Ruchi Parekh was a part-time Legal Researcher at JUSTICE (left June 2015) and Associate Editor to NYU Law School-based blog, Just Security. Prior to joining JUSTICE, Ruchi spent a year working on economic and social rights litigation at INTERRIGHTS in the UK as the recipient of a Harvard Law School Public Service Fellowship. Ruchi’s pro bono experience spans Harvard Law School’s Advocates for Human Rights, the Liberty Letters Clinic (UK), the International Criminal Court Student Network, and the India Centre for Human Rights and Law.
What drew you to studying law?
I was drawn to studying law at an early age, inspired by clichés such as To Kill a Mockingbird. I grew up in Mumbai, India, where the disparity between rich and poor could not be more prominent. This clear inequality – which really came through on a daily basis – also influenced my decision to study law, in the hope of effecting social change. I no longer believe that the law is the only (let alone, the best) means of “making a difference”, but I do think I made the right choice and I’m very happy with the things I’ve worked on so far.
You are a part-time Legal Officer at JUSTICE and also contribute to NYU Law School-based blog, Just Security as Associate Editor. Could you describe your route to JUSTICE?
I studied law at the LSE, followed by an LLM at Harvard Law School (HLS). In between the two, I completed what is now known as the Bar Professional Training Course and undertook an internship at UCL’s Constitution Unit. The internship was part-time, which allowed me the flexibility to take up paid employment on the side.
At HLS, I concentrated on comparative constitutional law and international human rights law. It was a really great year, and I was able to gain a much stronger understanding of these areas both academically and in practice. A particular highlight was a three-week field trip to South Africa investigating the health and environmental impacts of gold mining.
After the LLM, I was fortunate enough to land a Public Service Fellowship from HLS that funded my year at Interights (which has now sadly shut down). I worked on education and health rights, with a focus on eastern Europe and southern and eastern Africa.
I’ve been extremely lucky to have such a varied experience of a number of human rights issues in practice, especially in these last two years at JUSTICE.
You are starting your pupillage at Cornerstone in October, congratulations! What attracted you to the Bar?
I really enjoyed my degree and particularly liked engaging with the “grey areas” in the law. I wanted to pursue a career that was both intellectually challenging and dynamic, and the bar seemed like a good fit. I liked the idea of getting on my feet and being able to influence the outcome of cases. My experience with mini-pupillages and vacation schemes while still at LSE quickly confirmed this – I would strongly advise aspiring barristers to do as many mini-pupillages to get a real feel for the types of chambers you may want to join.
Of course, I’m technically still an outsider looking in, so you’ll have to ask me in a year if a career at the bar is what I think it will be!
Do you have any tips for students trying to secure pupillage this year?
Having spent two consecutive summers trying to convince chambers why I would make the perfect pupil, I am only too familiar with the difficulties of securing pupillage. It is such a competitive process that I don’t think you should undertake it unless practising as a barrister is the only thing in this world you can think of doing.
If you are convinced it is for you, I would recommend – at least for the public law bar – building on your skills through relevant work experience. Most of those successful will have relevant work, internship or voluntary experience. For claimant-focused human rights or civil liberties sets, a commitment to the chambers’ ethos will be key, and this too can most easily be demonstrated through practical experience in the field.
Your inn or university can usually help with practical tips, but the one I struggled with but found most useful is to be confident, especially in interviews. Answering questions in a confident (but not over-confident or smug!) and therefore, calm and structured way, can move you from the maybe to the yes pile.
And finally, remember to remain cheerful. The process can be tiring and rejections are always demoralising. But while you should try and get feedback and improve at every opportunity, do not take it personally.