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Doing badly at doing good / Issue 86

Legally India newsletter
Legally India newsletter

At India’s law schools legal aid and pro bono culture is flourishing but somewhere along the line lawyers seem to lose the opportunity to do good.

NUJS Kolkata hosted a conference on legal aid last weekend, which was attended by enthusiastic students and professors from more than 24 national, non-national and regional law schools, as well as legal luminaries such as Prof Madhava Menon. Read Legally India’s live blog from the event here.

The work the students do is difficult and necessary in a country where justice, let alone access to justice, has little practical meaning to the average aam admi. (see blogger cogitasocietatis’ take on it).

But in a country the size of India there are never enough hands to go around and for most students legal aid cells or societies at college are still a distant second or third behind mooting, debating, sports or other campus activities.

The blame should lie with the legal profession. Anecdotally most law firms only see few ‘CV points’ in legal aid and during interviews topics of conversation are more likely to be journals, mooting or law school political achievements than grassroots legal work performed in rural and urban India. In a place where a lucrative graduate job is the sine qua non for many, legal aid will continue to suffer unfairly in student preferences.

This should not be so. The client-handling skills a young lawyer can pick up in explaining rights and remedies to a villager with little grasp of English or Hindi are immense. And finding practical legal or other remedies for clients with limited means, financially and otherwise, is something that corporate clients usually want to see more of from their lawyers. The Bar Council would do well to make a minimum of legal aid compulsory to everyone's legal education.

Yet when a law school legal aider does make it into a corporate law firm or the courts, most have to abandon any ambition to include corporate social responsibility (CSR) in their work schedules, unlike at most international law firms or chambers. While individual partners and advocates might try to fly the flag for CSR high, very rarely is there honest and committed buy-in from the top or the institution.

Profits would surely not suffer much with deals such as BP’s potentially $20bn joint venture with Reliance Industries around and with some clients a CSR story or two might actually help swing the pitch.

In Delhi this week, DSK Legal landed a bit of a coup in Delhi with a 14-lawyer team joining from Paras Kuhad, while UK firm Penningtons has boosted its India practice in a major way with a Platinum lawyer and a London boutique founder with India focus.

Finally, the second Mooting Premier League sponsored by Allen & Overy is poised on a knife-edge after the second Super Sunday live blog with four moots: Nalsar and NUJS are now tied in first. The pressure is on for Hyderabad, says one of its mooting stars in the latest MPL Live interview but with this weekend’s upcoming action they have a good chance to do good.

On 12 March Legal League Consulting is hosting a law firm management workshop on Creating Sustainability and enhancing Profitability through Business Development [sponsored link].

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