Young, junior lawyers are not slaves, renumerate them decently; legal profession should not be an “Old Boys’ Club”: CJI DY Chandrachud


The newly appointed Chief Justice of India (CJI) on Saturday made an urgent appeal to senior members of the bar to remunerate their juniors fairly in order to enable them to live a life of dignity. “How many seniors pay their juniors decent salaries?”, exclaimed Justice Chandrachud, “Some young lawyers do not even have chambers where they are paid money.” He pondered, “If you are staying in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, or Kolkata, how much does it cost for a young lawyer to survive? They have rent to pay, transportation, food.” “This must change, and the burden of doing that is on us, as senior members of the profession,” the Chief Justice said.

Chief Justice Chandrachud was speaking at a function organised by the Bar Council of India (BCI) to felicitate him for recently being appointed India’s 50th Chief Justice.

“For far too long, we have regarded the youngsters in our profession as slave workers. Because that is how we grew up,” Justice Chandrachud explained. This is the “old ragging principle” in Delhi University, the Chief Justice said. Laughing, he added, “Those who were ragged, would always go on to rag people who were below them. It was like passing on the blessings of being ragged,” But, Justice Chandrachud stressed that seniors could not use the excuse that they “learnt law the hard way” to not pay juniors now. “Those times were very different. But, also, so many lawyers who could have made it to the top, never made it because they had no resources,” he pointed out.

Recalling a conversation he had with a friend when he was a student at the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi. The friend had asked him over a cup of tea, “Aab tu karega kya? Zindagi kaise guzarega?” (What will you do in life? How will you make a livelihood?) Unsatisfied with the response of Justice Chandrachud, then a mere college-going boy, that he would earn a living by practising law, his friend had advised, “Why don’t you get a gas agency or a retail oil dealership so that you will have sufficient means to sustain yourself?” “This thought has never left me, because in so many ways, it reflects the truth about our profession,” the Supreme Court judge poignantly mentioned.

“For too long we regard young members of our profession as slave workers. Why? Because that is how we grew up. We can’t now tell young lawyers that is how we grew up. This was the old ragging principle in Delhi university. Those who were ragged always ragged people who were below them because it was passing on blessing of being ragged. Sometimes it got very bad. But the point is seniors today cannot say that is how I learnt law in the hard way and therefore I will not pay 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 for the simple reason that they had no resources”

Emphasising the stark levels of disparity in the legal profession, the Chief Justice said, “While you have top-notch lawyers in the Supreme Court who would have seven or eight video-conferencing screens open so they could move from court to court with a flick of the mouse, yet you have lawyers, who had to virtually live from hand to mouth during the pandemic, when the courts were shut and the Registrar’s court was not functioning.” After the reopening of courts, one of the first things requests made by the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association was to operationalise the Registrar’s court, which, Justice Chandrachud explained, dealt with “very small procedural issues, like substitution of legal heirs, placing a matter before the chamber court”, that is, “all the small things for which juniors run to that court”. “The President told us that is what sustained the lives and livelihoods of the juniors because they would get somewhere between Rs 800 to Rs 1000 to appear. This would enable them to sustain a family,” the Chief Justice recalled.

Legal profession an “old-boys’ club”

The CJI opined that the legal profession is an “old boys’ club”, where opportunities are given to only a selected group in a network. “There is a network, through which opportunities in the chambers of Senior Advocates, are gotten. It is an old boys’ club. It is not merit-based. Are juniors paid decent salaries? All this must change, and the burden is on us, as seniors”.

He pointed out that with the advent of National Law Schools, the best of the minds are now entering the legal profession. Therefore, there is a responsibility to ensure that young people are not deserted and that their optimism is kept alive.

“If we want to change the face of the legal profession, we have to provide equal opportunity and access to not just women, but also marginalised communities today. So that we can find more diversity on the Bench tomorrow”, he said.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with LiveLaw, the former Chief Justice of India, Uday Umesh Lalit, acknowledged that it was a common grievance among young lawyers that they were “overworked, but underpaid”. The retired judge exhorted the young members of the profession to “have patience, confidence, and belief in themselves”, which would eventually help them “turn the tides”. The issue of incentivising seniors to fairly remunerate junior advocates also came up before a Constitution Bench hearing a batch of petitions challenging the validity of the All-India Bar Examination in September. Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, who was leading the Bench, lamented the loss of “bright people” in the profession because of a paucity of financial resources. He said, “Especially for people coming from underprivileged backgrounds, after studying for six years, it becomes difficult to sustain themselves for another four to five years without a decent stipend.” “I have also seen situations where the Senior Advocate charges money to take on juniors,” Justice Kaul said, appalled.


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