TL;DR: All academics and no extra-curriculars makes Jacqueline a dull girl.
In this post, I will discuss three “conventional” extra-curricular activities that you can try while in law school. They are the most popular choices and are considered as having a degree of “prestige” and “reliability” attached to them. This, however, does not mean that they are the only opportunities available, or even the ‘must-do’ ones. They are only the tip of the iceberg.
In no particular order –
I. DEBATES – Given its ubiquity, I don’t think debating requires much of an introduction. Essentially, it is an attempt to make convincing arguments for or against any given proposition, irrespective of personal beliefs. In law school, debating retains these core ideas while shedding its school-time elocutionary-rhetorical character. (Achieved by following either of the Parliamentary formats – where matter takes precedence over manner and method.)
Debating is a truly exhilarating activity to pursue. What makes it so? Its informal nature and the scope for broad-based learning. Unlike other activities in law school, rules are minimal (no dress code!) and ‘motions’ are not restricted to legal issues. Everything that can be, is debated.
Taken seriously, debating will make you more aware of the world around you, a more logical thinker and a more articulate speaker.
However, despite its considerable benefits, debating is not the first choice for many. Several students are either extremely hesitant about debating or skip it altogether. Why? In my opinion, there are three major deterrents – the ‘but-I-have-never-previously-debated’ mindset, fear of public speaking and fear of ridicule.
No prior experience? No problem. All you need is a pen and some paper to get started. (Debating is very inclusive.) As regards the fear of public speaking, the only effective solution I know of is to face it. The more you practice, the easier it gets. And as for the possibility of ridicule, well, nobody can possibly know everything. Learning is a continuous (read: gradual) process. And just in case you forgot, Rajesh Khanna sang an entire song on the importance of ignoring others’ opinions. If THAT doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what can.
Your law school experience will have a gaping hole if you deny yourself the sheer thrill of formulating arguments on a dizzying range of issues in 15 minutes and then conveying them in 7 minutes and 20 seconds. Trust me.
II. MOOTS – Moot court competitions occupy a very hallowed position in law school. In fact, it is not uncommon at all to believe that certain moots are second only to the Nobel prizes in importance. So what is the fuss all about?
Very broadly, there are three elements common to all moots. There is a ‘moot problem’, which is the fictional dispute that teams have to challenge and defend using existing laws and judgments. Then there are the ‘memorials’, which are documents detailing participating teams’ contentions. And finally, the ‘oral rounds’ which are the culmination of all prep where every team’s ‘speakers’ attempt to convince judges of the superiority of their side. In a nutshell, mooting means working with a team of 2-4 people for many weeks (if not months), researching on concepts and questions of law (that you probably never knew of till you read the problem), and then reducing your findings and ideas into succinct and legally tenable arguments.
In their simulation of advocacy and courtroom procedure, moots (particularly trial advocacy competitions) will teach you the law in a way no number of textbooks or lectures can. Moreover, they are a great way to circumvent the generality and insufficiency of the curriculum. At the same time, moots can get very exasperating. They are long-drawn, detail-oriented affairs. To have a reasonable chance of success, you will have to commit substantial time and efforts. (And don’t even get me started on how crucial it is for team members to be on the same wavelength.)
Therefore, think well before taking up a moot. Choose those competitions that you are really keen about – the theme of the problem interests you, the idea of working on that aspect of law excites you. (Opting for a moot because everyone thinks it is a “cool” option or because the host institution is located in your hometown are pretty poor considerations.) Spend time on the basics – read (and re-read) the problem thoroughly, identify the fundamental issue(s) and relevant legal provision(s). Then move to connecting the dots with precedents, opinions of jurists, international trends, etc. Keep adequate time for practicing oral arguments. (What is the point of all that effort if you cannot communicate the same to the judge?)
Moots are an incredibly rewarding extra-curricular activity. Just be sure not to make them the be-all and end-all of your time in law school.
III. INTERNSHIPS – While the Placements Team is best equipped to handle all internship-related queries, I’ll share my views. (It is my honest belief that the curiosity which internships generate in every successive batch can outrival even CERN’s desire to know about the Big Bang.)
Internships are a crash course in the ways of a particular law firm/counsel/judge/organization, ranging from 4 weeks to some months, at the end of which you have (hopefully) picked up some skills and made friends. An ‘internship certificate’ is guaranteed. Stipend? Not necessarily.
Depending on the practice followed by the place you choose to work in, you may be assigned to a particular team or you may be a … floater. More often than not, interns are floaters. It is quite uncommon for interns to work with just one team throughout their internships. This is usually because there is always a lot of work to be done and the last deadline was always yesterday.
Assignments range from researching specific propositions and finding relevant judgments to proofreading documents and attending meetings with seniors (“conferences“). This is the … glamorous part, what is added to the CVs and LinkedIn profiles. However, it is not all. There are a lot of other tasks that interns do. From printing and filing reams of documents, summarising vast (and often, incomprehensible) quantities of data, collecting information about obscure exceptions to even cleaning cabinets (no kidding). Internships are a mixed bag – some are good experiences, some not-so-good. But they all teach a lot. Internships are practical training in the real sense of the phrase.
Should you be interning? The answer depends on where you are in law school. In the initial years, not really. V-III onward? Surely. Not only will you get a chance to practice what you have studied but you will also be introduced to concepts and ideas beyond the curriculum. Moreover, you will interact with a variety of people – from co-interns to the movers and shakers – and from each of them you will learn something invaluable. And if you want a sense of a potential career option, internships are of great help.
My advice? Intern widely and intern wisely. Make a conscious effort to intern with multiple places (legal and otherwise) and in different specialisations. This will help you to identify your likes and dislikes and strengths and weaknesses. Don’t let extraneous factors overwhelm your choices – whether it is peer pressure, notions of popularity or market ranking/standing of potential workplaces. Do your homework and decide for yourself. And most importantly, do not rush into interning, especially at the cost of a memorable college life or other opportunities.
I like to think of the 5 years of law school as an empty “thali”, each semester representing one bowl. Each of us gets to determine what goes in and when. Which is why you should aim to sample the maximum you can and not restrict yourself only to the three options I have discussed. The ones you dislike should be swiftly junked. The ones you enjoy, pursue repeatedly over the next 5 years. Make the most of your time here. Carpe diem!
–Preeti Sahai, V-V
 From the Batmobile’s colour to the Israel-Palestine dispute. No kidding.