Better search, the 'missing generation', Indian Kanoon, Agami Prize, and stuff I'm thinking about
We’re into the 10th issue of this newsletter.
I am still figuring out the emails’ structure, themes, frequency, and level of depth/breadth. I suppose this will continue to happen (disclaimer!), as I optimise through continuous experimentation and small, frequent failures.
I’ve also got more feedback from the readers since moving to Substack — not sure if Substack has anything to do with it. Feedback helps immensely in directing my attention, nudging me to think about aspects I may not be thinking about.
Overall, the writing experience has been much more joyful and frictionless for me since moving to Substack. How has the reading experience been for you?
Let’s jump in with some housekeeping…
I’ve made some usability improvements to the website to help people discover legal tech and related knowledge related to law and justice innovation.
Here’s a video of me walking through some of these changes. If you can’t view the video in your email browser, watch it on YouTube or on the website.
The content I’m curating on the website comes in all kinds of formats and types. So far, the stuff I’ve been curating has mostly been in the form of news stories, articles, papers, and videos. In the future, I expect to include other types of information (startup info, tools, public goods, investment data, trends, and so on).
If the goal of the website is to make legal tech knowledge more discoverable, then the ability to easily search through the content is crucial. Before this update, a user had to first decide what format they want the search results to be in, and then type a search query. This wasn’t exactly intuitive or usable — do we first decide the subject matter of what we are looking for or its format? I figured this was a forced/false choice on the user since we alternate between them all the time.
To address this, there is now a global search box on the home page. It will display the results across formats. An indicator (above the title) will display its format.
In the last update, I mentioned that the videos on the website can be searched through the transcripts (when available). This will help yield better results and will become more relevant as the content on the site expands in the future.
Now, this is also possible in the case of articles and research papers. Wherever a PDF has been embedded on the website, the content inside the PDF will also be included in the search results.
New timeline view
Earlier, the content on the website was displayed as a blog/gallery. While that is one standard way of displaying information, it doesn’t really convey a lot of additional context outside that piece of content.
To provide some (historical) context, I’m experimenting with a reverse-chronological timeline view so that the information can be understood in relation to other developments that happened around that time.
The thought behind this is that as the content on the website develops over time, it should become easier for someone to understand how the legal technology and innovation space has been developing in India over the years.
Feedback or suggestions
If you have any feedback or suggestions, please leave me a comment.
News and industry developments
Agami Prize 2022 | Nominations open
Agami Prize is a biennial prize that aims to discover innovative ideas that have the potential to transform our law and justice system.
The 2022 edition of the prize is now open for nominations. If you know of an innovative idea or initiative that is working towards improving the law and justice system in India, please consider nominating them.
There are two prizes. The Shamnad Basheer Prize is for mature initiatives that are transforming law and justice systems. These initiatives would have typically proven that their ideas can work, and are now growing and consolidating their impact.
The Idea Prize is for early-stage initiatives that have the potential to transform our law and justice systems. As the website mentions, these initiatives would typically be testing their ideas/building proof of concept.
The nominations are open till 30 June 2022. For information about the prize, eligibility, profile of past winners, and FAQs, visit Agami’s website.
Indian Kanoon as a model for making legal research free and accessible | World Bank paper
A recent research paper by the World Bank studies the role free legal information can play in improving the court machinery (and by extension the larger justice system). The paper analysis the impact and effectiveness of free legal search engines by taking Indian Kanoon as a case study.
The paper finds that Indian Kanoon has had a positive impact on the number of backward citations to cases within 3 years of its launch, resulting in lower cost of access to legal information, and is correlated to improvement in the court machinery. For instance, the study finds that it has had an impact on the overall quality of deliberations during hearings and an increased clearance rate in courts.
To quote from the paper:
Kanoon is also associated with a decrease in the number of pending cases, a decrease in backlog, an increase in the number of decided cases and, consequently, an increase in the clearance rate of treated courts. At the level of the district courts, we find that the number of filings decreases during the first two years after the Kanoon rollout before returning to the original levels.
The number of pending cases and backlog, however, increases and the clearance
rate decreases over the year after the launch. Analysis of the cases themselves
suggests that Kanoon has had a positive impact on the number of backward citations within 3 years of its launch.
Read the paper here.
Every senior lawyer should guide at least 15 juniors: Supreme Court
The Supreme Court has lamented that an entire generation of lawyers seems to be ‘substantially missing’ from the bar, expressing concern over the absence of junior lawyers who are capable of taking over the baton from senior lawyers.
This happened during the first week of June in an unrelated hearing.
Ultimately, the second line has to come up, which is substantially missing at present. This has to be filled up in a very short period. Some modalities where you can nurture the people has to be there,” the bench told senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who was appearing in a case during the court’s summer vacation.
I have some concerns about this whole issue, and think there are deeper systemic issues which the Court, characteristically, is missing.
My reasons are the same as they were when the Supreme Court recently analysed the issue of poor legal training for lawyers, and proceeded to give instructions to the Bar Council for coming up with suggestions, which are now being reviewed. I had given my opinion on that issue here and here.
The way I see it, the larger pattern at play here is that important discussions have been locked in an environment (courts) where:
matters of wider implications on the legal profession continue to get discussed without the relevant parties present in the discussion
they are almost always discussed in passing
there’s a complete absence of any in-depth analysis, or any attempts to understand the causality behind these problems. No time is spent in problematising these issues, and root causes continue to get diagnosed based on instinct and ‘common sense’
separation from the larger geographical, economic, and social context leading to echo chambers and tunnel vision
Before writing this issue, I spoke to a few lawyers between the age group of 30-45 years. I have been scouring forums and discussion groups to get a pulse of the larger sentiment among lawyers in this age group, trying to understand the root causes behind this phenomena.
The elephant in the room, of course, is how much money junior lawyers really end up making, and the lack of incentives and financial security among younger generations of lawyers. According to research conducted in May 2020, over 50% per cent of high court lawyers surveyed said that junior advocates earn less than ₹10,000 per month. Over the last 2-3 years, there have been many anecdotes of advocates in Delhi and in smaller towns in the vicinity driving Olas and Ubers at night to be able to make a living wage.
One practising lawyer I spoke to said that we should also observe what the Court is not saying. The court is saying that seniors should take more juniors, what it is not saying is that they should pay them well. Even if we don’t read into this, the larger point is that there is no one present in this environment who can raise these issues.
This dissatisfaction relating to financial instability seems to be heavily pronounced in litigation — but is not entirely absent from the corporate law firm culture either. Quoting one comment from this thread:
Because we have bills to pay and kids to feed. I want my parents to make that spiritual trip they have longed for. I come from a middle-class household even though I might pretend that money doesn't matter it does. I have seen my mother eating only twice a day to provide for me. Now that I am capable enough I want to make sure she gets all the luxuries in life and not only her I deserve the same as well. That's why I am fine working late nights and absolutely ruining my physical and mental health. By doing this I will keep my family safe and also I make sure my kids don't have to do it and get enough resources to pursue whatever they want. Not all of us come from money and that's why we yearn for it so much.
Another set of factors worth considering is that this problem of ‘lawyers going their own way’ may be a function of a larger context outside of the legal industry, a symptom of a larger problem if you will. Law is not the only industry facing a crisis of succession, and India is not the only country experiencing it either. Perhaps we may gain some insight from studying whether there are larger structural and functional similarities behind these phenomena. It is worth looking at, is all I am saying.
Factors such as an increasing need for autonomy, preference towards remote work, and overall a different outlook towards the concept of work in general, may have a role to play. Another comment from the same thread:
I am still part of the rut and have not been able to get out.. I think the major reason is pandemic as it has made people more self aware.. money is not everything.. for initial few years, it does give a kick but after that its a drag.. If someone can find a good job in Tier 2 and Tier 3 city, I think in long run it will be much better..
Another option which could be tried by new comers is to explore practicing in their native city.. The ground reality is extremely poor, if talented folks start practicing, it will be mega contribution and over a period of time, I am sure they will do pretty well financially as well..
Or, in the context of law firms, on the role of the pandemic causing a shift of values:
lawyers quit when they realise value of life, dignity, independence. Only little money is needed to live comfortably with respect in India. Pandemic has opened eyes. Colleagues lost family members with whom they barely spent time because of this lifestyle.
Law firm system loses glitter fast. Smart ones quit when they realise it attracts with money but gives a poor life. With time you are left with average professionals desperate for money. It gets pathetic.
There is also a mental health perspective which should not be disregarded as irrelevant to this ‘missing generation’ phenomenon. The members of the profession already operate in a high-anxiety environment, with their actions and decisions potentially leading to someone landing up in prison or divorced or having their assets frozen. Then, there are countless anecdotes of depression, addiction and substance abuse, and interesting data around the world on the reasons why lawyers leave the profession before the age of 35. I will try to upload a library of this research and helpful resources sometime in the future.
The larger point I am hinting at here is that whether these factors play a role in the attitudinal shift of young lawyers across the board is something that deserves more careful attention. It is premature to problematise this issue as ‘an entire generation of lawyers is missing’ because seniors are not taking enough juniors. The issue here is not of the correctness of all the other probable causes, but of their relevance. There exist a number of factors which could be playing a role in attrition, and until their correlation/causality is examined, we will not know whether we are actually solving the problem or aggravating it.
The entire regulation of the legal profession continues to be driven by availability bias, based on hunches and intuition, whether it’s by Judges or the Bar Council. This tendency of our public institutions has a cascading effect — passing comments evolve into soft ‘guidances’, which later become acculturated into regulations and hard social norms.
Other relevant news
Madras High Court first, Karnataka High second is using eCourts during lockdown
Conflicting orders regarding virtual hearings in the Supreme Court: Despite the CJI’s directions in place regarding the acceptance of virtual hearings, judges in the SC continue to instruct lawyers to appear in person. Quoting Justice Rastogi: We come to court everyday. Come and argue. Lawyers who are physically present will get indulgence.
Supreme Court is contemplating starting live streaming of proceedings
💭 Stuff I’m thinking about
What is the meaning of Justice?
Have we as a society equivocated the meaning of justice? Have we lost its meaning? Why do we need to go to the courts to ‘get’ justice? Why is there a separation between those who are ‘given’ justice and the institutions that ‘provide’ justice?
How do we model law and justice as a system?
What is an appropriate way to define the law and justice machinery as a system? Is it an ‘industry’? The answer matters because the way we conceive it will decide the theories and models we apply to it (disruptive innovation needs a tighter definition of an industry).
What is the structural-functional organisation, its Eidos? What is its essence?
Is ‘law and justice’ a member of a category?
If yes, are there any other members in the category?
I had written about this in a LinkedIn post some time ago. One video I am (re)watching to get answers to these questions is Daniel Katz’s presentation with CoE, IIT Delhi about how to conceive law and justice as a system. I will rewatch it, probably multiple times, to get a better understanding of the ontology of the justice system.
Legal tech’s role in reshaping adversarialism
I am watching this video (reading with this accompanying research paper) to understand the broader role legal tech plays in reframing/reshaping law’s relationship with adversarialism, as well as the procedural rules that structure it.
It also talks about the universal role of predictive analytics, The state of legal tech: The universal role of predictive analytics, and how all roads in legal tech are leading to NLP.
That’s all for this issue folks. If you liked this issue, consider sharing it with others in your network who may find it relevant.
You’ve hit a home run with this one.
I love how you’re optimising both this publication and your website for a better user experience. I’m a fan of the Substack reading experience. Reading on the Substack App on my phone is convenient and frictionless.
Your take on the missing generation of lawyers resonated with me. I have personally been disillusioned by the legal profession due to lack of pay in litigation and lack of a balanced life in law firms.
The pay offs one has to suffer through in order to make it as a lawyer today aren’t deserving of the sacrifice. Making the same sacrifices in other technical professions would lead to incredibly greater results compared to the traditional legal profession.