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Open Letter to Law Students

This article was written by Sakhi Shah (Batch of 2017).

Dear Law School-ite,

I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but chances are very high that you either are, or on the path of becoming, a boring person.

It’s not really your fault. It is the product of generations of wisdom that is handed down to you from seniors, wisdom that amounts to essentially this: be afraid. In our collective imaginations, we have made Law School into a monster with project submissions at its teeth, six-day weeks as its claws, and the trimester system itself as its dark heart. We pat ourselves on the back for passing each trimester and submitting each project. We struggle through days of watching TV shows and the occasional all-nighter right before the exam. We have succumbed to a culture of complaining, where more time is spent thinking and cribbing about what you’re doing than actually doing anything. I will admit that I have fallen prey to this myself often in Law School.

Sadly, what I’ve learnt is that this not only destroys your enthusiasm for your own college experience but also makes you a pretty damn boring person. Exhausted by the imaginary struggles of doing the bare minimum work required to get through college, we tend to think that there is just no time for pursuing anything with any real interest or passion. Most of us stop reading, stop painting or dancing or singing (except at Univ Week). We start joining committees to get them on our CVs and then do the bare minimum over there as well.

Occasionally, it makes sense to go through that very CV and think about what you have on it that makes you interesting. What do you have on there that you could talk intelligently about to a person you met at a party? Which part of your CV is something that you achieved rather than just a position you were at? In the hyper-competitive world that we live in, is anyone particularly interested in either a laundry list of boring generic positions of responsibility overloaded with multiple committees and a so-so performance at many middling moots? Are they interested in how you got through sixty courses and exams and projects (i.e., what all your peers did) and how difficult it was? Nope. These things are not inspiring and they’re not valuable. They make you boring.

The first step to being an interesting person is to stop telling yourself how difficult Law School is. We are in class for five hours a day. This includes your breaks and your commute (in most cases). In many classes, we switch off mentally or physically, taking this time to nap, work on other things, daydream, or read. Compare this to several other Law Colleges in the country (and the non-undergraduate courses even in NLS), where students are in class till 4 or 6 every evening. Compare this to a law firm, where you will be at work (and working hard) for perhaps 12 hours a day. Hell, if you think law firms are drudgery, think about the entry-level requirements of any profession – to do well you will have to work very hard for many, many years. If not anything else, do what we’re very fond of doing and compare yourself to colleges in the West: how many classes in all five years of Law School do you read a hundred pages a day for?

Once you realize that Law School is not difficult, you also realize that you’re wasting a lot of time. I have a challenge for you: for one trimester, refuse to do any college work after six in the evening. From say three to six, devote yourself with energy to whatever task you’re doing. This time is more than enough to make good projects, read for class, and study for exams, provided you do it about five days a week and don’t spend more time worrying about how hard it is than doing it.

You’ll find you have a lot of free time on your hands. Now, use it. If you came to Law School as one of those lucky people who know what they want to do with their lives, spend your time identifying your next goal and taking concrete steps towards achieving it. If you want to do an LLM, work towards research and publishing papers. If you want to be in a law firm, read more than necessary for every class so you’re turning in papers and answers that are so far beyond the base level that a teacher can’t help but give you an O.

However, if you, like most people in Law School, have no idea at all what you want to do, you’re going to have a different task. You must work towards finding interesting things. You must attend campus lectures and go into research centers. You must go off campus and explore Bangalore. You must run marathons. You must party like you mean it. You must open yourself to opportunities till you can find one that you find so exciting that it keeps you up in the night and wakes you up in the morning. And you must stick with it even when it stops being exciting, even when Law School gets hard.

Note: this cannot be something you do half-heartedly. If you write, you can’t be the person who writes the occasional over-laborious poem. You must know everything anyone has ever said about writing. You must read. You must write every day and write different things.

It doesn’t have to be a moot or a committee. If what gets you out of bed is League of Legends, play till your fingers bleed. Then find a way to create something or engage with it. Make video tutorials about your favourite game. Write a blog post based on your favourite book. Write a Quirk article on Happy Hours in Bangalore. Write a collection out of the stories that your grand-parents told you. Being passive is not acceptable. You must create something of value to the world, something that will have measurable standards of success, such as people following you on YouTube or being published by Quirk. (Sadly, a personal record of how many shots you can down without passing out is probably not valuable to the world.)

Perhaps you will end up finding your passion in life. Perhaps (and more likely) you will simply learn transferable skills that you can use to build a life and a career you enjoy.

Becoming a non-boring person requires sacrifices. One of the most important will probably be traditional achievements. When your friends become Conveners of committees or do moot court competitions, you will question whether you are hurting your future prospects by not having a laundry list of such activities on your CV. Even if you do go the traditional achievements route (and we do need Convenors and mooters, we always will), you must question at every stage what you are doing that is remarkable. Bringing the deficit of a committee down by a few lakhs is awesome. Organizing the same festival in the same way that people have done for ten years … maybe not so much. Another sacrifice will be that of time. Joining a charitable initiative or a journal in fourth year because you need to look like a good person in your applications isn’t enough for you to do remarkable things in that initiative or journal. Doing amazing things requires you to pay your dues and learn how things are done so you can build something truly wonderful in whatever field you choose.

Three and a half years into Law School (and many applications later) I have learnt that a CV can only be two pages and it is usually not enough for a laundry list of stuff. The only things that are staying on there are the things where I did something remarkable, and I’ve found that the remarkable is only hidden in the nooks and crannies of my work. It’s the stuff I stayed up nights to do. It’s what got me out of bed in the morning. It’s what was not average.

I’ve also learnt that you can’t fake interestingness. Most interviewers, prospective clients (and prospective love interests) have seen enough people with the full gamut of achievements on their CV. There is a point when you realize that your CV is identical to that of most other people you know (or worse, that it is not and you have not done anything). In such a situation, what makes you unique or noticeable? What makes people sit up and notice you?

And most importantly, beyond anyone else, what do you want out of Law School? What do you want out of life? And how are you going to get there?

Law School is not the real monster. The real monster is a culture of mediocrity that we are slowly and surely building in our educational institutions, workplaces, and personal lives. Though this culture is not your fault, it’s only solution lies through personal effort, sacrifice, and experimentation. You (even the first years) have been here long enough for the transition period to be over, and chances are, so is your starry-eyed period. When the dust clears, who are you going to be? And what is Law School going to be, because of you?



Published in Gyaan


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