Sanchita Ain qualified to be an Advocate-on-Record of the Supreme Court of India in her first attempt and is a practicing lawyer of the Supreme Court and Delhi High Court. She has completed her B.A.LL.B from the Faculty of Law, Aligarh Muslim University and an LL.M from the University of Essex in International Human Rights. She has worked on leading cases and contributed significantly in matters like Triple Talaq, Linking of PAN with Aadhaar, and various other matters. A strong supporter of law students, we are privileged to have a discussion with her. Let’s discuss more about her journey in the conversation ahead.
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How did you come to choose law as a career?
I was diagnosed with a chronic neurological condition called dystonia when I was in school. After 10th, I chose Science stream since I always wished to be a doctor but due to short attendance, I was shifted to Humanities in the middle of the session. At this point, I had lost a sense of purpose and did not know what I wanted to do. I was scared of even thinking what options I had. But while studying political science, I soon developed an interest in the subject and an interest in Indian polity and constitution brought me to study law. This was the time when after struggling for a while, I could again work like before. So the mere fact of being able to study would give me such joy and fulfilment that I did not think about what I would get out of it when I chose to study law.
But by the time I could decide, I had already missed the deadlines of National Law Universities. My father’s friend had fortunately heard about my interest in law and he sent me the application form for AMU just 2 days before the deadline. So, that’s how it happened.
Do you feel a student not being a first-generation lawyer; is a matter of concern in the field of litigation?
There is a difference between absence and deprivation or denial. An example of the latter would be the glass ceiling that exists for women lawyers or other marginalized groups. There are various groups of people who are denied/deprived in a way that is not even visible. Any sort of structural discrimination or prejudice associated with a certain person in a certain profession is deprivation or denial.
For a first-generation lawyer per se, it is not deprivation or denial, but mere absence. A person may have an edge over another person but that can be dealt with. You can develop your skills and if you are smart enough you can give them a run for money.
Individuals with a legal background may have their own advantage; you may have your own advantage in terms of certain skills you have developed early in your life. My father was a banker. So, I never had to stand in queues to withdraw money. So that advantage is available to many in different forms.
However, the advantage must not be undue to the extent that it exerts a certain kind of influence on the system to push out others or makes it difficult for people who do not come from a certain background. To the extent, it does not take away your right to fair opportunity, it should not be seen as a problem.
We think there is a competition going out there and we need to beat everybody. Therefore, we feel we are at a disadvantage. But to some extent, it is not even a competition. They are fighting their own battles, you are fighting your own. To give an example, road rage happens because people think they need to reach before someone. But actually, the destination of each car is different. You have your journey and others have their own. There is no point in envying anyone for the privileges they have. You say, “Grapes are sour” only when you have given up. Just staying on your path and focusing on what you have and what you can further do with it to develop your practice is the key to have a fulfilling career.
I told a friend the other day that my webinars are soon going to have more views than he has. I knew he would be happy when that happens. But I also knew it would make him raise his bar a little higher. That’s why I told him. This kind of competition is healthy and takes you ahead in life without any resentment. Any kind of resentment is not worth it. It takes away fulfilment from the experience even when you have achieved enough in life.
What made you choose Litigation over a Corporate job?
As I told you before, after I fell sick, it became important for me to enjoy what I was doing rather than waiting for something that I would get out of it. My motivation by then had become a little different from my friends. But I wanted to give corporate a try as well. I did an internship in a corporate firm as well as with senior advocates and the Legal & Treaties Division of Ministry of External Affairs. I did all these just to know what it takes to work there and then decide what I really wanted to do. I was pretty sure by then that I wanted to join litigation. So, the rest did not matter. There was a time when I would have looked for money as a reward. But at this point, money was not the determining factor to decide what I wanted to do.
What would you suggest, if an aspirant faces difficulty in choosing a particular field of law?
You may have an interest in corporate law; you may have an interest in litigation for different reasons. Just because you have an interest in corporate law does not mean that you need to end up in a corporate job.
You need to understand the nature of the work it involves. Litigation does not just involve standing in courts and arguing. You perhaps need to do internships and understand what it takes to do that job. Do it with the intention to observe and see what it means to sit on the chair working every day, and see if you would enjoy doing it day in, day out. You may also realize that you may not wish to argue matters. But you may be good at what the briefing counsels do. If you enjoy researching on a particular branch of law, it does not necessarily mean that you would enjoy the practical aspects of working in the area as well. So ultimately, you need to see what inspires or motivates you. It has to be something you would want to do and so others’ opinions should not even matter to you. There exists a kind of a social norm that receiving a certain amount of money or getting a foreign degree are the parameters of success. Suppose someone manages to change the narrative, say for example, ‘People who are doing pro bono cases are amazing lawyers and great achievers. You should be like them.’ It would shift everything. By the time you reach your mid-40s, the narrative might change, so then what? Therefore, the ultimate deciding factor should be what you want to do and not what is imposed on you by societal norms. If you are good at something or you are really interested in something, you would find your way to make it work for you. Again, it can differ from person to person. If I’m interested in something, I’ll also be good at it. But if I’m not interested, I cannot make it work even if I’m good at it. Some people can make it happen. So, you need to understand yourself and act accordingly and not necessarily go by what people say you should be doing. People are different from each other.
How important is it, in the initial years of litigation, to work under some Senior Advocate?
I would suggest that one should not start their career working with a designated senior advocate; instead, you should start in a drafting chamber as there is no better way to learn drafting than doing it by yourself. Then, it is always helpful to start working under a senior and then go for individual practice, but there is no hard and fast rule. Some people go and work in a law firm. It depends on your priorities. Some individuals join law firms considering the monetary aspect while for some monetary consideration may be secondary.
Some people think that seniors don’t pay well. They are also not sure what they would get after working there. But some senior advocates do pay well. Someone once told me you ought to develop your abilities to such an extent that you get to fix your own price, wherever you go. Sometimes I feel that’s true.
If you work with senior advocates you get to strengthen your base, work on high profile matters involving complex issues, brainstorm and discuss different ideas on a regular basis with someone whose opinion matters. It helps you to gain more knowledge as opposed to mere information and hone your skills, you learn to work in a time-bound manner, mostly all you have is one night between the briefing and the hearing to contribute, you get to prepare the road map, be an integral part of the process of developing arguments, and then when you hear the arguments you can analyze how your efforts made a difference, what more you could have done and how the senior advocate made your arguments look so good. So, you get to learn a lot. It, of course, varies from individual to individual.
What would you suggest would be a better forum for a freshly graduated lawyer to start his/her journey from, the District Courts or the High Court?
What Mr. Khurshid told us during an internship is what I tell everyone. It ultimately depends on where you get your break. But if you have a choice, you should start your practice from your home city and then come to the Supreme Court. It would ensure that cases continue to flow from your home city when you set up your practice in the Supreme Court. Once you are here, you obviously can get matters of both Supreme Court and Delhi High Court. I’ll be doing several workshops and webinars soon to help young professionals get a better understanding of Supreme Court practice.
In this flexible environment, there is no hard and fast rule to reach somewhere. Everyone has their own graph. What do you want to do and whether your considerations are in line with it is what ultimately matters. Join a forum with a certain goal, set a graph for yourself. But always keep room for new options. You must have a goal and a plan to achieve it, even if they may change with time.
What according to you will be the differentiating quality or achievement in a freshly graduated lawyer, if you were to select one?
To me, sincerity is very important. I can train a person from scratch. The individual may or may not have the same amount of knowledge I have. But still, it is not a problem till they at least possess the basic knowledge and the willingness to learn. All the traits are interlinked. If one is sincere, she/he would be hardworking as well as passionate. It’s very difficult to work with people who are not self-motivated and self-driven.
I have had this infectious energy and people always acknowledge it. When I was leaving my previous office, they said they would miss the colour and vibrancy I brought to the office. I enjoy working with passionate people. But people can have different elements they bring with themselves. It only makes the workplace much more diverse and richer.
What is the one piece of advice you would like to give to our readers?
One must try to bring a change in attitude towards their work and profession as early as possible and get rid of the mental blocks that stop them from doing well. Else, it is very difficult to succeed.