Law is a demanding profession. All the more if you happen to be a public litigator. “It’s chaotic. Everyone wants everything yesterday,” exclaims Neeha Nagpal, Advocate, Delhi High Court and Supreme Court of India. Her calm demeanour, however, defies the statement. It won’t let you know that an inundating pile of work awaits her as she patiently answers all your questions. Clearly, this is one of the qualities that has helped her excel at her job and made her one of the most distinguished litigators in the country.
A conversation with Neeha tells you that her serene persona is a way to tackle the storm that is brewing at work every single day. Between endless client meetings and her time in court, sometimes she doesn’t even realise how the time passes by in the blink of an eye. “At one moment, it’s 8 in the morning and before I know it, it’s already 10 at night,” she adds.
A University of Warwick graduate, she has skillfully handled some critical and defining legal cases of our time—the decriminalisation of homosexuality being one of them. She regards it as a passion project and the most defining case of her career. The seeds of the movement were sown in 2017 during a dinner table conversation with a childhood friend. It culminated in a petition that ultimately led to the historical 377 verdict. “Later, he approached me and said, ‘Today, thanks to you, I am legal in this country.’ It was an emotional moment for me,” recollects Neeha.
As Indians, we have a tendency to be wary of anyone remotely connected to law and law enforcement. Neeha is changing that perception with her humane approach to the clients, cases, and law. “As lawyers, we are at a place where we can make a difference and we should make a difference,” she asserts. The compassion also comes from her commitment to community service and self-love.
Neeha’s journey over the past 15 years has neither been simple nor easy. To excel professionally, she’s had to overcome pain and personal loss. Right before she began practising law in 2008, her grandfather passed away shortly after her father’s unfortunate demise. At just 24, she had to step up as the matriarch of the family. The stress took a toll on her body and resulted in a diagnosis of medical conditions. Her mental health was in shambles and she knew she had to take charge before it started reflecting on her vocation.
To improve her health, Neeha put her skills as a lawyer to good use and got to the root of the problem. She started with a similar approach—meticulous research and multiple courses in gut health, hormones, and nutrition. Through the process, she discovered a whole new passion and decided to share the joy by coaching others. “It has helped me immensely and now I am helping others. For me as a human being, what really helps is doing a form of community service. As a lawyer, I am constantly doing that and now, I am doing the same as a wellness guide,” she shares.
With stellar credentials, she makes a strong case for dreaming big and how the sky’s the limit if you know your true worth. Neeha’s inspiring story had to be a part of our #POPxoWomenWhoWin series. In a recent chat, she talked to us about what it takes to be a top-notch lawyer in India and how kindness doesn’t cost a penny. Excerpts below:
How do you begin your day?
I am a morning person. I like to plan my day ahead. I wake up around 5 am on most days. I start my day with a workout session. My commitment to myself is as important as my professional commitments.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
Oh, it’s crazy. There are times when I do not even realise how the time has passed by. I have a very full day and I try to segregate it consciously. Each one of my days is focused on every aspect of my life—my spirituality, relationships, vocation, and fitness. That said, work still occupies the majority of my day. This is followed by workouts and catching up with friends. I love spending time with my mum and with my nieces. I also do meditation.
You are a lawyer by profession and a wellness expert by passion. Tell us more about your wellness journey.
At the age of 24-25, I literally had to step up to take care of the family. So I consumed myself with work. I was a plus size girl back then and started binge-eating under all the stress. I was constantly living a very high-stress life. I felt very unwell. I wanted to resurrect myself. When I started working on myself, I kind of realised there was a huge gap. Everybody tells you to lose weight, and eat right but nobody tells you how to do that. The journey led me to study wellness. I ended up doing multiple courses in hormones, nutrition, gut health, and detoxification. It is like a passion project for me now and I love to mentor people and guide them.
What inspired you to pursue law?
I think I am blessed to grow under the guidance of two great men—my father and Mr Arun Jaitley. My father and Mr Jaitley were childhood friends and I grew up observing them and constantly assimilating how they looked at the world. My father always said it’s very important to know the law of the land. So, that’s where my bent for law came from. From Mr Jaitley, I leant how to conduct myself, think before I speak, and articulate my thoughts. It was a culmination of growing up around a man who was interested in legal issues and current affairs and being influenced by a man who was a successful lawyer. That’s how I decided to pursue law.
What would you say has been the turning point in your career?
I have had the privilege to work on some of the most defining cases, the decriminalisation of homosexuality in India being one of them. It was an emotional win. I fought that case for one of my friends. It was his petition I had filled which ultimately also led to the discrimination against homosexuality. Of course, I can’t take the credit for all of it. But to be a part of that process was a very special experience. It was definitely a turning point in my career.
A mantra that you swear by in your professional and personal life?
Be so good they can’t ignore you and kindness doesn’t cost a thing.
What are the key skills or qualities that have helped you succeed?
Being responsive to clients has helped me a great deal. Plus, being able to assimilate facts, being able to assimilate knowledge, present it well, be articulate, and, most importantly, being organised at all of this has helped me.
What would you say has been your biggest professional accomplishment so far?
One of the biggest challenges I navigated was access to justice during the initial few days of lockdown in 2020. We were grappling to understand how the legal system will work. I think being able to survive through that and get justice for my client through that time was a big accomplishment. Then again, after 15 years of my career as a lawyer, I believe keeping at it is what matters the most. I have shown up every day, against all odds.
There are a lot of preconceived notions when it comes to women lawyers. When you started working, did you face any hurdles?
I am very focused on being so good they can’t ignore me. Yes, sexism exists in my field but I do not let it bother me.
What would be your advice to those considering a career in law?
Be patient. You will have to burn the midnight oil, not just in the initial days of your career but at every stage. There are new laps to be conquered as you progress. Each one of the big, accomplished lawyers that you see today, they have put in a lot of patience, they are ready to work hard, and you should be too.
How do you unwind?
I like to finish off a heavy day with a workout. Sometimes I go for a walk, listen to music, play the piano, and just find some time to chat with my mum and friends.
Neeha Nagpal lives in Delhi. Her journey has been inspiring and wholesome. Team POPxo wishes her all the luck in her future endeavours.
Featured Image Courtesy: Neeha Nagpal