Edited by: Akshita Gupta

Just like other sectors, the legal sector has been devastated by deadly COVID-19. The courts pan India are not functioning physically like pre-corona period, litigation offices are closed, salaries are pending, large scale firing with bleak chances of future hiring, increasing unemployment in traditional set-up due to advancement in  technology, dysfunctionaleconomy and less legal work thereto, lack of client interaction due to psychological fear of getting infected,difficulty in acquiring new clients,etc., are some major challenges that the entire legal fraternity is facing today. The object of this article is to throw open the debate for reconsidering the application of Rules 47-50, Section VII, Chapter II, Part VI of the Bar Council of India Rules (hereinafter referred to as “rules”) r/w Section 49 (1) (c) of the Advocates Act, 1961.

In short, the above rules provide for reasonable restrictions upon advocates to engage themselves in other employments. The philosophy behind these rules is to protect the dignity of the profession and to maintain standards of professional conduct and etiquette. However,this pandemic has compelled us to opt a new approach and introduce a novel system for justice dispensation, with technology taking the lead. The use of video conferencing as a mechanism to conduct court hearings in urgent matters and the e-filing system is the new norm.  Exchange of case briefs via email, online client meetings through various applications, are giving rise to a new system that will gradually and materially change the traditional model of lawyering and practice, if not completely replacing it.

Technology is, indeed, posing a threat to the career of junior and budding advocates. In months to come, the unemployment in the legal sector will be high as a lesser number of junior lawyers will be required. During the lockdown, the legal fraternity has come together and has introduced various schemes to provide financial assistance to affectedmembers. The Supreme Court Bar Association[1], the Supreme Court Advocates On-Record Association [2] Bar Council of Delhi[3], etc., have come forward to help colleagues to meet the exigencies arising due to the crisis. The Bar Council of India has also appealed to Hon’ble Prime Minister to provide allowance to financially weak lawyers[4]. Many big law firms have paid an advance salary of two months to their advocates.  Also, many senior advocates have made donations to help needy lawyers. But such measures provide one-time assistance and putthe extra financial burden on the above concerned bodies. Such schemes are not an appropriate solution for the long run. The economic crisis is deepening with every passing day. The economic dent will be far greater as compared to that which is being stipulated now. So the question is what is the way forward to mitigate the present situation?

The rules, in the changed circumstances, are, now, an obstacle for a lawyer to explore other avenues for the multiple sources of income. The present scenario has forced us to avoid dependency on employers/seniors and look for other channels to maintain a regular flow of income.It has become imperative to clear the “pre-corona period reasonable restrictions”, continuance of which now makes the survival of advocates impossible due to economic slowdown. The time is right to consider the temporary suspension of the rules for at least 5 years so that, we advocates can become “atmanirbhar” rather than waiting for help from the government or various associations.

Further, the economic packages that may be announced in the future could be directed towards larger good for the fraternity. Moreover, allowing advocates to have multiple sources of income may deter them from charging hefty fees without compromising with the justice delivery system and professional ethics.

The idea behind writing this article is to direct ourselves to think rationally and with a changed perspective. We should not allow ourselves to become the victim of the virus by sticking to certain provisions that are hindering our financial development. We should not sit and wait for the economy to get better which, I guess, is a grim reality in the near future. There is an urgent need to devise methods to survive financially in the present economic crisis. Thesuggested modus operandi for the temporary suspension of the rules are as follows:

Suspension to be temporary: As stated above, the proposed change of legal position should be temporary, i.e., only for five years. Once the economy revives as per the national standards, the said rules canbe revived and implemented in letter and spirit again.

Private engagement only: The suspension of rules should allow a lawyer to set-up her private business, or to be an active partner in the firm (R 47), or to participate in the executive character of the company being its director or chairman of the board of directors (R 48), or to be a full-time salaried employee of any person, firm, corporation (R 49), or to personally participate in the management of familybusiness inherited, or succeeded by survivorship(R 50).

Undertaking to choose between the two: Any lawyer wishing to avail the benefit of the suspension of the rules should undertake to, later on, choose between continuing with the practice or to permanently join her newly set up business. Such undertaking shall be an instrument to maintain the sanctity of the rules upon their revival after the stipulated time, or once the economy is fully functional and the nation comes out of the crisis.

Affidavit: Also, the lawyer should sign an affidavit stating that the nature of her business is not violating Section 49 (1) (c) of the Advocates Act, 1961, and is not inconsistent with the dignity of the profession. Such an affidavit will uphold the philosophy behind the rules even during their temporary suspension.

Penalty: The deponent can be held liable to pay damages for furnishing false affidavit or making false statements in an affidavit under relevant laws for the time being in force.

Desperate situation calls for desperate measures and the current crisis is no different. We all love going to courts and win the cases for our clients. This profession is our bread and butter. Our condition cannot be ameliorated by sitting idle and blaming others for not doing enough for us. Currently, the best we can do is to engage in discussion and look for the solutions. None of us would ever dream of making a career shift because we all are passionate about wearing a black coat with a white band. So let us work together and find new ways to survive and sustain in this “new and changed world”. 

The author's views are personal only. 

[1]http://scbaindia.org/SecretaryNotices/854.pdf

[2]https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/scaora-formulates-scheme-for-one-time-assistance-of-rs-10000-to-needy-members-157001

[3]https://delhibarcouncil.com/featured/resolution-by-circulation-financial-support-during-covid-19-lockdown/

[4]https://theprint.in/judiciary/bar-council-appeals-to-pm-modi-for-allowance-to-financially-weak-lawyers-amid-lockdown/387208/

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