The Frustrations of Studying at a Traditional Law College [READER’S BLOG]

Note: This is a reader’s blog. The views expressed, are the writer’s views and not that of Lawctopus.

The debate about whether National Law Schools truly offer a better experience than traditional law colleges is not a new one – indeed, the debate that we see playing out in India is but a manifestation of the contestations that have been underway between elite and non-elite institutions in countries across the globe for multiple decades.

Rivers of ink and reams of paper have been utilized by thinkers on both sides of the spectrum to establish the superiority of their claim — by those in favour of elite institutions to argue that educational institutions which follow a very rigorous admission process deserve a higher degree of reverence and respect on account of the way in which they have been able to shape the thoughts and worldview of some of the world’s finest professionals and by those who believe that traditional colleges offer an equally enriching experience to argue that education cannot be a preserve of a handful of institutions in the information age and that it is the students’ intellectual curiosity and thirst for knowledge that play a far more fundamental and formative role in their career than the name of the institution from where they acquire their professional qualifications.

My aim of writing this piece is not to analyse this problem from the ivory tower by weighing the pros and cons associated with studying in a traditional law college through a set of abstract arguments, but to give expression to the frustration, the anger and the helplessness that I, and thousands of honest, hardworking, intellectually curious and ambitious students like me studying in such law colleges, have to grapple with every single day.

That most traditional law colleges have woefully inadequate infrastructure, unprepared and uninformed faculty and limited access to legal databases and books is a platitude.

Truth be told, very few of the supposedly elite institutions in India can boast of those attributes. No, that is not what I am particularly disillusioned with.

My sadness and anger towards the traditional law colleges stems principally from the remarkably poor quality of students who study in these institutions – students who do not know what a non obstante clause or proviso or prima facie mean even after successfully completing their law course; students who strive to glorify ignorance and seek solace in each others’ lack of understanding of the law; students who haven’t read a single judgment, citation or legal article in their 5 years of law school; students who believe that objectifying people of the opposite gender is more interesting and cool than questioning the legal arguments that they would be well served to study; students who believe that education is just about copying your neighbour’s answers and passing exams; students who believe that internships, moots and extracurricular activities are a waste of time and are not going to be of any help to them in the real world.

The standard of legal education in the country possessing the world’s second largest population of lawyers is best epitomized by the fact that many of these students eventually end up bagging medals and securing excellent marks in their exams, never realizing the extent of their ignorance.

I often ask myself and anyone kind enough to listen the reasons for this sorry state of affairs.

Are these students merely victims of a system that promotes and perpetuates mediocrity – a system where only those who are born and brought up in wealthy, academically-oriented families which can equip them with the wherewithal required to crack competitive exams are typically able to receive quality education or at least study in an environment which fosters critical and independent thinking and provides them the tools needed to develop analytical skills – or do they have no one but their own lackadaisical attitude, lack of passion for the law and general indifference to blame for their fate?

The answer to this question, as to most other hard and practical questions in life, lies somewhere in the middle.

If a set of bright young individuals who are confused about their place in the world, the meaning of their existence and the role that they can play in making existing systems and societal structures more just, fair and transparent are robbed of the opportunity to access the tools and resources, sans which it is difficult to think about these issues deeply and fully, and are surrounded by incompetent adults who have done very little in their lives for themselves or for those around them, it isn’t entirely fair to expect these students to carve out a path for themselves, all on their own, that can allow them to give expression to the intrinsic worth and value that we all possess in ample measure.

This is not to say that the barriers that this form of institutionalized mediocrity throws up are so insurmountable and the challenges so difficult that hardworking and diligent students cannot break this vicious cycle and find ways of making a meaningful and substantive contribution in their chosen field – history is replete with many examples of people who have done just that – but it is certainly true that very few students can hope to compete with their counterparts who have access to better resources when the odds are so heavily stacked against them.

At the same time, we cannot lay all the blame on the door of these institutions and lose sight of the fact that most of these institutions would not be able to function in the unacceptable ways in which they do if their students were more assertive, informed and desirous of questioning and changing the status quo.

If you try to engage in a meaningful conversation with such students about the possible steps that can be taken to change the existing state of affairs or about any recent legal developments, they are quick to associate such adjectives as uncool, uninteresting and nerdy with your name.

Ask such students what they plan to do with their law degree or what their professional aspirations are, and they will be quick to change the conversation to such subjects as the looks of the girl sitting on the next table and their last confrontation with their significant other.

To be sure, I recognize the importance of such conversations and genuinely believe that they form an integral component of the bonds that one builds in college, but one forgoes vital opportunities to broaden and deepen one’s understanding of the things that actually matter in law school when such conversations are conducted to the exclusion of all else.

While it is true that the actions of a substantial portion of the students who behave in such self-destructive ways and do a huge disservice to the legal profession are actuated by choice and not compulsion, it is equally true that most of these students are never fully exposed to the possibility of living a more fuller, deeper and meaningful life because of our fundamentally flawed school education system.

And maybe in the library too?

And maybe in the library too?

Indeed, as Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the U.S. Supreme Court has rightly noted, we cannot blame students for their failure to excel in a race which many of them don’t even know is being run.

The causes for the events that I have sketched above are many, but its immediate effect is only one which manifests itself in different forms: When we go to college, far too often we are ruefully informed that classes have been cancelled; far too many students spend the most formative period of their lives in canteens and cafes; far too many of us only study a handful of important questions which we are told will help us pass the exam with flying colours; far too many of us enter the legal profession woefully underprepared.

And just as it is said that India cannot grow in an inclusive and sustainable manner until her villages show signs of growth, we cannot honestly say that we have a robust legal education system until the colleges that produce a large chunk of the roughly 70,000 law students that graduate each year undergo the paradigmatic shift needed to convert them from breeding grounds of indolence and incompetence to bastions of personal and professional growth

Note: This is a reader’s blog. The views expressed, are the writer’s views and not that of Lawctopus.

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Comments Till Now

  1. gyan prakash says:

    well you wrote brilliant article..but the point of fact is that this condition is prevailing in whole india and not only ;aw but other streams like engineering,medical,agriculture ,commerce .all r moving through same problems of infrastructure,faculty,hard working scholars and gud environment of learning..onl;y handful of institutes are there which are providing excelent., if we talk abt brands like iit,nlu.aiims,iims etc even all institues with these names are not excelent except some which are on top position……………………..,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,the most important thing to perform in countries like india is to reform the system ,sturggle to bring more transparency in education system. and fight for the future of our next coming generation,..,,,,,,.,,,so at last i say that if u could not get a gud opportunity lets fights so that others need not to suffer through same situation.
    thanking you

  2. Anonymous says:

    Dear Frustated,
    Believe me as I read this, I find the situation no different on the other side of the fence. Being a first year student of a lower NLU, the lack of infrastructure and the permanent faculty issue, is everywhere. The good faculty move up to the higher NLUs and we are left with people who are too fresh to teach.

    I really have no idea, on how difficult it is to get through internships coming from a traditional college, but the troubles you face, is no difficult from the ones we face, hailing from an NLU. There is always a student, who applied from a higher NLU or with better grades, or even through a source, or simply, before you.
    The complaints you are projecting towards your college, is the same, we have. The seniority issues make things even more complex- you need massive student support to bring about any administrative change. For that, you need consensus.
    and arguments among lawyers, you can very well forget the conclusion is ever to arise.

    As far as you are talking about inspirational lawyers, the situation is same everywhere. Learing men and four floors of hostel- three of them filled with Joint Spots. For inspiration you need a will to say Hold On!, not an NLU. You are talking about people who are not aware of the race. I have colleagues who see it, sense it and avoid it.

    You are suppose to find you’re own inspiration and need to work behind it.
    Dream big, and the passion to achieve that dream bigger. Change what you can. Change what you want. Colleges are adequately placed. After the school, before the big bad world. You will have to toughen up. No pains, no gains.

  3. Shubhangi Gupta says:

    I completely and much woefully agree with the abovestated thoughts of the blogger. I had to get myself enrolled in one of such institutions in Lucknow. The reason being my aspiration for the Civil Services. Attendance compulsions and other such rules are violated here as of custom and attending the classes regularly doesn’t benefit us much due to various irregularities and lacunas in the teaching system. So, ultimately I am left with all the time to study back at home or attend coaching classes to realise my dream.

  4. Agreed! And a very well articulated piece of work..

  5. Anwita Mukherjee says:

    Agreed.I come from a traditional law college of Kolkata and I regret each day of my life at the law college.I regret it more,probably because I was forced(due to some unavoidable circumstances and not “parental pressure”) to give up a seat at a national law school and stay back in Kolkata.Not studying in a blue blooded institution has taken its toll on my career but I am trying my best to build an impressive CV by interning at various places(tough to get a decent one without an NLU background),additional courses and of course getting into an elite institute for my Masters.

  6. Very well written and true, I just wanna add my personal experience about this also. I have graduated from a traditional college from Kolkata and the college environment was just as the same as pointed above, no inspiration, no motivation among students, no guider all in all nothing in comparison with a national law school. But i think greatness comes from true love, passion and inspiration it can never happen with everyone than there would be no Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Shakespeare, Albert Einstein, Sachin Tendulkar and my favourite Steve Jobs among others who left a mark on mankind’s history. All men can never be the same, its life which makes men great and not institutions and families, if that would have been the case than we would never witness people like Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam and Malala yousafzai and many many more like them. So I don’t think one should ever complain about colleges and institutions its your life no one can make you live small, no one. Those who will come from UK or Harvard could work for you tomorrow. You have to find yourself first before you try to sell others who you are. With that a reality check i am working right now in Delhi trying to make a ground to stand upon, and let me tell its hard if you are not from a national law school to get a job at a law firm or become a junior under a big shot lawyer, but one thing for sure I know that when I will be something I will help people to rise up and not crush them to show my might.

  7. Devahuti says:

    Agree so whole heartedly, you could not have put it more eloquently. It rings so true, that honest desire to learn is so often marred by an acute lack of intellectual solidarity and/or mentorship. And we continue to churn out masses of such average uninspired lawyers, year after year. But what really hits home, is the feeling of regret that one couldn’t do enough, despite the will, solely due to lack of guidance.

  8. Brilliant write up!

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