UNPREDICTABLE! This word is an understatement to define a day in the life of a litigating lawyer. Words that come close second are exciting, exhilarating, even frustrating.
A litigating lawyer’s day can be long and tiring, considering that a lawyer, more often than not, spends the entire day in court (which is the regular office hours in other professions, i.e. 10.30 am to 5.30 pm) and proceeds back to office to then start his office work which would include doing research on various points of law, meeting clients, drafting and preparing for cases that are listed for the next day. All this work would have to be packed in the post-court hours and would range over a period of 4-5 hours, depending on the nature and amount of work involved.
This article aims to give insight into this rollercoaster ride a litigating lawyer goes through on a daily basis. While some specifics are particular to Bangalore, the general details may apply to lawyers across the country.
I. In the court
After the morning rush of getting ready and reaching office through the peak-hour traffic, a lawyer has to ensure that all the files that he requires for the day in court are in place along with all relevant papers, judgments and reference books. Another joy-ride through the chock-a-block traffic awaits him as he navigates his way to court.
- The cause list
- Lower courts
The sitting in lower courts starts at 11 am. A lawyer has to go to the various court halls where his matters are listed for the day and check their position on the cause list. Depending on the positioning of the matters on the respective lists of the court halls, he has to gauge when the matters would be called out and accordingly rush between the courts to ensure that he attends all his matters listed for that day. Between 11 am and 12 pm is what is colloquially known as the ‘first round’ when all the matters listed for the day before a court are called out one after the other. If the matter is going to proceed further on the same day, then the same is passed over/kept by; if not, it is adjourned to another day.
Matters on the list are listed stage-wise and year-wise and generally, they are listed in the following order –
- First stages of a case, which involve issuance and/or awaiting the service of summons upon the Defendant and other miscellaneous stages like filing of written statement, objections to interlocutory applications and the like;
- next in the list are usually matters which are posted for hearing on interlocutory applications (interlocutory applications are those which are filed to secure some relief pending the disposal of the main matter. For example, an application for temporary injunction to protect the property in question pending disposal of the main matter);
- then come matters posted for evidence (either examination-in-chief or cross-examination); and
- lastly, matters which are listed for final arguments.
So, by virtue of experience and sheer luck, a lawyer does make it on time to attend all the matters in the first round and make appropriate submissions before the court. If the matter is passed over/kept by, he would have to wait for the matter to be called out later on in the day.
Once the ‘first round’ is done, all courts usually call out those matters which are listed for recording of evidence first, either examination-in-chief or cross-examination and then call out matters listed for arguments, both on interlocutory applications and on the main matter.
Evidence (i.e. examination-in-chief and cross-examination) is recorded by the judge by dictating the statement of the witness to the court steno/typist either in English or the regional language. In case of examination-in-chief, it would also include the marking of documents produced by a witness in support of the case, which is the process of recording such documents as ‘exhibits’. Marking of a document as an ‘exhibit’ would lend it prima facie evidentiary and probative value which can, of course, be demolished in the course of cross-examination and arguments. Thereafter, matters listed for arguments, both on interlocutory applications and on the main matter, are called out.
- High Court
With respect to the High Court, the scenario is completely different. The list used to come out the previous evening and it was only after that a lawyer could get a fair idea of how the next day would be like and accordingly try and schedule the day. However, of late, the Karnataka High Court has started issuing an Advanced Cause List, which indicates the matters that will be listed before the Court a day in advance, i.e. day after tomorrow’s list comes out today. The Advanced Cause List then becomes the Daily Cause List for the next day, i.e., today’s Advanced Cause List becomes tomorrow’s Daily Cause List. Another new feature introduced is the Supplementary Cause List which contains matters which have mistakenly not been added in the Advanced Cause List and also matters which have been urgently moved or freshly filed and moved for listing the next day. The Supplementary Cause List is released only the previous evening. Thus, the complete picture of a lawyer’s day in the High Court would be clear only the previous evening upon the release of the Supplementary Cause List. A lawyer has to regularly check all the three lists to understand how his next two days pan out. In spite of this, the Advanced Cause List has helped in planning two days ahead and has gone a long way in reducing the suspense of the High Court lists.
The cause list of the High Court is a detailed document, containing not only the names of the lawyers but other information such as the interlocutory applications that are pending, Respondents on whom the notice has not yet been served, etc.
The matters in the cause list are arranged stage-wise –
- Matters awaiting service of notice on the Respondents, non-compliance of office objections and such other miscellaneous things are listed under the heading ‘Orders’;
- then come the matters listed for hearing on various interlocutory applications;
- then the matters that are pending admission; and
- the matters which have already been admitted and require detailed hearing on the merits of the case are listed under ‘Final hearing’.
Unlike in the lower courts, the High Court does not have the concept of ‘first round’. The matters are called out in seriatim and the subsequent matter is taken up only after the preceding matter is completed. For example, though a matter may be listed under ‘Orders’, the Court may in its discretion decide to hear the matter on merits and proceed to dispose the matter by dictating a judgment in open court. Thus, in such scenarios, the rest of the lawyers will have to wait their turn until the matter being heard is completed. This makes the High Court more unpredictable than the lower courts: a lawyer who has his matters listed before the High Court should be on his toes constantly and keep a track of them. Karnataka High Court is a technologically advanced institution with an online display board which indicates matters going on in each court hall in real time. A lawyer can plan accordingly and attend his matters. Then, of course, as with everything else in life, if the going is bad, the online display board may not be working, the lawyer may be in another court hall in the High Court itself or any other court, or stuck in really bad traffic and still end up missing his matter. These are some of several unpredictable factors which a lawyer needs to account for while gauging when to reach the court in time to attend the matter.
- Movement of files between branches
The dreaded terror for any lawyer would be if the file is missing and doesn’t get called as per the position in the list. This could be due to several reasons like oversight of the court staff in sending the particular file to court due to mistake in recording the date, the file having gone to the copying branch for making certified copies, or the worst where the file has been misplaced by the court staff. In such situations, it is essential for any lawyer to be aware of how files are moved and stored in the courts by the court staff.
- Lower courts
Once the matter is adjourned, the next date of hearing is entered by the concerned judge on the order sheet which is the sacrosanct recording of proceedings in the said case.. This date is also entered in the court diary which has a list of all the matters listed for that day. After this, the file is sent to the pending branch which, as the name suggests, is the place where all the pending cases of a particular court hall are kept. Each court has its own pending branch where the files are arranged date wise. The staff in the concerned pending branch then endorses the next date of hearing in the case diary maintained by them, colloquially termed as the ‘pending diary’. A mere glance at the cases in the pending diary would indicate all the dates on which a matter has been listed before the court.
There is yet another diary which is maintained to record the files that have been sent from the ‘pending branch’ to the court hall and which have come back. Thus, this is the best indicator to verify whether a file for a particular date has been sent from the ‘pending branch’ to the court hall or not.
Yet another scenario in which a file may not have been sent to the court hall on the fixed date would be when any of the parties have applied for certified copies and the file has been sent from the ‘pending branch’ to the ‘copying branch’. Then the diary maintained to record the movement of files from the ‘pending branch’ to the ‘copying branch’ and back would have to be perused to ascertain the location of the file. Thus, with the help of these diaries lawyers can determine the location of their files.
Thus, all in all, if the lawyer has a grasp on the various diaries/records maintained by the court staff it makes his life a whole lot easier and helps in easily locating the file and thereby saving a lot of time. However, since the files are arranged date-wise in the pending branch, it is always advisable to approach the concerned staff there with the correct case number and the next date of hearing. The staff who are overburdened and busy would not be appreciative of being made to search for a wrong file or in a bundle of files on an incorrect date due to the lawyer’s forgetfulness. This may also then make them apprehensive in helping on future occasions. The role of court staff in helping a lawyer carry out his work is often underestimated. Remember that they are the bookkeepers who can give accurate information. Professional courtesy and friendly words towards them can go a long way in making a lawyer’s job easier.
- High Court
Movement of files in the High Court is similar to that at lower courts – files move between court hall, its respective pending branch and the copying branch. To pull out files at the pending branch, a lawyer has to give the case number to the staff on whom he has to rely to identify and locate the file. Since dates are usually not fixed for matters in the High Court, the matters are not arranged date-wise in the pending branches. However, the files for matters that are listed before the High Court are sent to the court hall as per the list and the question of files not having come to court is a very rare occurrence.
It is absolutely imperative that a lawyer is thorough with atleast the basic facts of the case – which party he is appearing for, the applicable provisions of law, and the reasons for the relief sought/reasons for opposing the relief (as the case may be). Though it is ideal that one has in-depth knowledge of all the files, sometimes junior lawyers find it difficult to have a complete hold over all matters. It is also imperative that absolute courtesy and respect towards the opposing lawyer and the court is maintained. Maintenance of court decorum and dignity is the duty of all lawyers.
While a lawyer may raise his voice in the course of his arguments, he must be careful to ensure that it does not amount to shouting/yelling at the judge/court. Voice modulation to emphasise the crucial aspects of the case, a couple of illustrations and breaking the case into simple building blocks are some tools which help in catching and retaining the attention of the court and ensuring that the court is able to appreciate the arguments. While different lawyers have different styles of argument, the author personally feels that one should not make verbose arguments; they should be pithy and sum up the case briefly and succinctly in a clear, calm, confident and audible voice, without sounding rude or arrogant. This would not only demonstrate to the court that the lawyer has a complete grasp of the case but would also help the court assess the case easily, appreciate how the law was applied to the facts and distinguish the arguments of the opposing lawyers.
- Other work
Another aspect of a litigating lawyer’s regular activities, especially in the High Court, would be compliance of office objections. Office objections are raised by the Registry by pointing out defects in the matters filed as the same are not in accordance with the relevant rules in that regard. The scrutiny branches and the pending branches are located in the basement floor/ground floor of the High Court (except for the Writ Petition scrutiny branch) as are the filing counters and the counters for payment of process fee, court fee and for applying and collecting certified copies. The basement (colloquially called the ‘cellar’) is a beehive of activity where all the clerical formalities pertaining to a case are completed and there is hardly anybody who is not in a hurry in the ‘cellar’.
The knowledge of the location of the various pending and scrutiny branches in the High Court is vital for a lawyer, especially a junior lawyer as it is usually he who has to do the filing, compliance work and other clerical work. Spending a good amount of time in the unglamorous section of the High Court would help in gaining a lot of knowledge on the working of the High Court.
II. Catching a break
In the midst of attending to all the matters which may be spread across more than one or two fora, a lawyer has to ensure that he is well fed as it is near impossible to think straight on an empty stomach. Luckily, Bangalore is blessed with a very active Advocates’ Association which has ensured that there are canteens serving decent food at reasonable rates. There are also other outlets and ‘gaadis’ serving chaats, snacks, flavoured milk, buttermilk, pasta, etc.
These are the socialising joints for a lawyer where he spends some relaxing time with friends and acquaintances in the midst of attending and waiting for matters throughout the day. Many a friendship between lawyers commences over a cup of coffee/tea at such joints.
III. Back to office
Upon completion of matters listed for the day, the next phase of the day starts for a lawyer – office work. Most lawyers take a small coffee break after getting back from courts; some even go home to freshen up before getting back to office. Then commences the rigmarole of catching up with pending drafting, research work, meeting clients (old and new) and preparing for matters listed the next day before the courts. While other professionals are winding up their work and heading back home, a litigating lawyer is just beginning his work at the office.
Unpredictability follows a lawyer from courts to his office. Just when he thinks he is done for the day and has a smug satisfaction of having completed all important works, a client will enter requesting for an urgent order from the court. Sometimes a seemingly innocuous meeting with a client could drag on for hours or the cause list of the High Court could also spring some nasty surprises. This could throw everything off-track and all plans and structures may go haywire.
However, the biggest obstacle to completing any work and especially urgent work on time is the office printer/photocopier. This lifeless machine can sense the urgency of work as well as the voluminous printing/photocopying involved – more urgent and voluminous the work, higher the odds of the machine having paper-jamming issues or running out of ink/toner or simply refusing to work. Hence, it is absolutely necessary to maintain complete calm near the printer/photocopier – it can sense our urgency and tension!
With all this unpredictability, a litigating lawyer still manages to complete his work on time as he is answerable not only to his client but also to the court. It is only with experience one can gauge which assignment is to be prioritised in terms of urgency, etc. and plan the work schedule accordingly. Once one gets the hang of this, it becomes fairly manageable and he begins to enjoy the sheer unpredictability of it.
The motivation that keeps one going in litigation despite the constant work pressure is the fact that a lawyer gets to meet people from several walks of life which gives him an insight and perspective into many fields and walks of life which he would have otherwise not learnt. The intellectual satisfaction of assisting the courts in interpreting and applying the law to the facts on hand using statutory enactments and judicial precedents and countering the case of the opposite party can hardly be overemphasised. It is exciting to witness how the same matter can be looked at from two different perspectives and how with each time the lawyer reads the file, he can give the case a whole new dimension. The possibilities of exploring the law are endless, exciting and challenging. It is this stimulus that keeps a lawyer going in litigation.
Artful jabs in a scintillating cross-examination, luring the witness into a false sense of complacency and thereafter gaining admissions from the witness which can then be used to demolish his case are but some of the highs of litigation. Articulation and formulation of points of law and convincing the court to accept his point of view is yet another satisfying experience for any litigating lawyer.
Further, the basic duty a lawyer owes his client and the court is to attend the matters, i.e. appear on behalf of the client and represent them before the court when the matter is called out. Once, this most basic duty is discharged, the other responsibility is to ensure that he always has the relevant file/brief with him and also the applicable bare acts with him for a quick reference to the relevant provisions of law, if required.
It is absolutely essential that a lawyer doesn’t lose focus and learns to wait without getting frustrated. Once a lawyer has mastered the art of waiting patiently for his matter to be taken up and disposed, half the battle is won. The climb in litigation is a slow one and not easy. But with patience, determination, hard work, application of mind and a reasonable amount of intelligence, one can make this climb. Once on top, even the sky is not the limit in terms of name, fame and money that can be earned.
My two cents – Revel in the nuances. Enjoy the journey. Embrace the unpredictability.
DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only. The same cannot be construed as legal advice.