Privacy & Technology Law
Interviews

Jade J. Lyngdoh is a National Law University, Jodhpur, honours candidate in constitutional law. Jade is a Facebook India Tech Scholars scholar, and as part of that programme, he is undertaking research on the intersection between freedom of expression and intermediary liability. He has also filed a public interest litigation before his home State’s High Court to challenge the State Government’s illegal use of COVID-19 contact tracing apps for violating citizens’ privacy. Jade has been interviewed by Nisha Gupta, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing her law from NLU Jodhpur.

1. Before I begin, the team at EBC-SCC Online extends warm greetings and welcomes you. It is indeed a privilege for me to interview you on behalf of the team for our readers. Before proceeding further with the interview, would you please take a moment to tell our readers about yourself?

My name is Jade Lyngdoh, and I am from Shillong, Meghalaya. Aside from work, I enjoy exploring new food and coffee, watching films and TV shows, and travelling. I am a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain. If you have not watched any of his work on TV, I strongly advise you to do so — there is so much we can learn from his shows.

2. You recently became a Facebook India Tech Scholar (FITS). Can you take us through the application procedure and tell us about how you landed this opportunity?

Yes, I was honoured to be chosen for the Facebook India Tech Scholars (FITS) program’s inaugural cohort. Eight scholars were chosen from four law schools in India for the inaugural 2021-2022 edition of the programme: NLSIU, NLUD, NUJS, and my university, NLUJ. When the initiative was announced, Meta and SAM, a law firm that is a knowledge partner of the programme, contacted our universities to invite students to apply. There were two steps to the selection process: the first was an essay-based round, followed by an interview round with the FITS Committee.

I would strongly encourage students to apply for future editions of the FITS programme. Students who intend on applying should generally aim to acquire an interest in topics of tech law and policy. It would be useful to have some experience working in the field, including with digital rights organisations, litigators specialising in digital rights, law firms or think tanks. By doing that, students cannot only learn a lot from their experience, but they can also contribute to some impactful work on issues which affect our society.

[Meta’s official press release about the programme can be found here.]

3. As a FITS scholar at NLUJ Jodhpur, what exactly does your work entail?

As part of the FITS program, each scholar is expected to work on a research paper which is based on a topic in the field of tech law and policy. Apart from this, scholars are also tasked with writing articles or making podcasts based on relevant areas of their research. Each scholar is placed under a think tank during the program, and the think tank acts as a mentoring institution for the scholar. This provides scholars an opportunity to be mentored by some of the leading folks in the tech law and policy in the region.

For the 2021-2022 edition of the FITS program, I have been placed under Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC.in). SFLC is an organisation which works on some incredible projects in support of digital rights, so it truly is an honour to be mentored by it.

4. Apart from being a FITS scholar, you have done multiple internships in the field of digital rights, very different from the usual corporate law pursuit. Can you tell us about them?

Yes, indeed. While in law school, I chose to work on projects that I suppose differ from those chosen by my peers on campus.

I have been fortunate enough to engage and work with people not only in the legal community, but also in civil society, academia, industry, and government. Among the numerous projects to which I have been able to contribute to, I could note my experience advocating against India’s disturbing trend of internet shutdowns. I have also had the chance to learn about the need for robust data protection legislations in the Asia-Pacific region. In addition to these, I was part of an excellent research team that helped me understand the impact of the misuse of laws to restrict media freedom. These have all had an influence on the person I am now, and I am thankful to have had these opportunities.

5. Your public interest litigation (PIL) in Meghalaya paved the way for change in your home State. Can you tell us about the filing, Jade Jeremiah Lyngdoh v. Union of India? 

That is an incredibly generous statement.

Well, I filed the PIL (public interest litigation) before the High Court of Meghalaya during the height of the COVID-19 Pandemic. If one recalls, that was a time when we noticed authorities rushing to create contact tracing apps which supposedly allowed them to limit the spread of COVID-19.

At that point, the State Government took a decision to enforce mandatory contact tracing apps. That was concerning to me because the Government began these initiatives in the absence of a legal framework and without setting any data privacy protocols in place. Because of the serious risks these indicatives posed to our rights to privacy, I decided to file a PIL before the High Court.

In its final judgment, the High Court of Meghalaya held that data privacy safeguards were an essential condition, especially in instances where the State required us to use a particular mobile app. I believe the petition was successful because shortly after the petition was filed, the State came on record to note that it had stopped using the apps which the petition challenged. Regardless of that, the High Court directed the State Government to conduct a thorough investigation into the concerns which my petition outlined, so I believe it was a win for all of us. I must convey my gratitude to Mr Kaustav Paul (Senior Advocate) and his colleagues in Shillong for their efforts to assist me with the petition.

6. You were always inclined towards community rights and seem to have made the best use of your work in the privacy/tech field. Could you tell us more about your work?

In the recent past, I have been able to work on some exciting projects in collaboration with colleagues in the legal community. In 2021, I sent a legal notice to the State Government of Meghalaya over its unlawful use of facial recognition technology. The State Government decided to use facial recognition in a mobile app to verify the identities of old-age pensioners, and I believed that this posed a risk to their rights to privacy. With assistance from the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), I sent a legal notice to the State and this outlined several points of concern which needed to be immediately addressed. Soon after the legal notice was sent, we received a response from the State Government and that response revealed several shortcomings in the State Government’s understanding of our rights.

In addition to raising concerns on the unlawful use of facial recognition, I have been able to work on documenting the extent of internet shutdowns in my State. By using requests filed under the Right to Information Act, we now understand that Meghalaya ordered six internet shutdowns since the Anuradha Bhasin1 judgment was rendered by the Indian Supreme Court in 2020.

When coupled with additional public data, we now understand that the internet was shut off 14 times in the State since 2015. If this figure is compared with those of other States in the region, it becomes clear that Meghalaya orders the most internet shutdowns in the North-East. In my opinion, this is an important reminder that authorities should not shut down the internet. These internet shutdowns have a huge impact on our human rights, and authorities can never justify such abuse.

7. Even as law student, you continue to write columns for Hindustan Times, The Telegraph, The Wire, etc. Can you tell us more about it?  

Because I only started writing about a year ago, I may not be the ideal person to give advice on how to write columns. What I can tell you is that it is essential for lawyers to write more columns, particularly for a non-specialised readership. Far too often, the columns and blogs we write are overly complicated, making it impossible to reach a larger readership. We must aim to reduce legalese and make it easier for our communities to grasp the law and how it affects them.

8. Keeping in mind your academic background, what are your views on the concept of “exhaustion of a search”? 

If I understand the term right, it might relate to a moment in research where a writer is unable to make further progress owing to a lack of primary or secondary data. As someone who is currently writing a research paper, my advice in such an instance would be to admit the limitations of research. As someone once said to me, writing does not necessarily have to be about expressing the right statements, it could also me about asking the right questions.


1. Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India, (2020) 3 SCC 637.

Interviews

Aakarsh Banyal is a final year law student and university merit scholar at SLS, Pune. He has interned with the Chief Prosecutor’s office at the International Crimes Tribunal, Bangladesh and under the UN Special Rapporteur for trafficking in persons. He is serving as an extern to Prof. Sandesh Sivkumaran (Prof. of International Law, Cambridge) and Dr Anna Petrig [Judge ad hoc, (International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea) ITLOS]. In this interview with Nipun Bhatia, the Student Ambassador of SCC OnLine for SLS, Pune, he discusses about his experience in academic externships in the area of public international law (PIL).

1. Could you kindly introduce yourself to our readers and tell us what made you choose law as your professional career?

I am a fourth-year law student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune. Outside of law, I have a penchant for music, philosophy, travel, documentaries (highly recommend Icarus by Bryan Fogel), and a love for horses.

My journey with the law began in high school. I was a science student with an appetite for philosophy. I chanced upon a brilliant book on bioethics by Peter Singer and was left wanting more. His other monographs dealing with the idea of rights, equality and morality (thanks to his legal background) led me to develop an interest in law. Add to this a few Model UNs and volunteer work involving civic engagement, and I felt I could do much more as a lawyer to advance societal change. Thus, I decided to exchange my lab coat for a gown.

2. What intrigued your interest in public international law?

Like many others, I discovered international law through moot court competitions. I appreciated how the subject operated in “greys”, and there was always room to question existing doctrine.

However, I built a personal connection with international law during my internships. I could see how the subject had a very real impact on everyday life. Be it the victims fighting for justice at the International Crimes Tribunal, Bangladesh or countries from the Global South such as Sri Lanka seeking to espouse a more just understanding of international law at the United Nations.

I became sensitive to many such issues and, consequently, international law’s intention and impact in resolving conflict. I knew I had to be part of this grand design in every way possible.

Over time, my “why(s)” for pursuing international law have only increased, and — as clichéd as it may sound — I find a new reason to pursue international law everyday.

3. How are academic externships and research internships different from enforcement internships?

My personal experience would guide this answer; thus, it may differ across individuals. Having said that, I would define an academic externship as one where you work with a scholar(s). In contrast, you work with practitioners or law firms in enforcement internships.

As a natural consequence, you serve different masters and work towards different objectives. Generally, scholars need assistance with research they hope to eventually publish. On the other hand, law firms and practitioners require assistance typically with ongoing disputes or compliance since they represent clients.

Academic externships require you to take a more interdisciplinary approach to legal issues. This is because the scope of analysis is broader for an academician than a practitioner. In my experience, I found the work to be more varied in an academic externship ranging from legal research and brainstorming discussions to editorial support and website development.

Ultimately, it depends on what you wish to learn from a professional engagement since each internship has something different to offer.

4. How was your experience with international institutions which offer internships in the field of PIL?

While interning with the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the UN, I interacted with a different side of international law: lawmaking and diplomacy. I could see the sheer amount of thought and research that went into drafting and negotiating a single model law provision. Despite the fact that numerous foreign policy considerations reigned over these discussions, it was inspiring to see the effort States made to reach a consensus. My work mainly pertained to the legal analysis of model laws in consideration at Working Groups under the auspices of UNCITRAL (United Nations Commission on International Trade Law), such as ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) reform, electronic commerce and cross-border insolvency.

My internship with the Chief Prosecutor’s office at International Crimes Tribunal, Bangladesh was replete with drafting assignments. Among other things, it gave me an opportunity to bridge my ignorance about the Bangladeshi peoples’ encounter with extreme conflict during the Liberation Struggle. The ICT-BD statute and decisions are also telling insofar as they reveal a harsh reality of international law. Despite the [International Crimes (Tribunals) Act] ICT Act’s enactment in 1973 [well before the ad hoc tribunals and the ICC (International Criminal Court)] and trials taking place for the past decade, scholarship regarding ICT-BD is virtually non-existent in comparison to its western counterparts.

On a more personal level, you get a chance to interact with individuals from different backgrounds, allowing you to develop cultural sensibilities. These experiences facilitate holistic development by instilling fundamental values of inclusivity and acceptance.

5. In particular, how was your experience at Basel and how did it help you with respect to PIL?

The Basel Winter Arbitration School was a gratifying experience. I had the opportunity to meet and discuss ideas with stalwarts of international law whom I have admired since my formative years at law school. Further, as the youngest student at the arbitration school, I learned a lot from fellow students with diverse career aspirations (solicitors, doctoral candidates, researchers, professors, mediators, etc.) but a shared interest in international dispute resolution.

What struck me as unique about this programme was its learning journal. After every lecture, we had to write down our thoughts on topical issues (framed as guiding questions) related to that lecture’s theme. I found this exercise incredibly useful, and this is something I do now after all my classes.

Once again, I thank the organisers for their generous support scholarship that made this experience possible.

6. What career prospects and challenges could one expect in the field of PIL?

International law can allow you to don the hat of everything from a practitioner to an academic. You can use your education in international law (derived through a degree, work experience or otherwise) as a stepping stone towards many exciting careers in advocacy, diplomacy, academia, governance, journalism and policy. It all depends on one’s specific interest in international law.

As an undergraduate student, opportunities in this field remain hypercompetitive and scarce. Specific issues that vex Indian students are lack of funding prospects and visa-related limitations. Nevertheless, I am in touch with many seniors who have fared well despite all odds.

7. How important is doing proper legal research, and how should law students equip themselves with legal research skills. And could you please throw some light on “exhaustion of research” and its importance in PIL?

Broadly speaking, a strong foundation in legal research is essential to perform well as a lawyer, regardless of your area of interest.

Academic intervention is intrinsic to international law’s development. Hence, I cannot stress enough when I say that constantly developing your skills in legal research will always hold you in good stead.

I believe it is imperative to take your first year “research methods and methodology” lectures seriously. Although it may seem like drudgery, this course is vital to ensure a solid foundation in legal research. In addition, it is helpful to take time while devising your research question since that determines your research approach.

Similarly, suppose you are assisting someone with research. In that case, it is necessary to understand what the researcher or research question is asking of you. Otherwise, you can end up conducting research with no practical consequence. This also ties into what I have to say about the “exhaustion of research”. In my opinion, this phrase refers to reaching a point where you can reasonably assert that no more research is required for you to address a given question sufficiently.

In international law, the scope of inquiry is usually broad. So, it is pretty cumbersome and difficult to assert that you have exhausted all research. There are various lenses (even outside the legal realm) through which you can analyse a given proposition of international law. Therefore, as someone who wishes to pursue research in this field, I think having a broad reading base is critical. A decent understanding of subjects such as history, sociology, political science and international relations can always provide a fresh perspective on any issue.

8. Finally, could you tell our readers what your law school mantra is?

I am not one for mantras, for there would be a certain tautological emptiness in any one-liner I concoct. Rather, I can say that carving your individuality and path in law school (and beyond) goes farther than jumping on the bandwagon. Grades may seem paramount but are only important. Taking up every collegiate activity may seem necessary, but most of them may be redundant. Instead, the disciplined pursuit of “less” alongside having a “why” for any enterprise will help you overcome any challenge (law school) life throws at you.

Interviews

   

Dr Vijay Kumar Singh is presently the Dean at UPES School of Law. He is a lawyer by training with LLM in business laws (gold medalist). He is a certified trainer on “managing disputes and difficult conversations on the board” by Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR), as a Course Director, he has conducted training in commercial mediation and negotiation, IBC, NCLT, etc. for senior professionals. He has participated, organised and presented papers in a number of national and international seminars/conferences/workshops. He had been a faculty at Hidayatullah National Law University (HNLU) Raipur and has worked with the competition regulator (CCI) for 5 years. 

He has been interviewed by Aditi Sharma, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from UPES, Dehradun.

  1. To begin with, for the interest of our readers would you be kind enough to tell us something about yourself, your journey in the profession and your early years?

It is always a humbling experience when you are asked to introduce yourself or speak about your achievements. However, for the new readers I am a student of law currently discharging the responsibility of Professor and Dean at School of Law, UPES Dehradun.  My journey as a professional has seen many twists and turns and on each of these turns I learnt a lot which makes me what I am.  I had a humble background which necessitated me to work and support myself.  Being eldest in the family, I had many responsibilities as well.  At the hindsight, I think these made me a self-made person.  I had worked as a law clerk, a medical transcriptionist, and many would not know that I have even worked in a security company of my uncle in Nagpur.  I got my permanent teaching break with HNLU Raipur and a lot of honing of my professional skills happened with the Competition Commission of India (CCI) and Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs (IICA) in Delhi-NCR, before I joined UPES.

  1. What motivated you towards the field of legal education? Do you recall any specific episode of your life that made you choose law as a career?

During my college days of LLB 3 years course at Dr. Ambedkar College, Deekshabhoomi, I discovered that I enjoy teaching while I was making my first presentation to an audience at a national seminar on child rights.  For this seminar, I recollect interviewing the children at the streets and their conditions in Nagpur.  Later this thought got further strengthened with my PG at PG Department wherein I discharged the role of contributory lecturer along with my responsibility as a law clerk.  I had a brief stint of professional practice in Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court and tribunals, but ultimately it was legal education which took over.  I had the privilege of teaching information technology law at a very young age to the judicial officers at JOTI as well as to a batch of air warriors immediately after my LLM. I would only say my professors and mentors have been very kind to provide me with best of the opportunities.  I was a BSc student and after my BSc I did medical transcription for a year to support myself.  While doing my job, I enrolled in the LLB course and after attending few classes of torts and Constitution, I made up my mind that I belong to law.

  1. You are a lawyer by training and a doctorate in law with gold medals in LLM and LLB examinations. Could you please enlighten our readers about your college life experience and how law schools have evolved over time compared to what it was 20 years back then?

I studied law through the traditional 3-year LLB format from Dr. Ambedkar College, Deekshabhoomi, Nagpur.  We were the privileged ones to get legal education under the precincts of Deekshabhoomi wherein Dr Ambedkar got his “diksha”.  Some of the teachers like Dr Hema Menon, Dr Varsha Deshpande, Dr Thrity Patel and Dr Gopal Sharma (late) seeded inside me a thought to excel in the legal field and in particular legal education.  There is a difference between the cohort you have in 3-year LLB and 5-year LLB.  In 3-year course, you generally have experienced people doing law.  Along with me there were many of my colleagues who were working professionals.  This provided a different approach to learning law.  In the present day context, the students decide doing law after 12th itself, which is in a way good, as they save one year which they can devote to PG (LLM) if they want to continue.  Standalone law schools with a specialised focus on law have definitely changed the way legal education used to be looked at.  It is no more a part-time education, it has evolved over the years as a separate stream in its own right.  Now Bar Council has come up with India International University of Legal Education and Research (IIULER) which is further raising the bar of legal education in India.  It is now going international.  Facility wise, I envy the young students and wish I could travel back in time to do law once again.

  1. Research paper publications are an integral part of a law student’s career but in the early stages, students often tend to indulge in other co-curricular activities. How important is it for a law student to realise the value of publications as you yourself have published and presented papers in several recognised journals/seminars/conferences/workshops, etc.?

We call it KSA framework i.e. knowledge, skills and attitude.  A law student shall not only earn the knowledge of legal subjects but acquire skills and attitude of a legal professional.  A law professional is a lifetime researcher, research skills shall flow like blood in the blood vessels of a law student.  Developing research temperament shall begin early in the career, it is like developing a habit to read, research and write.  The more you do, the more you enjoy and more skilful you become.  Nowadays law schools mandate project writing and research by students, this is towards the objective of building research culture.  Presenting papers at the conferences and seminar helps not only showcase your researching and oratory skills, but also to network, which is again very important.  I never missed an opportunity to attend conferences/seminars during my college days.  Though initial objective was to visit different places and meet different people, I realised over time how helpful it was in my career.  I became an associate member of Indian Society of International Law very early.  Many conferences sponsor students, I got one to present my paper at IIT Kanpur.  First time I travelled in AC 2 tier sponsored by the organisers for presenting my paper.  If you are interested in higher studies having good publications is an important key to success.  In short, I would say publishing in the life of a law student is a must, either it may be a journal, blog post, book chapter or even twitter posts.  Publish for staying relevant in the profession.  I also feel that any publication project forces you to update yourself, read new things and critically think, which keeps your mental faculty alive and going.  You may like to read more about my publications at <https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=1113018>.

  1. Please tell us about your book titled Corporate Power to Corporate Crimes: Understanding Corporate Criminal Liability in India which is an enhancement of your PhD thesis and your journey to this accomplishment.

My book on corporate crimes is an updated version of my PhD thesis.  I had always in mind that your publications shall not be kept in a closet rather shall be made available to the interested readers at large.  Foreword to my book was written by Justice Sirpurkar and was launched at NLU Delhi with the blessings of Prof. Ranbir Singh and Prof. Srikrishna Dev Rao.  This book is a comprehensive literature on corporate criminal liability in Indian context and contains copious references for scholars who want to do further studies.  My work in this area allowed me to further advise on corporate frauds, ponzi schemes and securities fraud, which goes on unabated.  Update of the book is due which I intent to take up as my next project.  You can find more about the book at <https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2973719>.

  1. With a humongous increase in the number of applicants for law entrance exams in India, the practice of law has become very competitive, and the competition for jobs has intensified in recent years, what advice would you like to give to the law enthusiasts who find it difficult to cope with such competition.

Law as a career options has indeed seen an increase over the last few years, especially given the multifarious opportunities a law graduate has, students are now opting it over plain engineering or plain graduation.  Though the competition is stiff for getting into the few top law schools, students ultimately are able to get admission in private institutions of repute, some of which are better than the last rung law schools which are yet to come up with their own infrastructure or have good permanent faculty.  However, competition is in every field, this is due to the population of youth we have.  While young population provides us with a demographic dividend, on other hand an unskilled and unguided dividend becomes a cost later.  My suggestion for the youngsters is that they shall not limit themselves in acquiring skills and attitude.  Standing out in competition is important and this can be done by thinking innovatively.  Youngsters should think about entrepreneurship as an option, where they become “job givers than job seekers”.  Serving rural India could be an option.  We still do not have good law professionals in hinterland.  There are plenty of opportunities, it is about crafting your own journey towards one of them.  Plan early and execute the action plan.

  1. What recommendations and guidance would you like to give to students who wish to make a career the same as yours i.e. academia and what do you think are the factors which should be taken into account before pursuing postgraduation (LLM)?

It is heartening to know that many youngsters are attracted to legal education as their career.  Life of an educator is a service and the job is that of a passion, if the mindset is to earn money, it is not the right profession.  Anyone interested in academia shall have a temperament of patience and empathy.  Continuous passion of learning and teaching and research is a must.  My suggestion would be to spend some time in industry/practice before one does their postgraduation.  Nowadays legal academicians are expected to know practical dimension of theory they teach.  Working with a law and policy firm could be a great asset.

  1. What is the significance of doing proper legal research and how should law students equip themselves with legal research skills? Also, what is your view on the concept of “exhaustion of a search” as many people are not aware of it?

I think I have already elaborated upon the importance of research in legal profession and especially for legal educators.  As regards status of legal research in India, I find still a lot has not changed and legal research takes a backseat, especially when you compare them with scientific and social science research.  Legal research as a domain has not progressed well.  The concept of “exhaustion of a search” is very important, as until you complete your review of literature you cannot find something new.  In my role as a PhD supervisor and during my guidance on projects, seminars and dissertations, I observe, the students often take the shortcut and do not consult the original literature.  Often, they do not read the original judgment, rather rely on the headnotes.  Headline research may not be the right approach to research.  In-depth understanding of literature already available is important to lay down a new theory or perspective.  It is also important to save oneself from falling into the traps of plagiarism.

  1. What is the most challenging part of your job as an academician and how do you overcome it?

Challenges make your work exciting and interesting.  As an academician there are few challenges than an administrator.  In fact I would say there are no challenges for a true academician, every challenge is a learning opportunity and also an opportunity to contribute something to the existing body of knowledge and academic practice.  In terms of students and scholars as well as introduction of technology has changed the role of an academician.  It is no more about providing information, rather it is about engaging in critical analysis and evolving tools to deal with the technological challenges posed by the information burst.

  1. Any advice you would like to give to the readers of the SCC blog? Or is there anything you would like to share with our readers?

SCC blog is a reputed blog in the area of tracking legal developments and also providing a platform for its readers to engage and network with professionals. As it tagline goes “bringing you the best analytical legal news”, readers of SCC blog shall enjoy the benefits of this platform by contributing and commenting on the threads and engage in a discussion with the author.  Also readers are encouraged to contribute to the platform as sustainability of a blog depends upon good content, analysis and engagement by its readers.  My best wishes to SCC blog for continued success.

Interviews

A science student turned advocate, Mr. Sanjay Bhasin is a designated Senior Advocate at the Allahabad High Court. Apart from having a 36 year long standing before the Court, he is a leading Arbitration Counsel in India.

He has been interviewed by Ayush Shukla, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from TNNLU.

 

1. What motivated you to pursue law as a discipline and a career. Was it an obvious choice for you, given that your father was an advocate?

No, it was not my obvious choice at all. I was a science student throughout and was interested in the same, but because I did not do well in my MSc, my father said I had no other option but to go for law. But while pursuing my law, I developed a great liking for it. So yes, it was not my first choice and was only my second-best choice, I did not want to get into the hassles of law, but somehow, I got involved in it.

Based on my interest in Science, I wanted to be a scientist or a lecturer. Still, destiny brought me here, and I have relished this period spanning from 1986-1987 that I have spent in the field of law.

2. Could you tell our readers about your experience in law school and what lessons you have learned in your law school that have been an integral part of your journey as a practitioner?

I was not that serious during my law school. I did my law at DAV College, where we only had two morning classes. So, I spent the rest of my day in labour courts, as I used to be a chauffeur to my father, who used to practise in the labour courts. So, throughout the day, I watched the proceedings before various authorities of the Labour Court. If one does this religiously, one will start picking up things from there itself.

But here, I always remembered my father’s lessons during those days, which have been with me throughout my life. He told me to maintain the profession’s integrity, always be honest and dedicated to the judicial system, and create your image through your hard work. He used to tell me that if you are hardworking, you will succeed. Whether or not you are going to succeed in that particular case or not, will depend on the merits of the case, but in any case, you should not be found in a situation where you did not do enough labour, or you did not present it well enough.

My teachers also taught the same lessons. They said that lawyers are otherwise taken to be liars, but they are not so, as whatever they say or present is based on the strength of the affidavits and documents exchanged between the parties, and based on those, only a lawyer takes its stand. So, integrity and honesty are the things that have been imbibed in me by my father and teachers, and I have been following that very religiously.

One more thing that I would like to advise all the students that my father used to tell me is to work on your oratory skills. One needs to practise oration. That practice of oration could only be for a short duration, like 5 minutes or 10 minutes a day. Like just read a newspaper aloud, as that will provide thrust to your voice, it will give clarity to what you speak, it will improve your pronunciation, and it will change your overall personality. So, everybody, who wants to be a practicing lawyer, should practice this.

Here I also remember the advice given to me by my senior, Justice Bhalla, who, as and when I joined him, was an Additional Chief Standing Counsel, and later on, he went on to become a Judge. He taught me that I should read one judgment a day and make notes of the same. So, I had a diary, where I used to note all the important points of the judgment, and I used to observe how those points have been dealt with in the judgment.

3. During your initial days in the field, how did you do research on a case? Today we have research tools like SCC Online, which has to an extent, made our job more manageable. And what can our generation learn from your initial days’ experience of researching, which we can inculcate in today’s time?

In the absence of present time research tools, we were solely dependent upon the digests and the commentaries. We had those yearly digests of Supreme Court, labour and industrial court cases, factory law journals, etc. Those digests and commentaries were prepared so that you could reach the particular case law you are looking for by referring to the index itself.

Personally, I think that the manual thing was quite beneficial because it gave us insights into the complete aspect of the section we were researching. Moreover, when going through these commentaries, you will find judgments from both sides, so you can always read the other view. Once you do that, you get an obvious idea of the provision because you must have read judgments from both sides. At present, I agree we can reach the judgment faster, but that much off reading is missing among the youngsters. As by that additional reading, we used to learn ten more things besides what you were searching for, which perhaps is now missing. So, I feel this is what the upcoming generation can inculcate in themselves.

4. You have had an illustrious career in the field of arbitration, so according to you, what are the reforms or changes that should be introduced in the current regime of arbitration in India to make it a more viable option for the resolution of disputes by parties in India?

A4. Coming to arbitration, you see, I started with labour courts, then ventured to service matters. I was appointed in the Service Tribunal for a brief moment and then appointed as Standing Counsel in High Court, where I served the State for 20 years with different Governments. The first arbitration case that came to me was somewhere in 2003, so for the last 20 years, I have been dealing with arbitration, contracts, and other matters.

What I have found in arbitration is that the arbitrator has been given unfettered powers, and there are very limited grounds, as have been enumerated in Section 34, based on which the arbitrator’s award can be challenged. The award cannot be challenged on merits, so the arbitrator’s words are final on merits. I find this one thing very arbitrary, as this gives unfettered powers to the arbitrator because if he gives an award in his prudence, it is to be accepted as it is unless there are any legal flaws in it or it is not in conflict with the public policy then it is binding upon the parties. So, he can go overboard; he can do anything without any framework to stop him. I agree there is this entire legislation, but despite that, he has so much power in him without any checks and balances. This, I feel, needs a little consideration and deliberation. Personally, I think there should be some sort of an appellate authority, like, for instance, NCLT where we have an appellate authority, NCLAT, so whatever happens in NCLT, there is a provision for appeal in NCLAT. Here, in the arbitration act, there is no such forum available. Of course, the act states that you can seek setting aside of the award under Section 34, but that is based on some limited grounds only.

Moreover, invariably every award is challenged. Like in almost 90% of the cases, the award is challenged. So, we are having litigation, and the idea behind arbitration was to reduce litigation, but we are actually added to the litigation because the case goes before the District Court in the first place, then it comes to the High Court, and at times people even come to the court in between the proceedings. Very recently, there was a challenge to the arbitrator’s order, invoking Article 227 of the Constitution of India, which is related to the power of superintendence, and the inherent power of the court, which we are still dealing with this matter, and the judgment has been reserved. So, there should be an appellate forum provided by the act, which is the one thing I would like to suggest.

The second thing that I would like to suggest is that the parties should be given some sort of right to seek a change of arbitrator. You see, an arbitrator is somebody who is supposed to be Caesar’s wife, beyond all doubts; here, I am not questioning the integrity of the arbitrator, but due to the unfettered power given to them by the act, there can be an angle of bias in the proceedings. Although an arbitrator is supposed to make disclosures, like he is not related to any of the parties in any way, but suppose one of the parties thinks that the arbitrator, who throughout the proceedings will be the same person, is biased or has developed a bias towards particular party during the proceedings. Then the award passed by him could be maligned by his prejudices, which he may have developed during the course of proceedings itself. So, for this, there should be some cure. That cure can be given in the form of some sort of rights to the parties for seeking a change of the arbitrator or institutionalising the whole thing. Once it gets institutionalised, the case does not go to the same person with whom the party could have some grounds (not in all cases). In this way, the parties will not feel that they have been deprived of justice. So, that is the little grey area, where the party, even during the proceedings, may feel that they will not receive justice from the arbitrator, and besides that, they are forced to continue. So, these are the two areas where I feel some work needs to be done on the legislative side.

5. Recently Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana inaugurated the International Mediation and Arbitration Centre in Hyderabad, so could you tell our readers about the need for institutional arbitration, as inaugurated in Hyderabad, and how is institutional arbitration different from ad hoc arbitration?

So, you talked about mediation and arbitration centres. We also have it here in the High Court. Here, court-annexed mediations are referred to the centre. We also have arbitration chambers, but they are meant only to hold the arbitration proceedings. When I say institutionalisation, it actually means something like an arbitral court, where we have a number of arbitrators. When the matter is referred to the institution, it provides an arbitrator, and those arbitration proceedings are also held there.

Moreover, these institutions on the administrative side work upon and ensure that arbitration is carried out free from any biases and prejudices. In such an institution, there ought to be a facility for transferring arbitration matters conducted by one arbitrator to another arbitrator within the same institution. Here, the institution itself can be taken as an arbitral forum. The institution itself provides the arbitrator, who will not be static for one arbitration, facilitating the same arbitration matter before different arbitrators based on modus operandi, rules, and regulations.

6. The extravagant cost involved in arbitration proceedings has often been criticised, so what are your views on this issue, and what can be some possible solutions?

Yes, the cost involved in the disputes is stupendous. What is there in Schedule 4 was only indicative. Until Schedule 4 was inserted, the arbitrator was free to decide its fee. But now, once this schedule has been introduced, everyone has to stick with it. When we talk about Schedule 4, I am yet to understand its impact, as the schedule gives slabs of fees depending upon the sum of the dispute, and just below the schedule, you will find that 25% extra has to be paid in case there is only one arbitrator. Now, what does this mean, is the fees as have been specified in the schedule related to the cost of the whole arbitral panel, or is it the cost of one arbitrator. Based on the intent behind this provision, it actually means that if there is a panel of three arbitrators, then only the slab amount is to be given to the whole panel, which perhaps has to be divided among the three arbitrators. Otherwise, the type of fees given to an arbitrator, let’s suppose ten crores, if is to be given to an individual arbitrator, then it is a huge amount. Therefore, I do not find these figures irrational, as when High Court under Section 11 states that the fees have to be decided in accordance with the schedule, then it is also binding on the parties to follow it, and as far as the negotiation with the arbitrator on fees is concerned, that thing is not possible.

A possible solution to this can be that there should be some declaration that the fee prescribed in the schedule should be for the whole panel of three arbitrators. And in case there is only one arbitrator, then his fees should be one-third of what is prescribed in the schedule plus 25% of that amount.

7. What will be your advice to law students and practitioners looking forward to a career in arbitration?

A7. There is a lot of scope in arbitration. The law students and practitioners looking forward to a career in arbitration should be thorough with the Contract Act and the Arbitration Act. Nowadays, the Government has made it mandatory that every government contract invariably has to have an arbitration clause, so with this, the Government is trying to lighten the burden of the courts. Still, the Government has not been successful, which is one thing. There is another thing which I would like to say regarding the lawyers. Being a lawyer is a job; he has to handle the court, handle the clients, and handle the people around him to increase his clientele. It is a very engaging profession. The lawyer will find significantly less time for his family or any miscellaneous job. Moreover, for a young lawyer to get arbitration matters is in itself a job. So, I would suggest that young lawyers should first establish themselves in the eyes of their seniors so that their senior has confidence in them and give out cases of arbitration and others to young lawyers. Once this confidence is developed, they have to prove their worth by their dint of labour. Otherwise, what I perceive is that getting arbitration matters for a young lawyer is not an easy job.

8. We all know that you have been in the legal industry for over three decades, so what, according to you, are the skill sets that are essential for this profession, and how can a law student utilise their time in the law school to develop these skills?

I have talked about certain skills like oration practice and reading one judgment a day, which are some skill sets that one should develop. One more thing I may have missed out on, and it will cover up, is that you need to carry a smile throughout. You see, half of your job is done with politeness and smile; if you are polite in your submissions, if you are submissive in your arguments, half of your job is done. When I entered this profession, I was told by my teachers, my guru, my father, and others that you should learn three words, “Ji Sir; Yes Sir; Ha Sir”, nothing beyond this. Whenever a Judge says something, it must be any of these three things. One should never say “na” or no to anything; start with a “Yes My Lords” even if you do not agree with what the Judge said, or he may even be wrong in his proposition, then also you must start from Yes Sir or Yes My Lords and then put across your point, this is essential for a youngster. So never start with a no, always be submissive, and then very sweetly and softly take the Judge along with you with whatever you wish to say, because if you start with a no, then it is human psychology that he would become resistant to you, he may not be receptive to what you would be saying, but once you say yes, then he may be receptive to what you may be having to speak. Another thing will be never frown or show your anger in the court, even if you are. Never fight with your colleague on the other side of the dice. Always show respect to him and the court; the world would be yours. So, this is one mantra that I learned during the initial days of my practice.

9. Any final piece of advice for our readers.

Hard work and labour with every brief that comes. Here, I would like to share one thing. When I started practicing in the High Court, there was a perception among the people that I was an expert in the Labour Laws. But to be upfront and honest, I will say I learned Labour Laws in just three months, and those three months were on my first case, which I asked for from my father. Once he permitted me, I went through the entire pleadings, prepared my notes, and started working on the legal aspects of it. Once I started working on it, I was neck deep in Industrial Disputes Act. Once you start reading the case laws related to it, you get ten more case laws referred to in that particular case that you read, and so on. In this way, I had a great command of that topic. During those days, my schedule was such that I used to return at 7.00 p.m. from the courts, and then I used to do this work till around 2.00 to 2.30 a.m., that too when I was scolded by my mother to leave the work and go to sleep. But for doing that extra work, I never forced myself. I enjoyed the process throughout. As once you start enjoying it, you begin to imbibe it, appreciate it, and understand it. Once you do that, you will become a master of that particular thing. So, my final word would be that you can never achieve success without hard work.

Interviews

Mr Sanchit Garga, Advocate-on-Record, Supreme Court of India. He is a very young lawyer who has not only conquered the AOR examination but is also an established name at the Supreme Court as well as the Delhi High Court. He deals in a wide array of cases ranging from civil to criminal to arbitration matters.

In this conversation, he shares with us some valuable insights on the practicality of law and how practice is different from the theoretical concepts we learn at law school. He also shares some tips on litigation and the AOR examination.

This interview has been conducted by Vranda Agarwal, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from NLIU, Bhopal.

  • Can you please introduce yourself and give us a glimpse of your law school journey? Also tell us how do you define the change that you have seen from law in books to law at practice?

I graduated in 2012 from Bangalore Institute of Legal Studies (Bangalore University). Simultaneously, I also completed my company secretaries course. Apart from reading law, while in college I got driven to a world other than law but very closely related to law such as psychology, history, social science, etc, which ultimately helps in understanding the nuances of law. When one practises in superior courts, the Judges are more well versed with law than the young lawyers, one has to come to the point in no time for there is no time for recovery. If a lawyer is not quick on his feet or is not conversant with the facts, he might not be able to answer the volley of questions often asked by the Judges.

Litigation practice is completely different, life as a litigator is far more diverse and different from reading the law in books. Law is an ocean and nobody can learn it all. One always has to be a student of law.

  • Sir can you also share your early experiences with litigation as a career, what was the journey like? What should one expect while embarking upon this journey?

Initial days were a struggle, you keep waiting for briefs, but those were days where you learn the most. One learns courtcraft watching veterans argue in courts. In the initial days, finances become a big problem and it can get frustrating also. Briefs are scarce to come by since litigants do not trust young lawyers, easily. However, this should not deter young lawyers from embarking on the beautiful journey of life as a litigating lawyer. One should look for light from anywhere. Initial days are tough but persistence and self-belief are the key factors which keep you going. Young lawyers should have the courage of conviction to stay put for success might be slow but not far to see.

  • Next is a question which every law student tries to look for. What is the life like as an independent counsel? Also, please throw some light on the profile in contrast to other legal careers like corporate jobs. Is it helpful to work in a firm and then start with your own practice as is the trend these days?

Life as an independent counsel is a wholesome experience. It is a bitter-sweet experience of failure and success in courts as a part of everyday life. But failure should not deter one from moving ahead. Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour. When in law school, the student should make up his mind on what journey and future he looks for himself though it is a tough decision to make at that time.

 

Law firms provide financial security, the corporate practice of the law firms is diametrically opposite to litigation while the litigation practice of law firms provides a similar experience with heavy briefs and since law firms engage Senior Advocates on regular basis, it is a great learning experience as well. The arbitration practice of law firms is also a great learning curve. The transition from law firms to litigation as an independent counsel might not be smooth always but the idea of being your own boss is a good enough motivating factor.

 

  • A lot many students fear this career path as there is a lot of uncertainty and in the initial days, not much of returns so to say. How does one make a successful litigation career? What are some of the things that he/she needs to keep in mind while opting for a career in this domain?

Persistence, self-belief, patience are the only keys to success. Apart from financial struggles there is so much to learn which in itself is an incentive. There is no straitjacket formula or secret formula to achieve success. It is only by trial and error. The experiences and journey of each litigator is his own and one has to chart his own course. The difficulties may be wide ranging and diverse which are unique to every individual but the way you turn adversities into opportunities is what will take you ahead. Develop a mindset of growth and be a problem-solver for your clients as well as for yourself.

  • What should be the basic approach and expectations one must have while starting the practice at High Court or Supreme Court? What should be the ideal trajectory and please share some do’s and don’ts while starting out this journey?

Before moving to constitutional courts, a lawyer needs to first start with practice in District Courts for at least two years. The basics of CPC and CrPC are implemented in District Courts exercising original jurisdiction.  If the foundation is not strong the entire structure will be weak. I also practised initially in District Court for two years. The idea is to first become a good drafting counsel and then become a good arguing counsel, though there is no ideal trajectory but I always endeavour to draft my own matters which in turns enable me to remember facts, better.

In my advice and experience,

Do’s:

(a) Thorough examination of facts and the applicable case laws should be done while drafting the petitions.

(b)  Always be fair to the opposite side as well.

(c)  Argue without hesitation or fear.

Don’t’s:

(a)  Never mislead the court.

(b)  Never conceal facts prejudicial to your client’s interest.

(c)   Never get agitated in court.

  • Since you took the AOR examination in recent past, please share some tips with the readers on how to clear this exam and what are the benefits of becoming an AOR? Please share your experiences with the examination.

AOR examinations are not that tough to crack especially, if you have been practising in Supreme Court. The key is memorising Supreme Court Rules, 2013 which helps in practice and procedure, drafting as well as ethics paper. Leading case laws though is an open book exam but I find it to be the toughest. Time management during the exams is something to watch out for. Attending the lectures delivered by Senior Advocates conducted by the Supreme Court is a must and should not be avoided for any reason. The lectures are important for they are delivered by the “test author”. Be careful to read and understand the question and then write the answers. The benefits of becoming an AOR are plenty. First you become a certified advocate of the Supreme Court who can plead in his own name. Several public sector companies and private organisations also engage the services of an AOR only. Advocates of High Courts also recognise the Advocate-on-Record. Becoming an AOR helps in boosting the practice and also enhances self-confidence.

 

  • Any advice from your side to all the law students out there, particularly for those who want to get into litigation and aspire to establish their own independent practice?

Litigation is a beautiful profession. Be honest to your profession and the clients. Integrity, perseverance, hard work are the keys to success in any profession. My advice to all the budding litigators is just go out there and make the world your oyster. Success will eventually follow, learn to enjoy the journey. “When the tough gets going, the going gets tough.”

Interviews

Mr Tushar Agarwal completed his LLB from the Amity Law School, Amity University, Noida in the year 2015, and enrolled with the Bar Council of Delhi. Mr Agarwal also successfully completed a diploma course in “criminal justice” from Harvard University, United States.

His practice primarily focuses on criminal law, constitutional law and commercial arbitration. His chamber caters to all the needs of the litigants starting from legal opinion and legal drafting to presenting arguments before the court of law.

Mr Agarwal was one of the assisting counsels representing Dr Shashi Tharoor in a famous State v. Shashi Tharoor, Sessions Case (SC) No. 5/2019. He has also appeared in few pro bono cases with Senior Counsels representing Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy, Association of Victims of Meerut Fire Tragedy, etc. Mr Agarwal is currently handling few important matters relating to corruption, corporate frauds, moneylaundering and goods and services tax (GST) evasion being investigated by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO), Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Directorate General GST Intelligence (DGGI) respectively.

He has been interviewed by Khushbu Sood, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from HPNLU.

 

1. To begin with, if I may request you to please share with our readers something about yourself, your journey in the profession and your early years.

I am a first generation lawyer from a small town of U.P. i.e. Meerut and shifted to Delhi in 2009 to chase and fulfil my dreams. I completed my LLB from the Amity Law School, Amity University, Noida in the year 2015, and enrolled with the Bar Council of Delhi. I have also successfully completed a diploma course in “criminal justice” from Harvard University, United States.

During my law education, I explored about my deep interest in criminal law and with God’s grace, I was fortunate enough to start my professional journey with one of the stalwarts of criminal law in India Mr Vikas Pahwa, Senior Advocate. I joined his chamber as Legal Associate which provided me a great exposure as I got an opportunity to assist him in variety of high profile cases across various legal forums in Delhi as well as outside Delhi. One case which I would like to mention is State v. Shashi Tharoor, Sessions Case (SC) No. 5/2019 wherein Mr Pahwa was representing Dr Shashi Tharoor and I assisted him at the initial stage of the case. So the right guidance and mentoring in early years helped me in laying down a strong foundation of my professional career.

 

2.  What inclined you towards the field of legal education? Do you reckon any specific incident that made you choose law as a career?

Law is considered to be one of the noblest profession. A lawyer is the only professional who is addressed as learned. So, with the knowledge of law, it is expected from a lawyer that he/she will use that knowledge in making people aware about their legal rights and also fight on their behalf before a court of law for protecting those rights. So, being a participant in fight for protection of legal rights of the people of your country, was the biggest motivation for me to practise this profession.

There is no specific incident that made me choose law as a career. I was curious since my school days to learn about the genesis of various laws implemented in India because I feel that having deep knowledge of law makes you more socially empowered.

 

3.  How did you shape at the law school? Please also share your interests and motivations. How did you navigate through your career path?

At law school, apart from academic sessions and classes, the participation in moot courts, mock trials and other extracurricular activities also helped me a lot in pursuing my studies with utmost dedication and interest. Such activities used to act as a refresher/stressbuster in the hectic college schedule. I had also been in the leadership teams of various college associations like moot court society, legal entrepreneurship cell, media society, etc. Such roles helped me in developing good quality leadership skills.

I had interest in taking up challenging leadership roles since my school days. Such leadership roles not only refine your personality but also provide an opportunity to polish your communication and interaction skills. The motivation behind pursuing law as a career and taking these leadership roles was the direct opportunity of interaction with the legends and renowned Judges and senior advocates who used to visit the college on various occasions.

Further a combination of right guidance from college teachers, mentoring by fraternity seniors, support from family and strong self-belief and hard work and blessings of God and elders, together helped me in pursing my career path in an effective and efficient manner.

4. How has your experience shaped you into the professional? How has your primary interests in criminal law, constitutional law and commercial arbitration, helped you set up your chambers?

The internships across my entire law degree with various advocates, senior advocates, law firms and Judges, helped me in exploring my interest into litigation and that too especially in criminal, arbitration and constitutional law. So pursuing my internships sincerely made my journey easy to formally start practising as an advocate.

  1. Starting your own chambers is a hardworking and tiresome task, do you think it is important to have some specialisation or should there be generalist approach?

 

In the initial days of independent practice through your own chamber, the biggest challenge is to build your face value in the fraternity and to convince the clients about your quality of services in order to retain them. It is very hard to get the relief from the court of law for your clients. So in these initial times, your work experience during trainings and internships plays a major role.

I religiously follow all the ethical and professional practices learnt from my seniors and continue to do hard work with utmost dedication. I spend good amount of time in reading judgments and doing legal research to update my knowledge. My updated legal knowledge and awareness helped me a lot in retaining the clients.

In my opinion, in initial few years of independent practice, one should be open to take up all sort of cases like civil, criminal, arbitration, etc. Once you start building your image in one sort of matters and start gaining a good command over that particular field of law, then a chamber can think of narrowing down its practice to only that matter which falls within its area of specialisation. The specialist approach in initial days limits a lawyer within a periphery which he becomes unable to cross in future.

 

  1. Since your recent achievement, please share your experience of being awarded with “Top 100 Lex-Falcon Award” in LexTalk World Global Conference in Dubai for his contributions in legal industry.

This award indeed was a milestone in my professional journey. These kind of awards and recognition not only enhances your visibility in the fraternity but also motivates you to continue to contribute towards your industry. This award gave me an opportunity to take my practice at global level by making good relations with advocates and counsels across the world.

 

     7.   What, according to you, has changed/modified in law, both in statutes and in the society.

In my opinion, the law with passage of time has become more dynamic. With more frequent and new technological, political and global developments, the requirement of repealing old and obsolete statutes has increased and enactment of new statutes keeping in view the current situation, has become necessary. Further with the passage of time, the awareness about law and status has increased in the society. The people have become more aware about legal rights and the ways to enforce them. But in my view, this increased awareness has also resulted into increased filing of cases before courts. Therefore the onus is on lawyers to guide their clients in a correct manner in order to avoid frivolous and baseless litigations.

     8.  Not many people are familiar with the concept “exhaustion of a search”. What are your views on it?

I guess, the concept of “exhaustion of a search” is a very subjective matter and it differs from individual to individual. The stage of exhaustion of a search for a researcher will never arise until and unless his/her purpose of research is not completed and all questions are not answered.

For example: while doing a research on a law point, finding a case law is not sufficient. One should also research about any executive ordinance or government notification or any report of Law Commission or any report of Parliamentary Committees, etc. in order to have a holistic view regarding that particular law point.

  9.   What advice would you like to give students of law in a post-COVID era where students are anxious about choosing career paths?

In my opinion, this pandemic is a temporary phase which has now almost come to its end. The legal work in courts and corporates has started gaining its original pace which was there before pre-COVID era. Therefore my sincere advice to all aspiring lawyers is that instead of getting disappointed and anxious, they should use their time to enhance their legal knowledge either by reading legal books, judgments or writing articles or pursuing online internships, etc. They should focus on exploring new areas like artificial intelligence in law, etc. They can also plan to go for higher studies.

There are endless opportunities floating in this legal ocean, one just has to look and wait for it with patience and grab the same once it knocks your door. I might be sounding very bookish and non-realistic, but after spending so many years in this profession I have learnt that patience, persistence and hard work are the only ways to climb the stairs of success.

   10.  Any advice you would like to give to the readers of SCC blog? Apart from this is there anything else that you would like to share with the readers of SCC Online?

To all the aspiring lawyers which are readers of SCC blog, my sincere advice would be that whenever you join any chamber as an associate, you should spend good amount of time in that office without making any haste to start independent practice. You should focus on learning art of legal drafting, courtcraft, style of arguments, case management, etc. from your senior because none of these arts can be learnt by reading books. I still remember the exact words of my senior-cum-mentor, who trained me, that “you cannot become Ram Jethmalani in 2 or 3 years of practice. You have to be patient and give adequate time to this profession if you want to achieve success”.

Interviews

Alex Saha is a graduate from WBNUJS, Kolkata, and after a breif period of wokking as a corporate lawyer, he decided to take up judicial services and has been ranked 1 in the West Bengal Judicial Service Examination, 2021.

He has been interviewed by Radhika Ghosh, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from HNLU, Raipur.

  1. Firstly, congratulations on the brilliant performance at the West Bengal Judicial Service Examination, 2021. Please tell us a little about yourself and your interests?

Thank you for the wish. I am Alex. I am a resident of the Hooghly District in West Bengal. My father is an Assistant Public Prosecutor and my mother is a housewife. Due to the transferable nature of my father’s job, I had to switch between several schools in my childhood but I appeared in my ICSE and ISC examinations from Holy Home, Serampore. I got 96% in my ICSE and for ISC; I chose the science stream and received 92% in it. After my ISC, I took preparation for CLAT and was eligible to be admitted into my dream university, WBNUJS. I graduated in the year 2020. I enjoy swimming, playing cricket, snooker, table tennis and watching movies, sports, animes and TV series. Apart from it, I like collecting and spending my time in story books.

  1. What were your reasons for pursuing law and why did you choose judiciary as a career?

Although mathematics was one of my favourite subjects in school days, my curiosity about the subject law overpowered me to choose it as my graduation course. As a child, law intrigued me as I could see people redressing their grievances and settling their disputes amicably by resorting to law. I remember expressing my utter surprise when I first learnt that a 150-year old legislation governs the definitions of offences as well as their punishment even today. Law thenceforth became a subject of curiosity and the more I read it during my preparations for CLAT and at NUJS, the more curious I became. I believe this curiosity has resulted in me a thirst for knowing more and thus I was drawn towards law.

My interest in being a part of judiciary was not a natural byproduct of studying law. When I entered NUJS, I had no specific career trajectory in mind and I wanted to explore the various possibilities of a career choice. During my internships, I was lucky to get couple of internships with retired Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel of the Supreme Court and Justice Joymalya Bagchi of the Calcutta High Court. These internships led rise in me a yearning to join judiciary. Additionally, I wanted to take a path not trodden upon by anyone in my family before. Judiciary was completely a new territory to me and thus there was an element of thrill in being a part of judiciary and making a name for myself in it.

  1. How was your journey as a law student at WBNUJS and how much did it help to ace the judicial service examination?

During my first year at NUJS, it was tough for me to adapt to the new approach of studying and writing answers, given the fact that I was coming from science stream where I had to answer objectively and mostly in a couple of sentences. But the inquisitive atmosphere prevalent there and the general sense of competition that one perceives made me work harder in order to adjust to the new normal. From my second year onwards, it felt completely natural and I was able to focus on internships, mooting and other co-curricular activities. I tried myself at various things in order to ascertain my interests. I did a couple of moot courts, co-authored one research paper, participated in intra-university debates and a lot of varied internships ranging from litigations to judicial clerkships to law firms. Trying these varied activities made me certain about my future trajectory and I had made up my mind that my ultimate goal was to be a part of the judiciary.

NUJS provided me the opportunity to interact with a number of highly knowledgeable and respected professors; assistant professors who could make you fall in love with their subjects. They were eager to teach more and also exerted us to learn more and be more inquisitive. They were approachable not only when we had queries pertaining to their respective subjects but we could also approach them in regards to any problems we might be facing. Additionally, I was lucky to have many invaluable friends, seniors and juniors who were constantly motivating me to become better. NUJS also had specialised committees to look after the different trajectories of a law student. One such committee was the Civil and Judicial Examinations Committee which ensured that civil and judicial services aspirants got reliable notes free of cost. There were also seminars where reputed and famous personalities were invited for sharing their thoughts and insights and with whom we could personally interact and clear any doubts. This cumulative atmosphere was one of the most essential things that helped me fortify my base in order to appear for WBJS. I could not have had a better dream university to study from.

  1. Have internships played a prominent role in skill and knowledge development in your pursuing of judiciary as a career? How do you think the co-curricular activities (like participating in moot courts, debates, seminars and writing research papers) play a role in pursuing his career?

Internships, I believe, are essential not only to develop the skills and knowledge but also to choose where your interests lie. In my first year I interned under lawyers of the District Court and High Court, whereby I became acquainted with the profession of litigation. I interacted with various other lawyers during those internships and could accumulate their learned opinions, knowledge and ways to get myself adept at the profession. In my second and third year, I interned under Retd. Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and Justice Joymalya Bagchi wherein I was able to develop my profound respect and yearning to join judiciary. In my third and fourth year, I did law firm internships and although it was something most of my peers were focussing on, I could not bring myself to view it as my ultimate career choice. Thus I was able to explore these many career options and take a considered and well-explored decision of my ultimate career choice. There was no room for second-guessing my choice as I had already seen and lived through them during my internships.

I personally have felt that co-curricular activities are not a sine qua non for acing this examination. I have done couple of moot courts only, few intra-university debates and have only one research paper to my name. Co-curricular activities are important, I believe to develop a holistic personality and experience but what the examination requires is the knowledge of the law subjects and the ability to deal with the questions by connecting various provisions of law. Therefore, though I participated in co-curricular activities, I gave predominance to my academics over the other activities.

 

 

  1. Please give us an insight into your judicial service examination preparation? What kept you motivated, and what hurdles did you predominantly face while preparing for the same?

Although I had chosen my career trajectory, I did not start preparing for this examination till after I had graduated. The reason was that I was ineligible to appear in WBJS due to the minimum age limit requirement of 23. I had to wait a year and it was then that I began my preparation. I had around 6 to 8 months to prepare and thus, I thought given the time constraint, I had to keep the process simple and methodical. So, I only filled up the form of WBJS and of no other examination as I could not divide my time and attention among different examinations in the limited time.

For law subjects, I read the Bare Acts minutely and the notes already provided by NUJS. After completing a subject, I used to check the efficacy of my preparation by solving previous year question papers. Once I was satisfied, I used to move onto the next subject. Given the paucity of time, I planned on giving the least time to English and Bengali as I knew the languages well and judging by the past year papers, I merely had to write opinions on various topics. For GK/CA, I prepared from freely available online resources primarily. In the initial phase my preparation was mains oriented and only in the preceding month to prelims that I started practising MCQs. I devoted an entire month solving only MCQs. Post prelims, I revised all the law subjects 3 to 4 times and for interview, I stuck to revising the basic concepts of the laws that I had already read for mains.

My parents were my biggest motivators. They made sure that I did not accumulate stress by thinking too much of the exam and my future. They encouraged me to maintain a clear head during the process of preparation. Added to that, my friends also used to encourage and boost me to do and prepare better. Whenever, I needed breaks, I used to scroll social media or watch movies or sports.

The first hurdle that I faced was to allay the fears in regards to my future. The intense competition added to the limited number of vacancies available used to unnerve me at times. Moreover, I did not have a backup option if I failed to clear WBJS as I had not filled forms for any other examination. Thus I had to insulate my mind from these negative thoughts and during those phases, I used social media, movies, TV series, animes or sports. Another hurdle was to convince myself as to the sufficiency of materials I was studying from. I did not take any professional guidance as to which notes or books to consult or which strategy to follow. I did not watch any interviews of previously successful candidates and thus, the efficacy of my process and my materials used to haunt me at times. I allayed this fear by reminding myself of the fact that time was limited and thus too many notes or books were not a viable option. Moreover, since it was my first attempt, I could afford not availing professional guidance or consulting previously successful candidates.

  1. Did you seek any professional guidance?

Judging by the past year papers, I realised that self-study would be sufficient for me. I wanted to keep the process simple and too many opinions would have detracted and confused me. I therefore insulated myself from seeking or hearing such opinions. Moreover, I had couple of more attempts during which I could have consulted or sought the professional guidance and therefore, I relied completely on my understanding of the needs of the examinations for my first attempt.

  1. What changes you want to see in the Indian judicial system in the next 10 years?

I think this is not the correct time for me to answer this. I need to first experience the judicial system by becoming its part and then could give my considered opinion on it. If I say anything now, it will be a complete hearsay which I better avoid relying on.

  1. What advice would you give to our readers who are currently aspiring for judicial services?

The first thing to know is this every aspirant has their own strengths and weaknesses. So the first thing to be done is to understand one’s strengths and weaknesses. You have to work hard on your strengths so that they do not become fragile and you have to work harder on your weaknesses so that they become your strengths. Also, do not follow the preparation strategy of someone else blindly. The needs and requirements are different for different aspirants and when you prepare a strategy, see whether that will be beneficial to you and that it makes sense to you. The notes you study from does not matter as long as you understand the law and the subject. If you try to second-guess your strategy every moment then that will make your concentration lapse. Keep a clear, non-agitated mind going into preparation and focus more on understanding the subject. Be honest and consistent with your preparations. Keep negativity and stress aside by taking sufficient breaks to charge your mind.

Interviews

Ms Rakshita Agarwal is currently pursuing Master of Laws (LLM) degree from the University of Cambridge. She graduated from National Law University Odisha (NLUO) in 2020 at the top of her class. She has been awarded seven university gold medals by NLUO in recognition of her academic performance. In the wake of COVID-19, she initiated the M.P. Migrant Workers Project focusing on the livelihood of returned migrant workers in COVID context.

She has been interviewed by Toshika Soni, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from NLUO.

1. How did you get interested in the field of international law?

I have always been interested in international relations and followed world politics closely even before entering law school. My first formal encounter with public international law as an academic discipline was when I participated in the 18th DM Harish Memorial GLC International Moot Court Competition. I still remember looking at Malcolm Shaw’s International Law textbook for the first time and being intimidated. But as I read along, I fell in love with the subject.

 

I then read public international law as a mandatory course in college which piqued my interest further. During my undergraduate studies, I tried to get a glimpse of as many branches of international law as possible – human rights law, trade law, investment law, refugee law, environmental law. This really helped me narrow down my interests while applying for my masters.

 

2. What do you think is the scope of an Indian student looking to pursue international law in their education and further, as a profession?

In my opinion, international law offers ample career choices provided you have some idea as to what you want to do and are interested in the type of work it entails. It is important to understand that public international law is a broad field in itself which primarily only gives an overview of the international legal system. At the postgraduate level, you are required to identify and specialise in specific branches of this broad field. You get to choose from a number of options, such as international environmental law, international humanitarian law, international criminal law, international trade and development, international human rights law, amongst others. Each of these fields offer career opportunities of their own. Depending on your chosen fields, you can go on to work with inter-governmental organisations, NGOs, State Governments, consultancies, and even MNCs.

 

3. Can you please talk about your formative years at National Law University Odisha and more recently, about your time at the University of Cambridge?

The time I spent at NLUO is irreplaceable. The friendships, classroom discussions, juggling between committees’ works, and evening walks around campus have been the defining moments for me. NLUO gave me a lot more than just academics – I remember participating in the most random competitions in our fests and having the most fun. I was surrounded by brilliant people across batches achieving great things, and yet nobody seemed to be in a rush. The place definitely taught me the importance of taking things easy and striving for a balanced life.

 

So far as my time at the University of Cambridge is concerned, I am about to complete 3 months here and it has already been quite a journey. Classes are definitely demanding and there is a lot to do academically, but each moment spent here is so enriching. People may be doing similar courses, but their end goals are varied – this tells you so much about individual thought processes and outlook towards life, and of course the unending possibilities. Cambridge has a lot to offer – both inside and out of classrooms, and I just hope I am able to make the most of my time here.

 

4. How did you understand the nuances of the process of LLM applications? What advice would you like to impart with our readers about the same?

In my opinion, LLM applications are not very complex but they do require sincere thinking and patience. At the beginning of my LLM applications, I reached out to people (seniors and sometimes people I found through LinkedIn) who attended one of my target universities or pursued similar courses. This helped me gain clarity with respect to the basics – the colleges and courses I wanted to apply for. Once the universities are shortlisted, the next step is to go through their websites properly as each university’s application process and document requirement vary slightly. For instance, applicants are generally required to take language tests (TOEFL/IELTS) and even the number of letter of recommendations required vary from university to university. Once all the basics are figured out, the last step is to just get started with the form. During my application process, I reached out to people whenever I faced any difficulties and everyone was always very willing to help.

 

For prospective applicants, it is always advisable to start early so that they have sufficient time to plan their activities in alignment with the application requirement. Starting early also gives you the much needed time to really research and think whether you want to go for an LLM (which I think is the most important as your level of conviction is reflected in your application).

 

5. What was the vision behind the M.P. Migrant Workers’ Project and what role did you play?

The Madhya Pradesh Migrant Workers’ Project is extremely close to my heart. The sudden nationwide lockdown announced in India (in March 2020) and consequent disruption of transport facilities meant that a large number of migrant workers were stuck in different States, far away from their families. An overwhelming majority of these workers depend on daily wages earned and sudden shut down of industries also meant that they lost their means of income and livelihood. As you may remember, images of migrant workers walking miles in desperate attempts to reach their hometowns started surfacing the internet, and many of them even lost their lives on their way back. The worst part was denial of basic rights to these migrant workers by the Government, and that was the time I conceived the idea of this project.

 

I initiated the Madhya Pradesh Migrant Workers’ Project in August 2020. We were closely following the turn of events, and realised that failure to maintain proper records capturing movements within informal sectors was the primary reason behind this crisis. The aim of this project was to record the fact of Indian migrant crisis in concrete numbers, to ascertain the extent of State aid made available for the employment of returned workers and to demand adequate action at places where negligible action was taken. We also saw this report as a means of filling data gaps in relation to the conditions of migrant workers and assessing the viability and successful implementation of various government schemes launched. We released an executive summary of our findings in November 2020, which was covered by prominent platforms like The Hindu. Finally, in August 2021, we released the final version of our report highlighting the need for pressing reforms in labour law framework vis-à-vis migrant workers.

Leading this project gave me some hope and made me realise that people are really willing to help. I attribute this success to our excellent volunteer base – close to 70 people, of different age groups and from different parts of India, who worked pro bono for the cause.

 

6. 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?

I think good research skills are quintessential for every profession, and more so for lawyers. The legal field is unique as legal provisions are often open to multiple interpretations. Hence to be persuasive, law students must ensure that their arguments are well researched and backed by credible sources. To sieve out most relevant excerpts from an ocean of information is an art and we definitely need the right tools for it. Every law student must be comfortable using most basic tools like SCC Online, HeinOnline and JSTOR  as these narrow down the research scope to a great extent. But as they say, there are no shortcuts to success. Quality research requires inquisitiveness, patience, and commitment.

 

7. What do you think admissions’ officers look for in an ideal applicant? How can one streamline their journey at law school to fit the box?

Having gone through the process myself, I can safely say that there is no such concept as an “ideal application” or an “ideal applicant”. Every applicant and their journey is unique, and that is what matters. However, the admissions office does look for coherence and purpose in the applications – where the applicant is coming from, what the applicant intends to achieve, what has the applicant already done and how this degree will help them in realising their goals. The important part is to be convincing and candid in your statement of purpose.

 

So far as streamlining one’s journey is considered, it is always a good idea to broadly identify subjects of interest and try engaging in relevant activities. This is a strong way of showcasing your genuine interest for a particular subject.

 

8. Being a Rank 1 holder from your batch, what advice do you have for law students struggling with ascertaining relative importance to academics, internships, co-curriculars, etc.?

I strongly believe that academics are extremely important and play a huge role, especially if you want to go for higher education. For starters, most of the top-ranked universities require their applicants to meet certain academic threshold to have their applications considered. Furthermore, for fresh graduates, academic performance continues to be the most widely followed criteria by recruiters (law firms and offices, research centres) while sifting through applications. Having a decent academic record is thus like a qualifier and definitely makes things easier in all respects.

 

Having said that, the importance of internships and co-curriculars cannot be undermined. While academics do take precedence, having a “well-rounded CV” is also a requirement. More than a requirement, I view internships, co-curriculars and extra-curriculars as important experiences that shape you as a person and help in demystifying goals. These experiences can be extremely fun and unwinding, provided they are chosen wisely.

 

9. What is your take on “exhaustion of research”? How can one deal with it?

I believe that there is no end to research – thanks to the extensive and easily accessible resources at our disposal. You can keep going on and on, and still not “exhaust” all resources. For practical purposes, considering most of the legal work is time sensitive, lawyers should focus on finding conclusive, well-grounded support for their arguments rather than deep diving in all related search results. Standard procedure is to read the bare text of legislation, state the proposed interpretation and supplement the argument with latest case law positions. Despite there always being an option, going overboard with legal research is not the best approach. Identification of relevant provisions and application of latest findings to the factual matrix often does the work.

 

10. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What are your professional goals after graduating from the University of Cambridge – LLM programme?

I have always wanted a career in academia and see that as the last stop of my professional journey. However, I want to do quite a few things before treading that path. On completion of my LLM programme, I intend to gain some additional fieldwork experience by working with international organisations, preferably active in the areas of international humanitarian law and international environmental law.