In Conversation with Jayant Bhatt, Advocate at Supreme Court of India and Delhi High Court
October 14, 2021
We, at KnowLaw, got into a conversation with Adv. Jayant Bhatt. He is an independent legal practitioner and an alumnus of the National University of Singapore and the New York University USA from where he completed his Masters. He has also worked in the prestigious law firm Clyde and Co. LLP in Dubai for 2 years before coming back to India. Adv. Jayant Bhatt also has a keen interest in mentoring young minds and has been a prolific speaker on various platforms.
Shreya Gupta, KnowLaw – Sir, is there any incident or funny anecdote which you would like to share with the audience which you still have a good time reminiscing about from your Law School days?
Adv. Jayant Bhatt – Quite a few, I think, like in the first year of our Law School, the way we were introduced to our seniors, not me personally but some of our batchmates. There was some function being held when we had just joined the Law School and some of us were smoking in the alleyway from where the chief guest was about to enter. One of the seniors politely told us that the judges were coming and asked us to make way and to be respectful and some of my friends/batchmates were too full of themselves and asked, ‘What will you do?‘ And thereafter, they obviously got thrashed and were thrown out. And the next day, during classes, the revered seniors came along, took some of these people by the collar with the permission of the teacher, took them outside, and gave them a handful. So, these things still crack us up and now when we look in the hindsight, there were a lot of intra-batch fights which took place, and having said that, I think this has made us friends for life.
Shreya Gupta, KnowLaw – Could you please elaborate on any case that has impacted or impacts your practice on a daily basis?
Adv. Jayant Bhatt – I think the responsibility when you are arguing at the Supreme Court is very high because it is the last Court of Appeal. But the main thing is that on many miscellaneous days, normally a Monday and a Friday in Supreme Court, the chance that you are given is time-sensitive, around 30 seconds to a minute, and you have to really make an impression on the judge because the judges are really very busy. So, one thing I’ve learned is to be very brief and succinct to the point as much as possible. The other thing which I realized is that Judges in the Supreme Court are really very well-read, so far as the brief and the case laws are concerned. They know their files inside out because of the tremendous experience and also because of the help that comes to them from the researcher and their own acumen. So, sometimes, when you are arguing your point and have already read it, you have to know your file better than the judge because that is how the judges assess you regarding whether you are helping the court or just taking it for a spin. Just be honest to yourself and to your client and with the court.
Abhikriti Singh, KnowLaw– We all are aware that India, in fact, the whole world has been through a difficult time. With Covid-19 still in the picture and everything getting virtualized, what is your take on virtual hearings? As a lawyer, what are the bottlenecks in a virtual hearing before the High Court and Supreme Court? Do you believe it is a Panacea for all evil?
Adv. Jayant Bhatt – I am not very happy about the way in which the whole Indian judicial system has worked out. And when I speak, I don’t just state the difficulties that I have faced personally as a lawyer but also having spoken with so many lawyer colleagues and other people who have a stake in the justice system, the Courts could have done better. I’m sure the courts have their own difficulties and limitations so far as the virtual hearings are concerned, but things have become very sluggish in the market and I don’t think it’s a very good sign.
We are a country which produces the highest number of engineers and we export the best brains to Western countries. Name any big company today, like Microsoft and Google, at least one Indian is spearheading the company when we talk about tech. Now when I speak to people who are not lawyers and those who are in-house counselors, the same is not true for litigation.
I have been a part of virtual hearings and I have appeared sporadically since the pandemic in a few matters here and there. However, I think what we need to also realize is that the justice system has to have the last Mile delivery because if the trial courts in the country are not functioning, if the high courts are making life difficult for the justice seeker, then I think we have failed the people of this country. Then things like the constitution, articles 14 and 21 are moot points. Why would I go to court if I’m not getting any real-time justice? If today, the news of social media is quicker than our justice system, I think it’s something worrisome.
I think we all must put our heads together as lawyers or stakeholders and we have to really look ourselves in the mirror and ask whether we have failed the system and the people of this country. Because, as lawyers, when you speak to people they know courts are not fully functional. We already had a bad name for so much dependency in our courts and this has only added on to it. I just hope that the Supreme Court and other high courts get to answer this question sooner than later but the ground reality is far from desirable.
Shreya Gupta, KnowLaw– We know how senior advocates are given preference when fighting cases. Is this preference given to the senior advocates a violation of the right to equality?
Adv. Jayant Bhatt – I think it is a long-term battle. As long as human beings are around, there will be politics, there will be warfare and there will be inequality which I don’t think can be eliminated at all because we’ve seen this happen through civilizations and this is not the first time. So far as preferential treatment is concerned I’d say both yes and no. I’ve seen good judges who have given a fair chance to each and everybody and also not so good who can be really preferential in terms of giving time to really senior lawyers. The effect is that it drops a chance of a non-senior non-deserving or even a deserving lawyer to the right to have a crucial audience for a particular Court of law. Imagine if today it is your fifth year of practice and if you are appearing before a Constitutional Court be it a high court or Supreme Court and you already have this perception in your mind that the judge is not going to give you enough time. You will not be confident enough to put the case rightly for your client and that will be playing somewhere in your mind because these biases are not just textbook biases but they actually happen in the court of law.
That’s why I think we need good judges, we need judges who are fair, we need judges who believe in equality. And more than that I think we need more judges so that these complaints of equality and inequality can be set aside because if the judges rely only on the arguments of a selected few, then the practice of the person who is trying to set his or her practice is dented. So I think the quality is a very big question and it is the right question that you’ve asked but I think these questions should be asked to the judges of the country as to why there is a reason that more face time is given to a particular set of lawyers. Having said that, let me also clarify that as a first-generation lawyer I have seen an equal number of good judges who have been very fair but as I said it’s a human tendency so we need more good judges across the board.
Imagine if today it is your fifth year of practice and if you are appearing before a Constitutional Court be it a high court or Supreme Court and you already have this perception in your mind that the judge is not going to give you enough time. You will not be confident enough to put the case rightly for your client and that will be playing somewhere in your mind because these biases are not just textbook biases but they actually happen in the court of law. That’s why I think we need good judges, we need judges who are fair, we need judges who believe in equality.
And more than that I think we need more judges so that these complaints of equality and inequality can be set aside because if the judges rely only on the arguments of a selected few, then the practice of the person who is trying to set his or her practice is dented. So I think the quality is a very big question and it is the right question that you’ve asked but I think these questions should be asked to the judges of the country as to why there is a reason that more face time is given to a particular set of lawyers. Having said that, let me also clarify that as a first-generation lawyer I have seen an equal number of good judges who have been very fair but as I said it’s a human tendency so we need more good judges across the board.
Abhikriti Singh, KnowLaw–What according to you is the biggest reason for the pendency of cases in India especially at the lower Judiciary level?
Adv. Jayant Bhatt – I have practiced across the board, I practice from trial courts to Supreme Court. I’ve seen different structural setups and must say that funding is definitely a problem. I keep repeating this but the whole image of Justice Thakur crying in Vikrant Bhavan and saying that people are too quick to dream the Judiciary still haunts me somewhere personally because he’s a great judge and when he lamented this condition of the judiciary it was rightly so because till the time the Parliament or whatever treasury it is gives the right mandate of financial aid and the rite infrastructural push to the judiciary system, I don’t think things are going and that is why I always keep asking my Interns to look at the data and let’s come out with the figure as to how much of a budget has been given to the law and Justice Department and how much that has been actually propagated throughout the years since Independence and the judicial setup of this country.
I think that our justice system is no less valuable than health care or the defense system if people want justice and people want a robust system that needs to work for which people can reach out. I think we need a more financial push to the sector for people to realize that it’s a good robust system and that we are good lawyers and good judges. But if we do not have a basic system for conducting a virtual court hearing in two years of pandemic then something is really wrong somewhere and we need to address those questions financially so that the justice system doesn’t suffer in the long run.
Shreya Gupta, KnowLaw– What do you think about the legal awards as many have accused that these organizations take money in lieu of giving awards?
Adv. Jayant Bhatt – Personally speaking, I don’t approve of them. I think it’s a sham with all due respect to the people who have won the awards because I know some of them personally and they are meritorious and hard-working lawyers. I can’t find fault with them for doing good brand marketing for themselves in all the forms they work for because unfortunately, that’s how the world works. But I don’t think that’s the right way, we are not in the film industry where we have to find production houses to fund our films. We are lawyers, a client will come to us because we hold some merit and because he can represent them fairly and not because we have an award and a picture with it.
I think the moment somebody is asking you for money to get these awards into the picture, it’s not the right thing to do. You cannot sell yourself up or shortchange yourself just because some fancy award is coming your way.
Abhikriti Singh, KnowLaw –It’s been almost 70 years of Independence, and India has not got its first female Chief Justice. Firstly, what do you think about when this wait will be over? And secondly, do you think the collegium system needs to be blamed for this?
Adv. Jayant Bhatt – The NJAC was launched regarding this but the judiciary fought hard because they didn’t want it to prevail and this case needs more transparency in my opinion. Judiciary is no different from any other organs of the governmental system and should hence be treated equally. I don’t know why we should give preferential treatment to the judiciary. Judges should be considered at participating with any other government officials with the same work capacity. As for why we do not have a female Chief Justice, I think we have seen increasing female participation in the judiciary in the past few decades. We have been a traditionally patriarchal country but things are surely changing. There have been many lady chief justices in high courts and the Supreme court also might just be a few months away.
Shreya Gupta, KnowLaw –What part of your journey was difficult for you, and how did you overcome the difficulty? Also, what gave you the motivation to keep going in the same direction?
Adv. Jayant Bhatt – Success cannot be defined but the idea is to be happy on a daily basis considering your previous year’s experience. Losing my mother at a young age made me realize that the loss of a loved one is the worst that can happen to you. Whenever I achieve something, I ask myself if I can do better because she was a teacher so, that is something I endeavor daily. So, the idea is whether I can make one positive thing in the world today because these were the learnings that I got from my mother. Showing success and failure is a mundane concept for me. Success is what helps you sleep well at night, makes people respect you, and can motivate and inspire people.
Abhikriti Singh, KnowLaw – Litigation is perceived as a less paying role at least in the initial years. Do you think the notion of no pay or meager amount as salary to junior lawyers in litigation chambers is one of the reasons for law students who are first-generation lawyers to not pursue litigation and shift to the corporate side or in-house role in any MNCs?
Adv. Jayant Bhatt – It is good to be ambitious because money pays the bills. Litigation is a tough field to make money wherein it depends more on your credibility or the mark you’ve made in the market. Hence it takes years to settle down that way. In a corporate structure, there’s a hierarchy of positions and corresponding pay grades. But litigation is more like a business in terms of pay grade as it’s entrepreneurship at the end of the day. You have to build your brand in this business dynamic of litigation practice.
Abhikriti Singh, KnowLaw –What should be the approach of first-generation law students who wish to pursue litigation and sustain themselves in the market with some minimum income?
Adv. Jayant Bhatt -The minimum income mark basically depends on the city you live in and the lifestyle around there. But the main issue is that law schools don’t emphasize how to save money and instead imbibe the character of making more money. Business of Law needs to be taught with equal importance as legal education.
Shreya Gupta, KnowLaw–We know that in western countries, lawyers play a very crucial role as leaders of the country and they are also politically involved. So, do you think that the top Lawyers in India too should be politically involved and should there be a certain qualification to join the health, education, or any other ministry?
Adv. Jayant Bhatt – It’s quite tough but, we do have some lawyers in the current central government. Even our President Mr. Ramnath Kovind is a lawyer by vocation. So yes, lawyers, both practicing and former, are found across the administration just like the west. Many Chief Ministers have a degree in law like the current CM of Uttarakhand. But in a democracy, it’s the people’s decision regarding who they want as their leaders. So far as the ministry allocation is considered I think again it’s the call of a particular Government that has the mandate after being selected as that is how the Constitution is devised. So, I feel we have to find the right fit for the right position to man particular ministries which is a call to be taken according to the person’s qualifications.
Abhikriti Singh, KnowLaw – People tend to create a gap between the students from Nlu and other law colleges without understanding that knowledge is the key, not the tag that we have. Students who do not belong to an NLU tend to pursue LLM abroad particularly because they want to get it with the tag. Since you have done your LLM abroad from two colleges in the same year, what are the things that a Non-NLU student shall keep in mind while deciding to pursue foreign studies? How should one start building working on this plan from their first year if they are to pursue LLM abroad?
Adv. Jayant Bhatt – I am not the right person to tell them what to do because I am not a parent. This is what I keep telling people. You are old enough to make a decision for yourself. If you are a lawyer in making you already are in the high IQ range of this country. You are a person who is well-read. You are a person who comes from a family who can support a good education for you and you can make decisions for yourself. Lawyers, as you asked me in the previous questions, are not only in the west but also in India are the leaders of the Governments or the Political Outfits. Life is too long. It doesn’t matter what Law School you are from unless you have a really bad faculty. So, go to the right Law School which can at least give you the basic push and right internships.
If you have the right set of seniors who have already done masters, they can be a guiding force and they can tell you which continent to go to, which law school to go to, how to apply, write a recommendation, a statement of purpose, etc. I think there are quite a few career coaches also today who are very willing to help young lawyers and young law students. So, life is a marathon. Just don’t burn yourself at least in the first two-three years of Law School if you are in a five-year law course. I may have done my Masters. It may have worked for me but as a person who would have not done masters, there are so many senior lawyers who are examples of those who have never gone abroad but are perhaps making more money than the three of us combined.
So, I don’t think what is right for me is right for you or what is right for you is right for someone else. Everybody has a different walk of life. I think it is very important to hear what your instincts are telling you. Focus on yourself, focus on your strengths, and be happy. That is very important. People have forgotten to be happy and are continuously stressing themselves out so please don’t stress. Because if you’re stressed you won’t be able to focus.
Abhikriti Singh, KnowLaw – There are certain Law Schools in India that would only teach the stream subjects to its students for the first two or three years, and the subjects of law are introduced in the third or fourth year. How would you advise the students to go about it and how they should not stress about it?
Adv. Jayant Bhatt – Law is a very long-term vocation. For an athlete, their peak age is about 30 whereas the same for a lawyer is about 50 or 60 years. I believe legal education is too long, almost like a waste of time. In my opinion, it should at best be for 2 to 4 years. Having said that, I also mean they should teach everything there is to learn. The pandemic has set things on a faster track in this digital era that was unfathomable a few years back. I believe 4 years is the apt tenure and it should consist of both curriculum and internships for lawyers. But this will not happen because in this case, money is involved, and where money is involved, people don’t want to give that chance up.
The business of law has to be understood here and these business houses in the disguise of private or other law schools make the same mistake as Engineering and Business Schools and turn students into salespeople instead of lawyers. This in turn causes the stress of not having done a particular internship or not having enough content on your CV. Another factor to be considered is whether the number of intakes in law schools should be curbed because the moment you are given a prospectus at the time of signing up for law school you are shown fancy pictures of those ten big firms which are already there in the country but that’s not going to change the diaspora of this country. It will be you and the youth that follows that will guide this change. No law school can guarantee you a job and this makes things very difficult for students who are being affected by the business model which the law schools have made out of this field. So, I believe there should not be any new law schools in the next ten years while there’s saturation in the market as this adversely impacts a student’s career.
Shreya Gupta, KnowLaw –You said you would want to shorten the curriculum, maybe make it two years or four years. The LLM time in India has been extended to two years so what is your stake in this decision of BCI? Now that they’ve extended the time, should we go abroad if somebody is wanting to pursue LLM because then it will be a waste of time to invest two years when you can pursue LLM outside in just one year?
Adv. Jayant Bhatt – Going abroad is not the answer to everything. We had quite a bit of brain training in our time to go there. If you want to settle abroad go there, if you think you can get a better life go there, go there if you think you can demand a better salary, by all means, that’s a personal decision. I am nobody to tell you what to do or not. However, I think two years for Masters, is personally speaking a waste of time.
I have done two Masters in one year and I am a live example of how things are done. I am not saying I am the greatest lawyer, but I am not even the worst lawyer. I learned that the right things are possible and are doable. If a person with an average intelligence like me can do it, I am sure people who are brighter than me can definitely do it in one year. Don’t waste your time or your life. Challenge these mandates of the bar council. Ask them why you are doing it. If you are wanting more money out of students then just ask ‘Chanda’ and be done with it.
Going abroad is not a bad thing. I learned a lot. I made friends for life and foreign education teaches you something which sometimes Indian education is lacking but people need to come back and give back to the country also. I cannot put a gun to somebody’s head and say you have to give back to society. That is something which is either inculcated or totally in the family. I said there is nothing bad about going to a foreign country. For example, we wouldn’t have someone from India working in Google, if it weren’t for Sundar Pichai. There’s no harm in going abroad, just do not clickbait people.
Going forward people are only becoming smarter. With the use of technology, if you see I am not speaking something which is true or speaking something which is dishonest which is only to please people, people are going to access it and especially lawyers. My target audience are lawyers hence, my target audience is smart people and it’s very difficult to fool lawyers and law students for that matter. We are talking of the future here and I think we are dealing with a very smart generation. It is a highly aware generation who are aware of what they need to do and what they don’t need to do and they don’t need a lawyer like me to tell them what is right and what is wrong. You have your own sense of sensibility but yes you need a lawyer like me sometimes to voice my opinion to perhaps tell you that this is an alternate way which you can also trade your path and this is something which is available to you which you may not have realized because of too much of foreign information coming your way.
Shreya Gupta, KnowLaw –Is there any message or advice that you would like to give the budding lawyers?
Adv. Jayant Bhatt – Advice has the word ‘wise’ and nothing good comes out of it. I keep asking this as closing comments in my channel because I always want to pick the brains of people who are there. Look, the advice is to be yourself. I think it’s very important and there is this line that you may have read everywhere that be yourself because everybody is taken. It is very true because I cannot be in somebody else’s body and this is something that nature has gifted me.
I have been given this great temple of being a human and this opportunity that we all have been given needs to be utilized. Utilize the opportunity which is coming your way. Please don’t stress yourself out. Don’t win a rat race; it can be very toxic without you realizing it. Especially during Pandemic, we have just bombarded ourselves with information, disinformation, good information, and bad information. Be judicious and also try to ration your screen time
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