SK Dholakia , Senior Advocate

lawz magazine.comSK Dholakia – an Eminent Senior Counsel practising in the Supreme Court of India. He completed his law but did not immidiately join the profession but served Air India as an Administrative officer for a few years. He subsequently realised that he was not cut out to do this job and decided to take up legal practice. However, success did not come to him easy. He worked hard and specialising in company and  excise matters has many landmark judgements in his favour. Media shy,  Dholakia however agreed to share his experiences of the legal field with our correspondent.

I hesitated, as people told me that I would have to hire touts to get briefs

 I became an advocate more by accident than by design. Before joining the profession, I worked for Air India as their administrative officer. Although I had qualified for law before joining Air India, I hesitated, as people told me that I would have to hire touts to get briefs. When I realised that it was not so, I decided to resign and join practice. It is my good luck that I have never had to regret the decision.

Chance comes to everyone. One must be ready to seize it.

 Initial years were hard. That is no different from the experience of others. However, chance comes to everyone. One must be ready to seize it. To be ready, one must learn from one’s experiences.

Let me give an example. After about 7 years practice, I got my first Central Excise case. In those days, that is, around 1973, Central Excise cases in courts were rare. An advocate who had recently retired as Collector of Central Excise came over to brief me. I was unfamiliar with the subject. He discovered it in 15 minutes and took away the brief. I was hurt, but also understood that he was right. I resolved to study the subject on my own, so that next time some one would come with a Central Excise brief, I would be ready.  It so happened that the very same person found the new counsel whom he had briefed deficient. He came back again. By then I was a bit more ready. We did the case together. He was satisfied and brought many new matters. From excise cases, the clients came for company matters, then tax matters, etc. I followed the formula of learning as many commercial law subjects ahead of time; so that when the brief would come, I was ready.

The key to being a good lawyer is that one should never take anything for granted.

 I would rank as defective the legal education system under which I studied. I will give you an example. My daughter who is an attorney in the US has studied in both India and the US. She told me that in India, to get more marks, she would have to answer the question posed in the Question Paper by reproducing the reasoning of the decided cases. That approach prompted students to mug up cases. In the US, on the other hand, to get more marks, she would have to show why a particular judgment already rendered was erroneous. It compelled her to think. That approach prompted students to learn critical evaluation.  The key to being a good lawyer is that one should never take anything for granted.

I felt that retirement at 62 was too early.

 I was offered judgeship twice. Once in 1983 for Gujarat High Court and next in 1985 for Delhi High Court. I declined both times, although of course it was a great honour to be offered.  There were a number of reasons. One major reason was that I felt that retirement at 62 was too early. I did not like the idea of practising after having been a judge; I felt it would be undignified. Also, I saw many retired judges who tried to practise and not doing well.  To get good members of the Bar to accept the judgeship, it would be useful to raise the retirement age for both High Court and Supreme court judges.

There is much to learn from the international community.

 Arbitration is the most appropriate way in resolving commercial disputes, particularly international commercial disputes. In many ways, India has already become a part of the global economy. However, unless India has the legal structure for resolution of disputes, Indians would have to go abroad to have their disputes resolved. That is tragic, as Indians can speak good English, are legally well accomplished and are smart. We just need the appropriate legal structure and our judges and lawyers need to appreciate the significance of arbitration as alternative system for resolution of disputes. I found evidence of this when I was elected to be a member (alternate) to the ICC International Court of Arbitration. There is much to learn from the international community. The 1996 Act was a great mistake—for many reasons, the chief of which was that Parliament enacted the same law for both domestic and international arbitrations. We should have followed Singapore model, which even today has different laws for domestic and international arbitrations.

A Bill was introduced in Parliament, but Parliamentary Committee returned it requesting reconsideration.

 In 1996 itself, a challenge to the validity of the Arbitration Act was made before the Supreme Court. I argued the case with the assistance of Dr. Julian Francis. Although we were not successful, later, after considering the developments, the Chairman of the Law Commission, Justice B P Jeeven Reddy, took up the review of the Act in his second term. The government accepted the Report of the Law Commission headed by Justice M J Rao suggesting changes. A Bill was introduced in Parliament, but Parliamentary Committee returned it requesting reconsideration. The government is keen to make the changes in the Act and hopefully it will be done in a short time.

-This Interview was published in LawZ July 2007 Issue

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