6 things law students can learn from the previous Star Wars movies

SayakDasguptaI deeply resent the fact that we in India have had to wait an extra week for Star Wars: The Force Awakens simply because Disney was too scared to release it on the same day as Dilwale and Bajirao Mastani. Like many others, I took this time to watch the entire series all over again. Although I prefer the original trilogy (Episodes IV, V, and VI) to the prequel trilogy (Episodes I, II, and III) made later, I decided to watch the series in the intended chronological order of the saga, beginning with Episode I and ending with Episode VI. As I powered through the largely clunky, exposition-filled dialogue, awkward performances, and weak writing of the first three episodes, I began to notice a lot of parallels between Star Wars and the life of a law student. People often tend to forget that Star Wars is essentially a story about students trying to gain knowledge and skills in a very specific area and learning how to apply them in their chosen paths. Sound familiar?

So here are 6 lessons law students could take away from the six Star Wars movies we have had before Star Wars: The Force Awakens.


1. Your background does not matter. A true Jedi can come from anywhere. (Episode I: The Phantom Menace)

StarWarsThePhantomMenaceWhen the team at visits some of the lesser-known law schools, particularly those situated outside the metros, we meet many students who are worried about their future because they are not studying at a top-tier law school. Many others feel they are at an extreme disadvantage because no one in their family is a lawyer, or because they come from a small town or village and are not very comfortable with English, and so on. We tell all of them the same thing: ultimately, it doesn’t matter which law school you go to, or who your relatives are, or where you come from. These are challenges that can be overcome. What really matters is how hard you work towards getting to where you want to be.

In Episode I, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn finds young Anakin Skywalker on a little-known dead end of a desert planet called Tatooine. Anakin and his mother Shmi are slaves with no hope for a better future. But Anakin isn’t just naturally talented; he has worked hard to hone his skills as a gifted pilot and expert builder of complex machines. Qui-Gon wagers with Watto (who owns Anakin and Shmi) that if Anakin wins an upcoming pod race, he will be freed. Some might say Anakin owes his freedom to Qui-Gon, but let’s not forget that it was Anakin who built the pod, and it was Anakin who raced it. Qui-Gon gave him an opportunity, which he seized immediately. Unfortunately, Qui-Gon didn’t survive to train Anakin, but he asked his own Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi, to take him as his apprentice.  No matter what your circumstances are, if you work hard and make the best of the available resources and opportunities that come your way, you will do well. Here’s a quick example: Harish Salve was a young chartered accountant working with his father in Nagpur. He was asked to write a note on a certain law and what he wrote impressed his father so much that he showed it to Nani Palkhivala. Palkhivala asked Salve, “When are you joining the profession?” Salve studied law in Nagpur and when he graduated, Palkhivala asked Soli Sorabjee to take him on as a junior, and the rest is history. Think of Salve as Anakin, Palkhivala as Qui-Gon, and Sorabjee as Obi-Wan.

2. You have a lot to learn, young Padawan. (Episode II: Attack of the Clones)

StarWarsAttackOfTheClonesEpisode II focuses on an adolescent Anakin who is beginning to discover the extent of his powers under the tutelage of Obi-Wan. While Anakin is certainly gifted, he is also brash, arrogant, and hot-headed. This will ultimately lead to his downfall. Your internships are a lot like Jedi apprenticeships. Think of the lawyers you’re working under as Jedi masters. They are more knowledgeable and experienced than you, and if you show humility, enthusiasm, and curiosity, they will be willing to teach you many things that are far more valuable than what you learn in law school. Even if they don’t take a hands-on approach to teaching, you can learn a lot just by assisting and observing.

There’s an even larger point here. A law student should be like a sponge, absorbing everything s/he can. This doesn’t mean you should just pay attention to the professor in class or the lawyer you’re doing your internship with. There is a whole world out there that is governed by laws. You need to keep abreast of current affairs and latest developments and how these things affect the law or vice versa. Read, debate, discuss, explore. Speak to the top lawyers in this country or anywhere in the world and you will discover that they have a wide range of interests and can hold an intelligent conversation on just about any topic. To be a good lawyer, you need to have a well-rounded personality, and that can only come with a strong penchant to keep learning.

3. Things are not always as they seem. Analyse everything; take nothing for granted. (Episode III: Revenge of the Sith)

StarWarsRevengeOfTheSithEpisode III is a culmination of all the mistakes everyone has made in the previous episodes. The ostensibly trustworthy senator Palpatine turns out to be the evil Sith lord, Darth Sidious. As Palpatine, Darth Sidious had gained everyone’s trust and got himself elected Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic. He now reorganises the Republic into the Galactic Empire and declares himself the Emperor amidst the wildly enthusiastic approval of the entire senate, prompting Queen Amidala to utter one of the most poignant lines in the whole series: “So this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause.” The Jedi, despite the depth of their knowledge, ability to sense disturbances and imbalances in the force and power to look into the future, have been unable to detect this evil that has lurked right under their noses this whole time and are shocked when they hear the truth. Meanwhile, Darth Sidious has turned Anakin to the Dark Side and christened him Darth Vader. The Jedi had so far operated under the assumption that Anakin was “the chosen one” who would destroy the Sith and bring balance to the Force as foretold by the prophesy. Now Master Yoda admits, “A prophesy that misread could have been.” Even the mighty Jedi can make mistakes. A law student needs to question and analyse everything. A clause in a contract, a provision in a bare act, a line in a pleading may seem fine on the surface, but you need to go deeper, deconstruct, and analyse. In a statute or legal document, every single word has a specific meaning and significance. You have to make sure that you understand it. Don’t just go by what some authority or your professor or the lawyer you are working under has stated on an issue. These people are human and humans make errors. Question everything, right down to the basis of a law – why does it exist? For what specific purpose was it drafted? Does it apply in your case? In a document, why has a particular word or term been used? Does it go against the interests of your client? Is a clause completely watertight or is there a loophole? When lawyers take things for granted or at face value, disasters happen.

4. Try new things. Get out of your comfort zone. (Episode IV: A New Hope)

StarWarsLike his father, Luke Skywalker is a boy who lives on Tatooine. He may not be as preternaturally gifted as his father was, but he does have the same ambition – to leave the planet and make something of himself. However, he lets things hold him back. Even when he discovers a mysterious message for old Ben Kenobi, even when Ben tells him of his Jedi father and asks him to come with him across the galaxy on a life-altering adventure, Luke keeps hesitating and telling Ben that he has things to do at home and he can’t just take off. It is only when his uncle Owen and aunt Beru are slaughtered by Imperial stormtroopers that Luke realises he must go. Most of Luke’s trajectory through this movie and the next one is his attempt to get over his doubts and hesitations and become a true Jedi. As a law student or intern, your aim should be to get the most out of your law school or internship. This means exploring every avenue that presents itself. The worst thing that you could say to yourself at the end of it is “I wish I had tried that.” Go ahead and participate in that moot, write that article, take part in that debate, start that students’ group in law school, organise that festival, present a paper in that seminar, do that internship with that small NGO that doesn’t pay, take on some research on an area you have never worked on before, have a go at drafting a document you have never tried drafting before, do a course in a niche subject that you find interesting. If you don’t try something, you will never know whether you can do it. This is your time to discover what you want to do for the rest of your life. Make it count.

5. Don’t rush into anything without preparing yourself for it. (Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back)

StarWarsTheEmpireStrikesBackIn Episode V, Luke travels to Dagobah, a remote world of swamps and forests, to receive advance training in the ways of the Force from Jedi Master Yoda. However, in the midst of his training, Luke has a vision in which he sees Han and Leia are going to be in trouble. He decides to leave immediately to help them. Both Yoda and the spirit of Obi-Wan warn him repeatedly that he must not go on this mission without finishing his training. Only a fully trained Jedi with complete control over the Force can face Darth Vader and his forces. Leaving while his training is still incomplete, Luke will risk everything they have all fought for all these years. But Luke goes anyway, and sure enough, he is thoroughly underprepared. Darth Vader forced Lando Calrissian to help him capture Han and Leia on the planet Bespin and used them as bait to lure Luke. To cut a long story short, Luke ends up helping no one. When he reaches Bespin, Han has already been frozen in carbon and dispatched to Jabba the Hutt, and Darth Vader is waiting to confront Luke. Luke is not even close to being a match for Darth Vader who cuts his hand off in a lightsaber battle. He is also not equipped to deal with what Darth Vader reveals to him: that he is Luke’s father. If he had stayed in Dagobah and completed his training, he would have had the strength and fortitude to handle it. In fact, a true Jedi would have not only repelled Darth Vader’s attack, but also sensed the nature of the revelation (In Episode VI, Luke senses Leia is his sister before Obi-Wan actually reveals it to him). Physically wounded and emotionally devastated, Luke has to be rescued by Leia who had managed to escape with Lando’s help. While in the previous point I said you should always be ready to try new things, it is also absolutely essential that you prepare for them. Give your absolute 100% to anything you take up, otherwise the results could be disastrous. Whether you’re mooting, writing an article, taking an exam, presenting a paper in a seminar, writing a note on a legal question during an internship or sitting for an interview, always ensure you have covered all the bases, done you research thoroughly and are completely and thoroughly prepared to the best of your abilities. Taking short cuts and hoping you can wing it can prove fatal in the legal profession.

6. Learn to be a team player. (Episode VI: Return of the Jedi)

StarWarsReturnOfTheJediThe major difference between Anakin and Luke is that while Anakin was an island and thought he could do everything on his own, Luke realised he would need help and asked for it. As a part of the rebel group, he became an integral member of a team that through the course of the last three episodes got increasingly better at achieving its goals. The two major missions in the movie were successfully completed thanks only to smart delegation of work and perfect teamwork. The first one, rescuing a carbon-frozen Han from Jabba the Hutt’s lair, was achieved mostly through cunning, with R2-D2, C-3PO, Leia, Chewbacca, Lando and Luke infiltrating Jabba’s palace under various pretexts and guises and overcoming a setback to kill Jabba and make a clean getaway. The second, destroying the new Death Star, was a much larger and more complicated plan involving two separate sub-groups of the team working together and coordinating over a vast distance in order to succeed. Thanks to their teamwork, the relatively smaller rebel alliance with its limited resources managed to defeat the enormous, powerful Galactic Empire. As a law student, intern and a future lawyer, you should start getting used to working in teams to achieve targets effectively. You need to be able to communicate and coordinate with your teammates perfectly and assume a role of leadership when necessary. You have to learn to do your job and help others do theirs. That is the only way to work.

So, these are the 6 major lessons for a law student I could glean from the Star Wars movies. Clearly, there is a lot more you can learn from them. Go enjoy the movies, watch the new installment and let me know if I have missed something by writing in the comments.

And as always, may the force be with you.

(Sayak Dasgupta wanders around looking for things to do.)


Carpooling apps and the car owners who use them violate the law. And their passengers have no insurance cover.

vijayaraghavannarasimhamA concept that is now being commercially exploited through mobile apps, “carpooling” is the practice of people who want to travel on the same route or to the same place sharing their cars for convenience and to share costs. It is not new. Employees of the Bhilai Steel Plant for example, have consistently shared their cars in this manner.

But the new startup enterprises that have launched mobile apps to facilitate carpooling are on a sticky legal wicket. They “pool the cars of various owners” and form a “corpus of cars” that are then readily available for sharing by the users of these apps. Obviously, the  pooled in this manner are registered as private cars and would also be carrying insurance policies as private cars. This falls foul of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (“the Act”).

While it is perfectly legal for individuals to pool their private cars for mutual benefit, a cloud-based solution to pool private cars and commercially exploit them contravenes Section 66 of the Act.

No owner of a motor vehicle shall use or permit the use of the vehicle as a transport vehicle in any public place whether or not such vehicle is actually carrying any passengers, save in accordance with the conditions of a permit granted…authorizing him the use of the vehicle in that place in the manner in which the vehicle is being used.

Under Section 2(47), “transport vehicle means a public service vehicle…” and under Section 2(35), “public service vehicle means any motor vehicle used or adapted to be used for the carriage of passengers for hire or reward…

Clearly, a vehicle registered as a private car and without a permit to “carry passengers for hire or reward”, cannot be “carpooled” to run “for hire or reward”. People, who offer their private vehicles for such a purpose, are permitting the use of their vehicles in a manner that is prohibited by Section 66 of the Act. The transport authorities would have a duty to seize these vehicles and prosecute their owners and even the startup enterprise for facilitating such illegal use. Commercial carpooling therefore, can only be legal if the vehicles are already registered as transport vehicles and have a permit to carry passengers for hire or reward.


Some carpooling apps

In addition, under Section 3(1), the drivers of such vehicles need an endorsement authorising them to drive a transport vehicle. This means that even if private cars are somehow allowed to operate on commercial lines, their drivers may not possess the necessary endorsement because the vehicles registered as private vehicles do not need such endorsements.

Moreover, insurance policies available for private vehicles do not cover their use to carry ‘passengers for hire or reward’. Insurers can easily cry breach of the “limitations as to use” clause in the insurance policy and avoid liability for the passengers travelling in carpooled cars.

It would therefore appear that as an enterprise, carpooling  has to deal with serious regulatory issues. Meanwhile, they can either carpool using only transport vehicles and not involve private cars or hope that the motor vehicles regulator is looking the other way. They will also need specialised insurance covers for pooled cars.

Vijayaraghavan Narasimhan is an advocate practicing at the Madras High Court.


Are celebrities at risk when they endorse products?

vijayaraghavannarasimhamWhen a case was instituted before the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate of Barabanki against Amitabh Bachan, Madhuri Dixit, and Preity Zinta for endorsing Maggi noodles, it made almost as much news as the ban on the instant noodle brand. These days, celebrities tell us what to eat, drink, drive, and invest in. But when the representation of a celebrity endorser is believed and “acted upon” by a customer who then “suffers prejudice”, does a “cause of action” arise against the celebrity?

In 1972, Hugo Zacchini, an entertainer who performed a “human cannonball” act, was filmed during his 15-second act by a freelance reporter and the clip was broadcast on a news programme. Mr. Zacchini’s claim was that such conduct was an unlawful appropriation of his “professional property”. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that a “TV station has a privilege to report in its newscasts matters of legitimate public interest which would otherwise be protected by an individual’s right of publicity, unless the actual intent of the TV station was to appropriate the benefit of the publicity for some non-privileged private use, or unless the actual intent was to injure the individual.” 

At the Supreme Court of the United States, the majority ruled in favour of Mr. Zacchini. The performer had his own manner and mode of promotion of the event and had a ticketed audience. The broadcast of the show by the news media even as “news clip” without the consent of the performer was prejudicial to his common law right to exploit his skill and talent. Even submissions relying on free speech did not sway the Court.

Such is the supremacy of the right of a celebrity to exploit his or her ‘property in the celebrity status’. So when this property is commercially exploited, are there standards of care and accountability? What the House of Lords said in 1889 about deceit continues to hold true. “No honest mistake, no mistake not prompted by a dishonest intention, is fraud

ShraddhaKapoor_SehwagCollageThe Lords held in Derry v. Peek that to succeed in an action of deceit, the plaintiff had to prove fraud, and to prove fraud, the plaintiff had to establish that “a false representation has been made knowingly, or without belief in its truth, or recklessly, without caring whether it be true or false. A person who carelessly makes a false statement but believes that it was substantially true, is not liable for an action of deceit.

What of mere negligence or carelessness? The case of Hanberry v. Hearst before the California Court of Appeals provides the greatest support for holding a celebrity-endorser liable for a negligently-given endorsement. The court applied a duty of care standard to an unprecedented extent by imposing liability on an endorser for the negligent misrepresentation of a product. The Hearst Publishing Company had given a line of shoes its “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval”. A plaintiff who had slipped and injured herself while wearing a new pair of these shoes, could recover for the defendant’s negligence in putting its seal of approval on defectively designed shoes. The plaintiff had relied on the defendant’s seal believing that the shoes had been examined and tested and implicit in that seal was a representation that it had taken reasonable steps to independently examine the product and had found it satisfactory. The Court also held that because the purpose of the seal was to attract consumers, Hearst could have foreseen that certain consumers would rely on the representation and purchase the shoes. By voluntarily lending its name to the shoes, “Hearst … placed itself in the position where public policy imposes upon it the duty to use ordinary care in the issuance of its seal … so that members of the consuming public who rely on its endorsement are not unreasonably exposed to the risk of harm.”

In light of these decisions, it would seem that the affected consumer may have a case to proceed against celebrity endorsers only if there is adequate proof of (a) reckless misrepresentation or (b) deceit or fraud, on the part of the celebrity. While they may breathe easy about civil claims, celebrities should conduct their checks as to what could potentially land them in trouble. They may even consider an insurance policy to cover the risks associated with endorsements. The risk of being summoned before a magistrate in a possible criminal complaint remains however, and cannot be insured against.

Vijayaraghavan Narasimhan is an advocate practicing at the Madras High Court.


“You don’t want the government controlling education” – David Friedman

Anarchist-anachronist-economist. That’s how David Friedman, who is currently a professor of law at Santa Clara University (more about him on his website), describes himself. The son of economists Rose and Milton Friedman, David studied physics and chemistry at Harvard.

Prashant Narang: Welcome to India, David. You hold no formal education in economics and law, yet you teach these subjects. Durga Das Basu might have been one such rare example in colonial India. One cannot teach without a degree in India. How do you think we can get to a system where the competence of a person is determined by something other than the certificates he holds?

Professor David Friedman

Professor David Friedman

David Friedman: In the United States, most people hold doctorates in concerned professions, not all – but most. My uncle for instance, an important person, started law and economics, was a professor at the University of Chicago and held only an undergraduate degree. He had written a book and was associated with the University of Chicago for a long time. So it is not impossible but it also was certainly not easy. There is however, no legal restriction of the sort.

Even in practice a university might hire a professor whose doctorate was in a different but related profession. So it is not really that surprising for a physics department to hire someone with a doctorate in mathematics or for the economics department for that matter.

PN: As a recent trend in India, private universities are coming up. While they provide state-of-the-art facilities, the fee structures are exorbitant. Do you think such a system would promote merit?

DF: Presumably over time you can have more than one private university or law school. What prevents others from existing?

One of the things that struck me while in India is that while India seems like the most egalitarian country in the world, there is a vast gap between the rich and the poor. There are stores with very expensive things in them and then there are people sleeping on the streets. I suspect that these two are not unrelated. One of the results of a society where you need certificates and permits for everything is that it is very hard for you to rise. This is true even in the US. There are restrictions. The Institute for Justice (IJ) has dealt with certain such cases of restrictions with regards to who can enter certain professions. These restrictions make it very hard for someone who doesn’t have the money or connections to rise. So I wonder if in fact the regime and style of the Indian government is one of the reasons why it has such striking poverty than you would normally expect from it.

PN: Education institutions, be it primary, secondary, or tertiary, in India – have to be “not-for-profit”. Education is supposed to be a charitable activity and no one should be making profits out it.

DF: If people have a better way, a cheaper way, and know how to do a better job, to figure out best ways of teaching and have an incentive in the sector, they will invest. If the government feels that for-profits are evils, then surely the government officials should accept a reduction in their wages.

Also, by that logic, even restaurants and farms should be for non-profit. Surely food is more important than education. Why not follow the same principle.

This is very odd. One charitable activity is feeding hungry people. My wife’s church for example, every once in a while, has a dinner for the homeless people. But the fact that it is charitable does not mean that feeding people in a restaurant or having a farm – for money, is illegal. So if people wish to provide charitable education, that’s fine, but there is no reason to forbid those who don’t.

PN: Private schools in India, by law, have to provide reservations of 25 per cent to economically weaker and other backward classes. Or should there be more government schools?

DF: You have all these laws that are supposed to help poor people do better, yet you have an enormous number of people who are poor. Shouldn’t you at some point think you are doing something wrong?

In China, after Mao died, various leaders went abroad and were able to see how the rest of the world was living and while they believed that socialism was right, they realized they were doing something wrong. India has all sorts of interventions to help the poor. She claims to be in favour of equality, when in reality it appears that it’s all about the large imposing governmental bungalows with open spaces and gardens on one side and over-crowded housing, business spaces etcetera, for everybody else on the other.

If you require more private schools for education, it means there are fewer private schools and more governmental schools –which also implies an obvious control of the government over education.

There are a couple of arguments why education should be paid by state. More societal productivity is one. Well, if you build a factory, the factory too will be more productive for the society. Getting educated in ways that make you more productive is investing in more human capital. In a market system when you insist on more human capital, most of the return goes to you because you get a higher wage.

Now, that may be less true in India, I don’t know how much of the wage goes to the government in one-way or another. As a general rule, getting education is just a form of capital investment in people and it is not true that my being productive automatically makes you better. You may be a competitor, you may be a customer, but most of the gain of my being productive goes to me.

The other argument is that you need to have educated voters in a democracy so they all vote correctly. Here specifically, you don’t want the government controlling education – they will teach people what they want them to believe. It is hard to tell if education can ensure that people will vote correctly. This is simply because an ordinary voter – not just has very little incentive to vote, but it also affected by various factors. William Buckley said “he’d rather be ruled by a 1000 random people pulled out of the New York telephone book at random, than by the faculty at Harvard; simply because the faulty at Harvard has a fairly uniform set of political bias.”

PN: Thank you, David, for your time.

(Prashant Narang is an advocate with iJustice, a CCS initiative.)


Violence and the republic in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

What role does violence have in establishing a republic? Is the rule of law a peaceful one? John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) poses these and other questions that are fundamental to the exercise of power by the people.

Republican values arrive in the American frontier town of Shinbone through the protagonist Ransom “Ranse” Stoddard (played by James Stewart), a “youngster fresh out of law school, bag full of law books”. On his Westward journey, the idealistic Stoddard gets a taste of “Western law” when he stands up to the fearsome robber Liberty Valance (played by Lee Marvin) and is whipped to the ground. Law, he soon learns, could not subdue Valance’s terror. The town’s cowardly marshall is no match for Valance and the townsfolk seemed to prefer the protection of the gun.

The only man with the gunfighting skills to stand up to Valance is Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) who, like Valance, has a sneering contempt for the law and, like Valance, represents the frontier’s faith in the gun. “Out here”, Doniphon tells Stoddard, “a man settles his own problems”. The machismo of Valance and Doniphon is contrasted with the well-mannered Stoddard, who is washing dishes in a restaurant and is frequently apron-clad.

The key difference between Valance and Doniphon of course, lay in what they use their guns for. Valance uses violence to meet his selfish needs and those of the cattle ranchers who hire him. Doniphon on the other hand, represents righteous violence and uses his gun to protect the townsfolk.

Stoddard soon earns the town’s respect. Refusing to accept Valance’s authority, he establishes a law practice and a school to teach the illiterate townsfolk and their children to read and write.

Hallie (Vera Miles), who also works in the restaurant, is used to show the law’s attraction for the townsfolk – the promise of stability and respect for individuals in a violent world. While Doniphon woos her with presents and compliments, he does not want her to go to school. It is Stoddard who ultimately earns her affection.

However, even as the town warms up to the rule of law, Stoddard becomes a participant in the frontier’s violence. He acknowledges the threat posed by Valance and accepts a revolver from the editor and publisher of the local newspaper. Not amused by a trick played on him, he even punches Doniphon in the face.

This grudging acceptance of violence as a way of the frontier happens just as the town begins to articulate its yearning for republican values. The town wants to elect a representative to press the demand for statehood at the territorial convention but Valance, who has been hired by the predatory forces of capital – the cattle ranchers who would rather the territory remain ruled by the hired gun, threatens the fair conduct of the election. Only after Doniphon blunts the threat can the election proceed. The rule of law could only emerge in Shinbone at the point of Doniphon’s gun.


Ransom Stoddard prepares to confront Liberty Valance in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962, Paramount Pictures).

After Stoddard is elected to represent the town at the statehood convention, Valance challenges him to a gunfight and in the confrontation between them, to everyone’s surprise, it is Valance who falls dead. Doniphon’s climactic revelation [SPOLER ALERT] confirms the suspicion that it was he who felled Valance. The revelation assuages Stoddard’s conscience and he embarks on a life in politics. But the final scene reveals the endurance of the myth that it was Stoddard who was “the man who shot Liberty Valance”. The myth continued to sustain a long and glittering career in public life.

The endurance of one legend reveals the falsehood about a “fact” – the peaceful rule of law. Its moral authority may derive from popular acceptance but, like Stoddard’s political career, the rule of law had deep roots in violence.

(Aju John is part of the faculty at