Interviews

Pallavi Saluja, Bar & Bench, and Prachi Shrivastava, Legally India, on their foray into legal journalism and the Indian legal journalism market

Legal journalism as a career – how is it to work as a legal journalist? Is journalism after law a good idea? We asked Prachi Shrivastava of Legally India and Pallavi Saluja of Bar and Bench.

legal journalist

Pallavi Saluja

prachi shrivastava

prachi shrivastava

Most law students in today’s world believe that practicing law in a court or working for a law firm are the only viable career options that they have. However, there is a slow but steady stream of law students and lawyers opting for alternative career paths.

For instance, legal journalism is fast gaining popularity. I have plenty of students and interns expressing interest in this field, and I often connect them with well-known legal journalists from whom they can get career related advice.

The versatility of a law degree brings with it a whole host of marketable skills. Law students can opt for many unconventional career paths which are generally not available to students who do not come from a legal background – legal journalism is a typical example. If you are a law graduate, you can become a journalist without having to study journalism beforehand, unlike the rest of the world.

 

What is legal journalism?

Legal journalism, as the name suggests, refers to specialized reporting about all matters pertaining to the field of law. The primary reason why the number of students opting for legal journalism is on the rise is because a legal education already equips you with many skills that legal journalists, or journalists in general, are expected to possess.

In law school, you learn comprehensive research and writing skills and effective strategies to thoroughly and expeditiously examine facts and figures, synthesize ideas and communicate clearly and concisely. Moreover, you also learn to quickly get to the heart of an issue which is a quality that every journalist must possess. Also, journalists without a knowledge of the law often do a bad job at legal reporting. It has been a problem in the past, and for reporting legal news, court decisions etc.the news publishers have begun to favour law graduates with a flair for journalism. The advent of online media platforms that specialize in news for lawyers has not hurt this trend either.

Another development which has greatly increased employment prospects for law graduates in the field of journalism pertains to the recent notice issued by the Supreme Court of India following the erroneous reporting of Harish Salve’s statement in the Vodafone case, that makes it mandatory for court reporters to possess a legal degree.

 

Global reaction to increasing importance of legal reporting

The growing importance of legal journalism is epitomized by the fact that many universities across the world have started providing comprehensive courses that caters to the needs of legal reporting.

For example, Columbia University, which is a leading university in the U.S., conducts a joint program between the Journalism School and the School of Law which allows students to earn both the Juris Doctor and the Master of Science degree in Journalism over seven semesters.

Similarly, New York Law School, University of New South Wales and a large array of other universities offer similar courses. Indian Universities, however, are yet to come up with similar programs.

 

Let’s talk to the top legal journalists in India

We caught up with Pallavi Saluja, who is working with Bar & Bench, and Prachi Shrivastava, who works for Legally India, and asked them to share their thoughts about, inter alia, what motivated them as law graduates to enterthe field of legal journalism and how law students should prepare for the transition from law school into the field of journalism.

 

Why did you choose to opt for legal journalism instead of opting for more conventional fields such as litigation or corporate law?

Pallavi Saluja: I did not opt for legal journalism right after graduation. I initially did litigation for little over than a year and then worked with a law firm for about five years before changing my career path. Having said that, my past experience has definitely helped me in my current profile.

After working with a law firm for a while, I was looking for something different and exciting. I came across Bar & Bench and found the idea of being a legal journalist quite fascinating. I think a dedicated legal news portal is a brilliant idea as it brings in a lot of transparency in the legal profession, which is otherwise quire opaque.

To be honest, while I was in college, I simply had no idea about the wide array of opportunities available in the profession because there wasn’t that much information available. I think it is a very exciting field. The fact that you have to be updated all the time on various legal issues and as to what is going around in the legal fraternity, be it from the litigation circles, the law firm life or law school news– it really keeps you on your toes and it just makes you feel alive.

Prachi Shrivastava: I have had a lot of fun being on various magazine editorial boards throughout school and law school, and so once out of law school I began to look for an avenue where I could combine my love for writing with my professional training in law. When the opportunity to learn and do legal journalism presented itself to me, the prospect of telling a story about this whole profession appealed to me more than working on one or more areas of it, and so I ended up at Legally India.

 

Have the skills that you learnt in law school helped you in your career as a legal journalist?

Pallavi Saluja: Definitely. In my case, I would say apart from the skills that I learnt at law school (research, writing, drafting, analysis), my experience while litigating and working at a law firm has helped me a lot in my current profile.

Prachi Shrivastava: Journalism, legal or otherwise, and ‘lawyering’ have the same core – asking the right questions to uncover the most accurate and holistic picture of an issue, and presenting it. So at a more visceral level, my legal training continues to help me gain a more comprehensive understanding of the core of many stories.

Specifically in legal journalism, being from the industry (even though I hardly worked as a lawyer) helps me understand its dynamics much faster than I would have if I had not spent those five years reading, interning, talking and having lunch in the company of law.

 

Can you give 3 tips to law students who wish to opt for this profession that would help them make a smooth transition from law school into the field of journalism?

Pallavi Saluja: 

  • Intern with legal news portal or media house to get a general sense of how things work.
  •  Read everything concerning legal news. Write regularly, be it for a blogs, newspapers or magazines.
  • Networking is very important according to me,  especially given the speed at which information spreads. Attend conferences, seminars, workshops and other interactive sessions with lawyers and law students.

Prachi Shrivastava:

  • Develop a news sense – the sense of what is news and what is “fluff” in the vast pieces of information that are so easily making their way to you. This comes through reading a lot, and then some more, of all news religiously. I wish I had done that from earlier in life.
  • Journalism is not something that starts with a job, it is a lifestyle – be a news hound. Even if you are not a reporter yet, there is nothing stopping you from digging deeper into an issue that interests you, thinking laterally, and asking questions that help reveal a more real-time understanding of  an issue.
  • Drop the legalese, drop the jargon, drop passive voice, drop saying “beneficial construction” and say “this rule favours them” and please get rid of random capitalisations – the rules of grammar don’t change to reflect our lawyerly deference!

 

What kind of job opportunities are currently available in India for legal journalists?

Pallavi Saluja: You can work with legal news portals, legal publications and media houses as a legal correspondent/reporter. I would say that in the initial stages at least, you could have an edge over other reporters with your law background.

Legal journalism, specifically with reference to websites, in India is still in a nascent stage. I think the business of running a legal news portal is going to grow significantly as the market becomes more sophisticated. In fact, I think legal journalism is one of the tools for the market to become more sophisticated. Further, with the liberalisation of the Indian legal market, this will only grow bigger creating huge opportunities in this field.

Prachi Shrivastava: Legal journalists in India can work as part of a trade journal such as Legally India, reporting on the dynamics of everyday business in the profession and in law schools. Of these, it is common knowledge, that there are less than a handful of opportunities.

They can also report for mainstream media on mostly the biggest ongoing cases, and sometimes on developments in the profession if they are big enough to be of interest to the papers’ non-lawyer readers.

Other than that there is interesting analytical work to be done in the form og reporting on corporate law, for instance for Bloomberg’s The Firm, or for websites such as Money Control.

 

Would you advise law graduates who want to work as legal journalists to work for legal websites/magazines or for other news agencies?

Pallavi Saluja: Definitely yes, if this is something that interests you and you have the passion for it. At the end of the day, legal journalism is a sub set of journalism itself. If you want to get a broader idea of how media works, then work with a news agency or a publication before branching out into pure legal journalism. I really think that depends on individual choice.

Now, a word of caution to law students who are planning to take up legal journalism as a profession – you will not earn the same as a law firm lawyer or a litigating lawyer. Sure, the pay scales will go up over the years but I really don’t see it ever being comparable to what a successful legal professional will earn. Of course, it all depends on the media house or organisation you work with, but this is my general opinion.

Also, if you are not looking to completely detach yourself from law, this is definitely an interesting career choice. You are up to date on legislations, cases, deals and whatever else is happening in the legal sphere without actually practicing law. And I think this is a good option because it provides you with a more objective perspective of things.

Prachi Shrivastava: I would advise you to choose based on the publication that is giving you the chance to work on what you have the most natural understanding of and can spontaneously ask the right questions for. With time, you must also develop an understanding of related areas and dabble in other kinds of legal journalistic writing.

Money, obviously, won’t be the driving factor in taking decisions for your legal journalism career, because there simply isn’t any (if compared to the lawyer yardstick).

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