Reforming Indian Law Schools

Update: The full report is available here. It seems that this is so far in the draft stage only. Perhaps the Committee is still accepting suggestions.

Readers may be interested in an important  report that emphasises the need for our law schools to become genuine research universities, and get real autonomy. Some excerpted highlights from Pai and Ranjan’s summary:

Focus of legal learning: The GNLU report notes that “(l)earning is seriously impaired in an atmosphere of mistrust between the teachers and students”.
The larger focus of legal pedagogy is on conveying information rather than on discussing ideas and cultivating the ability of critical thinking.
The curriculum is not generally rigorous or engaging in substance. The NLUs often confuse ‘learning’ with quantitative aspects like the number of classroom hours and periodic exams based on rote learning.
Very little attention is paid to assessing the cognitive abilities of students. Faculty members are burdened with excessive teaching, leaving them with little time and motivation to focus on the quality of classroom discussions that can lead to firing the imagination of young minds.
Faculty research not a priority: The brazen reality is that the NLUs function as teaching shops. The ‘workload’ of the faculty fails to factor in any research component.
The GNLU report notes the current state of poverty in contestation of ideas through high quality research. However, it fails to account for the real problems which, to a large extent, can be attributed to excessive focus on teaching and lack of adequate incentives for research.
For instance, very few NLUs have a policy conducive for research through paid sabbaticals.
In order to plug the ‘research deficit’, the GNLU commission emphasises the need to build research networks with all stakeholders and undertake research for ‘policy development’, ‘law reforms’, ‘economic growth’ etc.
However, it does not provide any rational basis for making preferences towards certain kinds of research. Why would even theoretical research on any ground-breaking legal concepts be of less value?
Further, the commission’s endorsement of setting Regional Research Centres in Law, on the model of Regional Research Laboratories for science, is ill-conceived because it divorces research from teaching. Teaching and research ultimately nourish each other. Hence the university, and not ‘isolated’ research centres, should be the fertile ground for cutting-edge research.
Lack of focus on advanced learning: The NLUs are largely devoted to undergraduate teaching without necessary focus on postgraduate studies. The GNLU commission’s recommendation for a one-year diploma course involving teaching and research for new faculty members only points to how LLMs and PhDs offered by Indian universities, the NLUs included, are viewed with greater suspicion.
It vindicates the argument that the NLUs have failed to lead as institutes of higher learning and research.
The need is to focus on how to raise the bar of LLM and PhD programmes — the training grounds for producing legal academicians – instead of simply starting new programmes.
No carrots and sticks in place: The NLUs largely suffer from a complexity of mediocrity. Merit-based faculty research and teaching is not linked to any formal means of performance appraisal.
The general sentiment is that not every faculty member can live up to higher benchmarks. Very few are self-motivated to engage in good quality research.
Not many among the senior peer group can also lead by example. The non-existence of benchmarks, coupled with a sense of indifference among the faculty, has failed to raise the NLUs to higher levels of academic consciousness.
External regulatory capture: Although autonomous in many ways, the NLUs are governed through a web of external regulatory influences of the University Grants Commission and the Bar Council of India (BCI).
The dismal state of legal education in this country basically point to the latter’s inability in ensuring quality legal education.
The BCI’s recommendations, which are religiously followed by the NLUs, are not backed by adequate research or articulation. Dominated by practising lawyers, the BCI has failed to adequately and widely consult with law universities that remain largely affected by its decisions.
Working in silos: The NLUs operate as universities in isolation through their independent campuses. The very architecture of NLUs as institutions of specialised legal learning discounts the usefulness of interaction between law and other streams.
Depending on the structure of undergraduate coursework, a rigid system of ‘integrating’ inter-disciplinary subjects, thus, remains without purpose. Very little discussion has gone into how any meaningful integration may be achieved.
Written by
Tarunabh Khaitan
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  • Rather than focussing on the hours spent in classrooms, could someone look at what is being acheived by spending all those hours? Teachers often don't know how to teach and rather than focus on teaching, the focus should be on learning. The result is a crop of law graduates who are severely handicapped. Their unlearning in their first year out of law school is hard on them making their transition to lawyers extremely painful.