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Choosing a lawyer or a firm is somewhat like choosing whom to marry. Pick well and 90 per cent of your problems are over. Make a poor choice and the road can get rough. First pick your branch if you can, then the place you will be busiest at—not necessarily the firm that pays more or with the fanciest office.
An ideal firm does more than make you push papers like a postman. You can’t learn the law in the abstract. Books may offer theory but you only learn while practising. Some firms pay well but make associates work on one case or a small part of it, making you super-specialise. After two years, you will find this was a waste of time.
Finish school and then drop that know-it-all attitude. Be a little humble. Get into the profession as deep as you can. Try to get as much as you can out of it. When you practise law, you have to deal with people and their problems while working as a team player.
Lots of clever lawyers never make the grade because their behaviour puts others off. When we started out, Kapil Sibal and I worked together a lot. I always wondered what made people come back to him. I realised that sometimes I was negative and sceptical if a case had holes in it. Kapil never did that. He would tell the client, “No problem. Don’t worry, we will solve it.” For a lawyer, being positive about his cases is very important.
Junior lawyers get to work early and work late, consistently, to make it in the competitive world of brilliant lawyers. A successful practice is built on a foundation of being willing to do the drudge work and face the daily grind. It is not about the quick sentence here or witty remark there.
Satisfaction is not just our firm getting 60 awards. That probably indicates we are at the top, but satisfaction is to have friends and the respect of my peers. They do not see me as an adversary but another lawyer and a friend.
I feel I have that one quality Napoleon looked for in his generals—luck. Before he made an officer a general, he would always ask: Is he lucky? I firmly believe that I have been at the right place at the right time.
The law is still a service, not a business. If your client has a strong case, tell him that. If you think he’s definitely not getting anywhere, tell him that he should not fight but settle. Don’t treat a client like he is the golden goose.