Mr. Ashish Goel is an Advocate practising in the Supreme Court of India. Prior to going independent, Mr. Goel worked in the Chambers of Dr. Ashwani Kumar, former Union Law Minister and Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court. Before that, Goel worked on cross-border disputes as a consultant in the London and New Delhi offices of a London-based law firm. Mr. Goel’s areas of practice include international tax law and constitutional law. Goel writes a blog on constitutional law and international tax law under “Ashish Goel Speaks” for Times of India.
Written below is the transcript of the interview conducted with Mr. Ashish Goel
Sannidhi Buch: Can you take us through your journey while you were in law school? What kind of activities were you involved in during that time?
Ashish Goel: I can write a whole book on the five years that I spent in law school. I mean NUJS is a great institution to study law from and you are exposed to so many new and different things. I was a day scholar throughout and that meant I was not part of most of the cultural and student-related activities that law students in national law schools usually participate in. I would reach campus by 8:45 am every morning and attend the first scheduled lecture at 9 am. After classes got over at 2 pm, I would go out to eat lunch, come back to campus and spend my time reading and writing in NUJS’well-resourced library until late evening, sometimes until 9 pm at night. That was my daily routine. Due to the constraints that come with staying outside campus, I did not participate in activities that require constant teamwork. I was associated with the different student-run societies at NUJS. For instance, I was the Director of the Schools for Advancement of Criminal Justice and the Corporate and Fiscal Laws Society. I was also a member of the Constitutional Law Society for a brief period.Due to my interest in teaching and research, I was associated with several research organizations as a researcher and in my fourth and fifth year, I was selected as a Tutor for first- and second-year law students and gained first-hand experience in law teaching.
Every single vacation of mine in law school was spent interning. In my first year, I interned with Amnesty International and National Human Rights Commission in New Delhi. From second year onwards, I started interning with lawyers and law firms. For instance, I interned at Amarchand Mangaldas, Trilegal, AZB & Partners, and J Sagar Associates, among others. I also interned with some well-renowned foreign law firms in Hong Kong, Thailand, and Singapore, and one virtual internship with a US-based law firm.
In my third year at NUJS, I was exposed to the writings of Professor Shubhankar Dam, who had come to NUJS to take a credit course on ‘Law and Ethics’. I was so inspired by Professor Dam’s writings that I wanted to be a writer like him. After a lot of efforts, I was able to publish, in my third year, my first long article in a highly regarded international law journal. I remember having spent seven to eight months to finish writing that article. The encouragement that I got from the professors was overwhelming and my love for legal writing continued to grow over time.
Sannidhi Buch: How beneficial, according to you, was the decision of pursuing LL.M outside of India? What process did you undertake to select your college for pursing your master and how did you go about the application process?
Ashish Goel: Fortunately, unlike my peers, I did not have to bear the burden of finding a job right after my studies at NUJS because I had decided to pursue an LL.M after completing my law studies.
I secured admission offers from some of the Golden Triangle and Ivy League universities in the United Kingdom and the United States, respectively. I primarily decided to pursue LL.M from King’s College London because it has an excellent program on international tax law taught by a leading international tax law barrister. I also wanted to study in London because I was offered a full-time paid position at a London-based niche law firm even before I left India.
Applying for an LL.M is time-consuming and demanding, and one must be patient, attentive and serious. Most of my fifth year was spent readying myself for the LL.M and for the city of London. From tedious tasks like scanning your certificates to coordinating with the administration for requisite documents to preparing your statement of purpose to reaching out to professors for references, there is so much to do, and weeks and months simply fly away like ashes in the dust. The key, therefore, is to start early.
Professor M. P. Singh, a renowned constitutional law expert, wrote a fine reference letter for me. Late Professor Shamnad Basheer, who was then teaching at NUJS, was kind enough to read and provide his insightful comments on an initial draft of my statement of purpose. I shall remain forever grateful to them for this.
I believe it is important to research well and find out which law school is the best for you. Few years down the line, the importance of the brand will fade away and you will be judged based on your knowledge and experience. I cannot stress enough how important it is to customize your applications depending upon the law school you are applying to and to be honest with your applications.
Sannidhi Buch: How can a law student, who has an interest in Taxation Law, develop upon their knowledge to secure a job with a good firm?
Ashish Goel: I am glad you asked me about developing knowledge, and not interest, in tax law. Developing an interest in a subject is too individualistic and depends on various factors. I think, like any other law, the starting point to understand tax law is the fine print of the law itself. This could be the Income Tax Act for those with an interest in direct taxation and the Goods and Services Tax Act for those with an interest in indirect taxation. A fair idea of the Constitution of India is essential to one’s reading of tax law. I always remind my interns to make notes while they are reading a commentary on tax law or constitutional law because I have personally found it very useful.
I believe it is important to develop a habit of reading case laws that come out of tax courts and tribunals, especially those involving constitutional questions. Apart from reading business newspapers, I believe it would be useful if one also reads online blogs and articles written by tax practitioners on topical tax issues. Practising what one has read in books is of course important so one should find meaningful internships or other positions in a firm or law chamber with sizeable tax practice.
I am often asked if a degree in accountancy is essential if one were to excel as a tax lawyer so let me quickly clarify that while knowledge of accounts is desirable it is certainly not a barrier to tax practice. Many tax lawyers I know have no background in accounts though I think it would serve you well if you spent some time trying to understand how financial statements are prepared.
Sannidhi Buch: How was your experience working at Chambers of Dr. Ashwani Kumar, former Union Law Minister and Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court?
Ashish Goel: It was a great experience. Dr. Ashwani Kumar is one of India’s highly regarded lawyers and has served as India’s Union Law Minister. Each discussion that I had with him – and not just law-related discussions – was intellectually stimulating. I regularly went to the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court with him in his car and assisted him in several high-profile matters. Most of my work at the Chambers pertained to constitutional law and legal theory. Dr. Ashwani Kumar filed public interest petitions concerning custodial torture and old age homes during my time in the Chambers, and I hugely benefited from the discussions that took place around these issues.
Sannidhi Buch: You have conducted various certificate courses and guest talksat various educational institutions in India; what has your general experience with students been?
Ashish Goel: I have interacted with both students from the national law schools and non national law schools. I do not see a vast difference between the two and I feel that all of us need to work together to ensure that the overall quality of legal education is maintained across law schools. The NLU/non-NLU divide is unfortunate. Those who are studying in law schools that may not be as renowned as others, should not feel demotivated because the tag of your law school will only take you thus far. Law students today are better prepared for the real world because they have unprecedented access to knowledge, information, and mentors and they know how to use all of this to their advantage.
Sannidhi Buch: You write a blog on constitutional law and international tax law under “Ashish Goel Speaks” for Times of India and have done various publications in various journals. How should one go about deciding the topic for their publications and the process undertaken by one prior to working on it?
Ashish Goel: The topic for publication must be the topic that interests you. You cannot be interested in tax law and then choose to write on the insolvency and bankruptcy code. So, the first important step to writing an article is identifying your area of interest. I am glad you asked me about topic selection because I feel that law schools are not doing enough to help students. Students are seldom required to choose topics on their own. This needs to change. The easiest way to select a topic is to read what is in the news. Anything that is topical is worth writing about. But it is important to understand that writing for the sake of writing will not take you far. Your writing must aim at providing answers to difficult questions or questions for which there are no answers. One way to write an opinion piece, for instance, is to frame the topic in the form of a question and then you provide the answer in the article. Ask yourself: is this an important question and is the question worth asking? Has the question not been already answered? Are the existing answers satisfactory? The more you read the better you will be at writing. You must read the opinion pages of at least two newspapers every day. A good writer is also a good researcher, so it is important to develop your research skills. There is no place for ignorance in legal writing and you must always keep this in mind.
Sannidhi Buch: What other advice would you like to give to students who are struggling to find their area of interest?
Ashish Goel: I was once told by my senior that a lawyer should pursue career in a subject that interests her. That would mean that she can wake up in the middle of the night and start working, if necessary. Money is important but after a certain period you will get bored because you are not passionate about what you are doing. Finding an area of interest is difficult and takes time. Expose yourself to different areas of law in whichever manner you can. You are not doing it right if someone else is telling you what areas of law you should be or ought to be interested in.