INTERVIEW: Dr. Rhishikesh Dave, Dean, School of Law, Marwadi University: On Academia, Institution-Building, CLAT Hurt and More!

Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Let me start by saying that, first and foremost, I am a Scholar of Law. Learning law is a process never a destination, therefore I am still a student of Law.

My currently job profile is as Dean, Faculty of Law, Marwadi University. I am in fact one of the founding members of this department. My career as an academician began with teaching part-time at Department of Human Rights, Saurashtra University. I was also associated with a local Law College at Rajkot.

Briefly after that I was selected at Gujarat National Law University as assistant professor. In a short span of time I was given the charge of Registrar In Charge at GNLU. I took up the post of Associate professor to Institute of Law, Nirma University, shortly after that. I have also served as a Dean, Faculty of Law at Galgotias University.

My association with them was for about 3 years and during my tenure there I got invitation from NMIMS School of Law, Mumbai to head their Law School. The offer from Marwadi University followed soon and I decided to join here,as it was my dream to establish a good law school at my home town, Rajkot. 

Academically speaking, I completed my Masters in Human Rights and International Humanitarian Laws from Saurashtra University and also did my PhD from the same university on the subject of International Criminal Law.

My areas of learning are International Law, Human Rights, Refugee Law, Law of Evidence, International Humanitarian Laws and Criminal Law. I am passionate about teaching as I am dedicated to the service of it. 

How and why did you enter academics? What are the pros and cons of academia as a career option?

In all honesty, law was not really my first career option.  I have had humble beginnings in life. My father was a farmer in a small city of Gujarat called Jamnagar, but was extremely zealous about education and human rights. I had a successful career in Marketing and was working with a very reputed financial company when my father encouraged me to pursue Law.

Law Colleges, at that time, used to conduct their classes part-time which was suitable for my work schedule and therefore I thought of giving myself a chance by studying law and the rest, as they say, is history.

I think my it was my tryst with destiny that I embarked on a journey where from a part-time scholar, I became a full-time academician. I heard that Saurashtra University had started LLM in Human Rights Law and as I was always attracted towards Human Rights, I joined there. I started falling in love with my studies so much so that I used to travel 200 kms every day to attend my class.

Later, I got an opportunity to teach International Humanitarian Laws to my fellow classmates as there was no subject teacher available at that time. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching and then decided to pursue my career in academics. The journey till then was quite unplanned but it has shaped up quite well.

I would say academia is one of the best profession I can ever think of. It gives lot of satisfaction to see young scholars learn and grow. In the 5 years integrated program most students join at the age of 17-18 and transform into adults when they graduate. I must say that the most attractive part of academics is the reciprocity and mutualism, the experience of interactions with different students is variegated and truly enriching.

This experience has helped me realize that meeting students with different mindset, ideology, attitude, temperament and dealing with each one of them respectively is itself is a challenge but one worth it.

One has to evolve every day not just in terms of knowledge in the subject but also as a human being. I hear, about my students becoming partners of Law Firms, receiving awards, making difference in lives of people when working with NGOs and International Organisations, the feeling of pride and satisfaction that it affords is truly rewarding for any teacher.

Financially things can be looked at from the brighter side as teachers are paid well in the Education Industry and therefore have a better quality of life.

We know that as every coin has two sides so I will also talk about the Cons, well, it is a 24/7 job, from outside it looks very easy when people see us delivering lectures for few hours daily but that requires lot of reading and research. Students require our help any time and I always make sure I am available for them any time they require.

So it takes up lot of time preparing, updating yourself and also things like setting up of question papers and evaluating answer sheets are quite a task. Well another issue is that personal life gets disturbed because whenever you go out and especially if you are in a small city with your family as you will find students sitting around and getting curious to know what we are up to.

When I was with GNLU which is located in Gandhinagar, a very small city of Gujarat having very few restaurants and places to hang out, I can not remember a single instance when I went out with my family for dinner and have not met my students but, yes, sometimes it is also fun to meet them outside. 

marwadi university

Sir, you’ve been a faculty at GNLU and then a dean at various private colleges. Did you find any difference between NLUs and Non-NLUs? If yes, what can students, faculty and administrators do to bridge the gap?

Ah! a very interesting and relevant question, NLUs and Non-NLUs, I feel it’s the perception of students that there is huge difference between NLU and Non-NLU law schools and getting admission in NLU will ensure a successful career but that premise is flawed. Ultimately it is the quality of and the perseverance of the student,  that matters the most.

I would reiterate that Law School is not a goal but a means to achieve final goal of becoming a successful Law Professional but many students make it as their goal and that’s where they fail when they graduate and fail to become good professional.

With regards to the differences I personally don’t feel much difference, except for the fact that in top NLUs they get the best of the students across India and they are self-motivated, consequently a lot of learning happens among students themselves. I would say that many Non-NLU private law schools do much better than most of the NLUs. 

Being private institutions, they have to prove their quality and ensure student satisfaction so they double their efforts in developing a good law school. Then the fact comes that the government funds NLUs, so they get students automatically even if the quality of education is not that good. For faculty members it is good to serve in a NLU then private Law school because the amount of work they have to do in Private law school is much more than NLUs. So I don’t see any gap as such except the brand value that NLUs have.

 Even in private law schools, there are categories with it comes to the education and exposure they provide. There are few very good law schools and as such many law schools are there which are not up to the mark, so students while taking admission have to ensure where they are going.

They have to check the courses that are offered, subjects that are taught, faculty profile in terms of specialization and experience, library resources, infrastructure and also the leadership of the law school. 

You are currently the dean of Marwadi University? What’s your vision and plan for the law college?

Marwadi University is located in Rajkot, Gujarat and from the beginning I had a dream to set up a good law school in this area and that brought me back to my roots. This is something I had dreamt of since long. I want to make it a law school with a difference. My vision for this law school is to make it one of the best private law schools in the coming 5 years.

I know it is a tough target but I have a clear vision in front of me and I am working on it every day. I am fortunate to have a management that encourages academics and research and is very liberal when it comes to spending of resources for the right purposes. I am encouraged to have a vision to make it a centre for excellence in Law and Justice Education. Here I want to talk the reason why, I have added justice in my vision.

Law is a tool to achieve justice and Justice can have many facets, it can be social justice, economic justice or legal justice. Law professionals have always been torchbearers when it comes to fighting for all the three types of justice I have mentioned above and that’s what I also want to see my students be.

This can be possible by strong interdisciplinary approach towards legal studies. My plan is to ensure that law is not studied in isolation, students must be aware of all the underpinnings that shape up law that can be used as a tool to achieve justice.  

I want my students to be independent thinkers and leaders. That aspect is what I see lacking in today’s education system. In the course of 5 years, I will be offering them subjects like critical thinking, argumentative skills, debates and various activities where they develop a skill set that will help them achieve the goal that I have in mind for them.  

You’ve been a dean at other colleges too? What makes or breaks an educational institution? 

Interesting question and it’s very difficult to answer. I feel it is the leadership that makes or breaks an educational institution. If the leadership is visionary and open to new ideas an educational institution can flourish.

A leader should accept that he is responsible for everything that happens in the institution. He will take pride for success and so he should accept failures. I have seen institutions that had the best of faculty members, infrastructure but due to weak leadership the institute could not reach the heights that they deserved.

A leader should lead with example and should ensure neutrality and compassion to all his juniors. Most important thing is he should trust his juniors. So my point here is that the vision of leader is of utmost importance for an institution to flourish. 

Why should a law aspirant choose Marwadi University for their legal education?

I have mentioned earlier that I joined Marwadi University to develop a law school of my dreams. This is not just a job for me but I am living my dream and I am trying to channelize all my past experience into action. The first thing I am concentrating is to provide students with a plethora of practical exposure and for that we have made 8 compulsory internships starting from 2nd till 9th Semester.

These internships are spread across 5 years.  In the first year they go to a NGO, second year two internships at trial court, third year at High Court and fourth year to Supreme Court/Law Firm/Corporate house and 5th year is placement internship where we will send students to the place where they are likely to be placed.

These internships are provided by us and also monitored by us. Then we have a policy of inviting professionals to give expert lectures on the subjects that are taught in a particular semester. So while faculty members deal with theory the professionals deal with practical aspects of the subject.

The next thing we have done is to emphasize on capacity building that is honing  their skills to suit the professional needs. A major issue I found out from my experience of dealing with students and their placements, was lack of professional skills in students. They may have excellent grip over the subject but they were not able to explain it, communicate it or apply it in a given situation and therefore we have introduced one subject that enhances their professional skills in each semester.

Subjects like Critical Thinking, Argumentative skills, Legal Writing, Interviewing skills etc. These skills will equip the students with skills that are required the most to become a successful law professional. In the fourth year and fifth year, we will provide professional skill courses in the field where students have decided to make their career.

For example, training courses for judicial examinations, if one is interested to pursue the career of a judicial officer. 

We also recruit senior and experienced faculty members from across India. Faculty strength is one of our USP. I strongly believe in the fact that the main assets of any educational institution are their faculty members. If the faculty members are knowledgeable and good teachers the knowledge will percolate to the students. 

Research is also a very important skill  that every law professional should have and further, one has to ensure that the students are good at research and can do research in all the legal subjects.

In order to achieve that we have introduced compulsory research paper in every subject and these projects are again strictly monitored by our faculty members and are evaluated by external experts. We have made research integral part of FoLMU and I am happy to share that in the short span of our existence we were awarded 2 research projects under Erasmus Plus program by the European Union.

I would also like to tell all the students that Marwadi University is one of the very few institutes that has been awarded A+ Accreditation by NAAC and that itself is enough to ensure the quality of education imparted. 

The campus is beautiful, state of the art infrastructure, library full of resources, comfortable hostels are other things that you can be assured. We are in Gujarat that is one of the safest and fastest-growing states of India. 

There is a lot more I can write here but in short we offer two undergraduate program i.e. B.A., LLB. (Hons) and B.Com.,LLB. (Hons), along with one year LLM and  PhD program.

Many students would be disheartened after their CLAT results. What’s your advice for them? 

What is there to be disheartened? Just because you did not make it to a NLU? What is the ultimate goal of a student opting to do law? To be a successful law professional? Law School is a tool, a means to become a successful law professional but many times students think that getting into NLU is their ultimate goal. Don’t make your means your goals.

The biggest myth students have it that once they get into NLU their career is set and I think that is totally wrong. There are good private universities where you can get similar experience or in some cases must better experience than the  education the 2nd and 3rd Tier NLUs can provide.

Ultimately your education will play an important role in your development and whether it is NLU or No NLU does not make any difference. If you choose the right private law school, work hard and stay focused I think you will achieve your goal of being successful law professional.

As I said earlier private law schools donot get students automatically the way NLUs do and that is why they have to prove themselves time and time again.  There is nothing to be discouraged, just take admission in a good private law school  and start developing your career. These days you have so many options available to get knowledge. Get as much knowledge as you want and be successful. 

I have been noticing that a lot of law aspirants are taking a drop because they are not able to make it to the NLUs or to the Top NLUs. I have been wondering whether it is a good idea to do so or will that hamper the student’s career in a way that he/she may not realize it right now. I have even met students who have taken drop for 3 years.

I consider taking a drop is a very bad idea and here are some of the reasons why you should not take a drop.

  1. You never know how much you will be able to score next year; it is like shooting an arrow in dark. 
  2. The maximum you can improve is 10 to 15 marks as CLAT syllabus is not huge and extensive as JEE. So generally if you got 50 marks this year you will be able to score 70 next year but that will not be enough. However, there can be exceptions. 
  3. The number of students taking CLAT is increasing every year so you will get tough competition each year.
  4. You will lose one year of practical experience that you can get after graduation. Even if you do free internships for a year after graduation you will get valuable experience that will help you in placements more than an NLU tag. 
  5. All competitive exams like UPSC or Judiciary has an upper age limit and you would have one less shot at those exams if you drop a year. 
  6. Ultimately your knowledge will count and not your university. There are students from 3rd tier law schools who get placed on top law firms. 

Many times CLAT coaching institutes encourage students to take a drop specially those who have done a crash course and very tactfully convert them to a full year student so that they can generate more revenue. 

Actually, taking a drop involves huge risk and that risk involves the career of a hard-working student. One should take a risk but it should be a calculated risk with some options to back you up if you fail again, therefore I suggest to all Law Aspirants to take admission in a Private law school and work hard.

Ultimately you will be placed if you have it in you and if you are able to demonstrate your knowledge and legal skills to the recruiter. 

Even if you want to appear for CLAT again do it after taking admission in a Law School so that you will be on the safe side even if you are not able to crack CLAT in the second attempt. The mantra is perseverance, diligence and making informed decisions, based on calculated risks after weighing the pros and cons.

Full disclosure: Marwadi University has been an advertising client on Lawctopus.



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