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State of Legal Education Establishing a Law School
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State of Legal Education Establishing a Law School

Bar & Bench

In the second column under the “State of Legal Education” series, John Thaliath, one of the founding members of the School of Law, Christ University at Bangalore and its first Principal, lays down the principles that go behind establishing a law school, the challenges therein and the various issues which need to be kept in mind while creating a law school.

I. Educational Philosophy 

The starting point for any educational institution is identifying its educational philosophy. In India, we often do not give much thought to educational philosophy before setting up an educational institution. A thought provoking starting point for this process is Bertrand Russell’s quote which says “Any serious educational theory must consist of two parts: a conception of the ends of life, and a science of psychological dynamics, i.e. of the laws of mental change. Two men who differ as to the ends of life cannot hope to agree about education.”[1]

There are differing world views on the “ends of life” or “purpose of life”. It is only if you are reasonably clear about this that a meaningful educational philosophy can be drawn up. If existing institutions have not thought about this, they should revisit this aspect of their founding and existence. If we want to take a cue from the west, two ethical landscapes which dominate the quest for determining the purpose of life is “Christianity” and “Nationalism”. [2]

One needs to be cautious while formulating an educational philosophy; this is not an overnight drafting exercise of a “mission” and “vision” done over course of a few top-level executive corporate meetings. It has to be participative process, where various worldviews are considered and the one which the founding society/trust/team stands for must be articulated. In the world of philosophy, most philosophers are not involved in the actual execution of their philosophy. However, to be a successful educational institution, one has to put its philosophy into practice and, in the end, its students must also believe in the philosophy without being indoctrinated. This is definitely no mean task.

II. The Basics   

A detailed analysis of how you can set your philosophy in motion is not contemplated in this article. However if one may identity the most important factors to set this engine in motion, it can be broadly classified as follows:

A. Hard Infrastructure and Regulatory Approvals 

In a globalizing world, it is important to locate your institution in a place which has regional, national and global significance. This factor, in indirect ways, has a huge impact on the “soft” infrastructure (something we will discuss later on) of the institution. This is even more important in the case of private institutions in India, as in most cases, such institutions are not in a position to fund the cutting-edge research (the kind which pushes existing boundaries) which invariably attracts the best talent. We should note that government budgets do not have a balance sheet and that this is not the economic system in which private institutions exist.

An infrastructure at this chosen location, if resources permit, should address the various theories on spaces and their impact on psychological formation. The best practical step in this direction, in my opinion, is to create a team which is aware of these dimensions so that they do not end up making matchbox classrooms and common spaces, something which is generally the norm in India. The bottom line is that a good design can aid and enhance the educational experience while a bad one can definitely hamper and inhibit it.

Another important decision to make at this stage is whether the institution will be residential, non-residential or a mix of both. In India, with high performance institutions, we tend to favor a residential model and glorify the learning environment created. However, educationists around the world have studied this model for long and have made serious observations about the advantages and disadvantages of a purely residential model.

Another important factor is to locate your institution close to institutions in other disciplines and having collaborations at multiple levels between these institutions. An institution with a standalone specialization is always better off having avenues for its members to interact with students and faculty from other disciplines since these individuals may have completely different perspectives on a certain subject matter.

Regulatory Approvals 

There are few legal frameworks in India within which one can establish a higher educational institution. One option is to form a University through an Act of the Parliament or State Legislature; the second option is to start a college which is affiliated to an existing University and the third option is to gradually build a deemed university. The first two can happen only with political will and is beyond the reach of an educationist unless he/she has the ability to influence the political system in the country. The third is a more realistic option with the ability to move towards a deemed university status with experience. The Bar Council of India and University Grants Commissions are the two regulatory bodies which have a stake in legal education. Both these institutions have well-defined parameters which are not difficult to achieve for any institution that is reasonably serious about education. 

B. Soft Infrastructure

1. Selection of Faculty 

When one is a relatively new institution, attracting the right set of people will definitely be challenging. However, this may also be a blessing as it is not the institution’s standing which is attracting the faculty, but more likely the interest and the opportunity to make an impact. A mix of young and old faculty members would be a balanced approach to things. The young ones bring innovative experiences while the experienced ones bring the conventional wisdom which only comes with experience.

The existing regional and national academic fraternity is definitely the right place to start. There is also an increasing trend of global resources wanting to have a stint in Indian educational institutions. At Christ College of Law, we were fortunate with a location in Bangalore, India that would be able to interest regional, national and global faculty. It is also extremely important to form a core faculty group of about 10 people. This group can form the “pillar” which mentors the others faculty in the institution’s philosophy and how it is practiced on an everyday basis.

2. Selection of Students 

Students too are as important as faculty. A good and engaged student body keeps the academic community energized. Also, it is a proven fact that peer to peer learning constitutes a huge percentage of the learning in a university. However, most educational institutions in India take an elimination approach, an approach which may be driven by the sheer number of applicants in India.

Entrance exams which look at eliminating a large chunk of people hugely compromise the institutions ability to select a diverse set of student who can constitute a great classroom where different backgrounds are represented. An inclusive approach (like at the ISB or other leading institutions globally) where a large body of students are interviewed and selected after an entrance examination may be helpful here. Caution has to be exercised on the parameters which should be measured during an interview, how the parameters should be measured and who are the people/panel who are going to conduct this interview if the above mentioned objective is to be achieved. 

3. Setting up of a world class library 

The first, basic step to setting up infrastructure is to ensure that there is a good student library. This should be done with a mixed national and international approach. A good librarian, who is driven is extremely important. Also, faculty member who are experts in different areas should be closely involved in the setting up of a library as it is these faculty members who have to prescribe readings in class and lead students to the various resources available in the library.

The nature of the contemporary law library is also changing. It is possible that the law library of the near future is no longer rows and rows of book-lined shelves, but a lot of computers with access to most of the published legal literature. Almost all published journals are available through online service providers. It is important to subscribe to these (eg: Westlaw; Heinonline etc.) at an institutional level and to sensitize students to the changing nature of legal research.

C. Other Operational Aspects 

1. Academic Committees

It is important that any institution has a few core areas of focus which are in line with the institution’s philosophy. Committees should be formed around these core areas which would steer the focus in these areas into living practices through curriculum and other means available within the institutional structure. These committees should also be heavily involved in deciding on student evaluations within their respective subject areas. 

2. Non Academic/Administrative Staff

Any organization should have a structure which is responsible for the operations aspects of the organizations. Similarly, an educational institution too should have a Finance, Human Resources and Sales and Marketing Team.

The approach of these non-academic departments cannot, however, be similar to those in corporations. If we take a few examples from the corporate human resources world, a person who is not a team player is not a good fit in the organization. A single department in a corporation is not usually permitted to create a strong identity since a corporation is expected to move forward with balanced contributions from each department. An employee who is not working for 8 to 9 hours a day in the office is not working his full potential.

However, one should be cautious not to extrapolate these approaches in the corporate world to the administration in an academic world. In the academic world, people are strong individuals and unless they are strong individuals, they will not be in a position to produce cutting-edge research. If an educational institution decides not to allow the law department to create an independent identity since the collective identity of the institution should have a better brand recall than a single department, it can only spell doom in an academic environment.

In an academic world, where the amount of time one works does not matter and only the result does, the introduction of an 8 hour work day will not be conducive for the academic institution. To summarize, although the non academic departments are extremely important, in an academic setting, these disciplines have to evolve new approaches to contribute to the institutions success.

John Thaliath was the first Principal of the School of Law at Christ University, Bangalore. He got his law degree from Mysore University and obtained a masters in law from London School of Econmics. He is currently a senior legal counsel with a multinational.

[1] Bertrand Russell (1932, Education And Discipline. from “In Praise of Idleness”

[2] Bertrand Russell (1932, Education And Discipline. from “In Praise of Idleness”