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.)

Law Schools

A broader idea of accountability in law student governance

PaarasPandey_NALSARTwo years ago, Nalsar’s Student Bar Council adopted an accountability policy. It had a formal mechanism of holding student representatives accountable including the appointment of a financial auditor and a grievance redressal officer for each activity-based committee. The auditor had to submit a report on the committee’s functioning at the end of the year.

Even before the policy came into force, if serious misconduct by a Student Bar Council (“SBC”) member was discovered and reported, students could (and often would) convene a meeting of that member’s activity-based committee. Today, some representatives even inform the students, either of their own accord or in response to queries, about the activities of the SBC.

These (formal and informal) mechanisms are creating a culture of accountability within the SBC. What they do not reveal is how the representative body has not once protested declining standards of academic integrity.

Problems such as academic dishonesty among the faculty, high-handed wardens, unacceptable messing and other hostel services, and ridiculous rules of discipline are prevalent in nearly all the NLUs. On a recent visit to the Gujarat National Law University, I saw hostels that resembled prisons  – there was not enough ventilation or provision for drainage and no emergency escape planning.

Accountability usually refers to the duty of people in positions of power to justify or give reasons in support of the decisions and actions they have taken on behalf of their constituents or stakeholders. However, because a student government can negotiate with the administration of a college on more even terms than individual students, and because student grievance redressal mechanisms are either in their formative stages or absent, student representatives must assume a duty to seek explanation from the authorities until important issues are brought to the table.


The Executive Body of NALSAR’s Student Bar Council addressing a gathering of students.

Engagement may even have to be confrontational and in extreme cases, take the shape of civil disobedience. Our ideas of accountability among student governments and representatives therefore, should be broadened to include questions about whether the representative body publicly articulates disagreements with the college administration or builds opinion about any aspect of their functioning.

Paaras Pandey is an undergraduate student in his final year at Nalsar.

Law Schools

NALSAR’s constitution has embraced gender diversity but needs to do more on inclusion

PaarasPandey_NALSARStudents at the National Law Universities (“NLUs”) may identify themselves with a certain class, gender, culture, sexual orientation, language, or region. Their experiences at college, including their academic performance and personal interests, can also be a part of how they identify themselves. Because the student bodies are small and diverse, governance is also shaped by concerns about plurality, diversity, and inclusivity.

Gender in the transit constitution

In instituting reserved seats for women within the Executive Committee (a body of office bearers) for 2014-15 under a transit constitution, the NALSAR administration probably felt that they had addressed inclusion holistically.

Historically, Student Bar Council (“SBC”) politics had been disadvantageous to women and has completely ignored the interests of non-LLB students. I have often been part of the sexist and most demeaning lobbying that happens in the boys’ hostel. It was also often said, only partly in jest, that “in Nalsar, the only thing worse than being a first year is being a LLM”.

So when the transit constitution allowed neither for voting by the postgraduate students, nor their representation in the Executive Committee, there were doubts about how far it went in terms of diversity and inclusion.

To create more diversity at the committee and executive levels, the the Constitution Review Committee (“CRC”) had proposed a ‘review system’ as the mechanism for affirmative action.

Sneha Vardhani (above, taking the oath of office) became the first President of the NALSAR Student Bar Council after the elections for 2014-15. Photo credit: Abhishek Singh

Sneha Vardhani (above, taking the oath of office) became the first woman to become President of the NALSAR Student Bar Council after the elections for 2014-15. Photo credit: Abhishek Singh

Gender inclusion and the proposed review system

It would apply in case of an election in which three-fifths of the members of the Executive Committee were of a particular gender. If this happened, the office bearer positions for which a person of a different gender had secured second highest number of votes would be up for review. Among those who stood second, the one with the highest number of votes would be appointed to the post for which they had contested.

Although the review would be used to substitute a popularly elected candidate, it could guarantee a diverse Executive Committee, and importantly, an approachable one, especially in relation to cases of ragging and sexual harassment.

The CRC believed that ensuring plurality (of opinion) and diversity (in composition) would be a step towards incentivising student participation in self-governance in the NLUs and that different gender perspectives would be invaluable to decision making.

What student governance can do to promote inclusion

Student government however, should also help students who are at an inherent disadvantage when they start at college, by virtue of cultural or other factors that have a potentially disabling effect. For instance, unfamiliarity with written or spoken English can disengage students from learning, especially as it is accompanied by the elitist environments at the NLUs. Student governments should take affirmative action to create support systems to help students overcome these basic barriers to integration into the law school experience.

An alumnus who recently visited NALSAR spoke about the experience of coming from a Tamil-speaking background. During the first year, the alumnus and some others from the same background, found it extremely difficult to understand the teaching. Some senior students organised preparatory sessions to help them with the language and the subjects that were part of the academic curriculum. Not attending these classes was not an option. If the first year students skipped these sessions, the senior ones would come searching, even if they were outside the campus. Eventually, they passed in all the subjects and saw the value in this exercise.

Paaras Pandey is an undergraduate student in his final year at Nalsar.

Law Schools Uncategorized

Law schools should evaluate internships more rigorously and intervene to limit bad choices

AbhinavSekhri_NationalLawSchoolofIndiaUniversityHaving explored different connections between practising law in India and the education provided in our law schools in previous posts, the internship stands out as the primary opportunity for law students to meaningfully interact with the real world before they graduate. It also tends to have a big influence on their decisions about the future.

Today, most major law schools make internships mandatory during vacarions and have their own internship rules. These rules will lay out where and for how long students are required to intern, and whether students are required to file reports that are then graded. Students may be required to work at different levels of the hierarchy of courts, and by the end of five years, they are expected to have been adequately exposed to the legal system.

How serious are law schools about grading internships?

Making internships mandatory reflects how important a university considers them, but the manner in which these rules are enforced belies their importance. The administration is quick to check whether the internship lasted a minimum duration and whether entries for each day have been made in the report, but not enough attention is paid to what is actually written. This is a more serious issue in institutions where the internship programme is graded, as it is in NLSIU.  There was also something quite amiss about having questions posed at us by academics about our experiences as practising advocates. The lack of any real criteria to evaluate internships meant that very few people knew how they were graded.

The rigid adherence to form also manifests itself in refusing outright, corporate internships as the rules require time to be spent in court. This ends up entirely defeating the purpose of mandatory internships for most, as they wish to gain exposure to various environments to make informed decisions about their careers. Students in turn, are forced to fudge their internship reports, which creates a lose-lose situation. By refusing to acknowledge corporatre internships, law schools turn a blind eye to the commercial realities of today where most students head for corporate jobs.

Reforms should also focus on the content of internships

lawschoolinternsPossible reforms must not only focus on the structure of the internship programme (such as expanding the time and allowing corporate internships) but also the content. Laziness cannot be the only reason for the failure to keenly evaluate internship reports. Teachers are not accustomed to the lack of uniformity either. Currently, there is a great degree of randomness associated with the internship experience, as different chambers and firms follow their own systems. Colleges could, perhaps, require the chamber or the firm to teach certain basic skills (such as drafting a contract), depending on how senior the student is. This would also ensure that students do not suffer because of the unpredictability, as can often happen at big offices. Such a step would help students make more informed decisions about their careers and also assist in objectively determining which offices are good places to intern.

Law schools should help their students make good choices

If we do believe that this current post-hoc intervention of law schools with internships is beneficial, should this be expanded to cover the pre-internship phases as well? At the moment, the entire business of securing an internship, whether at a chamber or otherwise, is left to the students. Offices usually treat students on a first-come-first-serve basis, which leads to the absurd need to secure internships for February 2016, in June 2015 itself. From what I last heard, NLSIU was trying out an internship coordinator to verify the internships taken by students, and facilitate securing internships for students who could not find one. In principle, I think the idea is sound; as long as the regulation is restricted to overseeing the process and providing information and not enforcing decisions. Currently, internship decisions are often made based on paltry information and unhelpful factors. For instance, first year law students apply to a senior advocate when all they know is a smattering of tort law, as they think a big name means a good internship. The same is not always true, and even a process to help supply that absent information can reduce faulty decision-making. I’m no fan of paternalism, but sometimes a little help doesn’t hurt.

(Abhinav Sekhri is an advocate practising in Delhi.)

Law Schools

Law schools are not very good at teaching drafting – and that’s a problem affecting everyone

AbhinavSekhri_NationalLawSchoolofIndiaUniversityOral advocacy, which we discussed in my last post, is only one aspect of life as a litigator. An equal, if not greater, time and effort is spent in drafting legal documents, which help sustain everyday transactions.

How are the set of skills required for these nurtured in law school? Students at NLSIU only spend one-thirtieth of their time on average trying to draft documents – once during the Drafting Pleading and Conveyancing course in the third year and then in the Trial Advocacy course in the final year. This is undoubtedly a very short amount of time to develop these skills. At times, the focus was to get through as many documents as possible which curtailed the time spent on understanding the meanings of terms involved. Students therefore, end up not much better off compared to those people who may seek them out for advice on a verbose document. This encourages students, upon graduation, to use templates without appreciating how each clause may need tinkering for different situations.

AQOLbannerThere are structural issues at play as well. The current system views drafting mainly as an individual-centric exercise, teaching only those legal documents that natural persons execute among themselves or file in a court. We were taught how to draft mortgage deeds, sale agreements, and bail applications – but always for individuals and never from the perspective of corporate transactions. Elective courses apart, there is no training for drafting or understanding proper contracts, non-disclosure agreements, and their various clauses. This inexperience severely limits the exposure possible at internships, particularly in law firms.

The little that is being taught however, is surprisingly useful in the practice of law. That is simply because documents like sale deeds, bail applications, quashing petitions and the like still contain many formulaic elements and their form has not drastically changed over the last twenty-five years. The law school has been rather adept at simply providing the students those templates for later use. But is that a good thing? I think not.

In failing to critically deal with status quo, the law schools lets go of its most important responsibility – making the students think about the legal system. The manner in which legal documents continue to be drafted in India is very archaic, verbose, and hyper-technical; all of which pushes the common man even further away from the justice system. Is there an irreplaceable benefit to retaining the several “wherefore”s, “whereas”’, and “henceforth”s in a deed? None – apart from the apparent benefit of making it sound legal.

ThewaywedraftI view this as a symptom of a problematic imbalance in place at law schools today. Courses are designed to make students familiar with the text of the law, but not its application. There are hardly any drafting sessions during the two mandatory courses on contract law. Criminal procedure was taught without ever looking at a bail application. Similarly, property law went by without ever going through an actual sale deed or mortgage deed. The point is clear. National law schools must narrow the divide between the teaching of statutes and precedent and their application to real-world scenarios. Otherwise, their very purpose of providing India with socially useful lawyers may be lost.

(Abhinav Sekhri is an advocate practising in Delhi.)