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Fixing The Minimum Stipend: A Rightful Step To Get Away From The Vicious Cycle Of Unpaid Labour

Fixing the minimum stipend:
A rightful step to get away from the vicious cycle of unpaid labour

What is the issue
Recently, the Madras High Court in the case of Farida Begam v. The Puducherry Government and Others has given a groundbreaking decision. It stated that junior lawyers working under senior lawyers should be paid a minimum stipend of Rs. 20,000 per month if practicing in Chennai, Madurai, and Coimbatore. For those practicing in other parts of Tamil Nadu or in Puducherry, the minimum stipend should be Rs. 15,000 per month.

People from the legal fraternity are in support of the view held by the High Court that "Extracting work without payment is an exploitation and directly in violation of the fundamental rights enshrined under the Constitution". It was high time that decisions like this had to come to ensure that irrespective of where the young generation lawyers come from, they are provided the basic finances to maintain their livelihood. As rightly stated by the Hon'ble Court, economic instability in their profession should not stifle the enthusiasm of young lawyers.

The long-standing issue that this case addressed was the vicious cycle of unpaid labour that every first- generation lawyer had to go through in the name of 'learning' and 'gaining experience'.Once these young lawyers become seniors themselves, they often repeat the process with their juniors. This was condemned by the Hon'ble Court, who emphasised the need to build a safe and robust community of lawyers. To rightly quote the words of the bench, "Lawyers as a community have emerged as the biggest change-makers and the forerunners of change in our country, we must lead the change we want to be."

What was the case
The present petition was filed by Farida Begam. It was noted by the court that about 200 applications about the benefits under the Tamil Nadu Advocate's Welfare Fund were pending. The Bar Council of Tamil Nadu pleaded that it is needed on the part of the government to release the funds. In Puducherry, similar benefits have not been paid, and the decision by the government was yet to be taken. The court held that the lawyers of Puducherry should be given equal benefits as the lawyers of Tamil Nadu, as both constitute a part of the Tamil Nadu Bar Council. Consequently, the court also suo motu nominated senior officials from Tamil Nadu's Finance and Law Departments to address the delay and instructed them to provide explanations for the same.

Along with the complaints regarding the release of welfare funds, the Hon'ble High Court also addressed an important matter which has been gaining appreciation from lawyers across the country. The matter was regarding the sustenance of young lawyers in an environment of legal working with meagre or no payments by the senior lawyers. The court pointed out to Section 6 of the Advocates Act, 1961, which talks about the responsibilities of the state bar council. As per Section 6(1)(d), it is the duty of the state bar council to safeguard the rights, privileges, and interests of the advocates in its roll.

When discussing the rights of citizens, Article 21, which guarantees life and personal liberty to individuals, stands as one of the most important rights. When young lawyers are not provided with a minimum level of pay and are forced to work for minimal or no charges, it infringes upon their right to livelihood as protected by the Constitution of India, 1950. Thus, it was pointed out that it was the responsibility of the Bar Council to provide basic sustenance charges to these lawyers, which could help in their growth and development without much difficulty from a financial standpoint.

Past Discussions on the Issue
This is not the first time where the need to pay a minimum amount of stipend to young lawyers has been raised. In the past, many such decisions by the high courts and governments of various states have discussed the matter. Three of the most widely known decisions are:

Delhi High Court: In contrast to what has been stated by the Madras High Court, the Delhi court, while listening to a plea by a junior lawyer regarding the difficulty in sustaining in a financially constrained environment as a young lawyer, had given a different point of view. The Hon'ble court rejected the plea by saying that the increased difficulty for young professionals could not be only associated with the legal field and that individuals from every field face these difficulties during their early years of profession. As the court mentioned, "while exercising its writ jurisdiction cannot single out the legal profession alone and hold that only young advocates have the right to claim a stipend". Though the plea to ask the bar council of Rs. 5000 to be paid to young lawyers was dismissed by the Delhi High Court, yet it appealed to the senior lawyers to be mindful of the financial background of their juniors and to employ an empathetic approach to them.

Kerala Government: The state governments are also not far behind in giving decisions for the welfare of new-coming lawyers. This has been exemplified by the decision of the Kerala government, which announced that every lawyer under the age of 30 with less than three years of experience and an annual income of under one lakh rupees, a monthly stipend of 3,000 rupees would be paid. This stipend would be paid from the Kerala Advocates' Welfare Fund by the Trustee Committee, which has been given the power to do so under Section 9 of the Kerala Advocates' Welfare Fund Act, 1980.

Jharkhand Bar Council: As per the notified scheme of the Jharkhand State Bar Council, every advocate who is newly enrolled in its roll would be paid a token amount of Rs. 1000/month for a period of three years or until the lawyer turns forty years of age (whichever is earliest). An exception to this rule is that if the newly practicing lawyer has started their practice after retiring from or leaving some other profession, then the amount would not be paid.

Importance of such actions
India has a growing workforce. To protect the rights and interests of this large and productive workforce, there are many laws such as the Industrial Disputes Act 1947, the Employee's Compensation Act 1923, and the Minimum Wages Act 1948. These laws ensure that the backbone of our Indian economy, i.e., its labor force, is well taken care of and that their rights and privileges are maintained. However, when it comes to students in the learning phase to become this productive labour, known as the interning phase, there are no significant laws to protect them. There is a glaring gap in the legal framework when it comes to protecting interns.

To highlight the importance of such actions in the lives of young budding lawyers, we should consider the judgment of the Madras High Court. The court noted, "Earlier, access to professional courses like law was reserved only for people with privileged backgrounds. But today, young graduates come from multi-cultural, multi-social, multi-economic, and diverse backgrounds." As these upcoming lawyers come from various socio-economic backgrounds, it is crucial to make the profession sensitive to their needs and demands.

Many young professionals are forced to leave the legal field due to harsh financial conditions. To ensure the diversity achieved by the legal fraternity through a long battle for equality is maintained, we must address the financial challenges these young lawyers face. Not everyone in the field comes from a family that can provide substantial financial support for living costs, food, travel, etc., for a 22-30-year-old with no expectation of earning for the next 3-4 years.

Many students have to choose paths like working in MNCs or taking judicial or other government exams because they cannot afford to go without income for several years. The problem is not just the inability to earn and support their family, but also the need to rely financially on their families for their own survival. This creates a legal world that, despite aiming to foster diversity and equality, reverts to being an elitist institution. Only those who can afford to spend 3-4 years gaining experiences and learning, at a cost of Rs. 30,000-40,000 per month [ minimum] in urban cities where the major institutions of justice are located, can access and work in this field.

The decision of the Madras High Court is one of many steps needed to make our justice system fair and equitable for its own members. This judgment not only halts the exploitative work culture in the legal fraternity of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry but also shows a commitment to ensuring a diverse and vibrant legal community.

As we reflect on this judgment, it becomes clear that the legal profession should support its members at every stage of their careers. It is not just the appreciation for achievements that budding advocates need, but the help during the initial years that truly aids them in becoming great lawyers serving their societies in the future. Achieving a just and equitable legal system that is open to all requires us to bridge the gaps between existing laws and their inability to meet the financial needs of young professionals.

We must all stand together in support of such decisions to build a legal world where every aspiring lawyer, regardless of their economic or social background, has the opportunity to work in their desired field and contribute meaningfully to society. It is high time our legal system becomes a bastion of fairness and opportunity, where talent and passion are not suffocated by financial constraints but are celebrated and supported. The journey to a diverse legal system continues, and every step forward, no matter how small, brings us closer to the vision of a truly inclusive society.

  • Farida Begam v. State (UT of Puducherry), 2024 SCC OnLine Mad 1787
  • The Advocates Act, 1961 (TAA 1961) s 6
  • The Constitution Of India, 1950 art 21
  • Pankaj Kumar v. Bar Council of Delhi, (2022) 5 HCC (Del) 657
  • Khan, Khadija. "Junior Lawyers in Kerala to Get Rs 3,000 Monthly: How the Scheme Works." The Indian Express, 14 Feb. 2023,
  • Council, Jharkhand State Bar. "Stipend - JHARKHAND STATE BAR COUNCIL." JHARKHAND STATE BAR COUNCIL, 16 Nov. 2020,
  • Pande, Padmashree, and Padmashree Pande. "'Underpaid and Overworked': Junior Lawyers Share Their Monetary Woes." TheQuint, 8 Oct. 2022,

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