Law Schools

How will you respond to the absence of parental control?

AbhinavSekhri_NationalLawSchoolofIndiaUniversityJulian Barnes put it very well, when he said “what else are you at that age [adolescence] but a creature part willing, part consenting, part being chosen?” The next five years in law school are going to define you in many ways, for this is when your hold on the creature you will be, increases greatly. There are no longer items in your room because someone else decided to keep them there. Your clothes will not be washed just because someone was kind enough to do that. You are now responsible for making decisions such as what to eat, how to keep a room, how to study, how to relax, and also where to move ahead in life. Indecision is not going to bode well for you either in law school or in the future.

Oddly enough, I can reduce every facet of law school to how each individual responds to this change in their basic functioning. Some of us respond to the withdrawal of parental control by simply following the same practices, or by forming completely new routines be they healthy or not. Keeping rooms filthy and living out of suitcases, going days without a bath, wearing dirty clothes: all of this is not a cause of law school taking too much time, but rather simply being unable to take charge of life. These seem very inconsequential, so nobody really cares about such daily hassles, but if you look at the other end of the spectrum you’ll find the same things are repeated while making big decisions.

Everyone finds it convenient to imitate and follow the established norm rather than try to explore their options for themselves. We get drawn into a herd without thinking about how the decisions may affect us; everyone debates or moots or publishes or gets on journals, so we assume that we must as well, for

What kind of law student are you?
What kind of law student are you?

otherwise the race will be lost. But, where is the end of that race? Similarly, the amount people jabber might make you think that life after law school only consists of the firm-litigation-academia triumvirate. Ask them what they wish to pursue in any of these fields, and few will give you a convincing answer (this may help explain attrition rates in lawfirms, apart from other factors). The concern with the form of what life may follow has so completely overtaken the substance that we rarely stop to think about what really motivates us. It’s not the place but what you do there which makes it worthwhile. Try spending the time here figuring that out, but don’t beat yourself over it if you find no concrete answer five years down the line.

One of the truly wonderful things about law school integrating B.A. and LL.B. courses is exposing individuals to a wide array of subjects that allow them to find out what really makes them tick. Add to this a liberal environment as law school, and you honestly find yourselves in a unique place where nearly any option is open for you to consider. If law is really not your thing, you can seek inspiration from the many alumni who have branched off into unrelated fields. At NLS, one needn’t look further than Bhukkad and its founder Mr. Aruj Garg (batch of 2013). It may be hard, but don’t be afraid to take that risk.

(Abhinav Sekhri is a fifth year student at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore. All articles in this series are here.)

Law Schools

The truth about mooting

AbhinavSekhri_NationalLawSchoolofIndiaUniversityLet’s be honest. By now, you don’t really need any more of my advice. You probably know your surroundings already, having found things out in person or by talking to your seniors. I’ll just try to be useful as I write about moot court competitions (“moots”).

I assume that by now, you must have been exposed to this law school activity, either through a demonstration, a formal discussion, or just by interacting with your seniors. You hear many things about moots: that moots are a great way to see new places and meet new people (yes, some people do think mooting is the best way to socialise!), that they’re great for ‘C.V. value’, that they are possibly the closest thing to a real court experience (more on that later), and that they teach you a lot about law. Almost every law student gets drawn into taking part in a moot for one reason or another, honestly thinking that it will help them to get whatever they have set out to achieve. A moot may get you all of these and much more including money, newfound respect, and status but your moment in the sun will come only after a pretty long process.

Mooting_lawschoolsIn a moot, you have to present oral and written arguments for both sides of a hypothetical legal dispute. In a competition, different teams argue the same problem across several rounds, possibly for different sides. It is a splendid idea, for what better way to become a lawyer than by practicing to argue? The hypothetical problems are usually challenging and some effort is required to grasp the legal issues involved. Then comes the hard part: framing arguments in written submissions. It is a good idea to pick a moot topic on an area of law that you like, or want to explore, because not only do you gain a vast amount of knowledge, but you also sharpen your legal writing abilities. Then the glamorous bit: presenting your arguments to a panel of judges within a limited time. Speaking in moots provide an amazing opportunity to learn what it takes to convince someone that you make sense. It also does wonders for building your own self-confidence.

‘Happy faces holding a trophy’ however, is not always the fall-out of a moot competition. Success or failure doesn’t remain confined to your team but tends to go under the college microscope, and some of the judgments made can become indelible. Here, I must say a word or two about what I think is wrong with the system.

A law school’s worth in salt seems to be weighed heavily in terms of its moot wins. This puts immense pressure on the students. The focus shifts from the learning aspect to just winning or losing. A Mooting Premier League (“MPL”) exists and the winner receives a trophy at the end of the ‘moot season’. Though it seems nice, I remember being utterly shocked to see how seriously students treated these MPL rankings! Over time, it became a constant source of amusement. Pride in mooting at the college-level is quite funny, especially since moots are rarely a college-level effort. Barring the provision of research material, moots only reflect the efforts of a group of close-knit individuals who are reliant on their own individual efforts. I strongly believe that the best way for an institution to treat a moot court competition is to treat it as just another activity for students, and stop placing it on a hallowed pedestal.

LawSchoolInductionLet me share my story to end this note. In my final year, I finally decided to compete in a moot. As luck would have it, I ended up getting to be the speaker for what most consider as ‘the Big Cup’. Nervous doesn’t even begin to describe my condition before the very first round. At that moment, I received  a call from someone who had taken part in the same competition several years ago, to wish me luck. He told me that looking back, he felt he gave undue importance to success or failure in this one event of his college life.

Now that’s what a moot really is­­­ – one event, out of the many experiences you will have over your five years at law school. The moot alone is not going to remarkably enhance your C.V., it won’t magically turn you into a stunning lawyer, and trust me, there are much better ways to travel and see new places. At its core, a moot is just an activity designed to help you to learn more about an area of law and become a better lawyer. So, don’t get fooled into thinking that moots are the end of the college-world. For better or for worse, law school is not such a simple experience.

(Abhinav Sekhri is a fifth year student at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore. All articles in this series are here.)


Sports, debating, fests – there’s always something happening at law school

AbhinavSekhri_NationalLawSchoolofIndiaUniversityHi there, freshers. I hope the first few weeks of law school have lived up to your expectations. I can imagine that you are just getting used to the new sights, sounds, and smells (the hostel rooms, bathrooms, and nearby eateries included) that will become part of home for the next five years. Oh, and of course, the ‘positive interaction’ with the seniors, which at NLS Bangalore means that most of you would already have been asked about your claims to fame. I have already written about the library and the academic side of things at law school but there is a lot more. This post is about some of the many activities at law school that you can participate in and the committees  that are part of them. I will cover moots and publications in my next post here.


Sportinglife_NLSIU_lawschoolsYou must have seen the football field, the basketball and tennis courts and the gym around the campus. Soon, you will see some of your seniors out there playing hard and pumping iron quite regularly. If you love playing a sport, don’t let it die out. Not only is sport a great activity to make new friends, soon you will also realise that it is one of the best ways to take a break from the routine monotony of law school. A mention here of Spiritus, the annual law-school-only sports fest at NLS Bangalore. Wait till you get your first taste of it!

Literary activities and debating

NinthNLSDebateLaw schools are some of the best colleges represented in the debating circuit in India, and abroad. It is perhaps one of the most popular activities on offer, and it can be a lot of fun. If you develop a taste for it, there’s nothing like it to help you think critically. This isn’t your school’s elocution competition where you remember a script and deliver a passionate speech on subjects like “the problem of inflation”. You have to think on your feet in twenty minutes on motions as straightforward as, “this House believes the Indian Parliament should reduce the age of juveniles” to not-so-straightforward ones like, “this House believes America’s right is wrong”. Debating also helps you develop any oratory talent you might have. I remember being in complete awe of the experienced seniors I watched debate in first year, fiercely arguing without any script before them. A seven minute speech is asked for, and boy is the first one hard to deliver. There is howver, nothing quite like the feeling of getting it right for the first time.

Cultural activities

If you lean towards the arts on the other hand, don’t worry. At least at NLS, we used to have singing, dancing, and theatre. A long time back, cultural activities were very popular in college, with people actively taking part in college fests around Bangalore. Over my five years of college though, cultural activities suffered a great deal. Perhaps the only two remaining relics are the theatre-fest Admit One, and Legala. StrawberryFieldsLike Spiritus in sport, a take on cultural activities would remain incomplete without mentioning Strawberry Fields, the annual rock show hosted by NLS Bangalore. Go, check out videos of previous editions on Youtube!

Fests and committees

LawSchoolInductionAll of these activities are organised by committees in law school, and as first years, they all want you in them. Please remember though, that you don’t need to be on the debating committee if you like to debate. It’s the organising that committees handle, and as a first year you will be working together with seniors and getting to know them better. In fact, as a first year, you are expected to help in the ground-work for most of the fests that will happen over this year. This used to be an issue, as seniors weren’t always polite in asking the first years to help, as some considered it an obligation. There are no obligations, but please do see what it’s like before refusing to take part. Most of my classmates will never forget our first Spiritus. The 6 a.m. mornings, setting up venues, frantically drying up the basketball court with newspapers after those incessant Bangalore showers, and that awesome feeling at the end, when you know you made that great event happen.

(Abhinav Sekhri is a fifth year student at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore. The previous articles in this series are here.)


At your law school library, help is always available to those who ask for it

AbhinavSekhri_NationalLawSchoolofIndiaUniversityOne thing, that I didn’t talk about in my last column about the academic rigour in law schools, is exams. Unfortunately (I think), these regular exams that you will be giving, will largely determine whether college ends within five years or not.

Like your exams in school, most questions remain generic, requiring long answers straight out of your notes, and the results remain grossly misrepresentative of your acumen. But unlike school where it’s a matter of how many revisions, you will barely finish your syllabus for your law school exams. Sleepless nights will become routine and papers for 40 and 60 marks will seem longer than 100-mark board exams. Exams also breed madness. Some people frantically run around minutes before the exam clearing doubts while others are still trying to cram as much as possible. Nights are crazier still. Not everyone can manage power-naps and often people consume Thums Up!, Tzinga, Red Bull, coffee powder, and what not to avoid sleeping off without finishing the syllabus.

Now, the law school’s library. A law student and the library can either be like peas and carrots or like chalk and cheese. By the end of the first term, I hope you begin to start leaning towards the former for the library is one place you will not be able to live without for the next five years. While there will always be certain types of people there, you can even catch those seniors who ridicule academics making trips to the library in their times of need. It is, after all, the best academic resource on your campus: stocked with books and journals for your legal and non-legal courses and the printed copies of reported decisions. The computer section of the library also has electronic databases. Some of these resources cost a fortune. Each book in the Commonwealth Law Reports costs nearly 500 pounds, but at your library, you can probably access them every day. How about that?

Clockwise from left - The libraries at NLSIU Bangalore, NLU Delhi, and NALSAR Hyderabad.
Clockwise from left – The libraries at NLSIU Bangalore, NLU Delhi, and NALSAR Hyderabad.

College is a very funny place and I remember how at first, people used to visit the library just to be seen as being hard-working and studious. Peep into their laptops and there would be an episode of Friends playing. The library then becomes a vibrant spot for the new batch to socialise at the time of their first project submission. Your seniors will mutter “Damn those first-years” several times during this phase, so don’t be alarmed if they appear a bit hostile during this period.

After that first submission, honestly consider how much you need to be in the library. Don’t ape others into thinking that it is a prerequisite for grades or anything of that sort. Remember, some of the people who are always in the library either (a) don’t like their hostel room or their roommate, or (b) need better Internet than what is available in the hostel.

My final year in college was mostly spent in the library which made me pretty attached to the place. I realised how many of us forgot that this was a resource over which each of us had an equal claim. People were stealing books or hiding them, moot teams abused their privileges by not returning books for ages, people underlined or even tore out pages for their convenience. Sometimes, the library is treated more as a place to hang out than as a place of study. I’m not asking you to be perfect. You can’t be. Just try and remember that if you keep abusing the library, a book that you want may end up missing from the shelves.
I also saw how the library was the best place to learn things. To quote Albus Dumbledore, “[h]elp will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it”. Most seniors in the library believe in this philosophy as well. Over the next five years, I’m sure the library will find a place in your memories as it has in mine.

(Abhinav Sekhri is a fifth year student at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore. The previous articles in this series are here.) 


Academics at law school – learn as much as possible and don’t expect to be spoon-fed

AbhinavSekhri_NationalLawSchoolofIndiaUniversitySince the Bar Council of India prescribes that law schools must teach sixty courses over five years, you can make a fair guess that academics will consume most of your time there. Now, at the end of five years at law school, I think our time is largely shaped by how we take to the academic system that is in place. I can try to give you a headstart but, given that NLSIU follows a different system with three terms as against two, my knowledge is specific to my experience there.

Schools don’t have classrooms with eighty people, so the first day of college was quite strange – no fixed seats and no real friends yet to help you decide where to sit. Decisions were made along easy lines: while some came early to grab seats right up front, and some others specifically took seats at the back to text through class, most just sat near their roommates. Try taking a picture of how class sat on the first day, and look at it at the end of term. You would be amazed at the difference.

I can imagine the first legal methods class across colleges starting around that same old question: ‘What is law?’. A bunch of eighty wide-eyed enthusiasts then debate over a term that will forever remain beyond definition. It is sad though, that in my five years of law school, Legal Methods became something like the Defence against the Dark Arts class – every year, the teacher changed. Tort law was an early favourite because we could show off the little law we learned during our CLAT prep: damnum sine injuria FTW. The terror though, lay beyond law. Every first year student was taught to become afraid of the horror that is Economics-I, Professor Somashekar (though most women end up adoring him and his aviators), his slides full of graphs, and a sense of humour (I leave you to judge that). Pay enough attention, read your Pindyck, and you realise that economics is really not that hard after all. It also includes some of the coolest project topics, such as the ‘economics of dating in law school’.

From left to right, the library at NLIU Bhopal, exams at Salgaocar College of Law in Goa, and a student engaged in solitary study at NLSIU Bangalore.

Research papers, or ‘projects’, take academics outside the classroom. Now this is not some CBSE holiday homework assignment, nor a Chemistry practical exam. Projects are academic papers you write, which allow you to really learn something through in-depth research on a specific topic. For me, this was the best part of the academic life in law school. It taught me more than most classroom-teaching; it helped me develop research skills, hone my legal writing ability, and to respect academic integrity. My own economics paper, on the ‘economics of a chaat-vendor’, involved getting to know the business of a local vendor, figuring costs and profits, and determining whether the enterprise was profitable. I shared my findings with the vendor, and I can never forget how the predictions in the paper were realised later. This wasn’t policy-making or world peace, but few things give more satisfaction than seeing how you can affect change.

All this does not mean things are always rosy: courses are not a breeze, and don’t listen to those who insist otherwise. Exams happen twice a term, along with which you have projects for each course. During the first year, it seemed like an endless cycle: project submission, mid-term exam, second submission, end-term, and then ‘repeat’. In all of this, you’re lucky to have an amazing resource pool to tap into: your seniors. I don’t think many of us would have navigated the first year without having a senior to turn to at every step, be it exam preparation, projects, or anything else. When there’s just a day left to submit your economics project draft with a million changes, that’s who you will turn to. Talk to them, learn from them, make new friends, but don’t ever stop thinking for yourself in that entire process.

LawSchoolInductionCollege is not meant to be like school. Teachers are not supposed to spoon-feed you by dictating notes which you vomit during exams to get marks which don’t reflect your level of understanding. Prospective NLS first years, I can guarantee Professor Elizabeth will tell you this and many more things, and in a way that you are never likely to forget. The sad part is that some courses can easily end up involving nothing more than mugging notes, and getting marks with little resemblance to your understanding. Grades matter, but when the person across the table sees the mismatch between your grades and your ideas, it is not a nice place to be in.

Luckily, you can decide whether things should go that way. With everything else that is going to happen, try using your five years to learn as much law as possible. You will never get five years for simply doing this again.

(Abhinav Sekhri is a fifth year student at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore. The previous article in this series is here.)