Alumni Interview — Shivain Vaidialingam, Batch of 2013

Hello there. This is part of a series of articles where we trace members of our alumni and try to gain some insight into what they’re up to in the big bad world and how they do it, so that we can go out and copy them. To this end, we spoke to Shivain Vaidialingam, who was part of the Batch of 2013, the first batch to pass out from the University, and who is now litigating in the courts of Delhi. Read on to find out how he’s been faring, and his takeaways from the field of litigation.

Where do you currently work? What does your work entail?
Currently, I am working in my Father’s chamber. He sits in the High Court of Delhi. I haven’t argued a case myself nor have I been entrusted with a case entirely, a certain amount of supervision and guidance is needed during the developing stages of your career, not to the extent that I feel handicapped sans the supervision and guidance. Mostly, I draft pleadings and opinions.
Before I began working in my Father’s chambers, I worked with another office consisting of Ms. Mala Narayan, Mr. Rahul Narayan and Mr. Sunil Gupta. Rahul Sir is an Advocate-On-Record, resultantly, I would spend time in the Supreme Court. While working with them, I drafted Special Leave Petitions, opinions, participated in briefing Senior Advocates. Supreme Court litigation is vastly different from litigation in the High Courts and District Courts. I guess, the unpredictability of the Supreme Court adds to its appeal. I worked there for a little over a year, from July 2013- August 2014.

Did you always know you wanted to do litigation? When did you know which field of law you wanted to practice in?
I wasn’t precisely sure that Law would be my final choice. I studied Psychology in school and I found it to be an interesting subject. Unfortunately, I did not pursue this interest further. I didn’t really have an aptitude for the sciences, commerce and economics, the chapter on National Income Accounting would bring tears to my eyes. In the beginning of 2008, I decided to write the various law school entrances and go from there.
I haven’t clung on to a field of law per se, I have been working on cases of a civil nature. I did not have the chance to work on cases involving pure questions of criminal law, I suppose the choice of which field of law you want to practice or specialize in depends on the office(s) you work with, as you would have been exposed to their work and approach to work. Specialization helps if you have achieved Harvey Specter/Alan Shore levels of knowledge, otherwise no harm in dipping your fingers in different pies.

How in/accurate have you found the aphorism that to have decent foothold in litigation, you ought to have a legal background? How relevant has this been to your experience in the field?
Undeniably, a legal background helps to bolster one’s career. A legal background offers you, among others, first- hand knowledge, expertise and resources, which are invaluable to a junior lawyer. The flipside to this is that one must know what to do with the resources and knowledge. An uninterrupted stream of clientele will persist if you are able to do what they ask of you. A legal background has to be sustained.
Not having a legal background does not prevent people from studying law or eventually litigating. They may work with a Senior Lawyer or in the litigation department of a firm, consequently, the experience and resources of a Senior Lawyer/litigation firm will be available to them.

How is the practice where you currently work? What kinds of matters do they deal with?
Predominantly original side work in the High Court, i.e. suits for recovery of money, suits for recovery of possession. If one is to survive in Original Side practice, snoozing in Civil Procedure lectures is not advised.

What is the experience of being a junior lawyer at the Supreme Court? Any notable anecdotes?
A Junior Lawyer can assume several roles in the Supreme Court. He may have to individually brief a senior lawyer, or appear in the Registrar’s Court, or ask appear in Court, sheepishly looking at the Judges and asking for a Passover/adjournment. It is always delightful to see the rapport, which the Judges have with regular practitioners in the Supreme Court, jokes fly all over the place.

What was the application process like? How did your recruitment happen? Had you interned at the same office earlier?
The application process was routine, our batch ID received an e- mail asking for applicants to fill the position of junior lawyer. I responded to the e- mail and was called for an interview. I did not intern at the same office earlier. I did not sit for placements.

What were the other possibilities you were looking at during the end of your time at law school, if at all any?
Finding work. Any work.

There is divided opinion on whether it’s better to join a well-established lawyer’s office upon graduation or rather an up-and coming lawyer. What’s your take on this?
In a well- established lawyer’s office, a junior lawyer may not receive the kind of attention that is needed during your early years, that depends on the number of juniors the well- established lawyer has. If the number of juniors he has requires another building to accommodate them, then you will get to do work but may be taught how to do things. Often, senior lawyers have juniors who have been working with them for some time, they do help a junior-junior lawyer. Similarly, in an up- and coming lawyer’s office, the relationship between the junior and senior is slightly different. I was the only junior in my previous office, I would harangue my senior with doubts and questions.

What are you looking forward to professionally in the short-to-medium term future? Opportunities, experiences, accomplishments?
Maybe do work different from the work I am currently doing, in the same line.

What do you enjoy about the grind? What part of it motivates you effectively?
Knowing that if you don’t do your work properly, you may as well shut shop.

And conversely, what about your job you find to be an especially challenging aspect of it?
Understanding the fine details. “Litigation is not only about preparing pleadings, arguing and getting paid. The Court in which you primarily practice is an institution, like any other institution, know how it works internally. Know how to file a pleading, know how to cure defects in a pleading, know how papers in files are to be arranged.

One of the famous impediments to choosing litigation out of law school is the starting pay, or lack thereof. How does one manage life on the stipend of a junior litigating lawyer? Does this make litigation in Delhi an unviable option for students from other locations?
Volenti non fit injuria. Junior lawyers are well aware that they will not be paid handsomely when they start off. The office in which you work will not keep you at that salary, they will increase it. It doesn’t make litigation an unviable option, people find a way around it. They become better at money management.

How proficient in Hindi must one be to be able to practice in Delhi?
If you plan to practice in the Lower Courts then your Hindi should be workable, but a mix of Hindi and English is acceptable. In the Lower Courts, the Judges are sometimes referred to as “Janab”, I don’t know the female equivalent of Janab, as a result, the female Judges are called “Janab” too.

Finally, any advice to your juniors and students in other law schools regarding litigation or career choices or law school or life or alcohol – take your pick.
Do what you want to do. Completing law school or any professional degree does not mean that you stick to that field.
As for “life or alcohol”, life goes from on-the-rocks to chasers (relatively smooth, depending on what you do with it) and alcohol goes from chasers to on-the-rocks.

How is adult life treating you otherwise?
You make adult life sound like a spouse. It is alright, you cannot always roam around in diapers, which would be awesome though.

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