Editor’s Note: The Senior Counsel based in Bengaluru exhorted that students be mindful of the system that was always bigger than any individual, though he maintained that the system was receptive and encouraging of young lawyers provided they put in the hard work and kept their hunger for learning alive.
Dr. Aditya Sondhi is a senior advocate practicing in the Karnataka High court. He independently set up his litigation practice ‘brick by brick’ since he graduated from NLSIU Bangalore in 1998. In his inaugural address to the gathering, he detailed chronologically the turns that lead him to where he stands today on the path of his career.
In the early 90’s, he attempted the NLSIU entrance exams, just for a lark and as circumstances changed, he took up the seat at NLS that he had won. At the orientation programme of the same, the founder-director Dr Madhav Menon, through his orientation address, was a beacon of light that showed Dr. Sondhi that the object of law school was to contribute to the bar and hence, without looking back, he worked towards a career in litigation. He took up a hunger to learn and modesty as he soon found out he knew very little. On an important side note for the law student, he looks for these very qualities in his interns promising to disappoint those who expect to be spoon fed by him, while also promising that hard work will be noticed and rewarded.
He soon discovered that very few graduates from such institutions choose socially-relevant practices, preferring corporate jobs. He explained through the phrase sonar ki, ek lauhar ki, that the few taking up socially-relevant lawyering more than make up for their tribe. While pursuing his undergraduate degree, he found that moots and academic writing was scarcely helpful with regards to a career in litigation. His criticism of moots is that they provide an inadequate and overly-scholastic depiction of the courts and along with academic writing are counter intuitive as they develop an aversion to concise, uncomplicated forms of communication that the courts require.
He stressed on the importance of litigation centric internships to develop the skills required for the successful practice and cautioned against the anti-litigation propaganda that does the rounds in highly selective and competitive schools like the NLUs. He recalled examples of very senior professionals coming to law schools for pre-placement talks and spoke strongly against the same. Dr Sondhi emphasised that in his view seniors are supposed to inspire students into joining them, not seduce them and recalled examples of Mr Dipankar Gupta and Mr. Uday Holla as sources of such inspiration.
As law schools are generally removed from litigation, he recalled that the first few years after graduating were the toughest as he found himself ill-equipped and more often than not, he was trying to survive rather than succeed. He began arguing before the High Court of Karnataka, while under the mentorship of Mr. Holla. He found that his faith in the system was reaffirmed by Mr. Holla’s able guidance and the encouraging attitude of the judges towards junior lawyers, when juxtaposed against his own concerns on how new entrants are regarded by the courts.
As a practising, first-generation lawyer, he found he had to time to leave his career in litigation and pursue further education. He built up his clientele and their trust in him brick-by-brick, locating his firm insistence on ethics in a profession of unethical soliciting of clients, a task that took him several years.
Proceeding to address the gathering on his time as Senior Counsel, he found the transition not so sharp as by the time one is rewarded with such a designation, one already has many of the qualities that a senior counsel is expected to possess such as better submissions, greater preparation and total fairness to the Hon’ble Court. However, there are several practical changes such as avoiding direct interaction with a client and relying on juniors for briefings. He finds he no longer has to involve himself in mundane, micromanagement of cases.
Dr. Sondhi concluded with the pithy saying that “In cricket nobody is bigger than the game.” He thus encouraged the students in the audience not to forget that none were bigger than the system itself and that they must keep the hunger to learn alive.