Mukul Rohatgi interview: ‘Senior lawyers’ court appearances should be restricted
Former attorney general Mukul Rohatgi tells Utkarsh Anand that there should be regulations to restrict the number of cases a senior advocate should argue in a day so that other lawyers may also get a piece of the pie. Rohatgi also wants the practice of designating a select few as “senior advocate” to go. Edited excerpts:
During a recent hearing in the Supreme Court, you said you would be the first one to support a rule that a senior advocate should be allowed to appear only in a limited number of cases on a daily basis. Will you support a rule like this?
I would very much support such a rule so that other lawyers may also get some more work. But the rule must be universally and uniformly applied to everyone. There are many clients who would want me to argue their cases and I will have to turn them away. But if this is applied across the board, there will be a lot of work for other people rather than this concentration that you have in the Supreme Court and in the high court where only a few lawyers get most of the work. This inequality and concentration of work will continue until there is a freedom to make choice. But you can still have reasonable restrictions in the form of restricting the number of cases.
Should senior lawyers also impose some kind of a self-regulation in this regard?
Unless there is a regulation, it becomes very difficult to bring a change. Even if I am supposed to do 10 cases in a day, I will have to return more than 10 cases. Self-regulation cannot serve the purpose since you will always have clients and their lawyers asking you to take their cases... They will ask how does it matter if you do 12 cases instead of 10 when you are in the court and can manage them.
Before the Supreme Court, you called it “an unfortunate aspect of the profession” that only a few lawyers are engaged in most of the cases involving high stakes and high monetary values. What, in your opinion, could be a way to redress this disparity?
This is a fact of life. This is not only in the legal profession but in most of the professions. Some doctors are hugely popular in the medical profession. Similarly, some lawyers are massively popular... Even in Bollywood, there is a group of film stars who are hugely popular... Reasons are many but these are facts of life. Situation is not ideal where everybody gets sufficient amount of work. This is something very difficult to get rid of as long as you have free world, free choice. This is why you need some regulations that have the binding effect.
What do you feel about designation of some lawyers as “senior advocate”?
In my opinion, it is perhaps time to think of abolishing this system. An advocate is an advocate in law and is entitled to practice in any court of law. It is time for the authorities to think whether there is any need to still have this dichotomy of senior and junior lawyers. These two classes came in 1961 when the Advocates Act came into force and introduced this concept of senior designation. This was the hangover of the British system. The British system has this, the American system doesn’t have it.