Higher Education Review ›› Last Word

Legal Education in India

By Prof. Rajiv Jayaram and Prof. Aditya Swarup, Jindal Global Law School, OP Jindal Global University | Monday, 09 Oct 2017, 04:56 IST

Legal education has steadily grown in India after Independence, but the growth has been exponential in the last three decades. This accelerated pace in the growth of legal education coincided with liberalisation of India’s economy and its increasing integration with a globalised world. Economic liberalisation since 1991 expanded the utility and scope of legal services in India’s economy, corporate sector and public policy. Growing globalisation as well as emergence of trans-national challenges like terrorism and climate change underlined the need for broader and international collaboration in legal research. To improve and coordinate national responses to them and to ensure the protection of states and individuals, countries had to boost investments and research in legal education. At the same time, one must not forget that the lawyer's task is ultimately concerned with justice and, as Max Radin said “any legal teaching that ignores justice has missed most of its point”.

The success, if any, of legal education can be largely attributed to what started as an experiment in 1987 with National Law School of India University (NLSIU) Bangalore. What started as the first ever 5-year integrated BALLB (H) programme has become a full-fledged story with 19 National Law Universities (NLUs) set up in 18 different states and union territories. The 5-year LLB programme has now become the flagship and mainstream law programme today. However, with numerous other law colleges existing and many more coming up, there is a huge dearth of faculty, let alone good faculty, to teach in these law schools.

The admissions to national law schools are currently governed by the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT). Admissions and legal education are, however, fraught with hiccups that require urgent attention. The huge proliferation of law colleges, the low level of funding and full-time staffing means that the ability of Indian law schools to undertake substantive research and scholarship was very limited. It is in these circumstances that two recent trends in legal education ought to be discussed.

First is the imposition of an age limit (20 years) by the BCI to pursue law. In a landmark judgment in 2015, the Supreme Court of India scrapped the upper age limit (under Rule 28 of the Legal Education Rules, 2008) imposed by BCI for applicants of the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) for admissions to state law colleges and universities, making it clear that no age limits can apply to aspirants seeking to study law in the country. However, in November 2016, the BCI restored Rule 28. The upper age limit prescribed under this Rule has again stayed by the Supreme Court in March this year, pending final hearing.

Second is the changing attitude towards the teaching and curricula in law schools. Despite infrastructural limitations in most law schools, the best law schools in the country still manage to retain students of high calibre and intellect. The quality of the teaching, range of courses and research is top notch. This is further evidenced by the opportunities available for the students of these institutions after graduation; LLMs and PhDs from the best universities in the world, placements in the top firms in India and abroad, and even non law based opportunities. In fact, one of the advantages of a law degree is the many career options available to a lawyer after graduation.

How to choose the right law school?

The unavoidable question any aspiring law student will have to answer is what considerations should one weigh when picking a law school.

Any decision to select the right law school ought to rest primarily on three factors; the infrastructure available, quality of faculty and the opportunities upon graduation. Despite over 1200 law colleges in the country, very few legal institutions meet these criteria. The national law universities and few private universities, including Jindal Global Law School are certainly great options for law aspirants. As regards the admission process, most national law universities admit students on the basis of Common Law Admission Test (CLAT). National Law University in Delhi conducts its own exam AILET to admit students. CLAT & AILET remain the most important and competitive law entrance exams in the country. Admission to JGLS is made on the basis of LSAT—India exam which has become another most popular law entrance exam in the country with approx. 6000 students registering for the exam in 2016.

Other leading private law schools across the country like Symbiosis Law School in Pune (also campuses in Noida & Hyderabad), Christ in Bangalore, KIIT in Bhubaneswar, Nirma in Ahmedabad and Amity in Delhi/Noida have also become preferred destinations for legal education for students from across the country. Most of them conduct their own entrance exams like SET of Symbiosis or admit on the basis of CLAT.

To conclude, the law course, be it the five year integrated LLB programme or the three year LLB programme is a great academic experience. Upon completion, the student has varied skills that give him or her set or temper to pursue numerous career options. Law is intrinsically connected to society, and its transformational impact on society can never be over rated.

Emerging specialisations and popular courses

The governing regulations of the BCI mandate that every law student must undertake a minimum number of mandatory courses – thereby ensuring that each student has a basic understanding of the subject. In addition to these mandatory courses, the student can undertake credit based electives and specialisations. Students are required to research and evaluate what kind of programme or elective is right for them. Apart from the traditional branches such as civil, criminal, corporate, taxation and labour and trade, there are new areas such as human rights, gender, cyber law, intellectual property law, arbitration, international law, space law and sports law that a student can specialise in.

A person with a background in legal education can, in additional to practicing law, also seek career opportunities in other spheres. One of the advantages of a law degree is that there are many career options available to a lawyer after graduation. A student may consider a career in litigation, law firms, corporates, human rights, the NGO sector, public policy, UPSC, the UN, journalism and the like. Legal institutions capitalise on these advantages and help students diversify their career options after law school.

What to expect as a student?

The law school curriculum is structured in a way that exposes the student to many facets of the law. However, one notices that the moment a student joins law school, he or she is focused on joining a corporate firm, UPSC or the like. While it is good to be ambitious and have a plan, the student must not shut out his or her options. It is beneficial to be exposed to different areas of the law and then make a decision on what line to pursue.

At the same time, a tenure at law school can be an exhilarating experience. It is a time to make amazing friends, share different experiences and learn from one another. The social and the academic experience complement each other.

To conclude, the law course, be it the five year integrated LLB programme or the three year LLB programme is a great academic experience. Upon completion, the student has varied skills that give him or her set or temper to pursue numerous career options. Law is intrinsically connected to society, and its transformational impact on society can never be over rated.

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October Special 2017
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