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We speak to Justice (Retd.) N.N. Mathur, current Vice Chancellor of the National Law University Jodhpur (NLU Jodhpur). In this short discussion, NN Mathur talks about a variety of issues including the various options law school offers, the changing legal scenario in the country and what makes NLU Jodhpur different from the rest.
Bar & Bench: Do you think that law is still considered to be a last choice for students? What are the changes that you have seen in the legal field?
NN Mathur: Its quite a demanding area. Particularly someone like me can say so because I myself have seen and when you say that it is a last choice, I was one of them. When I did my law, I was not sure where I would go. When I opted for the legal profession, it was a difficult time. It was difficult to settle down. But in the last 24 years I have been a lawyer and then a judge and now am in academics.
I find a dramatic change in the legal landscape in the country. Nowadays the legal profession is not confined to the court room or within the country alone. It is a global profession now which was not the case earlier. This is particularly true in what you call transactional law.
I think this change started after the liberalisation in 1991 and one thing I can tell you is these 14 law schools that we have today, would not be what they are today had there not been any liberalisation in 1991.
It is because of the liberalisation that such a huge market has been created in the country.
Bar & Bench: Are you concerned about the fact that most law graduates are opting for corporate law firms over litigation? Do you think the lack of money in litigation is something which affects such decisions?
NN Mathur: Actually, one of the things which is disturbing is when some people, particulary those in high offices, question why law students are not joining litigation. I think there is a need to change the mindset of the people who make such comments.
As for the perception that there is no money in litigation, well why do you think that litigation means only going to courts and arguing? Nowadays court themseleves say “Go for ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution)”. The government is establishing a number of tribunals, competition commission, a number of quasi-judicial bodies. Don’t you need a lawyer there?
That is why I am saying that there has been a change in the landscape of the legal profession. Even if they are going to law firms, they are working with regulatory bodies, they are lawyers.
Bar & Bench: Do you see an increase in the diversity of choices which law students have in terms of career paths?
NN Mathur: Today law students have a number of options. And they are very smart about exercising these options. With so much money being spent on law school education, I appreciate the fact that these young boys and girls don’t want to overbuden their parents financially.
So they have a strategy and I have noticed this myself. Many of them have taken a loan. So if they straightaway join litigation, then they are further burdening their parents. Except of course, those fortunates who have come from the families of judges or lawyers or even bureaucrats; such students need not worry about getting clients initially.
But what about the others? They say we will not further burden our parents. Instead, we will go to the law firm, pay the loan and create a client base as well. And after four-five years if we go into the profession, after creating clientage and having money, I dont think there is anything wrong in this.
So today, whether it is litigation, corporate law firms or going abroad or joining academics, the scope which you have in the legal profession today is something that we did not have at that time.
And therefore, I would definitely advise the bright boys and girls that after 10+2, that they must opt for law. It is a very good career option according to me.
Bar & Bench: This might be a difficult question to answer objectively, but do you think that there is something which sets apart NLU Jodhpur from the other law schools?
NN Mathur: Look, one specific thing is that as far as NLU Jodhpur is concerned, there is a conscious decision by the university and the management to maintain the autonomy. I would say so because autonomy has a direct connection with the quality of legal education. Therefore, we do receive financial grants from the State government but that is only in respect of the infrastructure.
“Autonomy” means you must have an independence as to who are the students, who are the faculty people, what is the curriculum. In all these areas we have independence.
Now as far as admission is concerned, we get the best students through CLAT. But again on certain areas we do not compromise. I don’t want to take names but we don’t come under the pressure of the government or anybody [for admission]. And we can do this for the reason that we are not asking any money from them as far as the recurring expenses are concerned. We maintain ourselves.
We have autonomy and therefore we have the best of best. So we have the best faculty. If you look through the faculty profile, [you will see that] I have a mix of faculty. There are those who have qualifications from within the country and those who have had the exposure of studying their LLM’s and PhD’s outside the country.
Bar & Bench: Do you find it difficult to attract quality faculty? Do you think that teaching continues to be an unattrative option for law graduates today?
NN Mathur: No. This notion [that teaching is an unattractive option] has become outdated now. That was my feeling two years back. But now I see that many young people are prepared to opt for teaching, if you are really prepared to take good care of them.
I have cases where I have offered the position of associate professor or professor to people who have barely 4-5 years experience. If they have done a good job, they have publications in peer journals, have done good reasearch and have the exposure then I will not hesitate [to hire them]. And this is where the autonomy becomes crucial. We have such brilliant people becuase I am able to provide them with all sorts of facilities.
In my letter to them I say “Come here. The rest I will take care”. I am providing them free furnished houses, research facilities, good students. Many of the faculty who have come from abroad say that they would not find such good students elsewhere.
The biggest thing that they want is academic freedom, which I am providing.
Bar & Bench: There are no student elections in NLU Jodhpur, there is no elected student body. Was that a conscious decision on the university’s part?
NN Mathur: No, it is not as if this was a conscious decision. In fact, there has never been such a demand. In fact, I can tell you that as a judge, I decided a case wherein I held that an election in a university is a must because that is the laboratary for democracy. But here I feel that there is no such requirement because there is so much freedom. Any student can walk in, come to the VC….things are so simple and plain.
And when I said it is a laboratary for democacy, it is for a different reason. I wanted to make a difference between political thought and politics. I feel that at a graduation level, the student must discuss the political thoughts. The politicians must not enter into it.
Bar & Bench: How would you rate the infrastructure of NLU Jodhpur as compared to other law schools?
NN Mathur: Well, it is difficult for me to compare it with other law schools. But as far as I am concerned, I am satisfied. If you look at the classrooms, each room is air-conditioned, has an LCD projector etc. You can use your laptops as the the entire area is wi-fi [enabled].
Second, the college library. I have spent a lot of money on the library and the University has provided all sorts of online journals. Even then, I am not very satisfied and I propose to spend more than a crore within the next six months to further develop the college library. In particular I want to develop research centres.
If you go to the hostel, the University is providing single room occupancy. The mess is good, it is menu-based system so students can order what they want.
I feel that students should not always be working on their laptops and hence all sorts of sports and cultural activities are encouraged. There is a gym as well.
Now an auditorium is under construction and by the end of April, it will be one of the finest auditoriums in the country. We are also going [to build] a Convention Centre which will be ready by the end of this year. We have plans to build an actual replica of the Supreme Court. It will give the perfect court atmosphere and the moot courts will be held there.
A lot is required to be done but I am happy with what we have done so far.
Bar & Bench: Do you think that students of NLU Jodhpur are different from those of other law schools?
NN Mathur: Again like I said, I do not believe in comparisons but I have had occasions to judge the university students. I don’t just sit in my office, I take three or four days every semester and just talk to the students. I am regular teacher as well. I take a regular course on drafting and pleading in the 9th semester. I give them a few lectures, interact with them and then I give them problems and I ask them to draft. These drafting activities range from a civil suit to an SLP and include documents, partnership deeds etc.
This is very interesting for me.
Some people say that all the students will simply download a plaint or copy from other sources. I say “Let them do it”. Before submiting the drafting, they come to me. I correct them and tell them that they have copied from here and it is wrong. With my own experience, I tell them that if you draft this way then the opposite party will benefit, the judge will ask you this thing and so on. You see it is in the finer points where you can get in trouble before the court.
In the 10th semester, I take professional ethics. I discuss the lives of people such as Nariman, Chagla, Palkhiwala. I ask them to read about these people and I discuss it with them. Professional ethics is very important and so is the art of advocacy. I ask the students to make presentations on a number of cases and through these presentations, I tell them the ethics and the art of presentation.
Bar & Bench: And finally, what is the feedback you have got about your students from recruiters?
NN Mathur: Well, so far the feedback I have got [from law firms] is that they are very happy with my students. One very significant thing they mentioned is that my students are much more disciplined and committed. Apart from the knowledge aspect, this is where the they find difference with other students. Our students are much more organised and much more trustworthy.