The profusion of black-robed men and women swarming all over the courts of the country, from the lowest district court to the Supreme Court, may give the impression that there are already too many lawyers engaged in litigation activity. But in fact, of late, the best and brightest products of premier law schools have preferred to stay away from litigation.
Of the 75 students who will graduate from the National Law School of India University in Bangalore, in 2014, for instance, only five to 10 intend to take up litigation, according to the university's recruitment coordination committee. The rest want to study further or join corporate law firms or the legal departments of corporate houses where they will be engaged in drafting agreements for mergers for acquisitions, joint ventures and the likes or giving legal advice on labour or corporate law-related matters. They have no desire to spend time in court.
The reason is fairly obvious - litigation, most of the time, does not pay well. Top lawyers may be rolling in the stuff, charging clients lakhs for each court appearance, but it takes decades for those entering the profession to reach those rarefied heights.
While junior lawyers opting for nonlitigation work with corporate houses earn on par with their MBA counterparts, those who seek the drama of the courtroom get barely around Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000 per month from second or third level law firms. At best, a top legal firm such as AZB or Amarchand & Mangaldas would pay around Rs 1 lakh a month.
Even then, junior lawyers hardly get a chance to display their argumentative skills in court - the senior ones do all the arguing.
The situation, however, seems to be changing. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that, with the prolonged downturn leading to shrinking corporate margins, corporate houses are becoming more combative, much more ready to sue if they feel their interests threatened, than before. Corporate litigation, challenging the government's tax and tariff demands, for instance, or taking on fellow corporate houses over alleged breach of contract, is increasing, and litigation-related work is thereby offering better opportunities to newcomers
"There is a lot more work coming the way of young litigators today," says Fereshte Sethna, Founding Partner at Dutt Menon Dunmorrsett (DMD) a boutique litigation firm, who was among the lawyers representing Vodafone in its high profile Rs 12,000 crore tax case.
With litigation increasing, more youngsters are also getting a chance to do more significant work than before. Aditya Chatterjee, for example, all of 23, who graduated from law school only a year back, works with the legal firm of Nayak and Srikumar.
He says he gets plenty of opportunities to hold discussions with clients and even speak in court. "Maybe I don't get paid as much as the corporate guys but I'm getting better exposure," he adds. Co-founder and Partner of the firm Pradeep Nayak says Chatterjee is paid more than Nayak got even after six years in litigation, before he started his own outfit. "I want my interns to realise how much more intellectually challenging and rewarding litigation work is compared to non-litigation work," he adds.
While traditionally many companies - like individuals - thought litigation a waste of time and money, they no longer do. Aneesh Patnaik, of Vahura, a legal recruitment and talent consulting firm, says he is currently looking to fill 50 openings for litigation professionals in different corporate houses. "Companies today use litigation to mitigate risks and also in some cases to protect their revenues," he says. "For the first time this year companies are looking to hire litigators with extensive litigation practice to use litigation proactively."
Law firms too are expanding their litigation divisions. Amarchand & Mangaldas, for example, now has 80 people in its litigation division, up from half this number five years ago. Specialisation in litigation related to different sectors is also on the rise. "In time this will trickle down. We will be able to organize the practice of litigation and develop young talent as it should be developed," says Patnaik. Vahura is working with colleges across the country on mentorship programmes in litigation. One Haryana law school will have 30 per cent of its graduates next year taking litigation as a career option. The number of black robes in courts thus only seem set to rise further.