A noble profession

A few young readers of my anecdotal stories who are just finding their feet in the legal profession told me that they end up getting depressed reading about some of the disclosures I make.

They seem quite desperate to believe that the law is a noble profession and judges are impartiality personified.


Let me assure them that a few warts don’t make an entire face ugly.

Beauty lies in the eyes of its beholders and warts can be painlessly removed by laser treatment.


Today, as I pen this last piece before taking a break from writing ‘Adaalat Antics’ for some time, I have decided to narrate a story of a different kind.

It so happened, as it always happens, that after a few years of struggle, life for any lawyer becomes a bit comfortable.

This is because work gradually starts trickling in.

And usually, it is due to word of mouth publicity.

I was at that phase in my career where I was getting “second briefs” to assist designated senior counsel on the Original Side, apart from my direct Appellate Side work.

The case in question involved issues pertaining to the land acquisition laws prevalent then and the counsel whom the client’s attorneys had engaged was an acknowledged expert in that field.

I have not come across anyone as dignified, polite and well-mannered as him.

It was a pleasure working on the brief with him, whether in conferences or while preparing drafts to be vetted and “settled” by him.

He was a veritable repository of case-law not just on the subject of his expertise, but in constitutional law and excise laws as well.

There was a lot to learn from him.

We had an arguable case and there was a catena of case-law in favour of the points we desired to canvass.

But in the past six months, two high courts had taken a different view altogether.

Our counsel was of the view that the contrary viewpoint was equally likely to prevail.


In a pre-hearing conference, our client, quite naturally queried:

“Sir, whose job is it to show the judgments which are against us?”

Counsel: “Of course,the other side will point them out.”


The other side in this case was the Municipal Corporation of Greater Bombay (‘MCGB’), whose Standing Counsel was a formidable opponent despite being a great fibber.

Our counsel was right when he said the other side would rely on the two judgments which were against the points we were canvassing.

But our client and the attorneys felt we should present our side of the case to the best of our ability and leave the decision to the learned judge who was going to hear the case.

On the day of the hearing, our counsel put up such a fine performance for over an hour that the judge seemed completely ready to allow our petition and grant us the reliefs sought.

We waited with bated breath for the MCGB Counsel to tear into our arguments by relying upon the two recent decisions of other high courts, but imagine our surprise when the compilation handed by the law officer assisting the MCGB Counsel had all the cases on the point except the recent two in their favour!

Even the MCGB’s respected senior counsel, who relied heavily on inputs from the law officers assisting him, seemed completely unaware of these recent contrary developments in interpretation of law on the point before the court.

With whatever old cases they had compiled, they argued the case to the best of their ability but the learned judge, who had already been mesmerised by our counsel, an acknowledged expert in that branch of law, was absolutely unmoved.

He summoned his stenographer and began dictating the judgment in our favour.

I turned around from my seat and noticed big smiles on the faces of our client and the attorney.

But sitting in the front row of arguing counsel, I could notice that our senior counsel sitting beside me, was far from happy!

He looked at me and whispered: “We cannot allow the wrong law to be laid down by the Bombay High Court.”

Before I could react, he stood up and addressed the judge: “Milord, please forgive this interruption but this case has not been very properly argued and as a result you may be about to render a decision which would be considered per incuriam if you do not apply your mind to two recent Division Bench judgments on this very point.”

Judge: “I thought you had cited every judgment and argued everything in your favour. I am with you!”

Counsel: “Milord,I am referring to two judgments which are against me. I expected the other side to rely on them but unfortunately they seem to have missed these judgments.

Any decision of our Hon’ble high court and by milord rendered in ignorance of these judgments will not reflect well upon this august institution.

I am afraid I cannot get myself to be a party to that.

First and foremost I am an officer of the court.

I am not just a mouthpiece for my client.”

Everyone was stunned by this declaration.

The judge had a mixture of shock and awe on his face.

The senior counsel of MCGB started looking at his assisting law officer with the look of a tomcat eyeing mice.

Our client had his mouth wide-open, revealing his gold-capped teeth and half-chewed paan.

And our attorney was waiting for the ground beneath his feet to open up and swallow him!

Only our counsel had a serene look on his face.

It was like the look of a Buddha after enlightenment!

Our counsel then asked me to supply copies of the two judgments against us to the learned judge.

He even proffered copies to our opponents!

But the senior counsel of MCGB said:

“Just give the citations.” 

Then looking menacingly at his assistants, he said:

“Let these good-for-nothings do some work at least!”

The case was then kept on the next day to enable the learned judge and our opponents to read the recent judgments and absorb their import.

As soon as we trooped out of the courtroom, our “Buddha” counsel blissfully left for his Chambers, leaving our livid client to vent his fury on the attorney and I!

I tried to tell him that what our senior counsel had done was part of a “noble tradition” of our Bar.

This incensed our client even more.

Client: “Tumhara tradition jaaye bhaad mein.

Meri jeeti hui case haraa dee! 

Ye hai tradition?

“Sack him.I don’t want him tomorrow.

Get someone else!”

The client did not say anything about me specifically and the attorney requested me to continue as assistant to another senior they would be engaging as counsel that very evening.

But I did not feel comfortable continuing as a player when the captain whom I admired so much had been unceremoniously evicted from the team.

So I too returned the brief.

A good friend of mine was quickly drafted to fill in my vacancy as second counsel.

As a result of this case, in the long run I was also blacklisted by that client and that attorney.

On the next day, finding a new set of counsel appearing for the petitioner, the judge must have guessed what had happened.

He proceeded to dismiss the petition but commended the fairness of our counsel and said it was in keeping with the glorious tradition of the Bombay Bar.

For the client too, it did not end too badly.

The new set of counsel advised going in appeal to the Supreme Court and there, the judgment was reversed and the petitioner succeeded as the Supreme Court relied on the earlier precedents and disagreed with the later ones.

Much later, when I visited his Chambers to meet him, our counsel told me that I should have stayed on in the case as I had a career ahead of me.

I told him that I did what I felt was the right thing to do under those circumstances, and that I would fondly remember this case for what I had learnt from him.

He asked me if I also did direct practice on the Appellate Side and upon getting an affirmative reply, he started directing clients who approached him directly to engage me as his Advocate on Record.

We did several matters together in this manner, and not only did I learn several aspects of legal ethics and practice from him but I was well remunerated too!

We still remain good friends, though he has cut down his counsel practice to spend more time abroad with his children and grandchildren.

One of his chamber juniors is now a well-respected judge of the Bombay High Court.

The judge who had heard the case at the high court went on to become a Supreme Court judge and made a mark for himself before retiring.

He is a busy arbitrator now.

The senior counsel for the MCGB is no more.

The senior counsel who replaced our counsel has retired from active practice.

The junior counsel who replaced me in that matter became a High Court judge and retired not too long ago.

Many things have changed in our profession.

But let me reiterate that I still believe that the legal profession is a truly noble profession, and there is no dearth of ideals to emulate in it.

I do hope you have enjoyed my stories.

Others will continue to regale you with their memories from next Sunday.