Corporate Litigation Skills

Declaring Independence Part 2: Sourcing Work for your Independent Practice

sourcing work

Declaring Independence  is a series by Tishampati Sen, an Advocate-on-Record who quit his job at a top-tier law firm to start his own practice. Setting up one’s own practice at a relatively young age is a challenge, albeit one that can have great rewards. Every month, Tishampati will look at an important aspect of going independent and have useful tips and advice for young lawyers who just want to break free! Read the previous post here.

I knew at the time of taking my first steps towards independent practice, that one of the formidable challenges in front of me would be of generating enough work to make a living. One of my greatest apprehensions at the time of making the move was that I might have to sit idle for many months before people would actually entrust with work. From the very beginning, therefore, I associated with and assisted eminent senior counsel and other advocates in their work so as to be ‘in – practice’ even while my independent work gathered momentum

But from very early on, in fact even before I had completely quit the firm that I was a part of, I had started pitching for work and trying to impress upon people the fact that a new hotshot lawyer was soon going to be available to take care of all their legal needs.


One of the key questions that people would ask me is “so what kind of work do you do?” and my immediate response would be “Everything”. But invariably the person would continue to look at me expectantly waiting for me to say something more, before finally nodding and uttering a dismissive “good”. But I didn’t know a better answer at the time. I was actually preparing myself to do all sorts of legal work. I had both transactional as well as dispute resolutions experience and intended to do both kinds of work in the future as well. Over a period of time, immediately after my “Everything”, I decided to add, “I do both litigation as well as transactional work” to fill the awkward silence. But to my surprise I was still met with a glazed look.

One of my more experienced colleagues heard my response one day and decided to rescue me. He let me in on a little secret. “Branding is important. People don’t like to believe that ‘everything’ is possible. Give them a boundary and a framework. When you give them your limitations, your capabilities also become believable; and if you haven’t discovered your limitations yet, invent them.”

This is one of the most important and beautiful lessons in human psychology for me. I am not sure if I completely believed it at the time, but the next time some one asked about the kind of work I do, my answer was a little more tempered. I still told them that I do everything but I also added an ‘except…’ and told them one or two things that I don’t do; or what I haven’t done yet – but was willing to do if the opportunity presented itself. Surprisingly, there were many more people now nodding and moving forward with the conversation. In fact, there were even some who would discount my ‘limitation’ and say “Yes, but after all it’s only another branch of law. If you study it, I’m sure you’ll pick it up.” 


There could be a few factors that could govern the kind of matters/work that one may want to source and take up at this stage:

1. Streams: There are some who, like me, enjoy both streams of practice and therefore may actively look to do all sorts of work in both transactional–advisory practice, as well as in litigation. In fact from my experience, the learnings in one could even help your develop your skills in the other. For example, the litigation experience and the understanding of the courts and the processes involved has helped me develop a different perspective on the language used in contracts. I now have an understanding that clauses that may seem air–tight in language may be looked at in a completely different context in court. As such, the advice on the transactional side is now more pragmatic than theoretical. Similarly the experience on the transactional side helps in grasping complex transactions better and may, therefore, allow one to articulate the issues involved much better in court.

However, there are also those who would much rather focus on any one stream (and within that, a sub-stream) to be able to build a brand and expertise in the subject. One cannot deny that in this field where a client’s interest and sometimes life is at stake, how the world perceives you may become relevant. Some time back when a friend needed legal representation for a family member who had unfortunately been tangled up in criminal proceedings, he was very clear that he wanted a ‘pure’ criminal lawyer. Not someone who also practiced criminal law. Similarly in sensitive matters such as divorce etc., parties may be more comfortable with an advocate who shows herself to have expertise in that field.

2. Forum of Practice: This is more relevant for the litigation side of the practice, as often advocates may also target work keeping the forum in mind. There are those who may have a wider network outside the city/state, as such it may make sense to consider appellate forums. The choice of the forum could also be impacted by various other considerations such as the kind of work that one enjoys (trial matters, versus consumer matters, tax etc.), the clientele typically associated with a particular forum, the regularity of proceedings in the forum, or simply what interests you more etc. Here again there could be the debate for specialisation versus exploration. I know of many young advocates who have focused on the practice in a few particular forums. Over a period of time they have developed a better understanding of the processes and the requirements in the registry and are able to better fathom the tendency and mood of the bench. These advocated then become much more in demand in these particular fora. However, on the flip side one may want to practice in various fora and over a much longer period have a much wider presence. In fact some might argue that having matters in various fora and the thrill of appearing before different judges with different opposing counsel is what makes the litigation practice exciting.

3. Realistic Evaluation of Reference of Work: Another perspective to keep in mind, while considering the kind of work that one may want to attract, is what would make sense in terms of being able to develop clientele. For example, as a young advocate it may make sense to spend as much time observing and assisting on trial matters, consumer matters, divorces etc., since the potential to have this nature of matters being referred to you by individual clients is much higher when on your own.

Even on the transaction front, it may make sense to initially focus on the kind of work that could lead to repeat requests and referrals by clients. For example focus could be on the issues facing start–ups that have great need for legal advice but may not have the budget to approach the established and eminent legal practitioners. Focusing on the individuals or smaller business units in the beginning may be a prudent starting point. 


A common and popular advice seems to be that a junior advocate must be willing to take whatever work comes his way. Saying no to any work, no matter how tedious or boring it might seem, is almost sacrilegious. It makes sense of course – you must be willing to take the good with the bad, and only when you have had a varied and diverse experience can you even begin to identify your own unique strengths and weaknesses and likes and dislikes. In fact, a bit of a push and pressure may even help develop character and create the mettle to take up challenges. So the general idea is that one should never say no to work, and once accepted one must figure out the capacity and the wherewithal to handle the same.

However, there was one person who gave me contrary advice, which also made a lot of sense. This gentleman who has a thriving criminal practice, told me, over a cup of coffee, “it is equally important to curb your enthusiasm.” His point was that at the beginning of one’s independent practice, a junior advocate/lawyer must focus on work as much as self–development. “Eventually you have to start keeping in mind the balance–sheet, and focus on managing your office. Things like the supply of coffee for clients, printer cartridges, wages, etc., also start taking up your time. So value this time in the beginning. Now is the time to develop the lawyer within. Keep the businessman waiting for a while. Appreciate that since for now there is less work, you should read the law for the sake of reading the law. Sooner or later work will find you.”

He also warned me that taking up more than can be handled in the beginning could be more detrimental than not having enough work. If you tell a client frankly that you may not be able to handle his work, you may lose her/him temporarily. But servicing a client badly could lead to the loss of not just that client but many future clients as well. He called it “poisoning the line”, which had a nice dramatic ring to it and so it has stuck with me.

To close off this piece, I would like to remind you of what I had said in the beginning of this series: I am not qualified to give you advice as to your specific way forward. My only aim is to share my experiences and the views that others have selflessly and candidly shared with me. So, choose the viewpoint that suits you and your temperament best. See you next time!

Tishampati Sen

Tishampati Sen is an Advocate–on–Record  of the Supreme Court of India. He worked with one of the premier law firms of the country (in corporate transactions as well as dispute resolution) for many years before deciding to take the plunge of independent practice. He appears primarily before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, Delhi High Court and the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.


The law according to Tom Hagen

By Vrinda Maheshwari

It might seem ironic that The Godfather movies contain lessons for lawyers, given that they glorify the fact that its protagonists are above the law. But as Tom Hanks says in You’ve Got MailThe Godfather has lessons for everybody. We can learn a lot from Tom Hagen, the original mafia lawyer played to perfection by Robert Duvall in the first two films of The Godfather trilogy.

Tom Hagen is the consigliere of the Corleone family. In Italy, consigliere has a technical meaning, loosely translating to the director of a corporation. It is largely due to Mario Puzo’s characterisation of Tom Hagen and its subsequent popularisation in the media that the word has come to mean lawyer or trusted advisor. Interestingly, he is never avvocato (lawyer); he is consigliere (advisor). The character is said to be based on two real-life personalities – Frank DeSimone, who began as a lawyer but ended as a mafia boss in Los Angeles, and Joseph Gallo, who was the consigliere to the Gambino family. But his character seems too complex to be an amalgamation of just two messed up people. We see him at the beginning of The Godfather, carefully handling the guests who come to confer with the Don at his daughter’s wedding. He advises and assists the Corleone family as we witness their ups and downs, from the rise and fall of Vito Corleone, the Don, and through the trials and tribulations of Michael Corleone, the Don’s youngest son.

Joseph Gallo. Image here and on article banner originally published at
Joseph Gallo. Image here and on article banner originally published at

Orphaned when he was ten, Thomas Hagen would have spent a life of destitution, had he not saved the Don’s eldest son, Sonny Corleone’s life in a brawl. Sonny takes him home and Don Corleone raises Tom as one of his own children. After Genco Abbandando dies, Hagen takes over as the consigliere, despite his Irish-German ancestry (which made him an anomaly in the all-Sicilian mafia). He is constantly reminded of his outsider status, but rises to the top on the basis of his merit – surely a worthy parable for those of us who are venturing into the often nepotistic world of litigation.

Tom Hagen occupies a mysterious middle ground in The Godfather trilogy. He is well versed in the business dealings of the family and often handles them, and at the same time is the first one to get left out. It can be argued that this lack of involvement was strategic, so that he could be “just a lawyer” and plead plausible deniability in case he needed to. The fact remains that his ambiguous position – both in the criminal organisation and in the Corleone family – is one of the best-orchestrated bits in both the book and the movie. Compare him to Michael: both start off as outsiders, but Michael settles right in by the end of the first movie, while Tom remains, to the end, the perpetual outsider.

One of the most poignant scenes in the film is when Don Vito Corleone is shot, and Tom Hagen is trying to control Sonny. The man he considers his father has just been brutally attacked, but he must remain calm, in order to keep the Family in order. It is of course debatable whether such stoicism is commendable in a lawyer; passionate histrionics might sway a judge. In India, where the practice of law requires written rules of civility, and thinly veiled insults are common in the court rooms, the world of The Godfather presents the alternative in Tom Hagen.

Consider his negotiating skills in alternate dispute resolution. He is always cautious, but never irresolute. When he is sent to convince Jack Woltz to give the Don’s godson a lead role in the studio’s next film, he is polite and suave. He listens to insult after insult from Woltz, responding merely by changing the terms of the offer. And when the verbal negotiation does not work, the response is swift and ruthless; he cuts off the head of Khartoum, the prize stud in Woltz’s stable worth many millions of dollars. Efficient and effective.

Hagen also teaches us the wisdom of adapting with the times. In the second movie, when Michael moves to Nevada and removes Hagen from all the illegal activities, he remains the Corleones’ lawyer and handles the casinos to ensure that the family is always well funded. Tom Hagen faces the situation with equanimity and displays his versatility.

Don Corleone says, in Mario Puzo’s novel, that a lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns. It was one of Puzo’s favourite lines in the book, but was removed from Francis Ford Coppola’s screenplay because Marlon Brando thought it was too preachy. Perhaps that is why Tom Hagen is not given as much importance as was due to the character.

A career in law is difficult enough without having to descend to animosity. Learn from the suave Tom Hagen. When the hours at work are getting to you, sit back, relax and put on The Godfather. As Clemenza says, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”


Law Schools Lounge Uncategorized

Interview: Aditya Sudarshan, author of A Nice Quiet Holiday

This interview with Aditya Sudarshan, a multiple gold medallist from N.L.S.I.U., was first published in March 2009, a month after his first novel, A Nice Quiet Holiday, hit the stores.


In 2007, Aditya Sudarshan did something pretty unusual for a graduating multiple gold medallist from N.L.S.I.U. He decided to give up the fancy salaries that come with joining some of the top law firms in India and the U.K. and even the option of getting a Masters degree from some the finest Universities in the United Kingdom or the United States. Instead, Aditya took up criminal trial litigation in New Delhi – shuttling between the Tees Hazari and Patiala House courts. Nine months later, he was to make an even more unusual decision – to quit the practice of law to become an author. His first novel, A Nice Quiet Holiday, published by Westland Books, was released last month and is now available at leading bookstores.

A traditional murder mystery, the story follows Justice Harish Shinde who is on holiday in Bhairavgarh – a tranquil little Himalayan town, with his law clerk Anant, and living at the house of Shikhar Pant. Within a few days of their arrival, the tranquillity of the setting is disturbed by violent opposition to the alleged obscenity in a report on AIDS – authored by the Mittals, who are also guests at the same house. Things take a turn for the worse when Pant’s cousin – a noted writer and defender of the report, is found stabbed to death. Anant soon finds himself in the unusual position of being counsel to the Mittals in an obscenity trial, and assistant sleuth to Justice Shinde, as the novel moves towards its startling conclusion.

Aditya Sudarshan has participated in book-readings in New Delhi and Bengaluru. Between figuring out the publication of his second novel and working on his third work – a collection of short stories, he spoke with Rainmaker. On the shift from legal practice to writing, he says the only thing he did consciously was to keep his options open. “As a litigating lawyer, you’re always coming across two fundamental elements of fiction – characters, in the form of your clients, and plots, in the form of their troubles. So your raw material is the same – human drama.”

Rainmaker: Most of our readers belong to the Indian legal community. I am sure they would be interested in knowing how a multiple gold-medallist from India’s top institution for legal education decided to take up writing fiction.
Aditya: Yes I guess it is quite a shift. But then there’s no set path to getting into fiction writing anyway. When I was in college, like many people I used to write fiction pieces on the side. At that stage I didn’t think about whether I’d ever be doing it full-time. It was somewhere at the back of my mind, but what I was really considering was a career in litigation. Later I finished this novel, got a contract for it and an idea for another novel, and by then I’d also had nine months experience of litigation. So I was in a position to know which profession suited me better, and that’s when I made the shift. But the whole process was gradual; no single moment of epiphany. The only thing I did do consciously was to keep my options open, and to give myself time to make a decision.

Rainmaker: Was that rare in law school – to keep one’s options open?


Aditya: I actually think it was rare. What usually happens is, for the first three, three-and-a-half years; everyone says they’re keeping their options open. And they are, but it’s easy then, because decision-time is still a while away. As you start to get to the business end of law school and there are recruitment opportunities and jobs and offers flying around, that’s when the pressure to make a quick decision mounts. I think at this stage many people who need more time don’t take it. Not to say that if they’re undecided about their career they should turn down all opportunities, but I think whatever they do take up, it should be very clearly in the spirit of ‘testing the waters’. That takes away some of the pressure of the decision and gives them more space to make a real commitment.

Aditya Sudarshan, author of A Nice Quite Holiday
Aditya Sudarshan, author of A Nice Quite Holiday

Rainmaker: The narrator of your novel, Anant, is law clerk to another major character, Justice Harish Shinde – a New Delhi trial court judge. To me, the relationship between judge and clerk was a very interesting aspect of your novel. Can you tell us about your own experiences as a judicial clerk, and its influence on the relationship between Anant and Justice Shinde.
Aditya: Well the clerkship I did was just a month-and-a-half with a Supreme Court judge, so it was obviously very different from the one described in the book. But the general relationship between the clerk and the judge did strike me as interesting. As a clerk you’re spending most of your day, often including Sundays, at the judge’s office – which is also in the judge’s house – you’re working on his speeches and opinions, brain-storming with him, sometimes you might have a meal with him. And yet in formal terms, the gulf between the two of you is massive – you’re a total novice and he’s a judge. With a hierarchy like that, you can hardly be ‘friends’ or even ‘colleagues’. And yet, given how much one-on-one time you’re spending together, he is likely to become something more personal than just a ‘boss.’ Maybe he starts to feel like a mentor – but maybe the clerk doesn’t want a mentor. So it’s an interesting relationship, because it isn’t clear-cut. It has potential for both conflicts and sympathies. (Which is good material for fiction.)

Rainmaker: The book is structured like the traditional detective novel, when in fact it deals with much more – small-town morality and politics, to begin with. Is there a reason why you chose this structure?

Aditya: Yes, because a detective story naturally involves thinking through a problem, analysing characters and their motivations, and the secrets they might be concealing. It allows a writer to do these things in an open and overt way, which is what I wanted to do. So the way I look at it, it isn’t as though I’m using the structure of a murder mystery as a facade, while really making points about serious issues. The murder mystery itself entails those issues, and hence in the natural course of tackling the mystery I have to tackle them.

Rainmaker: So does this mean that we will see more of the Anant-Justice Shinde team?
Aditya: I hope so. Perhaps not in a novel, but I’d definitely like to write a collection of short mystery stories involving these two.

Rainmaker: Someone once told me that there is a frustrated writer inside every lawyer.
Aditya: I definitely think there’s a connection somewhere. I don’t know if this is true, but my guess is that there’s a disproportionate number of lawyers who have taken up writing, whether full time or part time, as compared to other professionals. There’s Grisham, and there’s Scott Turow who studied at Harvard, and there was John Mortimer of England, who wrote the Rumpole stories. And let’s remember that the young Charles Dickens worked in a lawyer’s office too, wanted at one time to be a barrister, and also put a lot of law into many of his books.


So there’s got to be a connection. It’s not that hard to see it either. At least as a litigating lawyer, you’re always coming across two fundamental elements of fiction- characters, in the form of your clients, and plots, in the form of their troubles. So your raw material is the same – human drama. (Then, of course, the way you treat that material is very different.)

Rainmaker: Did legal education and your brief stint in litigation prepare you for your first novel?
Aditya: In one very minor sense yes, because my novel involves some legal details that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. But more fundamentally, I think legal education probably did help prepare me. Legal education does train you to think in structured terms about human emotions, and you need to be able to do that to plan out a novel. And it’s not as though every course lets you do this. Science and mathematics might encourage incisive thought and the ability to theorise, but they don’t have a human element. The humanities subjects are full of the human element, but I think usually at a more abstract level. Only the law seems to really get down to the level of individual people and their relationships and emotions. Obviously it isn’t direct training for fiction writing- but then what is?


I don’t think my stint in litigation helped so much. I know I just said that litigation exposes you to characters and plots and that’s true, but as you get into the grind of it, it doesn’t give you the luxury to think of them that way. You can’t afford to think through the deeper motivations of your client, because that’s not why he hired you. You have to try and get him his relief.


The other thing about litigation is that its conventions demand that you write in a certain ‘formal’ way and I think that’s often just bad, painful writing. As a fiction writer, you have to take care of your talent. (Maybe that’s why the writer inside the lawyer slowly gets frustrated!)

Rainmaker: So do you see a lot of Indian writing in English to come out of Indian law schools?
Aditya: I do. There is plenty of fiction writing that happens in the law schools. The stumbling block is that law is a professional course and if you follow the natural course of it strictly all the way through, it takes you away from fiction. But if you’re keen enough on writing, then the likelihood is that sooner or later you’re going to do it. I personally know of law school graduates who are writing fiction, or at least actively considering it. And the law schools themselves are still quite young. If I were a betting man I’d bet on this happening.


Litigation Lounge Supreme Court of India

Strike a balance

In his autobiography, Before Memory Fades, Fali S. Nariman wrote:

We demean ourselves and our profession when we resolve to strike work, and (so) paralyse the working of courts, where public cases and causes demand our expertise, intercession and assistance.

Pro-Telengana advocates recently boycotted courts in Andhra Pradesh. The protesting advocates had demanded a 42 per cent quota for advocates from the Telengana region in the appointments to various law officers, such as government pleaders and public prosecutors in courts, as a compensatory measure. After many days of stalemate, the Government finally acceded to the demands. The episode generated sharp and divergent public opinion about the mode of protest.

Andhra Pradesh High Court. Image here and on the article banner by Cephas 405; original image published here. Image published under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 License.
Andhra Pradesh High Court. Image here and on the article banner by Cephas 405; original image published here. Image published under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 License.

When the Supreme Court in Harish Uppal v. Union of India, (2003) 2 SCC 45 was faced with a similar question, it had observed:

It is settled law that it is unprofessional as well as unbecoming for a lawyer who has accepted a brief to refuse to attend Court even in pursuance of a call for strike or boycott by the Bar Association or the Bar Council. It is settled law that Courts are under an obligation to hear and decide cases brought before it and cannot adjourn matters merely because lawyers are on strike.

The Hon’ble Court had also asserted:

Unfortunately strikes and boycott calls are becoming a frequent spectacle. Strikes, boycott calls and even unruly and unbecoming conduct are becoming a frequent spectacle. On the slightest pretence strikes and / or boycott calls are resorted to. The judicial system is being held to ransom. Administration of law and justice is threatened. The rule of law is undermined.

However, a view has been expressed that the observations of the Hon’ble Supreme Court are apt only in situations where a lawful redress is available to remedy injustices. Instances of protest for self-determination almost certainly require special treatment. Without delving into the details and the correctness or otherwise of the pro-Telangana agitation, it has to be said that there is some substance to that view.

It would not be out of place to mention here that the movement for Indian freedom is replete with incidents of boycott of courts by lawyers and freedom fighters. In fact, resolutions adopted by the Indian National Congress during the Non-Cooperation Movement, included the ‘boycott of courts by lawyers and litigants’ on the agenda.

Lawyers are officers of the court and have an overriding professional duty to facilitate the administration of justice. Clearly, the ‘strike weapon’ ought to be employed sparingly and wisely and only as a last option, but each lawyer should decide whether and when to use it according to his or her own ‘political sensibility’.

(Pavan Kumar is an advocate at the High Court of Andhra Pradesh.)

History Lounge

“No man is more adroit in presenting his case” – a reflection on M.A. Jinnah: Part 1

Mohammad Ali Jinnah evokes strong responses in South Asia, and has been cast in a multitude of roles depending on which side of the political line he is viewed from – a master negotiator, a charismatic leader, a cunning politician, a secular liberal, and a conservative reactionary. Few, however, see him as a lawyer, his primary professional training that helped launch his career in public life and shaped both, his political career, and his ideological vision.

Lawyers of course, overwhelmingly dominate the galaxy of political leaders in colonial India. This was partly structural. Professional and middle classes have always played a significant role in republican movements. In British India, law, unlike medicine or engineering, was the only profession that could be practiced without being employed by the colonial government. Jinnah is unique in being amongst the handful of lawyers who became equally successful in both their fields.

A young Jinnah in traditional attire.
A young Jinnah in traditional attire.

Jinnah was born into a Gujarati Khoja Muslim family engaged in trade in Karachi. As a successful trader in British India, Jinnah’s father realised that they had to forge closer links with British traders. It was to learn trade that Jinnah was sent to London. At the age of 15, he began a three-year apprenticeship with the London office of the Graham’s Shipping and Trading Company, a firm that specialised in trading in textiles and port wine. The minutiae of trade did not interest Jinnah, so within a few months of reaching England, he enrolled instead at the Inns of Court to train as a barrister. An apocryphal story suggests that his choice of Lincoln’s Inn was guided by the fact that it listed the Prophet Muhammad’s name over its doors among a list of the world’s greatest lawgivers. Jinnah’s training was purely vocational: he did not have a college education, but he passed his Bar with flying colours, graduating at the age of 19 as the youngest Indian barrister of that time.

From liit's photostream, Flickr. Original at:
From liit’s photostream, Flickr. Original at:

Jinnah returned to Bombay to begin practice at the Bombay Bar on August 24, 1896. The choice of Bombay, instead of his hometown Karachi, was not surprising. Bombay was the leading city of colonial India: it was liberal and cosmopolitan, but perhaps most importantly, was the business capital of India and therefore, the centre of commercial litigation.

Unusually for a lawyer of that period, Jinnah did not begin as a pupil to someone else but started an independent practice. Indian barristers had a hard time building a practice in India, the Indian trained vakils were often hostile and litigants were indifferent to the ‘foreign qualification’. Contrary to popular perception, most Indian law students passed their exams with the help of coaches, and had a limited command over English. While they were versed in English law and procedure, they knew little about the workings of the Indian Penal Code. Moreover, much of the commercial practice was controlled by a monopoly of British solicitor firms, who had their own network of barristers.

Like today, most young lawyers in the 19th century relied on networks of family and kin to get cases. Belonging to a commercial family, it was not surprising that Jinnah’s first case came from home. At the age of 22, he represented his uncle, Ganji Walji, a Khoja merchant who another Khoja merchant had sued for the recovery of Rs.6,790/- due as interest. This litigation, when Jinnah stepped in, was ruining his father’s business.

He did find mentors in Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, a Parsi leading lawyer, and Mr. McPherson, the Advocate General of the state, both of whom allowed Jinnah to access their respective library. McPherson sought to help out a struggling barrister by nominating him to the lower judiciary. In 1900, Jinnah was appointed Third Presidency Magistrate for Bombay, a position that paid Rs.1,500/- a month, and which placed him among a handful of Indians who wielded tremendous executive power and influence. Six months after being appointed, however, Jinnah declined to continue in the position.

While he had built his practice as a civil and commercial lawyer, it was in the period following the Magistracy that he began appearing in criminal cases, often engaged by the government. Perhaps the most famous of his early cases was the murder of a Hindu seer, Sayaji Baba, by an ‘alleged lunatic’. Jinnah assisted the prosecution in proving that the accused held a grudge against the victim before the murder and thus, despite the appearance of lunacy, committed premeditated murder.

Jinnah’s career as a public advocate bloomed after he appeared as a lawyer in the ‘Caucus’ case. The case dealt with the interference of the government in the election of local judges to the Bombay Municipal CouncilThe Indian Councils Act had introduced limited self-government in municipalities and half the seats of the Corporation could be contested from a limited electorate of 12,000 taxpayers. The other half consisted of nominated officials. The ‘elected’ wing of the Corporation was dominated by moderate Congress politicians, including Jinnah’s mentor Pherozeshah Mehta. In 1907 the ‘caucus’ of nominated officials connived with the government and arranged the defeat of Congressmen like Mehta. Surprisingly, Mehta, a distinguished barrister himself, hired Jinnah to plead his election petition. While Jinnah won only a partial victory (Mehta was declared elected, but many of the charges against the government were not accepted), the case made Jinnah nationally famous. This was the first time the colonial government was accused of rigging elections before its own courts, and the proceedings were extensively covered in both, the English and vernacular press. This case perhaps exemplified Jinnah’s early politics, exposing the British regime’s faults and contradictions through the constitutional framework of British rule.

Compared with his contemporaries, like Gandhi, Jinnah spent a relatively short period as a ‘briefless barrister’. His eloquent speaking style and incisive arguments helped his practice grow. As Frank Moraes was to describe his courtroom manner in later years, “Few lawyers command a more attentive audience. No man is more adroit in presenting his case. If to achieve the maximum result with the minimum effort is the hallmark of artistry, Jinnah is an artist of the craft. He likes to get down to the bare bones of the brief; in stating the essentials of his case, his manner is masterly. The drab courtroom acquires an atmosphere as he speaks. Juniors crane their necks to follow every movement of this tall, well groomed figure, senior counsels listen closely; the Judge is all attention.

Jinnah’s public prominence grew in 1916, when he appeared as the defence lawyer for Bal Gangadhar Tilak in a sedition case. Tilak had previously been convicted for sedition and had spent time in prison. Jinnah was unsuccessful in securing Tilak’s release in the District Court of Poona, but was able to have the conviction overturned at the Bombay High Court. His argument was twofold: firstly, he argued that Indians as British citizens were entitled to criticise the bureaucracy and they owed loyalty to the British crown and not the government of India; secondly, the C.I.D. had translated Tilak’s Marathi speeches incorrectly, and the English translation wrongly gave the impression of sedition. The case turned on the nuances of Marathi, a language Jinnah was unfamiliar with, but after careful study and briefing, he ably led the cross-examination of expert witnesses. Incidentally, Jinah had prepared the line of defence in this case, and the adoption of this line was a condition for this accepting the case. While presenting his bail application in 1908, Jinnah had reluctantly refused to defend Tilak in his first sedition case because of Tilak’s insistence of dictating his own line of defence.

Jinnah engaged a number of what could be termed ‘free speech’ cases, challenging the draconian press laws that were enacted during the First World War. The most prominent of these was his defence of the Bombay Chronicle, a nationalist English language daily. Jinnah, as a classical liberal lawyer, often spoke up for civil liberties, most famously attacking the colonial government in the Central Assembly over the illegality of Bhagat Singh’s trial. Since Bhagat Singh and his co-accused had refused to cooperate with the prosecution, a special ordinance was promulgated, which permitted the trial in absentia. Jinnah’s scathing attack on the government turned on the harm caused to the rule of law by this ordinance. He argued, “I say that no judge who has an iota of judicial mind or a sense of justice can ever be a party to a trial of that character and pass the sentence of death without a shudder and a pang of conscience. This is a farce which you propose to enact”. The law he pointed out failed to meet the standards that British common law demanded. Even at his most emphatic, Jinnah’s arguments were framed in legal terms.

(Rohit De is a scholar of legal history.)