Conversation with Senior Advocate Prakash Reddy

Bar & Bench November 26 2012
Senior Advocate Prakash Reddy

In the second interview of lawyers in Andhra Pradesh, Senior Advocate Prakash Reddy shares his experiences from a career that has spanned thirty-five years. In this interview, he talks about how most of his colleagues ended up in law due to lack of choice, the changes in both the Bar and the Bench and what it takes to be a good litigating lawyer.

 Bar & Bench: Why did you study law? How did you end up in litigation? 

Prakash Reddy: Most of us did not join law by choice. Let me be frank with you, most of us joined because we couldn’t get into engineering. I joined law because I could not get through engineering. The next choice was law and that is how I joined law.

At the time when we joined the Bar (in 1977) there was no option other than joining litigation. It is only recently that other prospects have become available.

B&B: Did you study law with the intention of becoming a lawyer?

PR: No at the time I joined Osmania Law College, I was not really thinking about joining the profession. It was only in the final year I decided that I should join the profession. So immediately after completing the course, a week after the results were announced, I joined the chambers of Senior Counsel Pratap Reddy in 1977. I was with him till 1986 and then from 1986 to 1990 I was practicing independently in Hyderabad.

In 1990, I shifted to Delhi to practice in the Supreme Court where I remained till 1998. In 1998, when I was appointed as Additional Advocate General in the A.P High Court, I came back here.

I continued in the office of additional advocate general for 6 years till 2004 when I resigned because there was a change in power and the Congress party came into power. I was appointed during the period when the TDP was in power. So from 2004 onwards I have been practicing on the private aside.

B&B: What are the changes that you have seen in the Bar and the Bench?

PR: As far as the Bar is concerned, if I may say so, most of us including my colleagues and I were not so serious during our college days. But now after the five-year course was introduced in various colleges all over the country, students are studying law by choice.

In our case we joined the law course after graduating- three years graduation and then three years law. Now this five-year course is immediately after intermediate. Like any other professional course, be it engineering or medicine, students are joining the law course by choice.

Even the pattern of education has changed a lot; students are being subjected to many courses during the study of the law, they intern with other lawyers, take part in moot courts and other competitions etc. They are certainly better equipped than those who have studied earlier, before the 5 year courses began. The only thing is that according to my information, I might be wrong of course, most of the graduates from five-year courses are not joining litigation. In litigation, there is a waiting period. However good you are, there is a waiting period.

B&B: And when you started in the chambers of Pratap Reddy, what was life like? What was the relationship between a senior and a junior?

PR: So far as the relationship was concerned, it was very cordial. They used to respect us, they never treated us as subordinates. We were never treated as employees working somewhere; we were always treated as colleagues.

B&B: And when you joined, did you also know that you would have to wait for a certain amount of time before you would be successful?

PR: I knew by the time I joined that I would have to wait since I had heard this from the seniors who had joined earlier. The problem with youngsters is that if they start with great expectations, they will face frustration. If you start with low expectations, you will never be frustrated. You see, after all, when you are joining litigation you have to wait for your turn. So that is the difficulty. Nowadays they are getting good offers even in the college interviews with packages of 10-12 lakhs a year which is very attractive at the age of twenty-two.

But I feel personally, the prospects are more if you join litigation because the sky is the limit for you. If you confine [yourself] to a particular area in say a multinational company, you will just be looking at that particular area. Of course law firms do give you a good exposure but if you are looking into the legal affairs of a company, you will be confined to that particular litigation.

B&B: What do you think makes a good litigating lawyer?

PR:  However intelligent you are, you will necessarily have to spend time [studying] the matter. You should be thorough on facts. Even if you are intelligent you need to assess how much time you need to spend on a brief to know the facts thoroughly. Because in spite of the fact that you may know the law, the application of the law or the precedents will depend on the facts of the case. So necessarily you have be thoroughly prepared on the facts. For that you have to spend time, you have to have patience whether you are briefing a senior counsel or arguing the matter yourself.

Even if you do not immediately get the opportunity to address the court, you can always imagine what you would have argued if you had been asked to appear. You can watch the senior and see whether his arguments match yours, whether they deviate etc. And you will also have the opportunity to watch the other side arguing.

B&B: Do you remember your first order or your first argument?

PR: My first argument was made before a statutory authority in some fisheries case. It was the first case, which I argued independently and got a positive order. After that I started practicing in civil courts, rent control courts for about three years. The office where I had joined had cases in the civil court, before statutory authorities, tribunals and the High Court. I had the opportunity of going to various forums.

B&B: It is commonly said that “All lawyers are liars”. What is your opinion on this?

PR: I don’t agree because I think no lawyer will lie for himself. He needs to argue taking care of the interest of the party and on the basis of whatever he has been briefed by the party. Facts would necessarily be given by the client because we can’t improve on the facts. Now on the basis of these facts if you can improve on the legal aspect, if you can point out the relevant provision of law to the Court, then only you can get justice for your client. There is no question of a lawyer lying for his personal benefit because it is in the interest of the party to bring the proper provisions of law to the notice of the honorable court.

B&B: Initially, would you judge a client? Did you ever face difficulties in defending a client when you thought he was guilty?

PR: No. You see while practicing we are not going to decide whether our client’s case is proper or not. It is not for us to judge. But I can tell you that the clients when we joined the Bar were comparatively innocent than the present clients, who we have to handle today. So many aspects have cropped up into the profession like any other profession. There has been deterioration in every profession and the legal profession is no different. When I talk of the standards what I am saying is that if a man is good, he will be good wherever he is whether as a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer or as an officer.

At the time when we joined the Bar we did not hear much about corruption in the judiciary. There were some allegations here and there but today it has become disproportional because today everybody asks for the result. It is difficult to tell the client that “We are only practitioners not contractors”.

This is what we have to take care of according to me because most of the clients, unfortunately, keep pestering the juniors for the result. We don’t deliver a result but we only believe that we can do our best.

B&B: And do you think such lawyers can be successful?

PR: I am certainly hopeful [that they can]. I have been practicing for 35 years. People can always survive if they work hard. If some body is used to getting easy money it’s a different thing altogether.

You may not get easy money but you will certainly be rewarded if you work hard. I have no doubt whatsoever about this. Somebody who works hard with dignity and honesty will certainly make his life comfortable.

B&B: With respect to the appointment of judges through a collegium system, do you think it should be rethought?

PR: As far as the collegium is concerned, personally I feel that if you go into the past, even when the Executive was making [judicial] appointments, it was not really so bad. I say this again - there are so many evils existing in the society, which will be reflected in every walk of life.

I don’t really see any great improvement that way whether it was the collegium or otherwise. Of course it is better if the independence of the judiciary is maintained; there is no disputing that. The only thing is that during the time of selection, there are several factors that are taken into consideration. I don’t have any personal knowledge but I do hear from people that there are so many pulls & pressures [in the appointment process].

B&B: What do you think of the roster system of having judges? Do you think it affects the continuity of the hearings?

PR: No, continuity does not mean that a judge who is hearing a matter must hear the entire matter till retirement. That cannot happen. Only thing is that if the sittings are not changed for a reasonable period, say five to six months that is good enough.

At the higher level, there will be nothing like specialty per se. Every judge will know all the laws. And even if somebody does not have the experience of dealing with a particular matter it doesn’t matter that much since the judge knows the basic principles of law It will not take him much time to interpret other special branches of law.

B&B:  Apart from corruption in the judiciary, the other pressing issue is that of pendency. How do you think this can be resolved?

PR: The need of the hour is that every wing has to introspect. So the judiciary should introspect while also talking to the other wings. They should discuss about increasing the number of judges etc. and also see how best it can function within the facilities it has been granted. It is a matter of introspection.

B&B: And as an officer of the Court with so much experience, why do you think pendency has become such a big problem?

PR: The number of judges is low and most of the times vacancies are not filled on time. Getting more judges is not in Judge’s hands but what they can do is come to court regularly and not miss the court hours. It is not as though lawyers are not responsible for the delay. Many a times they ask for an adjournment without there being sufficient ground. Even lawyers need to discharge their duty properly, to cooperate with the Bench to make sure the pendency does not increase. After all they are also answerable to the clients.

B&B: You mentioned that you appeared in the Supreme Court for a long period of time before returning to Hyderabad. What were some of the differences that you observed between practice in the Supreme Court and in the AP High Court?

PR:  As far as the final hearings are concerned, there is not much difference since both courts give you a patient hearing. The only difference I can find is that in admission matters, the High Court will give a better hearing than SLP admissions where not much time will be given. So unless you are able to point out the actual points, which really make a case for issuing notice in an SLP, you will fail. You will not have the chance of a second attempt. So unless you pick up the best points for you at the SLP stage, it will be difficult for the notice to be issued. Whereas [in the High Court] you will be given some more time, you might get a second chance to place some more points before the court.

B&B: How do you manage to be humble while also persuading the Court to agree with your views? 

PR: See that is something, which comes with practice. Suppose an advocate thinks that he knows better than anybody else and that nobody can understand a case better than him, then there will be some difficulty. Ultimately you need to know that the decision will be made by somebody who is sitting and adjudicating and you are only pressing your point, only trying to say that this is the proper interpretation etc. So necessarily you have to maintain the decorum before the court because if you start arguing  as if nobody else knows better, you will face some difficulty. Otherwise there will be no difficulty in balancing the act of persuading the judge and trying to get him to agree with your point of view that you are trying to argue….it will come by practice.

B&B: What do you think makes a good litigating lawyer?

PR: You need to have patience, you need not loose the temper merely because the other side provokes you or some comment comes from the Bench.  Of course you need to work hard and be thorough with the facts of the case. Even if you know the law, it has to be applied to the facts of the case.

B&B: Moving away from legal practice, what are your thoughts on legal education and the 5-year law course?

PR: Whether it is 5 years or 3 years, as I told you, if a student joins of his choice, he will have a lot more interest in pursuing the studies. And if at the time of joining itself if he can plan whether he will be going for litigation or for some other jobs then he will be better served.

B&B: And what do you think about the national law schools?

PR: As far as the studies in these law schools are concerned, the students are certainly better. The only difficulty they might face, as far as I have noticed, is that if they start thinking that they know more than anybody else. That is where the danger is. For them, my advice would be to be humble. As for those studying in the 3-year course, I would tell them to give it some time. Even if they are not good in English in the beginning, if they work hard they can make it up. For example, I studied in telegu medium till graduation. Of course in law we never studied and we were never serious, but we tried to make up for it later. Whenever you identify your problem you need some effort to work hard and make it up.

B&B: And after you joined the Bar, what kept you motivated to stay on in this profession?

PR: I decided to join the practice with the blessings of Justice Konda Madhava Reddy who later became the Chief Justice of the AP High Court. I had fixed up an appointment with him over the telephone once I completed my law degree. He did not know me and I only knew him by name. He was kind enough to give me an appointment and spoke to me for forty-five minutes! He asked me whether I would be serious in the profession and I replied in the affirmative. I hope that I am keeping up the promise. He was the gentleman who recommended me to the office of Mr. Pratap Reddy, without even knowing who I am. At that time, he had been a sitting judge for nearly eight years.

B&B: Last question. How do you spend your time when not practicing law? 

PR: Since 2007, I started doing social activities in my native village. So even if I retire, I will have fulltime work. I have built a primary school in the village and handed it over to the government in 2008 though I continue to help in some ways. I have appointed six teachers on a stipend paid by me and also appointed individuals for cleaning the premises.

I have built a primary health centre in the village, which is being taken care by a private medical college situated in the district headquarters. They periodically come to the village and conduct check ups. We have built a mineral water plant there where we give 20 litres of mineral water for two rupees with the aid and support of a foundation. After running this for five years, the foundation will hand it over to the gram panchayat.

I have also taken up the work of constructing toilets for individual households in the village. There is a trust in the name of my father and we have also built some community toilets in the village. We might also do something about irrigation and am trying to help the villagers there. So this keeps me quite busy.

This interview was conducted in August, 2012. Bar & Bench would like to thank Adv. S. Rao for his invaluable support in organising this interview.

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