Ms Adithi Koushik is an alumna of NLUO. She completed her Masters in International Law at the Graduate School of International and Development Studies, Geneva and was an exchange student at the UCLA School of Law. She has worked with the WTO. She consults on food, trade, fisheries subsidies negotiations and related policy research.
She has been interviewed by Toshika Soni, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is pursuing law from NLUO.
1. Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hi, I am Adithi, an alumna of NLUO and the Graduate Institute, Geneva. I specialised in international economic laws with a focus on trade, investment and intellectual property laws. Having completed my studies in 2019, I am still exploring various options to figure out what I like best and if that can be turned into a rewarding career. Since graduating, I spent a year and a half at the WTO Secretariat, followed by a stint with the Philippine Permanent Mission to the WTO and later on with the South Centre, which is also an international organisation that aids developing countries' participation in the UN system through policy advisory work. This helped me gain well-rounded exposure to my field viewing the same issues from the perspective of various stakeholders.
2. Can you please tell us about your time at your undergraduate university — National Law University Odisha?
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at NLUO between 2012-2017. I was interested in a wide variety of activities and subjects, so I took every opportunity that came my way. I did not want to be idle in general, so be it debating, committee work, MUNs, ADR tournaments and one moot — I think I gave everything a shot and was successful at most which was rewarding in and of itself. It did wonders for my confidence and also ticked the boxes on my resume in addition to forging long lasting friendships with the people I worked closely with.
3. How did you decide to approach ADR in law school? Are there any tips on mediation you would like to share with our readers?
NLUO was still at a nascent stage while I was there with the first batch yet to graduate, so my mentors were from NLSIU, Bangalore. One of them participated in client counselling tournaments and spoke highly of it, so when a local tournament took place in Bhubaneswar, I gave it a shot. I enjoyed it and we won so that got me looking into bigger ADR tournaments and other related competitions. This is how I met my next mentor who used to be the Convenor of the ADR Society at NLS, he coached us for upcoming tournaments and there was no looking back. The course itself, in NLUO, although enjoyable, was fairly theoretical. I took a clinical course on mediation during my masters on an exchange programme at UCLA. Here, the course was more extensive, taught by practitioners and very hands on with simulations in every class. It got me seriously considering mediation as a career option.
I reached out to a few established litigators in India who were honest in telling me that mediation in India worked differently from the US and was a viable option for some established practitioners and retired Judges but not for someone starting out and suggested I explore arbitration practices instead.
Mediation would have been my go-to option had I returned to California, but that was not the case. Nonetheless, the skills I picked up at reading situations, working out mutually acceptable and enduring outcomes did come handy in the international trade negotiations I followed later, especially in bilateral meetings.
4. Could you please elaborate on your choice of pursuing an MIL in international law from the Graduate School of International and Development Studies, Geneva? How was your time studying there?
I pursued a two-year MIL or MA in international law instead of their 10-month LLM course. I wanted to take my time getting used to the city, to study, learn the language, and go on an exchange programme as well. I find shorter LLMs to be a bit rushed and a good option for a mid-career professional looking to enter new markets or gain specialisation is a specific area. I was coming straight out of my undergraduate degree, with no work experience and the extra time would allow me to network, intern and secure a suitable job.
Academically, the Graduate Institute experience was unparalleled and very rigorous. I am extremely grateful to the institute for all the opportunities I received there.
5. How was your time as an exchange student at UCLA? Please tell us about the Masin Family Academic Excellence Award.
UCLA was a lovely experience and one I was more than sufficiently prepared for after the rigours of the institute in Geneva. I mostly took comparative law papers here and the Masin Family Gold Award was for the highest grades in these papers. I was not aware of this while pursuing the course, so it came as a surprise later on. More details on this are available here.
6. How was your experience working with the World Trade Organisation? Could you please highlight the application process?
WTO in a sense was a dream come true from the perspective of what I had studied, so I was very excited about my internship which went well and turned into a job offer. I started my role as a Junior Legal/Economic Affairs Officer in March 2020 as the pandemic hit, so I spent the entire tenure of my contract mostly working from home. It was challenging to transition into my role as I was replacing someone who was an economist by training and worked extensively with data without having ready access to my colleagues who were also navigating new modus operandi from home. Nonetheless, everyone I worked with there were very kind, professional and approachable. The organisation has a very positive and encouraging environment to start out in. My manager at WTO then suggested I may enjoy policy research or something more legalistic and put me in touch with my next employer at the Philippine Mission where the work was exhilarating.
Applying to the WTO: they open an internship roster twice a year for 6-month internships running from January to June and June to December for masters students. It works best when coupled with strong references or very closely matched work experience. So CTIL and CWS in India are good options. Most people working here were formerly interns or consultants. Short-term contracts ranging to a maximum of 11 months are a norm. Such contracts are renewed a few times but becoming a part of the permanent staff is a Herculean task with a good dose of luck involved as vacancies are few and far between, subject to a globally competitive exam and extensive interviewing after.
7. How did you decide to pursue policy research? Could you share some insights about the field?
I enjoy hands on work, with tangible impacts and a fast paced dynamic environment which I could find in the fisheries negotiations at WTO and also in agriculture for the months leading up to the ministerial conference which was scheduled to have been held in December last year. One needs to have built up a lot of experience and credibility to work as a policy advisor to various Governments. At my early career stage, I am qualified only to assist such senior diplomats or advisors in recording the proceedings at various negotiations, mapping various country positions on topics, preparing briefing documents, strategies and statements to be made at meetings.
It comes with its fair share of constraints though, especially because as an Indian I cannot join the civil services now and working for a foreign Government there is only so far one may go. Think tanks and advisory organisations is what I will be focusing on for most part.
8. Studying and working abroad is still daunting to the average law student. Could you please share some advice about how you figured your way internationally, in your career and beyond?
Yes, it is not an easy process, however, most people who have completed their education outside claim to have no regrets, so it is safe to assume it is generally rewarding. I had a lot of support, including close family in Geneva who recommended the Graduate Institute. My own parents keenly invested in my education and were very well prepared for this eventuality. I prepared for my masters from my first year in NLUO. Despite many internships, I never tried to get any work experience before leaving India, which in hindsight, would have been extremely beneficial.
Once in Geneva, I was very focused on being thorough with my subject material and finding a job. It helped me stay continuously employed until recently, when I married. I am now on a sabbatical while awaiting a visa sponsored by my spouse instead of my work place. This opens up a whole new horizon of possibilities where I can apply to the private sector, which I could not do on my previous diplomatic visa.
9. What do you think is the importance of legal research and using the right tools? How can law students equip themselves to become good researchers? Further, not many people are familiar with the concept “exhaustion of a search”. What are your views on it?
I think one needs to peruse through the matter available to the extent that you have credible sources to back your own argument and then explore if there are any major opposing views. These need to be looked into to see how they relate to your case and if you can plug any loopholes in advance or at least know your weaknesses. There is no time or need to go down a rabbit hole reading everything that crops up. Technology is changing the way we research and footnote matter now, so a good researcher would know all the go-to sources in their field and how best to use them, for example, SEO tricks that filter more accurately on Google Scholar.
More attention needs to be paid to developing some statistical skills for quantitative legal research and reporting. This is particularly important if one intends to publish primary research work. We do not do enough of that, especially in India where most papers are a compilation of information or literature review with some additional input or critique.
10. What goals do you hope to achieve in your career? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In general, I hope to be good at what I do, confident in myself, adequately compensated and satisfied with my future prospects. I do not see my career alone as be all and end all of my existence. It is after all a means to an end, nonetheless, since I would prioritise it as it does take up the biggest chunk of one's day. As for 10 years down the line, only time will tell. I am not in a place where things are set in stone for me.