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Beyond the Law

Bar & Bench

Many law students think there’s too much legal education. In U.S. law schools. Students regularly question whether the third year of law school is really necessary and many often use the opportunity to intern with law firms or legal service organizations (or at least, that’s what they did in better economic times).

I tend to agree that there’s too much legal education at law schools. Ask several mid-level corporate associates at major law firms about the exceptions to the doctrine of consideration and you’re likely to draw more than one blank. Is there anyone practicing in corporate law or even regular litigation who remembers what the Rule Against Perpetuities really says? For that matter, there probably aren’t very many law students who could clearly tell you what the Rule Against Perpetuities is (I confess I have a hard time with that rule myself).

But I do think there should be more education at law schools – education based on other disciplines. Again, the crucial question is “which other subjects?” For example, at a number of Indian law schools, courses in economics, political science and history are mandatory but courses in accounting or basic finance are not (although most schools offer optional courses in these subjects). Basic courses in political science and history are certainly useful in developing a background sense of the law and how it functions, but ask any corporate associate about whether it helps to be able to read a balance sheet – his answer’s likely to be an enthusiastic affirmative. To take just one example, a recent interview with Cyril Shroff on Bar & Bench reveals that Amarchand Mangaldas used the recent downturn to train their capital markets teams in the basics of accounting.

Now you might respond by saying that law schools are not meant to teach you everything – there’s a substantial number of things that associates are meant to pick up on the job. That’s a good point, but it misses a crucial distinction. I completely agree that there are many things that a corporate associate should learn on the job such as improving drafting skills, learning to read complex contracts, discerning risks and learning to interact with clients effectively. However, subjects such as accounting, finance involve a significant teaching component and a larger base of substantive knowledge, making a classroom the appropriate place for learning these skills. Plus, halfway through a merger is a bad time to confuse the concepts of cashflow and revenue.

So what subjects would I want to see made mandatory in Indian law schools? My candidates would be a basic course on accounting and a basic course on finance/corporate finance. Plus, I would encourage law schools to provide extra-curricular training in the use of a number of softwares such as Excel and Powerpoint (since most students are already familiar with MS Word).

There are two more objections that I must deal with. First, you might ask whether accounting or finance courses are really necessary for those who do not plan to be corporate lawyers. I would answer, yes, these courses are at least as necessary as history or political science. Second, you might ask whether there aren’t more necessary courses to be taught rather than accounting or finance. I’m open to suggestions, but these seem like the most important courses to me – but I’d love to hear other ideas from Bar & Bench readers. To put it simply, more non-legal education might actually produce better lawyers.

Lexpert is an Indian lawyer currently based out of the United States.