Paramita Dasgupta graduated from WBNUJS, Kolkata in 2007 and started working in the litigation department of Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A. Shroff, Mumbai. After working there for two years, she felt the need to change her field and completed an LL.M in Intellectual Property Laws from Queen Mary University London. After working abroad for a few years, she came back to India. Currently, she works as a policy analyst at a government think tank and is a faculty member at NUJS.
In this interview, she talks about:
- Her work at AMSS and the skills she took away from there
- How to nail the foreign universities’ admission process
- Her love for teaching and academia
Could you please introduce yourself, professionally and academically, to our readers, who are mostly law students and young lawyers?
A graduate of NUJS Kolkata (Batch of 2007) and an alumna of the University of London (Batch of 2010), – I started off in the profession as a litigator, to very gradually veer into academics, after what can only be called multiple epiphanies. The most truthful description however, would be: a student of law with particular interest in the interface between international human rights and intellectual property laws – an incredibly dynamic area of study, defined and shaped by the continuously evolving political and economic determinants in society.
What motivated you to gravitate towards law, as a discipline and a career?
Even though I happen to come from a family where almost everyone has been associated with the legal profession, either as a judge, a barrister or an academic, – pursuing Law, while neither an obvious nor a foregone conclusion for me, – was nevertheless one of the various options to be considered. What served as the proverbial clincher however, was the fact that the West Bengal NUJS was assigned the stewardship of none other than the legend that is Professor N.R. Madhava Menon; ergo, from being a nebulous ‘back-up plan’ at best, it immediately assumed pride of place among my career options. Little did I know then, what a complete U-turn life, as I knew it, was poised to take!
Please tell us about your time at NUJS. What experiences during these five years would you consider key?
While it is indeed true that nostalgia tends to lend that added element of sepia-tinted romance to otherwise prosaic facts and details, looking back, those five years do hark back to a whole different time, and certainly, a very different life.
Academics aside, there were always multiple initiatives / events (ranging from music, dance, dramatics, art, literary oeuvres, debates, moots – all the way to regional and national seminars, workshops and an exhaustive gamut of pro-bono activities) that used to be afoot at NUJS, at any given point in time, – and all were welcome to participate to the extent their existing work-load would allow. Ergo, pitching in and immersing oneself therein served to help discover one’s key aptitudes and strengths, while immeasurably adding to the quality of the overall ‘undergraduate experience’, – and if nothing else, made for priceless memories to take away for keeps.
Do you feel co-curricular activities played a role in shaping your personality and in forming your subsequent career choices?
One of the biggest contributions of NUJS in the shaping of our academic aptitudes, social conscience, and thus eventual career choices – was the fact that it provided each one of us with a plethora of platforms and avenues to try out for size, as it were. What fit me most snugly, incidentally, were fora with a direct and palpable social connect, if one may call it that, such as the Society for Human Rights & Citizenship Studies, the Society for Gender Justice, the Environmental Law Society, and most prominently, the Legal Aid Society – each of which, in their own way, served to nudge and shape my personal, hence, professional priorities.
You graduated with a B.Sc.-LL.B. degree. Would you say this confers any sort of an added edge on one?
One wouldn’t wish to generalise, but I can speak for myself and perhaps also for those who are desirous of embarking on a course which demands a sound grasp over the interface between Science, Technology and the Law, when I say that, I do feel that going forth – be it applying for niche higher education courses, or introducing oneself as a litigator specialising in Intellectual Property Law – it does help in terms of asserting one’s credibility professionally.
That said though, I would never go so far as to say, that one stands to be in any way handicapped in any of these arenas, should he/she be armed with a BA-LLB degree instead. I am personally acquainted with several extremely promising and successful practitioners who bear testimony to this.
How did you plan your internships? Were they all meticulously planned or did they just happen to you as you went through law school?
A bit of both, really. While it is wise to keep oneself as open to various instructive experiences and opportunities as possible, at least during the early years, it would also make sense, particularly as one moves up through law school,- to try and sample as many internships at organisations / firms / chambers as possible, which correspond with one’s core area(s) of interest.
Right after graduation you got to join the Litigation team of AMSS. How did the appointment take place?
Along with several of my batch-mates, I too was recruited by way of a PPO based on my performance during previous internships there. But, the one thing that I was always very clear about was what I did not wish to end up as – and that, with all due respect – was the quintessential corporate lawyer. It was this rather dogged adamance on my part, I believe, more than any other reason, – which resulted in the management acquiescing to my demand, and my being assigned to the Litigation & Dispute Resolution team.
Is it true that it is difficult to make it to the top-tier law firms without being a topper and an all-rounder? Any tips you would like to share with people who want to intern at top-notch firms?
Well, I would say, it is largely a myth, but with a grain of substance. Allow me to elaborate:
From the perspective of a large multi-service national-level/high-street law-firm, a student’s CV serves as the only comprehensive ‘snapshot’ of his/her overall candidature. While this may be far from ideal, – it is by far, the most practical and time-effective approach given their peculiar logistical constraints. However, that is not to say that this is a completely opaque mechanism, by any means.
My suggestion to students therefore, would be, – identify the individual practice areas within these large premier law-firms, that correspond with your personal long-term aspirations, and work to ensure that, if not your overall GPA, – your performance in at least those specific subjects, reflects your preference for the same; try to bolster this wherever possible, with relevant internships or other appropriate scholastic exercises (e.g., taking a course/boosting your qualifications, writing a paper, participating in/presenting at a seminar, etc.). It hardly begs elucidating that, when you present yourself thus, in the ‘best light’, as it were, – making a strong case as to how you would clearly be the best person to be invested in, for the purposes of a particular practice area, – people with such specifically honed profiles would in no way lose out to these aforementioned toppers and/or all-rounders.
Please share some of your experiences as an Associate in the Litigation & Dispute Resolution team of AMSS.
I would say that I was hugely fortunate to have been assigned to Mr. Marezban Bharucha, under whose inimitable guidance I cut my teeth in litigation, albeit in the capacity of a lawyer associated with a firm. While it was indeed a rather steep learning curve, as is only to be expected in the early stages – the process was considerably eased by the able mentoring of Mr. Justin Bharucha and Mr. Manvendra Kane – and what’s more, I had the rare privilege of observing a legend at work and to learn from his example, the best I could.
Further, the firm’s ethos of stringent quality-consciousness and professional integrity, were lessons which, I am happy to say – continue to stand me in firm stead to this day.
In sum, while my roughly two-year-long tenure at Amarchand & Mangaldas may not have been the longest of stints, it nevertheless, helped ensure crucial professional growth and the inculcation of a core work ethic that I shall always be grateful for.
What prompted you to leave India’s largest law firm and consider venturing into practice/academia?
As stated above, while Amarchand & Mangaldas’ contribution to the first few years of my career can never be overrated, it is equally true, that after the first year or so, it became increasingly evident that this was certainly not what I could see myself doing for the rest of my days. I was hungry for a lot more than my capacity as a lawfirm associate would ever allow: I was keenly desirous of functioning as a free agent and hopefully, some day, of contributing in however small a way, at a policy-level where the law is conceived, fashioned and moulded. This, I realised, would be impossible to ever realistically aspire to, with my then-existing level of academic qualifications, and so I decided to remedy that without further ado, which resulted in my leaving the firm for higher studies.
In your pursuit of higher studies, which universities did you apply to for LL.M? Any pointers for our readers as to how should one go about choosing a university?
I was quite sure that I wished to earn my Master’s Degree in Intellectual Property Laws from within a Common Law jurisdiction, which automatically put American universities out of the reckoning. The next step was to zero-in on those schools/faculties under individual universities, whose graduate and post-graduate departments boasted of a truly avant garde and demonstrably consistent track record in my specific area of preference. I shortlisted three universities, viz: Edinburgh, London and Cambridge, and ended up accepting the more than generous offer made to me by the Centre for Commercial Law Studies at Queen Mary, University of London.
When choosing a university, while there can be no blanket formula and my advice would be to first consider the concerned university’s strength in the precise area/department that you wish to enrol yourself in. This can be gauged by looking at just how detailed and niche a curriculum they can afford to offer one, the stature of the scholars who feature among the faculty, the nature of relevant research projects that the university has been engaged in, the impact of such research, etc. Thus, while popular surveys and league tables may provide one with a broad idea, in my considered opinion it would be rather myopic to limit oneself to the overarching ‘brand value’ without scratching the surface in order to ascertain just how compatible the programme(s) may be with one’s personal goals.
What should one do differently in college if he wants to pursue higher studies after graduation? Would you suggest having a brief work experience before applying for LL.M.?
That depends entirely on the individual, and the demands of a particular course/programme. For some, like myself it made more sense to work for a while, before heading off for an LL.M, because it allowed me to buy a little more time to be absolutely sure about what I did / did not wish to do, and hence make a perfectly informed decision. It allowed me valuable insight into, and a very real perspective on all the avenues that were open to me on graduation, and this made it that much easier for me to opt for one of those.
Further, since the subject that I had set my heart on, was something that was as steeped in classical jurisprudence as it was ruthlessly political and dynamic, – a uni-dimensional approach, I feel, would have severely limited my appreciation of the course components and its myriad applications.
What was the decisive factor that prompted you to choose Queen Mary from the plethora of options available?
Like I mentioned above, I had gone about short listing and eventually selecting my school in what many would consider a rather roundabout fashion. I had very clear ideas as to what I expected from my course, and set about looking for institutes of repute which could best cater to those. While each of the shortlisted faculties were, in broad strokes, easily a cut above the rest, I was principally concerned about the university’s strength in the precise department that I wished to enrol myself; and this is where Queen Mary College under the University of London (hereinafter ‘QMUL’) stole a march over the others. The sheer depth, detail, extent and variety of specialisations that its curriculum in the International & Comparative Intellectual Property Law LL.M programme offered were nothing short of breathtaking. To gild the lily, the stature of the professors who were slated to teach us, the level of research and allied scholastic initiatives that they had been engaged in was stellar by any standard. That I was additionally offered a complete tuition waiver was, of course, the cherry on the cake.
You secured a full tuition waiver for your entire course at QMUL. How did you structure your SoP? What according to you is a good profile for securing scholarships & funding?
A ‘Statement of Purpose’ (hereinafter, ‘SoP’) is one of the key (if not the single most important) document(s) that can, quite literally, make or break one’s application. There have been instances galore, where slightly ropey grades, or a lop-sided résumé, have been more than brilliantly compensated by spectacular SoP.
While there aren’t any particular dos and don’ts to it, the one thumb-rule that I would nevertheless advise is: to please be as honest as you could possibly be. A generic approach towards all applications would be most counter-productive. Set aside a good chunk of time just for this exercise. Research, not just the university, but the individual school (and if required, key members of the faculty, as well, who are involved in your area of interest), programme curricula, research (and/or relevant pro-bono) initiatives in minute detail, have a good think about just how it is, that this particular programme uniquely responds to your particular academic/professional/personal goals, – and then put it down in writing as sincerely and lucidly as possible.
Please tell us about your time at QMUL. Please share with our readers, the details about the academic pressure, faculty and campus life.
I have, and shall always maintain unqualifiedly, that my year as a graduate student at QMUL was easily one of the very best years of my life. It gave me a lot more than just a degree: I had arrived to join a year-long course and to earn myself an added qualification, – but left after almost five years, with an incredible experience, priceless professional growth, lifelong friends and some great memories.
Academically, it was nothing short of an eye-opener in that it introduced me to a whole new approach to, and take on legal education, than what I had been accustomed to back home. Intellectually, it ceaselessly challenged, pushed, goaded, tantalised, stimulated, forced me to simultaneously learn and unlearn, and stretched my horizons to help birth perspectives and concepts I wouldn’t hitherto have considered myself capable of. Professionally it offered me a glimpse into utterly unknown and uncharted vistas, and provided me with a launch-pad into an entire world of opportunities, which again, I had never believed to be within my reach.
Now, to answer your question, adjusting to the British system wasn’t really ever an issue. In fact, it happened so organically and seamlessly, that one realised just how well one had fit in to the scheme of things only much later. The credit for this, in my opinion, would be squarely attributable to the superlative teaching and selfless mentoring we received from our professors.
So, while I would certainly call the experience amazingly intensive, I wouldn’t quite stretch it to “pressure”. Jadedly clichéd as it may sound, rarely before, had learning been such fun! And while I was no stranger to a boarder’s life on campus, this was truly an unrivalled experience and being based in the heart of London, as one can well imagine, only added to it.
Please share your experience of being a student delegate at WIPO with our readers.
(During the course of Paramita’s LL.M, she was selected as a student delegate to attend the prestigious Inter-Governmental Conference on Intellectual Property Rights, Traditional Knowledge & Genetic Resources at the WIPO Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.)
That was without question an incredible opportunity and a singularly educative platform.
I happened to be selected as part of the UK student delegation that year (2009) to the IGC at the WIPO headquarters in Geneva. To the star-struck student that I was then, this was nothing short of a wonderfully surreal experience. It allowed me a peep into international policy-drafting exercises, and brought home in a way that nothing had before – exactly how inextricably inter-dependent we were as a ‘global community’. It also provided an exciting ringside view into the subtle yet razor-sharp machinations of political negotiations, executed with a level of finesse, and at a scale that served to instantly bring to life the years and years of theories and doctrines that one used to be taught in class- and underscored the essential nature, constitution and multi-disciplinary ambit of law.
Please share with our readers, your experiences of being associated with policy-framing and multi-jurisdictional research exercises at a cutting-edge international level.
The limited research experience that my LL.M dissertation requirement afforded me with, only served to whet my appetite for more of such experiences. It was merely a well-timed stroke of luck, which placed me in the right place at the right time, I suppose, when I came across an advertisement on the University notice-board inviting young scholars to apply for freelance researcher/policy analyst positions. I put in an application as did many of my peers, and I guess I just got lucky. One thing led to another, and before I realised, I was being summoned for project associations by not just UK-based bodies, but also those further afield, with assignments coming in from various EU nations as well. As expected, this aided invaluably in broadening, layering and enriching my perspective, and allowing me a marvellous opportunity to apply some of the ideas and concepts I had developed in class, in the course of my LL.M lectures.
You are now back in India, working as an Advocate specialising in IPR. What prompted this decision?
While it may not sound like a very long stretch of time, the Indian IP law scene has changed palpably during my five-year long absence. While I had not been able to monitor it nearly as closely as I would have wanted to, I had nevertheless, tried to keep abreast of key developments back home. Accordingly, around 2013, the environment seemed optimally receptive to the contributions of people such as myself, in terms of the bulk as well as the variety of IP-related legal services that had begun to be provided. Ergo, I surmised that time was indeed ripe to head back and take that plunge.
IP Law is a discipline which, like all such niche ‘specialised’ fields, demands just as much in terms of core skills and expertise, as it requires a genuine interest for the same. Thus, having an innate aptitude is a very important attribute for someone looking to make a lifelong career in this sphere. An analytical bent of mind, with a sound grasp over basic scientific and technological concepts also come in handy. The rest, i.e., diligence, sincerity, industriousness, an eye for detail, quick comprehension skills, and an uncompromising personal work ethic, etc are, I would imagine, are common pre-requisites for any practice area.
You continue to be involved with national-level policy-framing exercises. Could you share some of your experience in this area? How different is this from your prior experiences in the UK and the EU?
I can only say that this is as much of a singular privilege, as it is an incredibly learning experience, to be even the tiniest of cogs selected to assist this élite think tank constituted under the aegis of the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion, Government of India – in their endeavour to conceive and draft a comprehensive National Intellectual Property Law Policy.
This is a multi-disciplinary exercise, unique unto itself in its scope, ambition and inclusiveness, the very first of its kind for India (at least in this field of law), – and has witnessed the coming together of some of the best minds and the most experienced hands that our nation could boast of.
While the rigour and the involvement required by all, regardless of hierarchy – is the identical to any similar exercise abroad, – I would say, it is our peculiar domestic reality and consequentially, the stakes and imperatives that drive and underpin the same, – which lend this experience its very own complexion and flavour.
You are also currently associated with NUJS Kolkata as a Faculty. How does it feel to be back at your alma mater, but as a teacher?
It is an indescribably wonderful feeling of homecoming, of revisiting one’s roots, as it were, and what makes it extra-special, is the opportunity to be able to give back a little to the institution that shaped our formative years.
While teaching is a completely new experience for me, – I must admit that it really is incredibly addictive, rivalled only (and that too, in just some aspects) by practising in court. The feeling of having even the most meagre of roles to play in helping shape some of the brightest and most promising young minds in the country, is tremendously humbling, gratifying, and frankly irreplaceable.
What prompted you to take the plunge into academics? What are the main essential qualities of an academician? What do you think differentiates between lawyers who chose academics from those of other professions?
While I had always had what can be called a ‘research bent of mind’, it really was a decision informed by my varied work experience which helped me identify what my basic temperament and ‘core competencies’ really were. This received a further shot in the arm, thanks to the LL.M experience and the years that followed, when it was finally clear, that it was indeed academics where my heart, and my future, lay.
That is not to say, however, that, the prospect of trying my hand at teaching was anything short of a truly daunting proposition. But here again, my professors, both, at NUJS and abroad, were a lot more confident than I was, and fortunately for me I decided to trust their expertise and took this enormous leap of faith. What followed is something I can only describe as a very happy accident, and one that I am truly grateful to have happened to me.
In terms of key defining traits, having dabbled in various other capacities before joining academics, I would say that the basic requisites for excelling are the same everywhere. One needs to be deeply in love with what they do, bring with themselves a basic degree of sincerity, responsibility, personal involvement, and an element of curiosity – and these, I would say, suffice to act as the basic fuels that help to keep one striving to grow, to better oneself, and to continue to give the very best of oneself to one’s discipline and of course, one’s students.
What do you like best about teaching at NUJS? Which subject(s) do you teach? Which one interests you the most? Why?
If principles are what make the soul of an academic institution, students are its very heart; it is they, their keenness and their often very touching response which makes every effort worthwhile.
Regardless of how uphill or cumbersome it may be to get proposals or initiatives off the ground once a course is live, the sheer energy of a class can compensate for it all. The quality, enthusiasm and sheer promise that I see, is enough to keep one going ad infinitum, and inspires me to keep improving myself with every passing day, to ensure that I continue to do justice to this responsibility that I have been so fortunate to have been entrusted with.
Thus far, I have offered papers on Biotechnology Law, Medicine & Public Health Law, and most recently, on IPRs, International Trade & International Human Rights. My area of specialisation, as mentioned earlier, being roughly the sphere of global IP governance, involves the interface of various subjects, which allows me to try out fresh vantage points into often familiar territory, – and the enthusiastic responses I have received thus far have only served to encourage me to come up with more such courses, topics and discussions that live up to the students’ expectations.
What do you feel about the Indian legal education system? Do you think that the Indian law universities need a change to match up to the standards of foreign universities?
We are second to none when it comes to human capital and sheer intellectual prowess. The only thing that has held us back in some respects, I believe, is our basic approach to education. Therefore, a fundamental shift in attitude, in my humble opinion, is the only catalyst we require to match up to the established international universities.
But that said, I am very pleased to report that, since my return to India in 2013, I have noted some very positive changes already taking root in the system. With more and more young scholars taking up teaching, such trends (which, hitherto used to be practised only by a tiny handful of our professors), can and shall, only be more and more reinforced, and it would only be a matter of time before the entire environment will begin to reflect these cumulative changes, and the results too, will be there for all to see.
What would be your advice for law students who want to take up teaching as a profession?
I can only speak for myself when I say that it would be a fallacy to treat teaching as a ‘profession’ in the sense most of us law-school products are trained to think, or even as a stereotypical career. It is all of that surely, but a lot, lot more; I would even go so far as to call it a vocation. Ergo, anyone who may be considering moving into academics, would be well advised to make sure it is an utterly informed choice, and should therefore choose to opt for it consciously and for the right reasons; I can personally vouch for the fact that, there exist very few professions indeed, which can prove to be nearly as addictive and as rewarding at every level as this.
Your parting message for our readers?
Follow your heart, dream big, do what really makes you come alive. Above all else, – be true to yourself… and the world’s your oyster.