Chief Justice Ramana coaxes law firms to be more inclusive
The prevailing perception is that law firms are only for the service of rich men, the Chief Justice of India said at a Society of Indian Law Firms function
N.V. Ramana, the Chief Justice of India, has urged the Indian law firms to aim for more inclusivity, diversity and community reach and remove the prevailing perception that law firms are only for the service of the rich.
Unveiling the Society of Indian Law Firm's (SILF) coffee table book to commemorate the 20th anniversary of SILF Wednesday, he urged the Indian law firms to take up more pro-bono cases and reaching out to those inhibited from reaching them.
"Indian law firms are on the same footing as their global counterparts. The advice and the strategies formulated by them have far-ranging impacts on the issues of environment, employment and labour law and they enable entrepreneurs and business houses to make their ideas a reality. While there is no denying that the law firms have been in the forefront of India's economy, a significant aspect that they need to consider is their community outreach. The prevailing perception is that law firms are only for the service of rich men," the CJI said.
He further added, "There is a misconception among the people, even among lawyers, who practice in the courts that activities of the law firm do not relate to society. The need of the hour is to remove such perceptions. I urge you all to take up more pro-bono cases and reach out to those who are inhibited from reaching us. When it comes to fulfilling our constitutional aspirations, we all must do our bit. There are also issues about lack of diversity within law firms. As diverse teams can provide more equitable and holistic solutions, necessary institutional changes must be incorporated, to retain more women lawyers in the firm."
The Chief Justice of India also wanted the Indian law firms to look beyond big or Tier-I cities while emphasizing that legal talent can be found in smaller towns as well.
"Major law firms tend to go to only Tier-I cities and select universities for recruitment. In this process, many young talented lawyers, despite their interest and willingness, are left out of the process. There are diamonds in the rough everywhere. I would urge you all to take up initiatives to ensure inclusivity and realize full potential of our human resources," Ramana said. He also emphasized the need to retain more female lawyers by making the necessary institutional changes and reminded Indian law firms that while competing with international standards, one must not forget to look inwards.
In a significant announcement, the CJI proposed training the present and future lawyers to adapt to the changing nature of the legal profession. He proposed involving local talent from Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities to handle transactions and disputes arising in these emerging business hubs. He underlined the need for scholarship and other competitive ways to find talent in the regional law schools.
Lauding the efforts of Society for Indian Law Firms in continuously endeavoring to increasingly fulfil their social commitments, he suggested using the forum to formulate new policies and build new commitments.
CJI Ramana lauded the growth and contribution of Indian law firms and the role they played during the pandemic. "Admittedly, despite the pandemic in 2020, India recorded over 350 Mergers and Acquisitions deals worth USD 37.5 billion; the crossborder deal activity recorded over 140 transactions with deal values worth USD 21 billion. Moreover, 2020 saw record Private Equity deal-making activity in India with investments worth USD 40 billion, 28 per cent higher than the previous record witnessed in 2019, with around 950 deals. There is no denying that the law firms have been in the forefront of India's economy," Ramana said.
The event was addressed by the Attorney General of India, K.K.Venugopal and former President of the Bar Association Senior Advocate Fali S. Nariman. Founders and heads of several prestigious law firms like Zia Mody, Cyril Shroff, V. Lakshmikumaran, Jyoti Sagar, and N.G. Khaitan also addressed the gathering. Zia Mody, the founding partner of AZB & Partners, offered assistance to the Supreme Court, duly acknowledged by Chief Justice Ramana.
The coffee table book highlights the journey, contribution, and key milestones of over 100 firms that have together contributed not only to India's economic progress and legal policymaking but also played a significant role in Nation Building.
In his introductory remarks Dr Lalit Bhasin. President, SILF said, "SILF is India's only association of law firms. The Society and its members through their consistent endeavor have upheld social commitment and promoted the cultural, legal and ethical values with a view to strengthen and foster the rule of law."
Speaking on the occasion, Fali S. Nariman, President Emeritus of The Bar Association of India, said, "As this book is released at the hand of the Indian judiciary it adds more fillip to it. In 1946 the great American lawyer John Davis, while addressing the New York City Bar Association, stressed on who lawyers were and what they did, which is equally relevant today. He said, 'True, we build no bridges. We raise no towers. We construct no engines. We paint no pictures — unless as amateurs for our own amusement. There is little that we do that the eye of man can see. But we smooth out difficulties; we relieve stress; we correct mistakes; we take up other men's burdens and by our efforts, we make possible the peaceful lives of men in a peaceful state'. I submit that this is the image that each member of the SILF must strive to achieve."
K.K. Venugopal, Attorney General of India, lauded the contribution of the SILF. "In 1990, when India adopted a liberalised economy, law firms started emerging; vast opportunities arose in the fields of foreign investment, arbitration capital markets, mergers, and acquisition etc. Lalit Bhasin has played a pioneering role by unifying these over 400 law firms, into a single powerful entity, which has resulted into SILFs coming into existence." He pointed out that in 2018, the Indian legal market was an estimated $1.3 billion, or approximately ₹8000 crore and according to the Bar Council of India there are as many as 1.3 million lawyers today.