IDIA: The making of CHAMPS

The IDIA (Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access to Legal Education) project is a pan India movement to train underprivileged students and help transform them to leading lawyers and community advocates. IDIA is premised on the notion that access to premier legal education empowers marginalized communities and helps them help themselves.

The project is run on the backbone of highly passionate student volunteers from various law schools, who travel across the length and breadth of India to identify marginalised students with aptitude for the study of law. It then trains these selected students through a rigorous program for the leading law entrance examinations, CLAT (Common Law Admission Test) and AILET (All India Law Entrance Test).

Once selected to the top law schools, IDIA arranges for sponsorships/scholarships and mentorship schemes to help candidates blossom to their full potential and take their rightful places as leading lawyers and community advocates

In the last five years, approximately 70 students trained by IDIA procured admission to various law schools in the country, and around 40 secured admission to the leading National Law Universities (NLUs). They reflect a truly diverse mix, comprising candidates from various backgrounds (children of farmers, stone quarry workers, shopkeepers and clerks) and hailing from various states such as Karnataka, West Bengal, Jharkand, Rajasthan, Bihar, Manipur and Mizoram.

Further details available on the IDIA website  www.idialaw.com  and in this short video:  <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4GrsUbILfUA>

Creating CHAMPS

 

_DSC2578

 

IDIA’s overarching goal is to facilitate the evolution of truly unique lawyers that make a significant difference to the world around them. Our aim is not merely to create technically skilled legal professionals, but leaders who transform society in significant ways. The nexus between law and leadership is a significant one with a number of political leaders and thinkers having been trained in the law. To this end, special leadership training programs and techniques would be imparted to our scholars and volunteers from time to time. In line with Maslow’s pyramid (the “hierarchy of needs”), our goal will be to help each one of them ‘self actualise’ to the best extent possible.

In particular, we seek to create CHAMPS: lawyers with certain attributes as detailed below:

Creative

Holistic

Altruistic

Maverick/Moral

Problem Solvers

Our project is therefore titled the CHAMPS project. Each of these attributes are explored in turn.

Creative: Creativity is no longer an option but is an absolute pre-requisite for any legal professional that wishes to make a difference to society. Indeed, some of the most pressing disputes today require the fashioning of creative solutions. IDIA scholars and volunteers will be encouraged to unleash their creativity as best as possible through their tenure at law school and thereafter.

Holistic: This term has great resonance in the medical field, where some have advocated for a move away from a “reductionist” focus on symptoms and their cure (as allopathy currently does) to a more holistic approach, focused on the disease and the body as a whole. And more importantly, on “prevention” rather than cure.

Similarly in law too, we need to move away from short term immediate wins for one’s client towards a long term holistic solution that heals the underlying conflict and makes society better off. IDIA scholars will be encouraged to become holistic in their orientation towards redressing the various problems plaguing society. The law will be seen as only one of the tools in one’s box with which to fix the problem. It will be a means to an end, and not the end itself. To this extent, scholars will be encouraged to adopt a multidisciplinary approach to most issues requiring resolution.

Given that India is home to a number of holistic medicinal solutions through its traditional knowledge systems, it is only fitting that we initiate a legal enterprise in this direction as well.

Altruism: IDIA wishes to create a breed of lawyers who are sensitized to the various inequities facing society and will do their best to help redress them in a compassionate manner. Indeed, IDIA will strive to imbibe in its scholars the highest ideal that a lawyer can hope for, namely the propensity to completely efface his own self for the sake of another. This lies at the core of altruism, a virtue that will sought to be drawn out from within each of the scholars that IDIA trains.

Maverick/Moral: Much like a factory, today’s law schools churn out employable graduates a dime a dozen, who succumb to the lure of a luxurious salary and are more inclined to follow the herd than take the road less traveled by. We intend on creating legal mavericks who carve out their own pathways and make a transformative impact on society.

Interestingly enough, the word ‘maverick’ originates from the name of an American lawyer Samuel Augustus Maverick, who refused to follow the herd and brand his cattle. He did so as he did not wish to inflict pain on his cattle.[1] We hope that our scholars will also emulate this Maverick lawyer and independent thought and conviction.

For various reasons, the standard conception of a lawyer in popular culture is that of a greedy, self-serving, callous, money-grabbing and unsympathetic professional.  While some in the profession do give cause to create this impression, others stand for the highest levels of integrity and honesty. We aim to build the best of these traits in our scholars as well.

Problem Solvers: Unfortunately, our adversarial legal system today has come to be one where disputes are prolonged and perpetuated endlessly. We wish to hark back to the core essence of the law and what lawyering is really about: namely problem solving. IDIA scholars and volunteers would be encouraged to become legal solutioners rather than legal gladiators out to fight and win at any cost.

The idea is to generate a new breed of lawyers that are not necessarily wedded to hostility and a win at any cost, but committed to creative solutions predicated on compassion and love. The law will be seen not as a zero sum game, but as one conducive to holistic healing through an amicable resolution of disputes.

Here again, specific training programmes including techniques in alternative dispute resolution will be explored.

Effective leadership and problem solving requires a diverse set of skill sets and attributes which will be sought to be inculcated through various programmes. Of these, we focus on 3 of the most important ones: creativity, a holistic attitude to problem solving and a compassionate approach.

Cultivating the attributes:

The above attributes will be sought to be instilled in scholars and volunteers through their tenure at law school. It bears noting that one cannot expect these attributes to emerge overnight from discrete programmes. Rather, they have to be ingrained as a way of life. To the extent that they could help, specific programmes would be undertaken to help cultivate this.

One such programme is outlined below.

CLAPS (Community Lawyering and Problem Solving)

 

champs

The overarching aim of IDIA is to empower marginalised communities. The first step is to draw out members of such communities with some aptitude for the study of law and create leading lawyers out of them. IDIA will not, at any stage, interfere with their career choices, but will continually impress upon them that whatever career path they chose, they must have an eye towards the well being of their community in some way.

Secondly, scholars will not be forced to assume community leadership roles or engage with their community if they are of the considered view that this is not what they wish to do with their future. IDIA will counsel and guide scholars in making this decision, whilst at the same time formulating programmes and processes that would effectively ‘nudge’ scholars towards more community engagement and possibly a leadership role. One such programme that nudges scholars towards community leadership roles and also contributes in a larger way to community empowerment, CLAPS, is outlined below.

During the course of their law studies, IDIA scholars along with IDIA volunteers, members of legal aid cells of law schools, and legal professionals would visit the locales of scholars, identify specific problems faced by their communities and examine the extent to which law could help resolve some of those issues.[2]

CLAPS essentially encourages IDIA scholars to use the law as a problem-solving device to help resolve disputes within their own communities. While certain disputes merit a full-fledged litigious journey in order to secure justice (particularly in the realm of constitutional rights and preventing state onslaught on civil liberties), many others are amenable to less litigious forms of dispute resolution. These will be explored in depth with a view towards fostering a compassionate use of the law to reconcile differences. The idea is to generate a new breed of lawyers that are not necessarily wedded to hostility and a win at any cost, but committed to creative solutions predicated on compassion and love. The law will be seen not as a zero sum game, but as one conducive to holistic healing through an amicable resolution of disputes.

 

_DSC2693

 

IDIA scholars, along with other IDIA volunteers who are part of this mission are encouraged to view disputes not just through a narrow reductionist legal lens, but as a wider socio-economic and political one that is best resolved in a holistic manner. They will also be trained in mindfulness meditation and other techniques as would enable them to empathise with even their “adversaries” and generate win-win solutions. However, where necessary, they will be asked to take up litigious cudgels, particularly in areas where it is absolutely critical to set legal precedent and affirm rights through a rigorous adversarial process.

Through this process, scholars are encouraged to actively participate in their communities and be part of a process that leverages their ongoing education to make a significant social difference. More importantly, such training prepares them for their future role as social engineers and legal leaders. The project is one way to help shape up the various attributes that form a part of the CHAMPS menu outlined above.

This project will not typecast IDIA teams into the rigid roles of ‘helpers’ and the scholar’s community as that of the ‘helped’; neither will we carry any grandiose notions that we are the ‘teachers’, and they the ‘taught’. The vision of CLAPS is to foster engagement of our student volunteer teams with scholars’ communities so that both can learn from each other and in the process, and garner a fresh lens to view each other and themselves. The flow of benefits in this project is mutual and reciprocal. Through this project, we wish to move out of the ‘us v. them’ binary mindset, and develop a larger sense of community among our volunteers, scholars and scholars’ communities.

Implementation of CLAPS

  1. To visit the village/community of a specific scholar.
  2. Tie up with an NGO that works in the area
  3. Facilitate alternative training methods in dispute resolution and tie up with leaders in this field.
  4. Tie up with legal aid cells of various leading law schools to effectuate this.
  5. Tie up with pro-bono lawyers interested in this work
  6. Tie up with artists, musicians, story tellers and others that are best placed at creating legal awareness.

Beneficiaries of CLAPS

  1. The target communities
  2. IDIA scholars
  3. IDIA volunteers

Partners

  1. Local NGO
  2. ADR specialists
  3. Public interest lawyers
  4. Legal aid cells of Universities
  5. Clinical legal education cell of Universities
  6. Local Self Governing Bodies, where possible

 [And here is the latest update as to IDIA’s first CHAMPS visit to Maranahalli Bande, Karnataka!]

[1] “Original ‘Maverick’ Was Unconventional Texan,” National Public Radio, September 25, 2008, accessed August 21, 2015, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94312345.

[2] Deepak Raju (a lawyer with Sidley Austin and a former IDIA team leader) had first proposed the idea of taking IDIA scholars back to their communities to help them with their legal problems.