The Daksha Fellowship is an extremely interesting (and innovative) addition to India’s legal education, and one that holds a lot of promise. What I am particularly interested in is the skill-building aspect of the fellowship, one that is quite removed from the theory-heavy pedagogy that is followed by most, if not all, Indian law schools.

To find out more about the course, I spoke with Ananth Padmanabhan, Dean at the Daksha Fellowship. I wanted to know what the Fellowship seeks to do, his thoughts on endowment-based legal education (the Fellowship’s tuition is waived), as well as the future of legal education in general.

Ananth Padmanabhan, Dean at the Daksha Fellowship.
Ananth Padmanabhan, Daksha Fellowship.

Personally speaking, what has been the most exciting aspect of building the Daksha Fellowship? 

Designing an innovative curriculum and bringing together experts from academia and industry who can enrich this vision through great teaching and mentorship!

The three pathways at Daksha that we identified as areas for advanced learning – technology law and policy, law and regulation, and disputes resolution – and our philosophy of simultaneously strengthening knowledge and skills in areas like finance, accounting, public policy, data-driven decision making, writing and expression, and leadership, has helped generate important discussions on what ails legal education.

All along my professional journey, I had been waiting for the right moment to transition fully into academia and Dr. Pramath Raj Sinha’s vision took no time to convince me.

“I believe that educational institutions and projects cannot be structured top-down and rather must encourage free-thinking and competing ideas. And of course, the best ideas and solutions emerge from this process of open discussion and debate.”

I believe that educational institutions and projects cannot be structured top-down and rather must encourage free-thinking and competing ideas. And of course, the best ideas and solutions emerge from this process of open discussion and debate. The fact that Daksha is gradually becoming a crucible for this approach to institution building makes me happy, and excited about its trajectory.

From an admissions perspective, what are some of the characteristics of the ideal Daksha Fellow? 

A Daksha fellow is someone who is –

  • curious to learn
  • has a collaborative spirit
  • communicates his/her thoughts clearly
  • ambitious in life
  • has the intent to solve problems

Could you tell me a bit about the incoming batch of Daksha Fellows? What are some of their expectations from this Fellowship? 

We are very lucky to have extremely bright graduates from diverse backgrounds. While admission stats are usually sacrosanct till we close admissions (we have a fresh round ongoing on account of the interest and demand in this fellowship), I will add that the geographical distribution, the fresher to working professional ratio, the gender ratio, the spread across tier 1, 2 and 3 colleges etc. have given us much cause to rejoice.

There are also a few who have preferred the Daksha fellowship over a foreign LL.M.

We had conducted a week-long series of knowledge transfer through DakshaDialogues and DakshaMasterclass on data governance and on disputes resolution respectively. These conversations, in general, had set positive expectations in the broader legal fraternity about our work as well as helped attract applicants who self-selected into these areas of expertise.

Many of them have now accepted our offers too.

Incoming Daksha fellows who I spoke with are very excited to be a part of this fellowship model and in building this community. They are optimistic that this fellowship will set them on a journey of excellence in their chosen area of specialisation. More immediately, they are curious to see how our hybrid mode of teaching – we begin online and then transition to residential by early next year – is going to pan out. They are also expecting some great internships that can place them on the career advancement track.

If a Fellow wants to switch pathways midway through, how early/late can this decision be made? 

We start our program online from Sept 28 and our pre-term courses for the fellows will commence from mid-August. The fellows will have their first term to finally decide on the pathway and they will be guided and mentored along the process in deciding their interest.

The specialization courses actually begin only after this term. This will be the only window to choose the specialization, of course, so to put a date to it under our current schedule, they need to make this call sometime by beginning of November.

Curious to know your thoughts on the endowment driven education model – do you think this model can work in India? More specifically, with Indian law schools? 

Yes. It has worked in fact better than any other educational model and we have some examples before us like Ashoka University and now, Plaksha University. In India, where the quality of higher education is significantly below the rest of the world, a philanthropic model alone can pool the resources that even a standalone private body or government institutions cannot afford.

“In India, where the quality of higher education is significantly below the rest of the world, a philanthropic model alone can pool the resources that even a standalone private body or government institutions cannot afford.”

Bringing in internationally trained academic advisors, faculty, and practitioners incur huge costs. Giving a full tuition waiver for the entire cohort again along with a global immersion requires a big corpus. If national law schools had the freedom to spend through endowment/philanthropic initiatives, they could definitely do much more for student learning and welfare.

Sticking with this theme, do you see Indian law schools reducing their dependency on State aid and student fees? What are the sources of funds that they could concentrate on?

While some of them have started working towards reducing such dependency with endowments already in place, it has mostly been limited to supporting conferment of gold medals to the graduating cohort and so on. Some try and accommodate students coming through IDIA with full scholarships. But these are mostly in the name of an individual – a former judge, a senior lawyer, or a law firm very rarely. There is much reluctance in opening up the endowment outside the legal fraternity to the corporates.

“Philanthropists and corporate leaders are open to shaping the Indian higher education ecosystem. But this has to be professionally managed as we are speaking about extremely busy and detail-oriented people here.”

Philanthropists and corporate leaders are open to shaping the Indian higher education ecosystem. But this has to be professionally managed as we are speaking about extremely busy and detail-oriented people here. In short, to get the benefit of this support, you have to spend on a development person and present your case well. Your past reputation may help, but can only take you so far.

An alternate way, of course, is to ramp up online and executive education. This needs a different kind of vision but with the kind of stellar reputation and alum network that some of our national law schools have, it can be done if leadership displays the right vision.

Lastly, given your own experience, do you think the Fellowship would help those who are considering studying outside the country? And if so, how could they best use their time as Daksha Fellows? 

Definitely. The comprehensive specializations that we offer are extremely useful when pursuing specialized LL.M. programs later, or even in picking courses and professors for a general LL.M. program like the one I did at Penn Law. The set of skills that are imparted- research methods, mathematical and statistical thinking, presentation and communication skills, critical thinking and leadership – will ensure that our fellows stand out when pursuing any subsequent program.

The fellowship also provides an extremely helpful orientation to public policy and non-legal domains, which can potentially help our fellows identify better the appropriate discipline in which higher education may be pursued. For instance, not every lawyer needs to do an LL.M. Some may choose to switch to economics or public policy, and Daksha Fellowship can help them navigate these choices better.

There is nothing special they need to do in order to help them in this regard.

The structure of our program is such that if they diligently pursue all the activities we have lined up for them, it will lead to much-needed self-realisation at some point along the course of the Daksha journey.

(Applications for the Fellowship close on July 27)

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