Legally Flawless has started this drive to aware law students and young lawyers to achieve in the field of law through strategies from the achievers themselves.
In our 25th blog of the GYAN Series, we interview Shri Ashok Chitale, Senior Advocate, Madhya Pradesh High Court, who is a legal pioneer himself in pursuing litigation as a career option and creating a mark in the profession.
This Interview is taken by Mr. Utkarsh Pandit.
Table of Contents
About Shri Ashok Chitale, Senior Advocate
Shri Ashok Chitale is a designated Senior Advocate, having a standing of 64 years in the legal profession since 1959. He is a member of Supreme Court Bar Association, New Delhi. He is as also Ex-trustee of Tata Family Welfare Trust, Tata Exports Limited, now Tata International Limited, Industrial Area No.1, Dewas and Chairman of Indore Cancer Foundation Charitable Trust, a multi-crore cancer detection, treatment and palliative care centre. Mr. Chitale is also Ex-Member of Governing Body of Devi Ahilya Vishwavidyalaya and the Senate of the said University and Ex-Chairman of Shri Govindram Seksaria Technological Society, Park Road, Indore for over several decades.
Creating the Legacy
I am a fourth-generation lawyer. Vasudeo Gopal Chitale (Nana Saheb) was my great-grandfather (PANJOBA). He was the first lawyer in the family. Though I do not have exact dates since there is no record, he must have entered the legal profession sometime after 1876. I guess this from the fact that in 1905, he was the President of the Indore Bar Association.
Nana Saheb was a self-made very successful lawyer, even though he did not have a law degree and had only a Sanad or licence of Holkar State to practice law. His lack of formal legal education was because he had migrated from Konkan to Bombay (now Mumbai) and had to seek sanctuary in Holkar State since he had slapped his English superior officer in Bombay during a heated argument and then it was impossible for him to remain in Bombay.
The second generation of lawyers in Chitale family was Justice Anant Vasudeo Chitale, who practiced law for some time, then joined the judiciary as a District and Sessions Judge and was later elevated as a Judge of the Holkar State High Court. Unlike his spirited father, he was reputed to be extremely gentle and well-read.
The third generation of Chitales was my father Krishna Anant Chitale. He was a legendary lawyer. He was universally regarded as the numero uno, the best civil, constitutional and taxation lawyer initially of Holkar State, then Madhya Bharat and finally of Madhya Pradesh. He served on several stints as Advocate General, first in Madhya Bharat throughout and then in Madhya Pradesh in regimes of different political parties and often conflicting Chief Ministers.
In this three prior generation background, law was certainly a natural optional career for me. However, I was good in Mathematics and passed the B.A. Honours in Mathematics in St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University in 1956.
At this point, a turn came in my life. Even though I had secured a First Division in Mathematics Honours, I had by that time realized that my heart was not really in abstract Mathematical principles. By that time, it was too late for me to veer into science, engineering or medicine, which were the only optional careers and courses available in those days. By a mere process of elimination, I joined LL.B. in the University of Delhi.
As a law student, I read only classics by distinguished authors like Salmond, Dicey, Mulla, Asad A.A. Faizez, Badruddin Tyabj, Mayne and others. However, my writing speed was slow and not legible and I was never able to complete examination answer books. The result was that my marks in LL.B. were not outstanding but my knowledge of law was very sound.
Early days into the profession
After LL.B., I had an option to practice law in Delhi or Indore. I opted for Indore even though my aunt Dr. Miss Subhadra Chitale, was an officer of Government of India and always had good Government accommodation in Delhi.
My initial years in the legal profession were, like every junior lawyer, years of uncertainty, anxiety and worry about the future. During these initial years, due to my father’s repute, the Public Prosecutor Vishnu Prasad Trivedi accepted me as a junior and I got considerable experience in the Public Prosecutor’s office which mainly comprised of conducting evidence in criminal trials and, to a smaller extent, civil suits, land acquisition matters and miscellaneous work. I worked in the Public Prosecutor’s office for two years only, since I did not want to be labeled as the public prosecutor’s junior.
The next two years were spent or rather well utilized in endlessly waiting for clients and intensive reading of Supreme Court, Privy Council and Federal Court judgments. My father had always emphasized that I need not read High Court judgments and should concentrate on the above judgments of the Highest Courts to acquire quality, clear thinking, chaste language and analysis. I also read All England Reports, Harvard Law Review and Law Quarterly Review, as our library was the only one in Madhya Pradesh subscribing to them.
While I was reading these judgments undisturbed and alone but worrying about future in my father’s city office on Mahatma Gandhi Marg, my command over legal principles and language of law became sound. That has stood me in good stead all my 64-year-long, very busy life in the legal profession.
The Supreme Court judgments those days were printed in a beautiful Central Government publication called Supreme Court Cases. The Supreme Court Bar Association, of which I had become a member right in the beginning of my professional life, was also circulating cyclostyled latest judgments of the Supreme Court which were called “blueprints”. I was subscribing to them. I still have bound volumes of all the cyclostyled judgments in my library.
For Privy Council Judgments, our rich library has a very old law report called Law Reports Indian Appeals and All Indian Reporter (Privy Council). While reading the Supreme Court, Privy Council and Federal Court judgments, I used to write my personal notes of the judgments in a register that I still have with great pride.
My father had advised me to reduce the ratio of each judgment in one precise single sentence. As a Mathematics student, I was already disciplined in precision and could analyse the judgments well. These years of intensive reading Supreme Court, Privy Council and Federal Court judgments honed my ability of precise legal thinking and writing.
It was an understanding between me and my great father Krishnarao Chitale that even though he was the topmost civil constitutional and tax lawyer in Madhya Pradesh, I should develop my own legal personality, style and clientele.
In early stages of my practice itself, I got a windfall of three clients namely, State Bank of Indore (now State Bank of India), Oriental Fire and General Insurance Company Limited and Sir Sarupchand Hukumchand Group of Companies and Firms. They gave me very wide experience in different branches of law in High Court and courts below and occasionally the Supreme Court. With this base, my legal practice, knowledge, reputation and goodwill grew and by 1992, I was one of the most respected, well known and experienced lawyers in Madhya Pradesh.
A practicing lawyer’s life is never steady and placid and is generally of ups and downs. While I was at the peak of my career, there was an unfortunate misunderstanding between me and one of the finest judges of Madhya Pradesh. Due to this misunderstanding, I received a raw deal in his court. There were two options before me, that is to give up legal practice and take up some job or find other area of legal practice.
I chose the second option and developed legal practice outside Indore by raising constitutional issues and shifting part of the base of my practice to Jabalpur in addition to Indore. I have always followed the principle of “no risk, no gain” at every stage of my professional and personal life. This strategy paid off and I became well known in Jabalpur also. Every Chief Justice, every Judge and every lawyer in Jabalpur knew me personally and recognized my professional caliber while I was practicing in Madhya Pradesh.
The ambition to practice in Delhi
Having studied in College and University in Delhi, I had developed a secret ambition to practice in Delhi some time or the other. As a preparation for fulfilling this ambition, I secured membership of a Co-operative Group Housing Society for the transition to Delhi. I was allotted my first apartment in the Society’s apartments in 1992. With that base, at the risky middle age of 56, I shifted to Delhi. Luckily, my wife, who is a doctor, also shifted with me to Delhi leaving her flourishing medical practice at Indore, typically like a loyal Indian wife.
My first year at Delhi was a year of struggle, but I was determined not to come back to Indore come what may. My practice grew and I never had to look back. I acquired one more apartment in the same society, in which I set up a very good office with full-fledged library, computers, electronic equipment, a photocopier and dependable staff and most importantly, a clean reputation. In due course, I was respected by most senior advocates in the Supreme Court.
The ability to bounce back
While I was at my peak in 2006, I suffered a fracture of my vertebral column, due to which I was unable to practice in Supreme Court or anywhere for nearly two years. However, through my tenacity and resolve, I bounced back into legal practice.
In 2016, I had to undergo angioplasty of some arteries and in 2019, I had to undergo an open heart surgery which was followed by a stroke. This also gave me a severe setback but I am a fighter and have staged a comeback. That is briefly the story of my legal life. The whole story has many more good and bad experiences, but mostly good experiences.
What motivated you to choose a career in law and embark on the journey to become a lawyer?
Unlike many lawyers who planned their careers in advance, my entry into the legal profession was a sheer accident. While I was in school or college, I had never planned law as a career. I did not develop any skills as an orator, debater, stage person. conversationist or even just a popular and socially well-adjusted person. These are generally regarded as skills requisite for a lawyer. I started my college career as a Mathematics student but despite a First Division in B.A. Honours Mathematics, I changed the course of my life to law. I however later acquired good forensic skills of a lawyer through determination and effort and never regretted this change of course. My personal experience is that it is not necessary to be born with skills of oratory to succeed as a lawyer. Clear thinking, clear speech, above-average intelligence and unsparing industry is enough to succeed as a lawyer.
In your legal career, how important have mentors been in guiding and influencing your professional growth?
I did not have any mentor in the legal profession but did have some powerful role models as I developed as a lawyer. My father late Krishnarao Chitale was a giant in law and life and he was my main role model. I later also had Nani Palkhiwala, Mohammad Ali Currim Bhoy Chagla, Shambhu Dayal Sanghi and G.M. Chaphekar as role models. However, I never had a mentor to take my hand and navigate me through the difficult and turbulent life of a lawyer.
What did it mean to you personally when you attained the senior designation?
I was designated as a Senior Advocate in the year 1984. This designation came after a long practice of twenty-five years in Madhya Pradesh High Court. The Madhya Pradesh High Court was not at that time liberal in designating advocates. Only two other Jabalpur lawyers Sadasivan Nair and Satish Dutt were designated with me. They were much older than me, had longer practice and close association with the main seat of the High Court in Jabalpur.
I was designated primarily due to my clean reputation, sound knowledge of law, carefully developed original style of presentation and well-groomed personality. My short but meticulous and impressive father used to say jocularly that it is the Dhobi and the tailor who makes a successful lawyer. A well-turned-out dress and personality goes a long way in a lawyer’s success in legal profession.
When I was designated, there was no necessity to apply for designation as it is now, unfortunately. All three of us were asked whether we would be willing to get designated and we consented. I naturally gave my consent readily, since I wanted to graduate from and be rid of the pressures of an advocate simpliciter to a senior advocate and concentrate on purely legal work even if there was loss of income. It is necessary to make a choice between making money and earning a name.
In the current scenario where junior lawyers struggle to earn a sustainable income, many graduates are opting for corporate law firm jobs. What is your perspective on this trend?
Life as a corporate lawyer involves taking orders from superiors. I was temperamentally averse to taking orders and was wary of life as a corporate lawyer. I always found thrill of a litigative lawyer of winning or losing more attractive.
Litigation in courts involves multifarious skills such as taking instructions from clients efficiently, planning, studying, meticulous and lucid drafting, seeing the litigation through a brick by brick all stages in court, conducting evidence and final arguments. A litigation lawyer must possess all skills which test the quality of a lawyer. He must be a well-informed and well-rounded human being. My role models in court craft included great litigation lawyers like my father Krishnarao Chitale, Goverdhanlal Oza (later a Judge of the Supreme Court), Harbans Singh Uberoi and Devi Prasad Bhargava, a giant criminal lawyer. My legal practice also developed in almost every conceivable area of litigation law.
While being a practicing courtroom lawyer, I also had considerable experience in the corporate world as Law Officer of the State Bank of Indore, later State Bank of India. This was however part part-time law officer-ship from 3.00 pm to 6.00 pm. It gave me extensive experience into the corporate working of a major public sector bank. It brought me close to high-ranking and very able bank officers such as V.N. Nandkrni, who later became the Chairman of the State Bank of India and many highly competent bankers such as Gobind Swaroop Shrivastava, M.K. Mukherjee, N.K. Jain and B.L. Seth, who had all been deputed by State Bank of India and had come with sound and sophisticated banking experience of the State Bank of India.
However, I did not cherish life as a corporate lawyer and did not become a part of the banking system. I preferred freedom and independence which is available to a litigative lawyer. Life of a litigation lawyer is much more exciting and exacting than life of a corporate lawyer.
Being a litigation lawyer was more natural to me since our family tradition of my great grandfather and my father, was of great litigation lawyers.
In the legal field, do you believe it is more beneficial to specialize in a specific area of law or to have a general understanding across various legal domains?
My definite preference is as a general legal practitioner and not as a specialization advocate. A specialized lawyer may earn more and there may be lesser requirement of knowledge and reading, but it is more thrilling to be a general lawyer. Often on the same day, within a short time of five-six hours, I am required to conduct as many as six cases in six entirely different specializations. There is of course full support of specialized briefing lawyers in these specialized areas. I am not required to master law on any particular subject.
While making this statement, I would like to add that as a general lawyer acquires more and more experience, he gets to do so much work that he becomes almost a specialized lawyer in several areas and can even advise younger specialized lawyers.
With the emergence of online legal research tools like SCC Online and Manupatra, how do you view the evolution of legal research and its impact on the legal profession?
When I started my professional life in 1959 research was very basic, time-consuming and difficult. It was necessary to actually wade through digests of cases for research. This required much harder work. Legal research has now become much easier. Legal information is literally at your figure-tips on account of the computer, laptop, research tools and C.Ds. The problem now is the reverse, to learn to eliminate rather than indiscriminately accept all legal information churned out by modern technology. Research has now become much easier but also needs sharp focus selection.
What would be your advice for young lawyers on preparation of the brief?
At my present age of 86-87 years, my advice to young aspirant lawyers is to master the file and the legal propositions arising out of the subject. After that, there is no further obligation on the lawyer to win every case. The result of a case depends upon many imponderables such as views and sometimes idiosyncrasies of the judge, inherent uncertainties of law and preparation and performance of the lawyer.
It is necessary to develop as objectivity regarding result of a case. It is not a good habit to identify too closely with the client, as it lends to imbalance and unfairness in favour of one’s own client and consequently unfairness to the opponent and the cause of justice.
What would be your advice for young lawyers wishing to go into the practice of litigation?
- The young aspiring lawyer should be able to sustain himself without income for at least three years, while awaiting clients. Family support for the aspiring lawyer is necessary. The young lawyer should never lose patience and should be committed to the legal profession and the brief before him.
- He should also be thoroughly equipped with law. The only Mantra for success in legal profession is three simple words: study, study and study. There are no shortcuts.
- Money should never be the aim. Performance should be the only objective of a lawyer’s life.
- There must be utmost integrity and honesty to the client, the brief and the legal system.
- Never seek adjournment.
- Never bluff.
All efforts are made to ensure the accuracy and correctness of the information published at Legally Flawless. However, Legally Flawless shall not be responsible for any errors caused due to oversight or otherwise. The users are advised to check the information themselves.