Akansha Dubey is a graduate of 2013 batch of NLU, Jodhpur. She then went on to pursue her Master’s degree from Cambridge, with a specialisation in International Trade Law, Dispute Resolution, International Environment Law and Human Rights. She had success at the 18th Willem C. Vis and had also recently came across the opportunity to judge the moot as an Arbitrator. She has publications in renowned journals to her credit, and had also taken part in various international conferences and summer courses. She also holds a lot of experience interning in top-notch law firms and as a judicial clerk for Supreme Court judges.
In this interview we speak to her about:
- Researching, publishing and being an editor of academic articles in top-notch journals
- Interning at the largest law firms and clerking under SC judges
- An LL.M. from Cambridge in International Law
How did you gravitate towards Law?
It may sound a bit clichéd, but since my parents were judges inevitably the legal profession and its quirks were an integral part of my childhood. The dinner table conversations exposed me to the world of legal politics and procedure. Though initially my interest was limited, but with the emergence of novel legal avenues apart from the traditional ones I became highly inclined to pursue this field.
To summarize my life at NLU, Jodhpur I would say it was hectic since I wanted to pursue a variety of interests and multi-tasked during my five years. From the beginning, I was interested in academics, moots and research work. Apart from participating in national and international moot court competitions I was also a part of various paper presentations and even secured national and international publications. As a part of the Centre for Research and Training in Arbitration Law (CARTAL) we introduced the flagship arbitration journal of NLU Jodhpur, Indian Journal of Arbitration Law, and I served as the Senior Editor and the Editor-in-Chief successively. Beyond the sphere of academics and co-curricular, I was a regular participant of the frequent legal aid/awareness camps as well.
What does it take to be a great mooter?
(Akansha has won the Friedrich Eismann Award at the 18th Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot, Vienna. She was also awarded Best Student Advocate and her team was chosen the Best team at Dip Chand Memorial Moot.)
As far as these two successes are concerned the major contributing factors were the team-work, the long hours of research and the specific focus on prior practice of the oral rounds. Though the preparation for international and national moots differ the importance of an intricate factual scrutiny, exhaustive research, precise expression and innovative thinking cannot be undermined.
Well, frankly, there is no formula to being a ‘great’ mooter. At the outset, it is essential that you pursue mooting as an interest and not merely as a CV-building exercise.
With a passion for mooting the long hours of work and commitment become easier and enjoyable. To build the conventional research and oratory skills observation is a good tool. It may be through observing the varied mooting styles of your seniors, analyzing international teams through videos or browsing through winning memorials on the websites. Nevertheless, these should assist in finding your own mooting style.
Personally, I believe it is better to transition from national to international moots and keep in mind that most of these competitions test not only research, knowledge and oration but also the understanding of the contemporary relevance of the concerned area of law. Such a comprehensive outlook to the moot problem makes the arguments more assertive, pertinent and impressive in a competition. Thus, this can help in building an inspiring and notable mooting style.
How should one go about writing papers and getting the same published?
According to me the most important steps are to narrow down the area of your interest and find a contemporary perspective to the concerned area or topic. Most of the international publications look out for current relevance, fluid language and originality. In case the student wishes to pursue certain specialised areas of law it is better to structure the publications within the framework of the current developments in these areas. Hence, prior publications will provide more credibility to the student as an author when their works are considered by reputed international journals.
Another strategy could be to work upon the class room projects to develop them into papers and thus approach national or international journals. One important lesson I learnt was never to hesitate to approach journals, you never know when a topic may click with any of them. Since international publishers always go through the CV of the author it is important not to undermine a national publication, which may prove to be an asset when being considered by an international journal.
What are the top three things you consider as sine qua non for a great research work?
(Akansha has held positions like Editor-in-Chief for the Indian Journal of Arbitration Law, Editor, Cambridge Journal of International and Comparative Law in the past and presently she is a Legal Research Fellow at the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law.)
It is difficult to enumerate the three most important characteristics since research work is dependent on various factors and circumstances. Nevertheless, as per my experience some things contribute more to a notable research work. First, the ability to conduct a focused research without deviating from the aim of the concerned work and the target audience. Secondly, even though the research is required to be focused it should not be restrained. A holistic understanding is required with the help of drawing links with other overlapping subjects and areas.
Thirdly, I believe the research work should depict a present-day view which illustrates the practical application of the research and thus does not merely put forth a theoretical understanding. Until and unless the research work can be applied in the modern world to tackle the emerging needs and problems, it fails to make a mark in the field of academics.
Do you think participating in extracurricular activities like MUNs, Debates, Seminars and Conferences proves to be of help to law students?
(Akansha has attended a number of both national and international conferences like International Congress of Environmental Research in Mauritius, International Law Students Association Summer Conference in Istanbul, and a lot more.)
There is no doubt that these activities lead to more exposure to new legal spheres, interaction with the global community of law students, academics and scholars and even prove to be an avenue to branch out of the legal arena. This can help students choose, create or strengthen their interest areas and give them a chance to see world issues from varying perspectives.
As I mentioned before, if these activities are undertaken in areas of interest they can prove to be beneficial with respect to professional aspects as well. On one hand seminars and conferences may result in publication of selected papers and on the other MUNs are a great opportunity for networking. In case one wishes to pursue research, academics or even apply for higher studies these activities are seen as illustrations of the student’s focus area, awareness of world issues and work undertaken so far.
How did you apply for the Summer Course in International Commercial Arbitration by the International Chamber of Commerce, Paris?
During my internships and moots, I had worked extensively in the area of dispute resolution especially international commercial arbitration. Since I wished to pursue the subject further when I came across the opportunity to participate in an international summer course I was very much inclined towards it. I learnt about the summer course online while generally researching on the current developments under the subject area. The application procedure was simple which required me to send a ‘Statement of Purpose’ and my CV to be considered for the course. Once I was selected for the course I was intimated by the organisers who offered to waive off my tuition fee.
The summer course was an enriching experience where the practicing arbitrators and counsels of the ICC discussed the contemporary issues with the students. Also, the diverse group of participants helped me understand their national viewpoints to different legal quandaries in the area of arbitration law.
During the course we visited various key institutions including the OECD and learnt more about the functioning the ICC and its rules when conducting an arbitration hearing. Apart from the academic sphere this course fostered cultural and social exchange amongst the students involving developed and developing country debates to surface as well.
Tell us about your internsip experience.
(Akansha has interned with top tier firms and organisations like Amarchand, Trilegal, Competition Commission of India, and Parliamentary Research Services.)
All my firm internships were through the Placement Committee in the college and primarily based on the shortlisting of the CV based on the CGPA. Since I was quite inclined towards legal research I endeavoured to look up different research-based internships wherein I applied individually. With the organizations like the CCI or the PRS a standard and uniform procedure is followed, CCI focuses on the contemporary relevance of the research proposal submitted by interns which they plan to pursue in the four week internship. In case of PRS, a rigorous procedure of a questionnaire and an interview is followed.
I believe the key to securing research-based internships is to keep looking for new opportunities through legal websites, blogs and social media and apply in the areas of your interest. While most of the top tier firms follow a strict policy of receiving applications though the college Placement Committee itself, the research organizations welcome interested applicants based on their willingness and enthusiasm.
How relevant did you find your law school education with the kind of work you were required to do at law firms?
This is a difficult question since most of the law school work was theoretical with rarely any understanding of the practical implications. When I worked as an intern in a legal firm I had to change my theoretical notions of law to accommodate the challenges of the practical working of law. Undeniably, the theoretical understanding of the legal framework provided a foundation of my understanding but the internship required to build upon it extensively. Each law firm internship was a new experience which gradually depicted the lack of an application-based teaching methodology in the law schools of the country.
Though all my internships contributed tremendously to my knowledge and experience, some of them made the most impression with respect to my career choices. First, the internship in the Competition Commission of India exposed me to the policy formulation and implementation in the sphere of national competition laws. As I worked upon a research report for three weeks, I realized my emerging interest and aptitude for research work and policy deliberation. Second, both my judicial clerkships helped me appreciate the role of policy implications while formulating and implementing the law.
My discussions with the two sitting Supreme Court judges reinforced my beliefs of how law and policy need to simultaneously work together for the growth of a civilized society. Thus, as I felt this relationship was greatly neglected I wished to strengthen this under the Indian legal framework.
What do you feel about the importance of a good CGPA & contacts when attempting to secure an internship?
Well, I cannot deny the excessive reliance on both as tools to help secure internships with reputed firms, lawyers or even research organizations. A good CGPA definitely helps in securing internships through the college Placement Committee wherein it is treated as a benchmark of differentiation amongst the students. In the present times students do not hesitate to use contacts to secure internships as well. Nevertheless, the lack of these tools does not close all opportunities.
Undoubtedly, the top law firms and lawyers rely on these tools to judge students but if one is willing to opt for the modest options the experience gained here proves to be of great value. The research-based internships also give more importance to the interest, enthusiasm and willingness of the students. Thus, the lack of these tools should not dishearten the students but encourage them to look for more avenues to gather valuable experience.
Why did you choose to do a Judicial Internship?
(Akansha was engaged as a judicial clerk under Justice Katju and also Justice H.L. Gokhale, in the Supreme Court during her graduation.)
During my third year in NLU Jodhpur I was convinced that my aptitude and interest lay either in the field of legal research or litigation. A judicial internship embodies a rare opportunity to interact with the learned individuals presiding over the highest court of the country. Apart from the charm of the daily interaction with such stalwarts, this experience is much significant when applying for higher studies.
Most of the reputed international universities attach high regard to any work done with the judges of the Supreme Court. In case one wishes to pursue litigation this can set the stage for being recommended by a sitting Supreme Court judge to a lawyer of your choice. This gives more credibility and experience to the application whether in context of higher studies or litigation.
What kind of tasks were you given as a judicial intern?
In my experience, it is not a difficult task to secure a judicial internship when applying from third year onwards. The standard procedure is to fill the application form available online on the website of the Supreme Court of India and send it along with the CV by post to the Supreme Court Registry. The only requirement is for the application to be made through the education institution and not by the candidate personally. The institution is intimated of the selected candidates and their dates a month before the start of the internship.
Most of the candidates who apply are selected and thus allocated on a random basis to the judges. I believe, in my case the high academic performance and various moots as well as publications could have contributed to the selection process. As an intern the work given is similar to a judicial clerk. A judicial clerkship is a one year paid programme to assist a sitting Supreme Court judge after graduation.
The tasks include summarizing the case briefs, participating in case discussions and researching on various points of law. Such an internship may involve assisting in drafting judgments as well. But the highlights of these internships are the interactions and discussions with the judges and understanding the factors considered by them when drafting judgments which serve as the law of the country.
What was your motivation behind pursuing LL.M?
Since I was very clear on pursuing either research or litigation in my third year of law I began considering the option of higher studies as well. During my internships I was strongly inclined towards the area of law and policy and thus started looking for related career opportunities. In this competitive field a higher degree provided the much needed edge to the applicant.
Also, since I was increasingly interested in dispute resolution and undertook a specialization in international trade I decided to link these subjects to the area of interest. With this emerged the need and desire to pursue an LL.M degree in the future. Hence, it proved to be an amalgamation of my interest as well as a requirement for better prospects in my chosen career path.
I wished to pursue an LL.M in pure international law subjects and thus applied to the universities known for the courses of my choice. Moreover, an LL.M abroad opened up a different level of academic, cultural and diverse experience at the international platform.
Why did you opt for University of Cambridge?
I wanted to undertake higher studies in the specialized regimes of international law especially trade and dispute resolution, therefore the aim was to apply for the reputed universities based on the course of my choice. University of Cambridge was ranked the highest in relation to the faculty and courses of international law and hence was a preferred choice.
Other universities I applied to consist of traditional LL.Ms in the Harvard University, University of California (Berkeley) and specialized courses like International Business Regulation, Litigation and Arbitration in the New York University, International Economic Law and Policy LL.M (Barcelona) and Master of International Disputes Settlement (Geneva).
What do you think contributed towards your candidature at Cambridge?
With respect to my selection in the University of Cambridge I strongly believe that I was able to show a link between the focus of my research work and experience to the courses I wished to pursue. My long term goal of pursuing trade/economic policy was complemented by my specialization in International Trade, research publications and internships with respect to the same subject area.
In order to get accepted as an LL.M candidate at one of the reputed international universities it is important to showcase high academic excellence accompanied with a strong interest in the courses the student wishes to choose. Also, the student’s ‘Statement of Purpose’ and CV should sufficiently depict the need for an LL.M to achieve the ultimate goal he/she desires.
And lastly, an LLM candidate should depict a focused interest rather than an ambiguous desire to opt for higher studies with no set goal. These are essential characteristics to present an impressive LL.M application in the international sphere.
How was the academic schedule? Was there a lot of academic work?
University of Cambridge offers the LL.M students to undertake four courses of their choice and allows for an optional thesis/dissertation in one of them. The schedule consists of weekly lectures, seminars, supervisor meetings with respect to the thesis and guest lectures for the interested students.
Like most of the LL.M degrees abroad the nine month long academic programme of the University of Cambridge was short and rigorous. Due to the short period of time there was always the pressure to finish the daily readings, work on the thesis/dissertation simultaneously and also attend the weekly lectures/seminars. Even though the examinations were preceded by a long holiday, the detailed analysis of the issues and high standards raised the expectations from the students.
How has the experience judging moots been?
(Akansha has been a Memorial Judge at the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Moot, Vienna and also a Judge at the Monroe E. Price International Media Law Moot, Oxford. )
I found that working in the capacity of a judge in both the moot court competitions was an enriching experience filled with valuable insights. Being a memorial judge I looked for correct identification of the issues, formulation of the arguments, use of factual and legal knowledge and precise expression. As an oral round judge the focus was more on the comprehensive understanding of the subject area, usage of authorities, link between facts and law and the confidence, assertiveness of the speaker.
The Oxford experience helped me interact with barristers, academicians and counsels from different legal arenas. Also, the moot participants were a diverse group as well.
What are your long-term goals?
As a professional I aim to pursue the field of legal research and policy essentially. After completing my LL.M course I will be joining the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) as a Special Assistant to the Director General in New Delhi. This is my very first step and I hope it proves to be a good experience for learning the practical implications and relationships of economic policy and law.
In the coming years I aim to publish more regarding the new developments in the area of international trade, environment and dispute resolution. Also, I will be looking to undertake further research in the form of a PhD. Ultimately, I wish to join the United Nations Organization as a part of one of the specialized bodies concerned with the areas of my research work.
Lastly, what would be your message to law students interested in going for higher studies from India?
I would only encourage them to find a passion before they commit to a year of higher studies. With a clear idea of your inclinations and aptitudes an LL.M can prove to be an asset in not only the professional but also the personal development of the individual.