Ms Soundarya and Ms Priety are final and penultimate year law students respectively at Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar. They are also 2 of the founding members of Lawyers Go Pro Bono, a digital initiative that not only dispenses pro bono legal advice, but also works to bring legal knowledge and awareness to the masses. In this interview they speak to us on behalf of the entire team at Lawyers Go Pro Bono, about their work, motivation to do pro bono activities, impact as well as the importance of exhaustive legal research for law students and professionals alike. They have been interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador Karan Ahluwalia who is currently pursuing her law from GNLU, Gandhinagar.
- For the benefit of our readers who are unfamiliar with your work, could you explain to us what your venture– “Lawyers Go Pro Bono” is?
Lawyers Go Pro Bono (LGPB) is an initiative of law students and professionals from across the country created with the objective of answering peoples’ legal queries absolutely free of cost. This initiative was born out of the pandemic, due to its many adverse legal implications. Even before the pandemic, there were two core issues – affordability of and accessibility to basic legal information and aid, these issues were only exacerbated by the pandemic where people were unable to move. We try to address these two core concerns of affordability and accessibility to basic legal aid by answering their queries in a professional manner while keeping their personal details strictly confidential.
The economic implications of the pandemic really hit the financial conditions of household this was accompanied by many legal issues such as layoffs, seizure of vehicles, non-conformity with governmental regulations and associated legal issues that rose to the surface. However, the avenues which could be explored by those aggrieved, for answers to their legal queries did not increase in a commensurate manner.
- What according to you is the significance of undertaking pro bono work as a legal professional especially in context of law students and practicing professionals?
We think that the importance of probono work lies in interacting with real people and understating their very real problems and in the process, to apply the word of law to practical situations that they face. This kind of work is invaluable in shaping legal professionals and this real-life exposure is an invaluable learning experience as such real-life exposure is very limited especially since most internships are at firms where one really isnot expected to or able to interact with clients. Work at internships is a part of a large team and more often than notyou are working on a part of a query or question as opposed to the entire question itself but when you handle pro bono work on a first-hand basis, you get the opportunity to deal with the entire query. So essentially the significance of pro bono work lies in the fact that it is a first-hand experience of how the law is practically applied in real situations. This work is therefore important irrespective of whether or not one intends to pursue litigation in one’s career as it allows one to gain an understanding of the practicalities of law.
That aspect aside, pro bono work is incredibly satisfying because it is your chance to make a difference. It may sound like a cliché but there have been instances where we have advised people and their kind words in response to our efforts have made our work worthwhile. So irrespective of whether you are a law student or a practicing legal professional, that sense of satisfaction will always be there.
Of course, doing pro bono work comes with its own constraints of time and other professional commitments but the reward in terms of fulfilment is unmatched elsewhere.
- Your team consists of penultimate and final year students along with fresh law graduates, what has motivated all of you to do the work that you undertake?
Our motivation to do this work stems from the fact that we find a huge sense of fulfilment in being able to utilise our legal education towards a good end by solving an issue that might be a really big concern for someone, who otherwise limited by means, would have to suffer through it. Being able to help people everyday is what drives our entire team to do the work that we do.
- I believe you also occasionally make videos and posts to discuss legal developments in a way so as to make the information accessible for a lay person. In that regard, how important do you think it is for the general population to understand legal developments in the country especially when they do not necessarily and directly concern or affect them?
We do not think it is true that legal developments and concerns do not affect the general population. Every such event has an impact, whether directly or indirectly, on every citizen by virtue of being a part of the country. Therefore, we cannot stress enough the importance of being informed as such information allows a person not only to himself be empowered but also to empower others. For this to happen, it is important that the source from which one gets information is authentic and reliable. There is so much misinformation out there these days and we really think it is important to flatten the misinformation curve through utilisation of our legal and conceptual knowledge and our exhaustive research activities. Our aim is to provide viewers with an accurate understanding of legal developments because the accuracy of information possessed by a person is as important as the information itself.
We also deconstruct legal developments and convey that information through social media posts and videos. An entire wing of our team is concerned with designing and writing social media content so as to reach the same goal as the rest of the team which is to help people at large.
- Your work during the initial phase of the COVID-19 lockdown was centred around giving readers a simplified breakdown of restrictions and directives of the Government the same is being done during the various phases of unlock. What inspired this labour-intensive undertaking?
The real reason we did this work was because it was necessary. It was something that had to be done and we realised this when noticed how we were receiving queries on various aspects of the lockdown restrictions such as airline and travel regulations, what is and isnot allowed in different cities, etc. Zone-wise differences in restrictions also complicated matters, decoding these differences in restrictions is really how our social media campaign started. It was a lot of work to be honest, but it was a team effort and that made it easier because we all understood that simplification of all this information was what this entire activity was all about.
- Many law students aspire to start some initiative of their own but their desires get bogged down by academics and co-curricular activities, what advice do you have for such students? How did you manage to balance your law school commitments along with this venture?
We understand that students often feel that they do not have enough time to do something of their own or to implement an idea. We think it is all about finding the most favourable circumstances and windows of opportunity to give life to ideas. Starting something afresh requires a lot of time and effort especially at the outset so it is imperative to make time that can be devoted towards these ideas. It helps if you have a strong team to help you because there will be days when you need someone you trust to have your back in the same way that you would look out for them in a sort of symbiotic relationship. The ideal time to start an initiative is when you have an idea that you believe in. It also helps if you have figured out the model and system of functioning that you want your venture to be built around.
LGPB was not an idea that we had planned for, as we mentioned before it was a consequence of the pandemic. We were inspired by the frontline workers putting their lives on the line for our safety and that really got us thinking about we could possibly do as our bit in this unprecedented situation. We took inspiration from how doctors used their medical education to tackle the pandemic and that got us thinking about how our legal education could also be used in similar, productive ways. Once we realised what kind of work could be done by us, it was only a matter of designing protocols on how we could answer queries. In doing so we all found each other, we realised that we shared similar ideas and therefore came together to form LGPB.
However, when it comes to balancing these initiatives with other commitments, some questions need to be answered:
(a) Why am I taking forth the idea of this initiative?
(b) How much time can I devote to this initiative?
(c) How far ahead can I plan what needs to be done in order to bring this initiative to fruition?
As an entrepreneur, you दो not have the luxury of stepping away from the situation when things get difficult so it is only on the basis of meticulous planning of objectives that an initiative can be made sustainable. With time, of course, the stress and pressure eases off for sure.
- How important is doing proper legal research and how should law students equip themselves with legal research skills, especially in context of the free legal advice tended by you?
There are many opportunities to develop these skills. One being mooting which is really important because it makes you understand how to understand the word of the law and apply it to factual situations.This activity really gets you in the headspace of understating the practical applications of the law. Another way to develop researching skills is to write research papers on subjects that one is passionate about this really helps hone organisational skills while also providing one with an in-depth understanding of a nichearea of law. What you stand to gain from both of these activities is an understanding that the information you use is just as important as the source from where you get it.
Authenticity of information is one of the core ideas behind LGPB because we want to show that just because our responses are free does not mean that our advice is unsubstantiated or inferior in any way possible to paid advice. Our research is thoroughly verified and repeatedly checked. We maintain high standards for sources from where we get our information and this is verified by legal professionals. Because we rely on verified and authentic sources, we are confident in the veracity of the information that we put out.
- Not many people are familiar with the concept of “exhaustion of a search”. What are your views on it?
I think “exhaustion of search” has a lot to do with the subject under consideration or the object sought to be achieved by research. When asking oneself what is the point in research when one must stop, it is important to consider what would amount to “sufficient” information to convey a point and to substantiate it. Thereafter it is only a matter of reaching that metric through research. However, searching is not the end of research, one must also verify the sources from which such information has been obtained. Only then would research be exhausted. For example, it is not enough to find a case law, one must also find out if that case has been overruled or if any legal developments after the case have rendered its judgment redundant. A search is exhausted when all the essential elements of the query have been answered.
The extent of research required in a situation also depends on the kind of work you are doing– are you writing a paper, are you researching for a case or are you working on a college assignment? The answer to “what is enough research” will change every time.