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Law and Philanthropy

“Philanthropy is the effort to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes”.


John D. Rockefeller

The quote encapsulates the ethos of philanthropy beautifully as this sentiment lays the groundwork for understanding philanthropy not merely as an act of charity but as a profound commitment to societal progress and enlightenment. Philanthropy, by its most luminous definition, acts as the "love of humanity," a beacon that guides us towards the betterment of society through the generous support of knowledge, art, and communal welfare.


American Philanthropy


I want to begin by tracing the historical arc of philanthropy from the West and end in India. American philanthropists, with their visionary support, have laid the foundations for what have become not just educational institutions but pillars of society that drive innovation, culture, and scientific advancement. The story of each Ivy League university is, in part, a narrative of philanthropy. The generosity of Benjamin Franklin was instrumental in the founding of the University of Pennsylvania, demonstrating early on the critical role of philanthropy in education. Another notable contribution towards the rule of law’s education and its sustainability through practice has been the underscored by one individual. And that is Andrew Carnegie. In 1900, the Carnegie Technical Schools was established and through its merger with the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research in 1967, it became the current-day Carnegie Mellon University. However, that was not all for Carneige. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace supported the work of a Polish lawyer of Jewish descent, Raphael Lemkin. He played a pivotal figure in the conceptualization and eventual recognition of genocide as a crime under international law. Lemkin sought refuge in the United States. The Endowment supported Lemkin's academic work, which focused on the legal mechanisms necessary to prevent and punish acts of genocide. Another notable example is its role in the construction of the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands. The Peace Palace, which houses the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration, stands as a symbol of the international community's commitment to resolving disputes through law rather than war. The Endowment's financial contributions to the Peace Palace project underscore its commitment to fostering international legal institutions and mechanisms for peaceful conflict resolution.


Legacy Sanitization[1]: The Dark Side of Universities and Endowments- Stories from Germany and United Kingdom


The Max Planck Society, a leading global research organization, has its origins in Germany's scientific and political history, particularly during the era of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Founded in 1911 as the Kaiser Wilhelm Society with Kaiser Wilhelm II's support, it aimed to promote scientific research critical for Germany's prestige and industrial growth. After World War II, it was rebranded as the Max Planck Society in 1948, honoring Nobel laureate Max Planck, representing the ethical responsibility of science and dedication to peaceful advancement. This society's foundations contributed significantly to scientific fields like chemistry, physics, and biology, establishing Germany as a key scientific hub in the early 20th century and attracting notable scholars such as J. Robert Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer's work, particularly leading the Manhattan Project, underscores the profound impact of these scientific endeavors on global security and the ethical considerations of scientific research.

Whereas in the United Kingdom, The Rhodes Scholarship, established in 1902 by Cecil Rhodes, is a cornerstone of international academic prestige, aiming to cultivate global leaders at the University of Oxford. Despite its lauded intentions, it's shadowed by the imperialist and racially unjust legacy of its founder, Cecil Rhodes, a key figure in British colonial expansion in southern Africa. Similarly, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), founded in 1916 to train British colonial administrators. This narrative of evolving beyond colonial roots is also mirrored in the relationship between Yale University and Chennai, India. Elihu Yale, an early benefactor of Yale University, amassed wealth as the Governor of Fort St. George in Madras during the British colonial era, his fortune later aiding the institution that bears his name. These institutions, from Rhodes to Yale, embody the complex interplay between education, colonialism, and philanthropy, reflecting on a past of exploitation while striving towards inclusivity and critical engagement with their histories.


Role of Indian Lawyers in Philanthropy


The philanthropic efforts of Indian legal luminaries in establishing scholarships at some of the world’s most prestigious universities are commendable contributions to the field of legal education and international law. These scholarships, founded by individuals such as Mr. Harish Salve, Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, and Mr. Gopal Subramaniam, reflect a profound commitment to supporting aspiring legal professionals and fostering academic excellence in the legal domain. Harish Salve, a distinguished Indian advocate known for his expertise in constitutional, commercial, and taxation law, has made significant contributions to legal education through the creation of the Dr and Mrs Ambriti Salve Scholarship is a scholarship for BCL students who are normally resident in India, offered by Exeter College, University of Oxford. Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, another prominent figure in Indian law, is celebrated not only for his contributions to the legal profession but also for his role in promoting legal education through various means such as The Singhvi Trinity Scholarship. The Singhvi Fund was established in 2017 by Dr Abhishek Singhvi (1979), in memory of his late father, Mr Laxmi Mall Singhvi. The Singhvi Trinity Scholarship, which provides financial assistance to a resident of India to undertake the LLM at the University of Cambridge.


Lastly but perhaps most generously, Mr. Gopal Subramaniam, another esteemed Indian lawyer, Associate Member of 3 Verulam Buildings and Honorary Master of the Bench of The Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn. He has been a generous benefactor of the Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development. He endowed the Gopal Subramanium Scholarships in honour of his teacher His Holiness Shri. Bharati Tirtha. The scholarships support talented Indian postgraduate scholars to study at Oxford, with the first matriculating in 2017. He also conceived and enabled the Bingham Law Scholarship for worthy students to read the prestitiougs BCL Programme at Oxford University which is tied with an internship at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law housed at the British Institute of Comparative and International Law. Subramanium also founded his multi-disciplinary study centre that provides vital research into mental health illnesses.  These scholarships collectively demonstrate a significant investment in the legal profession's future, aiming to remove financial barriers to high-quality legal education. They embody the legal community’s ethos of service and accessibility, ensuring that promising students have the opportunity to pursue excellence in their field regardless of their financial situation. Through such contributions, these legal professionals not only enhance the academic landscape but also reinforce the foundational principles of justice, service, and global engagement that define the legal profession.


Legal Dress and its Role to Underscore Law as a Social Service


The progression of legal attire, from the Advocate’s robes to the solemn wigs and gowns, is a reflection of the legal profession’s own development. These garments, rich in tradition, transcend mere aesthetic concerns; they embody a tangible pledge to the values of justice, fairness, and professional integrity. Beyond their role in maintaining decorum, these garments signify the wearer's commitment to carrying the weight of societal expectations and the trust of those they represent. Notably, the gown's design, especially the size of the bag at the back, carries a symbolic weight. It represents the idea that the lawyer, cloaked in their gown, is prepared to shoulder whatever burdens or challenges their clients may bring, encapsulating the law's function as a vital social service. This feature underscores the profession's readiness to advocate, defend, and navigate the complexities of the law on behalf of those they serve, illustrating the profound connection between legal practitioners and the communities relying on their expertise. Thus, the evolution of legal attire is not just a matter of historical interest but a reflection of the enduring ethos of the legal profession: to uphold and advance the principles of justice and equity, serving society not merely through legal victories but through the steadfast support and guidance provided to those in need.



In conclusion, philanthropy, particularly as it manifests in the support of educational institutions, plays a crucial role in advancing societal progress and enlightenment. The contributions of individuals like those discussed above exemplify the profound impact that generosity and a commitment to social service can have on the world. As we reflect on the legal profession's history and traditions, including the symbolic significance of its attire, we are reminded of the deep-rooted obligation of legal professionals to serve as guardians of justice and promoters of the public good. In this spirit, the law transcends its function as a mere tool of governance, embodying instead a noble avenue of social service.


[1]  This term can describe the process of selectively highlighting aspects of an institution's history or founder's legacy to create a more favorable public image, sanitizing the less palatable aspects of their history.


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