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MAR 2017

Instilling Pro Bono Culture in Future Lawyers: Pro Bono Week 2017

According to the University Grants Commission UGC, roughly 3,73,000 law students graduate every year in India from more than 1,000 law schools in the country. Yet, there remains a gap in supply and demand for good quality legal services, especially for the vulnerable and disadvantaged sections of society. We suggest this gap can be effectively bridged by introducing law students to pro bono legal practice. This will develop their legal skills, attitude, and enthusiasm for pro bono works while they are still in law school.

iProbono is dedicated to promoting pro bono culture amongst legal professionals; Engaging with law student can be an effective way to encourage future lawyers to engage with pro bono lawyering from an early stage. The curriculum at law schools allows students to understand the procedural nuances of the law but there is still a lacuna about using the law for social change.

National Law University Delhi (NLUD) aims to evolve and impart comprehensive and interdisciplinary legal education that is socially relevant, in order to promote legal and ethical values and foster the objectives enshrined in the Constitution of India.  

iProbono and NLUD organized a Pro bono week from February 19 to February 23 to highlight the need for engagement between skilled lawyers and disadvantaged groups and individuals to enable inclusive access to justice.



Pro Bono Week was inaugurated on February 19 by Dr. Justice S. Muralidhar of the Delhi High Court. The students were able to listen to his insightful speech, in which he gave them a perspective on what social justice lawyering entails. He said that the lower courts, which are essentially the courts for the poor, are spaces where there is a need for pro bono culture. It is there where the learning becomes an ongoing process. He also said that the role of a lawyer should not be to distance the common man from the legal institution but to bridge the gap between the two. Furthermore, before one becomes a pro bono lawyer, one should become a good lawyer, “as a lawyer, it is necessary to be thorough with the legal procedures”. Justice Muralidhar has given landmark judgments in favor of people from marginalized communities, and it was, therefore, appropriate that he opened Pro Bono Week 2017. "Whenever I did cases for slum dwellers, I made sure I visited them personally. It's important to empower the community." He added.

During the inauguration, Prof Dr. G.S Bajpai, Registrar of NLUD, discussed how legal aid clinics can become spaces for potential work that can contribute to improving the lives of vulnerable communities.

During the course of Pro Bono Week, students attended panel discussions, a film screening, and theater of the oppressed workshop.


February 20: Panel discussion: Opportunities in Pro Bono Lawyering.

The first event was a panel discussion on the benefits of pro bono lawyering. Speakers included eminent lawyers and the panel was, moderated by Swathi Sukumar (Co-Founder iProbono India). The discussion focused on the pro bono opportunities that young lawyers could find in their regular legal practice.

Prof. (Dr). Ranbir Singh provided the opening remarks to the panel discussion.  Mr. Mohan Peiris, former Chief Justice of Sri Lanka also, joined our panel discussion.

The panelists for this session were Jayashree Satpute, Advocate and co-founder of the organization ‘Nazdeek’ and Bharat Chugh Counsel, Luthra and Luthra Law offices.

Jayashree spoke of her experience working on cases of human rights violations, in particular, the landmark case of Laxmi Mandal v. Deen Dayal Harinagar Hospital & ORS, W.P.(C) 8853/2008 in which a mother delivered her baby on the street without any medical assistance resulting in the death of the mother. In this case, the High Court of Delhi found that it is the role and responsibility of the state to provide pre and post natal medical services, instead placing the burden on the poor.

Bharat Chugh, a young lawyer who in his extraordinary life, completed his schooling through distance learning and then went on to qualify as a lawyer. He topped the Judicial services exam and, became a judge at the Railway Court. He chose to quit the position of being a judge to pursue his passion, practicing as a lawyer. As a railway judge, his experience provided insight into the life of young children, especially those who were often caught in conflict with the law. Nearly 40 students participated in the discussion and interacted with the panelists to understand the challenges of Pro Bono Lawyering.


February 21: Drafting Workshop with Nandita Rao

Legal Drafting is an essential skill. It requires a lawyer to be both meticulous and mindful of the clients he/she is representing. The workshop aimed at providing students with this perspective while drafting applications in specific cases with a focus on human rights violations.

Nandita Rao is a senior advocate at the Delhi High Court and is also the Additional Standing Counsel (Criminal) for the Government of Delhi.

The workshop gave students a first-hand idea of drafting for different types of petitions and applications.

Prior to the workshop, students were given hypothetical case briefs.

Nandita led the students through a detailed understanding of the procedures of filing applications in the court. She also provided students with vital insights on the ethics of pro bono. 

Complementing iProbono and NLUD on the Pro Bono Week initiative, Nandita said, "I want to thank iProbono for giving me this opportunity to participate in the (Pro Bono Week) legal service's training because students are at the beginning of the legal profession and if they get a commitment to legal aid work, that changes their orientation - that they are not lawyers to just make money."


February 22: Theatre of the oppressed and Film Screening

Pro Bono week used creative methods to engage students. Lawyers play an important role in shaping narratives both inside and outside court. Narratives influence the judicial process and are crucial to securing justice. In tandem, lawyers who represent a disadvantaged person shape the concurrent narrative of the client. By virtue of their technical expertise, lawyers often assume that they are best placed to tell the court the client’s story, rather than allowing the client to exercise agency in the process of building a narrative.

Young aspiring lawyers, with an intention to do meaningful pro bono work, need to understand their role in shaping a vulnerable client's narrative. The aim of the Theatre of the Oppressed Workshop was to expose law students to the dynamics of the lawyer-client interaction and give power, agency, and independence, back to vulnerable clients while representing them within the judicial system.

Theatre of the oppressed was used by theater personality, Jaya Iyer, to enable the students to construct a narrative that is not simply based on fact and figures but factors in seemingly peripheral issues. This enabled students to consider a broader picture. Theatre of the oppressed is a praxis that provides both the actor and the spectator an opportunity to step out of the ‘act’, change/exchange roles and in that process rewrite the scripts. Through games, exercises, role play, Jaya invited the students to shed their inhibitions and construct ideas about various issues that surround them. 15 students volunteered to be a part of the theater workshop.

Commenting on her workshop and her interaction with the students, Jaya said, "It was really wonderful. The students were absolutely spontaneous and there was quite a transformation as towards the end many of them were far more open. They were able to talk about themselves and counter their own stats and standing points."

In the second session, the film Shahid (Oct 18, 2013/Hansal Mehta) was screened. This film is based on the true story of a young man who was jailed as a terror suspect and later released. He then goes on to become a lawyer who takes on the cases of young men who are illegally detained. The protagonist loses his life fighting one such case. The film screening was followed by a discussion led by Advocate Jawahar Raja, who has himself represented a number of terror suspects. Students posed poignant questions and owing to Jawahar’s vast experience, he was able to respond to the curious young students. 


February 23: Panel Discussion on Challenges and Strategies in Pro Bono Lawyering

This panel discussion included a range of distinguished panelists. Seema Mishra, Senior Advocate of  Delhi High Court and Founder of the women’s group AALI; Bharti Ali who is the co-founder of HAQ - Centre for Child Rights; Anuj Bhuwania, author of the book ‘Courting the People’ (Jan 16, 2017/Cambridge University Press) and  Anup Surendranath Director, Centre on Death Penalty, NLU, Delhi.

Seema Mishra and Bharti Ali, have worked with organizations that support clients from vulnerable backgrounds and, spoke about how access to justice was important to people whose rights have been violated. Anuj Bhuwania spoke about how initiating public interest – litigation is not always an appropriate response to all social issues. Anup works with prisoners who are sentenced to and spoke about the bureaucratic challenges he faces in his work.

To surmise, the first ever Pro Bono Week was a big success and it was exciting to see law students participate in the week's activities with great enthusiasm.

The iProbono team thanks the students and administration at NLUD, members of the legal community, civil society and the performing arts fraternity who helped create a successful start to this initiative. We hope to continue the Pro Bono Week annually and promote the culture of pro bono in the legal profession for years to come.

Click here to see more images from the Pro Bono Week.

The article was written by Johanna Lokhande, iProbono’s Program Manager.