Dhvani Mehta, VCLP

Dhvani Mehta

In the second part of the interview (you can read Part 1 here), Dhvani talks about focusing on academy and research in Indian law schools, the kind of lawyers that VCLP is looking to hire, and a whole lot more.

 

 

How do you encourage academic research in Indian law schools?

One [way] is to have good professors themselves. If you see someone who is vibrant and dynamic and can think differently, that kind of motivates you to pursue that kind of work yourself.

[Another way is] showing students what the value of good academic research can be. A good idea in a law review article can perhaps someday be the basis of a legal argument before a constitutional bench or lay down the foundation for a new law.

Thoughts on how legal education can improve in India?

Perhaps a more rigorous clinical legal education may also have helped. We were required to do some internships in a district court, keep a journal of court proceedings. But everyone copied the journal from the previous year, no one actually went to court.

I had a series of internships all through the five years, but I don’t think I knew what it meant to be a practicing lawyer. Now that I think about it, I wrote a thesis on how the Supreme Court decides environmental cases without ever actually having been in court during an environmental case [hearing] ever.

Of course, you can write a purely academic thesis that dissects the jurisprudence and that is what I did. But it might have been so much richer if I had a pulse on what was happening in India.

Is that what got you back?

Definitely. As I said, the DPhil was such a difficult experience and perhaps made me realize that legal research and academia was not the path I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life.

Why?

I just did not enjoy that kind of research. To me, it is an experience that is intrinsically important – you must encourage academia for the sake of it because that is where new ideas come from. I would be the first person to support any type of academic endeavour irrespective of whether it had a tangible outcome or not.

You must encourage academia for the sake of it because that is where new ideas come from. I would be the first person to support any type of academic endeavour irrespective of whether it had a tangible outcome or not.

But for me, that was not enough. I was not sufficiently engaged with the intellectual exercise of it. I needed to do something that had some sort of “instant gratification” if I had to put it that way.

What are the kind of lawyers VCLP is looking for?

[We look] for people who want to engage. I am not saying you should not have strong ideological positions, of course you should, and you must. But we are also looking for people who understand the importance of talking to different stakeholders, engaging with different actors, and understanding that law making and policy making is sometimes, or most often, a question of compromising. Of figuring out the best balance between competing interests.

If you could speak to your 18-year old self, would you tell her to study law?

No. I always wished that I had done medicine and I still wish I had. Not because I don’t find the law rewarding or intellectually satisfying. It is all these things for a lot of people just not for me in the way I had imagined it would be.

I don’t find legal problems intrinsically exciting. It is not my thing.

Which is why the work I do at VCLP – health and environment – involves a lot of interactions with people working in that field. Non-lawyers. I am more interested in what I can do with my skills as a lawyer to change actual outcomes on the ground.

I didn’t expect that at all.

(grins) I love my job here, and I love the work I do. This is a purely personal [opinion] that could just be something to do with my bent of mind. Which is why I really think that law shouldn’t be something you do after graduating from Class 12.

I really think people should seriously consider doing a 3-year course rather than a 5-year course if they are not entirely certain about the law as a career. You get a degree in either arts, or commerce or science, and also a better chance to explore what you really might be interested in. And then if you still think that law is the answer for you, you always have the option to do the 3-year law degree.

I really think people should seriously consider doing a 3-year course rather than a 5-year course if they are not entirely certain about the law as a career. You get a degree in either arts, or commerce or science, and also a better chance to explore what you really might be interested in.

Any advice for those interested in an LLM?

One I would say, think about waiting a little bit after you have graduated from law school. Work, figure out what it is that you are really interested in, and apply accordingly.

Also, obviously we have our set of Ivy League schools and Oxbridge but if there is something in particular that you are really interested in, and it is taught at some not very well-known law school, that is okay. Do your homework and go to the place that you think is able to provide the most to you.

 

You can also listen to the interview here:

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