Ms. Ruchi Kohli has been an Advocate on Record since 2007. She has been recently appointed as the Additional Advocate General for the State of Haryana before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. She is the former standing counsel for the State of Rajasthan.
Q. You have been practicing as a lawyer for almost 20 years now and recently became an AAG for the Haryana government. Could you talk about your professional journey so far?
After my LLB from Delhi University, I started my career in 2001 and joined the offices of Mr Sushil Kumar Jain who is now a senior lawyer. He had a lot of work from Rajasthan, all sorts of work — civil, criminal, matrimonial, constitutional. So we did a lot of work over there. I worked with him for about three years.
After that I went to London to join Llyod’s insurance group. After working there for eight months I realised that corporate law wasn’t my calling. I missed the adrenaline rush of presenting a case in a court and wanted to come back and do litigation. So I moved back home. I was independent for some time, freelancing basically. Then I joined the offices of Juris Peritus. For about a year, I prepared for my Advocate on Record exam while working there. I attempted the AoR exam and cleared it in December 2007. After getting myself registered as an AoR, there has been no looking back.
Then I joined the law firm Zeus Law Associates. I was there for about two years. I learnt a lot of Debts Recovery Tribunal (DRT) work over there.
For me, Supreme Court experience was always there. I’ve never really not been in the Supreme Court.
In 2010, I quit after which my husband and I started our own law firm by the name of Alliance Law Group. We started off as a team of three persons — me, my husband Yash Mishra, and our driver Balram who was helping us. Today, Balram is in second year of law college. Now we are a team of 18-20 people. It’s a great team. We have been in business for eight years now.
In my law firm I head the Supreme Court division. My forte has always been the Supreme Court.
Q. What kind of litigation is your law firm into?
We do everything. From criminal to civil to matrimonial. Environment was one of the bigger things we did. There was a time when we were working really hard on the aviation sector also. We didn’t do tax earlier but now we have expanded into that. We have now been doing a lot of corporate litigation also. We are pretty much are like an umbrella law firm where we cater to almost everything.
I really enjoy practicing criminal law since I have a background in criminal. Also, my grandfather Mr R L Kohli was a top notch criminal lawyer. My father is also a criminal lawyer. I sometimes feel criminal law is in my genes.
It has been a task to branch out. When you have your own law firm, you cannot pick and choose. Even my grandfather used to say that as a lawyer you cannot pick your field. It’s your clients who decide what you’re good at and what kind of cases you’ll do.
When you start your own law firm, it’s a beggars can’t be choosers principle. We did literally anything and everything that came our way. We would travel to different high courts to spread the word and get work.
Q. Tell us about some interesting cases you have worked on.
It has been a 19-year-long career for me so there has been a lot of interesting stuff.
I clearly remember my first day of court in 2001. It was Justice (K.T.) Thomas’ court. We didn’t have display boards outside court rooms at that time, and not everyone had mobile phones. My boss had 30 matters listed for that day, it was a miscellaneous day. To be running from court to court on my first day was a challenge.
My colleague asked me to go to Justice Thomas’ court and take a passover. I had no clue what a passover was. She asked me to not worry and said just go and say you want a passover and they wont say anything.
I was so naive that I went and asked Justice Thomas for a passover. He said ‘notice and stay’. I was so blank. The court master told me ‘appearance’. I was so clueless that I told him ‘I’m standing here, what else do I do’.
Then my colleague came and handled the situation and explained to me what had happened. So my first day at court was pretty memorable.
I’ve learnt a lot from my first senior Mr Jain. He’s a very thorough guy. The best thing I learned from him was to make detailed charts in criminal matters. Comprehensive charts elaborating on the case — where the incident happened, who are the witnesses, who has turned hostile, what is the evidence, how the trial court has dealt with it, how the high courts have dealt with it. So if a judge hasn’t read a file, he can just read the chart and reach the relevant page number. It has been helping me till date and I now teach my juniors to make those charts. I’m really thankful to Mr Jain for that.
Also, in my initial years when I was working for Mr Jain and he wouldn’t reach in matters where appeals were listed, judges were very indulgent towards juniors. As a fresher I would be very jittery and scared. The judges would encourage me to start reading the high court judgement while waiting for my boss to reach. One of my good memories is that I was reading out the judgement in an NDPS matter as my boss hadn’t reached the court. When my boss reached, the judge told him that I was doing a good job. We got the judgement in our favour. That was something very encouraging for me as a junior and something that I cherish always.
So I observed in the beginning of my career that the judges were extremely patient and even indulgent with juniors.
Q. What about the challenges you have faced in your career?
For a long time I mostly argued criminal appeals for private organisations and I had to manage to get acquittals. Then I was with the state of Rajasthan for five years and had to shift focus to getting the accused convicted.
So when I would do an appeal where you would want to sustain a conviction, it was the most difficult part because I was from a private practice. My mind would work in the sense that I had to free a guy. My mind didn’t work in the way that I had to make sure someone stayed in jail. So that was a challenge but I really enjoyed that too. My five-year stint with Rajasthan was excellent.
Q. You come from a family of lawyers. Your grandfather was a lawyer, so is your father. Did they encourage you from a very young age to become a lawyer?
I would see my grandfather work all the time. It was a very scary prospect for me to work all night long, to keep reading files all the time.
I think I will agree that I’ve become a lawyer because I come from a family of lawyers. But I have never worked with my father. The only advantage I had is that I had the infrastructure, the library, the knowhow, and a person in the house I could go to in case I had a problem. Other than that, at the end of the day you have to chalk out your own path.
To young lawyers I’d like to say that if you have a legal background in the family, enjoy it, make the best use of it. But don’t forget that you have to do your own hard work. There’s no shortcut to hard work in this profession. At the end of the day everyone has to create their own identity.
In case you don’t have a legal background, don’t take it as a handicap. Someone is always a first-generation lawyer. You have to set a standard for the generations to come.
Q. Do you think women lawyers have different experiences than male lawyers, or that they get a raw deal in any way?
I don’t see myself any different from a man. I don’t see why a man should get an advantage over a women. It’s all in the head. In fact most women deal with more than men have to, in terms of taking care of their families and homes and taking maternity leaves. But so many women are so committed that all this doesn’t put a break in their careers.
I can’t speak for every woman, and I wont generalise my experiences or opinions. I feel if you experience any form of discrimination, you should raise your voice against it for sure. But personally, I haven’t faced any discrimination.
Q. As a lawyer, what problems have you faced in the legal system in India? Do you think legal technology and Artificial Intelligence can fix any such problems?
In today’s context when we are facing a virus and working from home, I feel we must set up e-courts. We are having this interview right now through video conferencing. So we must be able to do more professionally through video conferencing. It should be encouraged.
I would also recommend video conferencing in matrimonial matters where the husband and the wife are antagonistic to each other and they don’t want to face each other and create any unpleasant situations.
The legal system is too large. On a day to day basis we do face a lot of problems that we want to be fixed but it’s easier said than done.
I have seen the transition from not having any display boards outside court rooms to having those display boards on our mobiles today. We have come a long way. Going forward I’m pretty sure that we’ll have a bigger role of technology.
Technology, as far as it assists the legal system, should be incorporated. You can’t completely rely on technology. Though I still like to read law books and make my own markings, there are a lot of lawyers who want digital files. So I think technology that assists lawyers by providing comfort is important.
Q. How are you dealing with the coronavirus lockdown?
We are working from our homes. Our juniors are drafting and I’m checking those drafts online. My husband is working on the phone with clients and coordinating.
I like to read fiction. I enjoy cooking for which I usually don’t get the time so I’m making up for it now. We are also playing board games. I like to travel a lot and go for drives. So I’m missing that.
Q. What would you like to tell law students and young lawyers?
At the end of the day we are in a very noble profession and it’s very important that we maintain the dignity of the profession. We should always remember that someone’s life, someone’s property or someone’s relationship is always at stake when we go to court. So that should be the basis of our approach when we go to court. If we keep extending dates, it causes a lot of misery to our clients. I firmly believe that if you’re honest to your clients, it will always bounce back in a good way.