Ram Jethmalani is the quintessential lawyer. Loud, irascible, never afraid of a fight, given to seeking publicity, he fits the text book definition of a lawyer as seen in Hindi films. In fact, the memorable role of the scheming lawyer Indrajit Chaddha brilliantly played by Amrish Puri in the film Damini is supposedly inspired by Ram Jethmalani.
Anyway, whatever may be the public image of Ram Jethmalani, there is no doubting his razor-sharp mind. Even at the age of 92 years, when most of his peers have called it a day, he is more than a match for his much younger opponents. But now he has taken retirement.
Ram Jethmalani has a unique style of arguing in Court. He has a larger-than-life persona about him that commands attention. Not for him the bulky briefs. He carries just a couple of pages on which he has made a few jottings. He stands at an angle, rests his right leg on the chair, takes an occasional sip of water, and addresses the Court in a clear voice. His voice is loud enough to be heard even by those sitting in the last row. Jethmalani keeps his presentation simple. He never hurries up and you can sense that he is carefully sizing up the judges as he speaks. If he senses that the Judges are not with him, he will either put the point in a different way, if he is convinced about its’ merits, or abandon it, if he feels it is not strong enough. But, all the time, Jethmalani seeks to ensure that the Judges do not lose interest in the matter.
Ram Jethmalani says that lawyers have to be good judges of human nature and one can see him implementing this in practice. He will never browbeat the judges or get into a quarrel with them. If the atmosphere in the court room gets heated, he will break the tension with a small joke. “Antagonizing the judges is the worst way to argue a matter” he advised.
In a Youtube interview, Ram Jethmalani advised junior lawyers to always speak in a clear tone and put the point across in a simple and clear way. “Avoid unnecessary histrionics and be straightforward in your submissions”, he said.
Jethmalani is a great believer in hard work. In the same Youtube interview, Jethmalani emphasized that “the heart of success in the legal profession is Industry (hard work). It is meant for people who are capable of extremely hard work“. He cited the example of a bright young lawyer who went for his first interview. The senior partner asked him how many hours of work he could put in. The young lawyer tried to strain the truth as much as possible and said “About 10-12 hours, Sir“. The old man glared at him and said: “Young Man, I am twice your age and I put in a minimum of 22 hours a day“.
Ram Jethmalani can be very persuasive indeed. Once he has explained what he wants to say, it is very difficult to not agree with him. If you are in the opposite camp, you have to check yourself to ensure that you do not sub-consciously nod your head in agreement with him.
Conferences with Ram Jethmalani are generally a relaxed affair. He is very sociable and usually in an affable mood (except when Karan Thapar or Sagarika Ghose have rubbed him the wrong way). Also, because of his wide interests, you can talk to him about anything and have an engaging discussion.
It is obvious that the hoi polloi cannot afford Ram Jethmalani and nor does he have the time or the inclination to them. At Rs. 40 lakhs for an appearance, only big-ticket Industrialists like Nusli Wadia or Anil Ambani can afford him, and that too only in matters of life or death. Alternatively, it must be a controversial matter that will ensure wide publicity for him (e.g. the Manu Sharma – Jessica Lal murder case). His latest appearance was in the Bombay High Court a few days ago in the Lilavati Hospital matter. It was a treat for all those who were in Court to listen to how he put forth his propositions with amazing clarity.
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