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Ram Jethmalani: The Life of India’s Most Famous Defence Lawyer

During his long career, Ram Jethmalani became one of the shrewdest
criminal lawyers in India. This didn’t come without a number of controversies.

Here are the most notable parts of his life and career.

1. A Pioneering Early Life

Ram Jethmalani - portrait

Ram’s intelligence started right from the time he was a kid in school, getting a double promotion and completing his matriculation at 13 years of age.

This young boy, who was born in a small town called Shikharpur, enrolled into college for a law degree. Then, only 17 years after his 14th September 1923 birth date, he received his LLB.

Only one obstacle stood in his path: the legal system required a minimum 21 years of age for a lawyer to represent someone in court.

But this didn’t stop him.

Ram appealed to the legal system and, at 18 years old, he was appointed as a practicing lawyer. With such a pioneering start in early life, Ram was destined to do extraordinary things.

2. Famous K.M. Nanavati vs. State of Bombay Case

One of the first cases which brought Mr. Ram Jethmalani into the limelight was the famous K.M. Nanavati vs. State of Bombay case.

The young Jethmalani assisted the prosecution, in this case of a murder caused by an extra-marital affair. The case received unprecedented media coverage, with the murderer (K.M. Nanavati) gaining huge public sympathy since he was provoked by the unfaithful acts of his wife.


The fame of this 1959 case inspired multiple Bollywood movies, books and plays, including:

  • Akshay Kumar and Neeraj Pandey’s Rustom (2016)

  • R K Nayar’s Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke (1963), starring Sunil Dutt and Leela Naidu

  • Indra Sinha’s book, The Death of Mr Love (2002)

  • Gulzar’s Achanak (1973), starring Vinod Khanna and Lily Chakraborty

Evidently, having movie renditions of a case you handled is bound to give you even greater publicity.

3. Most Expensive Lawyer in India

By the time he announced his retirement on September 8th, Ram had completed seven decades of exemplary achievements, including being ranked as the most expensive lawyer in India.

Legally India’s 2015 survey gave Ram this enviable accolade.

According to the survey, Ram Jethmalani charged an average of Rs. 25 lakhs as his appearance fee per court visit. For a retainer, you would expect to pay him Rs. 1 crore. In fact, the former Union Law Minister was in the news for handing a Rs. 3.42 crores bill to the Delhi Chief Minister.

However, he also gave back to society. And, he would say, “I charge only the rich, but for the poor I work for free.”

4. Crusader for Lost Causes

Jethmalani’s story can’t be complete without mention of his life as a ‘crusader for lost causes’, having defended such people as:

  • stock scamster, Harshad Mehta

  • underworld don, Haji Mastan

  • Balbir and Kehar Singh, accused of complicity in Indira Gandhi’s assassination

In defence of his choice of clients, Ram stated, “A lawyer who refuses to defend a person on the ground that people believe him to be guilty is himself guilty of professional misconduct.”