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Nani Palkhivala’s Top 10 Secrets Of Success

N. A. Palkhivala

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

See also The Maddening Instability of Income-tax Law by N. A. Palkhivala
The book “Nani Palkhivala: Courtroom Genius” is priced Rs. 595 and can be ordered from Mr. Mehul Shah of Professional Book Centre (8693099099 & 9867099099). A discount of upto 15% will be given if you say you were referred by Hurry, stocks limited.
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16 comments on “Nani Palkhivala’s Top 10 Secrets Of Success

  2. jitesh sonee says:

    Nani was a legend in his life time and one get spellbound after reading or hearing about his exceptional traits.How he had managed in absence of computer (era ) or cd is beyond comprehension.

  3. ca ramesh kumar gupta says:

    I am very impressed with the personality and level of knowledge Mr. Nani palikhiwala ji possess, time management in life is as necessary as eating of foods

  4. abdul qadir calcuttawala says:

    very endearing and timeless

  5. Amit Vallecha says:

    Really Nice reading this.

  6. Durgesh Singh says:

    Palkhiwala continues to remain in our heart , guide our action and help us to lead a meaningful life. Hatsoff to this great finance minister india never had.

  7. Rohit Jain says:

    U Can achieve any goal & Success in ur life adopt by above 10 points…….and really very interesting Case studies of our Hn… Mr. Nani Palkhivalas

  8. sushil chandwani says:

    good one sir

  9. Vkraju says:

    If The young Indians read what he wrote in the book ” WE THE PEOPLE ” (about our roots, culture,and potential) and truly believe and assimilate, sky is the limit for india.

  10. C L Parmar says:

    I always loved Shri Nani Palkhiwala for his genuise as a legal luminary. He had the unfailing charm of attracting not only legal fraternity but also the common man alike. In him people saw a saviour who would untangle the knotty legal matters with such ease and simplicity that left people amazed.

    As a human being he seemed to have imbibed the true essence of Geeta – You only own deeds not the outcome. His life is trail blazer of a man full of love and compassion. A great soul that shall always be revered and respected for time to come.

  11. Nani as rightly pointed out by Adv. Vellalampatti Swaminathan Iyer, has a great grip on facts of any matter referred to him. Facts are preeminent features of a case.

    citations have to be read in therms of the facts only; if not one promptly need discard; then judges would be happy to read the citations cited.

    Facts need o be projected if not gone into the very facts might bring a black day to the country; that aspect need to be addressed in a normal spoken style as if you are addressing a judge in person. Then judge would not miss the fact’s importance. That way keep the facts alive in judge’s memory till he disposes of the case.

    humility only would help you to drive the factors.

    Over bearing nature would be heady, always.

    if you are master of facts then you are bound to be very clear mentally. Besides you can help the judge to be clear.

    you should know what are the prime factors of facts you are to prioritize in order of priorities and importance based sequencing, then it would make judge’s work interesting and he would not not make any miscarriage that is the vital duty of every advocate who is representing the issue before the judge; after all there is a client for you seriously looking at you to protect his interests; else, why at all he need to move the court , that aspect every advocate need to thoroughly understand;

    Advocacy is not some oratory ; advocacy is a matter of fact presentation with all relevant detail to the judge, after all judge has to judge your issue that is most vital.

    All these aspects Nani rightly appreciated, so he was the right advocate in the right meaning of advocacy.

    it is right Swaminathan iyer has rightly brought for the new genre of advocates .

    indeed it was good presentation by V.S. Iyer.

  12. Nani really convinced on Art 26 to shrl. Kesavanandabharati of mutt, that he has has a case, and assured him he would succeed at SC, before a constitution bench.

    He was one who thoroughly understood the constitution of india and its articles, after all every article is like a brahmmastra that way parliament need to observe the articles, as Hanuman honored Ravan’s brahmastra, though Hanuman could flout but he did not that is the ethics and morality of the every wing of the government.
    Art 368(4) is clear judicial review could not be taken away by parliament under any constitutional amendment, when so it would appear strange when the first constitutional amendment how it introduced the Schedule IX and brought under it so many Acts, thoroughly outside the parliamentary privileges, obviously it showed even what Justice Mr. Patanjali sastri said was not understood by then PM Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru govt.

    Besides when constitutional amendment 39 was declared void and ultra vires constitution showed no politician could ever be trusted is proved beyond doubt.

    Even 42nd amendment was declared ultra vires in the Minerva Mills case constitution bench.

    All these shows the talented advocates then present like Nani Palkiwala, Fali S Nariman Soli Sorabji and others to name a few.

    You need top class advocacy to keep at bay the cantankerous governments in power.

    In kesavananda it was well proved that we had top class judges present at the court .

    We need very good advocacy to take on any cantankerous governments.

    Even BP Mondal commission classification is full of doubtful too many stances like number of backward classes though Morarji appointed that commission but VP singh as PM some how moved for passing such a very doubtful castes and classes position.

    Advocacy not being sound then it got passed not properly questioned about veracity; that was obviously proved when Karunakaran govt passed the creamy layer Act, to counter SC contempt notice to chief secretary of Kerala govt then in indira sahani case.

    We need to develop very good advocacy f we want a very vibrant democracy is my humble view.

    Law colleges need to pull up their shoes to meaningfully teach law students else the ultimate sufferers are the people of india.

    If done people trust on advocacy will improve else advocacy would get downgraded in the eyes of the people.

    For politicians there is no need of any meaningful advocacy but just road rolling mechanisms only, one shoud know

  13. Amarnath says:

    Nani’s Top 10secrets were very interesting.Those who are enthusiastic to achieve a great position in they are best suited.

  14. CA Ruban Kumar says:

    Principles for professionals. Well laid out and well written. Practice thyself.

  15. Not too many know that Nani Palkhiwala drew his inspiration of his service from the Greatest Indian Genius of all time i.e. Shri Aurobindo, whose spiritual philosophy was ingrained in his Divine soul.

  16. shashikant sonkar Advocate says:

    greatest & inspiration information

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