Legal Education in India

In this article, Malveka Nautiyal of Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab discusses Legal Education in India Vis-à-vis other Asian Nations.

The field of law has been prevalent in the society since time immemorial; right from its use in the primitive ancient times, to the current, highly modernised times. The inception and growth of standardized legal system, and eventual legal education, in the case of Asia, as compared to the whole world, did not take off much until colonisation and eventual independence of the countries.

Owing to Globalization, legal education has made massive strides in Asia, as law has emerged as an omnipotent socio-political tool of order and stability, in the rapid and constant flux of changes that are taking place. The new dynamics in the relations of nations across the globe had led to the need for necessary changes in the legal education, more-so in vibrant continents, like Asia, where now, the demand to produce highly trained professionals in larger numbers, has boosted.

In the latest QS World University Rankings, Law of 2018, many Asian universities have made their mark. This year the Rankings have been as under.

  1. At rank 15, National University of Singapore (NUS)
  2. At rank 19, The University of Hong Kong
  3. At rank 21, Peking University (China) and so on.

In the ranking, 42 Asian universities come under top 300 ranks, and all of them are from countries like, Singapore, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, along with Malaysia and Macau, but India, such a significant player in Asia, doesn’t seem to have even 1 of its top Universities under the top 300 ranks.

India is a country with booming possibilities in the field of law, with several private law colleges/universities that offer both 3 year LL.B. course and 5 year B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) course, and conduct their own entrance tests, along with National Law Universities, which conduct the CLAT in the month of May, every year, for admission to around 19 NLUs in the country. Still, the Indian law universities have a long way to go, with respect to gaining a stature of international level.

This situation is doubly highlighted by the fact that, India continues to show mediocre results, while its neighbour like China or a country as small as Singapore, are fostering world-class institutes.

Talking of legal education, with the very aim of bringing structure and quality to legal education in India, NLU or National Law Universities, were set up, in India, the first one to be, National Law School of India University, Bangalore, in 1986. They were introduced as a breath of fresh air in the times when, legal education in India needed a massive revamp.

Over the years a lot has been achieved, but a lot still needs to be further achieved. The in-ability of even any NLU, which was meant to be an institute of legal excellence, throws some serious light on the management of legal education system in India.

Legal Education in China

  • Law schools
  • Law universities
  • Justice college
  • Specialized judicial and professional training centres.

Currently, there are some 80 Law Colleges or Universities, and many university-based law schools or departments in People’s Republic of China. Though, historically, the best known ones are called “The Five Institutes and Four Departments”.

Entry to Law colleges, like maximum of all the other undergraduate courses in China, is through, the National College Entrance Examination (NCEE), commonly known as Gaokao. This exam is usually taken by students in their last year of senior high school, although there has been no age restriction since 2001.

Chinese and Mathematics is included in all tests, and students get a choice between taking either social sciences (history, political science, geography etc) or natural sciences (physics, chemistry, biology etc).

The system of legal education in China, has boomed exponentially in the past 3 decades, and the Chinese have experimented with several innovative ways to develop legal studies in their country, like-

  • Incorporating global perspectives into legal education, by which they have been able to tap into global potential and opportunities.
  • Young experimental law schools coming forward with comparative law and skill centric, pedagogy.
  • The State pushing on reforming and improving higher legal education, and putting greater emphasis on practical legal education/ training
  • Introducing, global perspectives and scenarios, all the while training budding law students, for rural legal work, which adds substantially to the nation’s growth, socially.

All these moves have clearly worked well for China, as can be seen in the rankings where its universities are bagging top ranks and producing skilled, quality lawyers. India as compared to China has a long way to go, where it comes to emulating the practical aspect of legal studies and reformation.

Legal Education in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, obtaining a degree of LL.B is a prerequisite to practicing of law in the courts. It has both LL.B. and LL.B. (Hons.), offered by both public and private universities.

Only 7 public universities in Bangladesh, offer a 4 year LL.B. (Hons.) degree, and also a 1 year LLM degree.

Along with these universities, some private universities also provide the 4 year LL.B. (Hons.) and 1 year LLM degree.

A 2 year LL.B. degree is also offered to non-law graduates, by National University of Bangladesh.

The scene of legal education is not so bright here, and it does not respond to the needs of modern society and economy, its reforms have become a national need, there are several aspects that the legal education system in Bangladesh needs to look into, like-

  • Objective of legal education needs to be shifted from a narrow view, of provisions and principles of law and legal system, to a more justice and social value, emphasised system
  • Application of law as a tool of social engineering for the welfare of the people, needs to be reflected in the curriculum, and teaching methodology and needs to be used as a motivation for the upcoming students.
  • As law is a practical social science, it is pertinent that it is valued and taught both academically and vocationally. The issue in Bangladesh is that much like how it is in India, its main focus is on the academic aspect of legal education, which results in that, the method of teaching law is lecture based, hence, need for a practical or Socratic method of teaching, including moot courts, clinical legal education, mock trials, etc are very much needed.
  • Also somewhat like India, Bangladesh has a wide difference between the legal education imparted by its public universities and other private law colleges. This is because of several issues such as, lack of funds, absence of government control as well as financial assistance, infrastructural inadequacy, lack of academic facilities, poor management, absence of full-time teaching staff, irregularity in admission and examination of students, and poor monitoring and control by affiliating National University.

Legal Education in Singapore

In Singapore, the LL.B. degree is conferred by either National University of Singapore (NUS) or the Singapore Management University (SMU) after a 4 year course consisting of 8 semesters. NUS, also offers a 3 year LL.B. (Hons.) course to graduate law students, while SMU offers a Juris Doctor, programme.

Singaporean legal education is doing extremely well, this country, which is doing extremely great now, had initially started off in a time when not many students were willing to take up law, due to numerous reasons like-

  • English being the medium of education (this was a problem for the non-english medium school children)
  • Cultural ideological conflicts regarding the nature of law, in European and local ways.
  • Uncertainty over the professional recognition of the law degree.

But over time local legal scholarships came into being, and also a wide variety of legal literature, including commentaries etc were published.

During 1966, Singapore witnessed a shift towards a more professional curriculum, and emphasis was placed on the substantive law subjects, due to lot of political change

From 1966 to 1982 tremendous amount of development went on, to develop the curriculum into a more specialised line.

In the year 1981, a major curriculum review process was undertaken, resulting in the Jayakumar-Chin Report.

All these various steps taken during the 1900s, helped Singapore tremendously. Singapore changed its approach with the changing environment, and took advantage of the commercial hub it was slowly becoming.

These examples of a few other Asian countries, should act as motivators, to India, so as to motivate it to become more versatile, practical and global in its approach towards legal education.

Why is India lagging behind Singapore and China in terms of quality legal education

What makes a major difference between the other Asian law universities mentioned and Indian law universities, are:

  1. The amount of funding the universities get

Despite being named as National Law Schools, all the NLUs run under the aegis of the state government and its fund, which usually stops coming after the initial first time funding, which leaves the NLUs to fend for themselves, where in turn, they increase the admission fees, and in cases where the state government does continue with the funding, the transparency regarding the use comes under questioning, as had happened at RMNLU, in 2017

Even in 2012, NLSIU Bangalore, which got its funding from the Karnataka State Government, faced trouble, when its grant was slashed by 50% by the State Government, resulting in it being left with a fund gap of 2 crore. This led to fears of cutting down on expenditure, and deteriorating of quality services, while also resulting in trouble of attracting competent teaching staff.

2. The quality of faculty the universities attract

There can be seen in even the top law universities in India, a lack of competent faculty, which results in further low research output and drop in quality of education, furthering down the ranks. The problem with funds, in all NLUs creates troubles in attracting teaching staff as, even the salaries of top professors are comparable to that of fresh law graduates, with little job growth satisfaction

3. The number and quality of publications and research

Work the university/ faculty gets done in international top-notch journals, help in improving research output, and citation score). All top universities have a reputable research oriented frame of working, which lacks in the Indian scenario, where theoretical classroom teaching is the usual norm.

4. The international reputation

In the form of getting more and more international law firms coming for recruitment, signing of various MoUs and agreements with leading international universities, resulting in enhancement of global reputation and increased chances of international students, further boosting the Universities’ reputation and an overall more dedication to holistic growth of students of law.

5. Teaching Methodology

Indian education in general, and legal education specifically, don’t have the required practical bent to it’s application, that would make law students adept future lawyers with skills, rather it has turned legal education into rote learning statutes and cases, which mostly results in the supply of nothing more than legal technicians and not professionals, from Indian universities. In most law courses, attending classes and scoring in exams is the only criterion, and numerous universities do not have any specialised courses.

An adept law student by the end of his/her course should have a deep knowledge of any law they have specialised in, should be able to draft briefs, frame petitions and critique different viewpoints in an analytical manner.

Legal education in India should shift from only doctrinal to practical in approach, legal research should be taught and encouraged in law colleges, law faculties should be given the appropriately updated pedagogy, which will facilitate a more engaging and skill-oriented legal learning, rather than rote learning of rules and laws.

The scenario around the rest of Asia, is again of quite a variety; some similar, some in contrast to the Indian system.

While we see that there are numerous areas that the Indian legal education system needs to revamp and even more hurdles that it needs to cross, with cases like, the ongoing HNLU protests, and all the other under covered or lesser known, long stretched cases, an all-encompassing overhaul should be in order and various aspects such as paucity of funds, excessive red-tapism , lack of research orientation, and other institutional issues should be effectively dealt with.

Furthermore, discussing and coming to a definite solution on the proposal of naming all NLUs as “Institutions of National Importance”, a tag given to all IITs and IIMs, could give a tremendous boost to the current status of legal education in India, and should be thought and acted upon.

India in today’s dynamic world, where Asia as an area in itself is doing tremendously well, should make use of all the opportunities it can, and decisively focus on working on upping the status of legal education in India, and justifying its potential in the world.

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