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Conversation with Niranjan, Rhodes Scholar and litigator
Apprentice Lawyer

Conversation with Niranjan, Rhodes Scholar and litigator

Bar & Bench

Niranjan V., alumnus of National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore and a 2010 Rhodes Scholar, topped Oxford postgraduate programme beating 150 classmates in Bachelor of Civil Law Course. He topped in three subjects out of four and was awarded the John Morris prize, the Rupert Cross prize and the Gray’s Inn Tax Chamber Prize. Niranjan was also awarded the Vinerian Scholarship for over all topping the Bachelor of Civil Law.

Niranjan V, son of a chartered accountant had always dreamt of studying at Oxford and has indeed fulfilled his dreams with flying colors. He is now practicing in the Madras High Court

Bar & Bench spoke to Niranjan V on his achievements, experience at Oxford and decision to litigate in Madras High Court.

Bar & Bench: How does it feel to be a topper?

Niranjan V: It came as a complete surprise to me. More than anything else, I feel it was a privilege to have spent a year at Oxford under some of the best minds in the world. It was an unforgettable experience.

Bar & Bench: What was your first reaction when you heard about your results?

Niranjan V: I couldn’t believe it. I think it took several days for it to sink in.

Bar & Bench: Which subjects did you top in?

Niranjan V: Conflict of Laws (the John Morris Prize), Evidence (the Rupert Cross Prize) and Personal Taxation (the Gray’s Inn Tax Chambers Prize). My fourth subject was Restitution, and the Vinerian Scholarship was awarded for topping the BCL overall.

Bar & Bench:  Was the Course selection difficult?

Niranjan V: I think choosing four out of the forty odd courses on the BCL is among the hardest tasks one is set during the year! For me, Conflict of Laws and Restitution were automatic picks, for both courses allow a student to study the English common law at an advanced level. In addition, the subject themselves are fascinating and the faculty simply outstanding. That left two more to pick – I chose Evidence because it is (again) a common law subject with a lot of English cases, and Personal Taxation because taxation law in general interests me greatly, and also because Personal Taxation revolves around English law’s treatment of the taxation of trusts, a very interesting topic. These courses are also of great value to a litigating lawyer – Evidence, Taxation and Conflict of Laws have always been so, but Restitution has become a crucial area over the last 15 years or so, particularly with the many claims arising out of taxes mistakenly paid or unlawfully collected. I wish I could have studied Corporate Insolvency, but of course one must in the end pick four!

Bar & Bench: Being a student of NLSIU. Did it help and in what way?

Niranjan V: It did. I had the chance to study the common law and more generally courses involving a deep and comprehensive analysis of case law at various stages during my stint at NLSIU, particularly in Corporate Law, Constitutional Law – I (One) and Income Tax (which were wonderful courses). Participating in world class moot court competitions like Jessup and Vienna and the many opportunities to improve legal writing also helped a lot.

Bar & Bench: Do you see a difference in the method of teaching in Indian education system and Oxford, if yes what is it?

Niranjan V: There are certainly differences and I suppose that is inevitable when any two systems are compared. In particular, there is perhaps a greater emphasis at Oxford on depth of learning and thinking through difficult issues in the law – tutorial teaching, where a Professor teaches no more than two or three students at a time, is an important part of this. One is also exposed to cutting-edge scholarship – for example, hearing Lord Hoffmann and Laurence Rabinowitz QC speak on cases as important and complex as the Achilleas and the Aliakmon was simply exhilarating and was the highlight of my year at Oxford.

Bar & Bench: How does the method of teaching help a student?

Niranjan V: I think the greatest benefit is that it makes the heavy workload that one has on the commercial courses in the BCL a pleasure – it was exciting to reason one’s way through and slowly understand some of the intricacies of a few pockets of English law. It also means that a student is more likely to develop his own views on the correct approach to the legal questions he encounters. And the tutorials and seminars help one observe how some of the world’s best minds approach difficult legal questions, and that is often as valuable as learning substantive law.

Bar & Bench: How many hours did you study in a day?

Niranjan V: I spent a lot of time studying. But as I said, it was very enjoyable, and I’m happy I did it.

Bar & Bench: Was there a particular method you followed while preparing for exams?

Niranjan V: Nothing in particular. I just made sure I had read all the relevant cases (and articles), and spent time thinking about reconciling them, and also in trying to develop my thoughts on which approach is preferable etc.

Bar & Bench: Any advice you would like to give to the students of Law?

Niranjan V: I think every law student develops a method that works best for him. The only general comment that I have is that it makes it far easier to understand the law if one reads case law comprehensively and fully, instead of relying on accounts in secondary literature or worse, on head notes. Likewise with articles, especially those published in top journals like the LQR.

Bar & Bench: What inspired you to take up litigation?

Niranjan V: I don’t think I can single out anything in particular – I have always wanted to litigate, and that is the reason I went to law school. What I find exciting about it is that there is always an opportunity to think about deep legal issues, make legal arguments and write – perhaps more in litigation than in other areas of legal practice. And arguing law before a judge is remarkably exciting. The whole process of building a case, taking it to the judge and obtaining relief is very enjoyable.

Bar & Bench: Do you find any entry barriers to litigation? 

Niranjan V: I do not. Things have improved greatly and I think perhaps we have it a lot easier than did our predecessors a few decades ago.

Bar & Bench: Most of the NLS students do not opt for litigation. What’s your opinion about it?

Niranjan V: Whatever I know about this anecdotal, and I don’t think it is possible to give any definitive answer without a comprehensive study of why students make the choices that they do. Even though the number of NLS students who opt for litigation is numerically not as high as one might expect, it is perhaps true to say that most of those who are especially keen to litigate end up doing so, and that many of those who do not have a strong preference for or against litigation end up not litigating. Perhaps this is partly because of the perception that litigation is a hard grind in the early years. Ultimately, it is a personal call that every law student makes depending on what interests him more, and what he is willing to risk or give up in order to pursue that interest.

Bar & Bench: Being a NLS student does that help in an early recognition in terms of litigation? 

Niranjan V: I think one’s performance in court counts for a lot more than the college one has graduated from. That said the fact that there are inevitably NLS alumni practicing in the major High Courts in the country and in the Supreme Court can be very helpful to someone who joins the Bar, in terms of guidance and help.

Bar & Bench: Does the bar as well as the bench encourage young litigants? If not what are the other methods of motivation.

Niranjan V: I think quality is recognized at the Bar, and there are several opportunities today to do well.