Rajiv Jayaram & Aditya Swarup
Legal education has grown steadily in India after Independence, but the leap has been exponential in the last three decades. This accelerated pace in the growth of legal education coincided with liberalisation of India's economy and its increasing integration with a globalised world. Economic liberalisation since 1991 expanded the utility and scope of legal services in India's economy, corporate sector and public policy. Growing globalisation as well as emergence of trans-national challenges like terrorism and climate change underlined the need for broader and international collaboration in legal research. To improve and coordinate national responses to them and to ensure the protection of states and individuals, countries had to boost investments and research in legal education. At the same time, one must not forget that the lawyer's task is ultimately concerned with justice and, as Max Radin said "any legal teaching that ignores justice has missed most of its point".
The success, if any, of legal education can be largely attributed to what started as an experiment in 1987 with National Law School of India University (NLSIU) Bangalore. What started as the first ever 5-year integrated BALLB (H) programme has become a full-fledged story with 19 National Law Universities (NLUs) set up in 18 different states and union territories. The five-year LLB programme has become the flagship and mainstream law programme today. However, with numerous other law colleges existing and many more coming up, there is a dearth of faculty, let alone good faculty, to teach in these law schools.
The admissions to national law schools are currently governed by the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT). Admissions and legal education are, however, fraught with hiccups that require urgent attention. The proliferation of law colleges, the low level of funding and full-time staffing means that the ability of Indian law schools to undertake substantive research and scholarship is very limited. It is in these circumstances that two recent trends in legal education ought to be discussed.
First is the imposition of an age limit (20 years) by the BCI to pursue law. In a landmark judgment in 2015, the Supreme Court of India scrapped the upper age limit (under Rule 28 of the Legal Education Rules, 2008) imposed by BCI for applicants of the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) for admissions to state law colleges and universities, making it clear that no age limits can apply to aspirants seeking to study law in the country. However, in November 2016, the BCI restored Rule 28. The upper age limit prescribed under this rule has again stayed by the Supreme Court in March this year, pending final hearing.
Second is the changing attitude towards the teaching and curricula in law schools. Despite infrastructural limitations in most law schools, the best law schools in the country still manage to retain students of high calibre and intellect. The quality of the teaching, range of courses and research is top notch. This is further shown by the opportunities available for the students of these institutions after graduation; LLMs and PhDs from the best universities in the world, placements in the top firms in India and abroad, and even non-law based opportunities. In fact, one of the advantages of a law degree is the many career options available to a lawyer after graduation.
The governing regulations of the BCI mandate that every law student must undertake a minimum number of mandatory courses — thereby ensuring that each student has a basic understanding of the subject. In addition to these mandatory courses, the student can undertake credit based electives and specialisations. Students are required to research and evaluate what kind of programme or elective is right for them. Apart from the traditional branches such as civil, criminal, corporate, taxation and labour and trade, there are new areas such as human rights, gender, cyber law, intellectual property law, arbitration, international law, space law and sports law that a student can specialise in.
A person with a background in legal education can, in additional to practicing law, also seek career opportunities in other spheres. One of the advantages of a law degree is that there are many career options available to a lawyer after graduation. A student may consider a career in litigation, law firms, corporates, human rights, the NGO sector, public policy, UPSC, the UN, journalism and the like. Legal institutions capitalise on these advantages and help students diversify their career options after law school.
To conclude, the law course, be it the five-year integrated LLB programme or the three- year LLB programme, is a great academic experience. Upon completion, the student has varied skills that give him or her the set or temper to pursue numerous career options. Law is intrinsically connected to society, and its transformational impact on society can never be over rated.
Rajiv Jayaram is a senior editor at the International Institute of Higher Education and Capacity Building (IIHEd) at O.P. Jindal Global University. Aditya Swarup is an Assistant Professor and Dean at O.P. Jindal Global University