Law Schools

Why I wish law schools would organise more court visits

AbhinavSekhri_NationalLawSchoolofIndiaUniversityMy first court visit, during an internship, remains etched in my memory. Visitor pass in hand, I entered the Supreme Court, gazing awestruck at the beautiful façade. I set out to find Courtroom Number 12. How hard could it be? Very hard indeed. It took me half an hour, during which I was even ushered out of a judges’ enclosure, and I missed the matter. I later discovered that this was a rite of passage. All my classmates had stories of getting lost in the winding corridors of court complexes.

Today, only after some months of running around the many district courts of Delhi am I able to carry myself about with a measure of certainty. I discovered many previously unknown parts of court complexes. On its face, a court is little more than the main building with many small courtrooms inside. Only when you get your elbows into work do you discover what lies beneath. Inside the courtroom itself, there is a lot that goes on beyond the interaction between a lawyer and a judge. The judge is assisted by a Reader who handles all administrative work inside the room and the Ahlmad who is charged with handling all judicial files for that court. Outside courts, areas are designated for lawyers’ chambers, and all sorts of para-legal assistance — typists to help with an application, oath commissioners for the accompanying affidavit, and copiers to get the several copies that courts require.

The library and canteen are more interesting. At the court libraries, there are lawyers deeply engrossed in commentaries and preparing their arguments, while others rush in and out looking for copies of cases in matters that are currently being argued. At the canteens, there are tables where lawyers gossip and others where the discussion is about an issue of law.

Windingstaircase_MadrasHighCourtThough a very interesting one, my process of discovering courts left me with some concerns. Courts seemed to pay little or no attention to the ordinary litigant. Lawyers on the other hand, were demigods. Buildings have complex layouts with little or no directional assistance to get around. Security passes at the higher courts automatically exclude litigants without readily available identity proofs but anyone in black and white will manage to enter them unchecked. The bureaucratic dependence on files breeds corruption by creating more palms to grease for any work that needs to be done. Given the scale of the problem, it seems the common litigant can only hope to snigger and chip away, one date at a time.

Courts would certainly benefit from fresh ideas, but where will these come from? A university is the best place for the germination of fresh ideas, but law students are afforded little or no opportunities to familiarise themselves with the problem. Most students only get an opportunity to attend court during internships. But in those few weeks, there is rarely time to explore the court. More exposure to the court would also allow students to make better decisions about their careers.

(Abhinav Sekhri is an advocate practising in Delhi.)

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.)