In Conversation with Shouvik Kumar Guha Faculty of NUJS and Director Operations of IDIA
Shouvik Kumar Guha pursued his BA. LLB and LLM from West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences. He had an inclination towards Intellectual Property law from his freshman year of law school. At present, he is also an Assistant Professor of WBNUJS.
Shouvik is also an integral part of Spicy IP and Director Operations of Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access to Legal Education (IDIA). He co-heads the foundation of Lexbiosis. He has also authored various exemplary journals, books, magazines and conferences of national as well as international level. He has also made a niche in the disciplines of Corporate Law and Laws of Banking & Finance.
Here is an exclusive tete-e-tete with him.
Live Law: Law students across country aspire to reach the threshold of West Bengal National University of Juridical Science. Tell us about your experience as a sojourner of WBNUJS.
Shouvik : When I had joined NUJS back in 2005 as a student rather green behind his ears, I did not have much of an idea about the legal profession or academia, for that matter. I did not even prepare for the entrance test, but somehow made it through by playing to my strengths during those two hours. From my very first day at NUJS, I have been fortunate enough to have been guided and inspired by a superb group of seniors, batchmates and some exceptional teachers. NUJS was undergoing a transformation from my second year onwards, with Prof. M.P. Singh having taken charge as the vice-chancellor. I was therefore lucky to have been taught by many of the experienced teachers from the Menon and Chimni Eras, as well as the younger batch of dynamic faculty members, who had joined during Prof. Singh’s tenure. We lacked a lot of things in terms of infrastructure during the initial years. To access legal databases like Westlaw or Lexisnexis, now deemed commonplace across all NLUs, we had to go across the city to the British Council and American Centre libraries. However, there was one thing that had been driven into our minds from the very first semester –our journey has just begun and we have not achieved anything great simply by gaining entry here. On the contrary, it is what we would do in course of the five years that we spend here, that will define us as law students and subsequently, lawyers fit to join the profession. If there was something almost every NUJS student used to share back then, it was an acute hunger –hunger to be the best at what he or she would do. I take almost inordinate pride in having been a part of this institution from back those days. The sheer level of confidence that an NUJS graduate would have in his or abilities to tackle any possible predicament will aways beggar belief –and that is an integral aspect of being a successful legal professional, no matter of which hue. My own batch was a maverick one, but insanely cool, yes! We had all sorts, from the studious note-taker, to the happy-go-lucky truant, from the great mooter to the superb debater to the best of sportspersons. Well, if I start reminiscing about them, this interview would be continuing even when the next batch graduates! I have seen a lot of things change since then. We have had our share of ups and downs. The important thing is not to stagnate, but keep going on, preserving the best from the past and tempering it with the curiosity, needs and efforts of the present, so as to forge it into a legacy that would live up to the scrutiny of the future. Through the years, I have come to love this institution and its members as my extended family and I have found that there is no price too high to pay to ensure its continued excellence. That is why I chose to come back from law firms to this place. There is, however, one thing that will always set NUJS apart – its students. If I may be pardoned for mixing metaphors, they have always been the catalyst to shape this institution into what it had been and I consider myself fortunate for being in a position to teach and learn from them in the foreseeable future. Every bit of success that a student achieves, I feel proud for as if it’s been my own, every occasional setback that they face becomes my personal uphill climb. That is what NUJS does –it makes you a part of it and does not let go. It provides you with a sense of identity and as Richard Grant has said, “The value of identity of course is that so often with it comes purpose.”
Live Law: You have co-founded Lexbiosis, a merger for legal industry and academia. Tell us about the scope and vision of it.
Shouvik : Actually, Lexbiosis is originally the brainchild of Dr. Shamnad Basheer, who is one of the country’s top experts on Intellectual Property Law and had also been the Ministry of HRD IP Chair Professor at NUJS for several years. I have had the fortune of working with him even before I had graduated and also of having him as one of my mentors. He has always encouraged young law students to engage in meaningful research, reiterating time and again that it is never too early to start. We have also found that law firms or companies or practicing advocates or other professionals are always on the lookout for quality legal research and committed, intelligent researchers capable of thinking laterally. Using bright NLU students for this purpose not only helps these students gain invaluable experience and exposure to the real world scenario, but it also helps them to learn several soft skills and professional discipline. These researchers are also graded according to their performance and subsequently, when these firms or companies initiate their recruitment drives, these grades and certificates are made available to them. This provides the recruiter a very good yardstick of judging the capabilities of a potential future employee. The fact that it is also cost-effective to the law firms to get such research done by these students doesn’t harm either! Lexbiosis is, however, a fledging organization, and we hope this model will witness an exponential organic growth in the days to come.
Live Law: How has been your experience as Research Associate and Assistant Professor at WBNUJS so far?
Shouvik : I have always loved taking up challenges in terms of research and the past few years have provided a lot of opportunities in terms of that. From contracts to corporate mergers, from media and entertainment law issues to intellectual property matters, the sheer diversity of research that I have been entrusted with so far vindicates my decision to join academia over and over again. I am and shall always be grateful to Prof. M.P. Singh for giving me this opportunity early on, even though formal rules and practices often require a prior LL.M. degree to join as a Research Associate or Assistant. Prof. Singh, however, has always believed in not letting formalities come in the way of progress and he had allowed me the former position even before I could start with my Masters Programme. The little bit of administrative know-how that I have gained in course of this, including conducting the Common Law Admission Test, 2011 and supervising diploma courses offered at NUJS, has also considerably enriched my experiences.
When it comes to teaching, I have been doing that since a few years now, first as a Teaching Assistant and then as a Guest Lecturer and finally, as an Assistant Professor. Honestly speaking, the different capacities do not mean anything different for me, apart from perhaps the fact that I can requisition stationaries with impunity now! All I know is that when I take up the responsibility of teaching a subject to my students, I owe it to each and every one of them to give my hundred percent on a 24/7 basis. If there is a shred of doubt left in any of their minds about any aspect of the course after it has been over, then that is my failure as a teacher. The duties of a teacher cannot remain confined within the classroom walls, they will rightly spill over into the students’ lives outside the classes too. I have been taught by some brilliant teachers and I am lucky to have their footsteps to follow. Discipline without the imposition of irrational rigour, creating an environment wherein different questions and perspectives and free exchange of ideas are positively encouraged, exhorting the students to bring out their best in what they do –these are all that a teacher ought to strive for. Commercial laws are what I am comfortable with and I have tried to offer subjects so far that will help the students in their professional lives and not merely bore them to oblivion. For instance, last semester I had offered a course on Project Finance that has witnessed a considerably warm reception. Students have been telling me throughout this summer vacation how they have fared well and been praised during their internships because of aspects discussed in those classes. These are really moments that make each and every frustration that one may face in this profession seem worthwhile. Simply put, my students are my life and I would give up everything else over and over again to teach them and learn from them in turn both inside and outside classroom. I strive to be a teacher who makes himself progressively unnecessary and hopefully, one who gives the student something to take home to think about besides homework!
Live Law: Tell us about your journey with Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access to Legal Education (IDIA). What have been the key achievements in it?
Shouvik : The IDIA project is something that is very close to my heart. What can a teacher want more than to ensure that every single deserving person gets the opportunity for a higher education by overcoming all obstacles in his or her path? We, who are part of the IDIA family, do not engage in charity. To say so would be an affront to our scholars. They do not want charity, they simply want to be recognized for what they are and what they can do. When I see an IDIA scholar hailing from the remotest village in the country earning accolades in NLUs and competing with their more privileged fellow batchmates without giving any quarter, the pleasure I derive from that is simply indescribable. I myself have come from a lower-middle-income family and I can identify with most of the problems that our scholars face. That is what makes it seem all the more amazing when they continue displaying courage, tenacity and perseverance in their academic and extra-curricular activities. In a short spell of three years, IDIA has come far and it is also getting increasing support from established legal professionals pledged to its mission. The way student volunteers from NLUs have responded to this movement is without parallel! I do not know of a single other instance wherein students from any professional and hectic course have fought for a worthy cause en mass! Right now, we have almost forty scholars studying across different law schools and almost twenty state chapters and national verticals, all raring to play their own roles in this movement to facilitate inclusiveness and diversity in legal education in India. Several innovative projects are also in the pipeline and we would love every single law student, academic or other professionals to be a part of the IDIA family. For further details on our achievements and activities and how to be a part of IDIA, please refer to our official website (www.idialaw.com).
Live Law: Competition Law is a keystone to frame Trade Policies today. Is India utilizing the significance of this law to completion? How can it be improved?
Shouvik : Indian modern competition law is still in its early years of growth, with new developments occurring on a regular basis. We have a bunch of extremely sharp and capable economic and legal minds involved in the practice of this law. Some of the premier law firms in the country already have an established practice in this field. CCI is, in fact, one of the most active regulatory bodies in the country, which also has the mandate of advocacy. However, the Competition Act, 2002 and related regulations, including the one regarding combination control, are still undergoing the judicial litmus tests. Do they have a lot of room for improvement? Definitely. Are Indian markets better off with these laws in place, as compared to how they had been earlier? Again, the answer is a resounding yes. Insofar as the policy components of competition laws and their utilization in conjunction with trade policies are concerned, the only way towards improvement is to encourage public participation in the policy-framing activities, as well as attract young, dynamic and capable minds towards this field and literally take competition to the next level!
Live Law: The altar of Intellectual Property Law is constantly incrementing in the Indian jurisdiction and beyond. Which avenues are the best to explore in this discipline?
Shouvik : IP law has always been a source of fascination for me. My days with Prof. Basheer and with Spicy IP, one of the country’s premier academic webblogs, are largely responsible for that. Recently, a lot of spotlight has been focussed on several branches of this law, such as the amendments in the Copyright Act, or the debate surrounding pharmaceuticals and Section 3(d) of the Patents Act. Advocating transparency, infusing rationality to plug the existing legislative loopholes and discouraging blind legal transplantation from foreign jurisprudence (like the one sought in relation to the Indian version of the Bayh-Dole Act) are some of the ways forward. Personally, I believe lesser attention has perhaps been paid to Design Laws and laws relating to Geographical Indications, although the scope of work relating to these subjects can be positively mind-boggling!
Live Law: Interning at ITC Limited, Amarchand Mangaldas, Luthra & Luthra and J. Sagar Associates is a yardstick. Do you think interning in such places can make a niche in the professional front?
Shouvik : Internships are essential for every law student. And not only in law firms and corporate legal teams. The way Prof. Madhav Menon had envisaged the NLUs, every student was supposed to experience in course of these five years the work-life in NGOs, policy research organizations, different levels of courts, law firms, companies and so on and so forth. It was only then that he or she could make an informed decision regarding subsequent career. Most students try to figure out what they are going to do after law school in the first couple of years. All I can say is that you should do exactly what you would love to do. Nothing more and nothing less. It’s always better to make your career out of your dreams than making your dreams out of your career. And law is ideally suited to offer so many diverse opportunities that chances are you are going to like one or more of them. This is why it is important to do as many different kinds of internships as possible to find something you can connect with. True, I have interned with and subsequently, worked for and with all these places that you mentioned, but I have also interned with NGOs and litigators and judges and policy bodies. And what you do during an internship is also very important. Hard work is a must, nobody can deny that. However, there are other dynamics involved also, such as learning teamwork, honing your networking skills and your ability to convince others by way of presenting your thoughts and arguments in a cohesive manner etc. Internships will teach you things you can never learn inside law school –but you still need to be at your receptive best to internalize them. I can see a lot of my students these days interning at quite unconventional places and judging from their overall experiences, it has proven to be quite a successful experiment so far.
Live Law: The recent system of legal academia is distancing from Bar and Bench. What can be done to bridge this gap?
Shouvik : I do not think that holds entirely true anymore. See, NLUs are expensive places. A large number of students avail educational loans to study here. Still more need to provide immediate financial support to their families after they graduate. So obviously, they gravitate towards lucrative jobs, be it with a law firm or a company. And in all fairness, I cannot criticize that. I myself had chosen to do the same initially for more or less the same reasons. However, several of my batchmates, seniors and juniors have shifted towards litigation since their graduation. One of my LL.M. batchmates has opted for the Bench now. These days, a sizable chunk of every batch opts for litigation every years, as well as for the Civil and Judicial Services. There is no doubt that financial success is not immediate in these professions. However, the scenario has improved a lot in the past decade. I always say this to my students, if you are able in what you do, success will necessarily follow. For example, drafting skills are invaluable for a practicing lawyer –they can literally earn him or her a livelihood to begin with. The profession is also undergoing a gradual change; more and more young NLU graduates are opting for litigation these days, the stipend paid by lawyers to their juniors is being raised above mere pittances and it has become much easier to get briefs for someone without an established legal family background, though by no means a cakewalk yet. All in all, I think there’s hope for both the Bar and the Bench yet. Less red tapes would probably do wonders for both though, such as introduction of the long-awaited Indian Judicial Services in the line of IFS/IAS/IPS etc.
Live Law: Your authored various papers relating to IP and other legal forums for journals, books, magazines and conferences in internationally and nationally. What are the elements to write an exemplary Intellectual Property law related paper?
Shouvik : Now this is an interesting question. I do not really think there are any ten commandments for writing a good paper, be it IP or anything else. But I’ll try to mention a few things that I have found helpful for myself. First of all, your motive should preferably be not merely to publish in order for enhancing your CV, but because you have a genuine interest in the topic concerned and you would like to express your views on the same. There’s no harm in building CV, but what I am saying is that it should not be the primary objective for writing a paper. Several students have asked me they want to start legal writing and whether I can suggest them a topic to write. I don’t really believe that’s how it works! You come across a topic, read about it, get interested, read about it some more, start forming an opinion about it, test your opinion against the existing ones, find pros and cons for both sides and then form your argument and defences against counter-arguments –for me at least, that’s how it has always worked, which is why I ended up writing on a few rather esoteric topics, simply because I was reading something in relation to them and they piqued my interest.
You also need to read. I mean, a lot! That’s one of the key features to being a good lawyer. And I don’t mean merely law books –read anything and everything that you can lay your hands on! One of the reasons I have chosen academia is because I can still continue pandering to my rather voracious bibliophilic self. Familiarizing yourself with the usual legal research databases helps a lot. Even the ability to do an efficient and expedited internet search is something that can prove to be astonishingly helpful. There are free-to-use websites like SSRN and Academia.edu that contain a treasure-trove of useful research materials. Another important thing is perhaps to remind yourself repeatedly of the needs, as well as the wants of the audience you’re addressing. Different people respond to different forms of writing. The sooner you can figure that out for yourself, the better are your writing skills going to be. The NLU students can get an early edge in terms of academic legal writing because of the projects and assignments that they have to mandatorily write. I remember how several of my early projects had been converted into subsequent papers, once the teachers concerned assured me that reading them had not been a complete waste of their time! Merely reiterating what others have said earlier and embellishing it with ten footnotes per page may seem adequate to get your paper published in some journal, but that sort of thing has never appealed to me. Academic web-blogs are here to stay now and some of their contents, albeit differently posited and presented than, say, a journal article, are not inferior by any means whatsoever. Academic plagiarism is another important issue for consideration, but that is something for another day.
Live Law: Last but not the least, what is your message to law students?
Shouvik : I thought this whole interview was supposed to convey that only? Anyway, I find it rather awkward to get preachy. I consider law students to be (at least for the most part) grown-up individuals, fully capable of making their own decisions in life. The key point is making informed decisions. Regarding achievement of success, be it professional or personal, I can give this example. NUJS offers law of torts as a subject in the very first semester of the B.A. LL.B. programme. After the end-semester examinations are over, students are usually anxious about their results, grades etc. This is what I say to them –their official academic training in torts is over. The question is whether they are feeling confident enough to represent a client tomorrow in a tortious matter and provide him the best legal advice possible, or to teach the next batch law of torts in the semester after next. If the answer is yes, then their grade in law of torts doesn’t really matter. If the answer is no, then also, sadly, their grade in law of torts doesn’t really matter. In other words, if you are good in what you do, then irrespective of everything else, success will always hunt you down; you can’t possibly escape from it! Finally, when it comes to what a law student should aim to do during these five years and beyond, I can’t resist concluding with the last line from one of my favourite poems – “…To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”