The Chief Justice of India on Saturday urged senior members of the Bar Association to act to pay their juniors fairly to enable them to live in dignity. “How many seniors pay their juniors decent salaries?” exclaimed Judge Chandrachud, “Some young attorneys don’t even have a board to receive money from.” He reflected: “If you stay in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore or Kolkata, how much does it cost a young lawyer to survive? They have to pay rent, transport, food.” “This needs to change and the burden of doing that is on us as senior members of the profession,” the Chief Justice said.
Chief Justice Chandrachud spoke at an event organized by the Bar Council of India to congratulate him on recently taking up the post of Chief Justice of India.
“For far too long we have regarded the young people in our profession as slave labourers. Because that’s how we were raised,” Judge Chandrachud said. This is the “old lumpen principle” at the University of Delhi, the chief judge said. Laughing, he added: “Those who were ragged would keep ragging people who were below them. It was like passing on the blessings of being ragged. “Learned law the hard way” to avoid paying juniors now. “Those times were very different. But so were so many lawyers who could have made it to the top, never made it because they didn’t have the resources,” he stressed.
In this regard, Judge Chandrachud also fondly recalled a conversation he had with a friend when he was a student at the Law School of Delhi University. The friend had asked him over a cup of tea “Aab tu karega kya? Zindagi kaise guzarega?” (What are you going to do in life? How are you going to make a living?) Dissatisfied with Judge Chandrachud’s answer, then a humble college boy, that he would make a living practicing the law, his friend had guessed, “Why Don’t you get a gas dealership or an oil dealer so you have enough funds to support yourself? “That thought has never left me because in many ways it reflects the truth about our profession,” the Supreme Court Justice aptly said.
“For too long we have viewed young members of our profession as slave labourers. Why? Because that’s how we grew up. We can’t tell young lawyers now that this is how we grew up. Those who were in rags were always ragged people who were among them because being in rags was a blessing. Sometimes it got really bad. But the point is, seniors today can’t say I learned law the hard way, and that’s why I won’t be paying my juniors. Those times were very different, families were smaller, there were family resources. And so many young lawyers who could have made it to the top never made it because they didn’t have the resources.”
Highlighting the glaring inequality in the legal profession, the Chief Justice said: “While you have top-notch Supreme Court attorneys who have seven or eight screens open for videoconferencing so they can move from court to court with a flick of the mouse, but you have Lawyers who have had to live practically hand to mouth during the pandemic when the courts were closed and the magistrates’ court didn’t work. After the courts reopened, one of the first requests from the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association was the operationalization of the Superior Court, which, as Justice Chandrachud explained, dealt with “very small procedural issues such as the replacement of rightful heirs and the placement” of a matter before the Superior Court “, meaning “all the little things that juniors run to this court for”. “The president told us that this ensures the juniors’ lives and livelihoods because they would make somewhere between 800 and 1000 rupees if they turned up. This would enable them to support a family,” the Chief Justice recalled.
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Legal profession an “age club”
The CJI felt that the legal profession was an “old boys club” where only a select group in a network were given opportunities.
“There is a network through which opportunities are reached in the senior advocate chambers. It’s an old boys’ club. It’s not performance-based. Are juniors paid decently? All of this needs to change, and the burden is on us as seniors.”
He pointed out that with the advent of national law schools, the brightest minds are coming into the legal profession. Therefore, there is a responsibility to ensure that young people are not abandoned and that their optimism stays alive.
“If we are to change the face of the legal profession, we must create equal opportunity and access not only for women but also for marginalized communities today. So that we can find more diversity on the bench tomorrow,” he said.
Recently in one exclusive interview with LiveLaw, former Chief Justice of India Uday Umesh Lalit acknowledged that it is a common complaint among young lawyers that they are “overworked but underpaid”. The retired judge admonished the young professionals to “have patience, confidence and belief in yourself” which would eventually help them “turn the tide”. The issue of incentivizing seniors to fairly reward junior attorneys also came up before a constitutional bench, which was hearing a series of petitions challenging the validity of September’s All-India Bar Examination. Judge Sanjay Kishan Kaul, who presided over the bench, lamented the loss of “smart people” in the profession due to scarce financial resources. He said: “Especially for people from underprivileged backgrounds, after six years of study, it becomes difficult to support yourself for another four to five years without a decent scholarship.” “I’ve also seen situations where the senior advocate charges money to hire juniors,” Judge Kaul said, horrified.