In conversation with Adv Anas Tanwir (AoR) on future of young lawyers in the field of Human Rights and Civil Liberties

Adv. Anas Tanwir is an Advocate-on-Record for the Supreme Court of India and founder-director of the Indian Civil Liberties Union. Anas Tanwir, an alumnus of RMLNLU and La Martiniere Boys’ College, Lucknow, has not only been an advocate in courts of law but also an avid advocate of human rights and civil liberties. He has been tirelessly working to bring justice to the people who cannot afford proper legal representation and bringing the vulnerable to justice by aiding several legal aid cells and with his independent pro bono work.

He has been interviewed by Syed Mohammad Haroon, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from Jamia Milia Islamia. 

  1. For our readers, could you tell a little more about yourself and what made you choose law as a career?

I was born in Banaras, and later I joined La Martiniere, Lucknow for my schooling and then opted out of medicines as career to join RMLNLU, Lucknow. I graduated in 2012 and joined Supreme Court (SC) immediately thereafter. I cleared my AOR exam in 2020 and I am the founder of Indian Civil Liberties Union, along with being the founder of two other socially important projects, namely, Iftar for all and Project Iqra.

  1. How would you sum up your life at RMLNLU?

RMLNLU being a new university at the time we joined gave us more opportunities than we could ask for. In five years of law school I did everything from mooting to research publication to being part of various committees to play in sports and availed every opportunity that a law school could offer.

It was a great experience for personality building and these five years shaped a large part of what I am today.

  1. How would you describe the initial years of your practice as a first-generation lawyer?

I was a first-generation lawyer in Delhi but I do have a legal background. However, I came to Delhi without a job, a place to live or any kind of support. The initial years were difficult to say the least. However, I believe that in this profession if you are ready to make sacrifices and keep working despite of all the difficulties, you will survive and thrive.

  1. We spoke about your experience as a first-generation lawyer and how it is important to devote a large portion of your time to develop 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?

First of all, the most generic response for this would be to study hard, to draft well and practise your arguments. However, I am of the belief that the first and the foremost quality that a lawyer should develop is his interpersonal skills. A lawyer is as good as a client. The most important thing to learn is to cultivate a client and to maintain a good relationship with them. It is indeed a high pressure job but if you can remain polite and keep on a smile on your face it will go a long way to help you in your career.

  1. Legal education, as we all know, is a very broad field, one can opt for practice in different fields; how did you narrow down your choices and what you would suggest the law students to follow so that they can practice what they like.

At the onset of your practice, you do not get a choice rather you take what you get. At that stage, until and unless, you are a product of nepotism, you barely have clients or work. You cannot be choosy. Your field is not decided by you, but by the kind of work you get. It is rarely in your hand when you can exercise the choice of clients and nature of work in this profession.

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

My advice to law students is to not restrict themselves to academics. The field of law is vast and law degree opens up many avenues for you. Take all and every opportunity you get that develops your interpersonal skills, your analytical skills, your research progress and most importantly, the efficiency. In this profession, turnover time is very crucial and therefore being efficient is a quality that every law student must develop.

  1. How much weight would you give to proper legal research and the tools used for doing it? How should law students equip themselves with legal research skills? And what according to you is the impact of “exhaustion of research”?

Proper legal research is the cornerstone of good advocacy. My suggestion to law students is to try and read one judgment in a subject of your choice every week and prepare their notes. How the law works in real life can be understood by reading the judgment and now with availability of live court proceedings/tweets it has become easier for a law student to be aware of the intricacies of law and the interplay of statutes with facts.

  1. 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?

Given that the fees of law schools is so high that that many students opt for students loan, the attraction of a corporate job, especially because litigation is not as lucrative financially in initial years, is natural. I do not see any harm in this attraction. It is true that profession of law is a service but we must be aware of social realities. While I believe that more and more students should join litigation, I also understand that the struggle of the profession may not be for everyone.

  1. What advice would you like to give to the law students or young lawyers who would want to pursue a career in human rights, as many believe that it does not provide enough financial sustenance?

It is true that social justice litigation does not really pay in financial terms. However, the satisfaction that you get after playing a role in getting justice in to quote, “the butcher, the baker, the candlestick/the maker that is getting justice to those at the margins of the society is something that money cannot buy”.

 

My advice would be to not make a career exclusively in social justice and continue with the regular practice but never deny yourself a fight for justice of those marginalised whenever you get the opportunity. What I mean to say is that earn money from your profession but do not make it all about money only. Ensure that no person of your means who has been wronged goes away from your chamber with his battle not fought.

  1. Recently, the Bar Council of Kerala announced that it would be paying INR 5000 to new lawyers, what is your opinion on the announcement?

This announcement has to be welcomed and will be of great help to young lawyers in Kerala. Especially, in this post-pandemic world where the financial inequalities have only increased.  However, I remember similar that similar promises were made in 2011 when we graduated by the then Uttar Pradesh Government. However that remained merely a promise and never saw the light of the day. These promises should not just remain populist announcements.

  1. In your experience as a litigator, do you think the oral advocacy skills vary with the sectors and the forums in front of which you present oral arguments? If yes, what in your opinion are the differences that one needs to bear in mind when arguing?

Yes, for example in Supreme Court you barely get much time to address the court atleast at the admission stage. However you are expected to make more detailed argument in a trial court or in a High Court. Then the understanding of the Judges also vary from forum to forum and a good lawyer must always learn to understand the moot of the court or indications from the Bench to mould their arguments.

  1. As an Advocate-on-Record of the Supreme Court, kindly tell our readers about your experience briefing senior advocates, the requisite preparation required, and the challenges/fruits of being an AOR at the highest judicial authority in the country?

It is always very exciting to brief your senior advocate in your matters because you get to learn from them a lot more in one briefing than you can in a semester in a law school. You get to see the different approaches that can be taken in a given fact and circumstances. Every senior has a very different style of holding a conference. For example, someone like Harish Salve or Sanjay Hegde are quick to grasp the issue and come up with a solution, thereby not acquiring a detailed briefing. There are other seniors who prefer detailed briefing.

As an AOR/briefing counsel, you are expected to know your case and associated research at the back of your hand. Being AOR officially gives you a right to call yourself a SC lawyer and a foothold in the court. You have the exclusive right to file a vakalatnama in SC.

  1. Apart from litigation, you have spent considerable time fighting pro bono cases for several vulnerable groups. Could you shed some light on that experience as well?

In my short career, I have been part of the struggle for justice for those declared foreigners in Assam, the families separated after repeal of Article 370 in Kashmir, to the victims in lynching, for one gujjars thrown out of their forests and many others. Similarly, placed people. The struggle for the marginalised is a difficult struggle due to lack of resources and antagonism of State and sometimes apathy of the court. However, the reward at the end of a successful struggle is a high unmatched for any substance on earth. To be part of someone’s struggle often without even meeting them or them being aware of you is a pure and precious fight. Not just as a lawyer, but as a believer also I treated as my pious duty to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.

  1. Legal aid came as an incredible gift for people in India, how have you seen it progress in the current socio-political scenario of India?

I have seen decay of legal aid in India with increasing commercialisation of legal education and governmental neglect as well as overall deterioration of values has affected the legal aid movement adversely. The courts have put in a lot of effort to secure the ends of justice through legal aid. However, the effect of authorities are seen wanting when it comes to awareness.

  1. As a parting message, what advice would you like to give to law students or young lawyers who want to build a career in litigation?

My parting message is a wish that the new crop of lawyers while working towards a financially rewarding career should not lose sight of their duty towards the public at large.

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