Melbourne Law School's strengthening connections in the Asia region

By Liz Banks-Anderson

Melbourne Law School’s place in the Asia region and its relationship with leading universities and legal institutions, particularly in India, is growing stronger every day.

Director of the Melbourne Law School’s Asian Law Centre and Associate Dean (International) Professor Pip Nicholson says that Australia’s strengthening of its longstanding relationship with India is important for a range of reasons. The escalating trade and investment partnership between the two countries is significant as is the development of close  relationships between universities to sustain new research and teaching collaborations.

“It is a country that offers Australian common law lawyers a site for rich comparative research.”

“Our students are also vitally interested in India, whether learning from a public or private law optic. It is a place full of possibility,” Professor Nicholson says.

The permanent appointment of Associate Professor Farrah Ahmed, as Director of the India Program, has radically assisted to realise the MLS India strategy.

“Farrah comes with a formidable network and extraordinary energy and commitment to realising research cooperation and teaching opportunities in India. MLS students benefit from going to India and we are also looking at ways we can bring students and Faculty from India to the Law School,” Professor Nicholson says.

In May 2014, Professors Ahmed and Nicholson visited to India, meeting with a range of firms, barristers, NGOs and academic institutions in Delhi.

From this, three key activities emerged. First,the 2015 Delhi-based Contemporary Issues in Indian Public Law Conference, hosted by the National Law University Delhi and co-organised with University of Oxford and MLS.

Secondly, the design and 2015 teaching of ‘Law and Legal Practice in Asia (‘LALPIA’) in Delhi. LALPIA has MLS students working in Australia on sources of Indian law and an introduction to the Indian legal system followed by a one month placement at leading legal institutions in India, including: corporate law firms; NGOS; and barrister’s chambers.  

Thirdly, MLS established inter-institutional partnerships with National Law University Delhi and Jindal Global University.

The conference also enabled broader engagement with Indian scholars resulting in the two-week visit of Professor Sudhir Krishnaswamy in 2016 as the Indian Council for Cultural Relations Visiting Scholar. Professor Kirhsnaswamy’s series of lecture on Indian constitutional law inspired the Australian audience of lawyers, judges and scholars.

Law Graduate at Clifford Chance LLP Vidit Mehra (JD, 2015) took part in the LALPIA subject in his final year of study and says it offered valuable insight into the Indian market.

I was lucky enough to be placed in one of India's largest law firms. I got a real insight into the market. Given India’s closed legal market it is quite hard for a person to be able to do that.

Through the internship he gained a network of connections to facilitate working in India again.

“That in itself is great for someone looking to build a profile in the Asia Pacific, where the legal market is growing at this point in time.”

As the legal market is still consolidating in India, Mr Mehra says the market considerations are quite different and you have to consider things that legal professionals in Australia may take for granted.

“In some ways, this makes the job of a lawyer in India much harder and it also makes you question market conventions that you just assume in Australia.”

Mr Mehra says he would like to develop an international career, particularly in the growth market of the Asia Pacific.

“As a young lawyer, it is where you want to be. I think this is where all the big projects are and all the action is at the moment.

“In addition to that, there is so much experience to be gained in Australia that you can then take to these countries to help facilitate their growth,” he says.

“LALPIA was great because it is helping to build the Law School’s profile in India. While the Indian law student might have a good understanding of the legal market in the US or UK (for historical reasons), Australia is being put on the map by initiatives like this.”

MLS alumna Tanya Spisbah (LLM – Masters of Laws, specialising in international trade and development) has carved a distinguished career in India and has held the position of First Secretary, Trade and Economic, at the Australian High Commission in New Delhi since 2014.

“It is an exciting time to witness the new wave of Indian economic policy reform” Ms Spisbah says.

“I’ve lived in a number of other countries before…Nothing quite prepares you for living within one of the world’s most populous, dynamic and promising countries of the 21stcentury.”

Ms Spisbah notes interest on both sides to increase trade and investment.   

There is appetite in India for liberalising professional services, including legal services. Prime Minister Modi has said he has hopes for India to become a regional hub for legal services and international arbitration.

“The President of the Bar Council of India visited Australia last year to learn more about Australia’s legal services, to meet with the Australian Attorney General and to review the accreditation of Australian law schools to enable Indian students to have Australian qualifications recognised in India.”

That delegation also visited MLS, which continues to work constructively with the Bar Council of India.

In short, MLS and Indian lawyers and universities work together in many ways supporting research (a further conference and young scholars program will be held in Delhi in 2016), teaching and an immersion experience for our JD students. We are privileged to have such excellent collaborators in India, at a time when the universities face substantial challenges.

Banner image: Professor Sarah Biddulph, Associate Professor Farrah Ahmed and Professor Pip Nicholson at Humayan's Tomb, Delhi

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 15, June 2016.