ILJ’s Vikrant Pachnanda speaks with Vedika Mittal, Khaitan & Co.’s Research Associatein Mergers and Acquisitions at Gujarat National Law University on how being a national law school graduate, a corporate lawyer at Amarchand Mangaldas and then an LLM from Cambridge, she decided to get into academics.

  • Vedika Mittal
Ques: You graduated in 2011 from Gujarat National Law University, worked as a corporate lawyer with Amarchand Mangaldas and followed it by pursuing a Masters in Corporate Law from Cambridge University. What thereafter motivated you to then enter academics and take up a teaching assignment at GNLU?

Ans: I think my experience at Cambridge was definitely one of the factors that motivated me to explore academics. However, looking back, I do feel that Ialways had an inclination towards academics. The first time Ihad a formal audience with students was in 2006 when I got an opportunity to teach class ten students mathematics in an informal school set up in a slum beside Gandhi Ashram by an NGO that I was interning with. Although teaching in a vernacular language and that too Math was quite a task, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Clichédas it may sound, it was a very fulfilling experience. I think I always enjoyed reading, analyzing and explaining. GNLU, which is my alma mater, was an obvious choice once I came back to Gujarat, which also happens to be my home state.

Ques: Can you tell us about your teaching assignment at GNLU?

Ans: I have been appointed as a Research Associate in Mergers and Acquisitions as part of a fellowship sponsored by one of India’s leading law firms. My role entails carrying out research on contemporary issues in the field as well as organising conferences, seminars andlectures for various stakeholderssuch as corporates, lawyers, policy makersand students. Its been a little over two months since I joined and one of my first initiatives was a two day capsule course for students on practical aspects of M&A dealmaking which was conducted by me jointly with a principal associate from a leading law firm.

Ques: What made you come prefer GNLU over taking up such an assignment at a foreign law school where the opportunities and remuneration would probably be much more?

Ans: Well, I was back in India and the moment I thought of seriously taking up academics, my natural instinct was to get in touch with my professors at GNLU,Iwas fortunate to be selected for a position which allowed me to explore an area of law that really fascinates me. Also, I see so much good work happening at the University that I feel inspired to contribute myself.

Ques: Did wanting to give back to your your alma mater play any role in making you come back to GNLU?

Ans: On the contrary, I am thankful to GNLU for giving me such an exciting opportunity. Having said that, of course I am very happy and proud to be working for my alma mater.

Ques: How would you compare your current teaching assignment at GNLU to say if you had taken up one in a foreign law school?

Ans: Honestly, I think it is an unfair comparison as the system of higher education is very different in India and in certain developed countries. It is common for leading universities abroad to be research based whereas most leading universities in India are primarily focused on teaching. The student-teacher ratio is another factor that affects quality at times. Probably academics in developed countries have access tosuperiorresources in terms of physical and electronic libraries,finances, collaborations and an engaging peer group. However, things are pretty good here as well with the increasedfocus of the government on education. Personally, my goal is to try and make the best use of what is available.

Ques: What steps do you feel that India needs to take in legal education in order to attract more such experienced and talented lawyers to teach in Indian law schools?

Ans: I am not sure if they say it just to make me feel like I am doing something really cool or if they really mean it, but so many of my friends from law school tell me that they hope to get into academics some day. I’ve never gotten around to asking them what stops them from doing it right away but I do realise that pursuing academics as a career option is considered seriously by only a handful.

I think various factors have an impact on one’s choice of career. To begin with - monetary reward – while most national law schools and certain private colleges pay reasonably well at the starting level but I think the growth in remuneration as you rise in rank is skewed compared to the growth prospects in a law firm or as a litigator. This is often justified by the difference in the hours you need to put in as an academician and as a practitioner.However, I believe that the effort and time commitment required of a dedicated academician and an efficient lawyer are not as apart as commonly thought. Someone once told me, that students who get an A at law school become academicians; students who get a B become judges whereas those who get a C become practitioners! However, it is absolutely the other way around in India and especially with our generation.

Secondly, I think it is the social perception of academicians that needs to undergo a sea change. What I mean to say is that you know people think you have this stamp of achievement when you say you have been recruited by a major law firm but that kind of reaction is never seen if you say you are planningto start teaching. People need to realise that there is much more to academics than sitting and lecturing students in a dusty classroom. In many fields including corporate law, the door between professional practice and academics is very revolving so if more and more leading practitioners devote part of their time to academics the social status accorded to teaching might regain its lost glory. At the same time, academicians need to build links with the industry so that the exchange of services is a two way process.

I also feel law schools should facilitate alumni engagement with students and encourage them to participate and contribute to their alma mater. At GNLU we often have guest lectures where we invite alumni to speak on contemporary issues to our students which I think is beneficial not only to students but is also extremely enriching for our alumni.

I believe, it is possible for an academician in law to be an inspiring teacher in the classroom, a think-tank sought after by governments, policy makers and regulators, an astute consultant for private sector entities including corporates and NGOs and to don many more multifarious hats. At the end of the day, any profession is what you make of it. Ofcourse, a few success stories can inspire many more.