Ms Uttara PV, alumni of National Law University Jodhpur talks about the experiences she gathered while working with various Reputed High Courts Judges such as Justice B Kemal Pasha, Justice A Muhammed Mustaque, Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw and with Supreme Court Justice DY Chandrachud. She has been interviewed by Ms Suzann Dinu a final year student at NUALS, Kochi. This interview will help give readers a deep insight into the work that goes behind judicial clerkships and internships.

  1. Can you begin by telling our readers what a judicial clerkship is?

A judicial clerkship is an opportunity for young lawyers to assist and work under the supervision of Judges, usually at the Supreme Court or High Courts. The designation of a judicial clerk varies based on the court one works at, but the generally the work profile of a law clerk includes analytically undertaking research on various propositions of law for judgments that are to be pronounced, drafting research notes and memos, editing and proof reading judgments and orders, attending court proceedings and taking note of arguments raised by counsels. Some offices also expect the law clerks to prepare short case briefs on matters that are listed before the Bench. It is imperative that a prospective candidate fully appreciate the responsibility that they are expected to shoulder before making the decision of pursuing a clerkship in order to have a productive time.

2. How are clerkships/judicial internship different from corporate or litigation internships?

I am a first generation lawyer and I had minimal understanding of various avenues that were open to lawyers and law students, when I joined college. The orientation conducted by the Academic and Placement Committees within the first few days of my joining NLU Jodhpur was an eye opener for me and I resolved then to explore as much opportunities as I could in the next five years. My goal thus was not very job-oriented as it was learning–oriented. Hence, I interned extensively with lawyers and with corporate law firms, in addition to other fora for a holistic experience and making an informed career decision.

There is a marked difference in the approach that one takes to appreciate law when working under a lawyer or at a corporate firm and when working under a Judge. While in the case of the former, it is always the best interest of client that shapes the strategising, argumentation and research, working under a Judge is about ensuring that the most just path is followed. Social implications of the each interpretation are examined extensively as is the impact each interpretation will have on the development of the law and the legal system, unlike at a lawyer’s office, where the significant concern is only to present before the Judge the interpretation that produces the best result for the client. Thus, judicial internships/clerkships provide with opportunities to undertake more comprehensive exploratory work, in comparison to corporate or litigation internships. One is also presented with an opportunity learn the fine art of balancing compassion against the exacting words of law when working under a Judge. I feel that the nature of thought process development that one acquires from a judicial clerkship makes one a better officer of the court.

Also, working under a Judge exposes you to a diverse array of subject matters and pleadings so early in one’s career, which is a precious opportunity that helps one assess and figure out the area of practice that suits one the best, as opposed how working under lawyers or at corporate law firms lets one acquaint only with a restricted few areas of law.

3. Can you tell us a little about the application process or the approaching methods to secure internships and clerkship with Judges?

The application procedure depends on the court that one wishes to work at. The Supreme Court and also a few High Courts invite for applications and conduct an exam/interview, based on which a merit list is prepares and law clerks are selected. In addition, one can always apply through the Registry and continuously follow up, even for internships. The Kerala High Court Registry is very approachable and student-friendly in my experience. I have found the most efficient method to be to directly to apply to Judges with a well drafted statement of purpose, a copy of the CV and a few writing samples. Reaching out on Linkedin to law clerks and interns at the office one wishes to apply for is what has worked for me in procuring the relevant contact details, which is generally a taxing process. In this regard, it is important to talk to people and build a good network, while ensuring to put yourself out there as a candidate for judicial internship; you never know who might bring you the most pertinent piece of information regarding vacancies and opportunities and often at the most unexpected points of time. One of my judicial internships happened because I, purely by chance, conveyed to a friend and then co-intern my interest in working under a Judge and who then knew of a vacancy, which turned out to be one of my most enriching experiences.

4. Can you walk us through what a normal day of work looks like for you?

A typical day varies based on the office one works at. Most offices start at around 10’o clock in the morning, since the court starts at 10:30. The first part of the day is dedicated towards research for reserved judgments and proof reading drafts of judgments and conducting any other research that you are asked to carry out. Towards 12’ o clock, orders in matters that were listed before the Bench on the particular day starts getting printed, at which point one proofreads them and carries out the research involved in the matters, so that they can be accessed by the counsels at the earliest. Once all the daily orders are proofread and research is carried out, one gets back to the reserved matter that was being worked on. It is important to make time to observe court proceedings in between all of this and keep oneself abreast of the latest legal developments, to have a holistic learning experience. The day ends at around 9 pm. Certain offices also expect law researchers to make case briefs which would save the Judge from having to go through every document in the bulky case files for some 20-30 matters that are listed every day.

5. You had mentioned that you have interest in academia and litigation, how does the experience of working with Judges aid in these fields?

I discovered during time at National Law University Jodhpur, especially while being a Teaching Assistant for General IPR laws to Dr Gargi Chakrabarthy, Associate Professor and for Copyright Law to Mr Rohan Cherian Thomas, that I have a strong interest in the academia, in research, writing and teaching. In fact, I see myself turning to teaching, at least part time, at some point in the long run. Clerkships, by their very nature involve conduct of ton of research and honing of analytical skills on that angle. Depending on the office one works at, there exists a possibility to get an opportunity to draft certain portions of judgments also. The nature of research and writing that one undertakes during a clerkship/judicial internship is one that is directly impactful to the development of law and this contributes immensely to sharpening one’s critical thinking. Constant supervision and mentoring of one’s research and writing by the very eminent Judges and the opportunity to discuss and debate legal interpretations and issues with the very jurists who determine what the law means is a great learning experience and ensures that direction of growth is not misplaced. I believe that this sharpening of my analytical, research and writing skills and argumentation, would greatly help in successfully pursuing my academic interests.

The significance of critical thinking in litigation also cannot be emphasised enough. More importantly, working under a Judge provides you with the privileged access to the inside of the Judge’s mind. Hence, one gathers an understanding of what a Judge has eyes for in a case directly from the horse’s mouth and I believe this insight helps in impact fully drafting a case, persuasive argumentation and efficient strategising during litigation. Presenting alternate interpretations and arguments and be directly mentored in the argumentation by the Bench is not an opportunity one gets otherwise. In addition, the knowledge of law that gets to one amass from a clerkship is vast. One has to always keep oneself updated with the latest developments of law. The wide variety of matters of different subjects that a Judge deals with presents young lawyers with an opportunity to understand and appreciate the diverse areas of law, which is a rarity when working under lawyers who generally specialise in a set particular area of law.

6. Despite receiving some great job offers from top tier law firms after your BA LLB (Hons), you pursued a clerkship position. Do you think having a few years of work experience prior to clerkships would help make any difference?

The humble one year that I have worked after graduating in 2019 made me realise that the channel of knowledge between a final year law student and a lawyer with one year of work experience is a vastly wide one. While law school helps inculcate a good understanding of substantive and theoretical aspects of law and in analytically deciphering ratios, practice of law is so much more than that. A fine understanding of procedural nuances and court craft is ultimately the foundation on which good substantive argumentation rests. Law schools, while busying themselves make students appreciate the final element of the legal process- judgments, often tend to neglect equipping students in regard to the other, very nodal procedural steps that lead up to the judgment. One or two of years of practice, I feel, would help in bridging this gap.

From my personal experience, I find that having a year or so of work experience makes a difference in two distinct ways. Judges often prefer an experienced candidate over a fresher, for the obvious edge and better understanding of the working of courts that they possess. Further, being familiar with the system and court craft, I feel, would be a major confidence booster when working at such close proximity with a Judge, the most powerful individual in the legal system. I think it would soothe the inevitable burst of nervousness of the initial days that follows when working under a Judge and would help gently ease one into the job.

At Justice Endlaw’s chamber, as a fresher, I was instructed that for the entire of the first one and a half months, I only read case files and attend court proceedings and do nothing else, so as to familiarise myself well with court craft and understand the practical dimensions of law before I embark on taking up any work in assisting the Judge.

That said, being a fresher is definitely not a bar in applying for clerkship, nor will it stand in the way of the learning that one earns from the clerkship; if anything, the learning curve would be steeper. Clerkship at a High Court is a good place to learn the procedure and practicalities of law.

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