Nani Palkhivala incredible professional success has inspired several generations of youngsters to improve their own performance & become better professionals. But how did Palkhivala achieve such great level of success? Yes, he was a genius with great intellectual ability but were there any techniques that he followed that we can emulate as well? The author investigates and reveals Nani Palkhivala’s top 10 secrets of success
Nani Palkhivala was a genius and his incredible success as a lawyer has inspired many generations of youngsters. The law reports are full of cases where he has argued complicated points of law and his treatise “The Law of Income-tax” continues to be a best-seller decades after it was first written.
So what was Nani Palkhivala’s recipe for success? Are there any tips or techniques that we can emulate as well in our careers that will help us become better professionals?
Nani Palkhivala was a stickler for time discipline. In his mind, he would allot the time required for the various tasks that he had to accomplish and ensure that they were done within that time. This strict adherence to time management made it necessary for Palkhivala to focus and concentrate on the job in hand and his ability to focus and concentrate made it possible for him to adhere to his self-imposed time restrictions
Well, the new book “Nani Palkhivala: Courtroom Genius” reveals some incredible secrets of Nani Palhivala’s success formula that can be adopted by people like you and me, with average intellectual abilities.
(i) Thorough study of facts & research into law:
To a casual observer, it appeared as if Nani Palkhivala had a quick glance at the brief, immediately absorbed its contents and was instantly ready to argue the entire matter extempore. This was a myth that Palhivala cultivated and even seasoned advocates were taken in by it.
Iqbal Chagla, eminent senior advocate, recollects how he was briefed in a trust matter with Nani Palkhivala. Chagla had a conference with Palkhivala and pointed out a few authorities on the subject. Palkhivala speed-read the judgements and noted their citations on a chit of paper. 10 days later, as the matter was called out in Court, Palhivala breezed in, pulled out the chit of paper and appeared to remember all the facts and principles laid down in the judgements cited by Chagla.
However, this may not be an entirely correct depiction of how Nani Palkhivala worked. While Palkhivala gave the impression in conference of having just browsed through the papers, the reality was that he was very meticulous in studying the facts and researching the law.
This is best exemplified by Nani Palkhivala’s preparation for the Keshavananda Bharati‘s case, the biggest constitutional matter ever argued in the Supreme Court. Palkhivala formed a team of top-notch Counsel including Soli Sorabjee, Anil Divan etc with clear instructions that they should scrutinize the research material and judgements and then brief Palkhivala in the night and morning. Each morning, Palkhivala would indicate the outline of the submissions that he proposed to make during the day and his team had to ensure that all the books and papers were kept ready.
Palkhivala’s defense in the copyright infringement case that was foisted against him by Sampath Iyengar also reveals careful strategic planning and preparation and an approach that no chances would be taken against the opponent.
(ii) Focus & Concentration on the task at hand:
Nani Palkhivala had the ability to focus and concentrate on the task at hand. He did not believe in multi-tasking. Do one job at a time and do it well was his motto.
When Palkhivala conducted a conference, one could see that his table was cleared of all other papers. Only the brief and authorities required for the conference would be placed before Palkhivala. Phone calls and other distractions were not allowed to disturb the proceedings.
The other aspect of Palkhivala was that he would have read up the brief before the conference. His questions on facts were precise and focused and he would keep a list of authorities that he would ask the instructing CAs to keep ready for the hearing.
(iii) Well-thought out strategy before starting the matter:
Nani Palkhivala would formulate his propositions well in advance of the hearing and compartmentalize the facts. So, when he was arguing the matter, it was very clear to the Judges on what propositions of law Palkhivala was advancing, what were the facts and what were the case laws on the subject.
Palkhivala would, at least in important matters, prepare written submissions or propositions that would act as an aide-de-memoire for the Judges.
(iv) Persuasive style of advocacy:
Nani Palkhivala had a two-fold strategy to convince the Court of the correctness of his propositions. Apart from an interpretation of the statutory provisions, Palkhivala loved to paint a dark picture of what adverse consequences would follow if his interpretation of law as not accepted.
Palkhivala’s style was highly persuasive and his expertise of addressing large numbers of the public in the Budget speeches came in handy because Palkhivala instinctively knew what the listeners wanted to hear and gave it to them with a bit of rhetoric.
(v) Courtesy to the Bench & the Bar:
Palkhivala welcomed legal problems and complications. He enjoyed solving these problems the way ordinary people enjoyed solving crossword puzzles. Palkhivala did not regard work as ‘work’ or as something that one had to do to earn a living while craving to do something else. For him, work was itself a source of pleasure; a tool of amusement and something that would refresh him
Palkhivala was very endearing to everyone because, though gifted with incredible intellectual prowess, he was very simple and down to earth. Iqbal Chagla described him as “a man of genius who never lost the virtue of humility; a man of singular simplicity graced with unbounded warmth and kindness; a man of letters as much as of the law“.
Vahanvati also spoke of his experience with Palkhivala. He always treated his clients and juniors with “unfailing courtesy” and when the conference was over, Palkhivala would get up from his chair, open the door, led everybody to the lift and made them feel so special. Vahanvati adds that this was not contrived but “came naturally to him. Humility was part of his psyche and he made people comfortable. A great man is one who is truly humble. He doesn’t need to put on airs. He doesn’t need to throw his weight around“.
(vi) Made complicated issues look simple and boring issues look interesting:
Nani Palkhivala had the incredible ability of making his argument sound so simple and convincing that the Judge would be left spellbound. We could all see this in his budget speeches where his speech was full of quotations, statistics and lots of other information that he would recite from memory and without a single scrap of paper before him.
Palkhivala could also do something which no other person has been able to do: Make a dry and boring subject like the annual Budget look interesting and exciting – even for the common man.
Palhivala’s advocacy was unique in that, to use Vahanvati’s words, “when he addressed the Court, he communicated with the judge. He caught his eye. He caught his attention. And he dominated his brain“.
(vii) Time management:
Nani Palkhivala was a stickler for time discipline. In his mind, he would allot the time required for the various tasks that he had to accomplish and ensure that they were done within that time. This strict adherence to time management made it necessary for Palkhivala to focus and concentrate on the job in hand and his ability to focus and concentrate made it possible for him to adhere to his self-imposed time restrictions.
Palkhivala hated to come to Court early and to have to just sit and wait for his matter to reach. He would walk into the courtroom just a few moments before his matter was expected to be called out. If the preceding matter took longer than expected, Palkhivala would get visibly annoyed and tense though he would not say anything.
If Palkhivala did have to sit in Court, he would busy himself with reading some other brief or case for opinion. He would also settle draft petitions and opinions in Court. After finishing his matter, Palkhivala would rush back to his Chambers for the next conference or to read up for the next matter.
(viii) Single-pointed determination to succeed:
This trait can be seen amongst all successful person whether they be in the field of sports, business or the profession. Such people are highly motivated and self-driven. They set goals for themselves and push themselves hard to achieve that.
Nani Palkhivala was no exception to that rule. From childhood, he was a topper in everything that he did.
(ix) Capacity for hard work:
This was a natural corollary of Nani Palkhivala’s high levels of motivation and strong urge to succeed. Palkhivala welcomed legal problems and complications. He enjoyed solving these problems the way ordinary people enjoyed solving crossword puzzles. Palkhivala did not regard work as ‘work’ or as something that one had to do to earn a living while craving to do something else. For him, work was itself a source of pleasure; a tool of amusement and something that would refresh him.
So, Palkhivala was ready, willing and able at any time of the day (or night) to tackle legal problem. The authors give examples of how Palhivala conducted a conference at 12.30 am with Bansi S. Mehta, an eminent Chartered Accountant, and another at 3.30 am with Ravinder Narain, the well known advocate. The secret of Palkhivala’s unending reservoir of energy was that he never regarded these assignments as ‘work’.
(x) Speed reading & continuous self-improvement:
Palkhivala had mastered the art of speed-reading in which a person rapidly skims a page from top to bottom and assimilates all its important points. His masterful ability to focus and concentrate would have aided this trait of speed-reading.
The other aspect of Nani Palkhivala was that he was very fond of reading ‘self-improvement’ books, especially those by Peter Drucker. It does sound odd that a person of such incredible intellectual ability should be interested in ‘self-improvement’ books but these books were probably just an enjoyable distraction for him.
Vellalapatti Swaminathan Iyer