3 Silver Linings: The Future of Indian Law Schools

By Subhro Sengupta

At the outset I would like to comment that it is heartening to see that Lawctopus has become a forum for discussion and deliberation, and I would urge them to add a new column for Opinions to their existing repertoire.

Ed’s note to everyone: Sure, send in your write-ups at [email protected] and we’ll publish the good ones!

One question that has repeatedly risen time and again, is whether the system of opening up NLU’ s in every other state, one after the other (Now that the number is reaching 16 or 17).

Does this essentially violate the character of the NLU’s as National institutions?

Do the NLUs stand at a position where they can even be called National, with their rampant reservations and the hell and heaven difference between the top 3 (the golden triangle) and the rest?

One way to look at it will be the populist, quick criticism manner. But then again is it wrong. Assurances of a bright future and an NLU culture permeating in this country won’t give solace to the growing crowds of disgruntled parents and students.

They feel lost. Lost without the Corporate Lawyer life they had been promised, the education that they feel bypassed them, and a pseudo sense of glory.

The question remains, what is the solution to the NLU conundrum? One does not expect that the recently opened Law School’s will jump up all of a sudden and become NLSIU. For all the logic god has provided us, then what did NLSIU strive for since 1980’s?

After some patient thought, there are some solutions that come up to this problem: I would like to present the alternatives for public thought, debate and scrutiny, so that a positive step might be taken in this direction rather than crib about this till one day, while we proclaim the superiority of our individual Law Schools, yet deep inside cannot reconcile with the fact that we couldn’t go to the top three.

The issues and alternatives that come up are as follows:

1. The problem is that none of the NLU’s beyond the top 3 are striving for excellence, and when I say excellence I mean academic excellence. The administration can only play its part as a catalyst.

I believe that no Law School, even the best of the best, had god-like faculty, or all the resources in the world, a inception. It came in gradually through academic development; through the formation of an academic culture.

The NLU’s, the newer ones especially need to understand that to stand a chance in a demand and supply based economy, we need to be academically sound. Moot wins and pseudo sounding conferences, and journals do not do the trick, until there is true material behind it. So stop chasing a PD, MUN and Moot infused dream.

At the end of this road lies nothing but a fake sense of glory, unless backed by academic excellence. And it is the job of the student community.

Consider yourself lucky – while NLSIU has possibly the best facilities and culture in India – standing out in NLSIU or any top 3 Law School for that matter is immensely tough. There is already a tradition of stalwarts over there – there is hardly anything new for you to do – Any where else you can try your hand, fail and be a path breaker.

The need for original research: One of my friends shifted to NUJS two years back. We keep in touch and he keeps telling me about the projects he is working on. This is one area I have been extremely jealous about. The quality of research and the level of thinking that goes on in these places. And they have made it a mandate.

Projects are processed through TurnitIn and any material plagiarized is immediately rejected. At a personal level, I would think twice before suggesting implementing the same at my University. Increases my workload. I “actually” need to make my projects. Write my essays. No more copying blindly from SSRN and JSTOR.

Moral- with great power comes greater responsibility. What sounds horrific to us, is a day’s work for them. Yes they do not make 30 page projects. They write 3000 word essays, and I assure you if every NLU student started doing the same for 5 years, everyone these could be published as original work, and think of the development in research skills.

Maybe you will fail the first time, and the second, and the third, but then 5 years means 60 projects in 10 semesters. If everyone starts doing that, no one needs to worry about getting published, which sadly we have made just another sub-heading in our CV.

On similar lines, look at their Journals: NLSIR (the only student run peer review cited in the Supreme Court of India), NUJS Law Review (has writings from at least one retired CJI in every issue), NALSAR (has an excellent Women and Child Rights Research Unit) Law Review are journals that feel like exponents of Indian student led legal research. Now just keep going down the line.

Half the Law Schools do not maintain a proper Journal and even if they do, its absolutely laughable in terms of content. Question: Why do this? Why waste the money publishing a half-hearted, below average journal. Because that has become the moto.

Produce en masse  (Law School’s with up to 10 journals and 15 conferences a year, where I believe all the research dies once the name has been fixed – You need a good sounding name for good publicity) and produce absolutely unworthy, sometimes plagiarized research.

The newer Law Schools need to find a niche for themselves, not just blindly copy the older ones. And even the former is suggestible, provided we are copying them correctly.

2. Guiding the younger ones: The duty of the older Law Schools in a situation like this would be to guide the younger ones. The Vice-Chancellors are already exchanged from time to time, but then again, there should be a student exchange as well.

NLSIU, NALSAR, NUJS should actually guide younger Law Schools in terms of research avenues, infrastructure development, co-curriculars, subjects, syllabi and course material. They have an experience of two decades, and it is only fair that they share it, and we make it a community growth.

This can be achieved through a Central Board of the NLU’s, which will manage the inter-University interactions. The system that exists right now is that of a faux race. You will not see IIT Delhi trying to beat IIT Mumbai in ratings.

They know they are equally colossal giants. The newer Law Schools stop need to feel bad and try to hide their deficiencies. Other-wise we will be trapped in the pseudo NLU mire.

There needs to be more inter-NLU interaction and mentoring. After all every new IIT is mentored by an older one. Best example: The students of the newer IIT’s attended classes in the older ones for almost 2-3 years.

One needs to understand, that every time we snobbishly critique the fact that the law school brand is being diluted, we as individuals are also part of the same brand. We are a brotherhood ultimately, and we share the same spirit, and values behind our establishment.

The dream that Dr. Madhava Menon once saw in the form of NLSIU is now being spread across sates; so why should it be spread unequally?

3. Lastly, if there is one thing that we can learn from the more established Law School’s is the way the profession is diversifying.

I do not know how many people read NLSIU’s last years placement statistics in the Economic Times, but if read, one would understand that they have already given up Indian Law firms a miss, and are moving ahead to the more lucrative field of Legal Consulting, and in-house careers.

The companies hiring were Bain Capital, Cadbury and Daimler Chrystler.

Do not think that the top 3 law firms in India are your last recourse. Hell, there are a hundred other things you can do (I was saving this for myself but take a look at the Prime Ministers Rural development Fellowship).

There is growth in every field. Law Schools were not meant to be supply lines for a corporate chain. This just shows our two minute noodle attitude: We want everything immediately without putting in any adequate effort.

I find an entire gamut of students across Law School doing Parliamentary Debates: ask them what the structure of he British Parliament is – they will have no idea – ask them who or what Hansard was? – they will laugh on your face.

If you want a Corporate job, study hard and intern well, you will get it. The point being, AMSS or AZB or any such big firm for that matter do not hire from the first rate law schools because they like the Campus or they have secret dealings with the authorities. The firms have to look after their interests. They hire from these places because of the quality of students. Period.

I am and have been a person who has great personal faith in the Law School system, and will continue to have so as long as I see that every Law School is carving a niche for itself (look at GNLU for that matter).

We have a great future ahead, just that we need to stand on our own feet.

Our institution’s are relatively new and hence we are the path breakers who have the chance to decide what our Universities will look like 30 years in the future. We decide the culture, the jargons and the things that history will remember us and our alma-maters by.

It is great power. And with it comes great responsibility.       

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