Sushruti Tripathi talks about the challenges and her experiences as climate change lawyer

Sushruti Tripathi graduated from NUJS Kolkata in 2016 and is currently working at Invest India’s AGNIi mission, after working at Herbert Smith Freehills and pursuing her LL.M. in Environmental Law, Energy, and Climate Change. She is also an author and published her first book called ‘Naan Bread & Chai Latte’ recently. 

 

She has been interviewed by Raksha Raina, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from NUJS.

 

1.      Hi, thank you for agreeing to do this. Firstly, congratulations on your book, your LLM and on returning to NUJS as guest faculty. You graduated at the top of your class at NUJS, what is the biggest takeaway of your time at NUJS? And what are you up to right now?

Thank you, and I am very happy to be doing this. My biggest takeaway from NUJS is that you must explore your time at university and not be stuck on any single thing. Give yourself the time to make decisions on your future instead of trying to mould your law school life according to the competitive environment or according to the job you might think you want. You must try and figure out the type of person you are and the things that matter to you, make friends and not be too clinical.

 

During my time at NUJS, I interned with various different kinds of organisations (including NGOs), newspapers, as teaching assistant, and with a senior advocate. I also had a startup with two of my friends, which fetched us a profit of 900 rupees on our first project. It was one of the sweetest dinner celebrations I have ever had. We later decided that we wanted different things so it did not continue, but this experience taught me so many things and opened up new opportunities in videography for me, diversifying my experiences. I did everything in my first year – from societies, to legal writing, mooting, dancing, debating, etc. I was highly competitive with myself and after I turned that down a notch, I was left with time to do diverse things, like my startup. I spent some time doing performance poetry and started the first slam poetry sessions at NUJS. I also realis interest in mediation, networked with some incredible mediators through my mediation training at National Law University Delhi (NLUD) and also managed to establish the first mediation society in college. I am so happy to see the poetry collective and the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) society grow so much since I left.

 

Other than that, I believe you must let all of your skill sets flourish. It is not about the number or brand of internships but about the transferability of your skill sets (like resourcefulness). I never interned at any of the big six firms because I realised they did not align with my interests. In the time after graduating and before moving to London, I did a French course, volunteered with an art in education NGO called Slam Out Loud, ended up performing at a lot of poetry events in Delhi and also set up the Centre of Poetry and Conflict Resolution (CPCR) with ADR-ODR International.

 

People at NUJS have gone out and done so many things even outside of law by making use of their opportunities and building a skill set in college. As for me, I have now joined Invest India’s AGNIi Mission for a policy, consulting and operations related role. I will be liaising with the ministry and the industry to make sure that the right innovation reaches the right target through the proper ecosystem. My first proper legal publication – a book chapter on groundwater law in Haryana is also coming out very soon with Springer. It links the green revolution with the air pollution and smog problem in NCR and I am very excited about it.

 

2.      I know that you were actively involved in poetry at NUJS as well and that your book  Naan Bread & Chai Latte is a product of your time in London. How did you conceptualise it? I am also particularly fond of the title of your book, I think it perfectly captures the Indian and western culture.

Thank you. My mother has been my driving force – behind my book and everything else I have achieved in my life. She signed me up with a publisher even before I had a book figured out.

 

As a person, I am deadline oriented and over the years, I have realised that there is no right model to doing things, you just need to find a model that fits you and works best for your productivity. I always loved writing and had bits and pieces of my poetry stored up, my parents pushed me to conceptualise it into a book and since I now had a deadline from the publisher, I went ahead and did it. The idea was to bring together a narrative based collection of poetry and prose that explores the theme of finding out what home means, and whether dreams taste as good as they seem.

 

I am very happy with the way Naan Bread & Chai Latte turned out. It is a never before tried format, but the feedback on that has been very encouraging.

 

3.      Tell us about your time at Herbert Smith Freehills and in London. What is your advice to people wanting to pursue the same, or even to people already working at magic and silver circle law firms?

 

Your first day or your first six months is not a reflection of what the rest of it is going to be like. You will have different teams and different people but do not be afraid to seek help – both professionally and for your health. Foreign firms are very prudent about mental health and I strongly suggest you to use that mechanism. Your firm will already have a general practitioner in place, you must reach out to them even if it is just for managing work stress – do not overlook it. The earlier you ask for help, the better your stay will be.

 

I also realised that everyone is replaceable at a law firm but your health and personal life is not, so always prioritise it. It is important to set your boundaries and develop a thick skin. In a nutshell, you just have to do enough work to keep being excited about your job, alongside learning to strike a balance.

 

4.      You recently graduated from Jindal Global Law School after pursuing your LLM in environment law, energy and climate change. How did you move from working at HSF to pursuing climate change and environment laws? What motivated you to make the switch and what advice would you give to people who want to make a switch from corporate to policy?

It was definitely not an easy decision to quit Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF). I took about eight months to decide because I was doing really well and I was also a part of the HSF graduate recruitment team in my second year. I loved the city too. In my free time in London, I trained as a poetry therapist and learned how to Tango. I would say that the switch out of corporate is very daunting, so give yourself time to think about it and have a plan. When I decided to quit, I did not have a plan right away. Take time out for counselling and career advice. I read a book called What Color is Your Parachute during that time which helped me understand my skill sets and figure what I wanted to do.

 

I wrote my applications in fifteen days and received offers from NYU, Berkeley, LSE and QMUL for LLM in 2019 Fall. I did not have savings to cover costs so I decided to defer them to 2020. My Plan B was attending NYU in 2020 and I had an entire year in front of me. In this time, I co-curated Asia’s biggest feminist poetry festival with poets from the US and UK too. I also coached teachers at my previous arts and education NGO in poetry therapy. Then, I spent some time studying for the UPSC exam alongside writing my book. However, I realised that the exam is not only contingent on how hard you work and I did not want to waste another year on it, so I ended up finishing my book first. My year spent preparing for the UPSC did widen my perspectives in a way nothing else could have and taught me a lot about my country and international relations. It also made me realise the importance of studying and working in the field of climate change.

 

Then, I came across the LLM that Jindal was offering with WWF. In the pandemic, my brother and I were having an ethical-moral discussion on resources and plastic waste generation. I started looking at it from a career perspective and realised that I either need to start work at an organisation in the sector or get a degree that gives me a network of policy and climate change lawyers. This is when I zeroed down on my environment law, energy and climate change LLM with Jindal and WWF. I sat for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) (which she also topped) and I am really glad that I took the plunge.

 

5.      You mentioned that you would like to bring environment and sustainability to classrooms, can you tell us a little about that?

Yes, by that I mean I really see interdisciplinarity as the future of everything, not just law. There is a need to bring environmental sustainability to the school curriculum. My mother is a teacher and I have been helping her with adjusting to virtual teaching in the pandemic. I learned a lot about Bloom’s taxonomy for kids, their curriculum, course structure, leaning outcomes and objectives, etc. which made me think of how sustainability and climate change needs to be introduced to children at a younger age. I think the introduction of it must be a twofold model – the first being arts (poetry, stories, books, etc.) and the second being law and sustainability for higher classes. The aim of the latter is that they must know plausible solutions to day-to-day level sustainability and climate change issues. Bringing arts in education in the climate change sector to middle school and law and climate change in senior secondary school is very important as these concerns have to start at a young age, if we have any hopes of the planet surviving.

 

6.      Would you change the path you took? Do you think your corporate stint helped you in what you finally wished to pursue?

As we discussed, absolutely no. I do not wish to change any bit of my journey so far and I strongly believe it helped me be the person I am today.

 

7.      What were the roadblocks that you faced? How did you overcome them?

There are things that are not necessarily roadblocks but have to be managed – like health, emotional resilience, and finances. There will be times when you will not have what you need to be where you know you deserve to be. When things do not happen, I believe you should have faith in yourself and be process oriented instead of outcome oriented.

 

For every one thing that I have achieved, there were ten other things that did not work out before that one thing. For one published book, there were numerous novels that did not work out (or also got accidentally deleted from my laptop). So, what people see at the tip of the iceberg is not a depiction of your entire journey. There will be times when you will deserve things but not get them even if you work hard for them, both in your personal and professional life – you just have to keep going and not hold yourself up to external standards.

 

8.      It is safe to say that you have put your LLM to use in your writing as well, as you are also currently working on a book that brings poetry, law, politics and climate change together? This seems extremely interesting, can we have an insight into it?

Sure. I had actually started writing something along those lines for a publication and it now is one of those things that did not work out. But the idea of it remained with me and now I am working on a revamped model of it. Think about it in this way – climate change is science but whether we do anything or not depends on the politicians, which is (given the large number of democracies) again linked to the executive and legislative branch – both of which lack a deep understanding of the science. All of this decision making is going to directly affect the lives of children today. I think there is a lack of congruence in how we are approaching life on Earth and I want to write a book on how all of these things fit in together. It brings together polar bears, Greta Thunberg, the Paris Agreement, the pandemic and leaders of States into one umbrella. It then talks about how capitalism and democracy together function in a way which makes sustainability difficult. I aim to address the bigger questions around the assumption that a common man shall be rational about policies. From a political and philosophical point of view, I aim at exploring how subjectivity is an important aspect of policymaking. It is a long-term project and I am really excited to bring poetry, literature and popular culture into it.

 

9.      You are currently a guest faculty at NUJS, how has the experience of coming back to NUJS been like?

I have so much love for NUJS and I am always happy to be back. The first time I came back to NUJS was to judge the NUJS-HSF Corporate Law Moot 2020 and it was a delight to see the beautiful campus again.

 

Through my course called “Climate Change – Adaption and International Response,” I was happy to be a part of NUJS again and support my juniors. I had a very good professor for climate change in my LLM and my goal was to get the students to start thinking about these issues in their day-to-day life. In the future, I would also love to do a course on poetry, law and popular protest.

 

10.  Is there any advice that you would like to give to our readers, particularly other law students who are still figuring out what they want to pursue?

It is very clichéd, but for a reason – make mistakes, do not regret them and learn from them. Make sure you know yourself enough to know what mistakes you can live with and then go ahead and make them. Increase your risk exposure. 

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