A busy Appellate Side lawyer was spotted by me rushing to the Bombay High Court on one fine Friday at 4.15 pm.
In those days, the courts rose for the day at 4.45 pm.
He had spotted me as well just as he was about to cross M.G.Road and move in the direction of the High Court.
Upon spotting me, he changed direction and almost ran towards me.
Pointing to a Cafe by the roadside, he began insisting that we have a quick cup of tea since he was seeing me after a very long time and would love to have a chat.
As I was through with my cases in court for that day I accepted his ardent request.
I had no idea at that time as to why he was so keen to have tea with me.
I was soon to find out!
It turned out that he did not wish to go to court at that time and needed some excuse to avoid doing so.
His final hearing case was about to reach and he was quite certain that he would be clobbered out of court by the temperamental judge assigned to hear the matter.
Just as we took our seat in the Udupi Cafe his clerk called to say that his case could reach for hearing any minute.
The lawyer solemnly told him:
“I am in a conference with a very senior lawyer.
Catch hold of some junior in the court and ask him to request that the case be kept back.”
At 4.45 pm the clerk rang back to say that the case had reached for hearing at 4.40 pm and had now been kept on Monday.
The lawyer immediately told the clerk:
“File a leave note for me for the whole of next week.
After that the assignments will be changing.”
Clerk: “The deadline for filing leave notes today is over.”
Lawyer: “Arrey, what are you guys employed for?
Give something in the registry and lodge it immediately, don’t waste even a minute!”
Clerk: “What reason should I write in the leave note?”
Lawyer: “Write ‘Gone to Native Place”!
Clerk: “Will you come now and sign the note?”
Lawyer: “No, I am still in conference with the senior lawyer.
You put my signature as usual.”
Then the lawyer, looking very pleased with himself turned his attention to the tea and me.
Though the entire conversation which I overheard was most interesting, I was particularly intrigued by the bit about his clerk forging his signature on that leave note.
I asked him:
“Is it not dangerous to have your clerk signing like this?”
His answer was amazing..
“Sir, on the Appellate Side,this is quite a common practice.
We trust our clerks with everything.
Once, when my hand was fractured and I was unable to sign a cheque to withdraw money from my account, my clerk was my real saviour, not any of my relatives!
He wrote out a bearer cheque and signed my signature so perfectly that I faced no problem paying off the salaries and office expenses.
Signing leave notes is nothing compared with signing a cheque!”
I must say, I had to agree with him on that last sentence.
At that moment I recalled what a senior Appellate Side lawyer had once told me.
It seems he had opened an account in HSBC Bank near the High Court building in the name of his wife.
Once, when he needed to withdraw cash, he got his wife to sign a self cheque and took it to the Bank.
But they told him that the signature did not match!
Then he remembered that he himself had signed for his wife when he had opened his account!
So, on the next day, he signed his wife’s signature on the cheque..and the cheque was cleared!
Still, a husband forging a wife’s signature was nothing compared to a clerk being allowed (and encouraged) to sign for his boss!
I may be a bit old-fashioned and people may feel I do not trust my staff enough, but I must confess I still prefer to sign my own cheques.
Mercifully, with everything going digital nowadays, cheques have almost become redundant.
However, on the Appellate Side, “leave notes” are still the lifeline for many lawyers.