Krishnaswamy on the National Law Universities

This op-ed by Sudhir Krishnaswamy (now a professor at NUJS) appeared in the Indian Express this weekend discussing the recent student strike at HNLU – a topic of a recent post on this blog. The article raised two points (among others) which from my vantage point I think bare reemphasizing –

(1) Get the bar councils out of the business of regulating legal education. The mandates bar councils impose in some states seem absurd, or at least poorly thought out. When LUMS in Lahore set up their law school (which I think may be the best run I’ve seen in South Asia) one of the first things they pushed for was to get the bar council to judge their students on a bar exam. This way the school had much more control over classes, how they monitored attendance, graded, etc. It wasn’t there was no accountability or no input from the bar, but there wasn’t such dominating influence in how a legal education had to be structured.

(2) It’s the quality of the students who have made the National Law Universities and given them their reputation more than anything else. It’s not the faculty that really draws students to these institutions now, but rather the promise they will be around other bright students and so a good reputation will attach with the degree when they graduate. As Sudhir hints in his piece this may mean Indian legal education is in for some instability the next few years. If other competitors move in like Jindal Global Law School that promise a higher level of faculty you can see top students moving to that institution or those like it. This sort of movement is likely healthy, but also creates confusion. Prospective students will start second-guessing what the “it” school is – what’s on its way down, what’s a passing fad, what will be considered the top tier schools in five years when they enter the job market, etc. This is not new to Indian legal education, but is likely to be amplified given current circumstances making it more difficult for prospective students to be confident in their choices.

Written by
Nick Robinson
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  • i think its high time the legal education set up in the country is revamped, esp. the national law schools. what started out as an exercise in not towing the usual line has gradually reached the same levels of education as we get in other central university places– at the end one has to realise that no one really coughs up fee to be able to only “gain access” to some of the prestigious law firms n work with them; the aim of legal education is to create individuals who can change the society. the way most national law schools seem to be going, they are just propagating a hegemony and a set thought process– those who get the grades are excellent, rest are not.

    in real life, the scenario is exactly the opposite.

  • For a three year LLB program, Jindal Law School will be charging Rs. 7,00,000 per year, taking total expenses for three years to whooping Rs. 21,00,000 per student. Similarly, charges for five year program will be Rs. 30,00,000 for the full duration of course.
    With this kind of fee structure, I do not think ‘top students’ here in India are going to consider Jindal Global Law School over NLS or similar other law colleges.

    Jindal Global Law school must have thought of a different target segment of students from what usually seen at National Law Schools and other Law colleges. May be it intend to reposition itself as alternate to Yale, Harvard, George Washington, and likes.
    I don’t see such Law schools, here in India, becoming even remotely threat to existing Law schools(with modest fee structures).

  • I agree that the Bar Council should not have a central role in the running of the law schools. This could not have been pushed for earlier when there were not enough people in legal academics who could counter the policies of the bar with intelligent and well articulated alternatives. But certainly it can be pushed for now. The problem with the current law schools however is not the bar alone. The Bar council has a role to play with regard to legal education in general, but its mandate is not as strong as that of the Medical Council of India or the AICTE. The law schools are controlled by bodies comprising of persons, a majority of who are not involved in whole time academics. The legislations setting them up make the law schools autonomous of control from other organisations but that does not necessarily ensure academic freedom. Structural changes are the need of the day to ensure that competent and enthusiastic who have entered legal academics are allowed the space to take and follow up initiatives which would reform legal education in India.

  • Please explain how getting the Bar Council (of Pakistan) to judge students on a Bar exam enables more control over classes, attendance, grading, etc. Do you mean to say that the Bar Council removed itself from interfering in such matters, and in return instituted a Bar-qualifying exam where previously there was none?

  • Yes, sorry about the confusion on that. Where before students were automatically qualified to join the bar when they graduated now they had to take a bar exam, but in exchange the school got far more (I don’t think complete) control over the structure of the education the students received.

  • I agree that the Bar Council of India is not the right body to regulate legal education in India. There should be an independent regulator to do this job. However, the real issue is not just to get away from Bar Council or to have more academics involved in the process of decision making. The real issue is how to change the ‘mindset’ of those involved in the business of legal education including the legal academics. We need bright legal academics who have a vision to lead key institutions. We need legal academics who are not afraid of thinking out of the box and who are innovative in developing legal education further. We need a legal system that values and cares for legal academics. There has to be a complete mindset transformation across ranks including legal academics.