We believe that it takes two to tango and so we help each other to move onwards and upwards in life. Just a dozen years of practice, and finally finding my feet..
A Provincial Childhood
The journey started in a small town in Rajasthan called Beawar (I can bet most of you cannot even pronounce the name accurately). I was born there and received my primary and secondary stage education in the rented ‘jugadu’ infrastructure of Kendriya Vidhyalaya.
The premises, previously used by a bank, was converted into a school and the parking area, the playground, and a cinema hall (screening lascivious content) were all placed harmoniously in an oxymoronic panorama. Like many kids of my age group, even I dreamt of acing the prestigious IIT-examination to become a white collared engineer.
I even left my hometown, running helter-skelter for admissions in the mecca for IIT coaching – Kota. As it turned out, I wasn’t up to the mark and couldn’t even crack the entrance test of the coaching institute. The dream, however, lived on, both in my mind and in the hearts of my parents. So I packed my bags and took a bus down to Jodhpur, a place where I could join a coaching institute with exceptionally huge hoarding but inversely proportional brand value.
Better late than never, it was in Jodhpur, where I had an epiphany that neither did I have the rote skills to memorize all the complicated physics equations nor an aptitude good enough to nail the complicated math problems. The then Hon’ble Chief Minister of Rajasthan (coincidently, he is sitting on the same chair even today), who fortunately hailed from Jodhpur, made a decision which changed my life.
A Legal Possibility?
Instead of Jaipur (which was better connected, both geographically and in terms of the public profile), the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Rajasthan put his foot down to establish the National Law University in Jodhpur. Dazed and confused (I had already failed to clear two IIT entrance tests), after much deliberation upon the gargantuan (Rs. 1000/-) cost of the entrance form, I filed my candidature to take the entrance test of the National Law University, Jodhpur (NLU).
As expected, I was way below the cut off and my fate was hanging on the clearance of 32 waiting list candidates. As luck would have it, a lot of rank holders decided to pick NLS, NALSAR and NUJS over NLU Jodhpur. I received an envelope holding my destiny, congratulating me for the clearance of waitlisted candidates and asking me to be present for admission interviews.
Mind you, it was in 2003, and my side of the world still didn’t know the concept of emails. The only exposure we had of internet, was limited to chat rooms of yahoo, where the conversations would mostly start with “ASL?”
Prof. (Dr.) NL Mitra took the admission interview, again in a ‘Jugadu’ (like most Indians, I identify myself with this word) premise, as the academic blocks of the University were not yet erected. One of my most vivid recollections of the interview is when Prof. Mitra told my father, “Sir, I don’t think your kid will be able to survive in the university. He will find it hard to compete with the all-rounders from metro cities, who will be his batchmates.”
I also remember the response of my father, “Sir, I know him. He will manage. I know him.” I don’t know if it was the inherent fatherly instinct of having blind faith in their kids or my father’s conscious belief that I was in fact “good enough”, this entire anecdote hit me hard and I took it upon myself to give my best shot and just between the two elders, justify the statement of my father.
Struggles of Particular Interest
College was an interesting time. A small town, shabbily dressed kid entered the university, having no idea about the life or the challenges he was going to be confronted with. The difference was so stark, that in the 1st semester, I used to love the canteen food while my batchmates hated it from the core.
Of course, there were many other struggles including speaking in English, having knowledge about Hollywood movies, having female friends, and wearing branded clothes. Then there were struggles of understanding lectures, adapting to tiring schedules, and knowing that the practice of a lawyer was not restricted to the mundane courts in Beawar. I can still (albeit fondly now) hear the laughter of some of my batchmates as I put my queries to the lecturer in broken English.
Nevertheless, my batchmates, few of who became my best buddies for life, held my hands and made me realize my strengths (economics being one and a sense of humour, being the other). Slowly but steadily, I kept moving forward, improving my performance in moot court and snap tests.
Also, I finally learnt the fine art of understanding Hollywood movies and TV series. In the midst of everything, on each passing day, I would remind myself what my father had committed to Prof. Mitra.
Perplexed to the core
Then, as if in a blink of an eye, came the last semester. The whole batch was digging answers to the questions – (i) Litigation or Corporate; (ii) Foreign law firms or Indian; (iii) Join the chamber of a big shot lawyer or start with trial court; (iv) How’s the market sentiments and whether our placement cell is good enough.
There were other pressing questions too – (i) Are we short on attendance? (ii) Will Prof. N.N. Mathur allow deemed attendance? (iii) Are all the backs cleared? (iv) Whether I chose the correct honours subject in my 4th year and so on and so forth.
An Epiphany of Potential Prospects
Call it sheer luck, hard work or jugaad, I secured an all cost paid internship offer from Herbert Smith LLP, London with an additional monthly stipend of INR 1.75L and a pre-placement offer from Amarchand Mangaldas, New Delhi, with a signing bonus of INR 40K.
I am not trying to be Suhas Tandon of 3 Idiots here, but only trying to highlight that those amounts were very significant in my life. I believe that a small-town guy knows how to make the best of a situation, so I did the internship at Herbert Smith, with my new suits (from the money I got from Amarchand), saw how London looks like and came back to India to join the biggest (and the best) corporate law firm of the country.
There was clarity in objective – which I openly confessed in my HR interview too – that I will work at Amarchand only for two years, save some (understatement) money and then will move towards litigation. They still hired me – may be due to the cosmic conspiracy created by my father’s statement and my mother’s daily prayers.
Exactly after two years – by which time I knew how to draft emails, opinions, invoices, attend conference calls, and look presentable before clients, I put in my papers. Trust me, I resigned before finding the next job. The idea behind this noble act was that if I apply for a job in the litigation sector while my bank account still received a monthly credit of a lakh and more in rupees, I will not have the requisite pressure.
Our survival instincts work best under pressure. Somebody told me, instead of joining a counsel’s office, think of joining a hardcore litigation law firm. The advantages – you get to work with many seniors, surviving isn’t difficult as they pay better than counsels, and you will also learn client handling and drafting. I asked around – can you suggest a firm like that, and amongst all answers, one name was common – Karanjawala and Co.
Karanjawala and Co. – A Promising Episode
So I googled, from the new blackberry set which was given to me on my promotion as an A-2 Associate at Amarchand (internet speeds and purview had changed exponentially by then), the contact details of the HR at Karanjawala. Even Google couldn’t find it, because it didn’t exist in Karanjawala back in 2010.
So, I called Mr Karanjawala directly, between 4 pm to 5 pm, which I was told was the best time to speak to him. After my first line of introduction and intention, his response was “you can come and meet me, but if selected, I won’t pay you as much as you are drawing at Amarchand”. I said, “Of course sir, I very well understand”.
I had interviews with all the partners and then one fine day, Mr Karanjawala told me – “I’ll pay you 52.5K per month. You can join from tomorrow”. I wanted to smile, but with a straight face, asked – “Boss (everyone calls him that, and I was trying to adapt to my new office), is there a retainer-ship contract or something?”. He pulled out his visiting card, wrote 52.5K on it and gave it to me. I am still to find a lawyer with a better panache, flair, magnanimity and elegance than that of Mr Raian Nogi Karanjawala.
In Karanjawala again, the idea was to stay for a couple of years and move on to hardcore counsel practice – either independently or in some counsel’s chamber. However, litigation wasn’t that easy. Everyone around, who was working well in the profession was hardworking, knowledgeable and jugadu. So after two years at Karanjawala, when I put in my papers (again – without a job or career plan in hand – same logic as above) I was counselled by Mr Karanjawala. That one hour and those words of wisdom completely changed the course of my life. I sat back, introspected and absorbed each word.
The plan suggested by Mr Karanjawala made complete sense to me. He also warned me of the tougher challenges in independent litigation – finding clients and retaining them, fighting lawyers’ lobbies, recovering monies to survive and expand, targeting and meeting prospective clients (subtly), and at last, when done with all of this – prepare briefs and be ready for all the unexpected questions which may come from the bench. All of this sounds scary – but it is far more difficult than it sounds.
So I did everything I could to work on the suggestions given by Mr Karanjawala – started marking a personal connect with senior advocates, switched my team and started preparing for Advocate on Record examination, and most importantly, started socializing aggressively (I am the co-host of a party titled “necessary and proper party”. It is a successful annual party since 2011, with the last one having a footfall of more than 400 lawyers).
The Chambers of Joshi and Singh
In 2014, I got married. My wife is a lawyer too, and by all means my confidante. I was still in Karanjawala and not an AOR by then. As people say, lady luck works. I cleared the AOR examination in my first attempt, took blessings of my seniors and made a small nest of my own in the lawyer-haven Jangpura Extension in 2017. By this time I had discovered my godfathers (I am very possessive about them and hence not naming them), my inspirations, the method of multiplying my fees, and the art of finding and retaining big corporate clients.
Slowly and gradually, our office space was packed and we were running short of chambers too. My partner, Naman Joshi, was expanding at a pace which probably he didn’t even target. So, we moved to a bigger office which is now known as “Chambers of Joshi and Singh”.
We now have the strength of 8 associates, niche corporate clientele, many reportable judgments and the hunger to do better. All of us take lunch together including the support staff, play cricket every alternate day, and celebrate achievements with a pop of champagne. A very strange rule in our office – on each achievement of each lawyer – a big client, a good order, a personal landmark – the lawyer has to contribute a ‘peti’ of beer to the office collection.
Damn COVID, there are 23 crates pending as on date. We also take pride in the fact that we work as a family. I don’t have to imbibe belongingness amongst the associates. They never say no to any work, they don’t show off if they have worked all night, and for a ready excuse for leave like the COVID pandemic, they will still give priority to the office. We believe that it takes two to tango and so we help each other to move onwards and upwards in life.
Just a dozen years of practice, and finally finding my feet.