Young Lawyers Manual – By Vijay K. Sondhi

Young Lawyers Manual

– By Vijay K. Sondhi, Senior Partner at Luthra and Luthra Law Offices, New Delhi, India. 


What should be a young lawyer’s thought process/approach in the initial few years?

Ans: In the initial few years, invest in only one thing: ‘yourself’. Never say no to a brief. Take up and read as many briefs as you can. Each matter is an opportunity; an opportunity for you to:

  • Learn and explore a new area of law;
  • Solve a new problem and gain experience;
  • Harness your skills;
  • Build a clientele;
  • Gain a reputation with the judges.

Remember, one matter can make a career. Use that one matter to read the whole body of law surrounding that question. It may be a simple recovery suit, a land acquisition matter, or drafting of a commercial agreement. No case is small or big and always remember : A matter is not a mere ‘file’. It is a human life. Take it seriously. Fates rest on what you say or don’t say in the Court. However, don’t let the sheer implications and importance of your job bog you down.


How important is language?

Ans. A lawyer’s task is not easy; he has to convince someone (the Judge!) who is trained and hard-wired not to believe anything at face value (rightly so!) and taking everything with a pinch of salt. It is indeed a challenge. A lawyer overcomes this with his learning and his words. A practicing lawyer’s language, therefore, is his greatest stock in trade. Young lawyers should work and invest in their verbal as well as writing abilities. The ability to articulate even the most complex of issues clearly and putting them together simply, in the form of an understandable narrative, is extremely important for a lawyer. The most successful lawyers are often the people who do not just know a lot about the subject but can also present the same most articulately. A basic understanding of rules of the language is also extremely important. Right language can save lives, commas can save lives. Example : “Hey, let’s eat, kids” can easily degenerate into “Hey, let’s eat kids”. Right language can, therefore, save lives! Also, a prohibition like “ROKO, MAT JAANE DO” can easily be turned into the more positive “ROKO MAT, JAANE DO” . Language, therefore, has to be used with precision. A lawyer cannot afford to be reckless or loose with use of language.

Clarity is also extremely important; always remember that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Don’t beat about the bush and come straight to the point.


How important are discussions with peers?

Ans. Discuss with your peers, ask questions, attend talks/lectures/seminars. Mooting is not just for law school. At the firm, we have the culture of taking up a case, dividing ourselves into teams and arguing the matter for either side; this has the amazing upside of us getting tested in our own chambers, before we enter the court and by this process of debate, we try to gain a better insight into our cases and this helps us stay ahead of the curve. It also gives us a sense of what it means to be in a court room. Each drop of sweat in practice, saves blood in War. This also helps younger colleagues build that quality of being able to think on one’s feet. It’s like being in a bouncy, even if you fall, you don’t get hurt!


How important is writing papers/articles?

Ans. Academic writing/publications do not only look good on the CV, but also help one understand the first principles of law better. One gains clarity and resolve a lot of issues, simply by the process of writing and thinking about them. This also helps a young lawyer build a reputation of being good at a particular area of law. Many legendary lawyers have built their entire careers on writing. The greatest example would be:  Mr.Datar on Tax and constitutional law.

On the rules of writing, young lawyers should always remember that : “There is nothing in the law that’s so complicated that you couldn’t make it clear to any literate non-lawyer” (Rodell on Legal Writing). The goal is to communicate. Use a clear and strong structure for all your legal writing – Fact > Issue > Law > Analysis > Conclusion. As any creative writing expert would tell you, one must always endeavor to try and paint a narrative, “show, don’t tell” is what they say. Anton Chekhov famously said : Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass…” Adherence to this rule, without needless ostentation/flowery language, would make your legal writing interesting and comprehensible.


How important is time management?

Ans.  One should take the advice of Robert Frost and “try to fill every unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run”. Speed reading is an extremely important skill to build. A lawyer is required to read and process vast amounts of information in relatively very less time and to sift what we call “the chaff from the grain”, i.e. the relevant from the irrelevant. One should try to pack in as much as one can in a day. While waiting for one’s matter in the Court, one should keenly observe the proceedings and take notes, wherever necessary and read as much as one can.


What are the skills which one needs to have in order to brief a senior counsel effectively.

Ans. Below are some of the thoughts:

  • Identify the most important issues. (An issue well stated is half solved).
  • Master the facts of the case; Remember, even if you go wrong with the interpretation of a complex statute/section, you cannot afford to go wrong on facts; this where the senior needs you the most.
  • Never distort facts during a briefing; one should maintain scrupulous accuracy on facts.
  • Never keep a judgment/provision/argument from the senior, which may be used by the opposite party. Try to find out a way around it, with the enormous experience and value-add of a senior.
  • During the hearing, a senior counsel may need assistance with factual clarifications etc. Always be ready with those details.


Importance of legal research and tips on how to do effective legal research

Ans. Being able to research quickly and effectively is essential to understanding your clients, their needs, and to preparing legal strategies. Preparing legal strategies requires absorbing and comprehending large amounts of information, then distilling them down into something manageable and useful.

In a knowledge intensive profession such as lawyering, sometimes the difference between victory and loss in court is knowing something that the opposite counsel does not.

Staying abreast of the latest legislative and judicial developments is also extremely important.  Google is not the be all and end all of legal research. A good method of research may be: Identification of legal issue > Bare Acts > Commentary > latest case laws > foreign case laws > juristic opinion/articles > parliamentary history/standing committee reports etc.

While commencing research, one should always begin at the beginnings and with the basics/first principles/fundamentals of the law that one is dealing with. Try and have relevant precedent to back your submissions up, for it is easier to stand on the shoulders of giants.


Whether it is necessary to have trial court experience in order to succeed in the profession?

Ans. The answer is No. Trial Court experience is not a condition precedent to success at the profession. But at the same time, trial court lawyering does offer some great learning opportunities. Though appellate advocacy may appeal more to the young lawyer, trial Court training is extremely important. Trial Courts are often the courts of first and the last resort to a majority of the population. Assistance in framing of the right charges (criminal side) and issues (civil cases), and cross examination are important skills in order to become a well-rounded lawyer.  Cases are built and lost in trials. Plus, there is a great vacuum insofar as good legal representation at the District Court level is concerned, and in this vacuum there is great opportunity for younger colleagues.


Client Management.

Ans. Clients are the reason why lawyers exist. As consumers of justice, they deserve complete attention of the lawyers. Without clients, no lawyer would have a job. The clients should be valued because if they aren’t, they will switch to some other lawyer who respects them and pays attention to them. In a fiercely competitive market such as the legal profession, there would always be somebody who is willing to do it for less.

Client counseling also requires reservoirs of patience that run deep and never dry up. Nobody knows the facts better than the Client; however, sometimes the Client is also not aware of his depth of knowledge of facts. The necessary facts are required to be elicited from the Client by asking the right questions.

Further, there is a difference between a passive hearing and an active listening; it’s latter which is extremely important. The necessary facts need to be culled out from the Client and recorded accurately. In addition to this, being there for the Client is extremely important.

The Client should always be apprised of the weakness of his/her case, and one should never promise the Client the moon or anything that’s unachievable. A realistic and accurate assessment of the Client’s case and its strengths and weakness is of great importance. A Client may initially not like being told the inconvenient truth, but you must still spell it out, nonetheless; I can say it from experience, the Client would really stand to gain from it in the longer run and such transparency would help the Client take an informed decision with respect to the case.


Preparation of a case

Ans. One must not only know the sections which are directly applicable to the case at hand, but also those before and after the relevant provisions, the chapters in which the concerned sections occur and the over-all scheme of the statute. This is what differs a ‘mason’ from an ‘architect’. This gives one a more holistic understanding of the legal position and helps one understand the legislative intent better, which greatly eases the task of interpretation of a statute. One must have a comprehensive note/synopsis of each case, replete with a brief chronology of events, important arguments, page number references and case law references, with para numbers. One should leave no stone unturned in preparation; as someone wise said : Luck is exact point where preparation meets opportunity!


Cross examination

Ans. Some of the principles that I could lay down for the guidance of a young lawyer in cross examination :

  • The best questions in a cross examination are the questions never asked. Always remember this. Don’t be greedy.
  • Never ask a question the answer to which you do not know yourself. Remember, the cross examining counsel is as much under cross examination as the witness and many a cases have been lost by asking the wrong questions or giving the wrong suggestions.
  • Keep them short and sweet; stick to leading questions and stick to ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Don’t ask open ended questions as that give an opportunity for the witness to spin a yarn.
  • Finally, think a lot. Cross examination is all about thinking. Also be mindful of what the witness is likely to say in response to your question and be ready with the follow-up questions.


Analytical Skills

  • Both the study and practice of law involve absorbing large quantities of information, then having to distil it into something manageable and logical.
  • At times, there will be more than one reasonable conclusion or more than one precedent applicable to resolving a situation.
  • A lawyer must therefore have the evaluative skills in order to choose which is the most suitable.


Court Craft.

Ans : A few points:

  • Listen carefully to whatever falls from the Bench.
  • Always be well prepared; have a brief note of the case ready, replete with all the case numbers, para numbers of judgments being relied upon.
  • Always be fair to the court in the submissions; as the saying goes, don’t be a mouthpiece of your client, but a true officer and friend of the Court. Every advocate is an amicus that way.
  • Don’t argue for arguments sake. If the law and facts are against you on a point; have broad shoulders, be fair and concede that; this has an amazing upside : this would narrow down the scope of the controversy and help ease the burden of the judge. A lawyer who is fair to the Court, inspires confidence of the Judge and commands greater credibility. Once that reputation for fairness and integrity is built, the lawyer gets good audience in the Court and commands respect.
  • As someone said, you are entitled to your ‘opinion’, but not to your own ‘facts’; never mislead the judge on the factual position; if he makes that impression of you, you would not be able to win his confidence back and he won’t trust you again.
  • Look the part; always dress impeccably.
  • Think and anticipate all the questions that can be thrown at you.


General piece of advice:


  • Nothing worth having ever comes easy.
  • Don’t be risk averse;
  • Never be afraid of failures;
  • Readers are leaders; read as much as you can.
  • Follow excellence, excellence causes disruption – creates space for you.
  • Excellence begets confidence.
  • Life hurts, so does loneliness, and so does change. But they are all necessary for your growth.
  • Not feeling lucky? Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

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