This article will help you clear the confusion of choosing Law School in India. It is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, Co-Founder & CEO at iPleaders.
Don’t join a law school with false hope -The truth and the myth about law school recruitment.
What is the difference between RGNUL, Patiala and NLU Orissa?
I got through Nirma and UPES, Dehradun. Where should I go?
Please tell me whether NLUD is better or NUJS. Give your reasons, please.
Sir, should I go for Bhartiya Vidyapeeth or Lloyd’s college? What about DES?
I was getting about 50 queries like this every day for the last two months. Check the online forums like CLAThacker – they are full of these questions. I feel like running away – because there is no correct answer to these questions.
I know why most CLAT aspirants are choosing law as a career. There was a time when I used to go from school to school and sell the idea of a smart, well-trained, well-to-do lawyer who is a highly valued expert to promote a CLAT coaching institute. Law aspirants and law students all want a good education, and they want a good job at the end of their education. Everyone expects a rocking campus recruitment at the end of 5 years of law school, and that is why CLAT is getting more and more competitive.
How did the CLAT rush start in the first place?
There was a time when mere presence in a law school was good enough to land you a great job. Law firms were growing at breakneck speed; attrition was high, and corporate India was growing in double digits. There were a handful of law schools – three or four of them – islands of excellence in a sea of mediocrity, as once described by our reticent Prime Minister. Graduates from these law schools almost without exception wrote and spoke good English, were trained to think analytically, and knew how to research – which was not expected from law students generally at that time. The law firms, and some top notch companies which built big in-house teams like ICICI adopted the law schools – and recruitment was not a problem at all for the students of these top law schools. Even students who didn’t perform well during their law school tenure could get a nice job after completing their degree.
Development over the years
Decades have gone by, and the law school model has been recreated again and again, with a lot more resources thrown in – in several states. Some of these law schools are doing very well, in terms of training and developing legal talent. Amongst the new law schools, certainly leading the pack is NLU Delhi – it is astounding how much the college invests in its students. In any case, now almost every other state has its own law school. A very large number of law students are joining these colleges. I am not sure that all the law colleges have good or at least above average academics – there is a terrible shortage of good faculty in law. There are not many who can teach especially complex commercial law subjects in a meaningful way since they have no practical understanding of these subjects. All new law schools, on the other hand, have much better infrastructure than earlier colleges. Old colleges still retained good faculty.
Drawn by the prospect of a law firm job and good infrastructure, there is a large number of students who want to join these law schools every year now. Since CLAT started in 2011, the number of aspirants has been increasing by leaps and bounds. While everyone starts with the dream of joining top law schools like NLS, NUJS, NLUJ or NALSAR, these colleges have barely 300 seats between them, and a large number of people joins second and third tier law colleges.
The game of expectation
No one likes to be a doomsayer, not at least me. However, it appears to me that a lot of law students join law schools with very misplaced expectations. Most law schools in the country cannot even ensure that you will get an internship just because you are a 3rd year or 4th-year student in so and so college, which may be true for NLS or NUJS to a certain extent until now. Even in NUJS, I have seen mediocre students struggling to get internships – and it was the same for friends in NLS or NALSAR. I have been teaching and mentoring a lot of students over the years, and my experience is that people who join NLS Bangalore and those who join a third tier newly started law school, all have very similar expectation from their college, which is not realistic at all. Things have changed now and not even the top tier law schools can place all their students in law firms. If we look at newer law schools like RMLNLU, RGNLU or CNLU which had students finishing 5 years of study and graduating did not have great recruitment. Even slightly older colleges like HNLU, NLIU and GNLU are unable to place many of their students in the kind of jobs they want. Students are unhappy with placement in most colleges, but rarely this is discussed outside friend circles because everyone is sensitive about the image of their college.
While law firm job offers for some of the colleges can be counted on fingers, there is some limited recruitment from MNCs, SME companies and LPOs. However, most of the batch does not get recruited from campus. There is little data on what the rest of the people do. Some get jobs after extensively interning for months and proving their calibre. Most of them predictably try their hand at litigation. I do not think this is not a good thing since there is definitely significant scope of employment in litigation and litigation definitely requires well-trained lawyers. The problem lies elsewhere – in the expectation of the students. This expectation is often based on the fees they pay.
Fee structure in law schools
Most law schools were originally conceived to be self-financed. This required them to ensure that fees are high, and such high fees used to be justified by the recruitment figures. The newer law schools, on the other hand, received significant money from government grants as establishment capital. They do get funding for continuing infrastructure development. Still, most of these schools charge upwards of Rs. 1,50,000 annually. Add living costs to this, and students end up spending more than Rs. 2,00,000 a year for 5 years of education. Costs could rise further in the coming years. For most students spending Rs. 10,00,000 on education is a significant investment. Many students take education loan to finance their education hoping to pay it off after they get jobs. Naturally, it is a necessity for many of them to get a good job at the end to justify this cost or to be able to pay back the educational loan along with interest. The interest itself reaches into lakhs sometimes, if accumulated and compounded over 5 years.
Do the law students really understand what they are getting into?
This has become a chronic problem with the US law school system. Law schools promise the moon to law students there, charge every hefty amount and at the end of all, the law students don’t find the jobs they expected when they graduate. Some of them go broke under the pressure of education loans combined with the lack of suitable jobs for them in the market. Many law students have filed cases against their law schools and won, alleging misrepresentation of career opportunities.
Of course, the situation in India is far from this. Law schools never promise recruitment. Recruitment data is out in the open for students to see and decide for themselves. But are they being able to actually evaluate the same?
One argument I hear again and again is that NLS Bangalore has not been built overnight, it takes a long time to build an institution. The new colleges will also do well over time (read 5 years later when they graduate) in terms of recruitment. Is this a realistic expectation?
The Indian legal job market
There is no doubt that the legal jobs market has been improving. The number of law firms has been multiplying, and more people are being hired than ever. However, the top law firm jobs that law aspirants are told about all the time, which pays a lakh a month, are very limited in number. Even by a generous estimate, the top 6 law firms, the best recruiters for law school students, did not hire more than 180 students a year for the last 3 years. This number is not expected to swell suddenly given the direction in which the economy is headed. It is not necessary that these firms will hire only from 5-6 law schools. As a matter of fact, most law firms are trying to expand their recruitment base – they will go to any law school with good talent and academic standards, which is not in short supply today unlike it was 4 years back. However, if you are from a second or third tier law school, it is unlikely that these firms will consider you unless you are into top 10-15% of your class. There is no reason to think that this will change in the next 5 years.
The next rung of law firms hire in small numbers and offers almost half the salary. Competition is stiff when it comes to these jobs as well – There are at least 2000 graduates (including law schools with graduating batches, and colleges like GLC, ILS, CLC, Nirma) competing for about 200 such jobs if I go by data published by Legally India.
There are other jobs – legal journalism, consulting companies, education, legal publishing industry, LPO – all have interesting opportunities. However, most law students do not even consider any of these, nor do they prepare themselves in those directions. I understand the aversion to LPO in most cases, but if all you want is a job with a secure salary, it is not always a bad option. Especially for those people who have not cared to develop useful skills.
Am I discouraging you from studying at law schools?
Absolutely not. Law school education is valuable – there are a great many careers you can choose after doing law. All I want is to set the expectations straight.
- Law firm jobs are few. Getting into a top law school will bring you closer to it. Still, you are competing with thousands of people to get a very limited number of jobs. If you are going to a second or third tier law school, don’t take getting a great job for granted. Don’t take getting any job at all for granted. It will be a tough battle, and you need to be on your toes.
- There are other jobs available for a law graduate – consider if you are willing to explore opportunities other than a law firm job or an in-house counsel in a big company.
- If your skill and knowledge level is low, expect to get a low-skilled, low pay job. That’s how the world works, joining a law school doesn’t change anything. Paying a high fee doesn’t automatically entitle you to a highly paid job.
- Just managing to survive through your law school curriculum doesn’t entitle you to a job. Develop skills that are useful in the real world. Learn to research, become a good speaker and effective writer. These are essential skills for a lawyer. Pursue your own projects, whatever they are, to increase your exposure to the professional world so that you have more experience than others.
- As of today, out of all batches graduating from about 8 law schools and 4-5 top colleges, more than 50% people would not be recruited from the campus. If you are not doing something to put yourself in the top 20% of graduating lawyers, prepare yourself to accept that it is unlikely that you’d be recruited from the campus. That’s just how things stand today.
- If there is a boom in the legal industry as the Indian economy suddenly starts growing at a breakneck speed in some time again, recruitment will drastically improve. But are you willing to bet your career on that?
- If I was a law aspirant today, and I had to take an education loan or spend my family’s limited savings, would I really consider joining a newly established law school and pay close to 2 lakhs a year? If I knew how the job market stands today, I will certainly not. I’d be better off joining a law college with affordable fee structure and trying to become a good lawyer by learning the law well, get mentors to teach me and try to find good internships through other means. To become a good lawyer, it is not a necessity to join a law school all the time.
It doesn’t matter whether you join Nirma, DES, UPES, Symbiosis or GNLU. Probably not even if you join NUJS, NALSAR or NLUJ (lest people think I am perpetuating a bias for the top law schools, I believe that it is becoming increasingly difficult to get a job simply by flaunting your top law school credential). Recruiters have a great pool of talented, smart people to choose from. The heat is on you if you want to get recruited. While some universities and colleges will offer you better infrastructure or lesser fees, almost none of them guarantee you any sort of recruitment. Looking for brand value and going by that alone is likely to be very counter-productive.
If the pedigree of a top law school is irrelevant, then what can fetch you a great job? People who work hard on the right things, learn the law well and pick up the right skills, will get hired – in one job or the other (sometime, I will try to write on what I think the right skills or things are – at least the ones that have helped me in my career so far). They will do well in the long term, one way or the other. I just wanted to tell you that if you thought CLAT was difficult to get through, it would be even more difficult to get a good job. The questions that I started with have either lost their relevance in your career, or they are losing relevance as you read this.