De Lege Lata: Playing in the sand box v/s Real life projects

Law students in top NLUs work very hard, not only at academics but usually at a number of other pursuits, such as mooting, debating, law review, various college societies, organizing conferences and symposiums etc. Even in non-NLU law colleges, good students try to do these things emulating the NLU students.

These are all considered important CV building exercises, and if you are smart, you can use these well for networking as well.

There is no doubt that these are very good pursuits. However, the problem is that most students totally get caught up in the web of these activities and completely fail to cash in on an amazing and unique opportunity people only get in college.

It is indeed a tragedy because you can completely elevate your law school experience to a different level altogether if you just readjust your sails a bit. That is what we are going to talk about in this piece.

The time you are going to spend in college is limited and precious

The time you spend in college is limited and precious. When you stare at 5 years of law school or even 3 years, it may seem a never-ending long period, but believe me, it will get over in a blink.

During this period, you have a lot of freedom, a lot of time on your hands and a young, fresh mind. Most of you will not have to worry about basic questions of life such as what to eat, how to afford rent or buying expensive things like cars or houses.

Most of you would not have any major responsibilities in life. You do not have children or old family members to look after. And hopefully, you have boundless energy and optimism, a natural side effect of youth.

Things would not be this way forever.

After you graduate, you will probably get a job, in which you would work somewhere between 10-14 hours a week. You will spend a lot of time commuting. Being lawyers, you will bring work home and probably sleep very little.

You will struggle to make time to go to the gym or for a walk. Your doctor will scold you and tell you that your lifestyle is unsustainable.

One in three lawyers apparently have depression, according to studies, and incidence of mental health problems is much higher among lawyers as opposed to any other profession.

Yes, lawyers earn a lot of money and wield a lot of power in our society, but it’s also a crazy rat race to the top. The people down the chain often get crushed.

It is unlikely that you will get much time to innovate, experiment, invest time into self-development, or even take a breather when you become a lawyer and begin a job or even begin to practice independently.

From that perspective, the time and the freedom to experiment you have while you are in college is invaluable. You will never get an opportunity like this again.

Don’t tell me you are already too busy and have no time

Don’t tell me you are already too busy with academics and mooting and stuff, and that you don’t have time for anything else. That’s rubbish. You have no idea what is busy. Wait till you join a real job, then you would know what is busy. What you are doing currently is probably not even one fourth or one-tenth of what you will be doing as a full time professional in a well-paid job.

My friends in big law firms often work through the night, months after months, and not sleep even for 4-5 hours a day. I know people regularly fall sick from working too much. Those who work in courts, have to spend the day in the court, and then they go back to the chamber to do the next days drafting, study and preparation. It is rare for them to finish before midnight.

And this cycle goes on and on until one is senior enough to hire a bunch of reliable juniors to reduce the workload. Or maybe until they start their own law firm and get some control over their own time and decide what matters to take and what to reject.

Young lawyers who graduate from law school and join the profession, usually have to work three times harder, simply because they have no idea about what is going on. They are not taught the practical aspects of law. Hence they have to learn everything on the fly as they are trying to do the work.

This means they repeatedly make mistakes at work and their bosses shout at them and ask them to do everything from scratch again. As a result, they end up spending more time than necessary at work.

Many young lawyers can’t take this pressure and quit or have nervous breakdowns. In big law firms and chambers of lawyers, such meltdowns are quite a common phenomenon.

The least you can do is to work regularly and develop yourself strategically and continuously so that you can have the discipline and mental preparation to deal with this gargantuan work pressure with elan and style when you join the profession.
Success is not accidental. You only get the opportunity to do such experiments as freely as you could in college. In college, you will rarely find this kind of opportunity for self-improvement and self-development once again, unless you secure enough riches to take a break and experiment without having to worry about earning.

How do most law students spend their time?

Law students spend more time talking about, gossiping about, worrying about and thinking about exams rather than actually studying for exams.

Law students spend a lifetime talking about moots, gossiping about moots, worrying about and thinking about moots than actually learning how to do well in moots.

They expect someone in college is going to come and make them learn things and tell them what to do, which never happens. They see the bevy of choices of various activities before them and hope that doing some of these will somehow get them to the point of success.

Even worse, some of them assume that they are going to get a great job anyway because they are part of an elite institution. They just need to wait till the time is right.

They take weeks to write a single article, whereas they would get a few hours to write much more substantial pieces at their jobs in real life a few years down the line. Even most of the good students fail to publish more than 2-3 articles in their whole college life.

Some of them work for law reviews, out of which only a few have any decent standards, while the rest just exists for beefing up CVs of the students with very little relevance to anyone else.

Law students usually spend a lot of time volunteering for various college activities as well. However, these are often randomly selected and do not necessarily contribute to their development. This helps colleges as they get free labour but is that always enough?

Most law students stop doing everything else in life from one or two months before exams. They save their time for studying but then rarely study that much. In any case, they prepare at the last moment before the exam, through all-nighter study sessions. However, that does not stop them from not taking up other projects during those months!

This is how typical law students spend most of their productive time in law school. If there are some important things I am missing please let me know!

Playing in the sandbox v. real life projects: understand the difference

I describe activities such as mooting, debating, writing for law reviews that nobody reads and MUNs etc as playing in the sandbox. Please be careful to not spend all your time playing in the sandbox. Even academics in India is mostly sandbox.

Why do I call this playing in the sandbox? These are small games that are supposed to develop some skills and virtues in you. However, these have no real-life impacts. These will be CV points that would demonstrate your “potential”, but does not demonstrate “actual abilities”. If you win a moot, you may think you are on the path to be an amazing lawyer, but it would not be true at all.

However, if you take up some pro bono case of some people who cannot afford a lawyer, but has been stuck in some unjust situation, and get them justice, you will actually take a much bigger and effective stride towards becoming a good lawyer.

The principle is simple. Is there something you can do that has a real-life impact, whether or not people will pay for the same?

I would suggest that you instead spend at least some of your time, if not most of it, pursuing such projects that have real-life impact.

How do you use your time in college the best: experimental projects?

Find your project. What kind of injustice boils your blood?

What are your personal experiences of injustice? Can you stop such things from happening in the world for other people?

Where can you give your time, energy and focus and make a difference in the world?

What are the things that give you joy, satisfaction and a purpose in life?

Stop worrying about academics and moot and CV, and pursue these things. At least one thing. Could it be writing? Could it be legal aid?

How can you make the legal aid centre better? In most colleges legal aid centre is dysfunctional. Can you start a legal aid centre on your own, outside the control of your college, which will likely dumb down things on every stage and put up obstacles anyway?your friends and peers may help you. Most will not, but find one or two or three people who will. Make those people you want to work with read this. They will understand the importance if they are the right people.

After all, this opportunity will not come again.

When you begin to work on real-life projects, you will also begin to understand what are the skills you need to develop in order to succeed in the world. That is when you will really begin to invest in yourself, because effort and reward will be visible to you on your face.

You can only do a few things, and the years will pass by very fast. So chose the activities with maximum impact, because the value you get in life is directly proportional to the impact you create in your environment.

And it is a thousand times better to be picked up for your abilities than for your potential that one hopes will someday develop into some ability.

You will probably succeed accidentally, but that is why it is so important to engage in the right experiments while you are in college.

Finally, it is a battle of mindsets. You need to focus on generating more and more value for people, rather than competing with them as if you are chasing the same things and you have beat them one way or the other.

Subham Chatterjee

Subham Chatterjee is a penultimate year law student from Tezpur Law College, Assam. Apart from excelling in academics, he has presented papers in national seminars, contributed chapters in edited books published internationally. He also brought accolades by winning Moot Court Competition, Client counselling competition and Quiz Competitions apart from participating in various competitions. He has recently authored an ISBN book 'Land Laws of Assam: A Reference Book for the students of Gauhati University" He is also a trained Hindustani Classical (Vocal) and Rabindra Sangeet singer.

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