“Knowledge from scriptures aid a lawyer if one knows where to look": Senior Advocate S.S. Naganand

Read Time: 18 minutes

Mr.S.S.Naganand is one of the most celebrated lawyers in country, an LLB gold medallist from Renukacharya College of Law, Bangalore University, and a qualified Chartered Accountant with a national gold medal to his credit, he started his practice in the year 1981. He is a recipient of several accolades including but not limited to being designated Senior Advocate by the High Court of Karnataka (2000), Vice President of the Commission of Jurists, Vice Chairman and Treasurer of Maharani Laxmi Ammani College and Trust, among other eminent positions. He has also been the President of the Rotary Club Bangalore and is a Trustee of the Sri Sathya Sai Medical and Sai Media Foundation, as well as of the Lahiri Advocates Foundation. 

In this interview, he speaks about why he became a lawyer, how Hindu scriptures aid him in formulating arguments and hands over a piece of advice to upcoming lawyers.

What made you choose law over Chartered Accountancy? Given that you are a gold medalist in both the courses, why were you more attracted to law?

“While both law and CA are learned professions, due to my pedigree in the legal profession as a third generation lawyer I chose law. Certain fields of law are not handled by a generalist. Since I could specialise in corporate law and taxation, I chose the legal profession”

Could you tell us about the early days of your career as a lawyer, some experiences that shaped you?

“The role of a lawyer demands a wide spectrum of abilities. Apart from studying the facts and law, one has to understand human behaviour. Since a lawyer has to drive home his client’s problem and offer a solution to the judge, his interpersonal skills become very important. In the early years of the profession I was fortunate to work under my late father Sri SG Sundaraswamy who was a lawyer par excellence. He was learned, erudite, humble and persuasive. Observing him preparing a case and presenting it in court gave me a head start. The wide variety of cases handled by the firm made me realise that to be a good lawyer you need to know a wide variety of laws and procedures. Many times assisting my senior I was called upon to argue cases which he was supposed to argue. Many kind judges heard me with rapt attention and commented that my preparation was excellent. On one occasion a Chief Justice praised my performance in court without knowing who I was and later when another senior lawyer disclosed my relationship with my senior, he was pleased to observe that the secret of my presentation was the training I received from my senior. Words of encouragement from the bench go a long way to shape the young lawyer.”

Has being a CA aided you in being a commercial lawyer?

The rigorous training,work experience, test papers and difficult examinations makes the CA course formidable. It widens your horizon and it helps to inculcate logical thinking and the importance of being thorough. An in-depth knowledge of company law, direct tax law, economics and auditing trains you to understand and look at all options which is essential for a lawyer. Most commercial issues including the understanding of balance sheets becomes easy for a CA turned lawyer. The training as a CA is a great asset for a lawyer.

You have argued many kinds of matters, however do you enjoy commercial litigation more or  writ litigation more (non-tax, election matters etc)?

“Over the years handling all varieties of litigation, one’s mind gets tuned to switching from one case to the other even though they are completely different fields. The intricacy of tax litigation, the procedures in civil and criminal litigation, the nuances of constitutional litigation are completely different. Each genre is a challenge and I enjoy all of that.”

It is public knowledge that you are an ardent devotee of Bhagvan Sri Satya Sai Baba. How has this devotion guided you in the profession?

“Bhagwan Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s brooding omnipresence in my life and of our family has been a great source of stability and has given us the strength to bear the vicissitudes of life. Many teachings of Baba which are universal like “Satyam Vada Dharmam Chara” from the Taiteeriya Upanishad is mirrored in the eternal human values propounded by Baba namely Sathya, Dharma, Shanti, Prema and Ahimsa. These guideposts are invaluable in professional life and for spiritual evolution. Ethical standards in the profession are important and the message of Baba has been our beacon light.”

You recently authored a book called ‘the clan’ about the journey of your family. Could you tell us about your experience with the pen?

“The third book I wrote is the Story of the Clan. The first two were based on Adi Shankaracharya’s composition titled Prashnottara Ratnamalika. My ability to translate that work from Sanskrit to English was a mystery to me. With inspiration and guidance from Sri Sri Shankara Bharathi Swamiji I endeavoured to write it. The second book was called Viveka Deepini a consice version of Prashnottara Ratnamalika shorn of its religious content. This was translated into ten Indian languages. For many years the idea of writing about our family was taking shape in my mind. Thanks to COVID and the lockdown the dream became a reality. It was an emotional journey to recall my ancestors and also reflect on my sixty four years. The ups and downs of life, the dramas and the tragedies, successes and failures all get mixed up in the narration, set in different time zones. It was an enjoyable sojourn.”

From a reading/viewing of your interviews and hearing your arguments it is apparent that you derive a lot of inspiration from our scriptures. Could you tell us how you use scriptures to prepare for complex cases?

“Law is a social science. The vast Indian philosophical thought is found in the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagwad Gita and the commentaries by Adi Shankaracharya and others. The epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, the compositions of  Kalidasa, Bhartruhari and Manu contain invaluable insights into human conduct. In practice of law we have to tackle all aspects of human emotions. The knowledge from scriptures often come to the aid if you know where to find them.”

What according to you has changed about the profession from the time you started out as a young lawyer to now?

“The profession has not changed much in the last forty years. The basic structure remains the same. The people who man it have changed. With falling moral and ethical standards in society and the extreme pressures that one faces, the care and precision of the old time lawyers is becoming rare. Everyone wants to make a fast buck. The judges want to clear their board somehow. Sometimes justice becomes a casualty. Young lawyers are deprived of proper guidance from seniors leading to a fall in standards. There are many exceptions to this rule.”

What are the advantages and disadvantages of virtual court hearings, in your opinion sir?

“Virtual court hearings have turned out to be an excellent alternative to physical hearing. Technology has made this possible. I don’t see any difference between a physical hearing and a virtual hearing. Many judges have adapted to the system. It saves time and reduces the carbon footprint and is Eco friendly. It is working very well. The minor disadvantage is the lack of training for the lawyers and the judges. Occasionally problems of the network are also faced but that is not insurmountable.”

If you want to give a piece of advice to young lawyers in this day and age what would it be?Given that judicial awareness has increased and every social issue comes to the court?

”Lawyers young and old must adopt technology. They must use it to their advantage in increasing their efficiency. Lawyers should remember that the profession is regarded as a learned profession and it their duty to ensure that it does not become a commercial activity. High professional standard of ethics and morality is absolutely essential. Thorough study of the law and mastery over facts are the essential tools for a lawyer. Law, it is said, is a jealous mistress as she demands complete attention. Being a service  it is important to update your legal knowledge constantly and advice the clients correctly so that justice can be done. Unfailing respect  and courtesy to the Court and the Seniors in the profession is the hall mark of a cultured professional.”