A First-Ever Fellowship For Lawyers in India: The Daksha Fellowship Experience

Aug 26, 2020
Nilkanth Gharkar, Daksha Fellow
Nilkanth Gharkar, a member of the inaugural cohort of Daksha Fellows

The Daksha Fellowship is India’s first law, policy, and business fellowship program for young and mid-career lawyers, public policy professionals, and other graduates with a background in law. The Fellowship is a one-year program with a contemporary curriculum formulated by internationally renowned faculty in collaboration with leading legal practitioners and industry experts. The program includes workshops, labs, and bootcamps. Fellows receive tuition waivers, mentorship, and more.

We talked to Nilkanth Gharkar, a member of the inaugural cohort of Daksha Fellows, to learn more about the program and get some application tips.  

1. What inspired you to apply for the Daksha Fellowship? 

I was always fascinated by the concept of ‘fellowship.’ Initially, my schedule for the coming academic year was to attend the University of Miami School of Law’s International Arbitration LLM program, where I am admitted as an International Arbitration Institute Scholar. However, due to the global pandemic crisis and travel concerns, I have to defer my joining to next fall. At first, I approached the Daksha Fellowship as a better alternative in these turbulent times. But now, after discovering all that this fellowship program offers, I am keen and excited to participate. Given my career inclination to work in academia, I would say the Daksha Fellowship puts me on the right track, especially since I am pursuing it this very year.

My 4 years of post-qualification experience as a lawyer and as an accredited mediator has largely revolved around civil & commercial disputes. It includes 3 years of training as an articled clerk, as per the Bombay Incorporated Law Society rules, under a senior Solicitor in Mumbai. A chord struck with me quite long ago when I learned how often technology intersects with the legal profession. Daksha Fellowship is the first fellowship program in India exclusive for lawyers with an objective to train lawyers for a digitalised economy and society.

Daksha Fellowship’s founders and advisors, Mr. KV Ramani and Dr. Pramath Raj Sinha, are known for their contributions to the education sector in India. The founders, advisors and the team’s previous contributions and efforts to ensure the long success of Young India Fellowship and other such fellowship programs, as well as the fact that they represent probably the only circle of people in India to change the dynamics of modern education, attracted me to this exclusive fellowship program.

2. What are the benefits of the fellowship?

As a Daksha Fellow of the inaugural cohort, I am offered a full tuition waiver, which is around INR 6,00,000. It is a one-year residential program in Chennai, a coastal city in India. 

The program structure is unique; the initial courses are on research, finance, business and policy law. Thereafter, one has to opt for specialisation from three pathways – Technology Law & Policy (TL&P), Law and Regulation and Disputes Resolution. My chosen pathway is TL&P, I intend to learn about the governance of emerging technologies and the regulation of the digital economy.

Daksha Fellowship aims to train the fellows with a holistic approach. To that end, there is a 2-month internship scheme and a 10-day Global Immersion Program in a foreign jurisdiction. Furthermore, pedagogy includes Bootcamps, Communication Lab, and Work and Well-being Lab. 

Mr. Sriram Panchu, Senior Advocate, is considered to be amongst the first to advocate the use of mediation, even before mediation was a popular concept in India. Since my law college days, he has been an inspiration for my interest in mediation. Also, Mr. Arvind Datar, Senior Advocate, is revered by me and many for showcasing the ideal characteristics of a lawyer. In fact, his journey and struggle as a first-generation lawyer inspired me to choose litigation over other career options. I am glad that both of them are on the board of advisors of the Daksha Fellowship. Also, the faculty, headed by our Dean Dr. Ananth Padmanabhan, was the greatest influence for me to apply. Along with the multi-dimensional program structure, I believe an opportunity of interacting with them will further strengthen my faculties. Also, I look forward to interacting with our Senior Associate, Ms. Archana Sivasubramanian, for her study in public policy, and our technical faculty, Mr. Sahil Deo, for his expertise and practical exposure to the digital world, for a wider approach and guidance.

The cohort’s composition is diverse as there are lawyers from almost all regions of India – from northeast to southernmost part of India. They have different educational backgrounds – some trained in India and some abroad, some switched from technical subjects to the humanities, and some are at a different stage in their careers – some fresh law graduates, some with experience in social work and some with 6 years in the corporate sector. As our Dean Dr. Ananth Padmanabhan says, the fellowship program is all about the fellows, and I believe such composition will widen the horizon of all the fellows and attribute to the success of the fellowship program in the long run.

3. What tips would you give others applying to the Daksha Fellowship? 

To be honest, I found the application process challenging as it stretched over a month and involved multiple components. The application process is slightly different than that of a typical LLM application, but it contains all their typical components in addition to its own. In the first stage, one is expected to fill out the application form, which asks for details beyond an academic and professional record. One is asked to fill detailed categories of their interests, extra-curricular and other achievements. Also, the crucial element in one’s application form is their Statement of Purpose, which is 400 words, and a short 750-word essay on a law topic identifying an important issue of debate. Needless to say, most weight is given to the legal essay and how aptly one is able to put their thoughts and analysis to paper. I would recommend one to choose a topic in which one has sufficient reading and study, as then one may be at their best to assemble many ideas in the word limit of 750 words. Readers may access my submitted essay here.

The second stage requires one to undertake a specially designed online exam – Daksha Fellowship Admissions Test (DFAT), which is again slightly different than typical law entrance tests, inasmuch as it has two different components, law topics and non-law topics, which tests one’s analytical skills beyond memory retention power. Generally, I do not fare well in a typical entrance exam, but I found that DFAT puts everyone on equal footing inasmuch as in its law topics section, one is given the principle/s of law, and is tested on one’s applicability of the law to the given set of facts. There is an option to alternatively submit other test scores such as the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), but attempting DFAT is recommended for one’s consideration for a full tuition waiver. 

The third stage is the interview process. One may expect to be interviewed by a panel of two – a senior member of the program and a faculty member. In my experience, I found the interview to be short and sweet, 20 minutes long. My interview was conducted professionally; it was more of a clarification session where interviewers got to know me more based upon the details in my application form and tested my understanding and approach to a legal concern. 

Because the first stage includes such a detailed application form and two essays, I would say the first stage is the most crucial and may determine the success of one’s application. Given the present circumstance of the global pandemic crisis, my interview was scheduled via video conference. However, for the next cohort, one may expect physical rounds of interviews and thus find them to be more challenging, because then one may be analysed on body language and other attributes.

I am thankful to ProFellow and Dr. Vicki Johnson for this opportunity, I particularly thank Ms. Olivia Davis for her support and my recommendation. I highly recommend Profellow for the extensive fellowship database they offer, and also their successful workshops and courses. I am hopeful that ProFellow will be a great resource to me to earn another fellowship program and possibly also to my younger sibling.

Nilkanth Gharkar is currently a Daksha Fellow in the inaugural cohort (2020-21) of the Daksha Fellowship. He is an Advocate (India) & Mediator (IIAM Accredited) from Mumbai, a law graduate of V. M. Salgaocar College of Law, Goa (2016), and is inclined to pursue a career in academics.

© Victoria Johnson 2020, all rights reserved.