Why do we need the National Law Universities?
Not everyone will agree on the answers to this question. Do we need to worry about the future of the law schools in our country? To know which direction the growth of law schools will take, we need to look at the interests and investments that we call a law school. This article is being republished from A First Taste of Law, which has now shut down. This was originally published in 2010.
The old guard and the Bar Council
The Bar Council would assert once in a while that law schools are meant to be breeding ground for the next generation of lawyers to replenish the bar – ‘to raise the bar.’ When it is time to chose a director or a VC to head a law school, potential choices who are likely to ‘inspire’ the students to join the bar are known to be ‘favoured.’ While gracing formal ceremonies in law schools, dignitaries from the bar are often kind enough to remind us that true calling of a lawyer is in the bar and the bench, in the precincts of justice (that which loses little of its glory due to the stink, bribery and stained walls that you come across during your visits).
Well, whatever maybe the reason, all these efforts fall on deaf ears in most cases. No amount of inspiration seems to be enough for most of the greedy law students who would become transactional lawyers (glorified clerks, remember?) anyway (and willfully pass on the opportunity to spend the valuable years of their life in chambers of the stalwarts of the bar and their parents’ hard-earned money at the court canteen).
The law firms and corporate in-house departments
Who benefits the most from various law schools and National Law Universities being established? Undoubtedly, the law firms, the biggest recruiters of the graduates. Some of the top law firms barely recruit anyone apart from top NLUs. At least the bulk of recruitments happen from National Law Universities. The reason for this is simple – the NLU curriculum helps the graduates to become better at legal research, writing and speaking in English – these skills being the most fundamental ones needed by law firms. Imagine if AMSS and Luthra had to exclusively rely on government law colleges for fresher recruitments! It would be a blood bath.
Not only big law firms, but as smaller transactional law firms also benefit greatly from the ever increasing ranks of NLU students. The NLUs have undoubtedly attracted more intelligent and hard working law students that any other traditional colleges over time. The attraction of NLU students is that they are well spoken. polished, used to rigorous work and ambitious. Also, usually their knowledge of law and writing skills are far superior than what traditional law colleges produce.
On the other hand, proliferation of these mostly self funded NLUs would have been impossible if not due to these law firms which dutifully recruit a large number of mostly untrained and unskilled law graduates every year! Why would talented middle class and upper middle class kids work hard on an unpredictable exam like CLAT, compete with tens of thousands of other kids, and then pay close to 10 lakhs in fees unless they get recruited with a great pay package for this in the end? In any case, economics of studying at law schools have greatly worsened over the years, making it less and less attractive. Still, thousands of law students are willing to take the chance and compete for a few hundred law firm jobs every year. If these jobs didn’t exist or went away, National Law Universities would have been doomed!
Clearly, law firms have a great interest in Universities and they often influence the Universities through soft means, like grants for chairs or specific activities. Most moot courts and other student activities at NLUs are funded by law firms, and that should not surprise you.
The bigger picture – globalisation
Arre, wait a minute! The establishment of law schools coincided with the opening up of the Indian economy, isn’t it? So was that just a coincidence? Was this not the idea that the new age law schools will provide the army of legal experts who will handle the legal side of a booming Indian economy, providing it the legal security that would have to be bought abroad otherwise, and also the type that can not be shipped?
Was is not a part of the vision that Indian is going to be the knowledge capital of the world in the new century, and to make sure such knowledge is complete, were not the law schools perceived as the cutting edge research institutions that will train students in legal subjects which are often not the forte of the lawyers currently practicing in most courts (Biotechnology law or International Commercial Arbitration for instance)? Was is also not a purpose to create lawyers who understand business and can ensure that the law goes hand in hand with economics?
Well, maybe these were not exactly the purposes the Bar Council had on its mind, which is quite understandable and excusable. Although it has been saddled with the weight of the entire legal education system in India, its core interests (political and regulatory) are far narrower. The Bar Council may represent the multitudes of lawyers practicing in Indian Courts, but they certainly don’t represent the entirety of legal community and their interests.
The architects of law schools in India did not exactly think law schools to be a tool to create only litigators and judges. Creation of law schools was a much needed boost to the economy, at least for the pioneers (some of them chief ministers and administrators, and others legal luminaries) who took the initiative to establish law schools which was extraordinary at that time on many counts.
And the students
In my last year of school, when I was considering if I should choose law over a career in medicine (and my parents were mad at me for even considering), I was told that law schools are places where one has got to be in order to take advantage of the Globalisation and have a global career in its true sense. Make international deals happen, advise Chinese industrialists on E.U. competition law, work on presentations en route a business meeting in Cypress, at least contribute in resolving some international crisis or maybe, be part of a diplomatic envoy negotiating with some Latin American dictator. That’s what I thought I might get to do someday when I chose to become a lawyer.
Well, it is foreseeable that there are lawyers who do that sort of things for a living, and we were told there is much demand for ‘legal experts’ from India who would be competent enough to do such cool stuff. Apparently, in law schools you get ample opportunities to become one. No doubt the second sort of reasoning was the one that led me to chose law as a career. If I thought the only option for me would be to don black robes to argue in our literally dirty and grimy ‘Halls of Justice,’ where litigators wait for decades to get justice, I dare say that it would not have been a very appealing prospect to me at that point of time (now I hold a different opinion).
Not to forget the public
Students, bar council (and senior lawyers) and the government – anyone else got a stake in the law schools? Oh yeah, what about the public whose money was used (in some cases, it wasn’t) to set up the buildings, to get the acres of land or set up those brilliant libraries? A few, but only very few talks about the public interest in law schools. Those advocating the cause of the public however, will always shout themselves hoarse about the fact that none of these law school students seem to be accessible to the general public for fighting their property disputes or submitting their bail applications. If the country has 2 lakh lawyers out of which only 5 thousand have attended elite law schools, what do you expect, especially when these ‘islands of excellence’ enjoy a very wide gap in quality of education and training with rest of the law colleges in the country?
As long as this is the state of affairs, there’s not point in wasting your tears for the poor. Well, I am sure that the country is benefiting too from the addition of competent lawyers to the workforce. At least we have good lawyers to ensure a smooth sailing of the economy. Yes, that makes a difference in a life of the poor too, though at a macro level that some people tend to miss.
The academicians in search of experimental truth
Another sort of people has deeply embedded interests in the law schools. I am talking about legal academicians.
The ranks of these people have increased substantially since law schools have been introduced. In the 90’s, what could be your option after an uber-hailed LL.M. or Ph.D. degree from Oxford or Harvard? International Law firms, if you are smart enough. Laid back and well-paid life on an academician in an English speaking country, if you were good enough. Coming back to India to fight it out in Indian courts, or joining a law firm. These were pretty much all the options.
But now, law schools like NLS and NUJS are not only paying enough to such academicians if they are ready to return, they are willing to give them enough opportunities to experiment and innovate. Often, this means a great opportunity for further career development to such academicians. They are publishing law reviews, hiring brilliant students as research assistants, organising conferences and networking with academicians around the world on the expense of the law school.
They have their own distinct agenda, sometimes one of introducing their foreign alma mater in practices in Indian law schools, and often such agenda would not match with that of those who run the bar council, or even the law firms scouting for a particular sort of students.
They are everywhere – the politicians
The last but not the least, are the politicians. And unfortunately, law schools have been sometimes the aim of parochial politics. Often the state in which the law school is situated demands a state reservation in return for providing infrastructure. NUJS, at the time when Prof. Chimni was VC, refused to provide for a 50% reservation for students from West Bengal, and in turn was refused enhanced financial assistance from state government. The recent introduction of 20% state quota in NALSAR speaks volumes. So does the recent judgment of Karnataka High Court in a recent case against NLS.
Clearly, law school is a battlefield now. There are several interested parties who will like to see their interests promoted through the law schools. The problem is that many of these parties are completely unaware or are simply refusing to acknowledge that there are other stakeholders with some other sort of interest.
There is a suggestion still alive that keeping in mind the broader interests, law schools should be administered by the Human Resources Development Ministry. That sounds more sensible than the current situation, but whoever takes over will need to think about all these competing interests.