Ryan Wilson interviewed Kabir Darshan Singh Chaudhary of Jindal Global Law School, who recently secured the LAMP Scholarship which places one legislative assistant to work with one MP for a period of 11 months. He talks to us about the application procedure and the opportunities that await.
RW: You’ve rather chosen a very unconventional career path in politics and civil liberties. Why?
Kabir: It is true that these days a significant majority of students opt for law for a future career as a Corporate Lawyer or a litigator. Even when I joined law school, I always thought that I’d become a corporate lawyer, however, politics and civil liberties always remained my first obsession. In course of my obsession, I lost two consecutive elections at college to eventually be elected as the President of the Student Council.
In my final year after 12 internships, I realized that cubicles at a corporate law firm or a chamber in a court were not a correct fir for me at this moment. I have no disrespect for these professions but I wish to see my efforts utilized to bring a change in the society at a macro level.
I can live with a comparatively lower earning for now but I cannot sit on a computer for 12 hours everyday. Looking at your research being used by a representative at the Parliament house on Lok Sabha TV is way more valuable than any pay cheque at this age.
RW: Did you ever think that you would secure the LAMP Fellowship?
Kabir: This year there are about 46 LAMP fellows (and all of them are better than me!). As far as getting this opportunity is concerned, I had dreamt about working with a Member of Parliament (MP) but did not realize that it would come true so soon.
I always used to nag my friends by initiating political debates. I am sure they got irked (but never expressed) as I used to watch news in the common rooms and discuss similar topics at clubs, get-togethers, chowki (local wine and beer shop near JGLS). More than myself, they knew that an MP’s office and not a corporate law firm was a perfect fit for me.
The last interview I had cracked was for a fellowship at National Internet Exchange (NIXI) of India in 2013. Post my exchange, things started getting hard for me due to personal reasons. My grades started falling, my social life, job interviews etc. I was low on my confidence when I decided to apply for this as I really needed a boost.
While I had been regular with news and research initiatives, I was certain that this will be pretty tough and I did not keep high hopes.
However, I don’t know how the Universe worked but during a lecture I received a mail by PRS informing me about my selection. I yelled and made a fool out of myself and forwarded the screen shot to all my friends and family members.
It’s been more than a month and my friends still joke around that sometimes they wonder how could I be selected for this.
RW: Did you work towards it consciously?
Kabir: To be honest, I was not aware that such a well-structured program existed in India. I knew that similar fellowships were there in United States and other countries. One random day, my friend (Aiman Kler- brilliant mooter!) posted the application link on my page.
The application required a statement of purpose and an essay on a policy issue. I had been working on privacy concerns with the Aadhaar project and cyber free speech, so essay was not a struggle.
Similarly, as long as one can express ones’ genuine interest in politics and desire to learn by working with the MP, your statement is sorted as well. I am not sure if it was my own effort or my friends’ wishes but I got short-listed for the interview.
RW: In what capacity will you work during the fellowship? Which MP have you been allotted to work with?
Kabir: As the acronym suggests, all fellows work as “Legislative Assistants” to the Members of Parliament (LAMP). As assistants we are required to provide research support in their parliamentary duties such as drafting questions to be raised in the House, briefing about issues that could be taken up during debates, researching for speeches, preparing summary notes about schemes, special mentions, drafting private member bills, etc.
As far as the second question is concerned, I have already been allotted to Mr. Jagdambika Pal, MP (Lok Sabha). As LAMP fellows, we do not engage in any party related work.
Political inclinations are irrelevant as the work is strictly related to the Government or the Opposition depending on which MP you’re allotted to. Also, contrary to the conventional perceptions, all the MPs are very learned and hard working people. Thus, getting an opportunity to work with any Member of Parliament is indeed a blessing.
RW: How does the LAMP Fellowship program work? On what criteria are the fellows selected?
Kabir: PRS Legislative initiated LAMP Fellowship a few years back. Any Indian citizen with an undergraduate degree and below the age of 25 years can apply for the program.
Application forms are uploaded on the PRS website where one is required to provide their Curriculum Vitae, a State of Purpose. an essay on a policy issue along with few other details. These applications go through a filter process and candidates selected proceed to the interview level. A panel of PRS team, ex-lamp fellows and a policy analyst conducts the interview.
After the interview, you wait and if you managed to convince the panel about your passion for policy work and commitment towards it, an email congratulating you will pop up in your account.
RW: What makes a perfect application?
Kabir: Nothing! There is no such thing as a perfect application as there is always a scope of improvement. However, anyone interested in this fellowship should choose a particular policy topic of their interest and follow it diligently on regular basis.
With this, the applicant will have no problem with the policy essay. Interviewers are smart people, they know if the essay is backed with a 6 hour or 6 months research.
For the statement of purpose, LAMP is not like foreign admissions where people have to run around to experts or play around with words. They need people who enjoy working on policy related issues and want to do something for the country. Just have it clear in your mind about why you want to work with the MP and express it clearly. Interviewers will take care of the rest.
Also, Indian Express, The Hindu and Pratiyogita Darpan are your best friends in this journey!
RW: How was the interview, the questions and your replies?
Kabir: All my interviews are like Roadies Interviews! I have a list of achievements of not making it to two corporate law firms despite of a decent CV. Here also, four people interviewed me. The interview revolved around the following categories:
i) Parliamentary procedures
ii) Recent Legislations or pending bills
iii) Current affairs (International and Indian politics)
iv) HR questions for e.g. If I was assigned to an MP who I did not politically agree with etc.
v) Research projects and publications
I do not think I am in a position to judge my replies, as I was really nervous. After my interview, I kept coming up with better replies in my mind. However, now I can say, as long as one’s thorough with the research and preparation, its all good. Nothing to worry!
RW: What are your plans after this?
Kabir: The fellowship has just started so I do not wish to think about the plans after this (primarily because it worries me!). However, it is certain that I wish to study more in future. What I wish to study, I am not clear about. I have deferred my admission at Maurer School of Law for Masters in Law where I was an exchange student in 2013 for next year, so that’s a possibility.
As a law student, I really wish to try my hand at Litigation for at least an year, even if I don’t pursue it. I strongly believe that one can learn the nuts and bolts of real law only by running around in the Courts and not in fancy cubicles.
In the long run, I wish to get into public domain and do something for the country. It may sound far fetched to a lot of people but I wish to sit in those green or red seats representing and debating the welfare of my country.
The goal is clear but I still have to decide which road to take. It can be business, litigation, policy, corporate law etc.
RW: What would be your career advice to law students?
Kabir: You’ve chosen to spend 5 or 3 years for this profession, I am sure you will have a reason for it. If you’re truly passionate about becoming a corporate lawyer or an outstanding litigator (or a civil rights activist)- go ahead, there’s nothing stopping you!
However, if you’ve chosen a path watching Harvey Spectar or Denny Craine, then you really need to wake up! Corporate Law is not like that nor is litigation. Both of them require a lot of hard work and expensive suits do not come immediately.
Also if you’re doing this just for the pay cheque and not out of your passion, then you’re not being fair to yourself. A batch mate from JGLS who’s a Teach for India Fellow (Sachin Bangalore) told me once- “What career path would you choose if money was not a factor for consideration?”
I think all law students need to ask this question to themselves to know what they really want in life. Warning- the answers can be really surprising!
Also don’t be afraid to try the unexplored fields. Remember Robert Frost- Take the less travelled road and you never know, it may make all the difference!