The mainstream of the legal profession continues to be feudal in nature, observed Supreme Court Judge, Justice DY Chandrachud on Saturday, while calling for measures to democratise access to the same and institutionalise recruitment to lawyers’ chambers.
Justice Chandrachud noted that young lawyers, particularly when they do not have any connections, choose to join law firms instead of legal practice since there is a pattern of recruitment for law firms that is not present when it comes to litigation practice.
“We do not have a pattern for recruiting young lawyers into chambers (of lawyers/ Senior Advocate) at all. It all depends on somebody speaking to somebody and getting access to that particular Senior in the Bar,” the judge pointed out.
The judge, therefore, went on to urge the Bar Council of India (BCI) and the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) to explore if an institutional mechanism can be created to level the playing field for young lawyers joining the profession.
“This is something that the SCBA can persuade, at least some of the seniors to democratise the access to the legal profession, because the mainstream of our profession does not democratize access. We still continue to be a purely feudal profession which I believe needs to change,” he said.
He went onto highlight that even if a young lawyer gets access to a good chamber, an additional issue crops up – in relation to income.
“Once a lawyer gets access to a chamber, it is presumed that itself is a great achievement. So then that lawyer has to willy nilly survive on their own. This is one of the critical reasons why young lawyers are not entering the legal profession today. Most law students who pass out of law schools undertake very heavy loans when they join the legal profession, particularly at the National Law Schools. The reason why they are averse to joining the legal profession is because there is no guarantee of either access being provided to a good chamber or, if they have access to a good chamber, of a steady flow of income,” Justice Chandrachud commented.
The judge made these observations at an event to mark the launch of a legal awareness programme by the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA).
“How do we ensure that we broaden or democratize access to our lawyers in our courts? How do we ensure that we provide a minimum or a modicum of living expenses and the wherewithal for young lawyers to join the legal profession? These are two critical areas which face lawyers without connections in the legal profession today. Access to legal chambers is not democratized. That is why many of our young lawyers are going to the law firms,” Justice Chandrachud observed.
He went on to highlight that it is important to examine why young lawyers opt for law firms over legal practice in the context of ensuring that quality legal aid is provided.
“It is very easy for us, as judges and lawyers, to lament the fact that the best are going out of the mainstream of the legal profession and to law firms, but what is the reason? This has a bearing on what we are discussing today, because that has a bearing on the quality of legal assistance that is made available,” he explained.
Hence, an institutional mechanism should be created to level the playing field for young lawyers joining the profession, he said.
“Having done that, we can then use their legal services to provide genuine pro bono work at the stage of their career when they have all the promise, the excitement of a new life in the legal profession, which tends to wear off as time goes on. We must tap the young, because the real talent lies in the young,” Justice Chandrachud added.