Abhimanyu Singh, Asst. Professor at TNNLU on his opinion on current legal education system

Mr. Abhimanyu Singh, graduated from National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi in the year 2015 and then he went to pursue his Masters in Law from The Australian National University. Currently, he is working as an Assistant Professor (Law) at Tamil Nadu National Law University, Trichy. In this interview he talks with us about- his experience as an academician with the Tamil Nadu National Law University and about hosting the faculty development program on International Law; his opinion on the current legal education system in India; making a career in International Law; and his teaching methodology.

1. How is your experience as an academic at the Tamil Nadu National Law University (TNNLU) and what are your future plans with the institution?

I couldn’t have hoped to work at a better institution than TNNLU in India. I have observed that it is a common practice at many of the national law schools in India to make early-career academics (people who have freshly graduated with LLM degrees) teach the leftover courses that no other academic wants to take up after they are
recruited as a faculty. However, I firmly believe that people who have freshly graduated with LLM, especially those who have come back to their home countries after earning their LLM from top law schools abroad, must be provided with an opportunity to teach courses in their area of specialisation.

There are two fundamental reasons for my conviction. Firstly, if LLM graduates are allowed to conduct customized elective courses that they themselves would have studied as a part of their coursework in LLM, they will have the opportunity to absorb the contents of the subject that they would have studied recently and become an expert in
the subject area. Secondly, it is very important for freshly graduated LLM candidates to make a credible research proposal for their PhD. Most of the early-career academics pick their research topic for PhD when they start teaching law and when law schools make them teach subjects which are not their core areas and where they do not have any expertise, they inflict academic harm upon their young faculty members as they get disoriented and lose their special interest, if they had any when they were pursuing their LLM. I feel very fortunate to have been provided with the opportunity to draft niche courses in International Law at TNNLU and present them at the Academic Council of the University for their Approval. I have only been assigned courses in International Law, both at postgraduate and undergraduate level, at TNNLU. I believe I would not have got such an opportunity at any other law school in this country. I have received PhD admission offer from some of the highest ranked law schools in the world in last six months, but I plan to teach here, at TNNLU, for few more semesters, so that I may have enough time to refine my research proposal and develop further grounding in my chosen area of research before finally joining my PhD. Undertaking PhD from top universities abroad is a very conscious decision that I have made and I realise that the frenetic pace of activities in the PhD programme will leave little scope for me to go back to basics or study a closely related discipline.

2. You are about to host a Faculty Development Programme (FDP) on International Law at TNNLU from 29th June 2019 to 3rd July 2019. Could you please tell us the objective behind this program?

Faculty Development Programme on International Law that we are organizing at TNNLU from June 29 – July 3, 2019, is the first-ever FDP organized by a National Law University on International Law in this country. Previously, FDPs have been organized by other NLUs, but in other areas of law. FDP is an opportunity for an academic to upgrade their teaching and research skills and methodologies. It is particularly beneficial for early-career academics, doctoral candidates and researchers who would want to acquaint themselves with the latest developments taking place in their research areas. It may also be useful for mid-career academics who would want to take stock of the latest research and developments that may have taken place in their research area.

In the era of frenzied globalisation, multiple events of academic significance are taking place across the world and it is absolutely essential to incorporate these developments into our courses, even if a faculty member is tasked with teaching the very same course in successive years, utmost emphasis should be laid on together and share their experiences with one another and learn something new from each others’ experiences. Everyone gains out of this process and goes back to their home institutions with new skill sets and methodologies to implement in their teaching and research.

3. As a part of FDP, TNNLU is also organizing a Memorial Roundtable Celebrating the Life and Work of Prof. C.H. Alexandrowicz. Could you please tell us a bit about Prof. C.H. Alexandrowicz and the way in which he had stirred to the development of legal education in our country?
Prof. C.H. Alexandrowicz (1902-75) Polish–British scholar and lawyer who pioneered the historical study of international law in its extra-European contexts, a vein of research that is fundamental to the history of international law and to global history more generally. Unlike contemporary scholars who assume that international law was an
exclusively European phenomenon or those who find only Eurocentrism in various forms in the history of European thought on international and global affairs, Alexandrowicz recognized international law’s complicity with European imperial expansion and sought to find in history resources for a more egalitarian and less Eurocentric international order.
While most European scholars of Jewish descent moved further West during and after the World War-II, Prof. Alexandrowicz moved East and came to India where he taught International Law at the Department of Legal Studies, University of Madras and inspired a generation of scholars, judges and lawyers in International Law. There is a pressing need to bring his scholarship to the front and make it popular among the modern-age scholars in International Law who have largely unaware of the immense contribution that Prof. Alexandrowicz has made in the making of International Law internationally.

4. What is your opinion about the Indian legal education system? What changes do you think are essential in current the legal education system of India?
I am happy to see Law being looked upon as a viable and attractive career option by the young generation. With the proliferation of National Law Universities (NLUs) in this county, which has led to manifold increase in undergraduate seats at these institutions, Law is being taken seriously as a career option by students who can see the potential career options that open up after earning the integrated five-year degree from these institutions. The young generation knows that their options are no more restricted to Bar and Bench and they can explore a career in lawmaking at an international level or become personnel  at an international adjudicatory body or become an internationally known academic by making meaningful contributions in different bodies of Law.
However, I see that there is still an immense scope in revamping legal education in India at the post-graduate level. The compulsory courses in the LLM programme that are taught in all law schools in India (Law and Justice in a Globalizing World and Comparative Public Law) may not be of interest for every candidate choosing to earn a
Master’s degree. Also, I find little or no scope in the LLM programmes in India to study courses like Family Law or Property Law or Tort Law at the postgraduate level. This intentional absenteeism by regulatory bodies and law schools is creating a crisis in Indian legal academia where LLM graduates from India are not open to teaching such subjects. Very rarely will a law school receive an application from an LLM candidate willing to teach these subjects because they themselves would not have studied these subjects at an advanced level.

Another major crisis that I find in the legal education sector in India is that there is an overemphasis on LLM and little importance is given to MPhil as a Masters degree equivalent or higher to LLM. MPhil is an advanced research degree that is a precursor to PhD in many universities in India. One is required to undertake two semesters of coursework and write a dissertation thereafter to successfully graduate with the MPhil degree. While in LLM one is required to write the dissertation along with the coursework, usually in the second semester, in MPhil dissertation is written after the successful completion of coursework of two semesters and the dissertation usually of same credit weightage as that of entire coursework combined. Therefore, one can conclude that MPhil is a much more rigorous degree than LLM, but is still not attractive among young graduates because it is not recognized a Masters degree comparable to LLM by the UGC in India as a consequence of which one cannot teach at law schools in India after earning the MPhil degree. For the aforementioned reasons, I believe that there is an urgent need to revamp the legal education system at the postgraduate level in India to end the crisis of quality professionals in all fields of Law.

5. You have earned a Master’s degree from the Australian National University where you have laid special emphasis upon the courses in International Law. How would you describe your experience over there? Would you recommend young graduates to go to ANU for their Master’s degree?

I had made my mind to go to ANU for my Masters degree in Law after I got an opportunity to intern with a think tank under the Ministry of Defence, Government of India during the third year of my law school where I interacted with top lawmakers and policymakers engaged in shaping the foreign and defence policy of India. It was the most remarkable internship that exposed me to the inner echelons of policy making at a higher level in India. I realised that a lot of top diplomats and military personnel in India had earned their Masters degree from ANU.
I was particularly impressed by Syed Akbaruddin who was then the official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs of India and is now serving as India’s permanent representative at the United Nations since January 2016. He has also earned his Master’s degree in International Relations from the Australian National University.
Now that I have come back to India and become a part of legal academia here when I look back, I feel that going to ANU was probably the best decision that I have taken in my life thus far. ANU consistently ranks among top 15 law schools in the world in the QS rankings and is probably the best place to hone one’s skills in international studies.
ANU College of Law offers courses in very few specialisations and hardly offers any courses in Commercial Laws or Competition Law. Being located in the heart of nation’s capital, Canberra, situated opposite to the Australian Parliament across the Lake Burley Griffin, ANU College of Law offers courses primarily in International Law. I was particularly amazed by the variety of courses on offer in any given year which consisted more than 80 courses in any given academic year and included courses like Post-Conflict Situations and International Law, Cyber Warfare Law, International Security Law and Ethno-Political Conflicts and International Law. I could never have imagined studying such specialised courses in International Law at any other university in this world. I would highly recommend ANU to any student in India, particularly to those who wish to make a career with inter-governmental organizations or establish themselves in research and academia abroad.

6. What advice would you like to give to undergraduate law students in India looking to make a career in the field of International Law?

There are many suggestions that I would want to offer to undergraduate students in India who wish to make a career in International Law but I will stick myself to the three most important advice. Firstly, I would suggest them to study the related disciplines in social sciences, whatever is offered at their home institution, with utmost sincerity. It is probably impossible to  become a seasoned scholar or practitioner in International Law without having a strong background in international history, international relations or international economics. Undergraduate students in the early years of their law school usually commit the mistake of not paying due attention to these subjects. And I believe that it becomes extremely difficult for a student who aspires to make a career in International Law to become successful if s/he has not a thorough understanding of decolonization process in Africa during the 1950s through the 1970’s or social movements resisting repression in Latin America.
Secondly, I would strongly urge any student who wishes to make a career in International Law to make up his or her mind early and start doing internships related to international studies. Doing an internship with corporate law firms will not help a candidate who aspires to build a career in international law in any way (except if you wish to build a career in international commercial laws or international commercial arbitration). Students are usually confused in India as to where should they intern to build a credible CV that may reflect their desire to become an active participant in the making and proliferation of International Law. I would strongly suggest such students intern with think-tanks (mostly based out of New Delhi) like IDSA, ORF, IPCS, Development Alternatives, DPG and Gateway House. Interns with a background in Law receive ample opportunities at these think-tanks to work on projects related to foreign and defence policy of India where they can use their expertise in Law to analyse the current developments from around the world.

Thirdly, I would advise students interested in International Law to make it a habit to regularly read blogs that post regular updates and provide different perspectives on events of interest and contemporary importance in International Law. Some of the most prominent blogs that I would recommend here are Opinio Juris, EJIL Talk, PIL Notes Herbert Smith Freehills, ICL Media Review, IntLawGrrls, iLawyer, International Law Observer, International Law Blog, Society of International Law and Policy, The Berkeley Journal of International Law Blog, Harvard International Law Journal’s online Blog, Cornell International Law Journal Online and Cambridge International Law Journal. Students with a particular interest in international affairs may choose to follow magazines like The Diplomat, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, World Politics Review and Le Monde diplomatique.

7. Please tell us about your teaching methodology. Do you encourage students to take notes or do you engage your students in active class participation?

Unlike the present generation of cool foreign-returned academics, who believe more in class discussions, I, being an old-school guy, usually follow the traditional lecture method which I find the most effective teaching methodology. I do interact with students during and after my class and make all effort to clarify their doubts and concerns, but I don’t believe in conducting a class after providing them with the bulk of reading materials and expecting them to read all of it before they attend my class. I believe that the latter methodology should be applied by academics while conducting classes at the graduate level and not at the undergraduate level as graduate students are supposed to be reading much more than the undergraduates. I believe that applying the latter methodology will kill a substantial part of class hours that could have been invested in disseminating much more valuable knowledge to undergraduate students.
Also, because I teach advanced elective courses to senior-most undergraduate students, I do not expect them to be possessing substantial subject knowledge when I enter their classes to conduct lectures. However, after lectures are over, I make sure that with the backing of what they could amass during the class hours, they get enough reading
materials to build upon their existing knowledge and find critical research questions to work upon in their term papers.

8. How do you like to connect philosophy with the law and do you think philosophy as a subject should be added to the curriculum in law schools?

I have always been a huge proponent of interdisciplinary studies and I strongly believe that all the major streams of social sciences must be taught in conjunction with the law in the five-year integrated programme in the law schools. Philosophy is a very interesting discipline, but so are Sociology, Psychology, Political Science, Economics, History and other disciplines in social sciences. Without a basic understanding of these streams of social science, it is very difficult for a candidate to understand the purpose and objectives of legal instruments in operation across the world. Take, for example, the Latin American region where the Amazon rainforest has been recognized as an entity subject of rights in Columbia. It is very important to understand the history, politics and society of the region to understand why the Columbian Supreme Court had to come up with such reasoning. I also understand that not everyone would be interested in or studying or doing exceedingly well in all the streams of social sciences. I was pathetic in Economics and Psychology during my law school days. But that shouldn’t deter an undergrad from studying these courses during their law school as it is absolutely crucial to grasp the  basics of these courses. Good lawyers use their extensive knowledge in social sciences while framing innovative arguments in courtrooms.

9. How do you manage your time between your professional and personal interests?

Life is all about prioritising one thing over the other. Mine is no different. I struggle to strike a balance between the two for the most part of the year. But when I do get time, usually during the vacations or semester breaks, I make sure that I travel. I am bugged by the travel bug and I love to travel to the mountains. When I am travelling or have gone to my hometown and spending time with close family and friends, I make sure that I am
off the work grid.

10. You have publications in various renowned journals and have presented papers in numerous international conferences. How should one go about writing papers and getting the same published and/or presented?

I didn’t have any esteemed publication or attended any well-known conference when I was in my law school. Publications and conferences came in after I completed my LLM and entered academia. However, I strongly believe that it is very important for undergrads to work on publications and conferences to broaden their horizons and not
restrict themselves to participating in the moot court competitions and parliamentary debates. Publications in renowned journals and participating in international conferences does offer you equal, if not more, academic depth and substance in the subject area. It is also important for undergrads to write blogs on contemporary issues. They can also choose to write for national and international newspapers and magazines. It will keep them updated with the events in national and international affairs in addition to building their CV. Law students may also collaborate with their faculty members, if they have such willing academics at their institutions, for such endeavours as it will help them refine and upgrade their research and writing skills.

11. Which among the following do you think is important for instilling legal knowledge – practical knowledge and/or theoretical knowledge?

I believe it is important to inculcate both. However, it is extremely crucial to realise that both the knowledge must be grasped at different stages in life. Sadly, I find current undergrads to be overly enthusiastic about internships during their law schools. They don’t care much if they couldn’t grasp a course in a semester or have fared poorly academically in that particular semester if they have an internship secured at a top-rated law firm. This trend, which has flown from the top-ranked NLUs, has lead to sidelining of theoretical studies to a great extent. The worst casualty of this is the non-law subjects which get completely ignored and undergrads just don’t care if they don’t grasp anything or secure enough marks in those subjects. This is a very disturbing trend that has picked further pace, especially in the last decade, with the first generation of law schools like NLSIU, NALSAR and NUJS showing the way.
I sincerely hope that undergrads enrolled in the newly established NLUs and other private and public universities will distinguish themselves from their peers in the first generation of law schools by opting for such subjects and careers that have so far largely been ignored.
For example, one area where I feel law students can further explore and do exceedingly better in life, but not even handful of them opt for it, is appearing for the GRE exam and opting to go for their PhD right after their LL.B. Not many law students are even aware during their law school that they can appear for the GRE exam during their final years of law school and take direct admission in a PhD programme in their chosen discipline at top universities in the world like Harvard, Stanford, Columbia and Dartmouth.
I believe there is much more in store to explore for the law students who are currently enrolled in the law schools in India and there must be a balance between the options that they choose for themselves after they graduate. Unfortunately, at the moment, the balance is tilted more in the favour of corporate jobs, for which I only blame the first generation of NLU graduates who inculcated this imaginary belief that the success and failure of a NLU graduate depend on the placement that they secure during their law school.
Nevertheless, I am very optimistic that, mostly because of saturation in corporate jobs in the legal industry, a meaningful and sustainable change is taking place at the ground level that will only pick pace in the coming years. The responsibility also rests upon the academics working with newly established NLUs and private and public universities to make their students aware of the humongous opportunities they have in the largely ignored and unexplored professions than putting excessive focus on internships and placements throughout the five years, if they lay more emphasis upon the academics during their law school days.

12. As a concluding message what would be your advice to the current law students?
As a concluding message, I would want to thank SCC Online for giving me the platform to share my views on a host of issues. I have already offered numerous advice above and would want to end this interview with the last advice that I would offer to those students who couldn’t find a place in the to pranked NLUs are studying law at the newly established NLUs and other private and public universities. I want these students to know that they have the whole world to explore and they are not devoid of any opportunity solely because they couldn’t secure a high rank in the CLAT exam. I know people who graduated from newly established, not well-known or well-perceived law schools cracking JRF in their first attempt and going on to become a star academic at a top-ranked NLU. I have also seen law graduates from not so highly ranked law schools in India grabbing a fellowship to pursue their BCL from Oxford. I know of people who couldn’t find a place at any of the NLUs and upon graduation went to Berkeley for their Masters in Intellectual Property Law, which is one of the finest in the world to study IP Law.

I also know people who studied at the lowest ranked NLUs cracking the UPSC Civil Services exam, the Delhi Judicial Services exam (considered the toughest judicial exam in this country) and other exams of top notch PSUs in this country. Even law graduates from traditional universities like the University of Allahabad, University of Lucknow, Jamia Millia Islamia, BHU and AMU are also making a great career for themselves nationally and abroad with minimal investment and available resources. Therefore, in case if you couldn’t secure a place in the top-ranked NLUs, it is very important for you to remain confident and focused towards your goal. The sky is the limit if you work tirelessly to achieve your objective and nothing can stop you from reaching your final destination if you don’t allow yourself to get distracted by hypothetical myths, mostly created by the first generation of NLU graduates.

This interview has been taken by Mr. Supriyo Ranjan Mahapatra and he is pursuing law from TNNLU, Trichy. He has a keen interest in the subjects of Arbitration, Competition Laws, and Insolvency. He is an avid mooter and has participated in various international moots.

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