Saket M graduated from Law School in 2011. In 2015, he secured Rank 14 in the UPSC Examinations. He will soon be joining the Indian Foreign Services. Quirk wanted to know his reflections on his Law School experience.
Abdal Akhtar mentions on Lawctopus of how he thinks that the current format of UPSC is most suited to law students. What is your opinion?
I do agree that the Mains format is suited to law students but I would qualify that by saying that this exam is not about any single stage or paper. You need to perform consistently well across 3 stages (prelims, mains and interview). So while being from Law school might help with writing answers in the Mains – it could equally boomerang against law students. I know of several people from law school who called me and said they were having difficulty in being concise and informative because our first reaction as law schoolites is to put in some faff, be a little verbose. Habits which could lead to elimination if not checked.
So yes, use your legal knowledge and skills but also remember to tone down the faff, the tendency to be verbose, or to take excessively critical or opinionated stands.
Also remember that during your interview, the standards they will have in terms of how you articulate your stand will be exceptionally high and on a bad day this could actually work against you. I personally know a couple of seniors who got hustled during the interview with the familiar “But you’re from NLS! How do you not know this?”
What values did you pick up at JSA and Luthra? Could you have made it to Rank 14 without spending years at JSA and Luthra?
JSA is a truly wonderful firm and if the kind of work it did (regulatory litigation) was more interesting, I would have totally stayed back there. It is possibly the most democratic and equitable Tier 1 Law firm I have been in. I do have a principled objection to family run and promoter driven firms but at the end of the day, money talks.
I have not been at Luthra and Luthra long enough to comment, but I am thankful to both firms for not firing me even though there were months when I must have billed 5 rupees.
I honestly do not know if I could- I would not venture into such conjecture but yes without JSA none of the vacations or the BMW would have happened! So for that I am thankful!
There are a lot of Law Schoolites preparing for civil services at the moment. Any specific advice for them?
At the risk of repetition please do this exam only if you are sure you are going to love studying for it.
Do not do it because you think Law firms are boring or you want to be an “IAS.” Carefully weigh the pros and cons of your decision. I am sure I will crib when I get my first Government of India pay cheque in September 2015- But let’s hope the 7th Pay commission redeems my decision!
Always have a good backup- I have no qualms in admitting that on a bad day I could have ended up with Rank 400 and this exam requires as much luck as it does hard work. So give it your best shot- Do what you can do from your side and leave the rest to destiny-
Most importantly do not treat success or failure in this exam as a reference point of your abilities- Be resilient if you fail and move on- Be humble and level headed if you succeed. All the best!
Which course in Law School changed you the most and why?
This is a difficult one! I do not think I can name any one single course which changed me as such. Looking back at my Law School days, I do think the combined effect of the faculty and the peer group did shape the way I thought about a lot of things. But I think the three most memorable courses in no particular order have to be:
History: I do not think Lizzie and I ever got along with each other and I am sure we both had very strong views about each other’s ideologies/personality types, etc. But looking back, I think History was the first course where you realize the power of interpretation – the role of editorial/historical/journalistic bias and how not to take anything you ever read for granted. It really does teach you how to question and critically analyze so many issues which you otherwise wouldn’t have given much thought. I definitely would like to believe that over time I became far less of an entitled prick I was in my first year.
Economics: Somu’s one liners. The trouble he takes to keep students engaged in the course and the kind of rigour with which you need to read just to pass. I think even though I was a science student I developed a keen interest in Economics which helped me later on during my UPSC prep days.
Constitutional Law: Sudhir Krishnaswamy threatened us that if we did not read the actual text of the case law he quoted in class we would sink like stones. He kept his word. It was possibly the first (and last) time I ever read the actual judgments for a law school course!
What is your one regret from your time at Law School?
I think I did not do justice to my college education. I was pretty lazy and laid back and undisciplined. Most extra-curricular activities took place over the weekends and I was usually chilling in Hyderabad at that time. As long as I didn’t get too many repeats and was never in danger of losing a year I didn’t care much for academics. I hope the path I have chosen helps me redeem 5 years of laziness and debauchery!
What is your favourite memory of Law School?
During my first year we were in charge of chaperoning a lot of senior judges and bar council members. I was messing around with my batchmate George’s phone but inadvertently sent a “What’s up asshole” to [an unnamed senior dignitary]. The problem was he had the number stored and was livid with the hospitality committee and started blasting some of my seniors who had no clue what was going on because he thought one of them was George. In the meantime these guys called me to clarify, but by then I had already taken the cab which was supposed to pick him up to the Brigade Road Subway because I was really hungry. The end result was we got show caused by EMC, which banned us from stepping out for a week. This resulted in a turf war with SDGM whose then convenor personally took me out of the campus to prove a point. Needless to say, I was never allowed to pick up any NLS guest ever again and cab usage was strictly monitored.
In an interview elsewhere you spoke of ‘NLS Values’ and experiences opening your eyes to a whole new world and expanding your horizons. Could you elaborate on these values or experiences?
Before I came to NLS, I lived in a pretty rarefied atmosphere and never gave serious social or political issues much thought. I also had this myopic view of merit and thought that I am here in this college because I am the 27th best possible candidate in that year. I had a rather existentialist view on a lot of issues – yes, the world is an unfair place. Too bad. But I think over time I became much more aware of issues like caste/class/religion – their complexity and how difficult it is to actually find solutions. Whether it is discrimination faced by Dalits or women or Muslims or any other marginalized groups – I now realize that there are some serious structural issues that we as a country need to solve if we can even hope to achieve a modicum of inclusive growth.
We keep hearing the phrase “Falling Standards of Law School”? What do you make of this phrase? Do you think the standards are actually falling?
I honestly think no single individual or senior has any aukaad to pass judgment on the standards of law school as they were/are. A lot of idiots just say that to feel better about themselves rather than make a serious point or contribute in any way to the solution.
Having said that, I do believe that academic standards have been relaxed between my time in first year and fifth year. I don’t think it would be proper to comment on what they were in 2004 and what they are now because I honestly have no idea. Some faculty members did tend to resort to very ad hoc marking patterns. I am sure the institution does have several problems but a lot of them are not unique to NLS alone. But I would like to believe that relative to other institutions, law school is still better off, even though we may have a lot of ground to cover and actually realize our full potential.
SDGM has become a controversial committee in Law School in recent years, how did you deal with SDGM in your time here?
SDGM was the bane of my existence in first year and I think I had a record number of show causes, I can’t be sure but around 10 or 11. But to be fair to them, while a lot of us might like absolutely no restrictions on our freedom to smoke or drink or do whatever else, I do strongly believe that someone has to do that thankless job. The problem arises when some of the members go on a power trip and make a special effort to target certain people they don’t like or be assholes in general. I think a fair bit of give and take is involved on both sides. I never got into too much trouble with SDGM after first year, although I do remember having this one birthday party at Nyx where I happily went home but a lot of other guests landed up late and drunk at 1AM at Gate 1. It was dubbed the Keshavananda Bharati show cause with some 30 people getting show caused in one of the classrooms in the Acad. Ah, good times.
There are a lot of first years reading this interview, anything in specific that you would like to say to them?
Law school will probably suck in the first few weeks or month – You are away from home – dumbass seniors will be asking you for your top 5 or trying to engage in needless debate over whether Bengal is better than Bihar or AP is better than Telangana- I kept thinking of going back to NALSAR in my first month. But I have no doubt that the next 5 years are going to be the best 5 years. Don’t waste these years drinking on the terrace or being an over competitive asshole in the library- Find a good balance and I’m sure you guys will kill it.
On a lighter note, Ganga or Cauvery?
I was in Ganga but Cauvery was where the party was at.
What was your standard order at Rohini?
At Rohini, it was dal tadka and kadhai chicken. But I usually ate at Peking.