Mr. Jayant Bhatt is a first-generation independent litigator based in New Delhi. He has completed his masters in American and Asian Business and Trade Laws from New York University and is also an alumnus of the National University of Singapore.
He has worked with Clyde & Co.’s Dubai office for more than 2 years before returning to India. He branched out into his independent practice after working in the chambers of Mr Amit Sibal, Mr Shivaji M Jadhav, and Mr Rashid Hashmi for a few years.
His social media presence and guidance is something every law student will be glad to learn about. Libertatem Magazine grabbed a wonderful opportunity to interview him and interact with him. In this interview, he discusses various issues related to Criminal Law practice in India and provides a deeper insight into the solutions relating to the problems involved with the same. He also discusses how the law students can make the most of the lockdown situation and come out as better lawyers by taking each day as it comes.
Below is an excerpt from the conversation.
Anukriti: What was your main reason behind pursuing law as a career?
Jayant Bhatt: I was pursuing Science in school and was unable to generate any interest in the same. One of my relatives then introduced me to the prospectus of NLUs and suggested that I prepare for law. Law, today, has seen a paradigm shift and has opened many avenues as now one can be a corporate lawyer, In-house lawyer and the list has only expanded over the years. I researched all these options thoroughly and looked into what people were doing after pursing the 5-year law course. Thereafter I chose to stay in Delhi and pursued my education from Amity Law School.
Anukriti: What do you think are the main factors which have allowed you to establish such a prominent independent practice at such a young age?
Jayant Bhatt: I have always harbored a dream of having my own practice. But I never had a concrete plan. The plan, however, started designing itself when I joined practice with one of the leading International Law firms in Dubai called Clyde & Co. LLP. I came back to India after a while with the drive to learn the trade here and eventually set up my own shop. I practiced under Mr Amit Sibal and Mr Shivaji M Jadhav to gain more experience. As I could have not skipped doing trial court work, I ended up perfecting my trial court skills under Mr Rashid Hashmi for almost 2 years.
All of these offices together have given me a lot of experience of how to go about things which gave me some leverage to go independent. I was able to understand the legal world as a Solicitor, Filling Counsel, Trial Lawyer and even a Senior Lawyer which in itself is an invaluable experience.
Anukriti: What was the main driving force behind you finally deciding to branch off and start your own practice considering the economic uncertainty involved being a first-generation lawyer?
Jayant Bhatt: When I came back to India I was well aware of the fact that money was a distant dream. Under any apprenticeship, sometimes you get a basic salary and sometimes you don’t get even that. So the motivation to feed your family, take care of them and actually become financially independent as you cannot depend on someone all your life was the main reason I branched off. I have seen my colleagues starting an independent practise much early on as compared to me as I took almost 6 years to take the plunge on my own.
When I told my friends and family about my decision to start my own practise, most of them thought that I was very brave but when I used to think about it myself, I doubted if I was actually being foolish making this choice. At that time a lot of my batch mates were still sticking to the chambers they were practising under and the others who came from a strong legal background certainly had different challenges to face but going independent came naturally to them. In the end, I had to choose the lesser evil, between earning no money while working under someone or earning some money and try dying while at it.
As an independent lawyer, you do not have much of a choice, you’re always stuck between the devil and the deep sea. This choice, therefore, always kept me motivated and on my toes to not fall on either side and keep my balance on this tight rope.
Anukriti: Many law students nowadays are more intrigued by corporate law practise, as it promises early financial breakthrough as compared to litigation and at the same time is not plagued by nepotism. The general idea still remains that only first-generation lawyers can comfortably practise litigation in India. How correct do you feel this ideology is?
Jayant Bhatt: I don’t discriminate or distinguish between who is a better lawyer. I think if you love the law if you like pursuing what you are doing, by all means, you have to keep going and working hard. If corporate law is your calling and if you are happy doing a job at a law firm, then you can add great value to that. Nowadays there are many avenues under law. If you like going to the courts and feeling that adrenaline rush while arguing a case you can join the litigation. Now you even be a part of the company as their general counsel or even their CEO eventually.
But it is true that financial constraints are real and I would be the last person to say that one has to die hungry. In this competitive world, it is best not to be foolish. If you need money in your pockets, you have to satisfy that financial crunch by all means because you can pursue your dreams only if you are stable financially. No one is going to hear you out, you cannot be a philosopher and live in misery.
I think there is no harm in young lawyers changing tracks and pursuing litigation only for a few years. Every individual has their own difficulties and hence this will always remain their personal call to decide the path for their future.
Anukriti: Recently a lot of discussions have been centred on how the criminal laws in particular need to be completely gender-neutral. It is also alleged that the courts tend to interpret laws in favour of women, which according to advocates of gender neutrality is not required in the current times. What are your views about the same?
Jayant Bhatt: I think laws are neutral and they never discriminate as they are meant to protect. If laws are designed to showcase a gender bias, the main purpose of that law still remains to tell the people to not commit a crime.
However, as far as the justice delivery systems and the judges are concerned, there exists a patriarchal mindset which is very unfortunate. Whether it is all-pervasive and gender lopsided is another debate, however we cannot have judges patronising one gender as that too is not the right way to go.
Personally, I have experienced most judges being gender-neutral and not getting swayed by emotions. But at the end of the day, all judges are human beings. They are all products of different styles of upbringing and come from different backgrounds and areas which indirectly affects the way they operate in different cases. Also, justice is not always black and white and there are a lot of grey areas attached to it.
Additionally, all our laws have come after a long history of women being subjected to discrimination, harassment, dowry demands etc. All of these social evils are unfortunately still very deeply rooted in our society. Changes in law take place in order to do away with things that are practically criminal in nature. If you look at the data you will hardly find many instances of men being beaten by their wives or tortured at a level as extreme as what women are often subjected to. As a patriarchal society, our women have been limited to their households and have not been given adequate opportunities to progress in their careers. There has been continuous impediment and discrimination and that is the reason why we have legislation like the Maternity Benefit Act, POSH Act, Domestic Violence Act, today.
Before we move towards creating gender-neutral laws there has been a general sense of equality prevailing in our society. There are certainly instances of abuse of such laws but when a majority of the perpetrators belong to a particular gender, the others need protection.
Anukriti: In India, the criminal cases tend to take years to get concluded and even the whole process of evidence collection gets affected due to serious procedural lacunae. This whole setup just furthers the idea of how “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied.” What are the reforms that you feel can be brought about under CrPC to improve the criminal justice system followed by the courts in India?
Jayant Bhatt: I believe that the law is still pretty robust. What we need is more than changes in just the CrPC. What is essential at this moment is to increase the funding to the judiciary. There is a need to establish more courtrooms and at the same time, the recruitment of judges has to increase. The ratio of judges to the population of India is highly mismatched. If we take the example of the Supreme Court, there are only 32 judges appointed to deal with a population of a billion people. Nowadays, almost all cases end up being argued at the Supreme Court level as the people have become more litigious. Trial courts are in need of the maximum infrastructural development as the process of justice is required to get expedited there.
We also need more police personnel in action as they are mostly either busy giving protection to the VVIPs or litigating in courts for the whole day waiting for their matter to be heard. Therefore this problem of delayed justice has a very wide ambit. Further, we need to use the limited resources that we have efficiently so that an average individual who actually hopes to obtain justice is able to get it. We see our MLAs and MPs getting protection from 30-32 personnel, imagine providing them with just 5 and the rest being deployed to conduct investigations. This alone has the capacity to accelerate the process of justice.
Anukriti: Usually law students strive to intern under major law firms with the sole purpose of improving their CV. How beneficial do you feel this trend is and how can law students gain more from their internship programmes?
Jayant Bhatt: I feel this trend is counterproductive if you’re involved in such internship programmes from your first year. Because at that stage, you hardly know the law, hence the firms do not take you seriously. It’s only by the time that you reach your 3rd year of study when you are taught the major chunks of your subjects do you actually start gaining the benefit of such internships. Therefore, before the 3rd year of college, one should intern under trial court lawyers and learn how things are done and how courts actually function. If you have not learned how to read a file or to file a case, then a big law firm internship just becomes a fancy tag on your CV and adds no real value to it. What will lend you jobs eventually is not what is present on your CV but what you have learned over the years.
Anukriti: A lot of times the Internship Programmes are not properly designed which makes it hard for the students to actually learn through them. What can be done to avoid such situations?
Jayant Bhatt: Times have changed now because students know who they want to intern under and usually apply only for such specific internships. Also, with so many online platforms coming up, students have the opportunity to go through internship feedbacks by their peers which give them a clearer idea regarding the choice of internships. Also nowadays everyone wants to intern because a lot of new law schools have come up and the competition is tough. So it’s necessary to keep in mind that all internships will not be hunky-dory but at the end of the day, you have to try and learn as much as you can from each experience.
Anukriti: What would you recommend to the recent graduates in the wake of the paucity of job opportunities as well as to those who would be unable to undertake further studies due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Jayant Bhatt: Things will get better as the law is an anti-cyclic and recession-proof industry. There is a trend in the litigation industry itself wherein when times are good people fight and litigate, and when times are tough they litigate all the more to ensure that their rights are not taken away from them.
Even though courts have somewhat gone into a coma because of Coronavirus, they have been trying to restart through virtual court hearings and by increasing their reliance on Artificial Intelligence. Recent graduates must not get disheartened because this is not the end of life, this is just the beginning of their career. Things will only get better for them from here on and they will only go up.
Anukriti: How can the law students make the most out of the free time they have gained due to delay in reopening of colleges and cancelled internships?
Jayant Bhatt: I feel that students are already very productive as many organisations are very active in conducting webinars, interviews, podcasts, Virtual Courtrooms etc., and providing opportunities for students to learn more. The current generation is highly motivated and I feel they are already on the path to make the most out of this terrible situation.
Anukriti: What would be your advice to aspiring law students?
Jayant Bhatt: The advice that I would like to give is that – Please don’t be in a rush. This is the exact same advice I would have given to my younger self when I was graduating. I was very impatient and wanted to achieve everything in one year but that cannot happen as you can never fight against time or your own destiny. You must calm yourself as your biggest battle lies within. You must keep telling yourself that with each passing day you will learn something new. In all honesty, I am a great believer in destiny and have always decided to live “One Day at a Time.”