Editor’s Note: This post was first published on May 22, 2019.
Aditi Sachdeva is a lawyer and strategic communications professional with over seven years of experience in legal and policy research, human rights, public affairs, campaign and advocacy.
She founded Sarvpaksh – a boutique consultancy for the development sector – in 2016 to render legal advisory and policy advocacy support services.
She obtained her degree in Arts and Law from the National Law Institute University, Bhopal, India in 2009 and an LLM in International Law from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, the USA in 2010.
Interview by Nandini Garg, our campus leader from NLIU, Bhopal!
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
I am a lawyer and a strategic communications professional with a definitive bent towards rights-based and development issues. Having worked with both non-profits and corporates, I have seen how the exchange of legal acumen and innovative approaches can go a long way in fostering trust among stakeholders, especially when bringing to life effective policies.
Recently, I established ‘Sarvpaksh’, a boutique consultancy offering legal advisory, public policy and advocacy support services, to support NGOs, government and social businesses in navigating the crucial area between law, politics and policy-making in pursuit of their mandates.
At Sarvpaksh, we empower – both legally and strategically – ‘change-makers’ (our inspired clients, our partners) and the ‘change-making’ process to become more dynamic, impactful and allied to the communities they serve.
Deploying a range of strategies and skills by operating through a network of lawyers and development sector professionals from across India, we endeavour to deliver solutions that are not only accessible to all but also equally benefit all.
This is, of course, an ideal we aspire towards but this is imprinted in our ethos. And in rendering this support, our role is to serve as a catalyst in promoting human rights and sustainable development.
Work aside, I am what one calls a ‘food nerd’! I love travelling, trying new cuisines, and am very particular about tastes.
I find solace in reading (be it fictional, non-fictional or spiritual) and find great joy in defeating my husband at badminton, scrabble and monopoly :).
I love a good challenge and derive my motivation from my family. I find that the status quo generally makes me restless. I dislike the state of limbo but enjoy the hustle-bustle of life around me.
Tell us about your time as a student in NLIU, Bhopal (including the extra and co-curricular activities that you took up).
I had a total blast! We had a strong sense of community and our rapport with the faculty-administration went deep. Still being in its early years, we were encouraged to try our hand at different things.
Throughout the time at law school, consistent academic performance was a non-negotiable for me. Only once did I participate in a Moot Court (back in the first year). Even though my team-mate and I made it to the semis, the experience paled in comparison to the high that I had experienced each time I was part of a model united nations.
Over the years, I found myself enthusiastically participating in all sorts of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities both on and off-campus. On campus, I was usually inattentive attendance (last row occupant!) or could be found organizing all sorts of events, participating in cultural activities, writing for Wavelength (NLIU’s then official newsletter) or The Edict (India’s first inter-law school magazine) or voicing complaints to the Girl’s Hostel Mess Committee.
Off-campus, I took part in debates, organized multiple inter-law school conferences under the aegis of The Edict and dabbled in pro bono work like appraising distribution of compensation to Bhopal Gas Tragedy survivors and gorged on snacks and other food at legendary eateries across Bhopal, the city of lakes!
What kind of internships did you undertake for a career in the development sector?
From the very beginning, I was fairly certain I wanted to work on rights-based issues. Given the varied nature of stakeholders in this sector (Government, Civil Society, Media, Courts etc), I wanted to gain exposure across the spectrum.
Thus, the internships at Maharashtra Human Rights Commission and reputed NGOs like Majlis, Lawyers Collective and Public Interest Legal Support and Research Centre, in my initial years at Law School.
Working with reputed advocates like Indira Jaising, Flavia Agnes and Rajeev Dhawan helped build perspective early on. Routinely publishing articles ensured that I kept abreast with topical issues of the day.
In my later years at law school, I realized I did not want to be lacking in my understanding of things are seen and done on the other end of the legal spectrum i.e. in Law Firms and Corporate Houses.
Internships at Mahindra and Mahindra and law firms like Economic Laws Practice and Talwar Thakore and Associates helped me get a glimpse into an entirely different way of functioning and practising law.
The sum and substance of all my internships proved vital in building a holistic perspective and charting the course for my future professional choices.
Tell us about the Masters program that you undertook in the Fletcher School, USA. How did you prepare to get admission into such a prestigious institution?
The 9-month LLM program in International Law offered by the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy is very dynamic. Of all the graduate programmes that I got accepted into (including Graduate Institute, LSE and Columbia), I found the curriculum at Fletcher to be most flexible and suited to my interdisciplinary interests.
The mandated coursework was across the schools’ three divisions (International Law and Organizations; Diplomacy, History and Politics; and Economics and International Business).
To a significant extent, I had the option to choose courses of my interest across the three divisions. It was only at Fletcher that I could study ‘International Treaty Behaviour’, undertake a seminar on the ‘Art of International Negotiations’ and learn about ‘Strategic Marketing for Non-Profits’ under the same program.
The appeal also lay in the fact that Fletcher, literally speaking, hosts the global community (students from over 60 countries across the world study at Fletcher at any given point in time) and boasts of highly well-placed and impactful alumni community comprising of leaders in governments, private and not-for-profit sectors globally.
The unique faculty-student ratio and cross-registration at Harvard University certainly made for the best exposure. At the Fletcher School, I learnt that a collaborative, cross-disciplinary approach is a must for achieving solutions to today’s complex problems.
I think the key to securing an offer of admission lies in the ‘Statement of Purpose’ / ‘Motivation Letter’ that a candidate is required to share. It is the only window that any Admissions Committee has into a candidate’s mind, being and promise.
There was no deliberate preparation at my end; I wrote my applications with honesty, weaving a clear thread through my academic orientation, internships and other activities undertaken during law school with my professional aspirations.
It is not so much about how much you accomplished but about what and why you have done. Having appropriate and strong recommendations is a plus – it helps to be mindful of this when making a choice of who you should take the letters from.
You have worked as an editor for various national and international journals and books. Tell us about your work experience. How did you develop the necessary skills for such work?
Being a Legal Editor is a demanding job. The eye for detail has to be exacting and the communication absolutely clear. Law and its practice have a language of its own. The jargon, concepts and writing style are usually very complex and difficult to understand for people outside the fraternity.
In my experience, unless legal communication is simplified for consumption by the common denominator, the very purpose of publishing or debating issues or implications among a wider audience is defeated.
In a legal edit job, the responsibility to ensure that the information being relayed is correct, appropriately referenced/cited and free from plagiarism, is onerous. It is almost like you have to do the research all over again yourself and you cannot even claim credit for it. When
I initially started out, the writing style of legal English was bothering me; long sentences would mock my attention. It was also important to get a grip on where the syntax was placed because a wrong placement could potentially convey the wrong message.
I sought help from legal writing manuals and guides to understand how citations and legal method approach differed across jurisdictions. To ensure quiet and focus, I would often do the editing work late into the night. Sometimes it made for an interesting or exciting read or an equally overwhelming or boring or just disappointing read. You just have to be at it.
This has made me more accommodative of diverse opinions and perspectives. One has to consciously learn where to draw the line as an Editor; in re-articulating a thought when you not the author, there is only a little space for movement.
The article is not yours to claim. It is yours to clean and communicate. It has taken countless oversights to develop an eye for detail. I persisted but only because I enjoy this work.
You have been involved in drafting bills under government’s National Advisory Council, bills introduced in Rajya Sabha etc. How is it to work with and for actual lawmakers of the country?
It is very engaging and a great learning experience. From office research to engaging with civil society, from interacting with the bureaucracy to working with the MPs, legislative drafting is highly inclusive and deliberative activity.
One-on-one interactions with MPs and politicians across party lines are not only revealing of their intelligence but also their acute awareness of wide-ranging issues and their region’s pulse. But as a lawyer first, it is important to keep sight of the legal issue, be able to judge its importance and the possible ramifications of the proposed legislation.
There is friction between the ‘legal’ and the ‘realpolitik’ and the challenge herein is to maintain a boundary between law and political considerations. The difference between the concepts and practice get exemplified in such situations and it is a transformative process.
As a founder of Sarvpaksh, tell us about the challenges you faced in setting-up the consultancy firm.
There’s always a new one every single day. Keeping the momentum going, especially when you are treading a rather unconventional track, is testing. Much as we play on strengths and take pride in our niche offering, it requires perspective to accept our limitations as we work on building our audience that resonates with our vision.
As of now, these challenges are the adrenaline and keeps the team on their toes. Keeping my fingers crossed that we can sustain this momentum in the times to come.
Any suggestion or advice for our readers.
I realise I am going to sound preachy here, but I say this from experience. Follow your heart and do things at your pace. Everyone operates in their time zone and has their own definition of success.
Accelerate your pace, but only if you wish to for your self and not because you feel you pale in comparison to the achievements of your peers. When you respect your time zone, things happen, you arrive and you thrive!