In an era when firms allure you with mind-zapping money, taking up a career in litigation after graduating top of the class from NLS is a distinct feat in itself. Brothers Ashish K. Singh and Vagish K. Singh followed their calling and ventured into litigation and in no more than 3 years, they have heaped so many achievements that they’re an inspiration for all law students who stifle their dreams of pursuing litigation owing to the ‘no legal background’ disease.
The ‘NLS brothers’, as they are famously known, tore biases and traditions of the bar to shreds when they branched out on their own in the very first year and argued cases themselves, even before the Supreme Court. Today they stand tall with an impressive clientele, deal with a myriad fields of law and have tons of reported judgments to their credit. They are probably the youngest lawyers to have successfully challenged the constitutional vires of a central law.
Here is their journey and their advice on taking up a career in litigation, attracting a good clientele and more.
Tell us about your pre law school days. Why did you to take up law? Was there any pressure of getting through NLSIU for you, Vagish sir, since Ashish sir had already made it?
Ashish K. Singh: I studied Science & Mathematics till Class 12. My father was a civil servant and we have seen the working of the executive & judiciary very closely which made me realize the importance of the legal profession. Moreover, I was always averse to the idea of working under a boss & I thought that a career in law can give me the freedom to work independently.
Vagish K. Singh: I come from a strictly non legal background but since my childhood my parents made it a point to expose both of us to issues that really mattered. We enjoyed visiting Dams, Thermal Power Plants, NREGA works in remote villages, Tehsil Offices and Orphanages with the same excitement and curiosity as far back as I can remember. I opted for Science in my Senior Secondary and like any other kid my goal hovered from IITs to MNITs. However all that changed when my elder brother went to Law School and hence in the following year my interactions with him, introduced me to the field of Law. It wasn’t long before I had made up my mind to join Law School. I would attribute my decision of taking up law to the social relevance that the subject has and how it interacts with almost every single part of our lives. As a science student I have always visualized Law as a binding force which prevents the system from going into absolute chaos. Thankfully I never felt any pressure of getting into to any particular institution, it was a challenge for sure.
Both of you have been the conveners of the disciplinary committee of NLS at a time when law school was plagued with all sorts of drugs/alcohol. What did you do to uproot something that had so much become a part of the ‘law school culture’?
Vagish K. Singh: I don’t think we were able to uproot the drugs problem from law school but we made people realize that it is not ‘cool’ to take drugs. As the conveners of the SDGM (disciplinary committee), we were very fortunate to have a very strong and supportive faculty during our tenures in the Disciplinary Committees. We always maintained a strict no tolerance policy towards Drugs. Though it was an unpopular move, many students and specially parents appreciated the intensity with which we acted in searching and seizing such substances. Every action of seizure was duly reported in writing and heavy fines among other penalties were strictly enforced. Moreover, we educated the fresher batches about the ill-effects & penalties which may entail if drug related laws are not adhered to.
Ashish K. Singh: I believe we paid a heavy price for even trying to solve a serious problem which plagued law school. The stories about a fellow student trying to intimidate Vagish by swerving a speeding car in his direction can still be heard on campus. I think we tried to make a difference even at the cost of becoming infamous amongst our juniors & seniors, since we believed that doing drugs is illegal/wrong and trying to be ‘cool’ does not justify it. If the University’s rules and regulations with regard to disciplinary issues are enforced sincerely and in an unbiased manner with absolutely zero tolerance, in our opinion it is possible to minimize if not eradicate the menace of drugs from Law Schools.
Why did you take up litigation? How did you overcome the daunting challenge of attracting a good clientele?
Ashish K. Singh: As mentioned above, I always wanted to work on my own terms & conditions which led me to start my career as a litigator. Attracting good clientele is a difficult task but we could achieve it by consistent performance at the bar. I was lucky to be associated with Mr. R.P. Singh, Senior Advocate for a period of 7 months during which he ensured that I appeared & argued matters independently. Mr. R.P. Singh was the last junior of Hon’ble Justice R.M. Lodha (former Chief Justice of India) who was elevated in the year 1993. The first case, which I argued before the Rajasthan High Court was a first appeal which was drafted by Hon’ble Justice R.M. Lodha (then Advocate at High Court) and Mr. R.P. Singh trusted me to argue the case. I argued the appeal and the case was decided in our favour.
Since then, clients and advocates at the High Court observed my arguments before the Court and started giving me cases which were to be argued at the Supreme Court of India. I argued at least 15 cases in my first year of practice before the Supreme Court of India which was all because of faith that Mr. R.P. Singh had in me. Needless to mention that all the appearance were without the assistance of a Senior Advocate.
Vagish K. Singh: Ashish ji started working independently before I graduated. We have no legal background and no one in our family or relatives is in litigation. Over the last few years the profession of law has received a lot of flak, this is the same profession which has given India its greatest leaders since the last 100 years. Ever since I joined law school, I had always believed that every law student has a dual responsibility to the Bar and the Society, given the kind of training we receive. I joined litigation with the belief that if by being sincere to the profession I am able to benefit even a small section of the society I would have fulfilled my obligation to the bar. Attracting Clientele would not be a herculean task if Students from prestigious law schools would shed their pride and be willing to be devoted to your clients brief no matter the remuneration or reward involved.
Young Advocates should grab every opportunity big or small to be present at the Bar, and as Ashish Ji said your performance at the Bar would take care of the rest. I was fortunate to have my brother as my senior who trained me to argue a matter on the very first day of my enrollment as an advocate. Attracting clientele is a tough task but more important is to sustain the growth of the firm. We could take up matters at the Supreme Court, Rajasthan High Court, Gujarat High Court and Bombay High Court because of the co-ordination amongst us. As a matter of fact, both of us prepare all the files and as and when the situation demands we argue the cases. In the last two years, we have filed & argued over 400 cases before various tribunals which I believe is a record for a firm which is less than three years old. I believe that existing clients spread the goodwill about the firm which has become the source of attracting various ET 500 companies as our clients.
In a very short span of time, Capstone Legal has become a name to reckon with in the legal industry. What do you attribute your success to? What did you do that you think has taken you where you are today?
Ashish K. Singh: Thank you for such kind words. One of our major strengths is our team. Me and Vagish have worked together since our college days and this had led to impeccable coordination amongst us. Our clients respect the fact that we work really hard on our cases and the amount of work which we put in is independent of monetary benefit that we derive from the cases. We were extremely fortunate to have various mentors early on in our practice, who saw our performance at the Bar and saw potential. Our success if any, is a collective outcome of the reputation that the first few batches of law school had built and the faith of the Members of the Bar and Bench.
Vagish K. Singh: I think our work ethics have played a pivotal role in ensuring our success. We try and follow what Arthur T. Vanderbilt has said about lawyers that “A truly great lawyer is a wide counseller to all manner of men the varied crisis of their lives and when they need disinterested advice”. Lately, it has become the tendency of some advocates to advise their clients on the basis of the benefit which they may derive in the form of professional fees. We have ensured that we advise our clients (corporate as well as individual) keeping in mind their best interest and not our own.
As young lawyers, who joined the bar fresh from law school, what challenges did you face? How did you overcome them? What advice would you give someone who plans to join the bar?
Vagish K. Singh: It is a practice at various High Courts and at the Supreme Court that for two years lawyers are supposed to assist a Senior Advocate and thereafter argue some cases independently. As I started arguing cases before the High Court from the first day of joining the bar, people found it very odd and some of the advocates even advised me just observe the proceedings and refrain from arguing cases. Nevertheless, I continued arguing cases in Court and surprisingly Judges were very pleased to see a young advocate argue cases before them. To my surprise, over four judgments in which I appeared were made Reportable by the Court. One of the judgments in which Ashish Ji appeared finds place in Criminal Law Journal (Cr.L.J.), which according to me is another milestone.
Ashish K. Singh: One of the biggest challenges that a young advocate faces is to build a reputation amongst clients. I was able to overcome this challenge by the blessings of Mr. N.K. Jain, Advocate. Mr. Jain introduced me to several Senior Advocates and clients. As me and Vagish were the only persons from NLS practicing at the High Court, it helped in giving us some credibility amongst prospective clients. My suggestion to all young advocates is that they should always attend the functions organized by Bar Council of India and Bar Associations which will give them lot of exposure.
What is your advice to law students and fresh law school graduates across India?
Vagish K. Singh: I was once told by Justice V.S. Dave, Retired Judge of the High Court of Rajasthan that an Advocate needs to behave like an aristocrat but act like the masses. I firmly believe that every law student should undertake one or two internships with a good litigation office, to be exposed to the practice of law and functioning of the courts. Such internships are important so that at the time of making a career choice, you are well informed. The practice of law requires conviction, dedication, hard work and most of all humility. Fresh Law Graduates fail to respect seniors who have been practicing in the courts of law, with the false assumption that they are somehow more competent or deserving than such seniors. It is important to realize that even though one may not be proficient in English or thorough in some niche area of law, their standing at the bar has granted them an insight into the realistic meaning of law and in the process the ability to get relief for their clients. In my experience the Bar is a community, once you become a part of it and respect your colleagues, they will aid and help you in difficult legal and practical situations, without which survival in the profession is difficult.
Ashish K. Singh: I could not agree more with Vagish, the practice of law is not a white collar job, you will meet a wide range of people ranging from poor penniless farmers to rich jewelers and real estate developers. One needs to be morally and ethically upright to cater to the needs of this wide range of clients. For example at Capstone we make it a point to undertake atleast a couple of cases every month pro bono, for persons who most require such legal assistance. Law students should pay careful attention to all basic laws such as Constitutional Law, Criminal Procedure, Indian Penal Code, Civil Procedure etc. A clear understanding of these laws also enables a young lawyer to better cater to corporate needs since he/she can given an informed opinion with regard to the realistic risks and challenges.
Finally for all young graduates I have but one suggestion, never underestimate yourself or accept the assumption that only a person with five or six years of experience can argue cases effectively before a court. There is no alternative to hard work and sincerity, and if one is faithful to their brief and has command over both the facts and the law, you will never go wrong or freeze before a Judge. India needs an army of young hardworking and brilliant Advocates, it’s about time we redeem the Practice and profession of law.