You’ve presided over debating societies and have been a part of MUNs since your school days. You have also served as the President of the Debating Society at St. Stephen’s College as well as a debate coach to students at Vasant Valley School, New Delhi. Did your inclination towards debating and public speaking make law a natural career option?
Since school, I had participated in and enjoyed theatre, debating, and any other co-curricular activity which involved interacting with people or facing an audience. Growing up, I developed a keen interest in politics and participating in debate competitions meant deliberating upon topical issues of relevance pertaining to both national and international affairs. So, I would say that I was interested in becoming a lawyer since school, but my initial interest in criminal law was triggered at Stephen’s, while reading for history, through my study of the intersection between penal and coercive processes of the colonial rule. My gravitation towards law was a culmination of all the of the above: my flare for debating & public speaking coupled with my study of Indian history!
You graduated with LL.B. from Delhi University and then went on to pursue BCL, you also pursued double Masters from the University of Oxford and Harvard Law School. Can you tell us about your experience at these various world-renowned alma maters?
My experience as a law student at Campus Law Centre, Delhi University, was exciting and enriching. Faculty of Law, Delhi University was like India in a microcosm: a melting pot of diversities. I met students with varied ideological beliefs and opinions. Apart from academic exposure to law, my three years at CLC offered me a real & practical insight into student politics and election campaigning.
My two years at Oxford, academically, were instrumental in giving me a legal and theoretical insight into the functioning of different criminal justice systems. During the BCL, my study of the relationship between criminal justice, security, and human rights helped me understand the interplay between intersecting but ostensibly competing rights of liberty and security, especially in cases of terrorism. Courses such as Children, Families, and the State, helped me gain a foundational understanding of Children’s rights and agency and the way legal systems should accommodate their interests. The MSc, on the other hand, helped me understand the sociological context in which crime occurs and explore both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies in the field of criminal justice.
At Harvard, I decided to venture out of my comfort zone and explore different facets of criminal law through my study of white-collar criminal and cyber-criminal law. Additionally, the Harvard LLM provided me with the opportunity to study Fintech & its interaction with different legal systems in the world. As somebody who had no prior knowledge about Fintech, Blockchain or Cryptocurrency- the course provided me with the unique opportunity to learn about how emerging technology impacts extant legal systems and regulation.
Apart from the academic exposure, I also had the opportunity of making life-long friendships and being mentored by some of the best professors. This made my time there enjoyable and wholesome.
The Rhodes Scholarship is the oldest and perhaps the most prestigious international scholarship programme in the world. Could you suggest to our readers an ideal roadmap to qualify as a Rhodes Scholar?
Simply put, there is no specific roadmap. The Rhodes Scholarship, more than anything, is about authenticity: about unapologetically being yourself. Applying for the scholarship was not a knee-jerk decision for me. In my first year at CLC, I had decided that I wanted to pursue my master’s from an International University. I worked towards that goal for the next three years and finally applied for the scholarship in 2015. During the application process and my interviews, I realised that there is no prototype of a Rhodes scholar: anybody and everybody can and should apply. I think the commitment to service, humility, authenticity, and perseverance are the four pillars of the scholarship. This belief was further strengthened when I met Rhodes Scholars from across the world at Oxford- we were all very different from each other! The only thing in common between us was our collective and individual desire to give back to society.
What would you advise to all the forthcoming applicants who are applying to universities abroad?
Firstly, the decision to pursue your education outside India should not be an impulsive one. It should be well-thought-out and deliberated upon as the application process is extremely tedious and fastidious. It requires a lot of dedication and time.
Secondly, I would recommend extensive research before you begin the process. I spent months just reading up about universities in the United States and the United Kingdom to understand their admission processes, requirements and, more importantly, to gauge the academic ethos of the Universities. The American process is quite different from the English one in terms of SOP focus and academic/extra-curricular requirements. After this, I read up on all the potential scholarships that I was eligible for. Subsequent to this, I prepared a list of my preferred Universities and the scholarships I wanted to apply for. Once my groundwork was done, I had dived into the application process. This helped me streamline the entire process, which can otherwise be a bit overwhelming and daunting.
You have worked as a legal consultant to HAQ – Centre for Child Rights. You have also served as the Convener of the Legal Aid Society. Speaking, retrospectively how can law students make a difference when it comes to legal aid and legal-social work?
My work with the Legal Aid Society and then with HAQ (2018-2019) gave me direct exposure into the actual working of the criminal and the juvenile justice system in India. It additionally also gave me the necessary insight into the systemic challenges faced by our criminal justice system. Particularly, my research projects with the Delhi State Legal Services Authority shed light on the several institutionalised impediments faced by the incarcerated in actualising their legal entitlements and the general apathy of the justice system to prisoner rights and well-being. My work as a paralegal also made me aware of the paucity of research into the causes of criminogenic behaviour and the general gap between academic research and praxis in the field of criminal law.
Law students are in a remarkable position to facilitate change at both the ground level through fieldwork and through the law in courts. Exposure to fieldwork is essential for lawyers and law students alike to discern the complex challenges faced by our criminal justice system in order to craft a purposive and humanised approach or to create feasible/sustainable interventions. Law school is a great place to garner this experience- law students should volunteer as much as they can during their study of the law. I believe legal aid work prepares you for litigation in courts in India.
You are presently working as an Associate at Bharucha and Partners in the Litigation & Disputes Team. Could you highlight how a foreign LLM helped you in litigation? How has your experience in litigation been since you returned from Harvard?
My academic experience helps in legal research and in developing submissions and arguments grounded in legal jurisprudence. The LLM trains one to discern the fundamental legal principle behind an issue. It also inculcates the skill to analyse and organise voluminous material in a coherent manner.
Upon my return to India last September, I hoped to work and broaden my experience in criminal litigation, with a special focus on white-collar criminal law, anti-corruption, governance, and international financial crimes. Bharucha & Partners’ Litigation & Disputes Team was the perfect fit- a small team with a lot of criminal trial work. The litigation team, led by Mr. D.P. Singh and Ms. Sonam Gupta, specializes in white-collar crimes and regularly appears before Courts and Tribunals in cases involving both domestic and international financial crimes and general criminal law. Under their collective tutelage, I have had the chance to appear across all levels of the adjudicatory process.
You recently cleared the New York Bar examination and the England & Wales (MCT) Examination and will be qualified to practice in three jurisdictions soon. Could you throw light on the process to register for bar examinations outside India and how to prepare for the same?
I qualified for the Indian Bar in 2016. I sat for both the New York and England & Wales Bar (MCT) examinations this year.
To be eligible to sit for the New York Bar Exam, you need to have an LLM from an American Law School. Further, you need to dedicate approximately 12 credits to the Bar Exam during your LLM. On the other hand, you don’t require an LLM to sit for the England & Wales Examination. You only need to be a lawyer qualified to practice in a common-law jurisdiction.
It was challenging to manage my preparation with work, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the unconditional support of my team. Preparation for both exams is extremely arduous- especially, New York. Both examinations require consistent dedication and a lot of discipline. I used to devote 4-5 hours during weekdays and approximately 10-12 hours a day during the weekends.
You have also been invited by International Organisations such as WIPO and leading law schools in India to deliver guest lectures on Fintech & Emerging Tech. Your work has also been published in international journals. Are you interested in simultaneously pursuing a career in academia?
I am definitely interested in contributing as visiting faculty at universities and law schools in India. I have been fortunate enough to be invited by some law schools in this regard. Further, I really enjoy legal research and legal writing. Going forward, I would like to write and publish more on topical legal issues. I feel this provides an opportunity to conduct in-depth research on a particular area of law and to pen legal arguments in a cogent manner which in turn helps gain clarity on the law. Similarly, teaching a subject also sharpens your understanding of a particular area of law as you explain the concepts in a simple way (often through illustrations and examples) to students.
What does your legal career trajectory look like? What advice would you have for law students & young lawyers who want to pursue a legal career in a similar direction to yours?
Honestly, my heart lies in child rights and juvenile justice, but I hope to garner as much experience as I can in the next 4-5 years in different areas of law before jumping back into it and establishing my own practice. Eventually, joining politics is also on the cards.
I think my advice is that law students and young lawyers shouldn’t be in a hurry to specialise. There is merit in being a generalist rather than a specialist early on in your legal career. Second, be kind to yourself during the process. I have a hard time practising this as well, so this is my advice to myself too. Failure is inevitable, and you need to keep at it despite it. Third, invest in your friendships and relationships. Take out time for people who matter. Don’t prioritize work over your mental & emotional well-being. On your worst days, your investment in your friendships will always come through.