A Timely book on law and its practioners


Book: Legal Eagles: Stories of the Top Seven Indian Lawyers [991 words]
Author: Indu Bhan
Publisher: Random House, India
Year of Publication: 2015
ISBN: 9788184006353
Pages: 233
Price: Rs 399

Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander

The legal profession is mostly shrouded in mystery. There is perception about lawyers and legal profession that renders it synonymous with evil, deception and lies in the eyes of common masses. This perception has been reinforced by the malfunctioning of justice System in India where justice is rarely dispensed through courts. Common people even pray to God that they should never get any acquaintance with court houses or lawyers. The lawyers, too, are to be blamed for this image of their profession. However, there is more to the legal profession than meets the eye. If there are misperceptions about the justice system, there certainly are lawyers who fight for the justice and make the justice system work. Any functional democracy cannot be imagined without a legal and justice system that makes it vibrant. Hence, it is inevitable for every republican democracy.

The book under review, written by a seasoned journalist, Indu Bhan, documents the life stories and contribution of seven Indian lawyers who have made a mark in legal field. In the Foreword to the book, Former Chief Justice of India, RM Lodha, while emphasising the role of lawyers in dispensing justice rightly observes, “The effectiveness of justice delivery is qualitatively dependent on the performance of the lawyers. Everything that goes on in the Supreme Court is related to something important and, as a part of process, it is the quality of lawyers, their knowledge, analytical skills and ability to develop legal and constitutional principles that enable the court to consistently arrive at ‘correct decisions’. The judgment skills of the judges are definitely a critical factor, but the availability of quality legal assistance is directly and intimately connected to the adjudicatory process” (p-xvi). Justice Lodha is all praise for Indu Bhan as he states, “Her work will fascinate all those who want to gain an intimate view of individuals who have contributed to the advancement of law in their own way in the last two decades or so. The author takes the reader along while drawing biographical sketches of the legal eagles and, in the process, she examines with an open, inquiring gaze the secret of their success in the profession. The work is splendid” (p-xviii).

Indu describes the aim and intention of her book “to be a pleasant reading experience and ideally, to be a source of inspiration for aspiring lawyers” (p-xx). Indu describes her attempt as an analysis of positive qualities of the selected lawyers. Her inferences can be best summed up as “perseverance, dedication, perfection in the preparation method and the finesse with which they carry out their tasks” (p-xx).

The book discusses, analyses and deliberates about the lives of seven lawyers. Though the list is not exhaustive, these seven do represent the legal profession in today’s India. Each chapter uses the biographical approach to study and critically examines the work, posts held and contribution of the lawyer to the legal legacy. Harish Salve’s maiden appearance for Dilip Kumar became his tryst for a life long involvement with great personalities. Mukul Rohatgi’s lessons about court craft and how to behave with judges even if the lawyers are not well-acquainted with the subject under discussion are essential lessons for any lawyer.

Abishek Manu Singhvi’s emphasis on personal ethics and his critique that bar mostly preaches ideals without implementing or practising them. He has a cautionary note for lawyers who don’t realise the fact that most cases are won or lost on rejoinders. Arvind P Datar holds writing and teaching law as a path to success and to further his personal conviction for not visiting the office of any client, that resulted in serious restriction in the number of cases for pleading. Aryama Sundaram, filed and won the first medical malpractice case in India. Sundaram works at the Madras High Court, which has produced most legal luminaries. Sundaram has the privilege of being designated a senior advocate even though he was the youngest lawyer in the history of Madras Court.

Prashant Bhushan’s legal activist role has been highlighted, too, with his role in filing Public Interest Litigations (PILs) and using them as a tool for social change, exposing corruption and the politician-corporate nexus. He is critical of the role of lawyers. According to him big lawyers have become mercenaries, guns for hire who can protect any person in order to make money. Many times he was made to suffer for his views and for standing for truth. He was physically attacked for his view about Kashmir. He says, “I think my stand on Kashmir has been misinterpreted. It has been misinterpreted, misunderstood and twisted. The context of a referendum has been misconstrued. A referendum is to decide whether or not the army should be deployed to deal with internal threats in Kashmir. The army or paramilitary forces have been provided impunity by the Armed Forces (J&K) Special Powers Act, 1990, which means that even if they commit murder or rape in the state, they are hardly ever charged for it, thus encouraging all kinds of human rights violations. As a human rights activist my concern was to raise this issue” (pp.168-169). This stance shows that Prashant is no Arundhati Roy as some people had wrong notion about him vis-à-vis Kashmir. Justice Rohinton F Nariman describes his story of legal volunteering.

Overall, the book is a welcome read, with inspirational content, but it has failed to highlight the conflicting perspectives about the lives of these lawyers. A critical analysis of their work would have been much appreciated. Still, despite its shortcomings the book offers a lot of inspirational stuff for lawyer fraternity and those intending to join it.  

The reviewer is a writer-activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir and can be reached at 

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 December 2015 on page no. 21

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