India’s “Grand Advocates”

Marc Galanter and I have this piece out as part of Harvard Law School’s Program on the Legal Profession Research Paper Series (a version of it will also appear as a chapter in a forthcoming book on the affects of globalization on the Indian legal profession). The piece examines what Marc and I call India’s “Grand Advocate’s” – i.e. elite litigators at the Supreme Court and High Courts. These senior advocates are both famous and infamous within the legal profession in India, and are even broadly known amongst many in the Indian public. We wanted to understand what unique features of the Indian judicial environment created the conditions that allowed these leading lawyers to thrive and think about what their future might hold. The article explains itself, but I did want to provide some context and a few thoughts/disclaimers here.

First, a few young litigators who have already read versions of the piece said it was helpful for them to think more strategically about how to go about their own careers.  I can see how the piece might be useful to litigators, particularly those just starting out, but it is not meant to be a self-help guide or anything of the sort.

Second, some who have read the piece thought that it exposed what they viewed as the fraud of the “grand advocates” and the unjustifiable barriers to entry they help create in litigation. The piece, which is based on interviews with many lawyers, including many lawyers who might be considered grand advocates, certainly does recount how these leading lawyers often don’t show up to scheduled hearings, charge high rates, aren’t fully prepared, take a disproportionate amount of the work, etc. However, it’s not meant to be any sort of expose. I was personally impressed with the talent of many of the advocates we interviewed and as I have written elsewhere there are plenty of problems with the profession to go around. Instead of pointing fingers, Marc and I were much more interested in understanding why these grand advocates emerged like they have in India, since it is so difficult to find comparisons to them in other countries (except for perhaps elsewhere in South Asia).
Marc brought a huge wealth of knowledge and understanding to this project, including fascinating details of the history of the profession. If you are interested in learning more about this history I urge you to read not just the first couple sections, but also look at the bibliography of this piece in particular as it includes many useful references of which I had been unaware. This piece fit well into Marc’s previous extensive work on Indian law and law and society in India, as well as the legal profession in the United States and more generally. For me, I had already written pieces about how the pressures of the caseload of the Indian Supreme Court and its bench structure impact the Court’s jurisprudence and functioning. This piece allowed me an opportunity to explore more how the ecosystem of litigators who appear before the Court also impact it. Most of all, it gave me a chance to work with and learn from Marc, a scholar who I admire greatly.

Written by
Nick Robinson
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