The Scholars: NALSAR, Cambridge-grad Ridhi Kabra
Apprentice Lawyer

The Scholars: NALSAR, Cambridge-grad Ridhi Kabra

Bar & Bench

“The Scholars” focuses on law graduates and their experiences of higher studies in law. This time around  Ridhi Kabra, a graduate of NALSAR, Hyderabad and Cambridge University speaks to Bar & Bench about the Tapp Scholarship, the state of legal education in India and abroad, and more.

Bar & Bench: How were your law school days at NALSAR?

Ridhi Kabra: I was lucky to be part of an exceptionally talented and astoundingly smart batch, the “1st CLAT” batch, as we were called. Everybody has a defining moment during their course of study, and for me it was the whole process of preparing for and eventually winning the Willem C. Vis International Arbitration Moot Court Competition in 2012. The moot helped me discover that it was international arbitration that I wanted to pursue.

From then on, I focused on a career in arbitration/public international law, undertaking related internships, publishing articles in this field, and eventually, picking related courses during my LL.M. I must add that it was the lack of a good international arbitration professor, not just in NALSAR, but across the country that first made me think of a career as an academic.

My years in NALSAR were marked by serious difficulties- both personal and financial. My education was very generously funded by my uncle, and for him I had to ensure I made something of myself. I also had to ensure that I was financially secure and that drove me to participate in moot court competitions and essay competitions, and the prize money from these competitions were used to meet my expenses.

The message I am trying to get across is to all those people who do not come from privileged backgrounds is that perseverance pays, and it pays well. To those people who find themselves in similar, or worse, situations, I hope this story helps.

Bar & Bench: You won the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship to pursue an LL.M. at Cambridge.

Ridhi Kabra: While NALSAR helped me grow as a lawyer, Cambridge helped me grow as a person. Having the opportunity to interact with people from different jurisdictions and from disciplines other than law was not just refreshing, but also extremely enriching.

Cambridge was special for more than one reason – academically, it is undoubtedly the best institution to study public international law. Cambridge gave me the perfect platform do a master’s thesis with great supervision and guidance from Dr. Michael Waibel.

Socially, Cambridge teaches you to learn how to balance your life better. So although I had to put in the extra hours with my books, I was fortunate to have good friends, with whom I managed my fair share of dance lessons, formal dinners, parties, and the like.

Bar & Bench: Take us through the selection process for the Tapp Scholarship.

Ridhi Kabra: As a first step, one needs to select Gonville & Caius (G&C) as their preferred choice of college in the University of Cambridge’s admission form. This is because the WM Tapp Scholarship is offered by G&C and you need to be accepted as a member of G&C to be eligible for the scholarship. The next step is to submit a specific application to G&C. For a doctoral degree in law, the research proposal has to be attached to the application form. The application has to be supported by two letters of recommendation, preferably by professors you have studied under / worked with. It is important to have at least one recommendation from a professor who taught you during the LL.M. course.

Bar & Bench: What is your topic of research?

Ridhi Kabra: I intend to carry forward my research that I started during my LL.M. at Cambridge. It deals with ‘mass arbitrations’- a term that (for the purposes of my research) refers to the institution of investment arbitration by a group of claimants against a State.

The timing for my PhD couldn’t have been better. These are interesting times for ‘mass arbitrations’ since three cases decided between 2011-2014 have taken three separate approaches to the issue.

Bar & Bench: What are the career options on offer after completing a PhD?

Ridhi Kabra: In some senses, the PhD is not technically an added value if one is thinking of joining a law firm. Most law firms require lawyers with basic skill sets, i.e. lawyers who have an undergraduate degree, because most of the training is on the job. In fact, some consider a PhD (or in the case of some Indian law firms, even an LL.M.) to be a waste of 3 or more precious years of practical experience. Having said that, I have seen people use the LL.M./PhD route to get into foreign law firms.

Most people tend to do a PhD to start a career in academics. It is important however to distinguish between the Indian and foreign academic market. In India, one can start teaching after an LL.M. degree, but this is not the case with foreign institutions. An increasing number of students are opting for a PhD and this has contributed to competition in the sector.

Bar & Bench: Does legal education in India leave something to be desired? What can be learnt from foreign universities?

Ridhi Kabra: It’s quite apparent that the system lacks vision. Enough importance is not given to individual, original, analytical thinking. A lot of the blame for this falls on the lack of innovation among the faculty. A good example would be the answers expected in an Indian law school exam. Professors expect students to find the ‘right’ answer to a problem, failing to realize that, in most cases, the law may be open to multiple ‘right’ answers and it is the ability to identify these multiple interpretations that a professor should be rewarding.

Also, law universities do not provide enough guidance to students. I have had juniors asking me the “correct” way to structure a research paper, to research and prepare for a moot court competition, to apply for internships etc.

I think there’s a lot to be learnt from the approach taken by foreign universities. There are dedicated cells to assist with any and every problem that a law student may face, regular workshops to teach students how to conduct research or write a paper etc. In the current setup, guidance comes informally through the alumni, which though not by itself a bad thing, should not serve as a replacement for structured and systematic setups within the university itself.

Bar & Bench: What do you think needs to be done to get more law grads to join the academia?

Ridhi Kabra: It is my personal belief that the choice has to be your own. People have to stop thinking of academia as a back-up option. Teaching is an inherently selfless job and one needs to discover the joy in helping others learn.

Having said that, there are infrastructural obstacles that institutions need to overcome to attract law graduates to the academia. For example, most institutions do not have access to some basic legal resources (books, online databases, etc.) and for a law graduate starting a career in academia, it could be a major obstacle to conducting research and producing good work.

In addition, law schools need to think of offering better salaries to attract talent. Academia isn’t really an option for law graduates who have fiscal responsibilities towards their families.

Bar & Bench: Any advice on how to make the most of a legal education abroad?

Ridhi Kabra: If the goal of the legal education is to get a job abroad, then the education itself becomes secondary. A lot of time and energy has to be spent in meeting people, filling applications, attending events organized by law firms, etc. This comes at a cost of say, reading a few extra articles or case law prior to a lecture or a seminar.

On the other hand, if it is the education that is the focus, then I would say, read the assigned material before lectures. If there is something in particular that interests you, use the resources available to research on it, approach the professor concerned to discuss the issue even.

 I can’t speak for US universities, but UK universities give you the chance to attend many seminars and guest lectures outside of the classroom, and it’s nice to try and attend some. Debate and discussions with classmates  also contribute a lot to learning.

Finally, it’s important to do things outside of the classroom as there is much to be gained from the cultural exchange and the many friendships that can be made during the year.

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