A package deal

This is a story of two lawyers.

We can refer to them as ‘Adv. Kamgari’ and ‘Adv. Vyapari’. They were good friends, though Vyapari was almost 10 years older than Kamgari.

Both were labour lawyers practising mainly in the labour and industrial courts and tribunals in and around the metropolis. Both appeared mainly for the workmen and the trade unions supporting their interests.

In the mid-eighties, when I joined the Bombay Bar, the docket of the high court was peppered with labour and industry-related disputes.

In those days, when the romance of communism had not worn out, these two lawyers usually won hard-fought battles against bourgeois employers before the subordinate courts full of underpaid and overworked presiding officers.

The opposite parties (mostly the employers) invariably challenged those awards and orders before appellate fora and later on by filing writ petitions before the high court.

Lawyers who represented the workmen before the lower fora appeared very frequently in the high court too as their clients could ill afford to engage specialist HC counsel to present their cases.

The kind of fees the designated seniors charged in those days were not astronomical like today but they still were a princely sum for paupered pockets.

Designated seniors were quite content appearing for the employers. They dreaded being appointed as amicus or being burdened by some milord with a legal aid case for some workman. Managements preferred to pay lawyers who laboured for them in courts but not labourers who laboured for them in their factories.

Gradually, as their work increased, advocates Kamgari and Vyapari started concentrating mainly on their high court matters. Their chamber juniors managed a majority of the routine run-of-the-mill cases before subordinate courts and tribunals.

Adv. Kamgari soon caught the eye of one milord who belonged to his own privileged Maharashtrian upper caste. On that milord’s recommendation, this labour lawyer was appointed as an ‘Assistant Government Pleader’ (AGP) in the Bombay HC.

Gradually, all labour and industrial cases (and there were plenty of these cases in the late eighties and early nineties dominated by trade unions) started getting assigned to this AGP.

When his Godfather (rather, milord–father) benefactor used to have labour and services assignments, adv. Kamgari was considered a sureshot winner. As a result, a lot of good private non-government cases also began gravitating towards him, especially before the benefactor milord.

As they say at the Bar, he soon ‘established a good practice’.

A curious official circular then came to be issued by the ‘Law and Judiciary Department’ of the State Government that all labour and industrial cases on the original and appellate sides of the Bombay High Court, where the State government was joined as a party (whether contesting or formal) should be assigned only to this young AGP for the State government due to his ability and expertise in the field.

The circular did make an allowance for the AGP to continue handling his private cases but included a proviso which prevented him from taking up any matter pertaining to labour and industrial disputes.

Now, that posed a real problem for the AGP! Almost all his private practice was in the very field where this embargo had been imposed. He felt it was highly unfair.

At first, he considered lodging a protest with the government and filing a representation against this exclusive assignment proposal. But his ‘milord–father’ promptly dissuaded him from doing so.

He told him that daily multiple appearances for the state government in a field of his expertise would help him make a great impression before several milords of the Bombay HC. And that would assist in his quick elevation to the HC Bench. The young labour lawyer understood that his career had already been charted for him by the respected elders of his caste on the Bench.

Yet, losing his private clients was not a pleasant thought.

In this quandary, his best friend Adv. Vyapari came to his rescue and became his best solution.

It was decided that all of Adv. Kamgari’s existing briefs would be transferred to Adv. Vyapari and any new client approaching him directly would also be redirected to his friend.

Adv. Vyapari, though competent, belonged to a trading, commercial community which was financially very sound but in the legal field was looked upon as ‘outsiders’ by the elite, intellectual Maharashtrians, though they spoke Marathi more fluently than most Westernized Maharashtrians.

Hence, Adv. Vyapari, though senior in age and practice, had comparatively less work than the young AGP Adv. Kamgari. This arrangement was therefore Goddess Laxmi’s boon for him. Overnight, with the clients and their cases transferred, he had over a hundred cases on his plate and fees for appearances flowing into his pockets.

Of course, Adv. Kamgari could not appear for the government in those transferred cases where he had appeared for the petitioner, but there was no impediment in guiding brand new clients to his friend on mutually beneficial terms.

Soon, the old clients of Adv. Kamgari realised that Adv. Vyapari’s quality of drafting was not up to the mark expected in the HC. So when a new client approached him, Adv. Kamgari’s services were now not restricted simply to making a referral to his old friend Vyapari. He soon started studying the papers and drafting the petitions before sending them to Vyapari!

Adv. Vyapari simply filed the fully prepared cases through his chamber juniors and completed all the formalities in the registry.

Where the state government was arrayed as a respondent (as it mostly used to be formally) the AGP Adv. Kamgari ended up appearing in the same cases where the petitions too had been drafted by him! Of course he used to charge the private clients for such services. No labour should go in vain. And the government too was paying him for his services in those matters! It was thus a ‘single case, double benefit scheme’ for Adv. Kamgari.

The distribution of fees between Kamgari and Vyapari had been 50:50 to begin with but soon additional ‘services’ began to be provided by the AGP to private clients. Whereas earlier the state government counsel would be mute spectators and submit to orders of the court in all cases where they were arrayed only as a formal party with no relief sought against them, now, for an additional charge, Adv. Kamgari started a practice of filing short affidavits in all petitions which had been drafted by him but filed by his loyal friend Vyapari. He used all his legal skills to support the grounds canvassed in the petition which he himself had drafted!

You could say it wasn’t cricket.

But in those days no one accused anyone of match-fixing. A code of silence was considered the most sacrosanct precedent in the noble profession. And no one even dreamt of breaking it as instant ostracism would result for such a ‘dishonourable’ act!

At times, as the ‘neutral’ AGP, Adv. Kamgari was even called upon to assist the court in arriving at the ‘correct decision’. He did so admirably by addressing the court and helping out his friend Adv. Vyapari even though the government was just a formal party! Why would any client mind paying handsomely for such ‘add-on services’ when the only thing that mattered was a favourable judicial outcome?

Ethics were alright for the book. The bottom line was: One had to win by hook or crook!

Hence, it was a good ‘package deal’ for the clients. No question of any of them complaining! The ‘package deal’ ensured that their petition was drafted by AGP Kamgari but filed on record by Adv. Vyapari. Thereafter, an affidavit in reply supporting their version was drafted by Kamgari who had drafted their petition… but this time from the other side represented by Vyapari.

Like a bowler switching ends to bowl. And then the desired result was achieved by Vyapari with the assistance of AGP Kamgari with the seal of approval and blessings of milords.

In this geometry of law, this algebra of justice produced desired results. It was all QED: Quite Easily Done!

Soon the hardworking Adv. Kamgari was acknowledged for his domain expertise in all branches of labour law. His performance began to get noticed by senior milords. When his benefactor, who was by then in the collegium, recommended his elevation to the Bombay HC Bench from the Bar quota, it sailed through very smoothly.

Adv. Kamgari became a Bombay HC judge at the young age of 45.

As he had been the AGP in labour-related matters for several years, and several Benches used to be assigned labour-related matters in those days, he was transferred temporarily to a neighbouring state for cooling-off for a few years .

His loyal friend Adv. Vyapari, in the meanwhile, continued to flourish as a lawyer thanks largely to the erstwhile clientele of his elevated AGP friend Adv. Kamgari. He had already crossed 55 years of age and was treated as a de facto ‘senior counsel’ though not designated as one. It was a good, comfortable position to be in.

But more luck was in store. As he was a loyal friend to the AGP milord, that milord in a couple of years put in a word with the socialist coalition dispensation which had briefly assumed power at the Centre exactly around that time.

That socialist coalition dispensation felt there were too many pro-management judges on the Benches and some pro-labour appointments were highly desirable. It would also help in collecting a few brownie points from the trade unions.

Thus, Justice Kamgari’s loyal old friend Adv. Vyapari was also elevated to the Bombay HC Bench even though he had crossed the age of 55 which was considered in those days to be an unofficial upper limit for direct elevations to the Bench from the bar.

Shortly thereafter, Justice Kamgari returned to his parent Bombay HC from the neighbouring state to join his good old friend Justice Vyapari as a learned brother on the Bench.

Their juniors did not appear before their respective seniors but flourished like plants with an extra dose of manure in each other’s courts.
As a result, they too built up successful practices.

Justice Kamgari had been elevated at an early age of 45 years inter alia due to caste connections in the right places at the right time. Thus, he soon became acting CJ of the Bombay HC and then went on to become CJ of some other high courts.

His caste connections in high places then decided that he deserved to be cast in a bigger role. Justice Kamgari was thus elevated as a SC judge where he served for many years.

He has now retired.

His loyal friend Justice Vyapari has also retired as a Bombay HC judge. Their children and juniors are well-settled in our noble profession patiently waiting for the elusive ‘lady luck of elevation’ to cast her benevolent glance on them.

The pandemic of arbitration ensures that all retired milords lead a happier and more lucrative life in retirement than the one they led as sitting judges.

Justice Kamgari, retired SC judge and Justice Vyapari, retired HC judge, like many others, are on several arbitration panels.

And the noble profession’s code of honour prevents us from wondering whether package deals happen in arbitration too!

The Leaflet