This post was submitted to Ergo by Gehna Banga, a 2016 graduate of the ICFAI Law School, Hyderabad.
Hi! My name is Gehna Banga & I’m a 2016 ICFAI Law School, Hyderabad graduate. Firstly, thank you Tejas and team Ergo for giving me the opportunity to give everyone an insight into my law school experience. As per my understanding, the focus of the magazine is to throw light upon what an enriching experience a law school can really be and ultimately help you become a unique person irrespective of whether you belong to the ‘N’ category or not! It is a general belief that anyone who is not from an NLU faces some form of discrimination at some point in time of their law school life and legal career.
I won’t deny the fact that I did not face discrimination for the sole reason that I did not belong to an NLU but as you will read further in my post, you will be amazed to know who really was carrying out the discriminatory behaviour.
My post will be structured in the following three parts;
- My Law School Experience,
- Did being a non-NLU graduate student affect my law school life and legal career,
- My advice to those who are studying at a non-NLU.
My Law School Experience
Let me first give you an insight to what kind of a place did I land myself at for not being smart enough to crack any other law school in this country! Oh yes, I did not crack into any law school. ICFAI had just started in 2010 and they were looking to take in anyone for their 2011 batch irrespective of their aptitude or attitude.
So here I came, all the way from Punjab, to be able to only know and understand why and how ‘communities’, ‘caste’, ‘religion’, ‘race’ and ‘sex’ was so manipulatively shaping our lives, futures, and surroundings. I always thought I might face discrimination from fellow college mates for not being from a renowned college, instead, ICFAI constantly discriminated against me in classrooms, faculty chambers, hostels and on campus for not being a South Indian capable of speaking or understanding Telugu and for being a young ‘North Indian’ girl who wore provocative clothes to college!
I was lucky to have talented professors teaching us both management and law courses however, their talent somehow got lost in their petty politics, unrequired personal comments against students and their personal lives, traditional evaluation methods, no technology in the classrooms please attitude and ‘I am a faculty and you better behave as per my sometimes illogical controlling ways’.
All my classmates had a strong and unique aptitude, however, this too somehow got lost in their petty politics, irrelevant sexual gossips and rumour milling (I don’t even know if milling is a word but as long as you all get the point), gossip mongering’s (not to forget how some of my juniors indulged in the same). My ambitions were mocked as arrogance and hard-working attitude treated with displeasure. On the contrary, there were and still are in my college some gems who are consciously working hard to make a mark for themselves and I’m truly proud of them. I always aimed high, I never lost hope about what shape I could give my 5 years at law school and my legal career despite a lot of my classmates trying to make me feel like I wasn’t capable of achieving all that I had in my mind and sometimes even executing obnoxious behaviours that intended to hamper my success or cause me to lose my track. So much so that when I cracked Amarchand, Delhi as my first big law firm internship after completing my 3rd year, instead of appreciating where I went, people passed remarks such as ‘whether it is so easy to get into AMSS that someone like me could make it’.
Well, ICFAI believes in providing good buildings, greenery, air conditioners and nothing else really! They clearly don’t believe in the concept of ‘extra-curricular activities’, which by the way is one of the reasons why law graduates have an exceptional personality in comparison to other graduates. Even if a student sincerely wishes to take the college forward nationally by making a mark in mooting, debating etc. the college seems disinterested to aim high and let their students achieve their goals. There is not much focus on research, journal writing, blogging and instead mugging up is preferred. The grading system is relative and therefore it only makes one complacent as they begin to realize that their grade can be the highest even if they don’t cross 30 out of 100 since they are competing with their fellow mates and no one else. The college conducted its first State Level Moot & Debate and National Level MUN in its 6th year of existence which also was a genuine effort by the college students and not much interest had ever been evinced by the institution as such before. They were reluctant to set up extra-curricular societies, research centres, journal societies and placement committees at the right time and conduct events. I was an avid mooter and I wanted to be the first team ever to make ICFAI proud at Jessup. However, my college was least interested in supporting students that wanted to pursue Tier 1 level moots. My team was adjudged 2nd runners up in my first moot and despite that the search for a researcher for my international moot (2nd moot) became a political drama and so did my 3rd moot due to irresponsible behaviour showcased by my mooting faculty in charge in both cases. I was stopped from attending two of my competitions just a day before due to various unnecessary first time restrictions imposed on me. Not only did that waste my time and effort in preparing for the competitions but also Rs 10000 for my flight tickets. My college was not doing enough to get us the right internships at right places. It actually was disinterested and a similar behaviour reflected in our placements too. In simple words, ICFAI did not provide any institutional support to me to build a good CV. By the time I was in my penultimate year I had understood that the only time I could do well in an extra-curricular would be if it had nothing to do with my college, no dean/faculty or hostel permissions required.
I think it is fairly clear from the above narrative that if anybody really discriminated against me to begin with in the first place, it was my faculty, administration and the institution on the whole who believed that just because I was pursuing law from their institution which was not categorized as an NLU, my dad’s hard earned 11 lakhs paid in fees did not create an obligation on their part to give me the support that I needed to build my CV. I was discriminated by my own college for not being in an NLU and therefore rightfully demanding for their permission and support to be at places and be given the opportunity to grow.
I was discriminated by my own peers and faculty for not being smart enough to make it to three tier 1 law firms in India for 6 internships in total in a period of two years or to be able to win a few competitions where students from different NLUs participated too.
Did being a non-NLU graduate student affect my law school life and legal career?
Being a non-NLU graduate student did affect my law school life but not my legal career. I missed out on an opportunity to try my luck at participating in Tier 1 moots or debates or to be surrounded by the wittiest of minds during college life. However, not being an NLU student opened the door for many more unconventional opportunities than I would have pursued had I been at an NLU in the last five years.
I have grown up in a boarding school and being independent and managing to stay lonely for a time period as long as 5 years is my forte. However, the discrimination by my own people taught me how to push my limits and find my own way rather even when nothing seemed possible than follow the traditional route. I began exploring different practice areas, tried different strategies to get good internships, learnt how to connect with the right people, developed my own set of skills rather than relying on the ones taught to everyone, also tried my hand at starting my own venture and finally concluded my law school life with a book called “Run Your Fingers Through My Soul” available for sale on Amazon Kindle at the following link; (Also, anyone who wants a deeper insight into what my law school life was like can always read through this book!)
I don’t think I would have tried to start my own venture or write a book and publish it online or interned in practice areas such as energy or telecom law had I been studying at an NLU right now.
As far as my legal career is concerned, I made it to the dream firms for my internships. Once I did go there, I never faced any discrimination for not being from a recognized college. My work and attitude was always looked at more keenly and the college tag was not given a thought especially if I did perform well at my work tasks. Also, I did make a couple of friends from the NLUs and never did any of them ever make me feel that I was any less than them in calibre just because I did not have an ‘N’ tag to my qualifications attached.
My advice to those who are studying at a non NLU;
The most important thing that I learnt through this process of discrimination and am still learning every single day is;
“How to establish YOURSELF as a BRAND! Yes, a BRAND that doesn’t require a disclosure of my qualifications or an ‘N’ tag but just my name or existence to resonate through the Universe and the industry I plan to work in. I learnt how to make MYSELF a BRAND rather than rely on a brand to have myself recognized in the market.”
I would advise everyone who is not an NLU graduate student to look at your situation as an opportunity in hand! Sure, you’ll miss out on Tier 1 competitions but getting research papers published or winning drafting competitions that do not require you to learn a certain form of skill from your alumni (for example in the case of moots) will not be out of your boundaries. They never were beyond mine and trust me, if I could win some drafting competitions or write papers, so can each of you. Use your situation to build a distinctive CV and a BRAND that does not require disclosures about your qualifications. Joining an NLU will give you opportunities that have been available to most students since their inception. They will not be anything out of the box. By not being from an NLU you actually have the opportunity to “disrupt” the existing law student market! Disruption is the reason why companies and billionaires are made or broken. Be a disruption, not a follower. Create your own path, eventually, what you are working for will come to you by hook or crook!
I used my law school days to create MYSELF as a BRAND, you must do the same. Offer something different and urgently required through your profile, that’s how brands break into markets. Law School is just a sea, there is an ocean out there that requires you as a BRAND and not your college tag at a crucial point in time.
DISCLAIMER: The views represented above are that of the writer alone and do not reflect the views of the magazine, Ergo. No legal liability or other responsibility is accepted by or on behalf of Ergo for any errors, omissions, or statements on this site, or any site to which these pages connect. We accept no responsibility for any loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of reliance on such information.