Ep. 05 – Life of a Law Clerk with Mr. Karan Khetani

Episode Description

What is a Law Clerk? how is it beneficial to a law graduate? In this episode, Karan Khetani answers these and other related questions by taking us to a journey showcasing the life of a Law Clerk / Judicial Clerk.

Mr. Karan Khetani is a 2019 batch alumnus of NLU, Tamil Nadu.

Straight after the law school, he was appointed as a Judicial Law Clerk by the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court. He has worked on matters concerning educational policy, intellectual property law and law relating to arbitration.

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Hey budding lawyers welcome to the podcast !


what is judicial clerkship what work does it engage and how beneficial it is to young lawyers?


To explain this we have with us Mr. karan khetani!


Prasanna naidu : Hi , karan !


Karan khetani: Hi , prasanna ! thankyou for the invitation ! Iam really glad to be here with you!


Prasanna : Karan khetani is a 2019 batch almuni of NLU Tamilnadu straight after law school he was appointed as judicial law clerk by the Chief Justice of Delhi High court . He has worked on the  matters concerning educational policy , intellectual property law  and law related to arbitration .


In this episode we will be talking about his experience as a law clerk at the Delhi High court .


So , lets start !


karan please tell our audience what exactly law clerk or judicial clerk means ?


Karan Khetani : As the name suggests judicial clerkship is basically a short-term contractual assignment which is taken by a law graduate to work under the office of a judge which is basically to assist him in discharge of his  administrative and judicial functions of the court to which the concerned is there appointed. Basically if you talk about judicial clerkship in foreign jurisdiction the post is called as judicial clerk which we often term as law clerk . In most of high courts in the country especially Delhi High Court  the post is referred as a law researcher and in Rajasthan High court and Allahabad High court it is referred as the  legal researcher . In the Supreme court of India the post is referred according  as law clerk / judicial assistant / Research assistant. So , Basically its just a synonym of the post broadly we can term it as judicial law clerk who is an individual who assists the judge to discharge his administrative and judicial functions.


Prasanna : Basically it’s the same thing but the names are different just like the public prosecutor when you go to different places the  are termed with different names but its just the same thing . But I think someone must clear this confusion . There is a lot of confusion and law students don’t know much about this and they wonder what is law clerk or judicial clerk .


Karan : I completely understand that . That doubt exists in a lot of law students . when they are in law school as to there is a notification by the high court that they are recruiting legal researcher is it the same thing the supreme court appoints a judicial clerk . so there is a confusion amongst that . I would like to clarify broadly all of these positions classify as a law clerk as a judicial clerk . so when you file applications for masters in abroad you can mention your post as judicial law clerk / law researcher because foreign jurisdiction tend to understand the term judicial  law clerk phrase more conveniently rather than a law researcher . Clarifying broadly all of these terms are the same its just that these rules are framed by each and every High court or supreme court differently and Hence , whatever the administration wants to term it they term it .


Prasanna : How does one get appointed as a judicial clerk in high court or supreme court of India ?


Karan : So , let’s talk about the supreme court first . The supreme court is to my mind the only judicial institution as far recruitment of law clerk as concern which conducts examination on its administrative side for recruitment of law clerks . That examination is conducted by the  supreme court registry and I think the applications open in April or may of each and every calendar month and then the exam is conducted a month or couple of months later . The registration fees according to me is ₹200 and you can conveniently choose a centre amongst the various cities which are available in india. I think there is one section of 50 marks which is about the general awareness which tests on general knowledge and then there are other sections . The supreme court website has this notification about recruitment of law clerk which gets revised every year . so if a student follows that . i would also like to point out many students get troubled in their mind because they usually follow 3rd party website . Following 3rd website is a good thing  for broadening your knowledge base but according to  aspirant should verify the details which there is on 3rd party website from the actual website of the court because that consists of actual information. Many students sort of  mix it up with different high courts each and  every high court has different criteria altogether . If I talk about High court they do not conduct any examination to say the position is offered based on a interview which is conducted by the judge concerned. so , what a student can do is as far as Delhi high court is concerned . I will be primarily talking about two high courts Rajasthan High court and Delhi High court because I am from Rajasthan and I work in Delhi . These are the two jurisdiction I am broadly aware about . As far as Delhi High court is concerned if an applicant aspires to be a judicial clerk . The first thing they should do is to write to the register general of the Delhi High court . The address and everything are given on the website of the court . They can post an application to the registrar with the CV and a cover note that they aspire to be a law researcher. This is also the process which is followed to become a law intern under the chambers of the judge and what the registry or the concerned register essentially forwards a  compilation of those applications to the private secretaries which are  attached to office of each judge. The private secretary then in turn brings it to the notice of the concerned judge and then according to the requirements of vacancies which are available then the concerned person is contacted and then the position is essentially offered subject to an interview which I mentioned in the beginning . Rajasthan High court i has a form of the recruitment process as a form of advertisements , vernaculars , circular which are released on the websites of the Rajasthan High court .The  notification for each law clerk position which opens up in Rajasthan High court the registry essentially calls up for applications  they say that this is the judge  under  whom the vacancy has  arisen there is one vacancy or two  vacancies as the case may be and the aspirants  can send their applications to concerned  registrar by email or Post whichever  the mode is prescribed and then the  interview happens so if may put in words may be that may seem to be a more transparent sort of   for procedure to aspirants because the name of the applicants are disclosed to the website and which applicant has been selected which applicant is in the wait list everything is told  by the Rajasthan High court.


Prasanna : ya so basically because every High court has sort  of autonomy in its internal working matters so each high court has different procedure but as you said you can make an application  in  Delhi high court website so can you make an application anytime throughout the year ? 


Karan : yes you can make an application anytime throughout the year but what I would suggest this is what I personally did I interned  I personally work under Honorable Mr.Justice Rajiv shakdher. So, during my law school in my 4th year I interned in his chamber . I got to know the working , expectations which the  judge has  from his law clerk , work demands , working environment . There are many students who just go behind the tag of being a law clerk or a judicial clerk so I would suggest to the contrary as far as this practice concerns . As a law clerk This might be a question in your bucket as to what work profile does a law clerk have ? so I would want to as far as my contractual letter is concerned I would want to open discussion regarding this . I’ll read out my contractual letter to you so there is a column of duty hours so it says that A law researcher may be required to attend the office or residential office to whom she or he is attached to even on gazetted holidays or local holidays . The duty hours shall be fixed by the honorable concern . There is no defined work profile whatever the judge says that’s the work. Whatever the work hours are given by the judges are the work hours . So , in that case I would suggest that the aspirants should shortlist the chambers he/she wishes to apply to and then specifically direct his/her own application to that chamber . I would suggest that they should first intern in that chamber in their law school life and then they will better chances also and they will have an edge over other law clerks and they’ll also be able to assist the judge better . because law clerkship  involves the mundane task of fact checking  orders judgements which are announced on a daily basis and it’s basically research oriented task so you need to assist the judge concerned with with your research inputs on matters which come up on a daily basis you need  brief the judge concerned about the matter specialist which are  listed  tomorrow you have  to read all the case files this is entirely different from a litigation office a person would have interned earlier .


As far as working with attorney is concerned your energy has to be channelized at one particular direction . You know that this is the you have to set before the Honorable court . You know that these are the facts and you have to search case law on specific points . In office of the judge the best of the job that you will be working from the scratch. The complaint comes to you , you hear arguments of both the side and the judge will use this law clerk as a sounding board to test propositions of law then you can give your own inputs . So you need to balance arguments of both the sides . You need to have crisper understanding which one inculcates in his experience as a law clerk and then there are no fix hours . I remember myself  and my other fellow law clerks working for almost 15-16 hours . We reached the Delhi high court before the covid times at the 10 am and we used to get off from the high court at 10 in the night . We again used to go to the judge’s house and work . So it’s a very mundane task and it’s backbreaking but it has its own thrills.


Basically what a law clerk position offers you is it acts as a bridge before a student who has just graduated  jumps to the field of litigation or whatever she/he want to do that she/he wants to be a judicial services aspirant before you dive into that  field it gives you a bridge to understand the complex issues of the law from the perspective of the bench and then you can apply those things which you have learnt. This is a very important aspect of law the decision making process of law Once you understand how decision making is done it helps you to propose a meticulous solution to any problem whatsoever involving any complex stage of facts . So that’s how a position of law clerk helps an aspirant.


Prasanna : So, karan can you tell us the main requirements that court considers while hiring a judicial clerk ?


Karan : so , the best thing about a position of a law clerk is there is no PQ required. In most of the jobs may aspirants would complaint that they need  experience of one year or a couple of years. The judicial clerk position does not require any prior experience whatsoever  . So that is actually a position which is made for fresher. In so far experience concern there is no professional experience required . All I say is you need to have a good command . As far as a law clerk’s position is concerned the appointment is vested in sole discretion of the judge concern . So maybe when you go for an interview it varies . That’s why it’s important to know the office in which you intent to work . So I’ll talk about my personal experience when I went to give an interview I wasn’t asked complex questions about arbitration law or whatever I was asked general questions. So that depends from judge to judge basis . I have friends in Rajasthan High court working as legal researcher and I asked him how was the interview one said that one judge asked specific sections as to what do you mean by this principle of law or what does this order of civil procedure code signifies.


So maybe my advice is you need to  have generally understanding of the law and the good thing by which you can gain edge over it is you can see the website of the respective high court or you can see the office in which you are going to give an interview under XYZ chambers . You can see from  the website the court as to what roster that  chamber is presently  handling and what is a roster is that the chief justice of the concerned High court or let say  supreme court  frames roster of judges roster includes the types of matters which a particular judge will hear in a given period in which that roster is effective so that chamber is  handling a matters of education policy. So you should be aware again this is not a hard and fast rule but it is advisable that you should be aware about what are the recent decisions let’s say in the field of educational law and is there a recent  landmark ruling in high court or supreme court . You should also follow I remember one law clerk friend of mine from Rajasthan High court who was telling that  recently when he went to give his interview a couple of days back that particular judge authored a judgement on a particular issue . So he was asked actually about his understanding on that principle of law he gave his understanding but then the judge said that are you aware that I wrote this judgement unfortunately he was not aware about that but that did prejudice his application in any manner but I’m just general view regarding what questions you can expect in an interview. There is no fixed requirement as to what the judge sees it’s the discretion of the judge and the discretion can be exercised as I said after the interview is conducted based on your legal skills , speaking skills or presentable skills . Basically it should be an overall package .


Prasanna : but you can do some preparation by  just going through the job description on the notification or by just knowing what types of matters the judge is handling.


Karan : General principle of law you should definitely know because that you would have studied in your law school in addition to that you can see that what roster that particular judge is handling . Then you can research upon that roster and also get in touch with the law clerk who are presently working under that judge . If you are not able to get in touch with those law clerks so that’s why I advice that you should be interning under the chamber first . Because then you will  have an understanding that’s what your boss expects from you . Once you have an understanding as to what is the task and what is the position then you will be able to show your skills and talents better .


Prasanna : Right ! Right  ! You will also be able to build some contacts you can refer to .


Karan : Another good thing about the position of the law clerk is that High courts and supreme court functions based on the roster . These roster by the way there is no hard and fast rule when the roster might change but technically as I have observed in Delhi High court the roster changes in every 6-7 months . So the good thing about law clerk is I’ll tell you from my example I started my job in June 2019 as soon as I graduated from the law school at that point of time the judge I’m working under we had arbitration and conciliation act matter . So we were hearing petitions for appointment of arbitrations for section 9 and 11 petitions  for the same act. After that 3-4 months later our roster changed to a  very interesting roster as educational matters . That roster had banking matters , educational matters and matters related to Delhi development authority also . While working in that roster after a period of 3-4 months now  from March 2020 we have the roster of commercial matters . So that point I’m trying build upon is that despite of the fact as to whatever the research area or specialisation a candidate might have law clerk is a position which gives you a field to explore a diaspora of legal issues and varied legal interest of maybe any field. In law school you may be interested in arbitration because you studied arbitration or you would have done arbitration moots or you wrote about arbitration so you inculcated an interest towards arbitration . So while you act as a judicial clerk you are true to your arbitration side but let’s say that while dealing with commercial matters day-to-day basis you gathered an interest toward intellectual property law because those are kinds of Matter you are trying to deal with and each and every matter is different and each and every roster has a different flavour of law altogether. So that sort of brings you under the small small umbrellas which gets covered under as the bigger umbrella of law . So a law clerk in this time period it gives an aspirant a sort of freedom to explore to what he/she wants to do with his/her career in law . So that’s one of the important aspect of the law clerkship . Prasanna : So , do the  courts pay salary or stipend to these law clerks?


Karan : so I would call it as a stipend or you can call it  as a consolidation salary also . So as far as Delhi high court’s concern it pays ₹35,000 per month as far as Rajasthan High court concerned as I’m informed it pays ₹50,000 per month and as far supreme court’s concerned it pays ₹50,000 per months but by a recent notification I’m informed that it pays ₹65,000 to the law clerks who have completed an year as a position of law clerk .


Prasanna : so , do you mean that it can extended beyond a year ?


Karan : No , are you talking about position of judicial clerkship then yes as far Delhi high court is concerned and I’m sure this is the position in other high courts also judicial clerkship  is basically a contractual  job which is in Delhi High court it is offered for a position and again it is subject to the discretion of the concerned judge but generally it is offered for a period of one year which is extendable up to three years and even after three years it can be extended subject to the discretion of the judge but that has to be via written authorisation of the chief justice of that High court. I’m mentioning chief justice of high court because chief justice is the head of the administrative side of the concerned court . So  all the rules and regulations are signed by the chief justice because it’s in his authority that those rules and regulations are framed . So it is as far as Delhi High court is concerned I’m sure this is the scenario in other courts as well .  It is extendable upto 3 years it can also be further extended subjected to discretion of the judge and the written permission of chief justice of the High court and there is an age requirement which is the candidate should be less than the age of 27 at the date of the application .


Prasanna :  ok so I’ve still got one year to apply . So we got an overall idea that what work does it include can you just break it down how is your daily routine in a court when it was working before the covid times ?


Karan : Before the covid  times our daily schedule was that you have to attend necessarily the court proceedings even if I would this my personal advice even if  you think that you can more work more effectively on the matter which is listed tomorrow by sitting in the Chambers and then you can prepare briefs on that  but I would advise the aspirants who want to become judicial clerks to attend judicial proceedings daily from 10:30 to 4:30 you should necessarily attend the judicial proceedings daily then there it gives you an unmatchable experience and this is what it is all about so so we attend judicial proceedings daily then after that daily orders are finalized and  then we fact check let’s say there are  40-50 matters usually we had 40-50 matters  listed but when we were in the educational roster there were 100 matters which were listed on a daily basis so fact-checking all those orders then concerned judge who I used clerk under used to sit in his chamber till 9:00 pm or 10:00pm and till the time the work does not get finished and he ensures that the orders are corrected and signed . So we correct them then it goes to the concerned judge then he makes the correction and those are signed and uploaded . So that the orders are transported to the parties and then  further whatever steps are to taken can be taken . Then in addition to that the work involves preparing briefs about the matters which are listed on the next day . So the cause list comes a day prior in the evening about 5:00 or 6:00 pm . So you know that these are the matters which are listed for tomorrow and then you read those files and whatever matters are important or whatever matters are for arguments you get to know by reading the previous order . So you need to short list those matters and you need to brief those matters to the boss important and in these arguments if there are any fresh matters which are likely to be prepared a list of dates . See when you are interning under an office of the attorney it’s very easy to prepare a list of dates . This is what I learnt from my boss because he ensured that we learned this . When you work under office of an attorney you only have one fixed perception in mind that you should know that in  which way the case you want to proceed . But you pick up only those dates which are convenient to you . In the office of the judge you can’t miss out on any detail you have to pick out each and every date irrespective of the fact that it suits the petitioner or the respondent . In the decision making process you need to weigh both the sides equally after weighing you have to decide that which side is a bit heavier where obviously legal question is answered. So preparing a list of dates is very important part of the law clerks life then preparing brief arguments and briefing the judge then judge may also question that have you read about this provision or about recent follow up or recent judgements .  So it doesn’t let sleep at you night thinking the next day the judge might ask any question what your answer should me . So yes this is the daily routine of a law clerk .


Prasanna : It’s really a hideous  job. There are some judges I don’t know the name but in Bombay High court there was one judge named prathawala who used to hear matters till midnight like 1:00 am or so.


Karan : This is the  practice which was  followed by the concerned judge I worked and in education matters . See in education policy matters the thing is that people will file a petition can be filed against Delhi university or guru gobind singh  university and you know in education policy there is supreme court judgement which says cut off rate is accent. So for any admission the cut off rate is acrocent. There is a technical irregularity which has been committed by the University concern and the petitioner approaches the court with the writ petition . Two days afterwards is the cut off date so you see how much is the pressure on the court. These matters require abjudication as of yesterday . Everyone will say hear my matter not only hear my matter decide and pronounce the judgment also . So you see it’s a very hideous task . We people say that being a judge is a luxurious position as fancy it may sound it is not. Because judge works really hard . After hearing the matters people think the judge’s work is over it is not he has to correct all the orders , he has to do the  pending judgements there are reserved judgements , he has to read next day’s files also . So it’s a a lot of work which is involved and it’s not an easy job .


Prasanna : yeah so people usually compare to how many hours the court is open like they only work from 10 to 4 or 10 to 5 . Before and after the court working hours there is alot of work involved which is not popularly known .


Karan : In educational policy matters that what I was telling you that because we have 100 matters daily it was impossible to complete all the matters of list till 4:30 so the concerned judge and we used to hold the court till 7 or 7:30 pm . Straight away from 10:30 am with only half and hour break in the afternoon from 1:30 to 2:00pm then again starting  from 2:00 to continuously till 7:00pm . After that you have to do orders and other tasks so your mind just gives up and   it’s a very hideous job.


Prasanna : okay ! so we got an overview about how the courts and the judges work. So can you tell me how beneficial it is for the young law students in terms of career growth ?


Karan : see Prasanna , let’s say that the person wants to pursue higher studies because this is an incorrect perception which many people have which  I have witnessed. Many people say that 5 saal law karlo uske baad 1 saal ki clerkship karlena fir woh recommendation letter leke foreign padhne chale jaana . This is the most incorrect perception which young law students have first of all to clear all the air if you apply for masters degree you are required to submit academic references not professional references . You can not submit the reference of the judge . You may submit his name for the assistance of the scholarship but not for the admission . I’m talking about the Universities like Oxford , Cambridge and London school of economics. These Universities mandatory say that you cannot submit professional references you can only submit academic reference . Academic references are those references like teacher or principle from your law school . About advantages of  law clerk position as you asked that how it helps many people will say that it helps you to learn what you should argue or how you should argue . According to me while working under the chambers of the judge and watching judicial proceedings daily a person understands what not to argue . You learn that  quote craft as to what legal points will please the judge , how should your argument should be structured that it would please the judge . This is also quintessential during covid times when we are running virtual courts that you don’t have to lengthy enough because in physical courts you have the liberty to go on and on and on but in virtual courts you don’t have that liberty you need to be crisp and you have to able to convey your point to the judge .so a person learns how not to argue when you have those conversations with the judge those conversations are very important for not only legal understanding but also for development as a person because you are interacting with the authority of such a nature that  maybe it’s an once in a lifetime experience and as I mentioned in the beginning it gives you a holistic understanding of different areas of law irrespective of your research interest. So that is how it helps the students . I have seen many students who want to go as you have told you work with public policy ting tang there are many students who wish to go for public policy what they do is  they identify the office of a  judge which is presently dealing with constitutional significance which is basically the division bench 1 or division bench 2 of the concerned court because all the PIL are heard by division benches of two judges . A  person shortlist the office of a particular judge and works under that judge for a short period of time let’s say 6 or 7 months then they gain that experience and start working with public policy ting tang because now what is the edge they have is they know what arguments should be put in a public interest litigation which will definitely impress the judge . Art of drafting and art of arguing I will keep on talking about which you inculcate and learn but  overall it gives holistic exposure of this field .


Prasanna : I agree ! This is the last question of the podcast Can you share an incident from your clerkship career which is very memorable to you ?


Karan : Each and everyday is a struggle Prasanna but I have always been fascinated about the educational roster which the judge handled . I’ll share a case from that . What happened was that roster was allocated to us on September or October 2019 . One day a matter came which said writ petition so and so number 2015 . I have always been disappointed before acting as a law clerk as to why matters takes so much of time to get adjudication . Now as I have worked  under a judge’s office  now I know why it takes so much time . I was very disappointed because there is an education board say XYZ the students who were the  petitioners  before the court were a group of students who were abandoned and forsaken and there was a child care home who took them under their custody. Those students also had benefit of education through that child care home . So those students completed grade 10 and subsequently they also completed grade 12 examination also and for them this was a very big deal because they dint expect that would be able to deem the benefits of the education . Now one problem with the education board was that whenever you file or register yourself for grade 10 or grade 12  examination. They ask your name as well as your surname . So if a person does not have a surname they have to create a surname in order to register themselves for the examination because the registration form will not accept only the first name . There has to be a surname . Those students what they wrote while they were filing their application they wrote their first name for example karan and the surname as ABC ( name of the childcare centre)  which was filed by the care centre for the sake clearing the registration process.  After they graduated from grade 12 the other govt documents included just their first name so the students wanted their surname to be removed from their grade 12 and grade 10 marksheets that’s the only issue which is there in the matter and this matter was pending for 5 years because the educational board taking time to revert with instructions . So when the matter came before the my concerned judge for one day so the judgement was reserved by the concerned judge . In the arguments it came to be that the concerned educational board did have some rules for change of name . There was no provision for abandoned students and  the change of name can be done only within a year and the time duration of the students have been expired. The argument by the students was that we are students who are abandoned and for us filing this petition itself is a big deal because that was pro bono litigation . It’s not our fault that we are abandoned and the education board compulsory asked for the surname we were ready to give the exams with the first name . So this was a case where the law is of no use . There is a vacuum in the law . There is no rule by the education board or a statue about the abandoned student / forsaken student to go back to the identity . So XYZ board did not forsee such a situation . The judge essentially relied upon the international convention on child rights to say that each and every child has his /her  own identity. The court directed the board to remove the surname and issue them fresh marksheets . So this was the one of the most memorable incident . This was the short case yet it was still pending . The judgment was relied upon the international convention of the child rights . The smile on the face of the students while giving the judgement gave me the job satisfaction .


Prasanna : yes that’s why we can see why this incident is so memorable to you . Thanks karan !


Thanks for sharing your experience and this informative conversation ! Thank you so much for listening to this podcast if you like this podcast you must also check out other podcasts and follow us here so that you don’t miss any episode.

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