It is 23 years since I graduated in Law from the Dr. Ambedkar Govt. Law College Madras, fresh from my inter-collegiate debating exploits. However, in 1997, the Bar Council had introduced a Compulsory Apprenticeship Rule, for One Year after obtaining a Law Degree. This was later struck down by the Supreme Court. But it meant that I could not get enrolled as an Advocate in 1997.
In the summer of ’98, I joined NDTV, owing to my passion for Journalism; but also because hailing from a middle class family, I did not have a financial cushion to go through the gestation grind of close to a decade on a stipend.
The next fourteen and a half years, passed in a jiffy. NDTV taught me, among other things, the thrill of breaking news, the importance of deadlines, the value of teamwork, the magic of multi-tasking and the power of communication. Everyday was an examination on National TV! Interviewing Prime Ministers or Chief Ministers, Governors or Chief Justices,Bureaucrats or Sports Stars was heady stuff. But like the Armed Forces, there ought to be Short Service Commission for the Media as well! The stress and absence of Work-Life Balance made me play Prodigal Son and ‘return’ to Law, something that my father always wanted me to do. It took me a decade and a half to know that dad was right!
Quitting a high profile, reasonably remunerative job as the sole breadwinner, with twin children, then just a year old and elderly parents to support, and entering a new profession from scratch, hardly came across as prudent. Without a father or a grandfather or Godfather in the profession. A supportive wife and family more than made up for it. A simple lifestyle, sans party hopping and foreign vacations, splurging and merry making has helped.
The last 8 Years, have, since my enrolment as an Advocate, been a struggle. An eye opener. A harsh reality check. For a recognisable face does not help you in Court. Oratorical Skills? Yes, to a point. The 7000 odd numbers on my phone book hardly translate into clients, as those are contacts from journalism. And for journalism. They may open doors (mercifully, still!) in the corridors of power – for a cup of tea and pleasant conversation. Or to help a poor family seeking relief.
How about busting more myths? Being high profile, does not mean you are affluent. The gift of the gab does not guarantee clients. Having ‘connections’ does not pay your bills. At the same time, shedding a ‘tag’, does not necessarily make people treat you differently. Some do. But you know what, genuine people actually outnumber time – servers.
A leap of faith at 38 was hardly conducive for the traditional mentoring under a Senior. But I’ve been blessed to have had a battery of erudite seniors in the profession, who would most patiently clarify my doubts and unhesitatingly guide me. So I was able to fight big banks, automobile majors, aviation goliaths, software giants, MNCs, insurance behemoths and government bodies.
Now here’s where the media experience probably comes in handy, albeit to a limited extent, in living up to the noble goals of the profession. The penchant for precise submissions and cutting to the chase. Emailing information to clients, quite like news updates (!) the moment you walk out of court. Not seeking adjournments. Hardly ever. Filing petitions or counters well ahead of timelines.
After passing up two offers from the United States Consulate for fully sponsored International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) exchange visits on Journalism in the past, I finally ended up going to the US for a Program on the ‘Rule Of Law & Judicial Reforms’ in 2014. Soon enough, I created my own ‘senior’ – a weekly legal column ‘Justice For All’ in the Deccan Chronicle, for which I have conscripted myself to extensive legal research, with 207 legal columns till date, a law book and a second one in the pipeline. Humble contributions to the March of Law.
Despite the modest practice, when Law schools roll out the red carpet for Guest Lectures and a seat on their Boards of Studies, or when national TV channels (except NDTV which has a policy of not roping in former employees as panelists) invite you to debates on legal issues, or when a top law officer requests you to address a niche audience on a contentious topic on Constitutional Law because he sees you as ‘unbiased’, you know you are on the right track. Never mind if the road ahead is long. Never mind if there is no assured revenue stream, unlike a regular salary of the past. Never mind if you face discrimination and are denied office space even in a complex run by your own religion, because of a certain ‘perception’ about lawyers. Never mind if an association ignores your membership application even when accompanied by the recommendation of a legal luminary.
If lateral entry has the luxury of a dream, I would entertain rosy thoughts of having at least a part of my media innings (what with those years of legal reportage) transferred to my law avatar in terms of seniority! Just like a stint in the Defence Forces could be carried forward for seniority in the police.
Wishful thinking aside, in hindsight, I do believe that it was divine intervention that pushed me to make that drastic career shift. God has a plan for me. He will provide. He will lift me up, in His time. And I submit to Your will, My Lord!
(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author, Public Speaker & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)