Roshan Santhalia is an Advocate-on-Record at the Supreme Court of India who runs his own litigation practice in New Delhi. He holds a BA LLB (Hons.) degree from NALSAR, Hyderabad and an MSc in Criminal Justice and Criminology from the University of Oxford. In this interview with Karan Ahluwalia, EBC-SCC OnLine Campus Ambassador at Gujarat National Law University, he delves into his experiences as a first-generation lawyer in Delhi to discuss things such as the initial struggle of setting up a litigation practice, tips for aspiring litigators and his view on what can be done to make the Bar more inclusive.

1. Sir, I would like to start this interview by letting our readers get to know you better. How did you come into the profession of advocacy?

The reason why I chose law as a career was essentially because I had this feeling in classes 11 and 12 that I had a good command over the english language, my math was not tremendously good although I would not say that it was bad either. I did feel that I had a genuine love for the language. For that reason, I thought that law would be a good career option. As far as litigation is concerned, I was fairly clear that money would not drive me especially in the initial years of my practice. I wanted to do something where I would look forward to starting my day and going to wherever it is that I had to be. For me the image of a lawyer has always been one of one in the typical black-and-white attire who would get up in the morning and go to court. It has always been about being before a court of law rather than in an office doing transactional work. Having said that, corporate law does have its own set of challenges as well as advantages especially due to the fact that the field is very well compensated. But for me personally, the challenge always lay in litigation and I always thought that the thrill of winning or losing cases would excite me. I was pretty clear right from the second or third year of law school that I had no inclination towards corporate law and therefore all my internships were also geared accordingly. I also personally feel that a litigating lawyer has the best of both worlds – as you gain experience at the Bar and as you are able to expand your clientele, you are able to earn a decent amount of money for yourself and at the same time you are very intimately connected with society and therefore the job that you do gets you a lot of social recognition. That is why, litigation was mostly a no-brainer for me.

2. One of the biggest issues that first-generation lawyers face is the initial struggle in setting up the practice. What was your experience in that regard?

What I will say to this question is that ideally a fresh graduate should start at his or her hometown for the simple reason that the task of developing one’s own clientele is definitely much easier in a place where you have grown up and where you have family and friends. I understand that a lot of law graduates come from rural parts of the country, where this would not be possible. For them the best idea is to join their respective High Courts and possibly work with good and competent seniors for a few years before starting up their own practices. One thing which is very important is that the candidate has to take care of the client acquisition side of things just as well as their capability to practise law because merely understanding, reading and arguing law well is not enough as far as having a successful career in litigation is concerned. You have to have some sort of a strategy by way of which you are able to generate your own work and acquire your own clients. I would say that if you are spending 80-85% of your time on honing your skills as an advocate, at least 10-15% of your time should also be spent on meeting different people across society as well as your friends and relatives who are the first people to recommend you in case the need arises.


Coming to my personal journey, I would have to admit that although I am a first-generation lawyer, but at the same time I did have the benefit of having a house in Delhi. My father had allowed me the comfort of having a cushion when I started my practice which was a definite advantage. The way I built my practice was through everyone from law school who thought that I was competent and that I would be able to represent their referred client in a decent manner therefore, most of my initial cases came from my friends and relatives. Thereafter, obviously, once you grow in the career you can build your practice via references through the good work that you do mostly by way of clients’ recommendations or what is commonly known as “word of mouth”.

3. How has your experience of legal education in India differed from that which is imparted abroad? How, in your opinion, has your education at Oxford influenced your career?

There is definitely a difference in the way academics function in India as compared to how they function abroad. Although, to be completely honest, I had some excellent professors at NALSAR such as Prof Amita Dhanda and Prof K.V.K. Santhy, who instilled in me the habit of reading every single day and the skill of dissecting a complicated piece into simpler parts. However, when I went to Oxford to do my masters in criminology, it was a completely different ballgame. The reading pressure was at a completely different level and I would definitely like to say here that the master’s degree that I did, helped me a lot as far as my reading capabilities are concerned. My reading speed and the ability to comprehend text grew manifold times. Other than that, I feel that the good law schools of our country also have some brilliant professors and also some who are not really up to the mark – but the same is true for most sectors across our country – you will have good and bad professors or candidates everywhere. I would suggest that someone who wants to litigate should definitely experience the education system abroad by way of a master’s degree if the same is feasible, simply because the teaching methods employed there as well as the expectations that are set from students are fairly different from what we are used to in Indian universities.


Why I decided to do criminology was because I had an inclination towards criminal law, as of now also, about 40-50% of my work is in the field of criminal law, despite the fact that I have not confined myself to one branch of law – I also do a lot of IPR, civil law, insolvency and arbitration.

4. If you had to do law school all over again, is there something you would do differently this time around?

Well, one of the things that I would want to change is the way in which I performed at law school. While I was in the top few candidates of my batch, but I could possibly have done a little better in terms of academics. Other than that, to be honest, I do not think that I have made many flaws as far as my strategy is concerned as I was fairly clear from the beginning that I want to litigate and the same has paid off fairly well over the years. My decision to go to Oxford also helped me develop my cognitive capabilities to the point of understanding highly complex texts.


I will just say that while you are at law school, please make sure that you are putting in 8-10 hours of work every single day because time, once passed, will not come back. If you have one or a few bad semesters then you will never be able to change that, your GPA will suffer. Trust me, wherever you go be it corporate law firms, litigation chambers or some of the better universities across the world, your GPA/class rank is the most important thing as it is the only objective criterion for them to judge you on. Obviously, there are other important criteria too, but this I believe is the most important one. That is why I believe that it is important to put in the right amount of energy and effort into academics.

5. What according to you, are the key activities that law students should be on the lookout for while at law school, which would help them develop skills that are actually applicable in a real work practice of law?

Well as far as key activities are concerned, the first thing is that your GPA has to be your first priority. Beyond that I feel that if you can moot, that is great. A moot court competition, whether domestic or international, does give you a feel as to how litigation is. Although I still feel that there is a lot of difference between moot courts and real court proceedings, but it definitely exposes you to a similar set-up where you are expected to prepare a case and argue it. So, I would say that if someone is interested in litigation, moot courts are definitely one of the activities that they should indulge in. Other than that, I think writing papers and getting them published in any of the top domestic and international law journals is priceless and I feel that no matter how many attempts and reviews it takes, one should definitely aim at getting published in some of the better publications. I also feel that parliamentary debating is also a very useful skill for lawyers, especially for litigators, as it really teaches you how to think on your feet.

6. We spoke about your experience as a first-generation lawyer and how it is important to devote a large portion of your time to developing certain skills that are important if you want to do well in this field. What exactly are these skills and how would one go about inculcating them?

So as a first-generation lawyer you will face two big challenges – how to acquire clients and how to resolve your doubts with regard to the initial briefs that you get. When starting out, you cannot be picky about the work you do so you will have to do everything. When you do not have a Godfather behind you, your most valuable friend is a reliable legal software which can give you pointed judgments. When I started out, I used SCC extensively, if there was a new case that I had to argue on the next date, I would make sure to read at least 8-9 cases with similar facts a day before so that I understand how that subject area works. After reading these judgments I would find my doubts answered and I knew how to proceed in that particular matter. This is a practice that I still teach my juniors, that when you do not have anyone to guide you with regard to litigation strategies, you have to have excellent reading skills. Every single day you have to read for 6-8 hours, you have to read random judgments so that you are constantly updating your legal mind. Like I mentioned previously, 10-15% of your time should also be spent meeting people and going out socially so that you can generate your initial set of clients. Once the initial few cases have been handled well by you, word-of-mouth takes care of the rest.

7. There is a popular trend amongst freshly-minted lawyers to swarm towards corporate law jobs straight out of law school due to the notion that it is the only safe career path for first-generation lawyers. Do you agree with this?

I will be very honest, there is no doubt about the fact that litigation in the initial 3-5 years is very tough because you have to spend a lot of time at work, you will work for peanuts and it will definitely be a very difficult journey especially compared to corporate law jobs where you are well compensated from the very first day. But I would also add, on the basis of the experiences of my batchmates, that the thrill or the job satisfaction that comes from having a litigation career cannot be matched by a corporate law firm career and therefore, without a doubt, litigation in the long run may turn out to be the better bet for most people. That being said, I know a lot of corporate lawyers who are doing exceptionally well and who are happy with their jobs too, but I reiterate that if you feel that you can sacrifice on the initial compensation and struggle, then litigation is the career path to take.


As far as the idea that litigation is not for first-generation lawyers is concerned, I think that it is a false notion. I know of some top-notch lawyers, 10-11 years senior to me, who are doing exceptionally well despite being first-generation lawyers. The same can also be said for many of my contemporaries. If you have the dedication and the patience, there is no reason why you cannot have a successful litigating career. In 8-10 years, you can have the best of both worlds by matching and perhaps surpassing what corporate lawyers made in terms of money while continuing to do work that thrills you.

8. It is undeniable that a career in litigation is not accessible to a large chunk of students graduating in any given year, simply because it may not be feasible for them to put off earning well in the initial few years. In that regard, do you think that the Bar as well as the Bench have a shared responsibility to make litigation more accessible to first-generation lawyers?

I personally feel that the Judges as well as the lawyers of this country, irrespective of whether or not they themselves had been first-generation legal practitioners, have a very strong responsibility towards building a more inclusive Bar thereby breaking the chain of nepotism. Towards that end, I think it is very important for seniors to pay well so that their junior counsels can sustain in the initial few years of their careers. I also feel that lawyers who have done well for themselves, especially first-generation lawyers, should actually divert some amount of their wealth to create scholarships for promising young law graduates so that financial conditions do not deter a person from taking up a litigation career. I do agree that accessibility to the Bar is a very serious issue but I also see that change is gradually coming. Seniors have started to pay fairly well; I know of top seniors in the Supreme Court who pay as much as 18-24 lakhs per annum and any good chamber in Delhi would definitely pay 3-6 lakhs per annum to begin with.


There definitely is shared responsibility to diversify the Bar. It is also more fun to have a vibrant community of lawyers as opposed to only having only a select pool of generational lawyers. It is in the interest of the Bar to attract promising young talent whether they eventually become judges or lawyers.

9. Sir you have been running a blog of IPR and criminal law <>, a very interesting combination indeed. Could you tell us what motivated you to do so? Is there an intersection between these two, very distinct areas of law?

That is a very interesting question and this is a question that I asked myself too when I started the blog. To be honest, I do not feel that there is a very big area of intersection of the two fields. However, I for one, do not believe in the idea of super-specialisations in law i.e. the notion that if a person is practising criminal law, then he cannot touch civil law or vice versa. I personally feel such distinctions to be overrated and a consequence of a kind of herd mentality. I personally felt that these two areas of law really excite me and I enjoy reading cases in these areas over all other domains of law and therefore I thought I should start a blog to concentrate on the same. I also handle cases in arbitration, insolvency, insurance and other domains of law but as I said before, IPR and criminal law excite me the most. I do not see that there is a case made out for a rigid separation for the practice of civil and criminal law.  I feel that there are so many advantages that a counsel has who practises on both sides simply because there are many concepts of law that are used interchangeably between criminal and civil law.

10. How important is doing proper legal research and how should law students equip themselves with legal research skills?

I believe that developing the skills to efficiently research legal positions is something very important, at the same time it is something that is fairly tough and can only be learnt by experience. How to hit the right keywords so that you end up taking yourself to the most relevant judgment is a challenge that we all face, especially in the initial years of our career. I personally feel that this is mostly an application of your IQ, experience and how clear you are in your head about your research query. Firstly, it is important to frame categorical and specific questions of research in your mind. I know a lot of junior counsels and law students who end up doing terribly while researching, because they themselves are not very clear about the questions to which they want answers. Secondly, as far as the question of whether a particular judgment is the latest position of law or not, there are very good features on SCC which clearly mention whether or not a case has been overruled. I believe there are also features that tell you how many times a particular judgment has been cited. So, in that way, I think technology makes our lives easier. But as far as hit words are concerned, I emphasise that it is important to be very clear about what it is that you are researching, otherwise your pool of judgments will become so wide that you will not be able to read all of them. The key is to ensure that you have a narrow pool of judgments that you have to read entirely because you obviously cannot entirely rely only on case notes.

11. Not many people are familiar with the concept of “exhaustion of a search”. What are your views on it?

I would say that if there is a proposition of law which you are researching on, if you have found 2 or 3 good judgments which are clearly enunciating the law or clearly answering the propositions of law that you had framed in your mind, then I believe that is a good indication for you to say that your research is concluded. These are only the relevant judgments – to find these you might have to read 15-20 other judgments from a wider pool of judgments found by you. However, there are many times when you are just not able to find any judgments on a particular point of law, I would say that when this happens, just think about the questions that you had framed for yourself and see if the proposition makes basic legal sense. Sometimes we make the mistake of looking for propositions that will obviously not exist and this is something which is a problem made more severe by the way in which some seniors delegate work to their juniors. A senior, after a hearing, may want to find a judgment on a proposition that will logically not exist or maybe the law on that point is not on your side. The endeavour should never be to find a judgment that supports your case, it should always be to find a judgment which has facts very similar to your case, whether or not it supports your contentions is a secondary matter. One must ensure that the specificity and identity of facts is always present in the judgment that you have searched. Once you have been able to find cases with identical facts, it is only a matter of filtering out judgments that favour you.

12. As a parting note, what is one piece of advice that you would like to offer our readers?

I personally feel that one very important thing that every first-generation lawyer should keep in mind is to forget the fact that they are first-generation lawyers. It is very important to train oneself not to be negative all the time. If you are stuck in the mindset that you are essentially disadvantaged as far as the profession is concerned, then you will never be able to move past it. Think of yourself as just another counsel at the Bar and do not be afraid to enter litigation just because of the relatively low compensation in the initial years, I am sure that if you are good at your work, your later years will reward you sufficiently in lieu of your initial struggle.

One comment

  • How can some sincere / affordable Lawyer be contacted for:
    a) common cause to intervene on behalf of Micro / Small Industrial Enterprises who can not afford to use costly CNG/PNG/LPG in place of even non-polluting / non-smoking agro-waste, as is being routinely ordered by SC commissioned CAQM for controlling pollution in NCR. Public Sector GAIL Gas Ltd itself demands unviable Huge Security Deposits much ahead of even offering any of these Gases at door-steps of MSEs, besides Advance Consumption Deposit with minimum guaranteed consumption – so much MONOPOLISTIC attitude (backed by SC directions through CAQM);
    b) Directions from SC to CG High Court for disposal of infructuous WPC-1765/2016, kept pending (without any NEXT DATE) for over 5 years with pro-active STAY (without any prayer therefor) on operation / any action in Arbitral Award of 2016 under The MSMED Act, 2006 and to top that, Application for vacation of Stay registered as IA-1/2017 has not even been listed for its first hearing since 03.07.2017, inspite of numerous mentions/attempts for early hearing;

    Jai Shree Ram !

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