In Conversation With Senior Advocate Iqbal Chagla

in an exclusive conversation with Adv Sudhir Mishra on BW Legal World presents The Sudhir Mishra Show, Veteran lawyer Iqbal Chagla takes us down memory lane and shares about his growing up years; his unique equation with his legendary father; his early years in the profession and much more.

Tell us about your early childhood 

My early memories go back to the time when my father became Chief Justice, and we moved to Chief Justice’s house. It was a  lovely beautiful house. I stayed on the first floor. I had a room on the first floor and another room on the other end, and in between, there was my father's supplemental library; he had a huge library on the ground floor, and this was the library around which I lived and grew up, and I was free to pick up any book and read.

My mother sometimes used to be a little alarmed and told my father that he was spoiling me,  that he shouldn't read anything vulgar, to which my father thought there is no vulgarity in art.

So let him read what he wants; he will become discerning in his own time. So these are my earliest memories of the Chief Justice's house. And early memories of a father who was liberal not just in his ideas but liberal in every day of his life and how he brought up his children. 

What was your father's biggest virtue?

I have never known a man of greater integrity. This was the paramount virtue he had. He wanted everyone to make it on his own. He told me that I dont want you to feel a little succeeded because of my help.You must do it on your own and you will thank me and how correct he was and I thank him every day of my life.

And then you started your journey, and he saw you becoming a Senior Advocate at the young age of thirty-nine. Tell us about your unique equation with your father.

We had a certain chemistry. my father and I, which was unique. I basked in his achievements and his greatness, and at the same time, I felt the pain of any disappointments that he had.  

Not that there were many, but he had a remarkable life with the number of achievements he had. I always idolized him unashamedly.

You started becoming an advocate in the 1960s; just describe the initial journey of your liking for law. 

When I came back to Bombay after graduating from Cambridge University and being called to the bar, my father said you're now going to see the doyen of the bar, Mr Jamshed ji Kanga. 

So I went along and Jamshed jee told me that he is too old now, I am retired but why don't you join Bhaba's chamber. So requested Bhabha. It was one of the best moments of my life because there was no better teacher, hard task master, which is excellent for a young lawyer and it was a chamber where a host of people have been offered judgeship. 

And it was said it was an occupational hazard to be in chamber number one because you're about to be asked to become a  judge. So that was my early time but I think there's no substitute for hard work. And this is what I would tell any young member of the bar.

You may not get the roses initially, and you may feel frustrated, but it's a waiting game. I always wondered which solicitor would be foolish enough to entrust me with a brief but it comes and my advice to every junior would be that please weight, don't be frustrated it will come. Your moment will come. And that's the moment which will become the starting point of your career.

Sir, what was your routine like in the first three years of your career?

Well, it was to go to the chambers. Bhaba would greet us and toss a brief to juniors; we needed to read it up. The next day, there would be a conference, and we were expected to participate and he was very good that way so we did participate on the facts, we were telling what the facts were for the law as we understood it. 

We would reach chambers by 10:30 AM in the morning and not leave until 7:30 PM. We were very punctual. It was a very interesting chamber. Sometimes, Soli Sorabjee and Fali Nariman would come for conferences, and Bhabha would welcome us. It was a wonderful experience as everyone in the chamber was very helpful.

And then, it is exactly what one was looking for. So those are my earlier years; it was a lot of hard work with no income, but that's all right, well, you had to get used to the idea. The advantages to not being born with a silver spoon hmm, my father always told me, he said that I will not leave you much of an inheritance, all I can give you is education, and that's exactly what he did. He gave me the best education anybody could ever have. And then rest is now up to you. 

Does coming from a family of Senior Advocates or Judges becomes a barrier to your personal growth?

I think I was happy that I joined the Bar after my father ceased to be Chief Justice. Otherwise, I would always have felt that I was being briefed because my father was a Chief Justice, so I joined the Bar just after he had resigned as Chief Justice.

What is the essential difference you see in the practice of Mumbai High Court and other high courts? 

One of the greatest assets of the Bombay High Court is the fact that we have this system by which a young lawyer joins the chamber of a Senior and he begins to learn the law, begins to understand how matters are conducted and what is the preparation like, so it comes by association there and this is a very important thing where the high court on the original side has contributed so greatly.

You led the Bombay Bar for a decade or so. What was your thought process behind it?

Sudhir,  I felt that the Bombay Bar Association was a club of all original side lawyers, and it was essential to lay down certain principles and perhaps set an example if one could. And if in some small way I have succeeded there, I am a very happy man.

What is your advice to people who are very tense about the legal profession? how do they develop themselves in an all-around manner?

Sudhir, it is so important for young lawyers to know that the law is not the beginning and the end. There is a life outside the law, and you must have that life. You must focus on becoming a well-rounded person. Otherwise, you are just unidirectional. It is just the law and the law.

Watch the complete episode on the link below

Note: The automatic transcription has been lightly edited for a better reading experience. Some names and parts of the transcription may carry inadvertent errors that we are in the process of editing. Thank you for your understanding.

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