NLU-J alumnus becomes the first Indian to join the ICJ as Law Clerk
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NLU-J alumnus becomes the first Indian to join the ICJ as Law Clerk

Bar & Bench

Shashank P. Kumar, an alumnus of National Law University, Jodhpur (NLU-J) , practising in the area of International Law has been selected to join the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as a University Trainee/Clerk for 2012-13. Previously, Shashank interned for six months at the World Trade Organisation’s  Appellate Body Secretariat in 2011-12.

Shashank (pictured left) specialized in International Trade and Investment Law at NLU-J and holds a masters degree, with a focus on International Law, from Yale Law School. As the first Indian to be appointed as a clerk at the ICJ, Shashank has proved how focused studies and planning can help attain these heights.

Here are the excerpts from our interview with Shashank.

Bar & Bench: How do you feel about being the first Indian to join the ICJ as a clerk?

Shashank P. Kumar:  I am excited to be joining the ICJ as a University Trainee/Clerk for the 2012-13 term. Professionally, these are exciting times to be at the ICJ in The Hague. With as many as 13 disputes pending at the ICJ, the current docket represents diverse subject matters, including both “traditional” (such as territorial and maritime disputes) and more “novel” (such as human rights) issues. Apart from this, as an Indian, there is much to look forward to. Justice Dalveer Bhandari (of the Indian Supreme Court) has recently been elected as a Judge of the ICJ. It is after 21 years that the ICJ will have a judge of Indian nationality and I consider myself fortunate for being selected at such an opportune time. India is involved in several international disputes, as well (the Kishenganga arbitration with Pakistan and the maritime boundary dispute with Bangladesh, both at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, for example).

Personally, I see the clerkship as a great learning experience and as an opportunity to contribute to the peaceful settlement of international disputes to the best of my abilities. In an age that witnesses a proliferation of “specialist” international adjudicatory institutions, it is important to contextualize the role of international institutions and the international judicial function in global governance. Having worked at one such “specialist” adjudicatory body – the WTO Appellate Body responsible for finally adjudicating disputes under WTO law between states – I am particularly looking forward to my experience.

Bar & Bench: Can you please tell us more about your stint at the WTO?

Shashank P. Kumar:  I interned at the WTO’s Appellate Body Secretariat (“ABS”) for six months in 2011-12. The Appellate Body (“AB”) is the final adjudicatory organ of the WTO and is responsible for deciding inter-state disputes relating to the WTO Covered Agreements (the GATT, GATS and TRIPS for example). My internship at the AB coincided with one of its busiest and most productive periods and served as a great initiation into the world of international trade disputes. Structurally, the AB is slightly different from a traditional “court”. The standing adjudicatory body – the AB in itself – comprises of seven individuals from different WTO Members/countries and different backgrounds. The AB is supported in its work by a team of lawyers and support staff  that form the AB Secretariat. I found this to be an extremely efficient structure in the context of the WTO. Personally, I was able to deepen my understanding of WTO law, made some really good friends, and enjoyed the diversity and dynamism of the AB and its Secretariat. Incidentally, my term at the AB Secretariat also saw the appointment of an Indian AB Member – Mr. Ujal Singh Bhatia (only the second Indian AB Member after Mr. A. V. Ganesan).

Bar & Bench: How did you plan your career? Who is your guide/mentor?

Shashank P. Kumar:  Like most Indian students, my first encounter with International Law and dispute settlement was through moots. My initial moots sparked my interest in Public International Law. An important formative experience was my participation in the Vis Moot in Vienna in my third year, and I enjoyed its emphasis on advocacy skills and factual analysis. As I discovered, however, moots were only the tip of the fascinating iceberg that is International Law. Quite opposite to the criticism of International Law being “hortatory”, I developed a belief in the desirability of effective international dispute settlement in an increasingly interconnected and globalizing world order.

Despite the fact that my last two years at NLU-J were spent specializing in International Economic Law, I considered it necessary to undertake a deeper and more focused study of International Law. My LL.M. at Yale Law School positioned me on the intellectual frontiers of International Law thinking, and also provided a brief-peep into the reality of international dispute settlement. In fact, at the ICJ, I will be serving as the Yale Law Fellow for 2012-13, and am grateful to Yale Law School for its support.

I have been fortunate to have several “guides/mentors” thus far. Outside the boundaries of the traditional label, however, I have learned as much from my peers and friends.

Bar & Bench: How did NLU Jodhpur influence your career choices and how was the learning experience there? 

Shashank P. Kumar:  As the starting-point of my legal education NLU-J obviously influenced, in its own quaint ways, my desire to pursue a career in International Law and dispute settlement. The course structure at NLU-J was excellent for students who wished to specialize in a particular area of law during their five years of the BA/BSc/BBA LLB (Hons.) course. As part of the “Honours” program, one could specialize in a particular area of law during the last two years of study. My informed choice of specializing in International Trade and Investment Law obviously provided a foundational force for my career. The course content, though slightly dated by today’s standards, was still quite relevant. As I said before, my moots, both within and outside NLU, provided the laboratory for all the thoughts and ideas developed in the classroom. Another good feature was the freedom to undertake independent supervised research under the faculty. I credit my experience with the NLU-J journal “Trade, Law and Development” for always keeping me abreast of the latest developments and ideas in the field of International Law and legal writing generally.  That said, I still believe there is much to be desired for international legal education specifically, and legal education generally, in Indian law schools.

Bar & Bench:  What are your future plans? 

Shashank Kumar:  Now that’s a tough one for anybody!

Seriously, however, for now I would like to continue my career in international dispute settlement as a lawyer. I enjoy the creativity involved in the study and practice of international law and find the field challenging and interesting. Thus far, working at appellate institutions has trained me in the details of legal analysis; as I move forward my only aim would be to apply my skills and knowledge in the best and most effective ways possible.

On a more personal note, I remain interested in the academic and scholarly side of international law, as well as the state of legal education in India, and I am always looking for opportunities to further these interests. I am also working on initiatives that seek to promote greater awareness of international law in India and the majority world at large.

Bar & Bench: Any advice for Indian students wishing to pursue a career in international law?

Shashank P. Kumar:  I am no one to offer advice, but would only encourage Indian students to take up the study and practice of international law. Though a comparatively small field, the work is quite challenging and rewarding. The are a number of sub-disciplines one can choose from: international commercial and investment arbitration, WTO law and practice, inter-state disputes and diplomatic relations, to name a few. For students, it is perhaps important to remember that International Law exists beyond moots. I would also recommend higher studies if one aims for such a career. With India’s growing prominence at the world stage, more international lawyers would only contribute towards India’s constructive engagement with the world community. Though at first it may seem that there are several obstacles to a career in International Law for an Indian law student, on a closer look, there exist many opportunities, as well.

NB: To the best of our knowledge, Shashank is the first Indian to clerk at the ICJ. We await official confirmation from the ICJ.

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