From band to bandwidth

Not long ago (because a decade is not long enough in my profession) my boss–a reputed and busy advocateon-record of the Supreme Court of India commanded me to pull out a judgement in a particular volume of a particular journal, while I was showing him cases I pulled out with the help of a software. I was awed to discover that it was indeed the judgement that applied to our case and ashamed to realise that my techno-savy research was inadequate.

The incident left an indelible mark and impact in my training as an advocate. I could never again trust technology blindly and Google became a contraband item in my professional life. The incident led me to observe that my senior, who had no computer on his table, had everything on his fingertips. I subsequently also discovered the fat, dusty torn registry–an encyclopaedia of judgements in his handwriting. I still wonder how he could write the ratio of voluminous judgements in one line (sometimes in one word).

What amazes me more is how he could later identify the relevant one looking at that one line or one word. You will not be surprised by now to know that I aped him– unsuccessfully but sincerely. I bought a subscription for a journal, pulled out the list of leading cases issued by Supreme Court prescribed for advocate-on-record exam (but could only finish it in five years and only because I had write that exam by then), started drafting the pleadings he would assign me in the library instead of the chamber so that I could learn browsing through the books instead of my software and, above all, I too started maintaining a fat register.

The books behind his chair were old law journals and bare acts were kept on his right–he would pull out the exact one even before I could retrieve the statute on my software. And then there were files all around– hundreds of them stacked one over the other. We did not use any software to keep track of our matters like the way I do know. The court registry also was not obligated to send an email or SMS to an advocate-on-record like I receive now.

We had to rely exclusively on the printed causelist that was delivered to our office to keep track of matters notified for hearing. Even then my senior had not missed even a single matter (though on some occasions registry had missed, printing his name in the cause list). All my professional life, I aimed being like Sir–someone who does not need a machine to practice law. But on 15.05.2020, the Supreme Court has changed it all. I wonder if all the facets of my practice of law are now only on one dashboard.

I will no longer applaud my clerk’s valour in filing an urgent matter before the closing of counter because now I will file matters sitting in my office 24×7. I will also no longer send him to inspect the court files to find out if something has been filed that was not served on us because the dashboard will show me documents filed “By Me” and “By Others” in one click. He will surely miss my nagging him to ensure that my files are paginated exactly as court files (it’s a paranoia advocates suffer from) because now paginated files will be uploaded.

My clerk will neither now stand in a queue to fetch court fees nor will I badger him to deposit list of books in the judges’ library. It will all be done online. The omnipresent whitener and black marker will also disappear from my table (and from my clerk’s bag) once we’ll start refilling the matters online. I wonder if my clerk will ever again barge into my room without knocking and with a smile (that you see on a player winning an Olympic gold) only to inform me that matter has been numbered! I will certainly miss my colourful flags and highlighted note pasted in the file.

I wonder if the stylus will be good enough for a “text-highlighter pencil” collector or if pages of annotated pdfs will remain as fresh in my memory as they do in my well-marked file. Will my fingers be as swift on the tab as they are on paper during an anxious hearing? How will I learn the craft of presenting an argument in a virtual court? I know I will learn the new ways of my professional life gradually and unlike Sir who checked his band, I will check my bandwidth before the commencement of the hearing. The author is an Advocate-onRecord in the Supreme Court of India.

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