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How to become a good lawyer

Hon'ble Shri.  V. C. Daga

How to become a good lawyer

Hon’ble Shri Justice V. C. Daga

Hon’ble Justice Daga uses his perspective as a serving judge of the Bombay High Court to outline the qualities that a successful lawyer should have. ‘Industry’ and ‘Integrity’ are two qualities that every professional must possess to succeed, he emphasizes. He cites the example of Nani Palkhivala to illustrate the heights to which a professional can rise with the proper approach.

My greetings to you all.

It is a great honour for me to be invited to inaugurate the 6th Nani Palkhivala Memorial National Tax Moot Court Competition, which by itself has become a glorious event in the field of legal education in this country. It is also a matter of great honour for the participants to participate in this Competition named after Nani Palkhivala to perpetuate his memory.

I appreciate the unique idea of conducting Moot Court Competition in the memory of Late Nani Palkhivala to sensitize and educate the students for which, I congratulate the present and past Office Bearers of the ITAT Bar Association, the Federation and the Government Law College, Mumbai.

Late Mr. Palkhivala was a lawyer gifted with advocacy. Advocacy is not something which comes easily. Advocacy is a gift of God and the important thing about advocacy is that you have to communicate. When you are standing before the judge, you have to make your point of view known and understood.

.. much stress is laid by educationalists on literacy and numeracy, but we hear little about the importance of being articulate. Footballers practise passing and shooting; pianists singers also practise assiduously. Why is it supposed that speaking comes naturally and needs no effort or concentration? Fluency and clear pronounciation are particularly important for a lawyer, when our forensic practice is largely oral ..

I had no fortune to hear Mr. Palkhivala in the Court except attending his Budget speech at Nagpur. I was told that Mr.Palkhivala had a remarkable gift of making his argument sound and simple and used to communicate so well that the Judges used to be completely spell bound.

Palkhivala’s forensic skills and ability were not confined to taxation and the Constitution. His knowledge of economics and industrial law and labour legislation were in full display which can be seen in the case of Premier Automobiles which dealt with the issue of fixation of prices for automobiles and also in the case of Jalan Trading in which the constitutionality of the Payment of Bonus Act was assailed.

Palkhivala’s range of legal practice is also evident by his appearance and advocacy in the matter of Seshammal vs. State of T.N. which involved the right of archakas in temples. In that case, Palkhivala expounded the rights which flow from the appointment of a priest or an archaka to perform religious functions and the impact and implication of that appointment in relation to the freedom of religion guaranteed by Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution.

Palkhivala’s forensic achievements were not confined to courts in our country. He represented India in three cases in the international fora. First, before the Special Tribunal in Geneva appointed by the UN to adjudicate upon Pakistan’s claim to enclaves in Kutch. Another was before the International Civil Aviation Organisation at Montreal and later in appeal before the World Court at The Hague when Pakistan claimed the right to fly over India.

So conduct yourself that even if you lose a case, you do not lose your client. Some day, you might have to lose your case as also your client, but so conduct yourself that you don’t lose your Court (Judge), and lastly some day, you might have to lose all three, but so conduct yourself that you do not lose your conscience ….

There have been lawyers who matched Palkhivala in erudition and legal knowledge, but for sheer advocacy Palkhivala was unsurpassable. Clarity of thought coupled with precision and elegance of expression, impassioned plea for the cause he espoused in the case, excellent court craft and an extraordinary ability to think on his legs rendered him an irresistible force and made him sui generis.

Although Nani Palkhivala was one of the leading interpreters of constitutional law and a most ardent defender of the civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution, his legacy also includes authoritative book like “The Law and Practice of Income Tax”, which he co-authored with his mentor Sir Jamshedji Behramji Kanga.

Former Attorney-General Mr.Soli J. Sorabjee, Nani’s friend and colleague for many years, has said: “His talent in expounding the subject was matched by his genius in explaining the intricacies of the Budget to thousands of his listeners. His famous Annual Budget speeches had humble beginnings in 1958 in a small hall of an old hotel called Green Hotel in Bombay. He spoke without notes and reeled off facts and figures from memory for over an hour keeping his audience in rapt attention.” As I said earlier, fortunately, I had an occasion to hear his budget speech in Nagpur almost 20 years before.

Describing the Annual Budget meetings, Sorabjee goes on to say: “The audience in these meetings was drawn from industrialists, lawyers, businessmen and the common individual. Nani’s speeches were fascinating for their brevity and clarity. His Budget speeches became so popular throughout India and the audience for them grew so large that bigger halls and later the Brabourne Stadium in Bombay had to be booked to keep pace with the demand of an audience of over 20,000. It was aptly said that in those days that there were two Budget speeches, one by the Finance Minister and the other by Nani Palkhivala, and Palkhivala’s speech was undoubtedly the more popular and sought after.”

Palkhivala received a great deal of recognition from academics, academic institutions and the Government.

In 1963, Palkhivala was offered a seat on the Supreme Court, but declined.

Nani Palkhivala received honorary doctorates from 7 leading Universities of the world. Such was the personality of Nani Palkhivala.

In my view, this yearly Moot Cout Competition in the memory of Mr. Palkhivala is a salute to a man of brilliance, a man of great learning, a man of great erudition, a man of literature and above all a man of humanity. I am sure, one day you will be able to spot Palkhivala in the making through such Moot Court Competitions.

Dear Friends,

Now, turning to the importance of Moot Court, I find that much stress is laid by educationalists on literacy and numeracy, but we hear little about the importance of being articulate. Footballers practise passing and shooting; pianists singers also practise assiduously. Why is it supposed that speaking comes naturally and needs no effort or concentration? Fluency and clear pronounciation are particularly important for a lawyer, when our forensic practice is largely oral.

Taking part in moots will help in these respects, and also give experience in the art of persuasion, and of putting a case succinctly and intelligibly. Mooting not only gives students practice in court procedure but also helps them to develop the aplomb that every advocate should possess.

Once the technical skills of advocacy have been acquired, those with more than ordinary talent and flair may go on to become outstanding advocates but even the less talented can be assured of being able to do a competent job.

This technical skill can nicely be developed through Moot Court Competitions. I appreciate the role played by Federation and ITAT Bar Association in shaping the future of the Bar by organising such competitions. From my personal experience, I can tell you the Tax Bar is a good and excellent teacher.

One of their students is standing before you. Whatever little I know about tax laws, I owe to the Tax Bar.

Dear Friends,

Bar Associations, like individuals are also expected to advance its role and its source. Bar Associations are also expected to prove itself to be worthy of the noble profession. Bar Associations are also expected to take active part in shaping legal education. The Senior Members of the Bar are expected to take keen interest in shaping a Junior Bar.

Having said so, I am reminded on this occasion of an anecdote concerning Justice Oliver Holmes, one of the greatest judges of the U.S. Supreme Court. One day Justice Holmes boarded a train in Washington. In the general commotion, the famous judge promptly lost his ticket. When the conductor asked for the ticket, Justice Holmes searched for the ticket in his pocket in frustration, unable to find the ticket. The conductor recognized him and said “Don’t worry Justice Holmes, I know you. When you find the ticket, please mail it to our company”. Justice Holmes replied, “Mr. Conductor”, “the question is not where is my ticket?, but ‘just where am I supposed to be going’?

I am sure the question must be ringing in everyone’s mind “where are we supposed to be going”? It is important for the Bar and for the members to find out the lost ticket. It is important for the Bar and its members to know “where are they supposed to be going?”. It is more important to find, especially, in today’s scenario when the rule of law is at stake.

Having said so, I would like to say few words to the Junior Members of the Bar – they still inspire hope in me.

Dear Friends,

To succeed in the profession, two virtues are indispensable; and those are; ‘industry’ and ‘integrity’.

Mr. Palkhivala once said, referring to his senior Mr. Jamshetji Kanga, that he had intellect enough to succeed without industry and industry enough to succeed without intellect. The combination carried him ahead of everyone. Such is the importance of industry.

The other quality is one of integrity. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had said, and so rightly, that “An advocate has a prior and perpetual retainer on behalf of truth and justice. He can never be discharged from that primary and paramount retainer.”

All lawyers owe a duty towards their clients. It is a position of trust and confidence. They must, indeed, perform their duty towards the court. A lawyer must not mislead either the Court or the opponent.

I would like to share with you an advice which has been handed down from generations to generations. We were told : “So conduct yourself that even if you lose a case, you do not lose your client. Some day, you might have to lose your case as also your client, but so conduct yourself that you don’t lose your Court (Judge), and lastly some day, you might have to lose all three, but so conduct yourself that you do not lose your conscience”.

And what is intellect? To my mind, is the quality to judge between a good and the bad, between the reasonable and the unreasonable. Unfortunately, today we have ourselves devalued intellect to mean intelligence to know perfectly which side of ones bread is buttered.

The Bar and its Members, Ladies and Gentlemen, have a more profound duty to perform. The Bar has traditionally stood between the Government and those who are governed, the powerful and the weak, the rich and poor. Bar occupies an essential part in the administration of justice. Counsel who brings his learning, ability, character to conduct cases makes a great contribution to the system of justice. I take this opportunity to remind all of this profound duty which all of us have to perform and which all of us must perform ceaselessly.

I would like to conclude by reading the advice given to his colleague by Abraham Lincoln more than one and half century ago:

If you are resolutely determined to make a lawyer of yourself, the thing is more than half done already. It is but a small matter whether you read with anybody or not. I did not read with anyone. Getting the books, and read and study them till you understand them in their principal feature; and that is the main thing. It is of no consequence to be in a large town while you are reading. I read at New Salem, which never had 300 people living in it. The books and your capacity for understanding them, are just the same in all places. Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing

His words, like him, are immortal.

Dear Friends, on this note, I propose to conclude my few words. I once again express my gratitude and thank you all and wish the Moot Court Competition a great success.

Inaugural address by Hon’ble Mr. Justice V. C. Daga, Judge, Bombay High Court at 6th Nani Palkhivala Memorial National Tax Moot Court Competition on 3rd December, 2009. Reproduced with permission from the AIFTP Journal.

11 comments on “How to become a good lawyer
  1. GARVIT PANDEY says:

    i really love this article from my heart and i want to become a good lawyer so this article is good for my carrier

  2. Michael James says:

    Inspirational words and I express my gratitude to the beloved author.

  3. Adv Hrishikesh Latkar says:

    Very inspiring speech for upcoming advocates.

  4. Sudesh Kr. Singh says:

    I was just looking for such an inspiring article. Thanks to His Lordship.

  5. Nem Singh says:

    Really its a good idea and view for our knowledge in the field of Advocacy. But in the present day the real meaning of the lawyer is something more than place the facts of the case or the law what it say. The work of a lawyer should be in the favour of his clients at any cost or any way.

  6. Manoj K. Modi says:

    Really good article.
    The problem is that practically we have to face hardship while dealing with authorities. What happens while dealing with income tax cases is well known to everybody. However, the article is very inspiring for us (beginners).

    Regards / Manoj K. Modi

  7. What is said in this article is inspiring! However lawyers hardly follow these principles; the only thing they nowadays follow is to follow any fair or unfair means to win the case for their clients!

  8. Rajnesh ramesh lomte says:

    A Real lesson

  9. Vipul Shah says:

    A very very good speech indeed. worth reading and implementing article.

  10. Vijay Trimbak Gokhale says:

    A great speach indeed. All those wanting to do a career in advocacy must read this. One to know and understand what that great legand callad Nani Palkhiwala was and secondly to understand virtues required to become a successfull lawyer.


  11. manish says:

    truly inspiring

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