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Declaring Independence Part 2: Sourcing Work for your Independent Practice



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.

Written by myLaw

Bengaluru’s lawyer-media-police clashes

For three weeks in March, the lower courts in Bengaluru were not functioning. The boycott of court proceedings in the state capital followed the unanimous resolution passed by the Advocates Association of Bangalore on March 3 to stop all work until the state government took action against senior police officers responsible for a lathi charge in the premises of the City Civil Court on the morning of March 2.

More peaceful times now at the City Civil Court. Photograph by Achyuth Ajithkumar

More peaceful times now at the City Civil Court.
Photograph by Achyuth Ajithkumar

The violent incidents on that day were unprecedented in the state. Never before had the media, advocates, and the police – three important institutions of democracy and constitutional governance – been involved in physical clashes. According to unverified numbers published by the media and claims made by the advocates, hundreds of advocates, policemen, and journalists were injured, some seriously. The drama, which showed an institutional intolerance by each actor, ran for almost three weeks before it ended.

Media jostling

The immediate provocation behind the physical clashes between the advocates, media, and the police is not very hard to discern. On March 2, Janardhan Reddy, ex-minister and mining baron who is facing an enquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (“the CBI”) for large-scale illegal mining, was scheduled to be produced before the CBI court in the centrally-located City Civil Court. Given the high profile of the accused, a big crowd of regional and national media gathered in the small space of the court premises. The space demanded by the media in the court – both in a physical and metaphorical sense – seems to have been a large source of irritation. The fact that the media is increasingly occupying greater space in judicial affairs itself has been a point of debate and conflict.

On January 17, the City Civil Court lawyers had resorted to a rasta roko in the heart of the city over what they claimed was “harassment” by the traffic police. This had brought the city to a standstill for more than seven hours. The media had then reported this as “organised goondagiri“of lawyers. This had cost the community of lawyers dear in terms of public sympathy, for which they held the media guilty. A few senior and well-meaning lawyers in the community, who had then spoken up against “lawlessness” created by lawyers, were also ostracised by the community.

On March 2, the CBI judge asked the journalists to leave the court hall as soon as Mr. Reddy was brought in. Following this, some advocates started pushing media persons away and an exchange of abuses followed. And later, when Reddy was being taken away from the court premises, there was a big rush to capture visuals and sound bytes, for which the court authorities had not provided any designated place. This was when the situation took a turn for the worse, with media persons facing physical abuse at the hands of advocates. The police too faced the wrath of the advocates.

The subsequent indiscriminate lathi charge by the police, without the “mandatory permission” from judges, enraged the advocates and the police were pelted with stones. Many policemen, including a Deputy Commissioner of Police, were injured. Commissioner of Police Jyotiprakash Mirji arrived on the premises. In fact, lawyers believe that Mirji gave an oral order to “teach the lawyers a lesson”. Immediately after the top police official’s departure, all hell broke loose. The police indulged in a lathi charge even in the corridors of the court. Among those who got the cane included a few judges.

The turn of events in the late afternoon of March 2, both in terms of physical violence and abuse of professional privilege, was shameful. Once the police were forced to vacate the court premises, having been ordered out by the judges, they reportedly waited at strategic places to hunt down anyone in a black coat. Even as several people were injured, Kannada TV channels completely blacked out this news. On the other hand, till late in the evening, they kept repeating news of media persons and police being attacked by the lawyers earlier in the day. Some even went to the extent of saying that two policemen had died in the violence. A section of the Kannada newspapers too, chose to black out the attacks on the lawyers in their reportage the next day. While there is no denying the fact that some media persons were targeted by the advocates in the morning, there can be no justification for the media shutting its eyes on the incidents of organised and targeted violence against the advocates by the police. The media seemed to have found, unfortunately, a common cause with the police.

The Advocates Association, which met after these incidents, passed an unethical and unconstitutional resolution asking lawyers not to appear for media-related cases. They were in such a defiant mood that they did not even concede the crimes of violence committed by some among their own fraternity. They justified them as inevitable actions in self-defence. Later there was some moderation in their stand, though not an official withdrawal of the resolutions.

Difficulty to litigants

While the government has ordered a departmental and a judicial enquiry into the incident, it is clearly in no mood to take any action. It has refused to transfer the higher police officials responsible for the incidents. On the other hand, the advocates continued their boycott of court proceedings, which has caused a lot of difficulty to common litigants who approach lower courts.

The immediate solution to the impasse lies in the suspension of police officers and an impartial enquiry into the reasons leading to the events of March 2. A long-term solution lies in serious introspection by the media and the advocates as communities.

Though the media is not self-critical about the way it manipulated the truth by looking the other way when lawyers were being attacked, some good sense prevailed in the next few days and office-bearers of organisations of the press community met the Chief Justice and the Chief Minister and made their stand clear that they were not against the advocate community as a whole. But a similar development is yet to take place among the advocates. Two things are making it difficult for the advocates. One, a sense of victimhood is getting strengthened by the day because of the stubborn attitude of the government in its refusal to take actions against the police officers, and the refusal of the media as well, to give full play to their side of the story. Second, the competition between different political loyalties within the lawyer fraternity, with caste factors playing a significant role, does not help to tame irrational emotions running high in the community.

Subplot among the advocates

Within this larger drama, what is interesting is also the subplot related to the sociological background of advocates practising in the lower courts and the career anxieties they face. Most of these advocates hail from upwardly mobile Other Backward Classes from neighbouring drought-prone districts where society is generally immersed in property feuds. The rising real estate value of land has given rise to a hybrid class and a hybrid sentiment of self-esteem and pride bordering on arrogance. The functioning of the City Civil Court demands day-to-day interaction between police and lawyers. The lucrative cases around property create a condition of both love and hate between the police and the advocates. The hidden reason behind repeated clashes between the police and the lawyers can be attributed to this factor as well.

There is more to the conflict between the police and the lawyers of Bengaluru than meets the eye. Image above is from *Jerry*'s photostream on Flickr.

There is more to the conflict between the police and the lawyers of Bengaluru than meets the eye.
Image above is from *Jerry*’s photostream on Flickr.

Professional classes like media persons and lawyers enjoy social privileges and a certain degree of immunity from rules that govern the ordinary citizenry. Given the imperfect democratisation of our polity and society, this has led to these classes arrogating powers to themselves. The new-found glamour and proximity to power that the 24/7 news media enjoys has, at once, given them power and subjected them to risk. The rule of law is supposed to be a leveller. But the very nature of the neo-liberal economy has further given credence to a legal and moral regime where the rule of law is skewed in favour of the privileged.

In a larger sense, institutionalisation of anti-democratic culture works against the interests of the unprivileged people. Hence, even if this case is essentially a tussle between two privileged classes or professions, the central value involved is the question of equality before law. It is important to safeguard that value in the interests of the common people.


Postscript: On March 20, on the eve of the Budget session, the Bharatiya Janata Party government gave in to the pressure built up by the lawyers and agreed to transfer two higher police officers. Satisfied by this gesture, the lawyers have withdrawn their indefinite boycott of court proceedings. Ironically, the government has cited the recommendations of a departmental enquiry as the reason for the transfer. The committee headed by R.C. Dutta, a senior police officer, actually accuses the officers of not anticipating the trouble and not using enough force to restore order!



(Shiva Sundar is a journalist based in Bengaluru.)


This article was originally published in the Economic and Political Weekly on April 7, 2012 and has been published here with permission.

Written by myLaw

Judicial reform from within

In Ramrameshwari Devi v. Nirmala Devi reported in (2011) 8 SCC 249, the Supreme Court, speaking through Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma and assisted by Dr. Arun Mohan as amicus curiae, noted Dr. Mohan’s formulation of the common man’s general impression about litigation in the following words: 

Make any false averment, conceal any fact, raise any plea, produce any false document, deny any genuine document, it will successfully stall the litigation, and in any case, delay the matter endlessly. The other party will be coerced into a settlement which will be profitable for me and the probability of the court ordering prosecution for perjury is less than that of meeting an accident while crossing the road.

While the case refers to the various issues directly relevant to the administration of justice, I intend to comment only on the aspects of perjury and delay, the imposition of costs, and the effect of the court’s observations in appeals arising out of interlocutory orders on the merits of the case.

"I wanna be a real lawyer". Illustration by Ritwick Roy for

“I wanna be a real lawyer”.
Illustration by Ritwick Roy for

The Supreme Court has taken judicial notice of the practice of making false statements by litigants on oath on a number of occasions, and has disapproved of trial courts’ reluctance to take penal action in appropriate cases. It appears that courts in India are yet to develop a zero-tolerance policy towards false pleadings and vexatious litigants. While the above formulation of the amicus quoted by the Supreme Court is in relation to perjury and frivolous litigation, it also gives an insight into the increased ‘popularity’ of the alternative means of dispute resolution. More often than not, parties choose, and in many cases are compelled by courts, to exhaust alternative means of dispute resolution. A number of litigants adopt arbitration or mediation to resolve disputes not because of the inherent value of the amicable resolution of a dispute, but because of the incessant delays in the adjudicatory system provided by the State.

The Supreme Court observed that, “in order to curb uncalled for and frivolous litigation, the courts have to ensure that there is no incentive or motive for uncalled for litigationWhile eulogising the role of the imposition of ‘realistic’ costs on litigants in curbing frivolous and vexatious litigation, the Supreme Court imposed a cost of only Rupees Two lakh on the appellant, which was directed to be deposited with the Court. It appears from a reading of the judgment in the instant case that there had been several interlocutory applications, appeals, and several adjournments, and therefore, the costs of Rupees Two lakh do not seem to be the actual costs. In fact, a better method would have been to award costs to the respondent and then appoint a taxing officer for the quantification of costs. Such a method is common in English proceedings and in international arbitrations. Further, there appears to be no professed judicial policy on when costs would be required to be deposited with the court, or some mediation centre, or legal aid fund, and when it would be paid to the opposite party to restitute them for losses arising out of frivolous litigation.

Lawyers would agree that an observation by the Supreme Court, or a high court for that matter, has the capability of ruining a party’s case before the lower courts. This, often, is an important consideration, and parties are advised not to approach high courts in their original jurisdiction as an adverse observation, even if not on merits, may destroy their case. This is because judges at the lower courts rarely come to a different finding out of deference to what has been noted by the higher court. In the instant case, the Supreme Court said that “the trial court should not be influenced by any observation or finding arrived at by us in dealing with these appeals as we have not decided the matter on merits”. However, earlier in the judgment, the Supreme Court has also noted:

This is a classic example which abundantly depicts the picture of how the civil litigation moves in our country and how unscrupulous litigants (the appellants in this case) can till eternity harass the respondents and their children by abusing the judicial system.

Of course, the Supreme Court has clarified that this statement and many such observations regarding perjury should not affect the trial court’s decision-making process, but only time will tell if such a clarification has been of much consequence.

While the decision in Ramrameshwari Devi makes an interesting read, especially the Ten Commandments that the Supreme Court perceives would improve the system drastically, it gives rise to numerous questions, some of which are amplified above – which I hope would be answered on a case-by-case basis. After the landmark decision in Salem Bar Association Case (2005), this decision is another precedent that indicates that for judicial reform to succeed, the changes have to be induced from within the system.


(Talha Abdul Rahman, a Shell Centenary Chevening Scholar at the University of Oxford (2008-2009), is an advocate based in Lucknow.)

Written by myLaw

Why I litigate

“Beta, why are you practicing in the courts, did you not get a good job after passing out?”

“No sir, it’s not that, I just wanted to litigate, I enjoy this more…”

“But why are you doing this after passing out of a college like N.L.S.I.U.?”

“It’s a personal choice sir, I enjoy my…”

“Are you from a legal background, tabhi kar sakte hoge yeh…”

“Yes sir, I do have lawyers in my family but that is not the only reason…”

Koi baat nahin beta, why don’t you tell my son about your college and the corporate job opportunities it offers after passing out…”

I have lost count of the number of such conversations that I have had in the three-and-a-half years since I completed college and joined the Bar as a litigating lawyer. Law as a career option has undoubtedly become attractive over the last two decades, but litigation is still pariah and looked down upon as a career option by most people.

Some senior lawyers say that when they chose law as a career, it was really the last resort if you did not have a background of litigation. Such a choice was made only because there was no other choice and also because it was the easiest thing to do; anyone could sleep through a law degree. While these beliefs attached to litigation may have been watered down to an extent, most parents helping their children choose a career still have a similar impression at the back of their mind. Of course those impressions are sustained because litigation is not the cleanest of professions, it is very difficult to break into a strongly enmeshed hierarchy of established legal families, it pays peanuts when you start off, you graduate with just a degree instead of a job in your hand, and that merit is not the only yardstick of success in the profession.

I was aware of several of these factors before college, and became aware of the remaining while at college. I was always certain however, that I wanted to be a litigating lawyer. This is not because I had anything against corporate law. I do not think joining a law firm amounts to selling yourself and your soul, I do not think corporate lawyers are glorified clerks, which is the impression amongst a lot of advocates and even judges. I do not even think that those who chose corporate law really went against the mandate of the National Law Schools (to give back to the Bench and the Bar), because it is an unfair and an imposing mandate that stifles the most sacrosanct right of personal choice. You are only obliged to be part of giving back to the Bar if you feel like it and if you enjoy the work.

Why do I litigate? Photograph by Siddharth Diwan for

Why do I litigate?
Photograph by Siddharth Diwan for

I know of lawyers who joined corporations and law firms who genuinely enjoy the work. They enjoy being part of multi-million deals; structuring companies and investments; being the brains behind markets and economies, banks, and businesses; and being the brains behind intellectual property rights and alternate dispute resolution. In their case, this is their cup of tea, and no benevolent or socialist logic can take this right away from them.

I also, however, know of friends and people who do not enjoy this kind of work, who do not find satisfaction in it, and sometimes even dislike it. The unfortunate truth is that this group easily outnumbers the other group. The reason and rationale for work then is just to earn money; the hefty salary at the end of the month is the end what they aim for. This itself is not wrong either, if one is aware of this end and has no qualms about it, then there is no moral argument against such work either. If you are clear about your priorities and work satisfaction is not one of them, then what you are doing is right for you – morally and ethically, and let no one else tell you otherwise. For a large chunk amongst this group however, work satisfaction is a priority as well, and that is one of the reasons why there is such a high turnover rate in corporate law firms.

I say these things with the benefit of hindsight. When I made my decision to get into litigation, a part of me perhaps thought that I could not sell my soul to the corporations. But that was never the driving force behind my choice. I had dabbled with that line of work in a few internships and found myself not enjoying it at all. I came from a family where the people that I looked up to and found to be fair and honest in life as well were mostly lawyers, and of course that influenced my choice. I had a background in law and I find no shame or injustice in admitting to this advantage. Natural advantages, ones that are the products of the random coincidences of being born in a particular family, or a particular culture, or a particular country, of being born rich or poor, lucky or unlucky, will never be a valid argument in my book to challenge the legitimacy of anything. Such an argument can flow from an imagined state of complete equality and equilibrium, which is neither true nor desirable. This however, is impossible to explain to the “Uncle” who disapproves of litigation and has placed himself on a moral high ground because he thinks you have an unfair advantage.

Yet, would I have decided to litigate if I did not have a background in law? I am certain, as certain of anything as I have ever been, that I would have (the disapproving uncle will certainly scoff). This is because of several reasons, which ultimately boil down to the fact that I enjoy what I do. Litigation offers challenges that I find continuously stimulating and gives me the flexibility to be my own boss. I also believe that while merit may not be the only criteria of success, it is certainly the most determinative one. I love the human element of the work and interacting with clients from every stratum who come up with every sort of problem. I relish having the ability and the power to fight for them or defend them, to really win (or sometimes lose) a case, the pressure, and the effort that it requires. I absolutely relish challenging a system or a government that considers itself to be omnipotent or untouchable and I also love the logic that is inherent to most laws. Any law ultimately grounds itself in some logic, and depending on whether you agree with the logic or not, you can defend or challenge it, and both acts amount to upholding the concept of logic itself, which I find inherently fair. I love the fact that even in an extremely intractable and corrupt system, change is possible, in whatever small measure, and I can bring it about.

Most of all, I love the idea of an argument. Beautiful and powerful, a good ‘argument’ encompasses debate, competition, doubt, confirmation, knowledge, preparation, questioning and not just accepting, thought, fairness and unfairness, justice and injustice. There is joy in convincing or even being convinced in an argument, which can best parallel with the joy of winning or losing at a sport (at any level). I argue and question everything in any case, and if I can translate some of it as work, and enjoy doing it, then this profession is for me. I find satisfaction in such work, and I find a lot of humour in it as well. All of this, or even some of this, may only happen once in a dozen cases, once in a fortnight. Every day, you might have to deal with adjournments and delays, inefficiency and corruption, boredom, and routine. I have written extensively about these other factors, but this is the question I am asked the most, and am unable to answer effectively. This then was my very personal answer to why I litigate.



(Animesh Sharma is an advocate at the Punjab and Haryana High Court.)


Written by myLaw

A known surname

The abstract to Prashant Narang’s “Regulatory Barriers to Litigation in India” published in the Asian Journal of Law and Economics says that the article is about how legal barriers with noble intentions make the sustainability of new entrants to the legal profession almost impossible. An LLM candidate at the Jindal Global Law School in Sonepat, Haryana, he spoke with us about the article.

Edited excerpts from the transcript of the conversation:

Mr. Narang said that his article is mainly from the perspective of first generation litigation lawyers and the problems they face. “I am not trying to say that a family background helps in the legal profession alone. Of course it helps in all the professions. The main difference however, between litigation as a profession and other businesses is that you see incubators in business schools, right? Fresh management graduates can take loans from banks and start on their own. So you see startups in management, and even medicine and other sectors. One does not come across a first generation litigation startup and one has never heard of a litigation firm incubator in a law school. That concept is totally absent. Why is that so?

He said that these are statutory barriers that feature in the Advocates Act, 1961, which is now fifty years old. The law does not see the legal profession as a business. “I have no problems with the business approach to the profession but the law should not be hypocritical about it. The regulations should reflect the business nature of the legal profession.”

Mr. Prashant Narang in conversation with Rainmaker. Image courtesy Mr. Prashant Narang.

Mr. Prashant Narang in conversation with Rainmaker.
Image courtesy Mr. Prashant Narang.

Speaking about the credibility deficit at the beginning of a first generation lawyer’s practice, Mr. Narang said that advertising, which is banned, could close it. “It is also possible to gain credibility by partnering in the gains and losses of the client, but contingent fees are not allowed in India.” Further, “moonlighting” is not allowed either, which means that a lawyer cannot be financially dependent on any other business. These restrictions make the survival of a first generation litigating lawyer difficult.

You can only start working with a senior, experienced lawyer who will pay peanuts. Further, if you are not from Delhi or if you don’t have a house in a big city where you want to practice, you just can’t survive unless you have a very strong financial backing. Even people who graduate from the National Law Universities, are under pressure to repay their loans when they graduate. So why would anyone opt for a career in litigation? In the U.K. and in the U.S.A., the ratio of salaries in litigation and in corporate jobs is one-is-to-one, but litigation salaries are almost five or six times lower than corporate salaries in India.”

We need to accept the symptoms such as this year, only seven per cent of the law graduates chose litigation. Majority of the fresh graduates opt for corporate law firms and corporate jobs. The graduates who took up litigation did have a family background in the law.

Mr. Narang said that his paper relied on empirical research by the Research Foundation for Governance in India, two to three years ago. “There are also various other law websites, which have come up with the placement records of various National Law Universities. All these sources showed that law graduates from the prestigious law universities were not opting for a career in litigation. I also relied on economic analysis to understand why clients did not prefer young law graduates. If even one of the litigating parties insists on an experienced lawyer, it puts pressure on the other party to do the same.

He also said that the other argument that he had relied on was the importance given to oral arguments over written arguments. “So when you are asking for bail or a stay or an adjournment, it is widely known in the legal profession that a known surname helps.”



(Aju John is part of the faculty at

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Robert Raskopf: America’s Best Sports Lawyer

By The


American sport is admired the world over for its supreme organisation and intricate economic structure. The level of commercialisation and brand awareness in the United States eclipses that of its counterparts across the Atlantic. One of the most influential lawyers in the world, Robert Raskopf, has represented the who’s who on the American sporting and business scene. Everyone from the National Football League (“the NFL”) to Wal-Mart has felt the magical touch of Raskopf. A trial lawyer whose area of expertise spreads wide across sports, media, and intellectual property, Raskopf is currently a partner at the New York firm of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP.

Boston, Massachusetts was the place of learning for Raskopf, who completed both his Bachelor’s and Law degree at the Boston College. His specialisations include trademarks, copyright, patents, advertising, and trade secrets. He has represented high-profile clients like the National Hockey League (“the NHL”), the Major League Soccer (“the MLS”), the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (“ESPN”), Comcast, Verizon, Gucci, and even the legendary sporting venue, the Madison Square Gardens.

For over twenty years, Raskopf has been the chief legal counsel for the NFL and its members. He has been a part of several landmark cases in the field of intellectual property and trademark infringement on behalf of the NFL. A remarkable case was the one between artist Frederick E. Bouchat and the Baltimore Ravens. Before the start of the 1996-97 NFL season, the Ravens held a competition to select the logo for the players’ helmet. Bouchat was one of the artists to submit his designs to the Maryland Stadium Authority and to his surprise, Baltimore’s final logo largely resembled one of his own pieces, even though the franchise never responded to his submission. However, Bouchat did not sue the franchise until the end of the season, by which time the logo had been displayed on helmets, tickets, flags, and the home field.

A federal court in Baltimore concluded that Bouchat did indeed have a copyright over the artwork. However, the issue regarding the damages that Bouchat was entitled to due to Baltimore’s use of the logo for three seasons, and from the NFL broadcasts of the Ravens’ games with the logo on display went in favour of the franchise as the panel concluded that neither the Ravens nor the NFL derived any profit from the logo. The artist then wanted all material bearing the logo, including NFL season highlight films, to be destroyed. Raskopf argued however that the use of the logo by the Ravens constituted “fair use” and did not generate any revenue. The Quinn Emmanuel team put forth that the appearance of the logo in highlight reels was merely incidental and historical. The change of their logo in 1999 cemented that claim as the franchise now used that logo to recount events and not identify the franchise with a symbol, in which case a “fair use” defence stood strong. Thus, the court concluded that the Ravens and the NFL did not infringe on copyright laws by displaying the logo on memorabilia, and Bouchat was denied an injunctive relief.

What, us disrespectful? The Redskins line up. Image above is from the Wikimedia Commons.

What, us disrespectful? The Redskins line up.
Image above is from the Wikimedia Commons. 

Raskopf has worked on other similar trademark infringement cases for the NFL, prominently for the Green Bay Packers and the Washington Red Skins. The Packers sued a sports goods manufacturer who had obtained the rights to print the names of various players on jerseys without their approval. Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP won the case for the Packers in front of a Milwaukee jury, but the seventh circuit later overturned the decision. The case for the Redskins was part of a widespread opposition by the native American community against offensive jargon being used to promote a sporting franchise. In 1992, seven native Americans filed a petition to cancel the trademark registration for the “Redskins” that was handed back in 1967. The native Americans initially saw victory as the U.S. Trademark Appeal and Trial Board cancelled the patent in 1999.

But Raskopf & Co. put forth a response highlighting that the plaintiffs waited over twenty years to file a petition, to which the U.S. District Court agreed by overturning the patent cancellation in 2003. The U.S. Court of Appeals handed the case back to the District Court on the claim that the youngest of the plaintiffs was only a year old when the patent was handed. But the District Court clarified that the plaintiff turned eighteen in 1984 and thereafter waited a further eight years to file a petition. So, the court once again ruled in favour of the franchise, who maintained their stance that they used the term as a mark of honour rather than in the derogatory sense. The native Americans would have none of it though, as they took their case to the Supreme Court. But, two years ago, the Supreme Court declined to review the verdict of the Appeals Court, thus handing the victory baton to the Washington Redskins in the prolonged battle.

Raskopf has also been involved outside the NFL, representing the MLS in a case brought forward by Lower League side (United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League, Fourth division) Carolina Dynamos against then newly-formed MLS side Houston Dynamos over a naming dispute. The other major case handled by Raskopf in the world of soccer was his representation of the Mexican National side against a company that used logos from the team’s official jersey on their products for promotion. He has also been involved in numerous remarkable cases in the media industry, mainly for ESPN. One such case involved a petition against the X Channel, a yet-to-be launched action sports channel, in what they considered a clear trademark infringement on their popular X Games vehicle.

His truly prolific achievements are a rendition of a supremely talented legal mind at work. The vast variety of cases handled by Raskopf is mind-blowing. Whether it be representing Hyundai America in a trademark infringement against Louis Vuitton over a Super Bowl advertisement, or beauty product company Coty in a breach of contract case, or Wal-Mart in a domain-name infringement case, or Colgate-Palmolive over false claims by a shoppers guide, or the Safe Shoppers Bible, the list goes on and on.

He has regularly featured on multiple top lawyer lists. Chambers U.S.A. has named him among the topmost intellectual property lawyers, and the top media and entertainment as well as the topmost trial and appellate lawyer in the country. Sports Business International named him as one of the top twenty sports lawyers in the world in 2010. He continues to sit on the boards of numerous organisations, including the Association of Trial lawyers, the Internet Law and Business Editorial Board, the Trademark Reporter Advisory Board, the Media Law Resource Center and the American Arbitration Association Panel of Arbitrators!, ‘The World’s Favourite Playground’, is India’s leading multi-sport website. TSC brings its readers news from the world of cricket, football, tennis, motorsport and golf, in addition to special features on other major sporting events from around the globe.


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M&A killed the radio star

A great voice is usually not crucial for success in the mergers and acquisitions and private equity practices. For one New Delhi-based lawyer though, his voice is as important as any revenue-generating asset. Joebin Devassy, an Associate Partner with Desai & Diwanji, is a radio jockey as well.

These days though, he is not as active on the radio as he used to be during his college days at the Campus Law Centre in the capital city from where he graduated in 2002. Now he works only on weekends. “[I] can’t seem to manage weekdays any more without cancelling out on shows every once in a while”, he said. The show he jockeys is called Rainbow Classics, and is on air on Saturday evenings between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. on All India Radio FM Rainbow. On the show, he plays anything that is more than a decade old. That is also how long his career as a jockey has been, and he has done several shows in those ten years. The ones that he enjoyed the most though, are Take Off, a morning drive-time show; and Livewire, a dial-in show.

Joebin Devassy as an R.J. (above) and as a corporate lawyer (below). Images courtesy Joebin Devassy.

Joebin Devassy as an R.J. (above) and as a corporate lawyer (below).
Images courtesy Joebin Devassy.


How does he deal with the varied tastes of his listeners? “I play a mix of music and try to ensure that there is something for everyone, but as with life, you can’t please all the people all the time. At the end the day, it’s all good as [long as] you receive more kudos than brickbats.” He is equally practical about the perceived dichotomy between good and popular music. “Good music [is] mostly popular. Popular music [is] mostly good. Broadly run with that. Of course, one part of the job is to make good music popular.

While he sounds practiced today, he said he never fancied radio as even a part-time career option.   “[I] was actually a shy and quiet kid in school! One of my friends was doing a radio show in which he went around the city covering events happening in the city and interviewing people organising and attending the events[s]. For this, he had an interesting voice-recording device and one day, while experimenting with the device I did some random voice recording and everyone thought it sounded good when we replayed it. So, I went for the auditions and then spent most of my law school life rambling on the radio.”

His call-in shows have had “weird, random, downright crazy, freaky, and flirty” callers. Callers have tried to speak with “exotic and erotic accents” and not made any sense. Some others have started to scream and abuse on air because things weren’t working out in life. Once, he said, a completely drunk musical band came on air, and another time, a woman described her lesbian experiences. “The freakiest was when someone called to say that he was going to commit suicide because he had failed his exams and that his girlfriend had dumped him.” Thankfully, he calmed down and didn’t do any such thing and wrote in a big thank you email. “Remembering handling something like that on air with so many people listening still gives me the shudders.”


(Aju John is part of the faculty at

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Of contemptuous courage

The legal profession, especially the practice of law in courts, unlike many others, still depends a great deal on the system of apprenticeship. Young advocates join a practice and learn the tricks of the trade from their seniors. This system is also supposed to impart the values that are necessary for a quality Bar: courage, integrity, and professionalism–things that are not easily taught in books.

It was said of Motilal Setalvad that as long as he walked the courts, the Bar did not require a Code of Conduct; they need only look at his! But then these are not the best of times, and so we need to turn back to a legend long gone by: the story of Govind Swaminadhan (the former Advocate General of Tamil Nadu, 1909-2003) facing contempt before the Madras High Court!

Justice E.E. Mack had been appointed presiding judge of the Industrial Tribunal. An editorial appearing in The Mail about industrial adjudication in general and the process followed in the process of settlement of disputes between the workers and management of Amalgamations Limited, caused the issuance of a contempt notice against the editor of the newspaper.

Govind Swaminadhan Photograph courtesy Mr. Swaminadhan's family.

Govind Swaminadhan
Photograph courtesy Mr. Swaminadhan’s family.

Mr. Swaminadhan, appearing for the editor, took the stand that Justice Mack could not exercise the powers of contempt given to him as a high court judge while presiding over the Industrial Tribunal. He therefore, flatly refused to argue any questions of law and jurisdiction. Justice Mack’s sarcastic reply was: “I am myself wholly unable to follow by what process of metabolism, I become emasculated of the inherent powers to punish for contempt when I sit in the Special Industrial Tribunal and regain them when I go back to the High Court.” In his mind, he had no doubt that he possessed the powers of a high court judge even when he sat on the Industrial Tribunal.

Mr. Swaminadhan’s persistence however, caused Justice Mack to take the unusual step of issuing contempt notice against the counsel for the contemnor! Mr. Swaminadhan responded by filing a writ petition in which he made Justice Mack a party and prayed for quashing of the notice. The Chief Justice admitted the matter.

A few days later, Mr. Swaminadhan was appearing before Justice Mack in the High Court of Sessions as the State Prosecutor. The exchange between counsel and judge is a fascinating example of conduct. Justice Mack told Mr. Swaminadhan that it would be better if he recused himself from prosecuting any cases before the Sessions Court during the present term. Mr. Swaminadhan replied that he felt no embarrassment in discharging what he considered his duty as State Prosecutor, and would continue to do so. Justice Mack replied that the counsel was “permitted to prosecute.” This was Govind Swamindhan’s Erskinian moment. All counsel will do well to remember his befitting response.

I wish to state that there is no question of being permitted. The Bar has a right and can appear in any case it chooses to do so and no Judge has any power to stop a member of the Bar from appearing before him. Your lordship is probably not aware of that.

One must keep in mind that this incident took place in 1954, before Section 30 of the Advocates Act, 1961 was even introduced on the statute book. Anyhow, the section was notified only in 2011!

When Mr. Swaminathan was threatened with contempt for a second time and asked to keep quiet, he continued:

I am not in the habit of being threatened by the Court. I shall now continue the Session’s case.

Three days later, Justice Mack found Govind Swaminadhan guilty of contempt and fined him Rupees One thousand to be paid in three days, failing which he was to go to the penitentiary until the fine was paid, for a period of one month. Since the High Court raised a question on maintainability in appeal, the matter was taken to the Supreme Court. Justice Chandrashekhara Iyer, who originally hailed from Madras, observed in open court that it was impossible to believe that “Govind” could ever have intended any disrespect to the Court. The matter was summarily disposed of and the conviction for contempt was set aside.

When he refused to join a call for a strike by the local lawyers’ association on the ground that a lawyer’s first duty was to the client from whom he had taken fees, his daughter told him that he had the luxury of being honest and ethical because of the class privileges and the status that he enjoyed, and most people in India could not afford to be honest if they wanted to survive. While acknowledging this, he added that, “since I have no excuse to be dishonest, there is no way I can clear it with my own conscience.” Many of us too, don’t!

This week features Govind Swaminadhan’s 102nd birth anniversary and his eighth death anniversary. We would do well to remember this gentle giant of the Madras Bar, who in the words of one of his juniors, “sensitised human relationships”.


(Suchindran B.N. is an advocate at the Madras High Court.)

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Nick Bitel: Britain’s best sport lawyer

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As a devoted fan following thrilling sporting action on the television, one is often inclined to wonder at the seamless functioning of such events. The daunting task of not just staging the event, but also coordinating with the broadcasters, athletes, and administrators must give the event managers nightmares. The most successful city marathon in the world, the London Marathon, has been a shining example for sport organisers around the world with its impeccable management and creative marketing. The London Marathon, Wimbledon, the Ryder Cup, the Olympic Park Legacy Company and U.K. Sport–all have one thing in common, the magical touch of Nick Bitel. The face of the London Marathon for over two decades, Nick Bitel has been the foremost legal brain in British sport.

Through his law firm, he has been the legal force behind radical changes in tournament ticket prices, intellectual property rights in football, and player contracts. Gifted with the unique mixture of legal aptitude, administrative skills, and a sporting brain, Bitel’s star has been shining brightly for several years and shows no signs of diminishing any time soon.

Nick’s huge success in law is not surprising when you consider his father, Max Bitel, who was one of the most prominent solicitors in England and also established the firm Max Bitel Greene (“MBG”), which to this day is one of the more diverse and successful sports law practices in the country. For Nick, Rugby was the sport of his choice during those teenage years and his talent with the oval ball interestingly earned him a University scholarship over in a land known for a different version of the game. Davidson, North Carolina across the Atlantic was his base for two years as he earned his Bachelor’s degree. He soon returned to the British Isles, specifically Manchester, to pursue his degree in law.

The top three runners at the London Marathon 2009. Image above is from SNappa 2006's photostream on Flickr.

The top three runners at the London Marathon 2009.
Image above is from SNappa 2006’s photostream on Flickr.

The famous Rosslyn Park, a small time sports club in London, was to be his rugby sanctuary as he balanced education with sport. However, he never had ambitions of becoming a sportsman and soon after acquiring a law degree jumped right into soliciting at his father’s firm. MBG was expanding into a variety of fields in sport when Nick joined in 1981. The Thatcher-Reagan era saw a fundamental change in the structure of economies and the way money flowed in the system. Sport was in no way excluded from the changing landscape as the period saw the rise of sporting agents. Nick specialised in sporting contracts, a field he has continued to flourish in, with his most recent deals including Emmanuel Adebayor’s transfer to Manchester City from Arsenal and Arsenal’s purchase of Andrey Arshavin.

MBG’s focus down the years has been on sporting events. MGB boasts of an impressive clientele that includes Wimbledon, Rugby Union, E.C.B., U.E.F.A., Ryder Cup, and the European Tour. Their areas of work include drafting contracts for sponsors, media, and athletes, brand-protection, ticketing, broadcast and media-rights, image rights, football transfers… and the list goes on. They have implemented anti-infringement programmes for their clients, including the I.C.C. Champions Trophy and the Cricket World Cup. Intellectual property rights – particularly image rights – have been a huge issue for U.E.F.A. and F.I.F.A. and MBG has implemented praiseworthy rules to protect the image rights of players.

Standout cases include the ruling obtained by the Rugby Football Union (“the RFU”) against online ticket exchange site, Viagogo. Ticket touting has plagued major tournaments for a long time, but with the exponential increase in Internet transactions, black market ticket sales have skyrocketed. Viagogo were forced to reveal the identities of the ticket vendors who sold multiple tickets to games at Twickenham. Wimbledon is seeking similar protection from ticket touts, especially with the Olympics coming around. Currently, football is the only sport in Britain that considers ticket-touting illegal!

Nick’s association with the London Marathon began in 1995 when he took over as the Chief Executive of the event. The London Marathon comes under the purview of U.K. Sport, an agency he would go on to represent seven years later as a Board Director. The London Marathon grew into a behemoth during this period, becoming the U.K.’s best organised sporting event and also the most successful in terms of fund raising. The event made it into the Guinness Book of World records in 2009 by raising a whopping GBP Forty-seven million for charity, thus becoming the largest annual fund raising event in the world. Nick recently struck a five-year, GBP Seventeen million sponsorship deal with Virgin, further emphasising the stature of the event on the British calendar.

His endeavours have spread beyond just the London Marathon and into all aspects of sports law in the U.K. He has served as a Director at the British Association for Sport and Law, an association solely dedicated to representing sports law practitioners, sports administrators, and students. He also spent six years (2002-08) as a Director at the Major Events Panel of U.K. Sport, an organisation that distributes GBP One million six lakh of lottery money annually to bid, stage, organise and co-ordinate various events. Since 2009, Nick has been a Director with the Olympic Park Legacy Company. The Legacy Company is in charge of maintaining the venues and developing housing facilities after the completion of the 2012 London Olympics. Recently, he was brought in by Sport England in a Director’s capacity. Since 2010, he has held the Chairman’s position at the Sports Right Ownership Coalition, a group that focuses on players’ rights with the help of representatives from International bodies.

It would be premature to draw conclusions on a career that continues to widen beyond the horizons. He was named in the top hundred most influential people in sport and the twenty most influential sports lawyers. He continues to be one of the most respected minds in sport, with everybody from U.E.F.A. to Wimbledon seeking his advice. Athletes generally hog the limelight for their super-human feats, and rightly so. But it is men like Nick Bitel who protect the athletes and also package these tournaments, thus ensuring that the players, administrators, and fans enjoy the game in all its facets.

For that we can only bow down in their admiration!, ‘The World’s Favourite Playground’, is India’s leading multi-sport website. TSC brings its readers news from the world of cricket, football, tennis, motorsport and golf, in addition to special features on other major sporting events from around the globe.


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Sir Collier: An Australian Statesman par excellence

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The late nineteenth century produced prolific personalities in all walks of life as the changing landscape of the world proved to be a strong catalyst in fomenting varied expressions. The Australian Sir Collier Cudmore falls squarely in that bracket. His multifarious talents saw him conquer everything from rowing to law and politics. A supremely brave individual, he valiantly fought on the side of the Allies in the First World War despite being wounded twice in the battle. But his most famous act came at the 1908 London Olympics, when he led the Great Britain team to Gold in the Men’s Coxless Rowing event. An epitome of the genuine heroes produced in that era, Sir Collier Cudmore is still an awe-inspiring role model in the twenty-first century.

Born in Australia, Sir Collier grew up in Wentworth, New South Wales in the late 1800s. His initial education was in Adelaide, at the St. Peter’s College and the University of Adelaide. Like most during that era, he was intrigued by the European culture and travelled to England to continue his education. He enrolled at the prestigious Magdalen College, one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford. The legendary rowing tradition at Oxford with the obvious cynosure of The Boat Race enticed him into joining the university’s rowing team.

The rowing event at the 1908 London Olympics. Image above is from the Wikimedia Commons.

The rowing event at the 1908 London Olympics.
Image above is from the Wikimedia Commons.

1908 was the annus mirabilis for Cudmore as he captured trophy after trophy. He was the strong bow at the head of the four-men coxless team that captured two trophies at the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta. The Henley Regatta is an annual rowing event held on the Thames and has a rich history stretching back to 1839. Of the three coxless programmes at the event, Magdalen won two – the Steward’s Challenge Cup and the Visitor’s Challenge Cup. Their exploits clinched them a spot in the upcoming London Olympics, as the representatives of Great Britain.

Great Britain, Canada, and Netherlands were the only three countries represented at the event, with Britain fielding two teams. With Cudmore at the bow, Duncan Mackinnon and Angus Gillan rowing, and John Somers-Smith on the stroke, the quartet was a formidable outfit. The Magdalen crew overcame the Argonaut Rowing Club from Canada by two-and-a-half lengths in the semi-final stage. The final was an all-British affair as Magdalen faced off against the Leander Club. The Leander Club had been Magdalen’s closest rival in the past few years, capturing the Steward’s Challenge Cup 1905 and 1906. As expected, it was a close affair, with both teams neck-to-neck. Magdalen prevailed eventually, crossing the finish line with one length’s lead.

Sir Collier spent another year at Magdalen, participating in his Second Boat Race in 1909. Oxford exacted revenge for their defeat at the hands of Cambridge the previous year. After completing his B.A., he changed gears and jumped into the world of law. He completed his law degree at the Inner Temple in London and was called to the Bar in 1910. Home came a-calling later that year as Sir Collier returned to Australia to take up the South Australian Bar. Sir Collier then joined forces with Sir Herbert Mayo and Sir John Stanley Murray to start his own law firm.

The First World War broke out in 1914 and Sir Collier was commissioned to the British Royal Field Artillery (“the RFA”) in France. He commanded an Artillery Battery unit and in the process was severely wounded, not once but twice, and he was forced to wear a back-brace for the rest of his life. Sadly, he lost his brother in the service in 1916. He returned home once the war ended in 1919 and true to his spirit, he did not sit back, but instead, began taking a deep interest in politics. He became a member of the State Repartition Board, an administrator at the Soldier’s Fund, and the Deputy Chairman of the South Australian Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Distress Fund.

His first taste of real politics was with the South Australian Liberal Federation, where he held the Vice-President’s role. He was a driving force behind the party joining hands with the Country Party and he even presided over the joint party as its President (1934-36). He was elected to the South Australian Legislative Council from his district in Adelaide in 1933. A controversial member, Sir Collier ruffled quite a few feathers with his liberal ideas. He fought to relax strict lottery and gambling rules and even legalise “red light” districts. But he championed great causes too, securing pensions for Supreme Court Judges, improving animal rights, and introducing compulsory tuberculosis examinations.

His political work aside, Sir Collier also sat on the board of the University of Adelaide and helped the staff gain pensions while also securing higher funding for university education. The outbreak of the Second World War saw Sir Collier command a battalion in the newly formed Volunteer Defence Corps. The honour of knighthood arrived in 1958, by which time he had retired from his role as a solicitor. The injuries sustained during the war took their toll as he spent the last years of his life in a wheel chair. Living up to the grand age of eighty-six, the octogenarian breathed his last in 1971, leaving behind a legacy that few could even attempt to match., ‘The World’s Favourite Playground’, is India’s leading multi-sport website. TSC brings its readers news from the world of cricket, football, tennis, motorsport and golf, in addition to special features on other major sporting events from around the globe.

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