Jagteshwar Singh Sohi (Class of 2009) on moots, a career in teaching and AIL’s predicament

Jagteshwar Singh Sohi is from the batch of 2004-2009. He was part of the team that made it to the semi-finalists in the World Rounds of Stetsons and was ranked 8th in World Championship of Jessups. Upon graduation, he went on to pursue LL.M. from NALSAR and is currently an Assistant Professor there.

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Blue Pencil: When and how did you decide to pursue law?

Jagteshwar Singh Sohi: Still have no clue whatsoever!

BP: Tell us about your time at AIL. What would a usual day in the college look like and how did you deal with the (obnoxious) attendance criteria?

JSS: AIL was a very different place back in 2004. In the middle of nowhere, with net access only available at the IC it is tough to even imagine what the usual day was like! I guess it left people with a lot of time to interact with each other: I made some of my best friends in those five years. It was tough to put a finger on the usual day; I guess it varied; from year to year, depending on your interest at that period and (tongue-in-cheek) largely depended on who you were dating! However, I do remember large periods in the first year spent on the cricket field; in the IC playing AOE was the second year; and the Moot Court Room from third year on. Apart from this the café – during the day – and the BBC – post 7 pm – were also where a lot of my time was spent.

I am rather unaware of the attendance criteria now; it used to be 75% back in our times. A common moan of students is often that between class and social life there is precious little left for anything else. I hid behind the same excuse for the first couple of years – and that is what it is, an excuse. Once you start working on something with all your heart, finding time is seldom tough.

BP: The legendary stories of your mooting team are still alive in the college. Tell us more about your mooting experiences and how you went on to ace the World stages of Stetsons and Jessup.

JSS: I would have hoped that by now there would have been stories of different teams. I was lucky to have a couple of very good mentors when I started (Ashwin sir and Tiwari sir, 2008 batch); and then Vaibhav (2009) & Ish Puneet (2011) as my team. My first moot with Ashwin sir taught me the amount of work that was expected of a mooter. My second moot, with my juniors and an unmitigated disaster, taught me the importance of a team in mooting. The next 5 were pure joy of a well-balanced group pulling in the same direction.

We would ordinarily pick a moot as the goal for a semester, know well in advance when the proposition would be released, and begin working on it the very moment it was out. In mooting it is of utmost importance that a team spends as much time on the moot as possible, there is no set syllabus that needs to be ‘finished’. You need to know more than your competition and enough to earn the respect of the judge. Working more than anyone else generally covers the threshold of ‘enough’; from then on it is your style, confidence and ability to think on your feet that pull you through positions where you might come up short.

Looking back, the one thing that I liked best about my team was that we weren’t inward-looking. We always attempted to share our knowledge of mooting with newcomers; and our goal was to leave behind a group of mooters who could carry on after we left. As such, our teams always had a junior – we had Dappy (Ish Puneet 2011 batch) in our first, Kotu (2011) in second, Niharika Puri (2011) in the third, Nishtha (2011) and Prabal (2012) in the ones after that. Some of them mooted independently after we left, others chose not to – but we always helped initiate others into the fold.

Being to the world rounds was fun, winning something or the other was better. However, the one moment I always remember was just as the Stetson 2009 Championship round had begun. We had lost our Semi-Final to the Irish team, and taken our time to realize that our run was over. Once I finally got over it I decided to go watch the Final. As I was about to enter the room, the bailiff stopped me and said that I could only enter once an Oralist has stopped speaking. Till then, I didn’t know that such a rule existed – I was always ‘in the room’. That is when it hit me that we were out of the game, for good – it was my last moot. All I would say to others is enjoy while it lasts, mooting is something you’ll only get in law school and never afterwards – do not let your attendance worries come in the way. What I remember most dearly is ‘the end’: maybe because the ‘rush’ of the activity was so beautiful.

255310_10150190485266975_1853505_nBP: Why teaching? How has your journey been at NALSAR so far? Any students who have been tough to handle?

JSS: I don’t really have an answer for the first question. It generally takes birth in the feeling that teaching ought not to be considered a valid career choice. This in turn tends to push more people away from pursuing a career in the academy. So…

Why not?

You get to shape the views of a new group every year; and all this while you deepen your own understanding of ideas in the field of your choice. This helps shape the discourse in and around you. Why someone would not want this (often money is the answer), is something that needs to be asked! NALSAR has been great so far. I have mostly taught batches that I have shared the space with as a co-student. It’s been great fun so far, especially since I have been lucky in getting to teach courses I like. I have taken courses in Public International Law, Environmental Law, Constitutional Law (as mandatory subjects) and Democratic Participation & Public Sphere, and Deliberative Democracy (as electives/seminars).

What interests me most are subjects that allow for an analysis of the politics/economics behind the problem at hand. Bare mechanical reading of statutes, cases etc. bore me; the fun lies in going behind them to understand the rationale for their existence and the methods whereby they are created to skew the field against the common man on the street.

 BP: Are there any major differences between AIL and NALSAR?

 JSS: Yes – institutionally there are major differences. Let me pick a couple from my point of view on this point. I love my alma mater and would love to come and teach here (also because it is in Chandigarh – my home town, and close to Kas!), but realistically I can’t. I have a couple of reasons for the same; but they both boil down to the Administration – and by this I mean the very top (not any of those sitting at AIL itself, but above them) – isn’t interested in making it a top place. Let me break it down:

  • Money – Now most people who go into teaching do so knowing fully well that there compensation wouldn’t match to their peers in law firms and (eventually) litigation. That said it needs to be a basic minimum.
    Recently I saw an advertisement on the AIL website, for Assistant Profs – the compensation was around Rs. 27,000 pm. That is half of what I would make at NALSAR (which in turn isn’t even half of what one can at Jindal). AIL has lost a ton of its faculty over the years to PU and RGNUL, and this hemorrhage cannot be curtailed when they pay pittance.
    However, the bigger reason is… 
  • University status – I was in Chandigarh last week, visited the campus and met a few of the faculty members from my time in the place. As I understand they are working towards an ‘autonomous’ existence. This will help in overcoming the following problem…
    The lack of freedom – As a teacher, comparing to a NLU (and NALSAR in my case), ‘autonomy’ is essential as it would provide me with ‘freedom’. Freedom to design a course in line with the needs of today, focusing on the latest questions facing the subject; and not to be stuck with what a University body designed years back.
    Professionally there can be nothing more frustrating than having to teach something that is irrelevant. Irrelevant to the student – they won’t pay attention; and irrelevant to you – it adds nothing to academic discourse. Instances of such like topics abound in the syllabus at AIL and that would make my job very uninspiring. This is a huge difference between AIL & NALSAR.

BP: Your principle research field is “Deliberative democracy”. Tell us more about it.

JSS: The principle of participation is the bedrock of the theory of Deliberative Democracy that has come up within the larger field of Democratic theory. The said theory isn’t one single thought, but a bundle of similar ideas and ideals that conceive of democracy as a process whereby the stakeholders ought to engage in rational discussions to resolve the problems collective life poses. It is an ideal whereby citizens use reason in dialogues aimed at making decisions about law/policy – i.e. discussion and reason are its supreme democratic values.

Elements of Deliberative Democracy
Elements of Deliberative Democracy

The theory of Deliberative Democracy could be said to have three broad characteristic elements [Refer to Figure above] – To begin with it is generally accepted all deliberations, to fall within the broad confines of this theory, must be accessible or public. This signifies two things – firstly that the access to such deliberation is to be ‘open’ to all and secondly, that the deliberation is to be carried out in a rational manner offering ‘public’ reasons for various preferences.

Apart from this, the deliberative ideal also requires the discussions to be rational or non-tyrannical; both as a process and in terms of its outcomes. This basically means that the discussions must be open to contestation, i.e. they admit and examine different viewpoints, and the consequent agreements cannot be “coerced illegitimately or reflect the undue influence of powerful groups.”

Finally, the democratic deliberations must meet a standard of equality; this doesn’t mean that each stakeholder is bound to participate equally but that the basic procedural and substantive inequalities that could prevent equal participation be eliminated. In other words, this means that procedurally the stakeholders must have an equal access to deliberative arenas and that substantively they must have equal opportunities to influence the deliberation.

BP: You are also part of the Mooting Clinic in NALSAR. Could you share some tips with our readers who are first-time mooters?

 JSS: Make the leap. If you don’t try, you won’t know if it was something that you would like, be good at etc.

The Mooting clinic at NALSAR is basically a formalized version of something we did at AIL when I was there. I don’t know if the practice has been discontinued since, but it was essentially seniors sharing their experience with the new batch. We do the same at NALSAR now. We get fourth and fifth year students to act as mentors to small groups of 5-8. Idea is to provide the ‘scared’ first year with that one senior with whom they can open up and freely access for advice.

We look for those people as mentors who have a welcoming personality. They need not be first-rate mooters themselves; what is important is that they should be warm enough to create an environment where the junior feels free to pose questions.

Our intention is to cover the basics – what is available in the library? Which books are to be picked to research for what subject? How to access e-resources? How, and what, to cite? Researching simple single question moot problems and moving towards compound questions with time. What a memo looks like? How to go about compiling research to make a memo? We also do basic speaking sessions before finally moving to the Intro Moot (this is graded for all first years).

Stress in the entire exercise is to transfer knowledge and experience of the seniors to the juniors in small group. The seniors are also marked – instead of a taught course – for: their effort based on my observation of their work as the course coordinator, informal feedback from juniors and a report that they have submit detailing what was covered in the sessions by them.

BP: Lastly, any advice to present students who plan to take up the profession of teaching?

JSS: I would be more than happy to talk to people on a case-to-case basis. You can reach me at jagteshsohi@gmail.com.

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