Law School Darshan NALSAR Hyderabad
Apprentice Lawyer

Law School Darshan NALSAR Hyderabad

Bar & Bench

With the moonlit sky benevolently looking down upon the brightly lit Library and the various groups of students (each group numbering two and having one representative of each gender), all seemed peaceful and quiet. If one was a pondering philosopher seeking some solitude, one could not have asked for more. Yet, the only thought running through my head was “Where are the goddamn scorpions?”

For quite a while now, I have been wondering why the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research, Hyderabad (Nalsar) has been getting so much attention from the massively popular website Legally India. And this puzzled me (and continues to do so) for more than one reason. But I digress. Time for the darshan to begin.

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I am speaking to the President and Vice President of Nalsar’s Student Bar Council (SBC) and they are telling me a bit about what they plan to do. I have to say, I certainly get the impression that these guys have thought things through. It is not so much about their specific plans (which range from introducing greater accountability in the administration to making novel changes in recruitment) but more about the fact that they are conscious that something like the SBC cannot be a one-batch institution. It has to be something which lasts, a body which can function (to as large a degree as possible) independent of the individual office holders.

I had been informed beforehand that the SBC manages to play an influential role at Nalsar and I can see why. The SBC heads a reasonably large corpus of funds and the allocation of the same sees little interference by the administration. These funds can be utilised for hosting moot court competitions, debates etc and hence must face considerable student petitioning. Secondly, in an institute which is as small and cut-off as Nalsar, I have no doubt that elections to the SBC can make for some “interesting” memories. The small size of the student community tends to magnify the importance of certain issues, issues which simply do not require the attention that they end up getting.

There is no doubt that an effective SBC can make life easier for both the students and the administration but I can’t help but wonder whether there could be other structures which could be more efficient.

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A “journalistic” defeat, like other kinds, does hurt. One of the things I was really looking forward to was meeting the creators of Aap Nalsarite Hain (ANH), a popular online group which lampoons all that is right (and not so right) about Nalsar. For me, something like ANH is an indicator that students are able to laugh at themselves and those around them. I think all law schools should have some sort of outlet for student venting. Plus ANH can be ridiculously funny even if you are not from Nalsar.

However despite several feelers, much pleading and a bit of threatening, the ANH team remained steadfastly anonymous. One source did say that the team was willing to be interviewed provided they were allowed to wear burqas but this turned out to be a wild goose chase.

You live you learn I suppose. I did think of ANH a couple of times as I walked around the campus. One of their popular status updates was “Dude, nice campus” and I understood why Nalsar students would get tired of hearing this from outsiders. It really is a nice campus: large, airy, tree-lined avenues, manicured lawns and enough landscaping to fill a hundred campus brochures. The campus impresses, there is no doubt about that.

The odd thing is that beneath the calm and the quiet, there is a definite tension in the atmosphere. It is hard to describe but there is calm through the storm feeling in the campus. I don’t think Nalsar is a particularly easy law school to get through. I think there is intense competition and the students here are some of the most focused I have come across. No, I don’t think Nalsar students take things easy.

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The girl is nearly in tears.

“Now is there something in the rules which says that I can overturn the decision? I understand your plight but you must understand that there is nothing I can do.”

She nods her head bravely (eyes breathing in the tears), straightens her shoulder and walks out of the office of Professor Faizan Mustafa, Nalsar’s Vice Chancellor. I have just been witness to the desperate plea of two students with respect to the harsh imposition of disciplinary measures. The student’s arguments were deeply touching. Completely bereft of any legal basis whatsoever but touching nonetheless.

It was one of those scenes where you look (and I do mean really look) at the coin from the other side. I never considered myself pro-admin in college but I am slowly realising that perhaps The Man is not that bad after all.

The last time I met Professor Faizan Mustafa, he was heading the National Law University in Orissa. It looked like the trials and tribulations of building a new campus had really got him worn out. At Nalsar though, the Professor seemed decidedly comfortable. Ambitious, yet comfortable. The Professor has a few plans for the university with respect to the academic structure and the curriculum of the University. These plans including reaching out to alumni and offering them teaching positions, introducing a large number of optional courses, and revamping the LLM course and develop it as a sort of feeder source for teachers.

I think he benefits from a more experienced administrative staff (as compared to NLU Orissa) and also from the fact that a large section of the students did not quite get along with his predecessor. However, it is early days yet. Although almost every single student that I spoke to seemed happy about the change in administration, I still think that there is a fair amount of sizing each other up which is taking place.

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Professor Amita Dhanda has been with Nalsar since the very start, a first-hand witness to the birth and growth of the institution. The initial years must have been quite a challenging and exciting time; after all Dr. Ranbir Singh was starting a law college far away from the main city in a state which is known to be obsessed with engineering degrees.

“In the early days, classes used to happen in the girl’s hostel. I think it was very exciting for us because the sense of team within the faculty was very strong.” Prof. Dhanda also shares some lesser known details such as the fact that for the first five years of its existence, Nalsar had only 60 students a batch with the first graduating batch had just 35 students. She also tells me that Nalsar had always offered tenure to its faculty (as opposed to employment on a contractual basis). While this serves to encourage faculty to view Nalsar as a long-term employer, it also meant that faculty could get too comfortable in their positions.

Our conversation meanders from where it was to what Nalsar has become now. Of the things we talk about, there are two which I find particularly interesting. Prof. Dhanda tells me about the “social divide” between the faculty and the students and how this is one of the reasons why law schools find it difficult to find quality faculty.

Prof. Dhanda is also highly conscious of the decreasing diversity in the student body at Nalsar; there is an urgent need to drastically redesign the CLAT exam to garner greater diversity. The professor seemed optimistic about the recent academic reforms. Once again, I could not help but feel that there are some cross roads somewhere with Nalsar not being too far away from them. More on that later.

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“Aye look aye look”, one of the kids excitedly mutters to his friend. I think he is pointing at the Library building. It is my second day at Nalsar and it appears that a nearby school has sent a few bus-loads of uniform-clad, eager, excitable and thoroughly curious kids to Nalsar for a campus visit.  Walking in carefully-maintained lines, they go around the campus, poke their heads (or so I presume) into classrooms and exchange more than a few murmurs with each other.

The only relevant inference I drew from this was the fact that Nalsar has built quite a reputation for itself, both within the state as well as the country. Veracity of law school rankings aside, Nalsar undoubtedly enjoys the perception of being one of the best law schools in the country.

This perception is undoubtedly aided by the fact that Nalsar has produced several Rhodes Scholars, has an impressive mooting record and is the one of the oldest law schools (second only to NLSIU, Bangalore) which accept admissions through the Common Law Admission Test. Its age also means that Nalsar has a wide, well-entrenched alumni network which, though lacking a formal structure, is always a good thing.

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“Till a few years ago, the lake would literally invade our campus during the rains. Now you can barely see it.” I am standing on the terrace of one of the Boy’s Hostels and I can see what he is talking about. Construction and recent developments have dried up the river bed.

The Hostels at Nalsar are adequate although sharing a room might get a bit claustrophobic. The 3-storey buildings have a courtyard in the centre. The one I visited had a badminton court in the courtyard and was one of the older constructions. It also houses a meticulously maintained pool table, something which seemed completely out of place. The pool tables (the other one is in another Hostel) evidently occupy pride of place in the student community.

The Boys Hostels lie adjacent to a basketball court, a gigantic stadium and two food stalls, one of which is run by a gentleman who goes by the name of “Mama”. Like the autowallas, Mama shares a love-hate relationship with the students. The students hate Mama’s exploitative tendencies and poor food quality while Mama loves their deep pockets. The other food options lie in the dhabhas which lie of the main highway, the numbers of which are only going to increase in the years to come.

Speaking of food, the Nalsar Mess is alright. I would rate the food I had as below NLU-Delhi but above NUJS, Kolkata. You eat on one of eight long tables, with each table populated largely by students of one, particular batch. Once you are done, you deposit your plate onto a platform, where it is swept away and washed. Like the rest of the campus, the Mess was extremely clean.

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So what is my impression about Nalsar?

First, the “cross roads” reference. Student perception of faculty standards is average at best. This needs to be addressed on an urgent basis. Then there is the library : while the collection of books is impressive, there is a huge chunk of unused space on the top floor. It is literally empty. Internet connectivity itself is quite poor while mobile connectivity is just plain pathetic. Then there is the Internet Centre, an air-conditioned room used more for extra-curricular activities than actual web surfing. There are boxes of new computers lying on the floor but at the moment it looks like a huge waste of space. There is a need to address these issues, something which might happen in the very near future.

It is almost as if something is waiting to happen. A change which is just about to take place.

I also got the feeling that students at Nalsar are indifferent and I don’t mean this in a negative way. It is almost as if they believe that they have gotten to where they are despite all the problems them; they will continue to excel irrespective of what happens around them. This is good because it makes students tough and independent but, at some level, it also defeats the entire purpose of getting into one of these law schools.

Nalsar is reaching out to the student community at large (through moots, debates and even film festivals) but the relatively cut-off campus life might not suit everyone. The small class size means that you can get a bit tired of seeing the same old faces. “I know their faces. I know their clothes”, one second year student tells me. I could not have worded it better.

Even with respect to placements, I think Nalsar is going to start doing something a tad different. Whether this is a result of economic downturn or plain creative thinking, I would not be surprised if the careers pursued by students, diversifies. The largish alumni network also allows you to tap into varied experiences and evaluate the ones which you find most attractive.

My final opinion is that this is a law school which has built a good name, and a good reputation. Yet it needs to start doing something more, something different. The next four to five years are going to be crucial.

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Post Script: I am taking an autorickshaw ride from the Nalsar campus to catch the brightly painted Duronto train at Secunderabad station. Thus far it has been one of the most civilised experiences in my life. My fellow passengers are impossibly well-mannered, and entertain me with their stylish, subtle and terribly polished sense of humour. They are reserved and quiet, yet charming at the same time. There is not a trace of obscenity in their jokes (not a single drop), the humour remains entirely high-brow and I am witness to the kind of conversation (which I imagine) the English aristocracy would have over a round of fox-hunting or something of that sort. Trust me, it was very, very civilised.

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This visit took place in August 2012. The author would like to thank the Nalsar administration as well as the students for their hospitality.

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