By Prof. V. Shyam Kishore
The legal education sector in India is one of the fastest growing educational sectors in India.
The interest among students in pursuing law as a career has been steadily on the rise and this can be seen from the fact that the year 2016 saw the highest ever number of applicants to the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) with more than forty-five thousand students applying for the test.
This surge in interest is owing to the fact that the legal profession today offers a wide range of opportunities in addition to litigation oriented practice.
Reforms in Legal Education
Early reforms in the area of legal education started with the enactment of the Indian Advocates Act 1961. The Act sought to integrate legal education across the country under a uniform standard to be monitored by the various state and central bar councils. Consequently legal education was made a post graduate programme of three years duration.
Within two decades, concerns in falling standards of legal education led to the second generation of reforms in legal education.
With the period coinciding with economic liberalisation the strategy was to make the bachelor’s degree in law a post-higher secondary school course of five years duration wherein students were required to integrate the study of law with social science subjects thus providing for an inter-disciplinary approach to study law.
To further the objective of improving the quality of legal education, the Bar Council of India also decided to start a model law school with university status to pioneer these reforms. Thus came into being the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) in Bangalore in 1986.
The success of the NLSIU soon provided the momentum for the establishment of several National Law Universities (NLUs) across the country.
At present there are close to a score of such NLUs and with the increase in the number of such institutions, the debate on the quality of legal education were also revived. Concerns were also raised over how some of the newer law universities could not match up to the performance of the established NLUs.
Lack of adequate governmental funding, infrastructural deficiencies and red-tapism were cited as some of the reasons for the lower academic output of these institutions. This circumstance has thus laid the base for the launch of the third generation of reforms in legal education.
Legal Education Reforms in the 21 st Century
The turn of the century has, as stated earlier, witnessed a surge in interest in legal education.
This has resulted in better infrastructure, greater private participation and increased investment in legal education. Not surprisingly, private parties have played a significant role in pioneering the changes in legal education over the last decade and a half.
Private universities like Jindal University in Sonipat, Alliance University in Bangalore and Symbiosis University in Pune are only a few among many key participants that are engaged in the field of legal education and are striving to improve the quality of legal education in India.
The changes brought forth by these players in legal education are mainly in organisation, management, content and delivery. While private participants were present in the area of legal education from very early times, they were mostly law colleges affiliated to various state universities.
The emergence of more private varsities has enabled these institutions to function with more autonomy in addition to bringing in the much needed investments into this sector. There is no doubt that the proliferation of private universities has definitely led to increase in the standards of pay for the law faculty. This in turn has helped attract better and competent members to take up teaching as a career option.
Another area where far-reaching changes have been undertaken by some of the NLUs and other leading private universities is the emphasis on specialised learning. Many institutions including Alliance University – have opted to design the under-graduate course so as to offer a specialised training in law customised to suit the interest of each student.
Thus, a student today has the option of completing his bachelor studies in law, with an honours in a particular branch of law of his choice (for example constitutional law or business law). This enables the student to possess a competitive edge as he steps into the job market, upon completion of his study.
Increased collaboration with foreign universities and exchange agreements under which students are provided opportunities to learn in different environments through credit transfer arrangements are also a remarkable feature in many of these universities.
There is a large pool of students in these universities who have received such opportunity to spend a part of their course in universities abroad.
Yet another area of change has been in the pedagogy. Most institutions of repute have reduced to a significant extent or have dispensed altogether with the lecture method of teaching and have instead opted for more innovative and interactive methods of learning.
Moot courts, live simulation of cases and activity based learning have become the staple form of learning thus converting the process of learning more interesting and captivating.
To cite an example, at Alliance School of Law, students who were required to do a class project for the fulfilment of their assessment requirements, instead chose to bring out a magazine on the subject area which contained contributions from the students of the class.
Emphasis on other co-curricular activities like Moot Courts, Model United Nations (MUN), Meets, Seminars, Workshops etc. have now become inseparable part of the course.
Internships during the period of study are now a mandatory requirement. On-campus recruitments have also become a common feature in most new generation law schools.
There is no doubt that legal education in India is going through a very exciting phase. Though India has the largest population of lawyers in the world, there is still a need for quality lawyers. The legal profession has increasingly seen barriers of gender and socio-economic strata fall by.
With the legal sector in India poised to be opened up for liberalisation, the opportunities for bright law graduates are immense and the new generation of law schools, particularly the private universities like ASL have a major role to play to improve the standards of legal education in India.
Prof. V. Shyam Kishore is an Assistant Professor of Law at Alliance School of Law, Alliance University, Bangalore.