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How Can Law Schools In India Up The Ante?

Bloomberg Quint
By Professor  

Indian law universities need to focus on practical and soft skills to prepare students for their career, was the sentiment echoed by a five-member panel of professors and recruiters, at an event co-hosted by the Harvard Law School Center on Legal Profession and the Law School Admission Council.

The panelists shared their insights on the future of legal education in India and the 3Cs they can work on — cost, curriculum, and career; on BloombergQuint’s weekly law and policy show – The Fineprint.

Indian Legal Education: Cost vs Value

Legal education in India is more affordable than some of the other jurisdictions, given that most students are pursuing an undergraduate degree, said David Wilkins, director of the Center On Legal Profession at Harvard Law School.

“The real question is of value. What is the value that students are receiving and whether the education is preparing them for the jobs of the 21st century.”

David Wilkins, Director - Center On Legal Profession, Harvard Law School

Newer national law schools which charge the same fee as some of the older and more reputed ones in the country, don’t necessarily have the same infrastructure, faculty and standard, said Shamnad Basheer, law professor and founder of Increasing Diversity By Increasing Access project added.

Then there is the public law school – private law school divide, added C Raj Kumar, founding vice chancellor and dean of OP Jindal Global University.

“This divide has meant that we’ve not realised how do you determine the cost of a degree program – what does it take to build a university, what does it take to run a world-class institution, faculty cost etc.”

C Raj Kumar, Founding VC and Dean, OP Jindal Global University

The administration can arrive at the fee only once they have managed to determine the cost. Subsidies for economically weaker students can also be fixed only after the calculation has been done, Kumar explained.

Indian Legal Education: Curriculums Contemporary Enough?

An overwhelming majority of the students who participated in the show, expressed concerns that their curriculum has not kept up with the times.

Law school is not just a trade school, was Wilkins response to the apprehension expressed by some of the students, who claim to find themselves under-prepared to take on the commercial

“The job of the lawyer is changing constantly. And it’s going to change even more rapidly in the world of artificial intelligence, machine learning etc. So, what law schools primarily need to teach is a set of critical thinking skills.”

David Wilkins, Director - Center On Legal Profession, Harvard Law School

How to be a leader, solve problems, present yourself- these are the skills that law schools can do a much better job at and that’s very different from teaching the latest iteration of company law or tax law which will keep changing, Wilkins emphasised.

It shouldn’t be an either or question, Kellye Testy, president and CEO of Law School Admission Council responded to Wilkins’ point.

“Through the course of legal education, you can help students understand the theory, the doctrines and the skills, current events within a curriculum. We don’t need to pick just one of those.”

Kellye Testy, President & CEO, Law School Admission Council 

Law schools provide good grounding on concepts and philosophy behind the law; what’s lacking is practical and soft skills, added Sandip Beri, partner at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas.

“If, in a wills and estate class, you’re spending 70 percent of the time debating whether there should be inheritance, estate tax etc, please spend 10 percent of the time on teaching students how to write a will. You can use the same analogy for other subjects as well.”

Sandip Beri, Partner, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas

Communication skills is what’s lacking, said Beri. A lot of work goes into teaching a first year associate on how to respond to a client, when to pause etc. Writing skills taught in law schools, have also not moved with the times, he added. Some of the onus also lies with the students, he said.

“Writing is where I see the biggest gap. When a first year associate is told, I’d like to see a draft on a case, they literally take it as a first draft. What they should be thinking is this needs to be the best draft of their lives.”

Sandip Beri, Partner, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas

It shouldn’t be a copy, paste job, said Beri.