By Ramanuj Mukherjee
I met a lawyer in Bangalore sometime back – he was in the second batch of National Law School Bangalore.
He told me an interesting story. Back in the 80s, some legal luminaries felt that there should be a National Law School. They rallied to get land, funds and resources for it. Everyone was sceptical.
The idea of a NLS was opposed in the Karnataka State Assembly – some legislators said that with so many funds we can build ten law colleges – why spend so much on building one law college?
Then finally with some intervention from Mr. Veerappa Moily the proposal went through, and Bangalore University reluctantly had to give some land for setting up what is now NLS.
If you have ever visited NLS, you would be able to imagine what that area was like back in the 80s. The IT boom was yet to hit Bangalore, it was a sleepy pensioner’s paradise. Nagarbhavi wasn’t even considered to be a village, it was literally inside a jungle.
It was a hard battle just to get a building in a jungle, and then they said it is going to be India’s best law school, and Harvard of the East.
These were very ambitious, very foolish people. There was no CLAT – few people wrote the admission tests – getting in was quite easy. Still, the students and the teachers believed from day 1 that they are the best.
They also knew no one believes them, everyone is sceptical of this experiment, so they had a point to prove. No one complained, they just worked very hard.
Imagine, at that time there was no bait of lucrative law firm jobs – the growth story of India’s law firms was yet to start. The founding of AZB was still a few years away. India was a controlled economy. There was no concept of internships.
They will convince companies, lawyers, NGOs, think tanks and law firms that taking interns is a good idea.
They did get support from stalwarts like Prof. Menon, but a lot of it was actually accomplished by the students themselves. As they graduated, they went on to shape India’s legal economy – at the bar as well as in law firms.
Their accomplishments did not come because they went to a building in a jungle and lived there for 5 years. It was because they believed they are the best and did everything in their power to prove it.
They built an academic environment that remains unparalleled to this date. There was an insatiable hunger to establish the institution, to earn fame for it, to open new avenues and to innovate.
Otherwise, there were few colleges whose students will pursue Mr.Jethmalani to come and teach them cross-examination. NLS did not make these people entirely, they had made NLS. They transformed the building in a jungle with meagre resources into the best law school everyone wants to go to.
Until today, they have managed to retain some of that zeal – where each student feels like a warrior for the cause of their alma mater.
I have seen some of that hunger, that craving to claim our place in the world when I joined NUJS in 2006.
Every senior believed that NUJS is a world-class institution, and they knew it wasn’t because of the buildings or the world famous VC or the library. It had to be the students doing amazing things that the world cannot ignore.
Even if we played a football match with Xaviers, it was about establishing our superiority – we are the best and we will prove it every day. That is why every moot winner will be hailed as a superhero – they have won for the University.
It was always the question of how the world perceives us. We knew we are not competing with the local colleges, we are competing with NLS, we are up against the global powerhouses and we must beat them.
Be it mooting, internships, academics, debating or even a quiz, we were out there to show who we are – not just for our individual selves, but to prove that NUJS is that good. If someone faltered, everyone will accuse him of ruining the name of the college.
It was not just about personal achievement or failure – everyone knew we must all succeed for NUJS to become a truly great institution.
I also saw that environment fade away, and a sense of security set in. I saw people starting to believe that they can get a job because they are already in NUJS. I hope I am mistaken, and that future batches will create that environment where they need to prove their worth every day.
I have seen a few serious articles here in the last few days. Final year students complained that the law school administration was inefficient and did not help them to secure jobs.
They also said that their college wouldn’t allow them to do things that they needed to do – like relaxing some norms to allow them to go for important internships.
It made me realise that while we have seen various law school administrations (I saw two VCs in NUJS and felt the effect of another, Prof. Menon, years after he was gone), not all of them supportive – they rarely came in our way and prevented us from doing things.
At NUJS, we were not funded for going to moots, but when students will ask for a project submission extension so that they can go for a moot – very few teachers will say no.
The administration will certainly not interfere.
The summer holidays we had was strategically selected after student inputs, and we will choose those months for holidays when other colleges are open, maximizing our chance of getting internships where we want.
Legally speaking, NUJS had a rule that everyone had to be full-time students and we could not do any work on the side.
When we started an entrepreneurial venture in college and spent considerable time on it, our teachers knew about it, but they never stopped us.
We missed classes to go and give business presentations – this is probably not acceptable from an academic viewpoint – but they gave us some leeway.
The students banded together, formed a cyber committee, collected some money and started the hostel LAN when the University said they did not think it was necessary.
Some high IQ senior read up how to set up a LAN network because they could not afford real engineers and mechanics. When the students took the initiative, however, the University did not stand in the way.
The university adopted a policy very early that it will not facilitate recruitment.
However, the students formed a recruitment committee, collected money from amongst the students willing to sit for recruitment (and sometimes demanded money from the University), and managed everything that went into getting students recruited.
These committees were mostly elected by students. NUJS moot, debate, fests – everything was managed by student bodies, with minimal help and no interference from the administration.
Naturally, when the students had a supportive VC like MP Singh and great faculty members, they achieved wonders.
But even without such a conducive environment, we were determined to still do well – and the administration always had the good sense to not come in the way of that.
I can think of many more examples where the students made things happen, and the University stepped aside to let it happen – and a lot of the NUJS story was built on that.
NUJS was a very student-driven university – the students managed a majority of non-academic affairs, from the hostel mess to recruitment and internship placement.
We did not even imagine that we could ever blame the University for leaving everything in our hands.
The legacy of law schools is not to make jobs fall on your laps – but it is not to block your way to excelling either.
If the students at the relatively new NLUs can understand this, and blame their Universities for stepping in their way and creating obstacles rather than blaming the authorities for failing to secure them jobs – they would find more sympathetic ears and perhaps more support.
Tell the legal community about how your college did not allow you to go for internships unreasonably, how they insisted they cannot change a viva date to allow you to attend a moot, how they hire incompetent teachers and foster them despite your protest, or how they did not allow your recruitment committee to function independently.
Silence will not help to preserve the reputation of your college, it is a downward spiral anyway.
If you share these stories with the wider legal community, your alma mater will be soon forced to change its retrograde ways.
Law schools were not meant to be like that, and the powers that be also know and respect that.
Ramanuj is an NUJS graduate. He worked at a leading law firm for a year before quitting to work on his legal education start-up iPleaders full time.
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Editor’s Note: The post was first published on 25th April 2014.