Divij Kumar is from the batch of 2005-2010. He is currently working with Luthra and Luthra as a Managing Associate Designate. In this interview Divij talks about Litigation and his time at AIL.
The Blue Pencil: What made you choose law as a profession and how did AIL happen?
Divij: My cousins had joined the profession and my grandfather suggested the same for me. So, I went over the entrance papers of NLSIU and found the legal questions very interesting. Thereafter, I started to read John Grisham’s novels and watching legal dramas, like ‘The Practice’, which settled it for me!
TBP: How was your journey at AIL? Any experiences you’d like to share with us?
Divij: Given an opportunity, I would love to re-live my days at AIL, especially the first year! I remember the ‘intro’ and ragging sessions, running into the cafeteria shouting, “BHAAGO, BAADH (flood) AYI, BAADH.”
When we joined AIL, there was no WiFi. So a first year student was the only source of entertainment for the seniors and trust me, the ideas of entertainment were unique. I vividly remember the “Madhyaratri AIL News Seva” wherein a first year student would sit in the storage space above the cupboards and then when the senior would ask, start off with the DD tune and give a weekly update of what had happened in AIL. I clarify that I am not promoting ragging. These sessions were not to humiliate us, but only to welcome us to the AIL family.
Then, we had the ‘AIL special’ birthday BASH. This was one day when the ‘Birthday Boy’ regretted being born. I remember the birthday boy trying his best to convince the others, “yaar DMS nahin yaar (not the DMS boots)” or “bhai, tere Birthday pe maine logo ko roka tha” (I stopped others on your birthday), referring to the Birthday bums that were to follow, all in the false hope of being spared.
TBP: How were your years in college? Did your study prepare you in any way for real life practice in courts?
Divij: The 5 years flew by really quickly. I had a great time and I still feel nostalgic thinking about my time at AIL.
Unfortunately, our curriculum does not prepare us for the real life. There is too much stress on rote learning and this is something that does not prepare us for the practice in courts. I am of the opinion that learning has to be practical rather than theoretical. For instance, the exams should be more of a ‘problem-solution’ based questionnaires, as that would really give us the opportunity to apply the law and put our learning to test.
TBP: How did you decide to pursue litigation? Were you considering any other opportunities?
Divij: While at AIL, majority of my internships were at litigation offices, barring two, which were at a law firm and a Pharma company. In January 2010, I managed to get an internship at PSA Legal (a law firm specializing in corporate law and based in New Delhi) and ended up with a PPO. At PSA Legal, I worked as a corporate lawyer for three years. While at PSA, the Proprietor of the Firm would often harp on the fact that unless you litigate, you will never know how a clause in a contract is interpreted in Court. This was one of reasons that greatly influenced my decision to shift to litigation.
TBP: Describe your experience when you appeared in the court for the first time.
Divij: It was a complaint under Section 138 of the N.I. Act. The case was fixed for withdrawal of the complaint as the parties had settled the dispute. As easy as it gets, right? So when the case was called up, I started with who the complainant is, its business, how the dispute arose, etc. It was like, mauka milla hai, aaj he puri kasar nikaal deni hai. But I was stopped midway by the Ld. MM, who asked me, “Does your client intend to settle?” I nodded and then the Ld. MM said, “AR (Authorised Representative of the Company) hai, toh statement karao aur khatam karo vakil saab, there are other matters as well!” This was my first time in court and I learnt the importance of being concise and not to argue just for the sake of it.
TBP: Tell us about the skills you picked up during your time at PSA and how that paved the way for your litigation career.
Divij: PSA stressed a lot on drafting and it is there I learnt its importance. As mentioned above, the words of the Proprietor of the firm were one of the reasons which led to switching to litigation. Having made up my mind, I started to look for a lawyer’s chamber where I could learn the basics and get as much court exposure as possible.
My litigation career started when I joined the chambers of Mr. Sudhir Kumar Makkar, who was designated a Senior Advocate by the High Court of Delhi in 2016. He gave his juniors a lot of independence in preparing and handling the cases, as well as in conducting meetings with the clients. Though he would supervise our work, but he did not micro-manage and rather encouraged us to prepare the entire case by ourselves and bring it to its logical conclusion. He encouraged us to conduct evidence and advance interim as well as final arguments, which helped a lot in building my confidence.
TBP: What prompted you to start practicing independently? How would you describe the transition?
Divij: Before going solo, I wanted the exposure of practicing in the High Court, especially on Writs. So after working with Mr. Makkar, I was fortunate to work at the chamber of Mr. Krishnendu Dutta where I got to appear and argue at the High Court nearly on a daily basis. Subsequently, I developed my own clientele and I felt it was the right time to go independent.
The transition for me was smooth mainly because of the support and encouragement I got from my wife, Amrita. The fact that I decided to go independent after ensuring I had a regular clientle, also helped as I could focus on building my practice rather than looking to make ends meet. However, I had to quickly come to terms with the fact that there is no fixed pay cheque coming your way every month and thus developed a habit of saving. I was also fortunate as one of my clients offered me a chamber within his office on rent at a throw away price. The client being a CA, he would refer his clients for legal work to me.
TBP: How necessary is it to have a mentor or guide to handhold a young lawyer while still in the formative years of the profession? Did you have one?
Divij: It is very important to have a mentor or guide, especially for the majority of us AILIANS, who are first generation lawyers. I found my mentor in Mr. Sudhir K. Makkar, Senior Advocate. He still is my go to person for everything.
TBP: What is your fondest memory of college days?
Divij: The exchange of banter while watching IPL matches in the common room. Scaling the walls for paranthas at Sector 17 and then trying to sneak into the college. The 4 o’clock morning cutting chai that we used to go out for to Kumbra. The ‘All night-ers’ before the exam, where instead of studying, we would end up spending time looking for ways and means to make butter Maggi and coffee. Far too many memories, which makes it all the more difficult to choose the fondest one.
TBP: What would be your parting advice to our readers?
Divij: Don’t stress on rote learning, instead focus on understanding the law and its application.
Those who wish to litigate, please focus on learning the procedure. Practicing initially in the District courts might not be attractive, but it really helps you learn the basics and develop court craft. Also, District Courts are far more forgiving towards your lack of experience than the High Court or the Supreme Court.
We have a lot of seniors who are practicing in different High Courts and in the Supreme Court. Speak to as many as you can, learn from their experiences.
Believe in yourself and your capabilities. Follow your heart, so that when you look back 10 years down the line, you can happily say, “ no regrets”!
I would also advise all of you to not worry. Trust me, it is not worth it at all. Enjoy life and treasure the moments at AIL!
Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to mention what a brilliant initiative ‘Blue Pencil’ is and kudos to the team for the wonderful job that you are doing. Keep it up!