How to be a Judge – A guest post by Bharat Chugh on Preparing for the Judicial Service Exam.

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  • This is a guest post by our alumnus Mr. Bharat Chugh. Bharat was with Rahul’s IAS and did coaching in the final year of college. Thereafter, he practiced law for sometime, before going-on to secure first rank in the prestigious Delhi Judicial Service Examination in 2013, at the young age of 23. He recently decided to resign and return to his first love i.e ‘the practice of law’. He is currently working on two books and has various publications to his credit. He is also extremely enthusiastic about mentoring future ‘judges’. In this guest post, he shares his thoughts on preparations for the judicial service examinations. Here’s over to Bharat ! 

How to be a judge ?  

How much to study ? Where to start ? What does it take to be a judge ? Can it be managed alongside the practice of law, or preparation is a full time thing ? How does one remember so many provisions ? What’s the best way to read a law ? How to approach answer writing ? How did ‘you’ do it ?

These are some of the questions that have been put to me by countless bright young law students/lawyers, aspiring to be judges. I am hardly qualified to answer these questions; my only claim to writing this post is my own humble success at the exam. It goes without saying that, I cannot, of-course, say anything more than what Rahul Sir has painstakingly told you a zillion times already, and it can’t ever be bettered.

Having said that, I’d still take the liberty to connect the dots backwards to the days of my preparations and pen-down a few thoughts. I must, however, begin with the caveat that whatever I say must be taken with a ‘pinch of salt’; you see, one has to carve out one’s own method and there is no one formula that fits all. But there are some ‘footprints in the sands of time’ which are not washed-off, that my younger (study-weary!) brothers and sisters can see and take heart in.

I shall not be the ‘judge’ today but judgment-debtor or a decree holder, depending on how you judge this post. With this, and without further ado, let us begin at the beginnings :

  • Starting early – If you are serious about ‘judgeship’ as a career, it really helps deciding early and then giving it your all.
  • Excellence at Law – Aim at excellence at law, everything else will follow. Once you are world-class expert at your subject – you’ll also go on to make excellent judges, bureaucrats, lawyers, law officers, academicians etc, and there are no two views about that ! There are countless examples of bright young aspirants who for some reason couldn’t clear the exam, but went on to become leading counsels. It’s quality that matters. There is a vaccum everywhere if you look around, and it needs to be filled. Just be great at your law and opportunities will strike at your door !
  • Understanding of first principles of law – Having a sound conceptual understanding of substantive and procedural law is an absolute-must; Remembering the key wording of the provisions is important, but at the end of the day, it’s how you interpret law, present the answer in a lucid and pithy manner that makes the difference.

Managing Coaching classes with College and Time Table. 

I coached with Rahul Sir during the final year of my college in the evening batch. I used to attend classes after college hours. I would make it a point to attend classes each evening and revise the concepts learnt atleast once at night before sleeping, or in any event in the day time, between/after the lectures – so as to internalise them. That constant engagement with the concepts learnt is extremely important. I used to think about the legal concepts a lot and did a lot of mental recalling of concepts. The result is that most concepts and cases are still etched in my memory.

By the time I graduated I was also done with the coaching classes, however, I kept on participating in the test-series conducted by Sir. I would do them religiously as it is the nearest that one can get to the ‘exam hall’ experience. It helps time-management and tests your performance outside the comfort zone of your study room.

As regards the number of hours that I put into studies each day : after graduation – I put in atleast 8-9 hours every day  in studies; The hours were spread across – reading, re-reading notes, books, recapitulation, mental recalling of concepts during my long walks. I did intersperse these studies with newspapers (I read the ‘Hindu’) current affairs (‘Frontline’, ‘EPW’), non-legal readings to make things vibrant for me. I also tried going-in for a run almost everyday in the evening to freshen my mind up.

Later when I started practising actively I used to get relatively less time at my study table, but I kept up with the engagement with law – through legal opinions to clients, legal writings (drafting and for publications), court arguments, discussions with colleagues etc.  However, ‘practice of law’ is by no means essential for clearing the exams. Most entrants into the service are fresh out of law school.

  • Importance of language – There is saying that “It is as much in the saying as it is in the ‘said” ! ‘Words’ are the first and foremost stock-in trade of a great lawyer/judge. Infact, this is all she/he has. Try and work on your language. Every piece of legal writing need not be flowery or a ‘judgment by thesaurus’, but in order to steal a march (remember : this is a competitive exam), your writing should still reflect a command over language; an understanding of the nuances and subtleties of different legal words (for instance, the words ‘accepts’ and ‘obtains’ have a world of difference between them and cannot be used interchangeably). Same goes for use of punctuation – the same sentence like ‘Roko mat, jaane do’ can also be re-written as ‘Roko, mat jaane do!’. One comma can totally change the meaning of a sentence and has to be used cautiously and with discernment. As a judiciary aspirant, you cannot be callous or reckless with your use of words. Each word carries a precise meaning and usually no other word can replace it and do the trick. Trying remembering at-least 10 new words everyday, this will enrich your vocabulary. A word, at the end of the day, is an idea. Having an expansive vocabulary means having a wider grasp of ideas and having more ideas. It need not be gainsaid that, in a knowledge driven economy, a man who has ideas is the winner. So knowing words is extremely important. I’ve been asked many a times whether 20s is too late to lay a good foundation language-wise ? of course not. It’s never too late. Very few of us have had the good fortune of studying in excellent schools and colleges. I personally am essentially a drop-out, having been constrained to leave school after 8th standard (due to father’s illness and financial difficulties) and completed the remaining part of my schooling through the ‘National Open School’. I kept working alongisde to contribute financially to home. To cut the long story short, I personally faced a series of setbacks as far as a conventional education was concerned, but I did acquire the habit of reading in my college days. I had realized by then language was not only a source of pleasure and learning, but the only salvation. Language (and knowledge came with it) was power. It had dawned on me that the most successful people in the world thrived on information asymmetries. I started on a reading frenzy and devoured whatever I could lay my hands on. A book to me, was the opportunity to get into somebody else’s skin, walk the town in it, and not just the skin of any person, but the best thinkers that the world has ever produced. This happened during college, so my friends, it’s never too late to begin. ‘India after Gandhi’ is a good book to begin with. Obviously, studying non legal stuff during preparations is difficult, but half an hour of reading everyday is something anyone can manage. Moreover, it will also add a little vibrancy to your routine.
  • Converting a ‘setback’ into Success. – It is a fact little known that before DJS, I appeared in Haryana Judicial Service Examination. Though I made it to the ‘Mains’, I could not proceed further. I’ll be lying if I say this was not a setback. Though initially I was a little dejected, but I tried introspecting. Sir was a constant source of strength. He expressed faith in me and encouraged me to push on. The reasons that I could figure were responsible for me not clearing the exam were : not being able to complete the paper within the requisite time, and writing rather long-ish answers. I worked harder on my time management strategy for DJS. I also used this time to make my answers more concise and sharp with focus on the key issues. In the exam hall, I divided my time according to the marks assigned to each question and stuck to the time limit.  This helped me a lot in the DJS Exam, and I could fare well.

  • Tell a tale – Always Remember : When a writer writes, he creates an experience. In a novel, the author creates a world and ‘invites’ the reader to inhabit it (who, of course, has the option of putting down the book and not inhabiting the writer’s world, so to speak). As opposed to this, author of a ‘judgment’ creates a world and ‘requires’ the plaintiff or the defendant to inhabit it. You see, there is no escape for the litigant or for the others, who HAVE TO read (and inhabit) the judgment, since ignorance of a judgment(or law) is not an excuse. Therefore, making your answers/orders/judgments interesting to read is important and makes the entire exercise more fun. Legal writing need not be tedious, boring or heavy. It is all about telling a tale ! Try to read judgments by masters such as Lord Denning, Justice Chandrachud, Justice Chinnappa Reddy for inspiration. Stand on the shoulders of these giants and try and emulate their writing. Lord Denning, for example, would at many times, use the parties names instead of standard ‘nomenclature – plaintiff/defendant’ etc. His judgments are eminently readable and interesting.
  • ‘Less is more’ – Nietzsche said “My ambition is to write in ten lines, what people write in a book”. The ability to summarize the most abstruse and knottiest of legal issues in a form understandable to the common man requires great mental clarity and linguistic competence. (As Rudyard Kipling writes in his poem ‘if’ : you should be able to talk to kings and queens, yet not lose the common touch). Try and master the art of ‘precis’. Never use a word that is not needed. Superfluity in language is a major put-off.
  • “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line”– Think straight, Think clear. Acquire an analytical bent of mind, try to approach the problem in a logical sequence (in chronology), sift the material facts from the less important, arrive at the key legal issues, sift the admitted from the disputed in the question (as far as facts are concerned) and then narrow down the point of controversy. This should make questions easier to answer; Questions these days are lengthy, winded and factually complicated. The ability to arrive at the core of the issue and framing it beautifully in a pithy issue/question form is skill that is worth its weight in gold, during the preparations and in judgeship. Don’t get caught in the thicket of facts and miss the woods for the trees.
  • Emphasis on the ‘Essence of Law’- Try to understand the essence of each law that you read. Remember, a particular section/law is only a ‘means to an end’, the end being ‘the object sought to be achieved by the law’. No law exists in a vacuum and every law has a social context. Understanding the social context of a law and adjudicating the case keeping that in mind helps bridge the gap between ‘judging’ and ‘justicing’. There is a huge thrust on socially responsive judging. The recent judgment interpreting ‘wife’ to include a ‘second wife, who has been deceived into believing that she is the first wife’ may go against a literal reading of Section 125 CrPC, but it serves the true spirit of the law and advances the cause of gender justice. Reading such judgments and trying to acquire this method is extremely important. Always remember statutes are dead letters in which judges breathe life by their interpretation. Try and master concepts of statutory interpretation such as the purposive rule, mischief rule, golden rule, et cetera. Once mastered, you’ll acquire the method of reading law, and it will equip you with the right skill-set to interpret any law or provision from any statute of the world.
  • Nothing worth having ever comes easy – Be prepared for a hermit’s life and slogging it out with your books. Having a passion for law will make it easier. Cellphones/Social Networking websites ought to be used constructively. Always master the core-areas offline, and if needed, top it up with a few latest case laws, contemporary policy decisions, historical perspective and social relevance/context/impact of your decisions, to acquire that cutting edge. Be hard on yourself, Steve Jobs said the most successful people in the world are paranoid almost all the time, this nervousness/anxiety keeps them up and doing the right thing over and over again. Every minute is precious, to quote Kipling’s expression – ‘fill each unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run’ and you’ll go a long way
  • Inter-statute/Broad based approach : To master one thing, you have to master the things next to it, as well. While reading one law, try and read all the related/associated laws, in order to attain a comprehensive understanding on that issue. The interconnection of one provision with the other (within and outside the statute!) is extremely important. For instance, one case relating to a real estate dispute may involve issues relating to : Temporary injunctions, Hindu Succession Act, Partition Act and Transfer of Property Act, amongst others. Having a broad based, over-arching, inter-statute approach ensures that there is a comprehensive decision and reflects intellectual maturity and vast knowledge of the student. This also demonstrates the problem-solving approach of the student as opposed to a pedantic narrow legalistic approach. Elevating any question to the constitutional level also is extremely rewarding. For instance, all criminal procedure issues will have a ‘constitutional rights perspective’; for eg : law of bail requires the dovetailing of two conflicting demands : on one side – ‘public order/crime control’ in denial of bail versus liberty perspective/due process/presumption of innocence; if an answer on bail adequately demonstrates this balancing-act, this elevates the decision qualitatively and also convinces the examiner that the student’s compass is constitutionally aligned and compatible. The feel of the constitution should inform and run-through each answer.

Last but not the least, have a ‘love for law’. I am reminded of Justice Joseph Stories’ legendary lines : “that law is a jealous mistress, and requires a long and constant courtship. It is not to be won by trifling favours, but by a lavish homage”. Once you acquire the love for law and give it your all, there is no looking back. It shall reward you all of your life, whether as an excellent Judge, Attorney, bureaucrat, law officer or academician !

Wish you all the best,

Regards,

Bharat Chugh

*Bharat Chugh now practices law at the Supreme Court of India and is a Counsel with Luthra and Luthra Law Offices. He can be reached at bharat.law06@gmail.com

(Linked-in profile https://in.linkedin.com/in/bharat-chugh-07b15ba

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