The Dos And Dont’s For Young Aspiring Legal Professionals
The law is a jealous mistress, and requires a long and constant courtship. It is not to be won by trifling favors, but by lavish homage
In 1829, Justice Joseph Story, the titanic American lawyer and jurist, stated, ‘The law is a jealous mistress, and requires a long and constant courtship. It is not to be won by trifling favors, but by lavish homage.’ The first five years of the professional career of a lawyer are most critical and invariably determine his success at the Bar. If after his admission to the Bar, the young lawyer squanders his precious time, paying more attention to the varied pleasures of society, the irresistible lure of alcohol, tobacco and drugs and the alluring amusements of the internet and mobile telephony and other modern day distractions, than he does to the study of law and the interests of his clients, he can never hope to be successful at the Bar. John Scott,1st Earl of Eldon, the honorific English Barrister and parliamentarian, once remarked that in order to become a great lawyer, a man must ‘live like a hermit and work like a horse.’ This dictum may be too severe for the young lawyer to follow in practice in modern times. But hard work is undoubtedly of paramount importance. Abraham Lincoln, the towering sixteenth President of the United States who is universally hailed as the father of modern democracy, astutely revealed in a historic reply to a letter he received seeking his advice on the ‘best mode of obtaining a thorough knowledge of the law’ – ‘The mode is very simple, though laborious, and tedious. It is only to get the books, and read, and study them carefully…Work, work, work, is the main thing.’ William Wirt, the prodigious American lawyer, writer and statesman (who was the longest serving United States Attorney General), once advised a young aspiring lawyer, ‘Take it for granted that there is no excellence without great labor. No mere aspirations for eminence, however ardent, will do the business. Wishing and sighing and imagining and dreaming of greatness will never make you great. If you would get to the mountain’s top, on which the temple of fame stands, it will not do to stand still, looking, admiring and wishing you were there. You must gird up your loins, and go to work with all the indomitable energy of Hannibal scaling the Alps. Laborious study and diligent observation of the world are both indispensable to the attainment of eminence.’ At the same time, the young lawyer must assiduously inculcate the quality of diligence. Lincoln rightly remarked, ‘The leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every other calling, is diligence. Leave nothing for to-morrow which can be done to-day.’ A young lawyer should, when opportunity comes his way, seek and obtain the advice of lawyers older and more experienced than himself as to the studies he should undertake, the complexities of practice which he does not comprehend, and, in fact, anything he is not affirmative about. Lincoln also laid a lot of emphasis on the cultivation of the art of extemporaneous speaking. He observed, Extemporaneous speaking should be practised and cultivated. It is the lawyer’s avenue to the public.
If the young lawyer is desirous of becoming a shining star of the Bar and the glorious toast of the profession, he must have an exalted standard of ideal excellence. Young lawyers are often baffled by the hackneyed question, ‘Can a lawyer be honest?’ No man of sense who has read the biographies of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Dr.Rajendra Prasad, Dr.Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, Mahatma Gandhi, Chief Justice John Marshall, Joseph Hodges Choate, Sir William Blackstone, Thomas Erskine, 1st Baron Erskine of Restormel, Lord ’ Alfred Thomson Denning and other legal luminaries will ever venture to ask such a frivolous question. It is true that there are a few dishonest lawyers (like theDelhi based lawyer Rohit Tandon from whose office the Delhi Police recently seized hordes of hard cash in the aftermath of demonetisation!), but the same may be said of every profession or occupation. In this context, Lincoln aptly observed, ‘There is a vague popular belief that lawyers are necessarily dishonest. I say vague, because when we consider to what extent confidence and honors are reposed in and conferred upon lawyers by the people, it appears improbable that their impression of dishonesty is very distinct and vivid. Yet the impression is common, almost universal. Let no young man choosing the law for a calling for a moment yield to the popular belief – resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation, rather than one in the choosing of which you do, in advance, consent to be a knave.’ If then a young lawyer wishes to become a distinguished lawyer, there remains much for him to accomplish. He must first ask himself if he has the mental attributes and the moral qualities which will enable him to achieve the success which he cherishes. He must then forge appropriate rules for the streamlining of his conduct and indefatigably adhere to them. He must have the courage and conviction to become the guarantor of innocency, the tormentor of deceit and fraud, the curse of oppression and exploitation and the champion of justice. The legendary sixteenth century spiritual Master of the Ancient Wisdom St.Germain emphatically addressed those desirous of attaining excellence in the profession, ‘As a light is set in a lantern, that all that is in the house may be seen thereby; so Almighty God hath set Conscience in the midst of every reasonable soul, as a light whereby he may derive and know what to do. Wherefore forasmuch as it behooveth thee to be occupied in such things as pertain to law, it is necessary that thou everhold a pure and clean conscience…And if thou do thus,I trust the lantern, that is, thy conscience, shall never be extincted.’ Lincoln frankly confessed, ‘No client ever had money enough to bribe my conscience or tostop its utterance against wrong, and oppression. My conscience is my own – my creator’s – not man’s. I shall never sink the rights of mankind to the malice, wrong, or avarice of another’s wishes, though those wishes come to me in the relation of client and attorney.’
The young lawyer must never lose faith. Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, the charismatic American politician, diplomat and activist, succinctly remarked, ‘If you lose money you lose much, if you lose friends you lose more, if you lose faith you lose all.’ He must not become unnerved by the numerous hurdles which strike him as almost unconquerable. By perseverance he will succeed! He must adopt the motto of the monumental Irish statesman, author, orator, political- theorist and philosopher Edmund Burke viz. ‘Never despair’ as his guide. He must remember the lofty distinctions which are almost inexorably conferred upon successful legal practitioners and relentlessly endeavour to succeed. Before the resolute, hurdles rapidly vanish! Lincoln rightly observed, ‘If you are resolutely determined to make a lawyer of yourself, the thing is more than half done already’ and further, ‘Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing’
John Dunning, 1st Baron Ashburton, the eminent English lawyer and politician, once remarked, ‘Our profession is generally ridiculed as dry and uninteresting; but a mind anxious for the discovery of truth and information will be amply gratified for the toil in investigating the origin and progress of a jurisprudence which has the good of the people for its basis, and the accumulated wisdom of ages for its improvement.” Lincoln said, “Law is nothing else but the best reason of wise men applied for ages to the transactions and business of mankind.’ But profound knowledge and sound rectitude will not always ensure success. Much attention must be paid by the young lawyer to manners in his interactions with his clients and fellow lawyers. William of Wykeham , the celebrated Bishop of Winchester and the Chancellor of England, asserted way back in the 14th Century, ‘Manners maketh man’. John Raithby, the renowned English lawyer, pertinently penned, ‘Manner is that invisible quality which insensibly pervades, with the happiest effect, the works of pure genius…It allures while it awes the mind; it speaks a language that no power but itself can express, and is that Attic fire that enlivens every object to which it communicates its influence…In the Advocate it is more immediately discernible than in any other character; consequently the want of it in him will more easily be detected…It is an indescribable combination of ease and dignity; it mixes with and elevates the character, without seeming to form any dominate part of it. It is of a dignified nature, and is the result only of a penetrating judgment, a refined and enlarged sentiment, a superior virtue and an extensive commerce with mankind.’ In each and every situation, whether in court or otherwise, the young lawyer must never forget that he is first and foremost a gentleman and that he belongs to a most honourable profession, the dignity of which he must conserve with all the strength at his command. He must make sure that no words escape his lips which he would dread to repeat in the presence of the most refined company. By being thus guarded in conversation, he will acquire a graceful style, unblemished by intemperate or coarse expressions, which will be of immeasurable advantage to him in the practice of law, especially in the conduct of cases in court, the argument of cases and the examination of witnesses. At the same time, the young lawyer must realise the utmost importance of self-control and composure. He must not under any circumstances permit anyone to be the master of his temper but himself. He must strive to emulate the manner of the ablest legal practitioners who unfailingly retain their presence of mind and sense of decorum. David Paul Brown, the reputed American lawyer, aptly remarked, ‘By all means, in all circumstances, maintain your composure. If asked what is the most desirable attainment of a lawyer, we should say composure.’ If briefs do not come instantly, the young lawyer must be gratified to patiently wait until Fortuna, the fickle goddess, smiles upon him. It may be prudent for him to wait enduringly for cases for some time, for then when he eventually appears in court, if he has made judicious use of his time, he will exculpate himself persuasively. On the other hand, if a case is entrusted to him too early after his admission, and he loses it, the injury done to him would be immense. A young lawyer cannot afford to make unnecessary mistakes at the genesis of his career. But failure to obtain cases as soon as he may desire must not ruffle his feathers and cause him to become discourteous to those with whom he comes into contact. He must be deferential to all. He must guard his tongue well and must especially remember never to speak perniciously of anyone. And he should especially be careful not to speak disparagingly of any of his professional colleagues in the presence of their clients or even otherwise, no matter what he thinks of their capacity or competence.
I feel confident that young legal professionals will by now appreciate my conception of the dos and dont’s that they should formulate for themselves, and that they will adulate the legal profession and conscientiously learn what is expected of them as fresh limbs of the law. In conclusion, I am enthusiastically stimulated to advocate to them the timeless message of Lincoln, ‘When I have a particular case in hand, I have that motive and feel an interest in the case, feel an interest in ferreting out the questions to the bottom, love to dig up the question by the roots and hold it up and dry it before the fires of the mind.’
– Anoop Bose,
Supreme Court of India