Mr Abhay Anturkar is an Advocate practising in the Supreme Court of India. He obtained his law degree from Symbiosis Law School, Pune in 2012. On graduation, Abhay joined the chambers of Mr Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, Senior Advocate and presently, the Advocate-General of Maharashtra. In 2013-2014, Abhay moved to London to pursue an LL.M. in Intellectual Property Rights from the prestigious Centre for Commercial Legal Studies, QMUL. On his return, Abhay joined the chambers of the then Advocate-General of Maharashtra Mr Shreehari Aney.
After assisting Mr Aney in numerous matters of public importance including the petition relating to the entry of women to the sanctum sanctorum of the Haji Ali Dargah and writ petition questioning the validity of the beef ban in Maharashtra, Abhay moved his practice to the Supreme Court of India. Since 2016, Abhay has been practicing as a counsel in the Supreme Court of India and other forums in New Delhi.
Abhay represents private clients as well as governmental authorities before the Supreme Court. He has the distinct privilege of having represented the States of Maharashtra and Goa in numerous matters before the Supreme Court of India.
Legal Bites: What inspired you to take up a career in law?
Abhay Anturkar: My father is a Senior Advocate in the Bombay High Court. As a child, my father would narrate facts of cases that he was arguing, as bedtime stories for me and my sister. All his friends were lawyers too. So the legal profession was always around me in my growing up years. Naturally, I was attracted to it. After my 10th standard, my father encouraged me to go meet lawyers and judges to understand what it entails to practice law.
He also took me along with him to the Supreme Court of India on a couple of occasions to experience first hand what a litigator does every day. It was a thrilling experience, and I couldn’t see myself do anything else. Having said so, I don’t think that I knew much about the profession when I actually stepped into law school. It’s one of those professions which have to be learnt on the job and not in the classroom.
I gained some more experience doing internships while I was in law school. One of my most interesting internships was with Mr Ravi Kadam, who at the contemporaneous time was the Advocate-General of Maharashtra. This internship exposed me to a counsel’s practice. Additionally, since I spent every weekday in the Bombay High Court, I also saw my father in action. These cumulative experiences really inspired me to take up litigation practice.
Legal Bites: You have completed your masters from the renowned Queen Mary University of London, have you noticed any major difference in legal education abroad and legal education in India?
Abhay Anturkar: I did my LL.B from Symbiosis Law School, Pune. It’s one of the premier law colleges in the country. The program at SLS was student-centric and fairly different from the traditional teaching programs in older law colleges. We were encouraged to take up extra curricular activities along with our studies. It was also one of the few law schools which adopted the CGPA grading system. Having said so, I have always felt that the Indian Legal Education System treats law students as children.
The tendency is to spoon-feed and expect compliance with traditional norms. There is little encouragement for thinking or acting out of the box. On the other hand, at the Centre for Commercial Legal Studies at QMUL, we were essentially treated as adults. The professors trusted us to do our own reading. Classes were conducted in the form of debates and discussions. Examinations included more application-based questions rather than mere theory. This made me change my approach to studying from a “memory-centric” approach to a “rationalisation-centric” approach.
Another important difference was the quality of speakers invited to interact with the students. In the course of my IPR program, I had the privilege of attending lectures by Judges of the Supreme Court of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Queens’ Counsels, Partners from multi-jurisdiction law firms and officers of international organisations like WIPO. The academic network in the UK includes many practitioners too. This ensures that the classroom and the courtroom are in sync with each other.
Legal Bites: Tell us something about your life in law school?
Abhay Anturkar: Law school has been a life-changing experience for me. Although I chose to go to a law school in my hometown i.e. Pune, it broadened my horizons considerably. Symbiosis has students from all across the country. As a young Maharashtrian who had spent all his life in Pune, all my friends had a similar upbringing to mine. It was wonderful to meet people from different parts of the country. Some of my closest friends now are those who I had met in Law School.
In so far as academics are concerned, the faculty at Symbiosis is really top-class. As I have mentioned earlier, the faculty always encouraged us to take part in extra-curricular activities. I never enjoyed taking part in moot courts because of the toxic competition involved in it. I did find my calling in Model United Nations and thoroughly enjoyed taking part in those. My college had a thriving MUN community and we were notorious for giving participants from non-law colleges a hard time in the competitions.
I also undertook numerous internships during the vacations, right from trial courts to the high courts. Internships helped me figure out the kind of work I enjoyed, and the kind of work I did not.
Legal Bites: You have been practising as a Lawyer for years now, what according to you are the 3 qualities every law student should work upon since day 1 of Law school?
Abhay Anturkar: A lawyer has to read. A lawyer has to remember at the right time. I strongly urge law students to cultivate a habit of reading. It’s not advisable to read law-related books while One is in law school. There’s plenty of time for that after you get into the profession. Spend time reading classics and literature in English and your mother tongue. These develop your language which is the primary tool of the trade for a litigating lawyer. They also open up your mind to ideas and broaden your horizons. Also, read the newspaper to remain up to date about contemporary issues.
Cultivate a hobby outside the Law. There is tremendous chatter about Law being a jealous mistress and demanding your attention 24×7. You mustn’t believe this. The Law is not jealous at all, it only demands your attention if you aren’t giving it enough. Once you enter the profession you’re consumed by it unless you’re careful. It affects your lifestyle, your mental and physical health, and your relationships. The hobbies that you cultivate will help you protect yourself from your profession. It’s a breather in the otherwise chaotic world of litigation.
You’d be surprised by how it also contributes to your profession in the most unexpected ways. I’ve developed a network of referring lawyers merely out of common interests outside the law. The profession requires one to be a well-rounded person, and one cannot be that if one doesn’t have varied interests. He does not know the law, who knows nothing but the law.
Patience is the mother of all virtues. A law student intending to get into the profession must develop patience. Days are spent waiting in the court for your matter to be called out. Weeks are spent waiting for the clients to clear your pending bills. Months are spent waiting for the next date of hearing in a matter. And years are spent waiting for the matter to be finally disposed off. In all of this, the lawyer is the link between the courts and the litigant. She has to be patient with both these entities. Patience can be developed if cultivated deliberately. An impatient lawyer tends to be an unhappy lawyer.
Legal Bites: Everyone has a different journey in law school, what is that one thing you wish you knew earlier during college?
Abhay Anturkar: The utility of internships.
I started doing internships only in my third year. A majority of my internships were with litigation firms or chambers. I wish I had started earlier and had interned with NGOs, Semi Governmental Organisations, International Organisations etc. Perhaps it would have helped me identify areas outside litigation that interest me.
Legal Bites: The entire process of courtroom litigation is different from what we know it, how have the experiences from it helped you mould as an advocate?
Abhay Anturkar: Courtroom litigation works at a lightning speed. Once your matter begins, you’ve to be quick with moulding your strategy and arguments around how the Judges are reacting to them. It has taught me to think on my feet. At times, I’ve learnt at the cost of the brief.
My mistakes may have resulted in my client losing the case, so it has also taught me to be measured in my reaction. It has taught me to adapt to a situation rather than reacting to it. It has made me address my impulsiveness.
It has taught me to observe. Observe the judges, the lawyers for the other side, the lawyers for supporting parties etc. Observing such stakeholders enables an Advocate to mould his or her strategy to the situation in court. For instance, I wouldn’t dare to raise my voice in the course of my argument before a particular judge, and before another, I would be a little more theatrical to generate interest in the judge’s mind about the matter.
I wouldn’t interrupt a soft-spoken opponent as that would make me come across as arrogant and discourteous; at the same time, if I were interrupted by an opposing counsel, I would not comment upon it, hoping that the judges reprimand him or her and come to my rescue. These things one learns inside the Courtroom alone.
Lastly, it has taught me to be patient. Matters are listed but not called out. Matters, when called out get adjourned for no reason. Clients whose matter are either not called out or are adjourned demand answers. I have developed an almost zen like capacity to deal with all these situations without letting them bother me. I say almost because there is a one off matter or client who has the ability to ruin an otherwise perfectly good day.
Legal Bites: How has the entire process of court proceedings through video conferences been for you? Any difference in the experience?
Abhay Anturkar: Video conferencing is the future. I was able to adapt to it fairly quickly. It has its advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage is that you’re sitting in the comfort of your own chamber and arguing matters. Not having to travel to court through traffic, not having to while away time, before the matter is called out, not having to spend time in the corridors of the Supreme Court of India in the Delhi heat, are also very attractive point in favour of video conferencing.
On the other hand, arguing a matter while facing a computer screen just doesn’t have the same effect as arguing a matter in a courtroom. In the course of physical appearances, one picks up on non-verbal cues from the judges and other counsels appearing in the matter. As I have mentioned before, this helps one mould his or her argument and strategy. It’s difficult to do that in virtual courtrooms.
From a broader perspective, there has been a tremendous outcry against virtual hearings. Lawyers who either don’t have the resources or know-how to conduct matters online have suffered greatly. There’s been a constant demand to reopen courts and allow a physical hearing. I do believe that virtual hearings ought to be adopted at an institutional level after taking into consideration the concerns of all stakeholders. It has the potential to make the justice delivery system more accessible.
Advocates and litigants from remote parts of the country can appear in matters before High Courts and the Supreme Court without having to travel. If virtual hearings are looked at as an infrastructural investment by the judiciary, it would greatly benefit the members of the legal profession as well as the litigants.
Legal Bites: We see today, students often get confused about whether to take up corporate practice or litigation, what would you like to tell them?
Abhay Anturkar: Do what you like. Neither is easier nor harder than the other. Both have their own benefits and shortcomings. Use your time in law school to take up internships in both corporate practice and litigation. See what excites you more. Consider your priorities objectively before making a choice. And once you make a choice, remember, you always have the liberty to change it. Don’t think that you’re stuck with what you’ve chosen. Be flexible with your own self.
A career in litigation is full of obstacles in the initial few years. I had to live off my parents and my wife’s earnings for a good few years before I started making a respectable living. Days were spent without having any work to do. But once I started getting appearances in Courts, it was all worth the struggle.
Corporate practice, from what I hear, comes with a steady income and the potential to grow. I have never done a serious corporate internship so I have very little knowledge about corporate practice. All that I know about it is hearsay. So I wouldn’t want to comment upon something that I am not privy to.