India is facing chronic systematic problems including glaring inequality, poverty and discrimination along with the hue and cry of need of quality lawyers. Meanwhile, there are some dedicated lawyers with initiatives which take up pro bono issues (public good) with an aim to bridge the gap between committed lawyers and hardships faced by people on account of systematic disabilities. i-Probono is one such initiative which was launched by Swathi Sukumar, who is a litigating lawyer.Swathi Sukumar in an exclusive interview with Careers360 shared her views on the need for a committed judiciary that could help those marginalized by the systemic disabilities and also the objectives of i-Probono.
Careers360: What made you to bring the pro bono initiative to India? What was the initial response?
Swathi Sukumar: There is a crying need for good quality lawyers in India. We have chronic systemic problems including glaring inequality, poverty and discrimination. We had no doubt that committed lawyers could mitigate the hardships faced by people on account of these systemic disabilities.
As a litigating lawyer, I have the opportunity to observe how crippling the systemic barriers are in the judiciary. At the same time, there are several of my colleagues who are competent and committed lawyers who would be happy to take on pro bono matters. iProBono’s aim is to bridge this gap and to build capacity with the civil society sector and with the legal profession to assist under-served causes and individuals.
Careers360: Do you think India’s legal system belongs to an elite class? Is i-ProBono the answer to meet the needs of a democratic, progressive society?
Swathi Sukumar: iProbono aims to provide lawyers this opportunity and to be a window into another world. Ultimately, through interactions with civil society organizations and disadvantaged individuals, we hope that lawyers will play an active role in correcting systemic problems.
Careers360: How does i-ProBono encourage young lawyers?
Swathi Sukumar: iProbono works with lawyers at various levels of experience. We encourage young lawyers to be actively involved in all projects because they are the future of the legal profession and it is important for them to identify ways in which they can use their skills to further the cause of access to justice.
Swathi Sukumar Founder i-Probono, India
Often we have found that young lawyers who work with pro bono clients find it to be a transformative experience and we have seen several young lawyers coming back to us regularly asking for more work.
Careers360: Tell us about the composition of stakeholder’s who are part of such an initiativeâ¦
Swathi Sukumar: The main stakeholders are civil society organizations who use our services; individuals who these organizations cater to; lawyers; law firms; in-house counsel at companies. We work with some very committed law firms, headed by proactive and dynamic partners, who have been instrumental to our success in India.
Careers360: How relevant is such a service for a country like India?
Swathi Sukumar: We have worked on a range of projects, right from providing legal assistance to a rural call centre providing employment to thousands of locals; setting up a panel of lawyers to represent children who have suffered abuse before the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court of India; provided ongoing legal support to a mobile crÃ¨che catering to children of construction workers; provided litigation assistance to the largest association of street vendors in India.
Careers360: How can students do pro bono legal work during law school years? Is there a financial constraint?
Swathi Sukumar: Students are a great resource for pro bono legal work, under the guidance of a member of faculty. A student who is involved in pro bono work during law school is more likely to be an effective and engaged pro bono lawyer, irrespective of the career path that they choose.
Careers360: Should law schools commit themselves to involve students to do pro bono activities?
Swathi Sukumar: Law schools should definitely commit themselves to involving their students in pro bono work. This is already being done at the various Indian law institutes through clinic programmes. At Columbia Law School, I was part of the Gender and Sexuality Law Clinic headed by Prof. Suzanne Goldberg. Under her guidance, we made representations to the US Congress; drafted a law on domestic partnerships; also drafted amicus briefs; and filed asylum applications for refugees. So I believe that the students of law are a tremendous resource.
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