Law school was my dream realised.
Getting through CLAT and then through SET, I was thrilled. I had worked hard for a year and pursued B.Com (Hons) while preparing for law entrance examinations. I did morning college, tuition, assignments, law preparation classes and then my law preparation in the middle of the night. I did this for a whole year, and it paid off!
Then law school started and I was introduced to a whole world!
I loved attending the lectures, and was propped up in the first bench. I researched well for assignments I was proud of. I made new friends and had fun. Then I taught underprivileged children, worked for worthwhile social causes, internships and so much more! But soon enough the subjects changed and the competition became intense. We learned cyber law, media law, family law, criminal law, and about 65+ subjects in those five years !
What I did not realise was that I had slowly started losing interest in the subjects I so loved. Maybe it was the daily grind, or youthful distractions, but I did not find my curiosity rekindled.
In hindsight, I realise that I was bored of the theoretical sludge passed off as ‘knowledge of law’. It was not my institute or professors, rather the entire education system which was flawed.
Chartered Accountants have mandatory articleship as part of their curriculum. Even doctors have internship and training. But the other ‘noble’ profession, law, requires students to figure out practical training on their own. We don’t have practicals or labs to perform experiments or run codes like engineers. Sure we have moot courts, debates, etc. But, we have to rely on ourselves to figure out internships, practical training, do the hands on work. There are internship assistance in some colleges. But they only assist in putting you in touch with the prospective employer and resume, etc. They don’t teach you the real-life skills needed in the field of legal practice.
But where should law students go when they need to bridge the gaps in their practical learning? How do they gain the knowledge of what skills to acquire for a particular field? How do they know which area to focus on and how? How do they retain and nurture their interest in their chosen field? How do you learn real-life skills?
No one can emphasise enough how different is the real-life experience from the sheltered life of law school. I did not get placed from college or during college due to lack of systematic guidance and self-awareness. I knew the laws, but I did not know how to apply them when I get a client.
So was it worth it: 5 years of education at the law school?
Yes. Without a doubt.
I would not have been able to see law as I do now, without being taught how to analyse the laws. Sure there were some professors who had no practical experience themselves, therefore their knowledge was insufficient when it came to the practical aspects.
But researchers and academicians have a firm grip on the analytical part of the laws. So when it is taught by them, the methods trickle down to the students in a manner. Yet, the education system is flawed when it makes students learn and write the laws, without asking analytical questions or the application of their knowledge.
I remember that I started law school studying from prescribed book lists and reference lists. I used to make diligent notes in class and study in the libraries and prepare more. By the time I was in my fifth year, I was reading off just textbooks, guide books and past papers. The question papers were theoretical and did not test the analytical or practical application of legal knowledge.
But I was stumped time and again when I had to apply my theoretical knowledge to the real-life situations. I struggled like many others to get a job after graduation. My first job did not pay well, but I took it to learn what I missed in law school days. In hindsight, it was because of simply being unprepared, lacking necessary skills and in-depth knowledge of law, and inadequate training that added to my struggles.
Here’s why I struggled to get a decent job after graduation:
# Drafting – the first gap in my legal education!
So just like any fresher with basic writing skills, I thought I will be able to draft anything – applications, petition, plaint, contracts, opinions, etc. But I was gravely mistaken.
In my first job as a junior advocate, for three months I was pushing paper, carrying briefs, reading, making lists and summaries of documents. I was not even entrusted with drafting a cover letter until I went to the partner and asked for more work.
I was asked to draft a simple notice to another advocate. So I went and wrote with full vigour, all that I thought was relevant. Then I took a printout and went to the partner with my handiwork! He took one look at it and then me, took his red pen out and started making corrections. By the time he was done, the black ink was replaced with red one. I have always taken pride in my writing skills, so I was devastated.
I was never taught how to draft anything until my fourth year of law school. In my month long internships, I was not entrusted with any heavy work. So I was at a total loss. I did not know I was supposed to practice on my own through all those years. But there was no point lamenting my lack of useful skills. It was time to develop them. So I kept at it, and went to the partner every time possible for corrections, until the red pen was out of commission.
The fact is I did not learn much drafting at law school, and that came back and haunted me every time I had to draft a notice, application or a contract. It was only after years of constant learning and practice that I gained some confidence in my drafting skills.
These days there are contract drafting courses available online, which allow full-time law students and professionals to work on their drafting skills. But I had to learn it the hard way and over a long time due to the gap in my legal education.
# Superficial Knowledge Of Law: the second gap in my legal education!
Jack of all trades, master of none!
I mentioned earlier that I’d studied 6-7 papers per semester over a span of ten semesters, which is around 65+ papers. I was taught a variety of laws in law school like everyone. But the difference between studying for an exam or assignment, and for a case is huge!
In my second job, I was asked to advise straight off the bat! They thought I am from a good college, have one year experience, so I must know the laws. But I did not know much about companies law, compliance work, reviewing contract, SEBI regulations or anything pertinent to the task at hand! So I struggled for weeks to able to understand the applicable laws. Then I had to study them and apply them in the contract I was drafting or reviewing. Obviously, I faced loads of difficulties, burned the midnight oil to redo my work and learn more.
Let us face it, most of us did not know enough right after law school to do the assigned jobs. The internships were a great source of learning, if you had the right seniors and mentors. But that is also not in one’s control. There were bits of intellectual property law knowledge which came in handy when I was asked to register the new IP portfolio. It is here that I learned about renewing and filing for trademark and copyright applications.
As I was working for a company, I was expected to do a variety of work like drafting of merger related documentation, due diligence, etc. This required a working knowledge of contract laws, company laws, SEBI regulations, intellectual property laws, IT laws, etc. I only had superficial knowledge in these subjects as I’d studied them for one or two semesters only. You can do a business law course to get a comprehensive understanding of IP laws, IT laws, labour laws, dispute resolution, etc. to gain specialised knowledge. But it was tricky for me to try and recall five years’ worth of law papers on the job. I had to study everything all over again!
# Inadequate learning during Internships: the third gap in my legal education!
Everyone I know who bagged a PPO had a steady line of good internships. Even I interned every vacation. But there was a problem – mandatory 75% attendance. I am sure there are people who managed to learn their ways during internship.
For me, it seemed the duration of internship was too short. Our vacations were barely a month long. But there were students who extended their internship instead of focusing on their attendance percent. At the time I thought they were making a mistake. But maybe they had it figured out!
During internships it takes a while to figure out things. It took me a week to figure out the courtrooms in the Supreme Court! Then you have assignments which are way beyond your depth. In my initial internships, I barely knew the laws, so I was assigned to make lists and read briefs. Training interns is difficult and then they have to be monitored closely. This means more work for the mentors. I realised this when I was assigned interns during my first year of job, that they don’t know enough and training them is time consuming. There has to be more time to train the interns than a few weeks or even a month.
It was in my fourth year that my law subjects finally caught up with my internships responsibilities. It was only then that I was assigned good research work and some drafting. Till then internships were mostly to be added to my resume more than anything else. The work that we expect to learn during law college is usually not the same as what we need to learn. The disparity between what we learn in college and what we must do in internships and jobs, is significant.
Therefore there should be mandatory internships and training of law students, than leaving up to them to figure it out on their vacation. Internships should be part of the curriculum for every law student, rather than an option.
We are only as strong as our weakest link. We need a systematic revamping to bridge the gap between the theoretical and practical aspects of learning law. Both are equally important in order to avoid the unnecessary struggles after graduation. There are online courses which provide necessary practical training along with the theory. These courses help law student learn through application based weekly exercises to build their knowledge base in the subjects which are taught in depth.
What we really need is a revamp in traditional legal education with time. In these competitive times, where we need to know before being asked to do a task, we simply need a well-rounded training system. Otherwise we will end up with bright and smart students going through unnecessary struggles, before achieving success in law.