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HindustanTimes Sun,20 Apr 2014

'Emotion can be a lawyer's worst enemy'

Swati Chitnis, Hindustan Times  Mumbai, May 05, 2013
First Published: 02:44 IST(5/5/2013) | Last Updated: 02:46 IST(5/5/2013)

The most important lesson that criminal defence lawyer Shirish Gupte, 64, has learnt in his 40-year career is to never get emotionally involved with a client.

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"If you do, it becomes difficult to look at the case professionally and that makes a criminal lawyer's job even more difficult," he says.

Instead, Gupte walks into courtrooms every day to speak for men accused of cold-blooded murder, rape and other violent crimes, then tunes out the savagery by tuning in to silly sitcoms on TV or listening to soothing Hindustani classical music at home.

A Mumbai boy, Gupte studied law at the city's Government Law College, graduating in 1972. Amiable and composed, his client list includes gangsters, cricketers, Bollywood actors such as Salman Khan and Shiney Ahuja, and encounter specialist Daya Nayak.

His day begins at 5.30 am, with a cup of tea and his case files for the day. After a detailed study, Gupte makes notes so that he can present his cases before the respective judges.

"I never rely on memory alone," he says. "Every tiny detail could signify life or death for a client."

The details are not always easy to study, since some of his cases involve graphic violence and bloodshed. But with experience, says Gupte, a criminal defence lawyer learns to detach himself from the crime and turn it into an academic exercise.

Even so, some cases still surprise him - like the case of an obsessive cricket fan from Pakistan who came to India to watch every Indo-Pak match played here and fell in love with the receptionist of a hotel where he often stayed. When he found out she was married and had been leading him on, he shot her dead in the hotel, in front of several witnesses.

"He then went to his room intending to shoot himself, but was stopped by the police," says Gupte. "I was representing this man in this open-and-shut case, with all the evidence stacked against him, but the investigation and evidence-collection were so shoddy that he was eventually acquitted and allowed to return to Pakistan."

Gupte's daily schedule depends on his court appointments. Being a senior lawyer, he now rarely meets clients himself. "I usually get involved only after a case has reached a high court or the Supreme Court," he says.

On a daily basis, his team of four lawyers or junior advocates brief him or solicitors update him and, after each hearing, he reviews case files. On average, he thus reviews and advises on between six and twelve cases per day.

Usually back at his Shivaji Park bungalow by 8.30 pm, Gupte spends time with family, listens to music or reads books "on anything but crime".

"Every criminal lawyer has to play multiple roles - lawyer, counsellor, confidante," says Gupte. "As a result, whether you are at home or at work, your mind is always tuned to analysing the cases at hand, thinking of ways to decode complicated situations."

Weekends are spent shopping for groceries, cooking, meeting friends or catching a movie or a play with his wife, actor Vandana Gupte.

A theatre enthusiast, he says it helps immensely that he and his wife both respect and understand each other's professional responsibilities. "Thankfully, after years of juggling careers, family and raising our two kids, we are now both well settled in our professional lives and get enough time together," he says.

(This weekly feature explores the lives of those unseen Mumbaiites essential to your day)

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