Mr. Saunak Rajguru, Attorney at with the Regulatory Litigation team of J. Sagar Associates, New Delhi. In this interview, he talks about the importance and benefits of mooting in the field of law. He has been interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador Simranjeet Kaur who is currently pursuing her law from MNLU Aurangabad.
- Please introduce yourself to our readers.
I am Saunak Rajguru, an Attorney with the Regulatory Litigation team of J. Sagar Associates, New Delhi. I hail from Berhampur, a beautiful coastal city in south-western Odisha where I completed my schooling before moving to Bhubaneswar to pursue law.In 2019, I graduated in law from School of Law, KIIT University with specialization in Constitutional Laws and entered the bar at the age of 23.I am also Bar Council of India Trust Scholar for having the fetched the Best Advocate award (Male) at the prestigious 33rd BCI Moot, 2017.
- Sir, you have coached so many moot teams and you have been an avid mooter in your college days, so what made you interested in mooting?
If you ask me what was that one thing that kept me going in the law school, it has to be Mooting. My life at law school revolved around it. I had a passion towards understanding the intricacies of law in depth. This induced me to research a lot in my initial years of law school (and I still do) and I instilled a tendency of digging in deep to find the essence of every legal issue which I cameacross. This coupled with my desire to be a litigator, right from day-0 is what drove me towards taking the baby steps through Mooting and other activities. Bagging a Best Advocate Tag and the team reaching semi-finals in our first ever Moot (NCU, Gurgaon) just ensured that there was no looking back thereafter.
- Please tell us about your moot court achievements and who motivated you?
My biggest achievement by participating in about 16-17 Moots during law school is undoubtedly the opportunity to argue before numerous sitting/retired judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts, Senior Advocates, practitioners, academicians etc. The learning during the oral rounds is unparalleled. I can recollect, in the final rounds of IIT KGP’s RGSOIPL Moot, my team had the honour to appear before a bench consisting of J. Tarun Chatterjee (retd. Judge, Supreme Court), J. Sanjib Banerjee (sitting judge, Cal HC) and Mr. Jayanta Mitro (the then Advocate General of West Bengal). It was an enriching experience to have argued on questions of law pertaining to international patents and transfer pricing issues before such a distinguished panel of judges.
My teams have won (i) the 33rd Bar Council of India Moot, (ii) 3rd IIT KGP’s RGSOIPL Moot, (iii) Ranka Moot (UFYLC, Jaipur) and (iv) the All India Law School Meet, SOA University’s Moot. A team consisting of Ms. Nikita Mehra and myself also bagged the Runners-Up position in the UPES’ Trial Advocacy competition which was my first attempt at the format. 4 Best Written Submissions (Memorial), 3 Semi-Finalists tags, reaching Quarters in Stetson (twice)are few other achievements. On a personal front, I was able to fetch the Best Speaker/Advocate awards in 5 Mooting tournaments.
I had a wish to crack an international moot, but not all dreams come true. To be honest, the last phase of my mooting career was tiring, but it was my passion towards the activity that pushed me making a last shot towards Stetson International Environmental Law Moot. We ended up in quarterfinals in Stetson’s national rounds coupled with a Memorial citation. Although we could not qualify for international rounds, I am happy that I tried instead of letting the opportunity go despite being in a very crucial stage of my career. I am happy that later in my life I won’t regret that I had an opportunity, but I didn’t take it up.
My parents (Mr. Subhendu Rajguru and Mrs. Reetimukta Rajguru) were my biggest motivation. They have consistently allowed me to follow my passion. From those initial days when they both were sceptical about my constant participation in Moots to those happy smiling faces to see a trophy in my hand every time I visited them both in Berhampur during my vacations, it has been a satisfying journey. My brother (Mr. Saswat Rajguru) has been that silent guiding light with his constant encouragement throughout this phase.
Due credits ought to be given to Mr. Mohit Rai without whom I would have never mooted. The constant guidance, inspiration, encouragement, and motivation that he provided was something that imbibed the mooting culture within me. It was my privilege to later team up with him and winning the BCI and Ranka Moots. My friends and all my moot partners have also played an extremely crucial role in keeping me motivated (and most often well-fed too when I lost track of time while preparing). And last but definitely not the least, KLS’s then director Prof. Dr. N.K. Chakraborty (now the VC of NUJS) and the faculty and student members of the Moot Court Society of my college were super supportive and provided me with everything I wanted and asked for to win a competition.
- What qualities should a student develop to be a good speaker or a researcher?
Well, for me hard work, perseverance, determination, and regular practice was the key. Yes, other factors are important too but no amount of command over the language can compensate for practice and hard work. I was schooled in a typical small-town English medium school predominated by students speaking their vernacular language (Odia). When I joined law school and met people from other parts of the nation, I realised that they had amazing command on the language and would put to use words in regular usage that I didn’t even know the meaning of. But I think that is where I gained in life. I did not take anything for granted. I prepared hard to compete with the people who thought they were better than me merely because their language was better than mine. And if there isanything, I learnt from my mooting experiences it’s that mooting or any public speaking for that matter, needs much more than just command over the language.Your research, knowledge on the subject, articulation and reading the mind of the judge are all equally important. Your knowledge about a subject comes only from practice and hard work. Yes, improve your language skills, it is always better to gain mastery at anything but do not make it your “be all and end all”. Gather knowledge by whatever means you are comfortable with- read, debate, talk to people who have knowledge and listen, be patient, concentrate, work hard and practice what you need.
- According to you, in the current situation, how can the elected bodies of an institution proceed with the allotment of moots to the teams? And what can the university/institutions do to keep up the spirit of mooting?
I am assuming by ‘current situation’ you mean the COVID-19 induced hindrances created in the legal education set-up. I feel that this is the time to adapt to new norms and standards. I can see virtual Moots pacing up even during these trying times. Considering the fact that there is no certainty regarding a particular college organizing a Moot as per its schedule, I feel that college administrations and moot court committees need to be more flexible in their approach while allotting moots. For the time being, allotments may be made on a case-to-case basis after internal qualifiers conducted through virtual conferences. Let us the see the positive side to this. Given the fact that virtual moots have become the new norm, students can now not only participate in national moots; but also participate in those international moots which do not have national rounds in India (without spending hefty amounts just for travelling and logistics).
Speaking generally, I feel that the rules in most colleges areunfortunately restrictive. There are certainrules which do not make sense to me at all. I have seen strict rules like “one moot per semester”, “no moots if attendance is below 75%”, “no reimbursement policies” etc.While I understand that these rules are made to ensure that the non- sincere students don’t waste their time and take up moots as a “trip”, such rules however, the dedicated lot fall prey to these rules. A simple screening session can be done to see if the student/team is worth sending to represent the college for a moot or not. If the student/team is good enough, the “rules” must be selectively diluted.There needs to be some balance and flexibility and it is important to have discretionary powers exercised at the right time. I was fortunate enough that my college saw the potential in me early and helped me in every way possible (even amended some rules) but I have seen many potential kids loose to the system (of different colleges) and that’s something that makes me sad.
- How mooting forms an important part of a student’s career and how beneficial is it? Do you think that non-mooters lack any opportunity while applying for internships or jobs?
Mooting nurtures you as a rational thinker and furthers your analytical skills – the two important qualities of any good lawyer. Mooting gives you the exposure and allows you to interact and learn from the people across the country and the world in the form of your judges and co-participants. Few achievements in Moots always adds flavour to your CV. On a personal front, I started getting good internships once my CV reflected my initial mooting achievements. Law chambers/firms which used to takes months to reply only to reject, had started accepting my internship applications within a week of applying. Skills learnt while doing Moots was always helpful during my internships. I could sense that my approach to a legal proposition was of a desired nature, thanks to Moots.
Having said that, Mooting is not a pre-requisite to make a career in law. I do not think non-Mooters lack any opportunity while applying for internships or jobs. I gathered good part of my minimal legal knowledge from mooting. Someone else can do that through academic research or by writing papers or attend seminars or undertake an additional course. However, I would recommend that every law student should participate in a Moot at least once and make the most of it.
- Do you think that Online Moot Court Competitions and Online Internships are fulfilling their actual purpose?
It is too early for me to be critical of this. I think virtual moots is in its nascent stage and all stakeholders involved must be given the credit for at least taking efforts and conducting these events. Having judged over 7 Virtual Moots in last three months, I am sure of at least one thing that the zeal to win, the hard work of participants and enthusiasm towards the activity has remained constant. Travelling and logistical arrangements no longer being an issue, it is a win-win situation for the participants and the organizers. Having said that, I do agree that virtual moots are not an efficacious substitution for physical moots. I feel that the body language of a judge cannot be ascertained by a mooter in a virtual proceeding and that may be detrimental since I believe unless you can read the mind of the judge, you will not be able to convince him/her.
As far as online internships are concerned, I feel that it can never replace the scope of learning during a physical internship. There may be times where it becomes difficult for the mentors to give personal feedbacks. There is no opportunity to attend conferences, hearings etc. Most law firms and lawyers are even facing the issues of confidentiality of documents so far as sharing it with interns is concerned. All in all, I hope things are back to normal very soon and offices open up in a full-fledged manner. Till that time, students must up-skill themselves in various other ways including virtual internships.
- How far do you think mooting helps a law student in building their respective CV’s and securing internships in top tier law firms?
Mooting, like I said, is one of the best things that a law student can do to build himself/herself as a lawyer. It feeds you with knowledge that you do not even know you’re capable of imbibing. It makes you habituated to working hard and it hones your research as well as speaking skills. Once you demonstrate these skills during your internships, Senior Advocates, Partners and Attorneys in law firms etc. take cognizance of the same.
As I mentioned, my mooting achievements helped me craft my internships (at least I believe so because I do not believe in coincidence). I have done internships under Senior Advocates such as Ms. Geeta Luthra, Mr. Amarjit Singh Chandhiok, Ms. Indira Jaising, Tier-1 law firms viz.JSA, Cyril Amarchand and Shardul Amarchand etc. At the time of acceptance of these major internships, my CV already reflected about 5-6 mooting achievements. It may be an assumption, but it is my belief that there was a causal link between my mooting stint and the acceptance of my internship applications. So, yes Mooting ‘may’ help you in securing internships in top-tier law firms (for that matter, any other place).
- What is the role of internship in forming a student’s professional career?
For a lawyer, it is extremely important to experience a wide area of laws, rather than restrict oneself to a particular specialized field. The greater the exposure to a variety of legal work, better will you emerge as a trained lawyer. Internships help the students achieve this. The preparation needs to start at the bud stage (1st year of law school) not when the tree has branches and the fruits are ready to ripe (post-enrolment with the bar). As such, the internships help you identify your areas of interest and provides you the pathway to enter the legal field.
- What do you think about the divide in terms of firstly, NLU’s and non-NLU’s and secondly, older NLU’s and newer NLU’s, when it comes to the opportunities? And how can this be reduced?
So far as the divide in terms of NLU’s and non-NLU’s, the same is arguably evident. There is a pre-conceived notion that students from NLUs are well-equipped with nuances of law than that of non-NLUs. However, in the last 3-4 years, the trend is changing and for the good. I have noticed students from traditional law colleges and private universities getting placed at par with students from top NLUs. Colleges like KIIT, Symbiosis, SASTRA, GLC, Christ, SoEL etc. have been consistently dominating the national mooting circuit. But the struggle of a non-NLU student, at all stages, is manifold and there is no doubt about it.
Having said that, I feel that this divide is mostly due to the prevailing mindset. There used to be a kind of inferiority complex in the initial years at law school. Not because someone mistreated with me or undermined my calibre, but because of my own lack of self-confidence. I realized it soon enough. I really wanted to set an example for the students at private colleges that who are hardworking but couldnot get through any of the NLUs. My teams have won against teams representing NLUs including the top ones in different Moots/Trials at all stages, be it preliminary rounds, quarters, semis and even finals. I have seen people change their perception towards KIIT when I used to win in Moots or perform well during internships etc. I am not putting anyone down here.It is an established fact that most NLU students are extremely intelligent, hardworking and insightful but so are people from other colleges. Cracking CLAT and getting through a particular college does not define someone’s calibre.
Simply put, if you work hard and have a determination to try and succeed, your background, alma mater etc. will make no difference.
- After judging various National Moot Court Competitions, what do you think that students lack and how can they improve themselves?
The primary issue from what I observed was lack of effective research. It is important to undertake a three-fold research process viz: –
- Reading the plain text of law and understanding the legislative intent (through analysis of statement of objects and reasons, preamble etc.)
- Thorough analysis of landmark judgments + latest judgments. It is always good to read at least 5-6 judgments on each issue in entirety.
- Ancillary research- Bring the “X” factor to your submissions by undertaking interdisciplinary studies. For example, understanding forensic science may be crucial for a criminal law moot.
Secondly, it is of utmost importance to duly respond to the queries from the Bench as and when it is asked. Tactics like “the counsel will be dealing the question during the 2nd issue” or “my counsel is dealing with the said issue” often backfire. Also, both the speakers should be absolutely comfortable in dealing with each other’s issues.
Lastly, equal importance must be given to the Written Submissions/Memorials. I have seen many participants losing out on making to knockout stages due to poor Memorials (overall score goes down).
- Would you like to give any message or advice to students?
I am not competent enough to advice any student in general, but would like to make two passing remarks-
- Always listen to your heart no matter what the world asks you to do. Back when I was a student, mooting was not considered as big a deal, but I got involved in it anyway and the results that I got, got me where I am today. It was my calling.You need to find yours and follow it diligently.
- Your success is not yours alone. A lot of people have encouraged, inspired, sustained and tolerated you to make you the person you become. So, no matter what you do in life and how much ever you achieve in or outside law school, stay close to your loved ones. Our field is tough and having people in your life who believe in you no matter what makes it all worth the effort.