The Road to Success in Litigation: Insights from Shree Rajshekhar Govilkar, Senior Advocate, Bombay High Court

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Shree Rajshekhar Govilkar is an Advocate since 1975 & Partner at Govilkar & Associates LLP, in Mumbai having a major area of practice in matters of Property, Company matters, Banking & Financial institutions, Writ Petitions, Cooperative Societies, family matters, etc. He has been an Ex-Government Pleader, Bombay High Court, (O.S.), and Sr. Counsel for the Government of India – Group I.

Kindly throw some light upon your initial days as a young lawyer and the challenges faced by you.

I got my Sanad in October 1975. In those days, the technical advantages were totally zero. Because there used to be these type-written boards or cyclo-style boards. It was the kind of mechanical process to get the copy. This is the time before the xerox machines or the photocopier machines came.  So in that process of typing, the board used to come very late at 9 or 10 o’clock, and getting the board itself was a big challenge. Then there were many spelling mistakes, omissions, and other typographical mistakes. So, to see the Board list for the first challenge.

Then thereafter, electronic indicators were not there in the Court. So there used to be a race of 100 meters from one end to another end. The floor is 40 steps. So, from one floor to another floor and from one end to another end, we used to run. Many times, we were either stuck up in the lift or we were running in the passages. The best thing was although the matter was not very late but the number was very late.

The judges were accommodative but I can’t say that the Judges were better in quality as such. Now, after so many years in practice, we now have a particular idea of what good judges are but at a young age everybody was a great judge.

Most of the initial challenges were administrative challenges. For young lawyers, there used to be no or very less briefs. I was fortunate that I was with my father therefore on the very first day, I had a matter to attend to and argue.

In Mumbai, there is Original Side and Appellate Side. So, the Original Side was dominated by those who had their formal education in English, but a majority of the Lawyers from the Appellate side were from vernacular, either Hindi, Marathi, or Gujarati. So, that kind of tension was always there. But the judges were great, they never showed any irritation and used to take care of the juniors properly.

Please comment on the difficulty in getting briefs during the initial days of the career.

See, the difficulty of getting the brief prevailed 100 years ago and even today. But if you come from a business family or a business background, the chances of getting the briefs were better. It was easier for the lawyers who came from say, Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur, etc and had political connections. But getting a brief is a challenge for all these years. It was never easy and even now it’s not easy.

My father started practice in 1955-1956. At that time, he was advised not to enter the legal profession as it is already overcrowded. But, my father used to say that there is always a room at the top.

Then, one of our professors used to say that in this profession for the initial few years, you have to go without money and thereafter, you get used to it.

How has the practice of law changed during your career? What challenges have you faced and how have you adapted to those changes?

Immediately after the Constitution, there were not too many Writ Petitions or PILs. The litigation traditionally involved the civil division application, the First appeal, the Second appeal, Appeal from order. In those days, the Writ Petitions were called Special Civil Applications. This practice is still continued in Gujarat but in Mumbai, it is called Writ Petition. So, what has happened is the number of matters has increased tremendously.

As new laws and acts are being enacted, like the Slum Rehabilitation Act, which was enacted in 1971. That act was for the purpose of resettlement of the slum dwellers. So, all those people who used to be there, before 1195 were entitled to get accommodation free of cost. So, therefore, the litigation to that extent has gone tremendously.

Then secondly, because of the various projects of highways, etc, land acquisition litigation has increased. Then during the past years, the litigation of intellectual property or artificial intelligence, and arbitration has increased.

Those days matrimonial matters, we are not many. But now there are too many. I noticed that generally, the boys are keener to preserve the marriage rather than the girls. Then the recent issues of same-sex marriages, Live-in relationships are also coming up.

As far as criminal matters are concerned, cyber and financial crimes have emerged. So, as society has changed, the nature of litigation also had changed.

What do you consider to be the most important qualities of a successful advocate?

Basic skill is obviously the foundation of the law. There is no alternative to it. Now, language is a barrier, for many. those who have studied in vernacular languages like Hindi, Marathi, and Gujarati, find it a bit difficult. This is because even if they spend their three years or five years in law, in the English medium, the peculiar lack of interest in language is the greatest default or shortcoming of the present generation. It becomes difficult when the students or the new lawyers, don’t follow what is taken in the judgment.  

99.99% of the law is decided by way of judgments in one way or the other in the past. So, all that one has to do is dig up in the past and try to find out the things which are in his favour and basically use the same language as of the court.

In order to be successful, you must know what the other person thinks or What the judge thinks. For instance, there used to be one judge in the court, he was a landlord. So, any case of the tenant was dead before him. Another Judge came from a moneylender’s family. So, he used to question: “Paisa diya than na? Liya nahi na….” Therefore, knowing the background of the Judges is also very important.

Not everybody is gifted with a good voice, good command over language, and good kind of delivery but then that has to be worked upon. I have read Churchill and his speeches were historical and phenomenal. But even he used to practice that in front of the mirror.

I came from Marathi Medium but my father used to ask me to read 5-10 minutes from an English Newspaper until class 11. Then in school, we were made to learn at least five new words a day in the English language. So, we learned the language by practicing it.

When I was made the Government Pleader from the original side. The perception was that because I am from the appellate stage, he will not be good at English. So, from day one I decided that I will take maximum effort to see that and make no mistakes or very less mistakes in the language part. The judges will take care of the law because they know the law they are supposed to know the law but I should not be falling short of using proper words or using proper expression and expressing things in a proper manner.

A Judge comes across hundreds of lawyers each day. If the lawyer is shabby, is not good, his clothes are not good. He has the kind of beard which is grown haphazardly, then he will not remember you. You will be one of just many. You should be loud enough, clear enough so that the judges are comfortable.

How do you stay up-to-date with legal developments and changes in the law?

Your generation is very lucky that you get the information of the Supreme Court and High Courts every day. Then, even the proceedings of the Gujarat High Court and Supreme Court can be watched online.  So, your job is very, very, easy as compared to my generation.

Then, LiveLaw, Bar and Bench, and other websites are giving you hundreds of snippets or briefs. You just have to abreast yourself with it.

What reforms would you like to see in the Indian legal system, and how do you think they could be implemented?

See, our basic problem is an overpopulation of cases. That is a problem everywhere. Therefore, our available resources and infrastructure always falls short. What can the courts do unless the dishonesty or the crime in society is reduced? I am not pessimistic but sometimes, people even after going to the supreme court, ask about going to the International Court or court above the Supreme Court.

Things have improved because of the hybrid system. So, doesn’t have to go to Delhi or Madras if he/she is engaged in a matter there. Even at the age of 70, I am trying to be familiar with the Tabs or Laptops. It is not easy for our generation as it is for the newer generations. My granddaughter, who is just six years old, understands the approach to laptop computers or tablets better. So, the changes that I can envision are more and more use of technology.

Another thing, which I have observed is that once you’re in a Court, you tend to argue in a little lengthier way but when you’re online, sometimes you wonder what to say next. As the Chief Justice also said the other day – We have spent so much on infrastructure and technology, don’t allow it to go waste.

How can students wishing to intern under your valuable guidance get in touch with you? What qualities will you look for in an intern?

Students willing to intern at Govilkar & Associates Advocates can send an application to [email protected] with the Subject ‘Internship Application’, containing your CV and a cover letter explaining your reasons for doing an internship.

For more details, check out the website of Govilkar & Associates Advocates. Click Here

What advice would you give to aspiring lawyers, particularly those who hope to become arguing counsels?

There is never a straight-jacket formula. We have seen people who are extremely successful only on the basis of their legal knowledge. There were a few advocates in the Bombay High Court, who were not fluent in English or in delivery. But their knowledge of the law was phenomenal and therefore they became successful. But at the same time, there are illustrations where people are merely flamboyant, they are merely successful by their appearance.

Nowadays, students say that they want to go into corporate, only with the perception of the Web Series called ‘Suits’ with great Offices, big wealthier clients. However, that practice is altogether different.

The experience you get in a relatively small place is much more because you are allowed to go to the Court, draft, and argue. But in bigger Corporate Offices, you are simply nobody, unless the senior lawyers realize that you have the potential of bringing more work.

You might join a Senior, who is busy enough to need a junior, but he should not be so busy that he can ignore the junior.

Ultimately, you can choose where to practice, whether in the air-conditioned offices or in the courtrooms. But my sincere belief is that you must get the advantage of working in a very large Corporate Office, Litigation Office, or a Successful Office.  This is to know how the people at the top work. At the same time, you must have experience of fights in Court because unless you have the Court Experience, I don’t think any lawyer will ever be complete.


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