This article is written by Sharanya Ghosh, a student of Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA.
The Guest Speaker
Arjya B. Majumdar was initially a practicing lawyer before he shifted his focus to the field of academia. As an associate/senior associate for FoxMandal Little and later Desai & Diwanji, I handled complex transactions relating to acquisitions, FDI, private equity, mergers, capital markets and real estate. Today, he is the Dean, Admissions and Outreach at OP Jindal Global University.
Ramanuj Mukherjee is an alumnus of National University of Judicial Sciences, Kolkata. He is currently the CEO of LawSikho and the co-founder of iPleaders. His previous work experience includes being a part of the Private Equity and M&A Team at Trilegal, Mumbai.
What are the similarities between practicing and teaching?
The function that a litigator carries out is that of informing their clients about the law; what they can and cannot do. While representing a client in court, a lawyer creates arguments based on certain precedents, available statutory material, juristic opinion and anything else that would be admissible in court. It is important to ensure that clients understand the law and that the overall consultation and interaction with them helps them in fulfilling their aspirations. Teaching is quite similar in these aspects. The focus shifts from helping clients to students. An academician teaches students what the law is and any papers that they suggest are those on which the students learns to create arguments, which they again base on certain precedents, available statutory material, juristic opinion and anything else that would be admissible in court.
What are the major differences between practising law and teaching it?
There are, of course, several differences between the fields. A major difference in this field is that when a client reaches out to a lawyer, the work and research related to the task revolves around the needs of the client. However, as a legal academician, one major benefit is that the research can be modified to suit the academician and their interests. That freedom of intellectual thought is a key factor for moving to academia.
What are the challenges of being an academician?
For someone who has gone from being a lawyer to being an academician, Mr. Majumdar has found one stark difference between his past and current career choices. In a law firm and most legal professions, the clients and other members in an organisation are well aware of the law already. They have a basic understanding of how the law works. In law school, however, academicians must understand that the same does not apply to law students. They don’t have the knowledge and even if they do, they definitely lack the experience in the field. Law students are young and it is also important to teach them in a manner that they understand.
What happens when there is a difference of opinion in this field?
It is important to understand that each person is entitled to their own opinion and that one person may or may not agree with the professor or among their peer groups. In firms and other such legal establishments, the focus is often on the opinion of seniors and a junior’s opinion could be called secondary. In a law school, every opinion is equal. Universities, law schools are spaces of intellectual thoughts and ideas and discovery. But the moment an opinion becomes valid or respected, one needs to have enough substance to back themselves up since people tend to engage in such discussions. Thus, framing opinions becomes very important.
Speaking of opinions, should ideological views of an academician be allowed to influence their teaching?
Mr. Majumdar said that this may be troublesome sometimes. As humans, we are allowed to have opinions. But as academicians, it is ideal that teachings should not be influenced by ideologies or political views. Law schools are training students to look at problems from multiple perspectives. By introducing only one ideology, the academician is taking that ability away from the law student. A law student should be allowed to have a holistic outlook and if an academician is bringing their ideology to class, they should also speak from other perspectives to maintain that balance.
What are the other opportunities for academicians in the legal field?
There are definitely great opportunities for academicians to pursue options outside of academia. This depends a lot on how much time one has. Teaching and research are the sole areas of being an academician. But outside of this realm, an academician may go beyond their own university and deliver lectures in other places. This gives them a lot more exposure and permits them to interact with students and other universities. This is not just monetary gain but also helps one in building their networks. Some may offer some legal services or consultations on the side but the Bar Council of India has not commented on such activity as yet.
What are the challenges of going for other opportunities while being an academician?
Time is a huge constraint. There are several opportunities for legal academicians, such as going into policy making or advisory work. However, your discipline and your priorities will affect your time greatly. If you shift from litigation or other fields to academics, you may be able to double the amount of free time you have. But it is up to you to utilise it well. It all depends on your intentions and your discipline.
A lot of people feel that nobody reads journals or academic papers. How can academicians be more relevant in today’s time?
Teaching is not a profession or a vocation. It is far deeper than that. It gives you the ability to enlighten others and expand their horizon. What more can you aspire for will depend on your aspirations. One way of becoming renowned in the field of academia is through research, especially when done in a particular field. The best way to earn the recognition is to break new grounds in terms of human knowledge. Another way of entering the field of academics and being recognised is by becoming a good administrator. This, of course, requires talent alongside knowledge.
How do I know which topic is worth researching?
Mr. Majumdar gave an interesting solution to this question. He said that every time you embark on a new research project, ensure it satisfies the ‘patent test.’ It has to have novelty, inventive step and utility. You should also see what the relevance of the topic is. Is it relevant to solve constitutional debates or constitutional crises? If not, is it useful? You should keep in mind your reader and ask yourself these questions. You need to ensure that your research is relevant.
What is the career trajectory that one should aim for?
Typically for a student interested in going for academia, the trajectory begins immediately after law school. If one is already aware that they want to become a professor or academician, one should immediately go for their LLM and complete the other necessary statutory requirements so that you can enter the field. It is important to note that an LLM is a basic requirement for a legal academician. Some jobs even require a PhD these days.
Can I practice for a few years before joining the field? When should I apply for these posts?
Once you have gained knowledge and experience in a field, you can also enter academics immediately. If you have gone for an LLM abroad, you may be able to apply as an academician in India or even abroad since you are better aware of the laws in those countries. You should generally start applying for jobs before the odd semesters begin since law schools generally accept academicians just before the new batch or new session begins. Of course, one should keep in mind that different law schools have different mechanisms and hiring requirements across the globe.
How long does it take for one to become a professor?
It generally takes 12-14 years after one’s PhD to become a professor. However, you may fast track that by joining universities of eminence. There are two very important ways of ensuring your growth as an academician: you need to be prepared to teach and you need to keep researching. Mr. Majumdar suggested that students should write 500 words a day in order to be able to maintain consistency and even help in publishing papers in the future.
As Mr. Majumdar pointed out, one should write 500 words a day. Irrespective of whatever is happening, writing 500 words a day diligently means that you will become capable of writing a full-length journal article in two months. This also helps in ensuring that you become more acknowledged in the field and thus writing, researching and blogging are very important.
What are some emerging areas for legal academicians to focus on?
Writing in emerging areas should not be the goal. Just because something is popular does not mean that you should be forced to write about it. There are so many problems that we haven’t found solutions to yet, there are so many problems that need solving. The more connected you are to your research, the better you will perform. So, figure which problem appeals to you the most. Begin with exploring all opportunities. As a younger person, it’s okay to be broad-based but as you grow older, you will have to focus on one super-specialisation if you have the aspiration of being a relevant figure in the field.
Some of the questions asked by the audience and students of the LawSikho community:
How important is it to clear the NET to start teaching?
The NET is an important qualification, especially for government legal institutions. You are likely to be paid less if you do not qualify it. Some private universities do need a NET but there are several that do not look for one. Every college or legal institution has their own sets of requirements.
Is LLM compulsory for being a law academician? Do I need to do LLM from a foreign university?
Yes. Every law school in India and abroad expects a minimum of an LLM. As for choosing between Indian and foreign universities for an LLM, what matters is the perception of that law school. Brand value matters. You should also keep in mind that if you have a PhD in law in a foreign country, you also have the skills and abilities to teach law in that country.
Should I go for a PhD in law immediately after my LLM or later?
Try not to go for a PhD or an LLM immediately after you graduate. A real-world experience will definitely help you in learning more about the legal environment. You should practice for a few years and then go for an LLM unless you are absolutely certain that you will go for academics.
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