Hi, I am Ananth Padmanabhan, Dean at Daksha Fellowship and also a visiting fellow at the Centre for Policy Research. A lawyer by training, I hold masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
A good component of my work in the last few years has focussed on technology policy, intellectual property rights and innovation scholarship. I’m also passionate about institution building, pedagogy and digital education, which is why I’m now here building up the Daksha Fellowship.
Tell us about your life in school. What interested you? And who was your inspiration?
I grew up in Thiruvananthapuram and studied at Loyola School, one of India’s top-ranked schools. I was interested in history and politics back then and was an avid quizzer and debater.
While I performed well in the science and math courses, I enjoyed learning English from Deepa Pillai ma’am, a legend in Loyola circles. In many ways, she inspired me to think out of the box and take courageous decisions later in life.
What made you do law? How was the experience at NLSIU? What are the things you think you got ‘right’ and what would you have done differently in retrospect?
So, I’m an engineering dropout. Like most other kids in the late 90s and early 2000s, I took the engineering entrance test. I got admitted to a very good college but could not sustain my interest after a year in the B.Tech program.
I reflected on my life and decided to switch to law, building on my early interest in reading about the Indian Constitution and the freedom movement.
NLSIU served as the perfect starting point for taking forward this interest. I loved learning from Prof. Uday Raj Rai and Prof. VS Mallar.
My passion for public law combined with my interest in public speaking pushed me to do a lot of moot court competitions, culminating in a big win at the prestigious Bar Council of India Moot Court competition. I think I have strong foundations in public law on account of this learning.
In retrospect, I think I would have volunteered a lot more, participated in several more team activities. There was no orientation or incentive then to think of life more holistically, and many of us were part of a race without looking at the larger picture.
But NLSIU had much to offer for those who wanted to expand their mind beyond law.
I feel I didn’t make the most of that opportunity because of my drive to excel in the world of law. Twelve years down the line, I feel the world is way more interconnected.
Tell us about your LLM and SJD experience at the University of Pennsylvania. How did foreign education shape you? What’s your view of pursuing education from abroad in general?
The master’s program taught me to think more conceptually about why legal provisions are designed the way they are. I must wholly credit the American legal education system and its emphasis on policies that dictate legal doctrine, for adding this richness and nuance to my learning.
The doctoral program taught me tenacity and overcoming initial setbacks. Most doctoral students tend to change their subject of enquiry within a certain field, and expectedly so.
I changed the whole field of law twice, moving from copyright to contract law and then back to copyright law but with an entirely different central problem of study. Trust me, a doctoral program is not for the weak-hearted. It can often make us saintly in our attitude to life.
Education abroad is an excellent experience because their pedagogy tools are very different compared to our system here in India.
The syllabus is innovated to align with the times, keeping in mind the needs of the market. Teaching is mostly a dialogue between the student and the teacher, and the lecturing element is minimal.
The exposure is great because even as a law student, I attended several workshops outside this discipline. In particular, I was actively involved with the Center for the Advanced Study of India, then headed by Prof. Devesh Kapur. His mentorship has been invaluable to my growth.
Similarly, having an international cohort helps.
One gets to learn a lot just by interacting with one’s community! Going abroad to get all this exposure is certainly useful, but I also hold the view that in India, we are slowly tuning ourselves to innovation in pedagogy.
Young India Fellowship paved the way for that in Liberal Studies, and we are attempting to change the legal education curriculum in India through Daksha.
We are trying to provide the experience of studying at a world-class programme in Chennai and in the future, with more such programmes, students may not have to necessarily look outside for exposure and expertise. We are at the brink of educational reform in the country and it is Fellowships like Daksha and the YIF that are leading the way.
You are now the Dean-Academic Affairs at the Daksha Fellowship. You have worked at the Center for Policy Research and practised as a lawyer as well. You are a published author too. What makes for a good legal researcher-writer? How can one go about developing these skills?
For anyone to be a good writer, I always believe that three skills are essential: clarity, conciseness, and the ability to appropriately engage the reader.
Apart from these, a legal researcher/writer needs additional skillsets such as exceptionally strong legal citation skills, close attention to detail, persuasive and logical reasoning abilities.
A lot of students know their subject very well but they seem to lack the aptitude to express it in writing. Good writing only comes with practice. Logical reasoning can be developed through puzzles, exercises and argumentation methods.
Building an individual opinion comes from reading and engaging with the works of others carefully and critically. Add some creativity there and you have a finely sculpted legal opinion piece.
All these four – regular practice, developing logical reasoning abilities, creativity and critically engaging with scholarship – are sure shot ways to enhance one’s quality of writing.
At Daksha, we have a dedicated communications lab to help build effective legal writing skills for our students.
We have a mix of academicians, legal writing experts and journalists on board to teach our students and we are excited to see what comes out of it!
You have held key speaking positions at various fora. What are your speaking and presentation tips for students and young lawyers uncomfortable with that?
I always believe that speaking and presentation is like story-telling. How can you possibly evince interest in your audience by telling good stories?
You need to narrow down the plot; find out the core elements/features/characters of your plot; weave arguments around it and finally, tie it all together to a nice structure.
If you are doing a presentation, just keep the basics clean: Ensure that the font is big, that there isn’t too much content in your slide and the presentation aesthetic is minimal. When you are presenting, the slide is only there to aid your presentation.
Make sure the PowerPoint itself does not become the showman. Also, a good speech or presentation will start with learning to tell good stories but it does not stop there. What can your audience take away from your speech or presentation?
Always empower your audience, give them something to chew on.
Tell us about the Daksha fellowship. Why should one do it rather than a regular LLM?
Daksha Fellowship is a first-of-its-kind law, policy and business fellowship for young lawyers, public policy professionals and other graduates with a prior foundation in law.
Spread over a year in residence, the fellowship equips lawyers with specialized knowledge through legal and non-legal courses, in-depth sectoral understanding and a wide array of skills essential for the world of work.
Students can specialise in one of the three pathways – technology law, law and regulation, and disputes resolution – coupled with additional skills to stand out in the workplace.
There is also a focused internship program to channelize industry exposure, global immersion to ensure international exposure, communication lab to offer toolkits for effective communication in the digital age, and experiential labs and intensive bootcamps to enhance expertise and wellbeing.
Our faculty are also top-notch – most of them have international exposure and are leading experts in their domain.
How is this different from a regular LL.M. programme?
An LL.M. program follows a conventional curriculum design and often fails to capture more recent advancements in the world around us. Similarly, it does not prepare students to sufficiently navigate their career paths.
A fellowship program, on the other hand, emphasizes contemporary learning methodologies, collaboration through active participation, skill sets required for career advancement and above all, building up a community with shared values.
You have a work and well-being lab at the Daksha fellowship. Can you tell me some components for the lab? Anything useful for young people as they go about managing the COVID crisis?
We conceptualised the work and well-being lab to remind our students that they are human beings at the end of the day and dealing with their personal lives and minds is as important as wanting to be ambitious about their careers. In this lab, we have a mindfulness component to help our students cope with the stress of the daily world.
We have also joined hands with the World Storytelling Institute for students to understand and engage with the world and their careers through stories.
We believe critical thinking is crucial to sieve the wheat from the chaff – you know most times we always operate on bias and are prone to forming faulty opinions because of it.
So, there is a critical thinking component as well. And lastly, a personal finance component to manage money because we realised that a lot of youngsters don’t know how to manage their finances.
COVID is changing how we have organised our life and work. I can’t speak for everyone but I can certainly share my way of coping. For starters, I have stopped looking at the statistics regularly – because looking at these numbers all the time has become an addiction and encourages negativity!
It is good to know what’s happening but it is also important to take care of one’s mind from external influences and focus on the now.
I’m guessing that one can use the time to do the things that one otherwise wouldn’t have done: like learning a new language, talk to old friends, bond with family and learn to cook even! I also play a lot of quizzes on quizup these days and such healthy distractions have helped me manage my mind.
Any parting advice for our readers?
Read widely and critically, build some data and digital presentation skills, communicate effectively, and learn to build relationships. For a world where knowledge was a restricted commodity, my kind of educational experience served sufficiently well.
But we are no longer in that world. Knowledge is freely available but insight is lacking. The first and second element listed above will make you an insightful and wise individual, the third and fourth will go a long way in ensuring that the world recognizes you as such.