INTERVIEW: Dr Neeti Shikha, Associate Dean, ISPP, Founding Head of Centre for Insolvency & Bankruptcy, IICA | On the Need for Reinventing our Legal Education

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Dr. Neeti Shikha is serving as an Associate Dean at the Indian School of Public Policy, New Delhi. Before joining ISPP, she worked as Head, Centre for Insolvency and Bankruptcy, Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs, a think tank under the Ministry of Corporate Affairs. She holds PhD from National Law University Jodhpur and LLM from University College London, UK.

She is a recipient of the prestigious Hague Scholarship and has pursued courses in private international law at the Hague Academy, Netherlands. She has held academic positions at various law and business schools in India and Singapore.

Dr. Shikha serves on the Academic Advisory Board of India School of Public policy and on the board of advisors of India’s leading think tank, Centre for Civil Society, New Delhi. She is also a life member of the FORE Society, parent body governing FORE School of Management, New Delhi. She is also a board member of the Insolvency Research Foundation.

She is also the only Indian woman member in the academic steering committee at INSOL International, a world-wide federation of national associations of accountants and lawyers who specialize in turnaround and insolvency. She has published widely in leading journals and newspapers, and has authored two leading books Changing Paradigm of Corporate Governance in India and Corporate Governance: Principles and Policies.

She has done funded research for Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India and Ministry of Corporate Affairs and has submitted policy inputs to the government on insolvency and bankruptcy laws. Her main area of interest are company laws, insolvency laws, corporate governance and law and policy.

Dr Neeti Shikha

Dr Shikha describes herself as a doting mother and a proud daughter. She is passionate about teaching as well as learning. With varied interests, she is also an advocate of the need for reinventing our legal education.

Lawctopus is honoured to have the opportunity to interview her and to learn about her ideas on how interdisciplinary education can help in this ‘reinvention’.

Please introduce yourself to our readers. Keeping your professional profile aside, how else would you describe yourself?

It is a difficult question you have asked- for me, my work defines me. But keeping aside my professional profile, I describe myself as a doting mother and a proud daughter.

 Born to parents who are into academics and are accomplished scholars, I imbibed a passion for teaching and learning at a very young age. I am in a constant quest for knowledge. I am an avid reader and read around 50 books a year. When I get time, I do write and paint. Recently, I have published my book of poems. In short, I am on a constant journey of self-discovery.

The Indian School of Public Policy is the first design thinking focused school of public policy in India. Why did you choose a Public Policy School?

Well, a career in public policy school was thought after the decision. In my last stint, while working with IICA, I worked on giving several policy inputs to the Ministry of corporate affairs. 

Over the years, I have realised policies are often made in isolation following a top-down approach.  Most often policies are not based on evidence or data.  

Indian Institute of Public Policy is the country’s finest public policy school that aims to create a young and fresh cadre of policy professionals. The institute is founded on the commitment to world-class faculty, extensive industry linkages and innovative approach towards design and management of policy, ISPP aims to transform the art of policymaking. 

The school philosophy of creating ethical policy professionals who can think critically, behave ethically and act independently resonates with my own belief.

There is a dire need for lawyers to step into policy-making and for law firms and legal institutes to step into policy consulting.  Some leading law firms are already in this space. I strongly believe if law students could garner a deeper understanding of the market and economy and appreciation for data, they can emerge as excellent policy professionals. I hope I can catalyse this shift.

Law as a profession and as a career has so far been treated as an insulated profession and there’s a whole myth of ‘legal exceptionalism’ prevailing in the education environment of India.

In light of this, what do you think about conventional and non-conventional academic careers in the field of Law?

You have rightly pointed out that legal academic career has been very conventional while law continues to be very dynamic. Any law has political, economic, sociological ramifications. However, legal teaching and research in India fail to address these cross-disciplinary dimensions of law.

I remember several students of NLU Jodhpur went to work in policy space. Many of my students diversified their career options by pursuing MBA or other degrees. A few of them also joined academia and are doing extremely well. The point I am trying to make is one needs to continuously evolve and identify their passion than merely follow the conventional path. 

Now coming to your question,  some of the conventional academics in India have emerged as stalwarts. the likes of Prof. Upendra Bakshi, Prof MP Singh, Prof BS Chimni, Prof Madhav Menon had an outstanding scholarship. Over the years, their tribe has decreased. 

Barring a few good men and women in an academic fraternity, most of the law schools are plagued with mediocrity. Legal academics need to become unconventional and understand the law in action. They should be able to help students in their quest for knowledge and career. There should be more professors of practice at law schools. A conventional career is a cliche considering the way law is evolving, society is changing technology is touching our lives.

You have an illustrious career involving an emphasis on law and public policy. What are your future plans? How do you intend to create that synergy between what you’ve done and what your intentions are for the future?

I started as a teacher and researcher and would like to retire as one during the end phase of my life. I also have a deep interest in writing and painting which I hope to pursue at some point in time. 

In near future, I aim to focus on research in policy and law, especially insolvency laws and corporate laws & governance. I would also like to continue my work in institutional building and encourage multidisciplinary research and writing which can eventually lead to national building. The country is still searching for a sound institute that can work in the business and policy areas- ISPP is the answer, this is my near-future goal.

How important do you think policy education is in India and why?

India is going through interesting times.  While 518 million number of Indians are active on social media, the quality of participation of the public in policymaking is absent. Technology is changing the course of our country and policies are often a knee jerk reaction.

If India has to progress, public participation in policymaking must increase. Otherwise, some very ambitious and revolutionary laws that hold the potential for bringing a paradigm shift may not see the light of day. 

To give an example,  Indian policy-making still witnesses vestiges of conservative, cliched and socialist approaches to policymaking. Whenever market-centric policies are designed, the country witnesses a huge backlash. For example, FRDI Bill and farm laws. What is missing in the whole policymaking is a strong public consultation and scientific approach. Also, we need to build capacity to develop these new approaches at both the central and state levels. There cannot be a better time than now to emphasise policy education in India because to do all this we need trained professionals.

Academics, public interest, and a handful of other law-centric career roles are still painting legal education in India. How do you suggest diversification should shape itself in the current career trends?

In India, the degree that one holds determine the career path. However, with changing times there is a lot of emphasising on skills and merely not the degree. Legal education provides one of the finest training as critical thinking and soft skills are part of the core curriculum.

Lawyers if hone with the right skills, can successfully diversify their careers. They can be a fit in various professions such as business strategist, insolvency professionals, business managers, policy analysts, policy communicators and advocates etc. Lawyers should think of exploring these options by identifying their interests and adding new skills to their existing ones.

Could you share your ideas on the need for our legal education to reinvent in many forms and ways and how interdisciplinary education can help in this regard?

In Indian law, the curriculum is designed in a manner that law students become a jack of all trades and masters of none. On average, in the first two years of law, a student has to study over 14 subjects. In a total of five years, a student has to complete 45 courses. Where is the time to deep dive?

More often the subjects are taught to follow an approach to what the law is and not why the law is. 

When I was teaching in Singapore,  the courses were limited and students often deep-dived into a few areas of law. The focus was on building fundamentals that help hone the legal mind. 

Our legal education needs a drastic revamp. There has to be a focus on an interdisciplinary approach to reading law. For example, when a student is taught competition laws, he/she should also be made aware of how market forces operate? Research and innovation should be encouraged. 

Any suggestions for the upcoming generation of the legal fraternity?

I have the greatest respect for our legal fraternity. A legal fraternity is a close and usually very composed group of individuals who may be divided by their personal interests but are united by the larger interest of the profession.  The profession is not easy and has a lot of struggle in the beginning. Young professionals should not get deterred by this and their struggle should only fuel them towards excellence. 

Founder of  my university UCL, Jeremy Bentham has rightly said that “The power of the lawyer is in the uncertainty of the law.” Every lawyer should aim to shape the law and not merely interpret it. They should constantly keep honing their knowledge and skills.

My advice to the upcoming generation is to think of larger national interest whenever they do something. Let the cause of justice alone motivate them!

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