Bhumesh
LEGAL EDUCATION IN INDIA – THE STATE OF AFFAIRS AND WAY AHEAD
Bhumesh Verma 11 Jun 2019

LEGAL EDUCATION IN INDIA – THE STATE OF AFFAIRS AND WAY AHEAD

BACKGROUND

Till about 30 years ago, legal profession in India was assumed to be a very elite profession, made only for those who were very resourceful and born with a silver spoon or had the profession running in the family for generations.

There is a marked change in market perception in the eyes of parents, students and the society about the legal profession. Law, as a career, is quite glamourous today (did you see “Veere Di Wedding?).

You can see so many coaching institutions mushrooming in every nook and corner of big, medium and small cities. The aspirants are charmed by the business newspapers headlines reporting Campus recruitment by Big 5 law firms and ‘packages’, big law firms’ turnover in millions of dollars, legal websites reporting partner moves in Indian and foreign law firms, ex- partners setting up new boutique firms every now and then and so on.

The legal profession seems very rosy and hunky dory from outside – every potential law student feels she just has to crack CLAT, secure admission in a good National Law University (NLU) and the rest of her life is sorted thereafter.

However, the proverbial saying is 

(i) The grass is always greener on the other side or the slightly varied version, 

(ii) Apples are always juicier in your neighbour’s orchid. 

It is not easy to become a lawyer; becoming a successful lawyer is more difficult; and getting good legal education is the toughest part.

After spending 10 years in the profession (may be a bit successfully in others’ eyes due to a British Chevening scholarship and otherwise), I started getting invitations to contribute to the students’ fraternity by way of guest lectures and articles, etc. Therefore, I have had the opportunity to interact with the number of law schools, teachers and students in last 15 years across India. Some of my observations of the state of legal education in India based on my experience and feedback from academic community are as under.


THE SCENARIO TODAY
There are broadly 3 categories of law colleges in India.
Category A. There are 20 plus NLUs in India today with around 3,000 seats – most of these are excellent institutions with best academic brains, amenities, libraries, all round development facilities, relationship with the law firms for internships and placements of students, etc. No wonder there are about 50,000 aspirants for these seats.
Category B. Below NLUs, there would be around 100-150, maximum 200 good law colleges in India mostly affiliated with good universities and having genuine rankings for their education standards. Most of the 47,000 odd students who do not secure a place in NLUs manage a place in these colleges mostly through an entrance exam.
Category C. This is the scariest part of the Indian legal education pie. Apparently, there are 1,000 plus other law colleges in India located here, there, everywhere or even nowhere. About 50,000 students enrol in such colleges every year - there may or may not be an entrance exam.

SOME PROBLEM / CONCERN AREAS
Lack of Good teachers
Teachers are the backbone of the education sector. If the system cannot attract the best talent for teaching, no good students will emerge. Teaching is assumed to be very monotonous and much less paying and glamourous than a law career. Sad but true, teaching is amongst the lowest paying job for professionals today. As a result, teaching is very low among career options of most of law students. This needs to change.
Very few law graduates wish to pursue Masters or further studies in law. Those who do prefer studying in foreign universities to provide edge to their cv. Again, if they wish to teach after such additional qualifications, they would prefer to teach in foreign institutions for better remuneration, research facilities and living standards.
Due to this apathy towards teaching, even NLU and other eminent institutions struggle at times to get good teachers for all the courses. The third category or the colleges we discussed above does not care. Whosoever is at fault, students are the sufferers.

Inadequate infrastructure
Apart from good teachers, an institution requires world-class infrastructure to create a conducive atmosphere for studies and encourage ideas. Today is no age of blackboard and chalk (or should  I say, whiteboard and marker these days!). A good lot of investment is required in this regard. A spacious and clean campus with computers, online search tools, latest communication technologies are need of the hour, just to name a few facilities. Some NLUs are better off in this regard but other institutions lag in this regard, although some private universities can afford such systems due to their deep pockets and the hefty amount of fees they charge from students.

Stress on academic knowledge
Most of our law hardcore academicians as some of them may have got into teaching straightaway after their colleges are still living in the old era of cramming and rote – there is less or none exposure to practical aspects of law and encouragement to progressive thinking. At many places, majority of the faculty members are studies and never practiced in courts or a law firm.  Their knowledge and teaching, therefore, may lack a practical dimension.
Resultantly, the students are therefore at a loss when they come out of the law college and are expected to perform in a courtroom or the law firm from day one. It is a nightmare particularly for students who have not had good internship or moot courts exposure.

No Quality control on students and teachers
NLUs have a robust system of scanning potential students through CLAT. Most other law colleges too have an entrance test and some screen the students through interviews as well. Majority of the colleges however, do not have such systems in place – money is the only entry ticket. Whosoever can afford an admission gets entry.
Similarly, there has to be quality control in faculty selection as well. how it works for the students’ entry works for faculty selection as well – they’d hire anyone who is willing to work at a low compensation, anyone is hardly bothered about the experience and quality of the teachers there.

EFFECTS
As a result of the problems highlighted above, the students are at a loss. Some of them are undeservingly becoming lawyers without having attended college or learning anything there. Some colleges are only degree printing press – no good faculty, no classes, no facilities, no practical training.
I have heard there is rampant corruption in the concerned quarters which allows creation, sustenance and growth of such institutions (if they can be called that in the first place). Many people who are employed full time in government service and elsewhere, company secretaries in practice or people who just want a law degree for some fancy reason take admission and obtain a law degree without any attendance, classes, studies, even exams. This includes some of our politicians as well – we all know how a former Law Minister of a State having obtained such a degree.
30 years back, many students used to take admission in LL.B. in Delhi University just so that they can get a hostel / P.G. in Delhi, prepare for UPSC and get a DTC bus pass (Rs. 12.50 a month). 90% of these students were not serious about legal studies. Ultimately, Delhi University did away with open admissions and introduced an entrance test system in 1991 (yours truly was among the first batch!).
Whosoever is at fault, the government in funding the government institutions, private institutions minting money out of students but not spending much on them or plain and simple degree machine colleges, the students are the worst sufferers.

OVERCOMING THE OBSTACLES
Action at Bar Council end
First and foremost, our Bar Council has to play a pro-active role to ensure world-class standards in legal education. Therefore, it must be stricter with its recognition norms for law colleges and there should be no compromise on some standards.
Only colleges having adequate background in education, well known promoters, financial resources, infrastructure, faculty, campus, etc. should be allowed to engage in legal education. There should be frequent inspections and colleges which do not adhere to prescribed norms should be barred from offering law courses.
People with experience and impeccable integrity should constitute the bodies inspecting and deciding the recognition of law colleges.

High entry barriers
India is witnessing an oversupply of lawyers for last few years. Today, India probably has most number of lawyers after the US. Reasons being so much population and lawyer-making- machines in the form of 1,300 odd colleges awarding law degrees.
As an example, most prestigious colleges in Delhi University can only admit students scoring above 95% in their Class 12 exams (yes, the cut-offs are crazy). However, it seems that everyone assumes that getting entry into a prestigious law school is a child’s game – you just need good CLAT coaching and your marks in Class 12 don’t matter. This culture needs to change. One should pursue Class 12 most seriously, whatever field one were to chose as a professional course or a vocation.
The eligibility criteria at entrance test and admission level for law schools may be enhanced and proficiency in the language which is the medium of instruction should be a must. I have seen students who have not studied English even at Class 10 level applying in law institutions where English is the medium of instruction. Unless someone is so brilliant that she can pick up English language out of nowhere (at graduation level), these students may not stand a chance at picking up anything.
An ecosystem should be built where only (or at least, mostly) serious students who actually wish to study and pursue law should be inducted in law courses. Today, we see so many students who pursue law, obtain a degree and find later that what they studied (if they did actually) wasn’t of good standard and good enough to make them sustain in the legal profession. According to some information, a majority of the law graduates are not practicing law after 5 years. We can certainly do with less new but better lawyers.

Higher investment in infrastructure
The government and the promoters of private colleges must invest more in the infrastructure and ecosystem which is conducive for study. A bigger part of the government’s budget should be allotted to education in general and law education in particular – the efforts so far aren’t simply good enough. This is the reason why the Category C colleges come into existence in the first place and flourish – if Category A and B were enough in number and good enough, there would be no Category C.

Updating the curriculum
The content being taught at our law colleges should be constantly upgraded and updated taking note of the national and international research and developments in the legal ecosystem. Outdated and archaic subjects and teaching styles should be done away with.

Practical Engagement outside College
There must be enhanced interaction among the Bar, Bench and Academia. Students should be exposed to the ‘real’ legal world by way of more outings and interactions – it could be moot courts, training in courts, working with seasoned practitioners, internships in companies, law firms, NGOs etc. Good law colleges have robust systems built-in for this regard but most colleges in B and C categories lack.
Inviting professionals to interact with students
Practicing judges and lawyers may have a lot to share with students in terms of their knowledge, experience, exposure, hindsight and practical insights. Regular interactions help students immensely. Judges have very limited time for such events but there are more lawyers than judges and lawyers may afford more flexibility in interacting with students – guest lectures, specific modules, fast-track courses, bootcamps, etc. I, for one, enjoy interacting with students and the process is very interactive and interesting, never gets boring (sometimes, monologue-ish lectures do get boring). My sense is that students enjoy interaction with outsiders (be it politicians, industry experts, judges, lawyers, etc.) more than that with the regulars and insiders – the colleges should take note and enhance the interaction. Bringing such luminaries at college is much easier than taking all the students to them in one go.
Inviting better adjunct faculty
This works both ways. Professionals should feel the need to contribute to the growth of legal fraternity by imparting education and law colleges should invite professionals on a regular basis. The UGC may relax the norms for eligibility criteria for teaching for outstanding professionals.

CONCLUSION
With the growing change in the legal education sector, the aforementioned concerns are to be addressed at the earliest. The need of the hour is to take reformative steps in making the sector more adaptive and receptive to the international legal education standards. Better infrastructure, improvement in the curriculum and the course structure, providing adequate incentives to teachers and regular checks at legal institutions can bring dynamic transformations to the discourse of legal education in India. Hope these words reach the concerned quarters and the bar, bench and academia work in tandem to make it better for the students.

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