Please tell us about yourself

Anju Anna John graduated from NUALS (National University of Advanced Legal Studies) in 2015, and went on to become the third person from the University to receive the prestigious LAMP fellowship ( Legislative Assistants to Members of Parliament). Having completed the programme in May 2016, she is now a Legal fellow at Counsel to Secure Justice, an NGO in Delhi and works with victims of child sexual abuse.

This interview was conducted by Krittika Chavaly on the 27th of August, 2016.

K – Krittika Chavaly, the interviewer

A – Anju Anna John, NUALS alumna

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K: What in your opinion, were your major achievements at NUALS? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?

A:  When my batch got into NUALS, we walked into this pink coloured building with five classrooms and a tiny, cramped library. Getting into NUALS was a curse in itself. The first year passed by in this state of shock, and then my second year was mainly spent making peace with this fact.

But what I did do throughout law school (at least from my second year), was a lot of extracurricular activities, because it was the kind of curriculum where I could afford to do it. I have been a part of the NUALS Law Journal from my second year all the way till my final year. In my final year, I was the Chief Editor of the NUALS Law Journal and the ELSJ. That was something that I spent a lot of time on, which was good in a way that, it gave me exposure; working on the Law Journal meant I was constantly reading about things beyond the academic curriculum, spanning all fields of law. That helped broaden my ideas. I was also into MUNs and moots.

I am really glad I participated in moots because you have to do detailed research into particular topics and you have to be able to answer questions; the research that you do is more than what goes into the final draft of your memo.

Also, there were these guest lecturers coming in, thanks to the then Vice Chancellor, N K Jayakumar, which was amazing. It helped quite a bit with regard to generally broadening our curriculum beyond what was tested. There was a course on Space law, and another on Climate, Energy Law and Policy (taught by Dr. Armin Rosencranz from Stanford University). These were some really intense courses which were different from your average NUALS Curriculum, which helped quite a bit in terms of allowing us to broaden our horizons in terms of areas of law, as well as, learning outcomes.

I interned with The Hindu and afterwards I continued to contribute articles once in a while. I had also interned with Youth Ki Awaaz. For my internships, I tried a lot of varied fields. I interned with law firms, PSUs, NGOs, etc. The last internship I did was the one that made me decide to apply for the LAMP fellowship. This last internship was at the Bharati Institute of Public Policy; the reason why I applied and got through LAMP. It was this whole other area of public policy and research that I got to experience at a time when I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I think internships were great opportunities that way, in terms of figuring out what you want to do post-Law School!

K: Could you tell us a little about the LAMP fellowship?

A: The LAMP Fellowship basically opens up applications sometime in February. The application process requires you to write two essays, one, in the general cover letter fashion, where you describe why you are applying, what you plan to do after the fellowship and so forth. Second, you have to analyse a policy or legislation of recent relevance. In addition you give details of your achievements. Following this, you are shortlisted for an interview round.

The interview is about them trying to assess whether or not you are the kind of person who would be suitable for the LAMP fellowship. They would try and gauge you on your knowledge on the topics you mentioned in your application, and general knowledge. Essentially, what the fellowship entails is that you would have to work with a Parliamentarian for a year, so the kind of things you would have to face there would be the situational questions they ask you. Depending upon your performance in the interview, they shortlist you for the fellowship. Approximately fifty people are selected annually for the fellowship.

K: As I understand, it’s predominantly policy-based. What attracted you to this field, apart from the internship at the Bharati Institute of Public Policy?

A: At the Institute I worked under Professor Rajesh Chakravarty, the director of the Institute. At the time, he was working on a book that dealt with how certain legislations came into being. We were doing background research on legislations, and I was doing background research to their background research. I helped him with two legislations; one the NJAC (National Judicial Appointments Commission) and two, the Food Security Act. During college, I had already taken a course on Food Law which dealt with PUCL versus Union of India, the right to food case, which helped me quite a bit. While doing this, I realised that the entire law school curriculum focuses on teaching you the law, and you barely look at the how these laws came into being, the vacuum which they filled and how they helped or didn’t. So in class you learn Section 5 or Section 6 of Act XYZ but you never learn the background, how it came into place. This is what interested me.

I also realised that if I apply for LAMP, I would get to be part of the legislative process which was my main attraction. Once you get into the Fellowship, they put you through one month of training and after that, they assign you to different MPs and once you are in the MP’s office you are basically helping him with everything he does in Parliament and vicariously taking part in the legislative process. You are drafting questions, his speeches and helping him with other parliamentary duties. You help, and in a way, participate in the whole legislative process with the top legislative body in the country. That sounded amazing to me!

K: What in your opinion was crucial to your application?

A: For the fellowship, the first thing they look at is your research capabilities. Also, your general interest in the area would help a lot. For instance, I had a lot of experience (either as an Editor of the Law Journal or internships) that were research-based. Since what you’re dealing on a constant basis deals with legislations, being a law student helped a fair bit. There’s also this one other thing; you have to be flexible with regard to your opinions and you have to be non-partisan, and put aside your personal views.

K: Do you think the fellowship was “worth it”?

A: So, each MP is different and they would have their own interest areas and work culture. Basically, you are taking a risk, since you won’t know what you will be dealing with for the next one year. Either way, no matter what, being part of the fellowship itself was fulfilling. The training was really helpful in preparing us for the year ahead. The process prepares you for the fellowship itself and how tough it can get. With me, personally, I had a great experience. I got to work with Mr. Tiruchi Siva, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha from the DMK party. He introduced the Private Member Bill on the Transgender Persons’ Rights.

The last one year helped me decide what I wanted to do after LAMP. Mr. Siva took up issues relating to human rights, which I was interested in too. He would take up issues and exhaust all avenues available to try and make a change. Seeing his efforts, it kind of inspires you to be passionate about it too. It wasn’t taxing for me, it was actually nice. During session time, I had to put in long hours, but on the bright side, I would go there in the morning and I would get breakfast and lunch. If I stayed long enough, I would even get dinner. That was amazing. Yeah, I think I’ve used “amazing” a lot!

Right now, I am working with an NGO in Delhi and we work with victims of child sexual assault. The fellowship helped me decide that I wanted to work in the area of human rights law, or something on those lines.

K: Could you describe a day in the life of a LAMP fellow?

A: That is something I cannot do, since it’s different for different MPs. You can’t have a uniform day in the life of a LAMP. Also, the work is very seasonal. We have the Monsoon Session, the Winter Session and the Budget session, which are the hectic times when most of the work comes in.

K: How do you think NUALS set you up for the entire experience?

A: It is a National Law school and uh, I don’t know. I think more than NUALS, if I have to be honest, it was all the other extra-curricular activities I did outside of NUALS that really helped.

K: Any parting comments?

A: I was waiting for law school to be over, although I’m relieved that law school is over, it was everything I did over the course of the five years at NUALS that set me up for this.

So, I guess, the best piece of advice I could give Law Students is to make the best use of their time in Law School; either to explore all your options, or to focus and work towards what you want to do after Law School!