This article has been written by Rajul Jain, an advocate.
A few days ago my associate lawyer came to me with an odd request. He wanted me to counsel a college junior of his, who was faced with the dilemma of choosing social work over litigation and vice versa. She wondered if all her internships etc. should be on human rights or not, since, at the moment she experienced a strong moral urge to utilise her education for social good. Knowing about my experimentation with the social sector as well litigation work, my junior thought it fit for her to have a discussion with me for some perspective and I obliged.
Haven’t we all faced these life changing and unsettling questions? Is it society over money or vice versa? Keeping in view the very relevance of this question, where everything is about choosing one thing over the other, I decided to write this article sharing my advice based on my personal experiences arguing for striking a balance.
Internships really shape your career if you choose quality over quantity
If I have realised something from being an intern and subsequently hiring interns, it is that most are just looking to tick mark those boxes on their college forms and get through the process. Having pursued my LL.B. from Campus Law Centre, I had the option to either do an internship or not. As a result, during the 3 years of college I ended up doing only 2 internships, both very challenging and educational. What I learnt, experiences I had and the relationships I made continue to contribute to the person I am till day. Here’s an overview of my internship experiences, which is essential to drive home the point I am making.
Social sector internship- Shakti Vahini, Delhi based NGO working on the issue of anti-human trafficking
During my graduation years, I had been exposed to some serious literature on issues concerning exploitation of women and children for sex work/labour and reading the book titled ‘The Natasha’ by author Victor Malarek left an ever lasting impact on my mind. That’s how my focussed research on the prevalence of human trafficking in India started. I realised that Shakti Vahini was a very credible organisation working primarily in Delhi and engaged in rescue, rehabilitation and policy advocacy on issues of exploitation of women and children. I approached them and got an internship opportunity.
At the relevant point in time, one of the founder members of the NGO was actively associated with the panel created by the Supreme Court of India to look into policy measures that may be taken to provide alternate livelihood opportunities to sex workers and in order to do this, the panel required case studies and data collected from primary sources to extend recommendations to the court. Therefore, in this internship I got an opportunity to visit the famous red light area in Delhi, namely, GB Road and interview the women on the various aspects that we needed information on. I jumped at the opportunity and immediately agreed to be a part of the project. Of course, the credibility of the organisation, the local rapport they had in the area because of which my safety was ensured and availability of a support team were factors I took into account.
The work started and I would spend hours every day both visiting brothels and seeing their actual living conditions and talking to them or we would call them over for group interactions on health and hygiene, while I would also steal opportunity to communicate with those sex workers whom we could not reach otherwise. This field work spread over weeks culminated into a compilation of case studies and views of the sex workers on what kind of policy measures would suit them best. My report was well-received by the NGO and ultimately submitted to the panel.
This entire exercise helped me in understanding the nuances of field research, conducting interviews and taught me how to handle tough situations on ground. It sure will go a long way in pursuing higher studies which require these skills. At a personal level it made me become present to a number of realities in life, examine economic and social issues present at the grass root level and break the barrier of assumptions and prejudices I initially had.
Most importantly, due to the quality of work I did, the relationship and reputation that I garnered during this internship period, helped me in getting a paid work opportunity as Legal Research Officer right after graduation from law school and was even followed by consultancy projects sponsored by international rights organisations, much after I had moved onto experiment with litigation.
Litigation internship- Chamber of Mr. Sanjay Jain (Senior Advocate), Additional Solicitor General, Supreme Court of India
July is a crucial month for students to pursue court internships, hence you have to start applying a few months in advance. With guidance from a friend, I managed to approach and land an internship opportunity in the chamber of Mr. Sanjay Jain, Senior Advocate presently the Additional Solicitor General, Supreme Court of India. During this period his chamber had about 4 other interns and very early on I understood that it would not be easy to get work exposure if I didn’t pro-actively participate. In this one and only court internship experience, the office really helped me in understanding the basics regarding how to read a file, research etc. I ended up working on just 3 matters during the entire month. However, to my luck, all were cases at the stage of final arguments and it gave me an opportunity to see Mr. Jain ideate and experiment with arguments.
One of the highlights of working in Mr. Jain’s office was the work ethics he followed. His meticulous approach to taking briefings, understanding the files and then framing his arguments was a spectacular experience which inspired me. Due to my involvement in case preparation, I could not only be a part of the discussions but the associate I was assisting also made sure to highlight my efforts in research and hence I ended up interacting with Mr. Jain a lot more than I had expected. The internship period came to an end too soon.
But I realised that my work had not gone to waste when several months later I approached him for an employment opportunity in his chamber and he readily agreed. The association that started in 2012 has continued ever since, as I went onto work in his chamber and assisted him in various matters before different fora in Delhi and outside, until going independent in April 2019. My work experience in his office has been an important part of the process of me becoming a lawyer, he has been a mentor and I continue to look up to him for his wise words and art of advocacy.
I started working with Shakti Vahini as a Legal Research Officer right out of law school. While working here I met one of the most dedicated teams working on the cause, which would work tirelessly irrespective of hours and holidays. The sentiment and commitment was unparalleled. The exposure to workshops, conferences and deliberations on global efforts also made a world of difference to my understanding of the field. However, after working with Shakti Vahini for about a year, I had some realisations with respect to my field i.e. law and the role that I had envisaged for myself. While my work allowed me to interact with trafficking survivors, look into applicable state policies, track the developments in law, I felt stifled by the shortcomings in the legal system.
Even though the books draw a rosy picture of what ‘ought’ to be, what actually happens is far from ideal. It was because of this growing sentiment in my mind that I decided that I needed to be a part of the system as a lawyer. It was only upon practising law that I could understand the practical realities behind court functioning, the failed prosecutions etc. This is when I decided to switch to litigation and joined the chambers of Mr. Jain where while working on all kinds of commercial matters I got understanding of important skills like how to address courts, procedures etc. which come in handy even for pursuing litigation pertaining to social causes as well.
Even so, I continued to be in touch with the social sector by contributing in any way possible. For example, once I came across a situation where an NGO tried getting the child of a sex worker admitted into a shelter home, the shelter home despite having vacancy refused to admit the child on the grounds of their bias against his mother’s profession. Upon learning of this situation I recommended that we write about it to the Juvenile Justice Committee of the Delhi High Court. I drafted a letter detailing everything that had happened and submitted the same with the office of Chairperson of the Committee. Within a few days, I got to know that the idea had worked, the Committee had intervened and the shelter home had finally admitted the child.
My quest to make a difference didn’t diminish and I started advising battered women on their rights and even took up cases pro bono to get them maintenance orders. Due to my work experience in anti-human trafficking and working with women and children coupled with knowledge of law, I am frequently invited to conduct training programs for various stakeholders on sexual harassment laws. More recently, I was appointed by court to represent a husband-wife duo, in a rape trial, that has been languishing in jail for 6 years now.
All this while I continue to practise in various fields of law including commercial laws and it is a mix of these two areas that keeps me going. In fact, my paid litigation work more often than not subsidises my pro bono advisory and litigation.
- Make sure to give your best effort wherever and for however long you intern;
- Each internship counts and the relationships you make will last forever;
- Do not confine your internships to any specific field, it is only upon experimenting that you realise your real interests;
- Sticking to one particular sector/ field for doing internships, writing articles/papers etc. may be advisable if you are determined about pursuing your academic interests in that particular sector/field. It would be beneficial for obtaining scholarships as well, however, a balance can be struck and is good in the longer run as it empowers you to experiment later on in your career;
- Social work/pro bono advisory or litigation work can be done even with commercial practice. The avenues to contribute to social causes with your legal education are plenty and one can always work with the legal aid societies. Therefore it is not strictly about choosing one over the other;
- There are a number of famous lawyers who have wholly devoted themselves to the social sector and very actively pursue litigation around their chosen areas; ultimately it’s an individual choice.
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