Tahira Karanjawala, topper of the AoR examination 2019 is currently working as Principal Associate at Karanjawala & Co. The interview was conducted by EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador Akshita Totla and Shreya Agarwal.
- Please introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Tahira Karanjawala. I completed school from Carmel Convent in New Delhi in 2005 and I am a 2010 graduate of Amity Law School. I have been enrolled with the Bar Council of Delhi since 2010. I have also received my LLM degree from Columbia Law School in 2012 and am also currently enrolled with the New York Bar. I am presently a Principal Associate at Karanjawala & Co., a Delhi based litigation firm with a presence in all the Courts in Delhi. I practice in the team of Ms. Nandini Gore, Senior Partner, who is herself a very experienced AoR, and has been practicing in the Supreme Court for many years.
- How do you feel about emerging as a topper in the AOR exam?
It came as a pleasant surprise and has brought some much needed cheer during the period of the lockdown due to the Coronavirus outbreak, as many of my relatives and friends have reached out to congratulate me.
- Did your family background of law motivate you to pursue law as a career?
Yes, it did – both my parents, Raian and Manik Karanjawala are lawyers who have always enjoyed the practice of law themselves and therefore always positively advocated law as a career to both me and my sister, Niharika, who is also practicing criminal law with Karanjawala & Co. We also grew up in the house of my maternal grandfather, Justice V. M. Tarkunde who was a Judge of the Bombay High Court and later practiced as a Senior Advocate in the Supreme Court. His work ethic, integrity, and passion for civil liberties were an inspiration to many, including myself.
- When did you decide to join litigation? Tell us about your area of practice?
I was always relatively clear in law school that I wanted to concentrate on litigation and therefore most of my internships were in the area of litigation. I had the privilege of interning with some of the finest Senior Advocates like Late Mr. Arun Jaitley (immediately prior to his taking up the post of Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, making myself and the others in his Chamber effectively the last batch lucky enough to have worked with him), Late Mr. Goolam E. Vahanvati (when he had just taken up the position of Attorney General for India) and Mr. Sidharth Luthra, former Additional Solicitor General (who I work closely with even today). I had the opportunity to assist each of them on some landmark cases including assisting Late Mr. Arun Jaitley on the Hoffman-la Roche v. Cipla case; Late Mr. Goolam E. Vahanvati on the State of Andhra Pradesh v. T. Muralidhar Rao case and Mr. Sidharth Luthra on the Shibu Soren case. During I also interned at the Chambers of Ms. Diya Kapur and Ms. Shyel Trehan which was very interesting because I was assigned a mix of both transactional work and litigation and hence got a chance to compare the two. All these experiences cemented my interest in litigation and by the time I graduated from law school, I was clear that I wanted to practice civil litigation.
Today, I am practicing in a team in Karanjawala & Co., which concentrates on civil and corporate litigation, predominantly in the Supreme Court but also in other fora in Delhi and other cities. Our team handles a variety of cases including in the areas of company law, property law, mining law, land acquisition, pharmaceuticals and arbitration.
- What is the pattern, eligibility criteria and advantages of the AOR exam?
The examination has four papers held on four consecutive days: Drafting, Professional Ethics, Practice and Procedure and Leading Cases. The Drafting paper involves preparing four different drafts e.g. a Special Leave Petition, a Writ Petition under Article 32, etc. and the challenge in this paper is to manage your time so as to complete the whole paper. The papers on Practice and Procedure and Legal Ethics involve a mixture of compulsory and optional questions aimed at testing the practical knowledge which one is expected to have acquired during the course of one’s practice. The paper on Leading Cases of last year involved attempting five out of eight questions, each question targeted at testing one’s knowledge of one or two landmark cases.
As far as eligibility criteria for taking the AOR examination is concerned, to be eligible to take the exam you have to have been enrolled with any State Bar Council for at least four years. Thereafter, you have to undergo one year of training under an AOR – there are certain exemptions for the training which may be granted – but this is a usual requirement.
Qualifying as an AOR allows you to file in the Supreme Court in your own name. The advantage of this qualification is that it enables younger advocates to establish an independent practice in the Supreme Court, which is otherwise difficult. Lawyers practicing in various High Courts often reach out to AORs to handle Special Leave Petitions arising out of the matters they are handling in the High Courts. It is also a useful qualification for anyone who wants to stay attached to a solicitor firm in the long run.
- When did you decide to write the AOR exam? What according to you made you stand out from other aspirants? What was your strategy for preparing the exam?
Although I had been clear for a while that I would take the AOR examination at some point, I seriously decided to take the examination sometime in late February or early March of last year. As far as studying for the examination is concerned, I started going through the material prescribed in late March or early April of last year.
I don’t think anyone stands out as such – it is just like any other exam – someone ends up getting the highest score. The AOR exam consists of four papers. Two of them (Practice and Procedure and Professional Ethics) are based on your practical knowledge and understanding. Many of those questions can be answered based on your knowledge, which you have probably picked up from your general practice. Of course, you have to brush up certain Acts and Rules, because while you may be applying them in your practice, you sometimes don’t know the exact rule or where to find it, until you study them carefully. This includes the Supreme Court Rules, 2013, the Advocates Act, 1961 and Bar Council of India Rules.
The Drafting paper again is relatively easy for a person who has been drafting regularly. The only problem with the drafting paper is that it tends to be very long because we are not used to writing out drafts, which can be tedious. But, as far as the content of the draft goes, I think, most of us are used to most of the drafts. Personally, I don’t practice criminal law as much as I practice civil law; therefore, I had to go over those formats and drafts more carefully. One has to be careful to assess one’s time management because that’s what becomes difficult during the exam. Normally when you draft, you are typing or dictating, and can therefore correct your draft easily; add a ground or change the sequence of grounds. However, the same cannot be done when you write out your drafts and therefore a general structure should be kept in mind before you start writing out a particular answer.
As far as Leading Cases is concerned, it is probably the paper you need to study for most. The case notes are available as part of the prescribed material. Most of the cases are quite long but I would advocate reading the cases themselves as far as possible. I found the Leading Cases paper very interesting to study for as it was a good refresher of many landmark cases you studied in college.
- How did you manage your work life and preparing for the exam? What were the hurdles you faced while preparing for the exam? How many hours did you devote towards the preparation of AOR exams on a daily basis?
The main challenge for most people is to study for the AOR examination alongside with managing your practice, so I would suggest trying to start slightly in advance, by say March or April so that you can slowly start going through the material prior to the beginning of the summer break. I had tried to devote an hour or so everyday after work starting from late March – early April till the Supreme Court closed for the summer break. Once the summer break started, I was able to devote more time, about 4 -5 hours a day.
- What materials did you refer to for preparation (Both Online and Offline)?
For Leading Cases, I made my own notes on each of the cases assigned. For the other papers of Drafting, Practice and Procedure and Professional Ethics, I followed the textbooks which had been prescribed. In addition, for Professional Ethics, Mr. Sahil Talgotra (who stood first in the AOR examination a couple years ago) had very helpfully recommended a book called Legal Ethics – Accountability for Lawyers and Bench-Bar Relations by Dr. Kailash Rai, which I found very useful. There are also notes and articles available on the Supreme Court website in addition to the papers of previous years’ examinations, which are also very useful to refer to. Additionally, it is important to study carefully the Supreme Court Rules, 2013, the Advocates Act, 1961 and the Bar Council of India Rules.
- What has been the toughest research/project/assignment you have had to do that you almost thought of giving up. But you did it anyway. And what learning experience did you derive from it? What is your mindset while you tackle problems?
To be honest, I do not recollect any one particular research assignment which I remember as being exceptionally difficult, but there was a particular case that I remember thinking was almost impossible to succeed in, but in which we ultimately did. It was a case in the Orissa High Court where we represented Tata Steel Ltd. in litigation related to their Chromite Mine in Sukinda. The issue which had arisen was whether other potential applicants were entitled to a hearing before the renewal application of Tata Steel was considered. The reason it was a difficult case to win was that there was a Supreme Court decision on exactly the same question between the same parties (on the occasion of the previous renewal) which was squarely against us. We ultimately succeeded in that case both in the Orissa High Court and the Supreme Court by successfully distinguishing the previous Supreme Court decision. That was, of course, a team effort, but I do remember feeling very satisfied with the work we had all put into that victory
- What according to you, law schools and the legal system in our country need to improve? Tell us about your experience at Columbia Law School?
I feel that law students would benefit if law schools increased their concentration on some of the practical aspects of the legal practice, at least, in the later years of law school. In addition to having guest lectures by various practicing advocates (which some law schools try to incorporate into the curriculum), I believe that if the curriculum itself were to be structured to concentrate more on the practical application of the law, it would benefit students in the long run and make the academic learning more interesting even in college. I had a superb experience at Columbia Law School, which in fact, offered various such courses and seminars geared towards more practical application, which I enjoyed very much. For instance, there were classes which involved students in teams handling one complicated case or completing one merger over the course of a semester. Other than that, Columbia Law School gave me the opportunity to live in a vibrant city and meet very interesting students from different countries (with whom I am still in touch), which is always an enriching experience.
- We have heard from various sources that your grandfather Justice Tarkunde was your role model. What was the one key piece of advice he gave to you that you carried forward throughout your law school life and professional life as well?
My grandfather was an exceptional person. After my grandmother passed away (when I was about three), we moved in to live with him and so he had a great influence on both me and my sister. He was an extremely hardworking person but also a very simple person. He was not preachy and I do not remember him lecturing us or giving us advice as such – he just lived a life of integrity and courage, which one naturally admired. I do remember one particular thing he told me though when I used to get stressed out during my Board Examinations in school – he told me that point of education is not to succeed in any particular examination – it is to learn to think for yourself about any topic and not merely understand it as it has been taught to you. At that time, I don’t think I understood the depth of what he was saying, but understood it more as I grew up and is something I still remember. He himself continued to learn new things even in his nineties.
- What are your future plans?
As far as my future plans are concerned, I intend to continue practicing civil and corporate litigation at Karanjawala & Co. and working towards the growth of the firm.
- What advice would you like to give to aspirants who are preparing for this exam?
I would just like to tell them that it is not a difficult examination to clear -it just requires you to dedicate a certain amount of time to studying for it. I know that becomes difficult for many people who are practicing – everyone taking the examination must be at least five years into their practice and it is usually more than that. I think that most people who don’t clear the exam do so because they are not really been able to devote time towards preparing for it. So I would suggest that if you are taking the exam, you should try and devote an hour or so every day from March or April onwards in addition to the time available in the summer break, and if you do so, I think it should be easy enough to clear the exam.