GUJRAT: Raj Desai dreams of his previous occupation as a documentation lawyer while sitting beside his vegetable cart in a residential area in Navi Mumbai. Pre-lockdown, he used to file bail pleas and help clients win cases in the magistrate courts.
According to the Advocates Act, lawyers cannot take up a different occupation other than practising law. Partially operating courts have forced lawyers to work odd-jobs to make ends meet.
Like Desai, other lawyers have had to become rickshaw drivers, customer sales reps, or delivery boys.
According to Lalit Bhasin, president of the Bar Association of India, individual lawyers make up to 95% of all advocates in the country.
After the lockdown, the judiciary decided to work only on urgent matters through video conferencing. Generally, small-time lawyers work on a case-to-case basis for their income, as against senior counsels who charge large sums for hearings.
Most of these small-time lawyers did miscellaneous work in the magistrate courts, submitting bail pleas, cancellations of warrants, or filing applications for return of property.
Lack of arrests by the police has left lawyers with hardly any work to eke out a living. Those who earned close to a lakh monthly, have now taken up jobs like customer care executives, delivery boys, or vegetable vendors.
A woman lawyer, who used to handle mutual consent divorce cases, cheque bouncing cases, and other work, now works in a call centre.
“Most cases are just being adjourned, leaving less scope for any chargeable work. With no work, I have had to take a job to make ends meet. Though it pays me a fourth of what I used to make as a lawyer, it keeps me engaged.” she said.
Lawyers say the best way out is for the courts to resume hearings. There is a need for lawyers and courts to update themselves with the right technology to streamline operations.
“We need better internet connectivity and jails too need to be equipped with additional infrastructure to enable more proceedings are conducted virtually,” another lawyer said.