The Amicus Interviews: Dhvani Mehta, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy (Part 1)

Dhvani Mehta has been on the list of people-I-must-speak-to for a while now. For many reasons. One, she is a Rhodes scholar. Two, she is one of the founding members of the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, a think-tank that has really pushed policy work as a viable career option for Indian law grads.

Three, it is high time that academy and research is given more attention, and information on academic careers be made more accessible.

In the first part of the interview, I get Dhvani to discuss her own experiences at Oxford University as a BCL student, an MPhil and then a DPhil. She also talks about, what I consider, the lesser known facts of research.

Without further digression, the first part of the two-part interview:

So, I know you always wanted to study outside the country. Why?

Primarily just for the experience of living in another country and also, perhaps, having the chance to be tested intellectually in a way that I wasn’t at [Government Law College Mumbai]. I am not saying that I had a bad legal education – there were several things that were very interesting and informative about [GLC]. It gave me a lot of opportunities to do other kinds of non-academic activities that I may not have had the chance to do if I was in a fully residential 5-year law school.

Having said that, I did not have the chance to do any proper legal research in college or do any serious legal writing. So, one of the reasons why I wanted to do an LLM abroad was to see if I would match up to that kind of environment.

I wanted to see what it meant to really think in a rigorous way and be taught by people who weren’t really interested in seeing what the right answer to a multiple-choice question was.

[I wanted] to see what it meant to really think in a rigorous way and be taught by people who weren’t really interested in seeing what the right answer to a multiple-choice question was. [People] who make you think more about what the law should be and not what it was. I had a vague idea that’s what an LLM abroad would equip me with.

Do you think you were right?

Yes, I would think so. In going to Oxford, my expectations from the BCL were definitely matched and then some. It was one of the most exciting courses that I did. It was unlike any style of teaching or examination taking that I had ever been used to.

When you mean teaching style, are you talking about seminars?

Yes. The seminar style of teaching meant you had to do a lot of reading before class. I was taken aback in the first few weeks to know that my classmates had detailed notes on everything they had read [before they came to class]

Oxford also has this tutorial system where you write an essay and discuss that one on one or in a group of three: you, a fellow student and the professor. You have the chance to critique the other person’s work, hear critique of your own work, defend it, conceive some points and get some very detailed feedback on your writing and thinking.

You stuck around at Oxford for quite a while. Any surprises along the way?

After the BCL, I was in for a general shock as far as coping with what writing a thesis or doing a research degree meant. I did not have a very clear idea of what that would entail at all.

I would say that perhaps Oxford does not do the best job of orienting its research students about what it is really going to be like doing an MPhil or a DPhil.

And what is it really going to be like?

It is going to be lonely. It is going to involve a lot of self-motivation. Your experience is going to vary depending on the kind of supervisor you have. You are going to enjoy it only if you are really passionate about the subject you are researching. I think it is a lot about finding your own way.

How do you do that?

I suppose trial and error. Perhaps I was unduly harsh on Oxford [earlier]. Of course, we had a legal research methods course, and we had support groups for DPhil students – it helps but ultimately it is something that you have to figure out on your own. I had a very supportive supervisor, and I also had a good college advisor.

It always helped to generally talk about your woes with other DPhil students, so we would go discussion groups, everybody would moan about the stage in which their thesis was. Everyone would learn not to ask each other how their thesis was going.

We would go discussion groups, everybody would moan about the stage in which their thesis was. Everyone would learn not to ask each other how their thesis was going.

The mental health of PhD scholars is a serious issue.

I would say that there was a time when I was doing the DPhil that I was definitely depressed. I don’t know if it had anything to do with the DPhil or I was just generally fed up of spending a miserable winter in Oxford yet again.

Again, there is support from the university, there is counselling that you can go to. You can take a sabbatical. There are a lot of systems in place that allow you to find your own pace, but it is still hard.

Apart from your research, you also worked with Oxford Pro Bono Publico (OPBP)

OPBP provides legal research assistance to other NGOs who are pursuing human rights cases across the world or made submissions to parliamentary standing committees or other governmental bodies. We would help draft amicus briefs for lawyers, again, fighting human rights cases.

I won’t say I saw it as an escape from my thesis, but yes it helped having something different to do and something that had a more tangible outcome. You know with the DPhil, you can’t really see the end in sight and it is very frustrating to go to the library every day, sit there for eight hours, and have a hundred words to show for it. Which you will probably erase the next day.

What is a day in the life of a DPhil scholar?

It depends on what kind of thesis you are writing. If your thesis has empirical research or a fieldwork component, then you are not in Oxford for some time, and you are out there doing interviews or gathering data from archives or whatever.

But most legal theses are not like that, so you are just usually sitting in the library, making notes, substantiating your footnotes etc.

What drove you?

Getting the “Dr” prefix before your name. I couldn’t be a real doctor, so this seemed to be the best way to do that (smiles). No, but I suppose what drives you is that [a PhD] is the highest academic qualification that you can get. And to anyone who is somewhat nerdy, that is a good goal to have.

And like I said, for people who are really passionate about the subject matter that they are pursuing or have a real interest in an academic career, a PhD is basically sine qua non– you can’t advance without a PhD.

I suppose what drives you is that a PhD is the highest academic qualification that you can get. And to anyone who is somewhat nerdy, that is a good goal to have.

The Amicus Interviews: Professor Kellye Testy, President of LSAC

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Professor Kellye Testy [Source]

Professor Kellye Testy, the President and CEO of LSAC was in India recently, and I am glad that I got the chance to speak with her on the sidelines of a conference on the future of legal education.

I was particularly interested in two aspects of Prof. Kellye’s career thus far: one, her ability to increase faculty and student diversity at the University of Washington’s College of Law, and two, she was Dean of UW Law when the university raised more than $500 million from private contributions.

Both of these factors are, in my view, going to become increasingly relevant for Indian law schools, and I think there is a fair bit that we can learn from the likes Prof. Kellye. And of course, as head of the LSAC (which oversees the LSAT India entrance examination), I was quite curious to know her views on gauging one’s aptitude for a legal education.

(Edited excerpts from our conversation)

How do you think the LSAT is better than, say the Common Law Admission Test?

I think there are a number of advantages to the LSAT. The first one is that it is a very reliable test. It has been around for 70 years and we continually improve it. So, we have the advantage of making sure that every question has been tested before it is released, that all the questions are well designed etc.

I think the most significant thing about the LSAT is that it tests aptitude and basic skills. It looks at things like reading comprehension, reasoning etc. So, it is not asking a young person to already know the law, because that is going to be learnt in law school. [The LSAT] is about making sure that you have that fundamental core of skill to make sure you really thrive once you are in law school.

The other thing I would say is that it is administered by an independent organization. We are non-profit, we are not associated with any institution – there is just a very high degree of transparency and fairness.

Are you in favour of the three-year model or the five-year model of studying law in India?

Well, I actually am in favour of both models in the sense that there is nothing wrong with the ability to take an undergraduate degree that is focused on law. [This degree] can help people decide if they want to study law more thoroughly. It is also good for the world generally if more people understand law, because law is so important to democracy and the rule of law.

But law is complex. And the ability for someone to have a 3-year degree is also really appropriate because then the student might be a little more mature, and have the ability to think about what the [law degree] might mean for their career. I am not someone who thinks there is only one model; there can be multiple ways to study law.

At the University of Washington’s College of Law, you managed to increase diversity in students and faculty.

[Educational equality] is a serious problem, and it is one that I have spent my life trying to figure out. Really starting from the youngest of ages, there is inequality based on race, economics, gender and all kinds of things that don’t let everyone have a level playing field. What that means if when you start admitting students to law school, you are going to see that inequality.

And unless you really address it, you are going to have everyone be the same in your law school class. I have always believed that diversity of all kinds makes the educational experience a lot stronger.

The way we encourage [diversity] is that, first of all, we really reach out broadly. We try and hold forums so that people who may not have lawyers in their family hear about law, and we explain the process of applying to law school.

We also do scholarship programs so that there is more of a level playing field [with respect to] economic class.

And then the other thing that is so important is that when you are conducting admissions, you look at the whole person. So, you use the test scores as part of the file, but it shouldn’t be the only thing. You also ought to look at what the personal statement says, what does the person want to do, what are their leadership capabilities. I think you can admit a diverse class when you take more factors into account.

So, you use the test scores as part of the file, but it shouldn’t be the only thing. You also ought to look at what the personal statement says, what does the person want to do, what are their leadership capabilities.

The other interesting bit during your previous tenure is the funding that UW managed to raise. 

We talked a lot about costs in the conference, and it is a good subject because good education is expensive. You are paying people – faculty and staff. These payments have to come from either the state or [federal] government or student fees. And you don’t want to have students bear the whole burden.

I have found that looking at alumni, at the friends of the law school can really help. It is a very reciprocal relationship. Because once an alum graduates, his or her reputation is linked with that of the law school. So, [alumni] have every interest in wanting the law school to thrive.

Once an alum graduates, his or her reputation is linked with that of the law school. So, [alumni] have every interest in wanting the law school to thrive.

But how do you build this reciprocal relationship?

It needs to start when the person is a student – you make sure that the students know that as alums, they are going to be asked to give back. That they are going to be privileged by having that law degree and that once they are out, they should help students.

So, early on you start to help your students understand that this is not just a transaction – it is not that they are there and gone. It is their law school for a lifetime. And that is what I help them understand – once you are with me as a law student, then we are together. The fate of the law school, and your reputation are interwoven. So, you can help future generations by going out and being successful, and then giving back to the law school.

We are involved with the alumni from day one. We do continuing legal education for alumni, we keep them informed about what is happening. We invite them to come back and be judges in moot court competitions. We cheer them on when they are doing well in their careers. We help them when they are not doing so well.

It really is about helping the alumni understand that they may be students for three years, but they are part of the law school family their whole life.

It really is about helping the alumni understand that they may be students for three years, but they are part of the law school family their whole life.

I know US law schools are facing their own troubles of increasing costs and lower number of applicants.

Law schools did have a decline in applications after the great recession. The good news is that it has recently started going the other way – there has been an 8% increase in the number of students applying in the US, and some people think it is because what they call “Trump Bump” – people are mad about what the government is doing and thinking, “I have got to be a lawyer to help push back on the government, and make sure that the world is fair”

Now when it comes to international LLM students, the US law schools have seen a decline in numbers because of [US] immigration policy. And I think some of what motivated the JD students to apply is making the LLM students reticent to come.

Final question – what got you into law, and would you recommend it to others?

I had a bit of of a non-traditional way into law. I am a first-generation college graduate in my family. I grew up in a really small town, and I didn’t know any lawyers. But I happened to grow up in a town that happened to have a university in it – Indiana University.

And even though I was very disconnected with that, I used to sneak into the gymnasium to play basketball. That is what motivated me to first go to college – sports. And I became a journalist because I was a sports writer. I went to Indiana University to play basketball, and then I realized that I actually like academics.

I was studying journalism, and one day in communications class, a professor told us to go to the law library, find the “New York Times v Sullivan” case – it is a very famous libel case. So, I went to the library, found the case, read it, and fell in love. I realized that I would have to go to law school someday.

But because my family could not help me economically, I worked for almost five years. And then I went back  to law school, applied to only one law school (Indiana) because I was so fond of it!

I have never been sorry I went. I think students should study law because it helps you be a better citizen, it helps you be a better person. I also think that there is just so many things you can do with a law degree. You might want to be a traditional lawyer, you might want to be in business, you might want to be a journalist who writes about law or what have you.

I have never been sorry I went. I think students should study law because it helps you be a better citizen, it helps you be a better person. I also think that there is just so many things you can do with a law degree.

Amicus Interviews: Priyasha Corrie on QLTS Geek, foreign practice & more

Priyasha Corrie on the QLTS Geek app

Priyasha Corrie

The Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) is a great way to seek a foreign, professional qualification, and has become quite popular with Indian lawyers looking to move out of the country.

Priyasha Corrie, an Indian law graduate currently working as a corporate lawyer in the UAE, has not only taken the QLTS but has also set up QLTS Geek, a website and app meant to help those who are looking at taking up the QLTS.

In this interview with Amicus Partners, she talks about the journey behind QLTS Geek, her own experiences with the QLTS, and a whole lot more.

QLTS Geek – how on earth did you find the time for this? Also, when did you start planning the site? 

When I was preparing for the QLTS, I longed for a mobile app which would help me with the QLTS subjects.  After I cleared the QLTS, I thought to myself – why not make this a reality?  But I was in two minds because taking this initiative required commitment and time and I wasn’t sure whether I had it in me to give the project my dedication.

In any event, I started blogging about my experience on LinkedIn. I then started receiving a lot of LinkedIn messages from QLTS candidates asking for advice and I felt that it would be good to follow through with what I had in mind because there isn’t much guidance out there on the QLTS (as against, say the New York or the California Bar Exam).

QLTS Geek’s objective is essentially two-fold. First, I’ve created a mobile app with flashcards on OSCE subjects, which is for the whole ‘anytime, anywhere’ learning experience. Second, I have created a website with a blog and guidance on the QLTS – I hope to create a discussion forum and a way to review prep schools on the website soon.  I still don’t know whether this initiative is going to be a success, but when I receive feedback from candidates saying that the blog or my app has helped them, it really makes my day.

Working on a side project outside of work is tedious and I spend my evenings and weekends on QLTS Geek. I don’t party much and so basically don’t have a life! But I’ve always loved challenges and working hard towards a goal.  I am a geek myself and so the name ‘QLTS Geek’ is apt, I guess!  Perhaps I could call QLTS Geek a ‘labour of love’.

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I don’t party much and so basically don’t have a life!  But I’ve always loved challenges and working hard towards a goal.  I am a geek myself and so the name ‘QLTS Geek’ is apt, I guess!  Perhaps I could call QLTS Geek a ‘labour of love’.

How did you go about the “non-law” part of it like website design, the proposed app etc?

I might have been into computers had I not chosen to be a lawyer, and so I still like to keep myself at least a bit technologically savvy. Thanks to Google research, I was able to make the website myself on WordPress. Unfortunately, creating an app is complex and requires one to depend on developers and that’s what I did. I googled developers and engaged one in India to help me out.

It was expensive, but I’ve learned a lot through the process. I look at it as an investment in my learning – an alternative to spending thousands of dollars on an MBA course for theoretical knowledge.

Do you think the QLTS is becoming more popular amongst Indian lawyers? What prompted you to take the QLTS?

An Indian qualification is often not perceived on equal footing with a western qualification and you will realise this once you start practising outside India.  This is one of the reasons the QLTS is popular amongst Indian lawyers practising abroad. As such, the idea behind taking the QLTS was to make myself more marketable. And like I said above, I love challenges and taking this one on made sense.

The QLTS may not be that relevant for those lawyers who do not intend to move outside India. But since a large part of Indian law is based on English law and the assessments place a strong emphasis on practical skills, there is a lot to learn and gain in the process.

In addition, there is a significant focus on professional conduct in the QLTS assessments and I appreciated that because I believe ethics are important for a lawyer.

Apart from the obvious advantage of admission to the roll of solicitors, do you think the QLTS provides any other skill sets for international lawyers?

What I loved about the QLTS assessments was that the OSCE focussed on the practical skills of a lawyer — interviewing a client, advocacy, research etc. I don’t think any other bar exam in the world tests these practical skills. I learned a lot of soft skills in the process and have emerged a better lawyer.

I don’t think any other bar exam in the world tests these practical skills.  I learned a lot of soft skills in the process and have emerged a better lawyer.

Also, the SRA is very organised and sends regular newsletters for solicitors to be updated about the profession and elicits feedback on the admission process and assessments. It just made me realise how much catching up our Bar Councils in India have to do.

As a starting point, we need to have an online roster for lawyers in India and lawyers from corporate law firms should be represented in the Bar Councils.

In terms of prep time, you do write that to each his own. But looking back, what is the minimum amount of time one should look to devote to QLTS prep?

For the MCT, I would advise about 3-4 months (with the aid of a prep school) for a working lawyer, in order to feel confident taking the assessments. For the OSCE, I would suggest 4-6 months for a working lawyer.

The QLTS is a significant financial investment – are there any ways at all in which an international lawyer could lessen this burden (Do employers offer financial aid, are there any waivers or bursaries of any sort?)

It sure is an expensive process and I paid for all of it myself – that’s where my credit card came to the rescue! Many lawyers are sponsored by their firms, particularly if one is working for an international firm. I’m not sure whether there are any fee waivers though.

What is your view on the Indian legal market, specifically when it comes to smaller, transaction-based firms? Do you see space for more breakaway firms? 

The Indian legal market does look like it’s on fire.  There are a lot of opportunities and I think firms have risen to the task.  Looking forward, I think there will more breakaway firms because the millennials and Gen-Zs will not be able to gel with those having traditional mindsets. Firms evolving and adapting to a flexible approach to work will do well, in my view.

Lastly, any predictions on international law firms (somehow) making it to India?

It is hard to predict international law firms making it into India because the subject does seem politicised. I see no harm in allowing international law firms in India – it would only make the market better and competitive. I also don’t believe that they would eat up the share of local firms. In fact, international law firms will most likely outsource many of the smaller matters to smaller boutique firms or collaborate with local firms.

I see no harm in allowing international law firms in India – it would only make the market better and competitive. I also don’t believe that they would eat up the share of local firms.

I can go on but I will end up digressing. Again, we need corporate lawyers in Bar Councils who would be able to add more dimensions to the discussion. For instance, in the UAE, both international and local firms thrive together and the market is better because of it.

Final question – You have had quite an interesting career so far. A mid-career break, shifting jurisdictions and jobs, acing the QLTS – what keeps you motivated?

Thanks for your kind words, although I don’t think my career has been that interesting!  I look at everybody else’s career and fret about mine — I’m still learning the art of not comparing myself with others.

I have a passion for learning and that’s what keeps me going. I don’t believe in the theory of ‘Work hard now, enjoy the rest of your life’. I believe one should always work hard on all spheres of one’s life, and enjoy the process (including seeing the merits of the tough times). There’s a still a lot more I want to do although I think I need to be clearer with my vision and chart out the map to get there.

The Admission Interviews: Elizabeth H. Woyczynski, School of Law at CWRU (Part II)

 

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski

You may remember Elizabeth H. Woyczynski from her previous interview here at Amicus Partners. In the second part of the interview, we go a little deeper into the LLM programme, the Bar exam, and what can students interested in academia look out for.

What do you look for in LLM applicants?

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: We start with just getting the completed application on time, everything that we ask for is important, as are the deadlines. At CWRU, we do not look at TOEFL or IELTS scores from our Indian students so our main focus, and the most important one, are the marks that students get in their undergraduate law degrees. I think that where the student studies law as an undergraduate is not that important to us.

When you mention marks, is there a range of marks that you are looking at?

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: We are looking for students who are in the top 30-35% scoring bracket. Sometimes we get questions from students who think they need to have graduated with their bachelor’s degree [before applying]. But, as it works with our JD applicants, we are really just looking for all but the last year of marks.

Apart from the grades, how important are things like moot courts, publications etc?

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: I think where extracurriculars really help is when the grades are not strong enough. Especially where they show that the student is really motivated and focused on a career in law. So, moot courts and internships would be helpful. Also, activities that show they are interested in activities beyond their own country, and are open to [different] perspectives – these would be helpful especially if the grades are not the best.

Publications, I think, are a little too much to expect from students completing their bachelor’s degree but certainly if a student did have that, that would be outstanding.

What do you think is the value of the LLM experience?

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: It is great to see students coming from another country, and just figuring out how to get things set up here. It seems like a small thing, but it is, in a way, one of the most endearing values of a LLM degree – to come to another country and set up your life here. That is a great experience in and of itself.

In the classrooms it is great to see, what is very often, a different way of teaching. Our professors use the Socratic method, and class discussions are important.

And of course, students should definitely take advantage of meeting people from all over the world. This is your chance to discuss culture, politics, law and make the enduring friendships that often last a lifetime.

In terms of jobs, we have an advisory board of lawyers who work in regional and national law firms, and MNCs based in Cleveland where they try to offer opportunities specifically to international students in the LLM program. They are not easy to get, our best students (the top 10-15%) are most likely to get those jobs. So, that is a great experience to get before the students head home.

We have had Indian graduates, with their LLM here, start careers here in Cleveland. One of them is now a Partner at a national law firm, another one does immigration law here in Cleveland. But I would say most our Indian graduates return back to India and they find the LLM degree to be very helpful in finding jobs back in India.

How does Case Western help students prepare for the Bar Exam?

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: We advise our students on how to take either the Ohio Bar or the New York Bar. The New York Bar is the most popular for LLMs all over the country.

We tell students what classes these exams require during the LLM; you have to be careful to choose the correct classes. Usually, we advise students to take the general LLM which is the most flexible, and take as many Bar tested subjects as possible. But some students are trying to balance – they may really be interested in subjects that are not on the exam. So, you have to decide what is important for you.

And then we definitely help students with our Bar prep class. It is one thing to take the right classes to qualify, but then of course you have to do the right things to pass the exam.

How long does exam prep take?

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: It is most common to start in the Fall, although we have students in January too. If you start in the Fall, you can take the July Bar exam. I do let the students know that if they are interested in the exam, they have to get all their paperwork in order by the first of October. This can be hard to do if you are just arriving in August.

So, either you take the July exam, or with the OPT, get some internship time and then study for the exam that is offered in February. I think if the student has the ability to stay that extra time to prepare, that helps. Especially on subjects that they haven’t had time to take while as a LLM student.

A lot of Indian law students are now thinking of a career in academia. 

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: We have a larger LLM program than the SJD program. Honestly, we do favor our own LLM graduates, so it will be harder for those with a LLM degree from another university. We do accept LLM degrees from common law countries, but I think we prefer an LLM from the US, and from the Case Western in particular.

Students interested in the SJD, don’t really have to indicate their interest until the second semester of their LLM degree. And by then we also have a sense of their marks in the LLM degree, and this helps us advise them whether the SJD is the right choice for them.

 

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Tara Ollapally, CAMP Mediation

The Amicus Interviews: Tara Ollapally, CAMP Mediation (Part 2)

In the second part of the interview, Tara focuses on the benefits of mediation, whether lawyers would become good mediators, and why one needs to invest time and effort to become a successful mediator.

 

Amicus Partners: A lot of what you said, cost effectiveness, high speed- these were some of the benefits of arbitration. So how is mediation better?

Tara Ollapally: I would not use the word “better” but “different”. Arbitration is still an adversarial process and by that I mean there is a winner and a loser. And there is a third person who is going to decide who the winner is, who the loser is.

Now that is a huge responsibility that is placed on that third person. And that third party, the neutral, has to go through volumes of information, has to be confident and convinced enough to be able to make that award in favour of one and not the other.

As a result of which, it takes the time that it takes.

In mediation, the whole concept is different. It is not about right or wrong. It is about differing perspectives, and helping the parties understand each other’s perspectives, and getting them to decide on what the solutions are. As a result of which, it is not about convincing the third person, it is about convincing each other.

AP: Do you think lawyers make good mediators?

TO: If a lawyer is able to switch hats from adversarial to collaborative, a lawyer is fantastically placed to be a mediator. Because the lawyer knows the law better than any other neutral would.

The law plays a very important part in the mediation because a large aspect of the negotiation hinges on what your alternative is. The way the process works is that you must first understand why this mediated settlement makes much more sense that the alternatives.

What is the alternative? Typically, it would be arbitration or litigation. Now how is this going to play out in arbitration or litigation? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s case?

So a lawyer is very well positioned to be able to help parties go through the alternatives, the reality test.

AP: But aren’t lawyers trained in an adversarial system? 

TO: I have met so many lawyers who love the law, but hate the adversarial aspect of the law. Ten years ago you really didn’t have so many options if you graduated from law school, you had to litigate. But litigating does not come naturally to them, they do not truly believe that that is the only way to resolve a dispute.

They want to be part of the dispute resolution process but they don’t like the way the dispute resolution process has been managed. Now these people make fantastic mediators, right?

They are part of the dispute resolution process, they have the logical way of thinking, they understand the law, they have the ability to structure and facilitate mediation in a very effective way.

AP: Are we in India working to create a more open environment for mediation?

TO: It is not like we have a choice. If lawyers want to keep up with the way lawyers are practicing law in several parts of the world – this is an aspect that you just cannot look away for very much longer.

Italy had a similar issue of pendency which is what motivated them to pass mandatory mediation legislation – essentially mandating the parties to sit, with their lawyers, with a neutral third party mediator. That is the mandatory aspect of it; you can opt out after that and go back to courts. Just one session.

AP: One session?

TO: That is all it took. And in that one session, I don’t remember the statistics, but a large number of those went for mediation and a large percentage ended in settlements.

You are not really giving up on anything. Just one session, which through the Italian experience has shown, leads to a large number of settlements.

AP: Why aren’t we doing this?

TO: We will. So if you look at the laws – the commercial laws are going that way, the consumer protection bill is also looking at mandatory mediation. The NCLT does not mandate mediation, but does give NCLT members the power to refer matters to mediation.

Where we slip is in the administration of it.

AP: So, it makes logical sense for businesses to seek mediation, and there is money to be made in mediation. Yet?

TO: Well businesses in India are still not buying into mediation. They still have not understood the value of mediation. They are still using arbitration because that is what is familiar.

And that’s where we are trying to break the cycle. Of helping businesses understand that there is another way to do it, and to get them to start endorsing the process.

Our purpose right now is to make businesses include mediation in their dispute resolution clause. Today’s dispute resolution clause is we will sit and negotiate, if negotiations fail, we will arbitrate. And that has to change.

It has to be, “we will sit, negotiate. If negotiation fails, we will do a facilitated negotiation and if that fails we go into arbitration.”

AP: If a law student or a lawyer is interested in mediation as a profession, what kind of advice would you give her?

TO: For a young lawyer to enter into the field as a mediator would be challenging. My advice is go out, join a law firm, litigate, go in-house and start pushing disputes into mediation.

Through this, you start exposing yourself to the mediation process, you start understanding the mediation process differently. Build the skills to be an effective advocate in mediation.

AP: Skills such as?

TO: Such as [being able to identify]  the real interest of your client. What does your client really want? Drop the posturing. Prioritise options. Start listening to your client.

These are the skills that a mediator builds – listening to understand. Bringing down the emotional aspect of it by reframing, by summarising, by connecting to your client. Be an empathic lawyer in mediation.

To be an empathic lawyer is a huge skill that we have to build.

AP: But nobody teaches you this as a law student.

TO: Not at all. These are skills that you have to learn. So when I am listening, how am I listening? Am I listening to fully understand what you are communicating to me, or am I listening from a perspective to figure out what my response to you is.

And then of course to be able to weed out the emotion from what my client really wants. What part is driven by what the emotions my client is feeling, how do I address those emotions.

AP: That seems like quite a time intensive practice.

TO: Absolutely. You cannot practice from a perspective of, “I will do a 10 minute meeting, I will get a simple understanding of what the case is about, what the law is about,  and then go defend in court.”

That is not how it works. It is about investing time. About understanding who my client is, why my client feels this way, what has motivated my client to be in the position that he is in.

We, as lawyers, deal with people in conflict. But we have no concept or idea of what a human being is when in conflict. How is that person responding, how is her brain functioning when in a conflict situation? Neuroscience will tell you that when you are in conflict, your brain is working differently.

These are concepts that we have not even thought about as professionals in this conflict space.

AP: It is not even a topic of discussion.

TO: No, never. In my twenty years as a legal professional, I did not even think of it until I entered the mediation practice.

What is the mental framework, what is the emotional framework of a person in a conflict situation? If I can understand that then perhaps I would be able to find solutions that better addresses who he is in that situation, and then go into the details of that dispute.

But we don’t even take that into consideration.

We approach it from such a specific aspect of what is the law on this particular situation, and that law will have some three hundred interpretations. So that is the framework within which we operate – this is an aspect but just one aspect of the conflict as whole.

And you are right, there is no way you can engage in a conflict without being ready to invest a good amount of time.

AP: Final question: what is a good legal education? Or have you just answered that?

TO: I think I may have. We are dispute resolvers. We are here to able to find appropriate resolution to clients who come to us in a distress situation. They have come to us because they are in a situation where they are unable to sit across the table with other side and find a solution. They are frustrated, they are angry, they are helpless. They want a way out.

But the only thing that they know is to strike. And we, as lawyers, are trained to help them strike harder. One blow becomes ten blows. We just take them up this conflict path but we do not realise that our objective should be how do I get this person out of this mess in the quickest, safest most respectful kind of way. We don’t even think of it that way.

It is critical that our law students are exposed to this way of dispute resolution. The mark of a civilised society is in our ability to manage conflict. Conflict is inevitable, it is a result of progress. It is because there are interactions, relationships, business that there is a conflict.

We cannot stop conflict but we have to find better ways to manage conflict so that conflict is opportunity.

The Amicus Interviews: Tara Ollapally, CAMP Mediation (Part 1)

Tara Ollapally, CAMP Mediation

Tara Ollapally

Tara Ollapally is a lawyer, and an experienced mediator at CAMP Mediation. In the first part of an interview with Amicus Partnerds, she talks about her days as a law student, human rights at Columbia Law School, and the future of mediation.

(Edited excerpts)

Amicus Partners: You worked with a human rights clinic as an undergraduate student at University Law College in Bangalore. How did that experience shape you as a lawyer?

Tara Ollapally: As a law student, I was so motivated in setting right the wrong. I interned at the National Human Rights Commission, and one of  my projects was to understand the mental health situation of women prisoners. I spent a fair bit of time in prisons across the country. Keeping aside the mental health aspect [which we] really don’t address, was the fact that so many of them had no legal representation.

In my final year of law, I was driven to try and find a way to address that gap. We created a little clinic of final year law students; we could not represent them directly but tried to fill that gap, working with junior lawyers on a pro bono basis.

It was a fantastic concept, and as a student I was so motivated and charged to do something like that, as were the other students. But there were so many hurdles. Change requires constant perseverance and effort.

AP: Are these experiences what prompted you take up the masters in human rights from Columbia Law School?

TO: I think from very early on, I knew that I wanted to be in the social rights aspect of the legal profession. As it happened, I was moving to the United States and so it seemed a perfect opportunity to make that transition into moving to a new country.

Reflecting back, I would perhaps not have done a master’s course at that point [of time]. I would have perhaps worked for a certain period of time and then done a master’s.

AP: Why?

TO: Because I think it gives a lot more context to your master’s program when you have a little bit of practical experience. You go to law school for five years and you have minimal exposure to the practical aspects through internships. But, you have to sink into it as a full time professional for a couple of years before being able to make full use of your master’s degree program.

AP: How was your LLM experience?

TO: For me it was fantastic. I was lucky enough to get the human rights fellowship at Columbia Law School. So again I was fully focused on human rights for that one-year program.

Before the LLM, I was ingrained in domestic issues. [After the LLM] I switched to the international practice of human rights law which was very exciting.  But I did miss the cultural identification, the drive that comes with being able to understand a local issue.

AP: What were some of the big changes you noticed in the learning experience?

TO: Oh it was completely different!

Remember I came from University Law College Bangalore where most of my legal education was from framed through moot courts, through internships – it wasn’t really classroom education.

And suddenly I was put into this environment where you had Professor Louis Henkin, who was the name in international human rights law, as my human rights professor. [We had] top notch academics who knew their field. It was intensely rigorous.

AP: How did you manage?

TO: I had to. Perhaps I burnt the midnight oil for the first time (laughs) But that was all so exciting, and it was such an enriching experience. Because, whatever said and done, the American university system is so systematic, it is so up to date, they get the best out of you, they give you the best.

AP: How?

TO: Just the course load, the course expectation, the number of papers you had to write, and the quality of the papers. The way they were critiqued, the feedback, the expectations, and if you have not done your research you are going to get caught out right away.

Moving your research from a grade F to a grade B or B+ was incredible, and they would be handholding you through that as much as they could.

AP: What was the job market like when you graduated?

TO: Oh it was tough when I graduated because 9/11 happened when I had just moved to New York. And of course you had the downfall of the American economy. So it was a tough job market for international students.

I was lucky because I did not have immigration issues, and perhaps that was one of the factors that helped me in getting me a job. But I was one of the few who did manage to get a job.

AP: Not too long ago, you come back to India and CAMP Mediation.

TO: I kind of stumbled into mediation. It wasn’t a planned next step. It appealed to me. I come from a human rights background, I come from an access to justice [perspective].

My mother was a pioneer in the mediation movement. She was one of the co-founders of the Bangalore Mediation Centre. And she felt the need to take this next step in mediation – you needed to start private mediation.

AP: When you say private, you mean not court-mandated mediation?

TO: Exactly. So at that point in time, the only way you could access mediation was through centres that were attached to the courts where the judge would refer the matter to mediation.

But not that many commercial mediations [took place] because the commercial world avoids the court as much as possible. To get into the commercial dispute resolution space, we needed to get into the private mediation where parties have access to high quality mediation services.

That is how we conceived of the idea of CAMP.

I had no exposure to mediation, other than having done a 40-hour programme on mediation. But purely from the perspective of an access to justice issue, it kind of rationally made sense to me.

AP: How?

TO: What is our pendency? Thirty million cases are pending in our courts. Ten to fifteen years is the average time it takes [for resolution]. And if you look at it from the perspective of “justice delayed is justice denied” then you are talking about access issues, you are talking about rule of law issues.

And we are working along the lines of a legal system that approaches rule of law only through adversarial or court-based methodology to dispute resolution. Which in today’s world is one of the means, not the only means [of dispute resolution]

AP: It must have been difficult to sell mediation initially?

TO: We started CAMP in January 2015 and we would actually get calls asking, “So, when are your meditation classes?” – that is the environment in which we started.

I would go to some of these incubation centres to talk to the start-ups and people seriously thought that we were there to talk about meditation. They had no clue about mediation.  (laughs)

We have definitely moved from there.

I am convinced that people will see the value of it and bite into it. Because we are working in an environment where people want and need options. What is being provided to them is not optimal, they are not happy with it.

AP: Mediation did get legislative backing recently through the changes in the Commercial Courts law. But, you have noted that more needs to be done.

TO: This amendment mandates disputes to go into mediation before they can be filed in the commercial court unless the parties are seeking interim relief. This is a fantastic step to try and get parties to sit down and resolve their dispute before you access the adversarial process to dispute resolution.

[But] what the law has not thought through are the details with respect to how this is done. For example, the body that has been given the mandate to administer these mediations is the legal services authority.

Which really does not make sense.

It is not thought out that a commercial dispute, and legal aid cannot be clubbed together in the same forum. If you have the legal services authority administering commercial mediations, you are setting yourself up for disaster.

AP: Do you see commercial establishments recognising the benefits of mediation?

TO: Mediation makes so much sense for commercial disputes.

What do businesses want? They want to find a quick, cost-effective and appropriate way out, a business way out. They don’t want to mull over the dispute for 15 years. Mediation is not process-heavy. We don’t have pages and pages of process that needs to be followed before an application is filed. There are no applications that need to be filed.

The objective is to be able to understand what are the interests of the parties, what is it that the parties truly want.

First Person Accounts: Saraswathy Vaidyanathan (University of Edinburgh)

Saraswathy Vaidyanathan

Saraswathy Vaidyanathan

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.

Not necessarily restricted to an LLM, the FPAs should serve as some guide as to which is the ideal law school for you.

In the first post under the First Person Account series, Saraswathy Vaidyanathan (HNLU, Class of 2016) shares some insights into an LLM degree from the University of Edinburgh.

Graduating from Edinburgh with a specialisation in intellectual property law, Saraswathy discusses the differences in legal education between India and the UK, how to select the ideal law school for you, and much more.

 

Amicus Partners: At what point in time did you decide to apply for an LLM?

Saraswathy Vaidyanathan: I was sure I wanted to do a LLM towards the end of my 4th year. However, I was conscious of my LLM plans at the start of my 4th year as I was making the choice of honours papers. Just to [explain] the honours bit, HNLU gives you an option of two honours papers for the 4th and 5th year which becomes the subject of specialization. Since I wanted to do a LLM in Intellectual Property (IP), I chose IP as my first honours and Constitutional Law as my second honours paper.

AP: Could you tell me how you went about the university selection? What were the parameters that you kept in mind while going through this process?

SV: For the University selection, first I decided the countries I want to apply to. I picked three countries: the UK, Singapore and Hong Kong. After deciding the countries, I chalked out the Universities I wanted to apply to. Singapore and Hong Kong were easy as NUS and HKU are the best options, in general. For the UK, it was difficult as there are many Universities. So, I decided the parameters for myself and then narrowed down. Following are the factors I kept in mind in no particular order

  • Location of the University
  • Finances (Tuition + Cost of living)
  • Worldwide Ranking
  • Professors/Teachers in the subject applying for
  • General Course structure
  • Subjects offered
  • The University branding

AP: Why did you narrow down on Edinburgh University? And did you apply for any sort of financial aid? 

SV: I made it to HKU, QMUL and Edinburgh. I chose Edinburgh for the course structure and subjects offered. I was sure that I do not want to take any paper which has written examination as a mode of assessment. QMUL has that. Also, cost of living was a factor. London was seeming way heavier on my pockets than Edinburgh. HKU I dropped as it was offering me IP + IT Law LLM whereas I wanted to do pure IP.

I did not apply for any scholarships.

AP: What were some of the changes you observed, in terms of the learning experience, between your undergrad and your post-graduate studies? Was the the dissertation the most difficult part of the course?

SV: So, learning experience in India and UK cannot be compared on the same pedestal for obvious reasons. In my personal opinion, in India you can do really well provided you are determined. You have to find your own motivation and keep going with it. In the UK, the teaching happens in such a manner that the professor pushes your thinking and in turn your learning limits.

The professors there are experienced, absolutely well-versed and have practical [knowledge] of the law along with the theoretical knowledge. There is a reading list for every lecture, if you don’t read it, it is your loss. Further, the fact that the teachers there form interpersonal relationships makes a lot of difference.

For example, my professor after a class joined us for a pint of beer in a pub. In the pub, we managed to discuss IP and other things in general. In another activity, we were at the contemporary art museum discussing IP issues. So, after that every museum I visited, I tried to find the issues on my own. So, learning was never restricted to classrooms.

For me, the most difficult part was getting adjusted to the amount of reading, the method of teaching, and writing the assignments. The dissertation was difficult but not the most difficult part.

The feedback after the assignments was the most helpful bit in making the dissertation process easy. I knew where I was lacking, so I had to only improve that. At the end of the day, it is all about following a discipline and wanting to learn.

AP: How would you rate your LLM experience? Any thing that you would have done differently? 

SV: I finished the course in September 2017. It was a really enriching experience both for learning and living in a new country.

The one thing I would have done differently is to concentrate more on my writing skills. Even though I scored well in my assignments, I think I could have done better if I had improved my writing.

AP: How easy or difficult are recruitments in the UK now? 

SV: My idea of doing an LLM was to further my plans of getting into academics back in India. So, I did not really look for jobs there. As I understood and I am hearing now, recruitment is not the best in UK now due to Brexit.

However, a few of my friends managed to utilize the period post completion of course and before expiry of the visa by getting internships at law firms in London which is a good option to consider.

AP:  Lastly, any advice for students who are considering an LLM?

SV: Oh, I have loads of them.

  • Be very sure that you want to do a LLM from abroad for the right reasons. It takes a lot of effort to get through the course.
  • Choose the University carefully. You are associated with it for the rest of your life. Be aware of the deadlines and keep enough time at hand.
  • Don’t just go by the ranking and brand of the University. It is more important to check about the course you are applying for. For example, an IP course might be better in a lower ranked University than, say LSE.  Do your research well.
  • Have all your documents in place well in advance. There are no second chances if the deadline has passed.
  • It takes quite some time to write Statements of Purpose and scholarship statements. In my personal experience, you also end up writing your own recommendation letters which is even more difficult. Get your SoPs and similar statements checked from someone who has gotten through the process of a LLM abroad. Every University specifies the pointers for SoPs, personal and scholarship statements. So, again, do your preliminary research well.
  • Give TOEFL/IELTS as soon as possible. The slots gets filled quite in advance.
  • If you are not self-funded and plan to apply for scholarships, then start planning your LLM by the start or middle of your 4th year. All the scholarships are very competitive and applications close well in advance. Sometimes, even before the applications for LLM are closed. Plus there are chances that because you are searching at the last minute, you are not aware of certain scholarships.
  • Many foreign Universities have a good alumni network. Find the alumni of the course you are applying for and try reaching out. It will help you in the longer run.
  • Lastly, before you apply to a University know your worth. Many in my knowledge apply to Oxford and Cambridge for the heck of it and obviously do not make it. Spare yourself the disappointment and save your resources.

The Admission Interviews: Andrew Horsfall, Syracuse University College of Law

 

 

Andrew Horsfall

Andrew Horsfall

Andrew Horsfall is the Assistant Dean of International Programs at Syracuse University College of Law. A lawyer by training, Andrew spent a few years as a legal profession before working for his alma mater. In this podcast, he tells me how admission officers view applications, how scholarships can be negotiated, and what are the best ways to identify the law school (and post-graduate course) that will offer you the most value.

 

Amicus Partners: We often get asked about the pros and cons of a specialized LLM versus a general LLM. Thoughts?

Andrew Horsfall: It really depends on the goals of the student and what they are looking to get out of the program. In a general LLM setting, you are getting more exposure to a variety of different subjects, perspectives and professors.

That can be very valuable to you.

If you wanted to take an IP class, human rights class or a general business law course, you can position yourself later in job interview as someone who is a generalist and has had broad exposure to a number of different subjects. That can be valuable to certain employers.

On the other hand, a specialized degree provides more comprehensive exposure, a deeper knowledge to a subject, and you can carve yourself out as an expert in some field.

This needs to be something that is really researched. If a school is offering a specialization in IP or in human rights, go further than that and take a look at the curriculum.  Take a look at the requirements that are needed and see if it is truly a specialization.

Is the school just sort of cobbling together all of its human rights courses and saying, “Now we have a specialization”? Or have they actually created new classes or new academic opportunities for students specifically in this track or in this program to pursue?

Another common query is when one should apply for an LLM – right after the undergraduate course or with a few years of work experience?

I get this question all the time!

I have to say that here at Syracuse, and I think with most admission professionals I have worked with, there is no preferred pathway to an LLM program. I think having come directly from an undergraduate program, it is an easier transition into an academic setting.

But also, there is value in taking some time away from your studies, getting some practical experience, and then coming back into an academic setting maybe with a more focused goal.

So those are sort of the personal factors to think about.

From an admissions perspective, we don’t prioritize either. What we look at is how you have spent your time. So, if you are just coming from a bachelor’s program, we are focusing specifically on your time [as an undergraduate]. Have you volunteered? Have you taken leadership roles in certain organizations? Have you done internships?

Likewise, with your practice – have there been gaps in your professional experience that we might need to talk about? Have you had an upwardly mobile progression in your career pathway? Have you been promoted year after year?

How are admissions applications vetted?

 Every admissions officer has their own formula that they have developed along the way. Let me just walk you through mine.

When I get an application, the first thing I do is skim through the resume. That gives me a basic chronology of what the student has accomplished either in law school or in their profession.

So, while the resume is not the most important piece, it is that first look into what that application will reveal later. I will say that for me, a resume has never made or broken a decision.

The next thing I read is the personal statement because I am most interested in hearing, in your own words, what you have accomplished, what you have done in the past and why the LLM program is that next, natural step for you.

That opens a window into your motivation, and what you are looking to accomplish. From there I go into the more technical details – so I will look through your transcripts, not only looking at the final CGPA but also taking a look at the courses you are taking, semester by semester.

And lastly, I will take a look at the recommendation letters either to confirm [what you have written] or reveal something new about you that I had not picked up yet.

Any suggestions on how to go about writing the personal statements?

In terms of the personal statement, I wouldn’t over think it and I wouldn’t make it too long. I have read personal statements that are one and a half pages (double spaced) – you can say a lot with very little space. I would not exceed two pages, just as a general matter.

I would advise the student to really take the space to tell her story. So, walk me through a little bit of your past. Talk to me about what got you motivated to study law [as an undergraduate]. Maybe talk about some of the things you have done during your time as a law student.

And then, end it with a paragraph or two about why this LLM program is the next thing for you. I am looking for information about what is motivating you to apply.

AP: You mention that you should engage with the schools. Do you think professors are also open to the idea of being contacted?

AH: Yes, definitely. Any law school’s website will also have information on professors and the courses that they teach. And if they have a specialization in a subject that you are interested in, you should absolutely feel free to reach out to the faculty members. The admissions office can help make those introductions for you.

I think most foreign students coming to the United States will find that, and this is not to denigrate any other country, our professors tend to be a bit more accessible, a bit more approachable. They really want to know who our students are, they want to know if you have concerns, and just to make sure that everything is going well for you.

AP: By and large, LLMs can be quite expensive. Oftentimes it is a question of whether one should make that kind of financial investment.

AH: Without a doubt. The first or usually the second thing that students are concerned about is the cost. And that is completely reasonable; LLM programs are expensive. I know that, I live in this world, and I talk to students all the time.

I wish they were more affordable, I wish they were more accessible and I know that my colleagues as well share that sentiment.

With that said, I also consider LLMs to be highly valuable in terms of the credentials that they give. There is a way of looking at LLM programs as expensive or valuable, and I think those are two different things.

The reason I look at them as valuable is for what they can unlock in terms of opportunities.

For example, in the US, if you are foreign educated and you come to do an LLM here, you can unlock the ability to write the NY Bar exam or the DC Bar exam. So, having that LLM on its own is certainly great – it is a master’s credential, gives you more exposure, more expertise.

I think it is important to mention when we talk about scholarships, it is very rare for students to pay the full price [of the LLM] as published on the website.

It is quite common, and quite acceptable, to open a conversation with the school and ask for scholarships, and also ask about appealing scholarships. So, if you are offered maybe ten or twenty thousand dollars at the first pass, may be a month or two later, you evaluate and say that you really need or deserve more scholarship funding.

AP: This is common across US schools?

AH: I would say, yes. I think that the trend for scholarships in the US are that schools are giving more and more scholarships. It is becoming increasingly competitive for schools to attract quality candidates. Scholarships are just part of what it is to do business in this field right now.

[Awarding scholarships] is something that schools are willing to do, because they are willing to make that investment in their students.

AP: So, you would encourage applicants to have that conversation on scholarships?

AH: Absolutely.

It is a very fair question to ask. As part of my admission process, I have a Skype conversation with every applicant and it is usually during that conversation that I ask about scholarships, about funding process. And that opens a conversation for students to talk about what their level of need is.

I think most admission professionals will welcome that conversation.

AP: Any final piece of advice?

AH: I touched upon this earlier, but I can’t understate the value of connecting with the school.

So, beyond just going to the website, filling out the application and then waiting for a decision, I really think [applicants] should engage with the school. And that’s not just e-mailing them back and forth. Look for them on their social media channel, start following them, engage.

Ask them if you could speak with current students, with alumni, not only from your own country or your own city, but also in the practice area that you may want to work in later.

I think the best thing you could do is to be informed. So, take your time, enjoy the process, and really make sure you are engaged with the school.

Amicus Podcast Ep02: Sidharth Chauhan, NALSAR University

Sidharth Chauhan of NALASR University

Sidharth Chauhan

Earlier this year, NALSAR University released a report on possible reforms at our country’s national law universities.The report (accessible here) made a number of suggestions, and also included a fairly comprehensive survey of students across more than a dozen national law universities.

The report’s co-investigator, and Assistant Professor at NALSAR, Sidharth Chauhan spoke with me on the report, and the way forward for Indian legal education.
(Edited excerpts)
Amicus Partners: Let’s get started with the report itself. In terms of scale, it is quite impressive – more than 800 students, 150 faculty members. How early did you start?
Sidharth Chauhan: As we have documented in the report, we did the surveys in August and September of 2016. The planning started around March 2016, about six months before we went for the visits.
We initially thought it would be a simple exercise in self-assessment, just confined to NALSAR. But since all the NLUs have a similar structure, and attract a similar profile of students, we thought we would expand our scope. In fact, while writing our report, we consciously chose to exclude the responses collected from within our own institution.
I’ll touch upon this later as well, but the report mentions that the administration of only 3 out of 15 NLU’s actually took the time out to answer your questions. Were you expecting this?
We actually thought that it would be slightly better because we had sent out questionnaires from the [NALSAR] Vice Chancellor’s office to his counterparts. Since the NLU V-Cs have working relations with each other, we thought most of them would respond.
But what we gathered from them was that apparently our questionnaire was either too complex or was demanding too much information. A lot of people who initially promised to fill in the questionnaire just didn’t do it.
The three institutions that did respond, were headed by V-C’s who had visited us in the recent past. So maybe they felt obliged that since they were visiting NALSAR, they should cooperate with us. But I personally thought that more of them would respond.
In hindsight, we could have kept it simpler – we were asking for data on recruitments, on spending, on previous faculty appointments.
Of course, the other route would be to file RTIs. But given that we are also embedded in a comparable institution, confrontation may not have been ideal. So, we tried to do it the polite way. It did not work (laughs).
AP: The surveys themselves throw up some interesting data. You asked students what made them choose a particular institution, and one of the factors marked “most important” was faculty.
SC: We were asking students to compare several different factors which we thought were normally important while choosing law schools. The idea behind the question was that as a matter of general perception, which factors are more important.
So, we were not really asking students to judge the quality of faculty at the institution, but we were asking them for a generic opinion.
AP: Were you surprised at this particular result?
SC: To be honest, no. Because, as insiders, this was also our hunch. Students, in the long run, value the quality of teaching that is being offered to them.
I would like to explain that we were not asking students to evaluate the faculty in that institution. We were asking them to compare across other factors which normally play a role in such choices.
Another factor marked “most important” in school selection was placements. But were there more discussions on what makes for “good” placements?
It is very clear that the top commercial law firms which give well-paid jobs are usually looking at around seven law schools –  NLSIU Bangalore, NALSAR Hyderabad, WBNUJS Kolkata, NLU Jodhpur, NLU Delhi, and to a limited extent NLIU Bhopal and GNLU Gandhinagar.
At least in the year that we did the survey, they were not really looking past those schools. So, the normative understanding of placements in these schools was to get a job in the best known law firms.
But since we covered 15 institutions, a large number of respondents told us that we should take a broader view of placements.
That it was not just about getting recruited through the student placement cells and securing lucrative jobs, but the discussion should include recruitment to lawyer’s chambers, government jobs, NGOs and the like.
This is a criticism that I agree with.
If you look at graduation outcomes in the long term, you can’t just look at student organized recruitment processes held in the 4th and 5th year. By design, people who come with a lesser degree of social or reputational capital will lose out in that process. And in the long run, when you judge the success of an institution, you have to account for public employment also.
Students who may not have gotten a commercial law firm job in the initial stages of their career, may actually end up making a far greater social contribution if they end up joining the judiciary, civil services or academic positions. Some of them are clearly opting for other careers that can be very productive.
AP: And do you see this debate taking place in different schools?
SC: Absolutely! In fact, I think there is a growing [awareness] even in first movers like Bangalore, Hyderabad and Calcutta who were, in a sense, the early beneficiaries of economic liberalization.
Even in these schools, there is a growing awareness that the pie is not growing as quickly as they would want.
There are more graduates coming from the NLU system, competing for the same jobs. And with time, newer institutions will become more competitive.
Even in the so called ‘top’ schools, there is a growing perception that recruitment committees need to diversify their outreach to potential recruiters.
AP: Last bit on the student survey. More than half the students surveyed believed that there were no institutional mechanisms to fight sexual harassment, and caste-based discrimination. That is a bit worrying, no?
SC: Yes. A large number of students we surveyed were largely unaware of mechanisms existing in their own institutions. In fact, we were hoping to corroborate this by comparing it with what the institutions told us.
I think it is a dual problem – there is a lack of awareness, and even for the ones who are aware, they think that the existing mechanism are insufficient or ineffective.
Our institutions can do more to not only have robust mechanisms in place, but to also make sure that they are known about in the first place.
A complaint about sexual harassment involves many complexities. It is not just a question of eve-teasing or harassment by strangers. At what point should the institution interfere when one partner in a relationship turns abusive towards the other partner? How is harassment to be understood when the persons involved are adolescents from different cultural backgrounds?
These are complicated social issues, so it is quite difficult to address them in the context of small residential campuses where both grievances and reactions get amplified in no time.
AP: And do you think administrations are discussing this?
SC: To our knowledge, all the NLUs are obligated to constitute internal complaints committees under the 2013 law, namely the The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act.
This law provides for a structure and rigour to act on complaints of this nature.
Having said that, I think a lot depends on the sensitivity of the people who serve on these committees. If you get people on the committee who are uncritically reflecting patriarchal norms, then the complainants themselves may feel hesitant or embarrassed to approach them in the first place.
And there is always the countervailing problem – if there has been a complaint of ragging, sexual harassment, physical violence or substance abuse, how far should the institution go? What is the threshold for expelling a student found guilty of misconduct? At what point, do you order academic suspensions? What is the proper threshold for escalating the matter to the criminal justice system?
These are all difficult choices because you are dealing with young people, some of whom may not adequately understand the long-term implications of their actions.
AP: Moving on, one of the interesting proposals made in the report was introducing M.A. courses which could attract faculty from different disciplines.
SC: There are two big reasons for what we wrote – one, as you have said, is to attract faculty. For faculty members who come with primary training in other disciplines like history, politics, economics, sociology or even management studies – they would actually have a stronger reason to stay invested in the institution if they could get to curate and design a distinctive curriculum. At one level, if law schools have to emerge as truly academic institutions, then the linkages with other disciplines can’t simply be first and second-year minor subjects. We have to evolve beyond that.
Another reason is that we find it very hard to get Ph.D. students in law. Law is a professional degree so if people already have a LL.B. or a LL.M., what is their incentive to do a full time Ph.D. with us? What could be a more interesting academic experiment would be M.A. programs which are geared for people who want to do inter-disciplinary research.
I am quite hopeful that if we experiment with an M.A., say an M.A. in Law and Philosophy, we may get a student who may be a serious masters student with us, and may then proceed to do a Ph.D. and then produce scholarship which is possibly of a much higher standard.
There are some private universities that have already shown the way. For instance, at the O.P. Jindal Global University (Sonipat, Haryana) a substantial number of students come for their law programs, but they are running taught programmes in other fields such as International Relations, Business, Public Policy and the like.
The Azim Premji University in Bangalore has a School for Policy and Governance which started an interdisciplinary M.A. programme a few years ago. The Tata Institute for Social Sciences (TISS) campuses in Mumbai and Hyderabad have also started M.A. programmes in Regulation and Governance.
This is a space that the NLUs can easily compete with. NLSIU Bangalore has already succeeded in attracting motivated students to its M.A. Programme in Public Policy.
AP: A lot of what you are saying goes back to the debates in the latter half of the last century. There was a focus on the interdisciplinary approach towards the study of law.
SC: In fact, that is where our inspiration came from. When the early discussions about setting up a ‘national law school’ took place, for instance in the Gajendragadkar report in the 1960s, they were thinking of locating it within a larger university system.
For the longest time, the intent was that it would be created at Delhi University. But many senior academics such as Prof. P.K. Tripathy were skeptical about the proposal to teach law as an undergraduate degree.
But if you go back to the original intention behind the national law school project, it was supposed to be embedded within a larger university system. Now that we have gone down a certain path of setting up isolated campuses, why can’t we at least bring back some elements of the original vision?
AP: When it comes to faculty, the report estimates around 30-40% of all faculty are ad-hoc. But were you able to find out how long they had been ad-hoc?
SC: Actually, these are the questions we had asked in the administration questionnaire. We had asked them to not only disclose the strength of their faculty, but also how long their ad-hoc faculty had been there. But nobody really gave us a consolidated answer.
For even the three institutions that gave us an answer, they have only told us the number of serving faculty members, not how long they had been there. The 30-40% estimate is a conservative number because there are some institutions such as NLU Jodhpur and GNLU  Gandhinagar which have largely functioned with ad-hoc faculty since their beginning.
On the other hand, there are some schools like NLU Delhi and RMLNLU Lucknow that have regularized most of their teachers.
But from what we have gathered, even in the schools where regularization happens frequently, the usual expectation is that you will serve in an ad-hoc position for a minimum of 2-3 years before being appointed at the Assistant Professor level. We have heard of horror stories where the waiting period has been seven or eight years in some cases.
AP: In a few years, a PhD will be mandatory for the Assistant Professor level. But, won’t this force people into PhDs?
SC: That I think is one level of the problem – namely that those who are presently working as ad-hoc teachers after completing a master’s degree will have a compelling reason to quickly finish their Ph.D.s. This may sacrifice quality.
The other issue is that we may actually lose out on potential candidates who may have half a mind to join academia after acquiring some experience with legal practice. But you are effectively pushing them aside by saying, “A PhD is going to be a norm in three years”
But in the long run, this is an overdue measure. If you look at recruitments for teaching positions in other disciplines, holding a Ph.D. is the norm for being appointed. But since  law is a professional discipline, there has been a relative scarcity of qualified people applying for teaching positions.
Which is why many people have been able to get regular positions after completing a LL.M. programme and clearing the NET, which is the existing threshold for appointment as an Assistant Professor.
AP: Sticking with the UGC, there seems to be a gap between what the UGC wants and reality. For instance, the one-year LLM was supposed to make Indian universities globally competitive.
SC: The UGC Committee that framed the one-year LLM program was thinking of aligning it with Western practices. They made the program more intensive with three compulsory courses, six optional papers and a masters dissertation to be completed within one academic year.
To be honest this is a fair amount of work – it is a taught LL.M. and a research LL.M. combined. Whereas in most parts of the Western world, you can opt to do one.
In practice, the applicant pool has increased which led to the hope that the quality of students would also improve.  But, at least in my limited experience, I have found that a lot of applicants are writing the PG CLAT because it is also a prerequisite to apply for jobs in several Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs).
Unfortunately, the students with the best ranks in the PG CLAT are not joining the LL.M. programmes at the NLUs.
I think the real problem with the LL.M. programme is that we haven’t got the entrance process right. For a master’s program, does it even make sense to have a common exam that consists of multiple-choice questions? How can that be a suitable gauge for an applicant’s aptitude for research and writing?
Another problem is the dearth of faculty expertise for research supervision. For instance, each institution is a better judge of whether it has the requisite faculty resources to offer specialized courses or to meaningfully supervise dissertation writing.
AP: So, you do think an LLM is geared for academic research?
SC: Absolutely. In fact, the main reason for moving to the 1-year LL.M. was to make it clear to applicants that this is a degree that helps you transition towards a Ph.D. Or, if you are thinking about teaching, it helps you transition into a feeder teaching position.
But somehow, most of the people who write the PG CLAT don’t seem to have that information reaching them.
The other problem which we found is that some schools have started using the LL.M. as a means of financial compensation.
They admit a large number of LL.M. students, say 100, whereas they only have 40 teachers. Now, if you are going to guide LL.M. dissertations, each teacher has to guide 2-3 people. And in the pool of 40 teachers, nearly 20 or so may be very young teachers who have recently done their own LL.M.s.
I personally feel that if enough time and attention is given to it, our LL.M. programmes can become globally competitive. There is no reason why they can’t.
AP: One of the terms that kept coming up in the report was “complacency”, especially in context of the older law schools.
SC: This is a problem that is a bit difficult to document unless you have been an insider. The reason I say that is because these institutions have benefited from earning reputational capital because they chose a more intensive model when compared with law colleges or departments that are part of larger State Universities.
And their output, or rather their graduates’ output, also came at a time when the Indian economy wanted transactional lawyers. So, it was also a historical accident.
A lot of insiders have not truly understood that they are beneficiaries of this historical accident.  People just assume that because they have gotten into a ‘top ranked’ school it is a ticket to a comfortable job, or a ticket to good professional reputation. That is where the element of complacency is most visible.
Whereas it never works like that in the long-run – what constitutes reputational capital changes completely a few years into practice.
Unfortunately, many stakeholders in these institutions don’t seem to understand this. They seem to be taking their positions for granted. Whether it is in terms of finding jobs for their students, or publicity, or even in terms of claims they make about themselves.
We have this expression that is used very often for NLSIU Bangalore (which also happens to be my alma mater)– “Harvard of the East” – I think this is a complete travesty. In fact, it is an obscenity.
AP: Looking towards the future – one of the recommendations made in the report was to have alumni representation in the governing bodies of the NLUs.
SC: It is as simple as making amendments to their respective State level statutes where you can easily add the alumni association as one more stakeholder that is represented, in say the Executive Council of the concerned NLU.
So far, Prof. N.R. Madhava Menon seems to be the only senior law professor who has publicly backed this proposal.  I think the idea will only gain traction if one school takes the initiative and invites its alumni into its governing bodies. Then other NLUs will quickly replicate this model.
Having alumni on your governing board proves to be beneficial in the long run. As the experience with many Western universities shows, as they get older, alumni are able to contribute financially and intellectually.
And, sometimes, they are able to help when the institution faces bottlenecks with the government, or in litigation involving the institution. All it requires is incumbent Vice-Chancellors and Registrars who are polite enough to ask for help.

 

Introducing the Amicus Podcast: Episode 01

At Amicus Partners, we are always trying to make the LLM application process that much easier. And in order to provide as much information as we can, we have recently launched the Amicus Podcast.
In the first episode, Priyadarshini and I discuss the broad aspects of the application process, the things one should keep in mind, and just a little bit more.
As always, we welcome your thoughts, comments and suggestions.