Exclusive: Mohit Abraham, an equity partner at PXV Law Partners and the topper of the previous advocates-on-record (AOR) exam in November 2011, tells Legally India everything you have ever wanted to know about the AOR exam and whether there is any point to the designation.
In the last exam of June 2011, only 18 per cent of around 400 test-takers passed,reported Legally India in November 2011.
Abraham achieved the highest score, followed by Anubha Agrawal who ranked second.
“I don’t know how it clicked,” says Abraham who heads litigation at the young law firm PXV. “The result was a pleasant surprise.”
Abraham started his career at Amarchand Mangaldas in 2005 after graduating from NUJS Kolkata, went to Harvard Law School for an LLM in 2007 and began Supreme Court practice in 2008 under AOR Dhruv Mehta. After Mehta was designated a senior counsel, Abraham joined PXV in March of 2010 as its head of litigation.
The AOR qualification he now bagged, entitles advocates to appear, act, and plead in the Supreme Court of India and is now a small cadre estimated at something over 1,000. Seventy-one new AoRs joined after the last exam.
But, says Abraham, compared to an exam like the solicitors exam, the AOR exam is not very difficult.
Most candidates prepare for this exam by taking a month-long holiday, he explains, as the exam takes place during Supreme Court vacations giving ample time to study.
All aspirants need at least five years of prior court practice to sit the exam. But many are around 40-years-old, says Abraham, so some might lose touch with the latest syllabus.
Time-management is also an issue, he says. “I know of cases where very competent advocates who have been actually thorough with the Court and its procedure have not been able to even finish the paper and because of that they have not been able to clear it. The papers tend to be very lengthy”.
But he maintains that “if you’ve actually practiced in the court, 50 per cent of the task is done, and for the rest you just have to go through the procedure and cases once again”.
“What is perhaps most important is attending the preparatory classes undertaken by the Supreme Court on each of the subjects. The classes are taken by prominent Senior Advocates. The most important subject areas are covered in these classes.”
Not your regular law school exam
“The paper is actually set by very senior advocates such as Harish Salve, Raju Ramachandran, Goolam Vahanvati and the like, and evaluated by them too,” explains Abraham. “It is not your regular law school examination: they are looking for your conceptual understanding.”
The questions are not just designed to test memory but also include procedural points such as, for instance, relating to the appointment of the president, and testing you on concepts, he notes. Meanwhile, the drafting paper is totally “application based”, laying out provisions of hypothetical legislation and asking you to challenge its vires.
“If you have been practicing in court for five years, you are already familiar with a lot of these concepts,” he says. “I found that since papers are checked by the senior counsel, if you are able to show familiarity with the court and the rules, with drafting and framing of questions of law in the format and style acceptable by the court, it makes a world of difference in your evaluation. So you should go about doing it the way it is meant to.”
Even the paper on 150 leading cases, does not entail mugging up. “It is an open book exam [and] head notes of the 70-odd leading cases are provided in the exam hall.”
The basic principles of accounting form a part of the paper on “elementary principles of book-keeping and ethics.
“The paper I wrote last year had multiple choice questions of 50 marks, most of them quite easy,” comments Abraham. “Nevertheless for lawyers to revisit accountancy especially when they have been out of touch with the subject, can be problematic.”
In October 2009, in the case of Vijay Dhanji Chaudhary V. Suhas Jayant Natwadkar, the Supreme Court had asked the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and the Advocates-on-Record Association (AORA) for their recommendations on “ways to ensure that more and more people write the exam”.
The SCBA and AORA observed that: “Elementary knowledge of book keeping and accounts might have been necessary five decades ago. But with the availability of appropriate computer software and the capacity of AORs to engage accountants, AORs may not require any knowledge of book keeping and accounts to such an extent as to pass an examination in that subject.”
The recommendations also noted that “many candidates fail in the book keeping and accounts paper and many are deterred from taking the AOR examination because of the book keeping and accounts paper being a part of the AOR examination”.
The bodies recommended an amendment to the AOR examination regulation to delete book keeping and accounts, and only retain advocacy and professional ethics in that paper.
Abraham says that currently it is not clear whether accounts will be included in the next exam. “On the basis of the judgment it does appear that it may not [but] the final call will be taken by the rule committee of the Supreme Court.”
Life as an AOR
Having become an AOR, Abraham is positive of the boost it will provide to his career. “Senior advocates such as Raju Ramachandran, Altaf Ahmed, many high court judges, such as Justice Madan Lokur and Justice Murlidhar have all been AORs.”
“AORs act, plead and take all action including depositing or receiving of money on behalf of the client,” he says. “These are things that are noticed by the court. The court notices when an AOR is there and when he is not there… But it is totally subjective and totally depends on what you make of it.”
The examination process too, adds value to a career, notes Abraham. “The prescription is that you have to be practicing for four years then train for one year. Though many people write the exam without actually having gone through this route, but if you have abided by the conditions it makes a world of difference. You’d actually know most of the concepts and there is clarity.”
The so-called practice of “name-lending”, where an AOR merely provides his name for the purpose of filing a case without actually having or taking any responsibility for it, has also brought the heat on this examination.
But according to Abraham because of a few such name-lenders, the rationale behind the system does not go. “We think of ways in which to remove these difficulties instead of getting rid of the system altogether.”
He emphasises the raison d’etre of the exam, which is to ensure efficient and convenient functioning of the Supreme Court registry through quality advocates who not only must have an office no further than 10 miles (16 km) from the apex court, but are also familiar with this court’s procedure and functioning.
“In high court you get a date well in advance. That is not the way Supreme Court works. Your matter gets suddenly listed,” notes Abraham. “The advance list is the only way you get intimated. And even after that there is no accurate way of predicting when it will reach.
“Imagine what the registry will have to go through if for most of the thousands of matters before SC it would have to go running to advocates residing in farther territories. They need to be contacted immediately. Similar requirements are common in other jurisdictions as well.”
Finally, the AOR is well within the domain of the apex court. “It is not the Advocates Act, but the Supreme Court rules which govern this examination, contrary to popular misconception,” highlights Abraham. “The Supreme Court has a constitutional right to decide who is entitled to practice before it.”