First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of lawyer’s who have pursued a post-graduate course from different schools across the world. Understandably, the majority of Indian law graduates choose to pursue an LLM. However, this does not mean that an LLM is the only post-graduate option for today’s law students. In fact, a non-law focused master’s may be of greater value.
In this edition of the FPA, we get talking with Ameen Jauhar, a graduate of NUJS (Class of ’12) who recently completed an MSc in Systematic Reviews for Social Policy and Practice from the University College London.
Ameen has made a few interesting moves since he graduated – from working at a national law firm, to joining Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy before embarking on a non-LLM master’s course.
Even before your master’s, you made a couple of interesting career decision- what was the thinking behind making the jump?
The idea behind moving from a law firm to Vidhi was quite fortuitous. I had a conversation with a friend who had interned in a policy firm in the United States. She told me how that internship had translated into a second internship at the Ministry of External Affairs.
Honestly, that was the turning point for me – I found policy advocacy as this novel space which had the advocacy element from litigation, research, and policy impact – it was an exciting combination. That drove me into investigating this space more over the next few months, and eventually I decided to move out of the firm.
What prompted you to look at UCL in general, and the MSc in particular?
When I moved to Vidhi, I was no longer contemplating an LL.M. I had this conversation with a senior partner at my law firm before leaving, and he articulated a relevant question – If you want to venture into the policy space, away from conventional legal practice, why do you want to go back and read things they taught you to some extent in law school?
“If you want to venture into the policy space, away from conventional legal practice, why do you want to go back and read things they taught you to some extent in law school?”
The question stuck and between 2015-16, through my work at Vidhi, I realised that my work required research and solutions based on interdisciplinary approaches, and not just the legal perspective.
It made a lot of sense to pursue something like a Masters in Public Policy, to better understand evidence-based policy in theory and in practice.
What were some of the bigger learnings during the one-year course?
Inside the classroom, my biggest learning has been the use of research designs in conducting proper empirical research, a skillset law school does not impart.
Outside of class, my big takeaway was how people with a legal background, and an understanding of policy processes, can have ample employment opportunities – in research think tanks, government orgs, international bodies, or even as university academics and researchers. Policy, like law, is all pervasive, and its understanding facilitates a unique entrepreneurial sense.
“Policy, like law, is all pervasive, and its understanding facilitates a unique entrepreneurial sense.”
Did you apply for any sort of financial aid?
I did qualify for the Chevening interview but had to drop out for some personal reasons. However, eventually, Vidhi funded a substantial chunk of my tuition fee. I want to clarify that this was not a bond I signed. My return to Vidhi was mutually agreed and premeditated (much before they decided to sponsor me).
What were the more challenging aspects of the MSc? Was it the dissertation?
The dissertation was definitely a rigorous process. Writing 12,000 words (after extensive research is tedious). For me, I think it was quite tough in the winter term (between January and March) because I had ongoing submissions from my last term, while attending lectures, and finishing readings/assignments for the ongoing term.
I think between January 8 – May 30, I wrote one essay per week (roughly 2,500-3,500 words). By the end of that phase, I felt quite exhausted, and desperately needed a break – Edinburgh sounded (and was) fantastic!
Now that you are back to work at VCLP, what are the ways in which your MSc is shaping your own research and writings?
I think coming back to Vidhi, I am seeing our endeavours at evidence-based policy in a whole new light. I feel (especially in Judicial Reforms) there is a great scope to talk about this, introduce this approach in the prevailing discourse, and conduct some meaningful research and advocacy work in the process.
How do you think Indian legal education could encourage interdisciplinary research and scholarship?
Honestly, I think legal education can’t be extremely interdisciplinary. I mean the whole B.A./B.Sc./B.B.A. LL.B. programmes are duplicitous – they don’t really teach you arts subjects, or sciences, or business administration.
I do feel, it is an interesting combination for law students to consider pursuing at the Master’s level. However, as some law schools are now introducing public policy programmes (like NLSIU and Jindal), I hope they do realise that legality of policies is not the only relevant question.
Policy decisions (be it public, social, or even judicial) are political, based in societal contexts and subjectivities, and therefore, need understanding of social perspectives. The use of evidence cannot only be limited to constitutionality and legality. So a holistic, interdisciplinary approach is imperative. That said, I don’t believe law programmes will deliver it. Hopefully policy programmes will, or else, one could go for a more diverse master’s programme
“Policy decisions (be it public, social, or even judicial) are political, based in societal contexts and subjectivities, and therefore, need understanding of social perspectives. The use of evidence cannot only be limited to constitutionality and legality.”