators, Salelkar’s advocacy operations take her to teaching disability law to a series of concerned groups. Her objective is to breathe life into a legal imagination of a person with disability as a citizen, a professional, a worker, a consumer, and a service-receiver. She attempts to equip people like caregivers with tools from the Constitution (like fundamental rights) that can be used to their benefit. For instance, understanding the right to equality and the vast jurisprudence under Article 21 (right to life) and other constitutional law principles including the tradition of courts having used international conventions as the Supreme Court did in the Vishaka judgment, can be used for strategic litigation.

“Some people are fascinated by the law….Some people are jaded. They say the law promised us so much, especially with the 1995 Act, and it never delivered… My job is give them a realistic perspectives on the things that a legal avenue can offer. I don’t want to give people too much hope….My job is to tell them you may be right, but it doesn’t mean you will get a judgment in your favour….”

Salelkar sees her role as having live intersections with other rights-based movements – especially, queer and feminist movements, recognising the absence of support within the legal and judicial system for a category of person that does not match the standardised legal imagination of the ‘normal’ person. Disturbing the ‘normal’ is at the core of her long journey within and without the law.

We will continue talking about Narasappa and Salelkar as we look at their institutional energies in a larger ecosystem of policy reform.

(Atreyee Majumder is an anthropologist. She teaches at the School of Development, Azim Premji University.)

Human Rights

How digital activists got the European Parliament to vote their way on net neutrality

joemcnameeRecently, the European Parliament voted to stop internet service providers from charging for preferential access to their networks, something known as a “net-neutrality” law. The legislative proposal is also notable because of the five-year long campaign that preceded it. We spoke with Joe McNamee, the Executive Director of European Digital Rights, a Brussels-based advocacy group, about this campaign. He said that main reason behind the success of the campaign was the co-ordination between professional Brussels-based activists and the people around Europe who were mobilised and empowered to speak to their parliamentarians.

“It is very difficult be successful as a civil society organisation if you rely exclusively on professional activism in the capital because you need the weight of the populace behind you and  you will never get anywhere if you just rely on public outcries because the compromises that are made between politicians will not necessarily reflect the key nuances of what you’re trying to deliver. You really need to have both professional activists and a wider campaign across society.”

IPHe added that digital activists needed to develop a more sophisticated response to the public relations machinery of the telecom companies. “There is a need to engage the press in a far more efficient way because the big lobbies have their press lobbies already in place. There is a risk that if a misleading version of events is going through the press, that you’re not going to have as much of a public outcry.”

Human Rights

Good human rights lawyering at the trial courts

Manish_goodhumanrightslawyeringEven though India’s constitutional courts have played and continue to play a significant role in the development of the country’s human rights jurisprudence, they are only a small fraction of the judicial machinery. The trial courts, from the district and sessions courts to the courts of magistrates and civil judges, are the cogs that keep the system running. Often, claims are adjudicated locally to enforce statutory remedies and courts have to hear matters relating to bail, forest rights, labour rights, land, extra-judicial executions, caste atrocities, sexual violence, and many more subjects. Mostly, the violations are not egregious enough to necessitate the intervention of a constitutional court. Rather, they are the “everyday harms” that Galanter refers to (below). Moreover, the orders of the constitutional courts have little value till they are implemented at the grassroots level, for which trial courts play a critical role.


Advocates play a key role in ensuring litigants — particularly those is vulnerable positions — are able to access this system. To understand how human rights are enforced and adjudicated in India, it is important to understanding the crucial space of trial litigation, and for that, this column will survey the courts as well as the advocates who practice in this space — who they are, what they do, and what they can do better.

The fora

Section 30 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 empowers every state government to notify designated sessions courts as “Human Rights Courts” for providing speedy trial in cases of offences involving violations of human rights. As of 2011, however, these courts had only been operational in West Bengal. Elsewhere, human rights continue to be litigated before regular courts. Specific human rights claims may also be raised before the National Human Rights Commission, the State Human Rights Commissions, and quasi-judicial fora comprising officials of the executive such as sub-divisional magistrates and forest officers.

The advocates


The advocate’s role is critical in the effective enforcement of rights. While civil society activists and organisations play an important role in organising human rights movements, advocates are better placed to articulate causes in the language of the law and obtain judicial remedies. Intimately connected to the client and the cause, human rights advocates can also bring out the political in the law, using it both as a means of obtaining remedies as well as a rallying point for a cause. As Kannabiran points out, this often involves creating awareness around an issue and sensitising the courts about the problems that they may not be aware of. Human rights lawyering in this sense, is as much about creating and sustaining movements as about ensuring justice in individual cases. Both these aspects are anchored very strongly in values of justice and fraternity that flow from the Constitution and international human rights treaties such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In this way, the process of human rights lawyering offers a way of reclaiming the law for us, the people. It uses a moral and ethical framework located within the Constitution of India that is also supported by international instruments.

Crystal Eastman, an American lawyer, was among the co-founders of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920.
Crystal Eastman, an American lawyer, was among the co-founders of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920.

Some of the most prominent examples of human rights lawyering internationally come from the American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) in the United States. Through over eight decades of its existence, the ACLU has used a combination of strategic litigation and public mobilisation to fight for the protection of human rights guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States of America. A number of organisations have been involved in human rights lawyering in India, including the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, the Human Rights Law Network, the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee, the Centre for Social Justice, the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association and many more, both at the constitutional courts as well as at the grassroots level. Further, several independent advocates and human rights activists have been tirelessly — and often in the face of stiff opposition and even threats to their lives — advancing the cause of human rights lawyering at the trial courts across the country.

Better human rights lawyering at the trial courts

A number of issues are particular to human rights lawyering at the trial courts. The remedies available through trial courts are different from those available at the constitutional courts. Trial courts, for instance, do not have the power to issue writs but have important statutory powers under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and other statutes. The techniques and strategies of advocates at these courts and the challenges they face reflect these differences.
SexualHarassmentAtTheWorkplaceMOOC2As with lawyering anywhere, mentorship at the bar and the ability to network with other lawyers doing similar work, are invaluable to improving the standard of human rights lawyering at the trial courts. Institutional help in the form of NGOs and similar organisations, also make a difference to the extent and effectiveness of interventions made by human rights advocates. Documenting these practices through interviews with advocates involved in human rights lawyering at trial courts across the country, is expected to initiate useful conversations and expand the collective body of knowledge on this area.

While there is a fair amount of literature on human rights lawyering in terms of writ remedies and public interest litigation at the constitutional courts, the trial court space has not been fully mapped. The results of a pioneering study across India by the Alternative Law Forum as part of their Human Rights Lawyering Project are eagerly awaited. Given that the several human rights movements in India do not always engage with each other and that a “community” of human rights advocates does not fully exist, efforts to network them and document learning experiences are critical to the advancement of human rights lawyering. It is hoped that this column will bridge some of these gaps and contribute to the growth of human rights lawyering at the trial courts.
(Manish is a legal researcher based in Delhi.)


– B.N. Kirpal et al (eds.), Supreme but not Infallible: Essays in Honour of the Supreme Court of India (Oxford University Press, 2004).

– Jayanth Krishnan, Lawyering for a Cause and Experiences from Abroad, 94(2) California Law Review 575 (2006).

– Justice P. Sathasivam, Role of Courts in Protection of Human Rights, speech at the Tamil Nadu Judicial Academy (2012).

– K.G. Kannabiran, A One in a Century Rights Activist, 44(46) Economic and Political Weekly 8 (2009).

– Marc Galanter, The Study of the Indian Legal Profession, 3 Law and Society Review 201 (1968).

– Ruth Cowan, Women’s Rights through Litigation: An Examination of the American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights Project, 8 Columbia Human Rights Law Review 373 (1976-1977).

– Usha Ramanathan, Human Rights in India: A Mapping, (2001).