Amal Sethi is a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania Law School where he researches on democracy, courts, and constitutions. He also holds an LLM from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and an LLB from the Government Law College, Mumbai. In addition to his academic work, he is also involved with several intergovernmental organizations in the United Nations system and frequently assists with cases at international courts and tribunals.

Q. What difference did you experience in the field of legal education in India and in the US? Where do you think India lacks or needs improvement as far as legal education is concerned?

While it’s tough to answer this question because at the end of the day a lot boils down to how particular professors go about their courses, I think the major difference I felt was twofold – Firstly, in how people think of the ‘law’ and that guides legal education a lot and Secondly, the quality of academics involved in legal education. 

As far as the first point is concerned, while both countries are common-law jurisdictions and share overarching similarities, in India, I believe people consider the law to be far more court centric. The court does not have many limitations on the extent of what they can do. Often the Supreme Courts’ word on a topic is considered final and not subject to further debate. There is not much deliberation at the law school level on how the court comes to its decision and the effects of its decision, there is just discussion on what is the court’s decision. While Indian legal education is changing and taking a lot of insights from its foreign counterparts, a typical Indian law school class discusses laws and jurisprudence that exist with respect to those laws. The examinations require one to memorize those laws and the cases, and the best exam answer is the one that presents the most accurate picture of the existing state of case laws, this also happens to be how large part of Indian education is. 

On the other hand, while the American approach also most of the time is court centric, yet it is not only that. There are more integral debates on how a court is to find the meaning of the law, or adjudicate a case, or what is legitimate for a court to do and not do. There is a lot of interdisciplinary thinking to the law as well – from fields such as political science, economics, history, sociology, language, and philosophy. This, to a large extent, impacts the content of a course. One of the most observed outcomes of the aforesaid results in the focus of legal education being an in-depth discussion of the ‘How, Why and What’ of principles comprising a particular area of law in American Law Schools, in contrast with being a lot about what courts have stated about a particular topic in Indian law schools. 

On the second point, I think the American Law School system has a lot more full-time academicians, who are very well trained, working in legal education. This results in legal education being more academic with more emphasis on critical thinking, not to forget just the plain quality of teaching and research. I also think this is the area where Indian legal education can improve on and which would go a long way in producing better lawyers. Most of our best lawyers learn things on the job and not in law schools. However, to improve legal education, government law schools, which are the top destinations for legal education in India, have to realize the value top talent brings to legal institutions and be ready to hire top talent, remove red tape to them joining such institutions, pay them competitive salaries, allocate funding for research/research activities, etc. Currently, at the bulk of the top legal institutes in the country, that is something that is rarely happening at the rate required. In the meantime, it is a very positive development that certain private universities and autonomous institutions are doing whatever is possible to fill that void and establish themselves as strong destinations for legal research in India. 

Q. Why did you pick the US over any other country, considering that the US is the most expensive for higher education?

My first preference was definitely the US over any other country because my aim was to pursue a doctorate, and the kind of work I was interested in at that time had more research going on in the US than any other jurisdiction. However, the decision to pick the US became easier for me because when scholarships and other funding options were taken into account, there wasn’t much of a difference in cost between the options I had in the US compared to other jurisdictions. 

Q. How did you arrange funding for your education ?  

A mix of university and external merit scholarships, interest-free loan scholarships, and self-funding. 

Q. What are your future plans professionally ?

The goal is to get a tenure-track professorship at a major research university. 

Q. What advise will you give to young lawyers and law students in India who want to pursue higher education?

Pursue higher studies as a means to an end and not because you are going through a quarter-life crisis and/or do not know what you want to do with your life. A graduate degree will not magically solve all your problems/confusions. Knowing why you want a graduate degree and what you intend to do with it (and how you intend to go about it), will help you get much more out of your graduate degree. In the absence of the same, a graduate degree is nothing more than a line on your resume. 

Q. What role do you think technology can play in the practice of law? Do you think the US legal system uses more technology than the Indian system?

I almost never print papers, use notepads, or physical copies of books, so I surely do use a lot of technology in my work, this also means I barely ever head to an actual library for research. I conduct most of my research using google, online databases and legal search engines and very rarely do I not find something I need for my work. I use a lot of tools, software, and file hosting services for organizing my research as well. I shifted completely to technology around the time of starting graduate studies and I have seen the positive change that technology has had on my own work and research – organization, time, and output. I could potentially revisit, work on, or even share any aspect of my work or research using just my mobile phone. This was an automatic result of technology being very ubiquitous in the US legal system. I guess this answers the second part of the question. Coming back to the first part, in similar ways as technology has been helpful to me, I do feel technology can play a huge role in any ‘practice of law’ – it just results in more output, better organization, and better use of time. There is a lot of status-quo bias which results in practitioners in India not embracing technology to its full potential. I surely think that if people involved in the practice of law can get over their initial apprehensions about technology, then they can simplify their work to a large extent – no matter what it is – technology in today’s time has a simplified solution for every aspect of your work.

Q. How are you dealing with the lockdown? How do you keep busy?

Well, as I had mentioned in the previous question, my work pretty much requires a laptop and an internet. As an academic, not much has changed in terms of my work – there are a lot of projects that I was working on when we went into lockdown, which I continue to work on. But the ability to not go out and the lack of human interaction has undoubtedly taken a toll on me just like it has on everyone else. Productivity is down. However, on the bright side, there is a little extra Netflix these days.

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