Academics, Researchers & International Organisations

Teslin Augustine, NUJS grad on interning with MP Naveen Jindal, the LAMP fellowship & life in the public policy sector

Teslin AugustineTeslin an NUJS graduate tells us about her inspiration for joining law and her internship with Naveen Jindal which set her on the course for a career in public policy. She talks about the transition from law school to the real world and how best to have a work life balance.

 

How will you introduce yourself to our readers?

My name is Teslin. I graduated from NUJS in 2012, after which I did the Legislative Assistant to Member of Parliament fellowship offered by PRS Legislative Research in association with the Constitution Club of India. I am currently working as a policy consultant in a law firm in Delhi.

 

Why did you decide to study law? Tell us about your college life?

Perry Mason – the oh-so-cool defence attorney who was the star of a series of Erle Stanley Gardener books which I was addicted to as a child, is the single biggest reason why I decided to do law. Of course, I found more logical-sounding reasons when I had to justify my choice of profession to my family but the truth is that I found the long-winding arguments Mason hashed out in Court too hard to resist.

College made me the person I am today – and for those who don’t know me, I am a pretty awesome person (modesty is probably not one of my traits though). Jokes apart, I made some amazing friends, who gave me the confidence to not be apologetic about myself – my choices, my likes & my dislikes and most of all it gave me the NUJS tag which meant instant “smart-alert” for my future employers.

 

What kind of internships did you do while you were a student? Any remarkable experiences during your internships that shaped your career choices later?

I did the usual run of the mill corporate internships. The only internship that was of any real significance was my 6-week stint at the office of Naveen Jindal, MP. I stumbled upon this internship purely by chance and it was the only internship where I felt like what I did mattered – that I wasn’t just another person helping rich corporations get richer.

 

We often hear that more lawyers are getting into “policy work”. What does this actually involve? What is it that policy lawyers do?

Courts take years, sometimes decades, to correct a legislative mistake. As a lawyer working in the realm of public policy (I wouldn’t call it “policy lawyer”) I do what I can to influence what a piece of law ultimately looks like – be it through making standing committee representations or educating the political class about lesser known concepts. I make sure that our legislators have all the information they should have to make intelligent policy choices which will ultimately decide the trajectory which our country will take. To put it simply, as a policy worker, I try to make sure that the Bill that ultimately becomes a law is in its best possible format.

 

What made you interested to get into this area of work?

Be prepared to roll your eyes, some naive ideology coming your way – I have always believed that at the end of 20 years if I can think of one thing that I did to make things better for this country then I will have deserved my place in this world. To me, policy seemed like the most direct way to make a difference. Even if I don’t make any direct changes, as long as I can keep the dialogues happening I have done my job well.

 

When did you start thinking of going into such an offbeat career? What precipitated this decision? How difficult was it for you to make an out of the box career choice?

I wanted to be happy about the work I did and that’s all that mattered to me. Sure, at the beginning, I was filled with uncertainties and always wondered if I was making a big mistake. But I soon shed all my uncertainties and insecurities about my choice of profession, when I realized I was one of the few people to have a smile on their face at the end of every day.

 

How did LAMP Fellowship happen? What are the criteria to apply? How did you go about your application process?

I first heard about the fellowship during my internship at Naveen Jindal and I had thought to myself at that time that no matter what happens I would definitely give this a shot. The LAMP fellowship is open to everyone who has an undergraduate degree, is below the age of 25 and is an Indian citizen. There is an online application form which asks for a statement of purpose along with your CV and some other details. Once you get shortlisted based on the SOP, there is a telephonic/skype or walk-in interview. The panel who interviews is made of ex-LAMP fellows, PRS analysts and usually a third party policy expert. There is no secret mantra to the interview or the application. The most important thing they try and ascertain during the interview is your reasons for applying and how passionate you are about policy-making. I think, if you truly care, your sincerity shines through.

 

How was your typical day over there?  What kind of work were you involved in?

I spend most of my time preparing questions that my MP could raise in the House, helping him with his Standing Committee responsibilities, doing issue-based research for him, prepping him for debates, preparing special mentions, zero hour submissions and private member bills.

 

Is the pay enough to sustain your life in a megacity like Delhi, especially if you are not living with your parents?

I am a very middle-class person with very middle-class needs. That said, as a LAMP fellow I lived in a constant state of poverty, my current job as a consultant allows me to lead a comfortable life.

 

Currently you are involved in policy related work in a law firm. What kind of work do you have to do? How is it different from your previous work profile?

As a LAMP fellow my work was mostly parliamentary in nature. This means that I helped my MP raise questions in parliament, introduce private member bills, raise special mentions, zero hour submissions and prepared his speeches for parliamentary debates and media appearances. The work I am doing right now uses a lot of the experience and knowledge I have gained over the past year as a fellow. I advise clients on implications of laws and policies passed by the Government, how it is likely to affect them and how to make representations to the Government so as to have a regulatory system in place that is favourable to clients.

 

Would you throw some light on your current job profile? Is this an emerging area that law students should keep an eye on?

I currently work as a Policy consultant in a law firm. We are in the business of providing policy-based advice to corporate clients.

 

Any memorable career experience you would like to share?

The highpoint of my fellowship was when a private member Bill I had drafted was introduced in the Rajya Sabha and was discussed and debated upon for 7-8 hours. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing Parliamentarians discuss, argue for or against a clause that you have yourself drafted.

 

Where do you see yourself 5 years down the line?

I eventually want to work with the Government and do policy making at the most basic level. I want to directly be responsible for what a policy document or a Bill looks like when it is introduced in the Parliament.

 

What would be your advice to people interested in policy work? How should they prepare themselves for a career in policy? What are the essential qualities one should cultivate?

As simple as it sounds, read the newspaper – to begin with. Policy work is a lot about being up-to-date with everything – be it the latest consultation paper that TRAI has released or the Orissa High Court’s judgement about mining. Know what is happening around you and take an interest to keep yourself updated. Do internships with a couple of policy organizations – Rakshak Foundation or Observer Research Foundation for example are excellent organizations to get an idea what policy work is all about. Talk to people who work with policy and leave behind all your fantasies

 

How difficult or easy is the transition from being a law student to a lawyer?

It is difficult. Your first job always feels like an internship. You keep waiting for it to get over and when it finally hits you that there is no getting over and that you have to do this every single day – pay rent, bills, buy groceries, fight with the maid, sit at the same desk everyday – it can get difficult. But once you accept that, life is good. It’s good to not be bound by any rules and finally be an adult, it’s good to be outside the constant scrutiny and judgment that is such an essential part of college life and do what you really want to.

 

What’s your take on work- life balance?

I know plenty of workaholics who are perfectly happy working all day everyday. Fortunately or unfortunately that is not me. I have to have the time to meet my friends, once in a while, come back home before the sun is up and go for a holiday once in a while.  I will probably be “lagging behind” my peers who work day and night but I choose not to measure my success based just on my professional life – it is a success for me if I have the time to explore every nook and corner of Delhi, it is a success for me if I have been able to take a dance class outside work and it is a success for me if I have gorged down 5 kgs of meat in a pigging competition. It is upto every person to decide what they want from life and there are no set rules.

 

Last but not the least, what would be your advice to law students?

I completely understand the glitz and glamour of corporate law and if that is what you really want to do then good for you. But if it is not, then there is no point fooling yourself. There is only so much happiness and satisfaction money and things can give you – true happiness is in finding something that you are truly passionate about and in waking up in the morning and actually being happy about going to work – that’s what matters in the end. Have the confidence to explore and find out what you love doing – don’t settle for anything lesser.

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