(This article was first published on 13 September 2019. It has been reposted from The Quint's archives on the birth anniversary of lawyer Ram Jethmalani.)
When I joined the chamber of Ram Jethmalani as a junior associate in 2010, I was a nervous young lawyer whose hands would shake every time I had to brief him on a case.
He was, after all, a celebrated veteran jurist and I, a legal novice. In the first few months even when I made a small mistake, I expected him to lash out at me and throw me out of his office. I was, however, surprised at how much he put me at ease by cracking a joke or two at my misdemeanours.
That was the man that Ram Jethmalani was — a genius par excellence in his profession and a human with a soft heart.
Jethmalani Never Outright Lectured Juniors/Associates
He certainly expected his junior lawyers to be brilliant at their work and be impeccable at assisting him, but he never outright taught us by lecturing us. We observed and assimilated his meticulous working style, which I consider a precious gift given by him that has helped me become efficient as a lawyer.
I clearly remember the day I believe I gained Ram sir’s trust as a junior associate. He told me that he had been looking for one of his favourite books — Textbook of Criminal Law by Glanville Williams — in his personal library for two days, but had not been able to find it.
At that time, I had been spending a lot of time reading the laws in Ram sir’s library, making full use of his magnificent collection of books and records of law. When I took less than ten minutes to find the book and hand it over to him, I saw a little sparkle in his eyes. He told me he was happy to know that I knew his library well. I was definitely flattered.
Jethmalani Spent Hours Researching in His Library
Even after practising at the bar for over seven decades and knowing the laws like the back of his hand, he would spend hours researching in his library.
For Ram sir, there were no shortcuts to success. He never took his elevated status at the bar for granted.
And he never believed in refusing to represent a client just because it was widely perceived that he was the culprit.
He was a man of principles who believed that a lawyer who refuses to defend a person on the grounds that people believe him to be guilty is himself guilty of professional misconduct.
Ram sir believed in the sanctity of books. Three years ago, when I began to work on my legal tech start-up aimed at transforming the way lawyers and judges perform legal research by providing an online platform in order to save time and paper, I expected Ram sir to be skeptical. He was a nonagenarian who had researched from books and papers all his life. I didn't expect him to support a venture that would completely shift legal research onto a digital platform. Little did I know that the man would surprise me again!
The moment I put the proposal of my start-up in front of him, he readily approved of it saying that it’s high time that the judiciary benefits from technology. Being far-sighted and a visionary, Ram sir became a mentor to my venture ‘Legitquest’. He was keen to be routinely briefed on the progress the company was making and readily gave his expert advice.
He expressed interest in learning how technology could transform legal research in our country.
“You’re never too old to learn, and you know that I’m not old at all,” he would tell me.
Ram sir met two former Chief Justices of India – Justice Kehar Singh and Justice Dipak Misra – to request them that pleadings of the Supreme Court be made available to Legitquest to aid the cause of legal research.
Even in the last years of his life, he was willing to embrace change and contribute towards the benefit of stakeholders of the judiciary.
Jethmalani’s Grandeur as a Lawyer Left Me In Awe
Each time he appeared in the courts of law, I was awestruck by his grandeur as a lawyer.
The opening and closing sentences of his arguments were worthy of being recorded in legal treatises. The combination of his courage with wit was a quality that was unique to him.
I would like to recall an interesting exchange between him and Justice VK Shali of the Delhi High Court in 2011 during the hearing on parole for Manu Sharma, who was convicted in the Jessica Lal murder case.
Justice Shali had expressed reservation in granting parole to Sharma to attend his brother’s wedding on the ground that he had been found to visit a pub during a previous parole, to which Mr Jethmalani replied, “It is not that only bad people go to the bar. Highly decent people, including some reputed lawyers, go there.” When the honourable judge asked him in lighter vein if he still went to pubs and bars at his age, Ram sir replied:
“My Lord, what you see of me now is late eighties. Let me tell you the truth, some part of me is still sixty, some part thirty, and some part is still eighteen,” to which the entire court burst out in laughter.
Ram sir was a personality defined by nuances. At daily conferences he was a hard taskmaster who didn’t care if his juniors had eaten or were tired because for him work came first. But at 7:30 pm every evening, he would interrupt work and insist on everyone having a drink. To teetotalers he would remark: “I only trust people who drink.”
Though, I am bereaved at the loss of my mentor, my father-figure, I would not grieve for him. He would rather prefer that I raise a toast to him.
(Karan Kalia is the CEO & Founder of Legitquest, a legal tech company. He has done Master of laws (LLM) from the University of Pennsylvania. He was an associate in Ram Jethmalani’s office for seven years. Views expressed are the authors’ own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)