ILJ Special Report: “Whether Senior Advocates pay too little to their juniors?

ILJ’ s Vikrant Pachnanda interviews eminent lawyers in the profession to see if less pay to juniors by their seniors can be a barrier for them to join litigation.

This ILJ special report on “Whether Senior Advocates pay too little to their juniors” can be seen as a barrier to enter litigation is based on a series of interviews held of eminent lawyers in the profession. When the first national law school was set up by Prof. (Dr.) N.R. Madhava Menon in Bangalore in 1988, the aim was that more people would join the bar and that the quality of lawyers would improve thereby leading to good quality judges as well. However, with more and more national law schools becoming established, majority of the graduates on passing out instead of joining the bar have joined law firms, government agencies, as in house-counsels in global corporations etc as they do not find it conducive to enter litigation. The importance of junior members of the Bar cannot be undermined as they are the inheritors of the legal profession. A junior plays a very vital role and contributes significantly in determining the final outcome of a given case. When a law graduate joins the Bar, he or she experiences a sheer amount of disillusionment on coming to face with the realities with the legal profession.

K.K. Venugopal , Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India

  • K.K. Venugopal

With the advent of globalization, there is an increase in transactional work and therefore taking up a legal career in law firms and pursuing corporate law is good. However, it is indeed a matter of grave concern, that although the number of national law schools being set up in the country is increasing, less numbers are actually joining the bar. The Bar Council of India needs to lay down compensation standards which every senior needs to give to his/her junior which should depend on his seniority and the city where the senior is practicing. The legislation governing chartered accountancy in India states that stipend has to be paid to the junior. After, students pass out from especially the five year LLB programmes, they are of immense help to seniors and therefore, seniors cannot pay them less by stating the fact that the junior getting to work under the senior is a big thing and that the senior is doing the junior a big favour by keeping the junior under him/her. Therefore, yes, paying juniors less can be considered as a deterring factor with regards to fewer lawyers joining the bar .

M.L. Sarin , Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India & former, Advocate General, Punjab & Haryana

  • M.L. Sarin

" A senior advocate is designated keeping in mind his reputation, standing at the bar and advocacy skills. The restrictions that are imposed on a senior advocate e.g. not being able to appear in court without an assisting counsel, not being allowed to settle fees or accept the power of attorney, etc., are aimed at saving his precious time and simultaneously giving youngsters an opportunity to train under him. Theoretically the system is a wonderful one under which a junior, merely by assisting a senior and appearing in Court with him, is expected to learn the finer points of court-craft, court-manners and thus becoming a good advocate himself. Unfortunately, if a junior advocate is not reasonably remunerated by a senior or is not paid an adequate fee for assisting the senior, the same is likely to have a dampening effect on his morale and ultimately may discourage many from joining the bar and becoming practising lawyers. To be exposed to the chambers of a senior and learn from his vast experience in the profession is a must for any young lawyer who wants to make a mark in the profession. To compensate such juniors monetarily is an essential ingredient to keep the interest of young lawyers active and alive. "

The legal profession is mainly involved in regulating human behaviour to bring it in conformity with certain rules laid down in the society. This profession by is very nature is personal and the skills that determine one’s success is essentially intrinsic to the person. When I spoke to various experts in the profession, my discussion revolved on one point that although students join seniors for learning and not earning, however, majority of the graduates were not from tier I cities but tier II and tier III cities and that also a large number of them had taken student loans for five years, which they would now have to pay off and that hence, they should be paid salaries which is minimal for them to survive. The investment in a five year course is quite steep and could cost anywhere between Rs. 1,50,000 to Rs. 2,00,000 per annum which excludes money spent on participating in moots, conferences etc.

Soli J. Sorabjee , Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India & former Attorney General of India

  • Soli J. Sorabjee

" When lawyers, enter the profession, they do so for learning. I have several juniors working under me who all join me for learning. But then yes, paying less to juniors could lead to less people joining litigation from smaller cities who migrate to bigger cities like Delhi and Mumbai for joining the bar. The Bar Council of India needs to work on this issue to ensure that this does not lead to a negating factor when it comes to the people joining the bar. Also, every one has their own choice when it comes to joining litigation or pursing a career say in corporate law, for example, you may like tea but I may like coffee. "

Juniors are well aware that it is very difficult to make a breakthrough in litigation without a godfather especially in cities like Delhi and Mumbai. When a junior joins the bar, nobody give him work because he has no experience and vice-versa. The legal profession is quite often referred to as a family profession and that if one marries a lawyer or is the child of a lawyer, he or she is at a greater advantage which in my opinion is correct since a lawyer’s child has a ready-made office, library, clientele etc. However, I do strongly believe in hard work since success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals although being a kith or kin of a lawyer may provide an added advantage.

Prof. (Dr.) Mahendra Pal Singh , Vice-Chancellor, West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences

  • Prof. (Dr.) Mahendra Pal Singh

" Not everyone who studies law is inclined to take up court practice. But there is no doubt that in common law jurisdictions, whose lineage we also trace in our system, court practice remains central in the legal profession because it is here laws are supposed to be made through their interpretation and application and it is here that the world leaders in law are created in common law countries. Therefore, those who aspire to make a name in the world of law will like to come to court practice. But not all of them can realize their aspiration or dream unless they are supported either by their family background of legal profession or by sufficient funds and infra-structure. Therefore, many who could make very good arguing counsel end up in law firms or corporate houses where they initially get attractive salaries. If the senior lawyers have the provision for some initial payment to the aspiring young graduates, even if it is small, brilliant people could be attracted to the profession enriching the quality of the bar and the bench. A few seniors have that vision and pay to their juniors while most others for whatever reasons have not yet thought in these lines. I wish the legal profession takes the responsibility of attracting the best into its fold so that we have a world class bar and bench which form the core of our legal system. "

Several jurisdictions like the United Kingdom make it compulsory to pay a junior advocate at least some minimum stipend which is unfortunately missing in India. In addition to the remuneration, several other factors have played a key role in disheartening graduates from joining the bar such as not letting them appear in court, not giving juniors good preparatory training which is required by an advocate and gender biasness in the bar. Thus joining the corporate side is quite an appealing proposition for young graduates especially those that pass out from the national law schools which make the students undergo a rigourous curriculum during their five years at law school.

Lalit Bhasin , Managing Partner, Bhasin & Co. & President, Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF)

  • Lalit Bhasin

"Paying low remuneration to juniors is certainly a disincentive if not a bar for them to enter litigation. As a matter of fact, seniors do not pay the remuneration from their own pocket and they pass on the burden to the clients. Juniors have an important role as most of the research on case law, noting important dates and events and pagination are all done by juniors to enable the seniors to prepare the case. What juniors are paid is a pittance as compared to what the Senior Counsel charge. Some seniors pay the juniors even less than the clerkage charged from clients. This practice needs to be remedied and juniors ought to be paid reasonable remuneration."

Reading and learning is the substratum of a lawyer’s career and every senior should inculcate in his or her junior, the training to prepare thoroughly for a matter. It is the duty of the members of the bar and the bench at the same time to ensure that there is no gender biasness while paying juniors reasonable remuneration which shall attract juniors towards the bar. In my interactions with several students at various law schools as well as fresh graduates who join corporate houses and firms, most students do prefer litigation but only opt for a cushy corporate career in the profession because of the insufficient remuneration rendered to them amongst other factors since may of them are on student loans which need to be repaid once they pass out from law college. Also, many of them do not belong to big cities like Delhi and Mumbai and cannot afford to live in these cities for a mere few thousand rupees a month in addition to their senior expecting them to pay for their own transportation and mobile bills. Even graduates who do belong to these cities or affluent families, reply on their parents for surviving after spending a good percentage of their parents hard earned income for studying law in either the five or three year course.

Prof. Bimal N. Patel , Director, Gujarat National Law University

  • Prof. Bimal N. Patel

"To attract talents to litigation, a decent remuneration is imperative. For example, the state level PSUs are paying 25,000 to law graduates. Anything less than 25,000 will be least but not the last preferred option for national law university students. If a remuneration of 25,000 is not possible, advocates should make them a partner from day one, i.e. percentage of a successfully litigated case as a bonus. If senior advocates wish to thrive on their practice and successfully resist pressures of law firms (not least to say mega law firms), then they should pay this bare minimum amount. There is no comparison between what is being paid by the law firms (top law firms) and advocates, but considering the heavy study investment, life expenses, working hours, etc, among others, this suggestion shall deserve fullest consideration by the advocates."

Therefore, it is essential for the profession at the bar to sustain that juniors are given ample opportunities to learn and practice in a competitive environment while at the same time being paid remuneration which is sufficient for them to sustain.

VIKRANT PACHNANDA is an Advocate and the Founder & Managing Editor of India Law Journal. He may be contacted at