Kian Ganz is the Publishing Editor of Legally India, arguably the most popular online forum for Indian lawyers. An amazingly dynamic person that he is, Kian is fun to talk to about anything and everything. Sandipan De interviewed Kian Ganz on behalf of the CLATGyan team. Here is Kian’s take on just about everything, from the liberalisation issue, legal journalism, law firms in india, corporate law to CLAT and the National Law Universities.
We are very grateful to Kian for taking time out of his very busy schedule and sparing time for CLATGyan.
1. A brief academic background of yours.
I studied law at Oxford and did the English professional solicitors qualification in London, qualifying at Clifford Chance in London.
2. What inspired you to take up legal journalism?
After a few years as a lawyer I began looking for a change of career and journalism had always interested me, particularly the story-telling aspect – a large part of journalism after all is about finding interesting stories and re-telling them in an engaging way. Journalism in the UK is a very competitive profession but the right opportunity came along at The Lawyer magazine, which was a perfect fit for my skills and a wonderful place to learn and hone the trade. I think that while many professional journalists don’t necessarily set out to report in a business-to-business (B2B) publication, many find that there are interesting stories to tell and break in almost every sector, however niche. Of course in India the B2B segment, not just in law, is in a very nascent stage at the moment.
3. What prompted the move from UK to India?
It was a function of being at the right time and the right place and an almost subconscious split-second decision where things just aligned. The UK market was hit by the economic downturn and India presented an exciting opportunity. I thought that I had the possibility of starting something new and realistic in a fascinating place. And those opportunities do not come along so very often.
4. What do you think of the National Law Schools in India?
Is the purpose behind setting them up defeated because of the hordes of corporate lawyers that they churn out? First of all, corporate law is law too of course and is also important for the country and its economy. Would the big problems of litigation be solved if 90% of national law school grads went to the bar or the bench? No, probably not. And arguably there are far too many litigators in India anyway and enough talented, young litigators do join and push that part of the profession forward. The sickness here is obviously not the bar itself but the disproportionate salaries/retainers that corporate firms can pay to freshers. And the situation is not dissimilar in London, for example, where the split barrister (advocate) / solicitor (lawfirmite) distinction is obviously hard-coded. In England , going to a law firm is the default career choice for most law grads. Going to the bar requires a different spirit and willingness to take risks (or being independently wealthy): you are self-employed and you won’t earn much money to start with doing menial labour for a senior on a stipend. And getting into a good chambers – a prerequisite to a good career at the bar – is tremendously competitive. By contrast, London corporate law firms pay you a fat salary from the get-go, give you paid vacations, benefits, gyms, international secondments, bonuses and fairly secure career advancement. Therefore, and it’s been said many a time in the past, if you wish to make it easier to enter the bar there either needs to a stipulation of minimum living wages for young advocates, or government or other funds that can be more effectively used to assist advocates in the first years of their careers.
5. Your take on the new NLUs cropping up in every state now.
There is definitely a need for more quality legal education in India, although of course just giving a law school the national tag is no automatic guarantee of that. I think significant funding is needed and most importantly, law teaching as a vocation needs to be encouraged with better support, facilities and pay. In addition, historic and new Indian law colleges and national law schools seem to prosper or fail on the basis of the people running these institutions and states need to do more to attract top candidates.
6. The quality of the entrance test, i.e. CLAT, and your idea of what it should ideally be.
I appreciate the difficulty of running a fair entrance test for so many. But it does have to be accepted that while a good score in CLAT is fairly good evidence of intelligence it does not necessarily mean one will make a good lawyer. Ideally we would be in a situation where every intelligent and able student could choose to study law and be sure that they could do it at an institution meeting at least a minimum standard of education and teaching for a reasonable price. For that, law as a career option also needs to become attractive enough to attract enough smart and talented students to come forward who will take the CLAT or other entrance exams.
7. Challenges that legal journalism, especially LI, is facing at present.
I think journalism everywhere is facing the challenge of how to make it pay, of course. In India, print publications are doing very well at that, in the online space less so. Apart from that legal journalism is at a good point of time in India: not much competition, a wealth of stories and major changes to report, and a large audience.
8. How receptive are law firms to the entire idea of people reading about them?
It’s a mixed bag. Some are very professional, transparent and open about it, others go into automatic lock-down mode when talking about themselves or expect only positive stories to be written about them. For decades Indian lawyers have been fairly immune from traditional media scrutiny so it will take some time for that to change. And for some it probably never will.
9. Your opinion about the future of the legal field in India and the challenges in the coming days.
Making litigation a viable form of dispute resolution is the top priority but I fear it is a problem that is almost intractable. Any reform plans in the legal field (and elsewhere in India) are hampered by the sheer number of people dependent on the status quo, down to the ‘lawyer’ typing up affidavits in a district court to the clerks filing reams of paper when it could be done more efficient electronically. And of course all the advocates and law firm lawyers too, who may have carved lucrative niches out of inefficiencies in the current system. Reform is tough but I have no doubt things will improve. One day…
10. The entire liberalisation debate- what is in store for NLU grads.
Foreign law firms coming here won’t change anything overnight. They would hire only a small number of students initially, probably not much more than what they already hire from NLU campuses. The pay probably wouldn’t vastly outstrip the wages domestic top firms pay although it’ll probably result in a general upwards pressure (which exists anyway, if you look at recent trends). In the long term it would mean the market becomes a little more dynamic and there will be great opportunities for junior partners and senior associates. As even most opponents of liberalisation say, it is inevitable. But contrary to what those opponents and also some proponents claim, it won’t quite be a revolution but more of a gradual evolution of the market.
11.Future plans for LI.
Legally India has been a very flexible beast from the start and it is hard to predict exactly. The main strategy has been to produce unique, interesting and important content and to help grow a community around India’s legal world. I hope that we can continue doing that and come up with new ideas while staying independent, relevant and fresh.
12. Your advice for law school ites who want to avoid the corporate law firms and want to pursue something different, case in point legal journalism.
I can’t offer much personal experience here but at least in the UK, even if labelled with the tag lawyer you can do pretty much any career you want except for the really technical disciplines. Law is a great grounding for many things, particularly professions related to writing and doing business or projects in the real world. Knowing the law takes away the fear of the outside world more than many other subjects, although that is also counter balanced by many lawyers being traditionally risk averse (indeed, knowing too much about the theoretical pitfalls of the law can be a scary thing!). So while in India you may be a little more silo’d once you graduate as a lawyer, there are numerous examples of law grads who have broken out into something other than just politics. To a certain extent (and there are obviously limits), what you do and how you do it is determined by yourself less than by your surroundings.
13. Your tips for law school aspirants.
My main piece of advice would be not to stress too much about which law school you get into as long as it is in a decent location where you wouldn’t mind spending five years and that has a strong student community. Much of the rest is up to you and how much initiative you show in college – a majority of what you take out of college will be about whom you meet, befriend and what you do with it, not what the university spoonfeeds you or how nice your hostels are. Take GLC Mumbai, for example, which as an institution arguably provides far less than any other law school. But students have made it what it is and continue to be successful. In fact, the same goes for any national law school too. While a decent level of teaching and infrastructure exists, students seem far more active and involved in almost every facet of campus life than at most UK or US universities for example.
14. Views on CLATGyan.com.
I have been very impressed with CLATGyan ever since I first stumbled across it. I think it is a shame that for a while now getting into a good college has been almost the exclusive preserve of those who could afford a good English-language school and expensive coaching classes. Anything that levels the playing field should be applauded and CLATGyan is therefore a wonderful initiative. The articles are excellently written, pervasive and thoroughly professional.