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These National Law Schools are an expensive business
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Is National Law School of India University a failure

Bar & Bench

National Law School of India University! This institution is considered to be the sacrosanct citadel of legal education in India as well as considered to be the center of excellence. Our Associate Editor, Raghul Sudheesh and Pranusha Kulkarni, a law student, analyse, is the institution a failure?

By Raghul Sudheesh and Pranusha Kulkarni

National Law School of India University! This institution is considered to be the sacrosanct citadel of legal education in India as well as considered to be the center of excellence. It constantly strives towards providing quality legal education to the students, and it has indeed been successful in its endeavor.

The National Law School of India University (NLSIU) was established with a pious objective of instilling a deep sense of responsibility to serve the society in the field of law by developing expertise in advocacy, legal services, legislation, law reforms and the like. It had a mandate of advancing interests of national development through legal education.

Section 4 of the National Law School of India Act, 1986 states the object of establishing the institute as follows:

The Objects of the School shall be to advance and disseminate learning and knowledge of law and legal processes and their role in national development, to develop in the student and research scholar a sense of responsibility to serve society in the field of law by developing skills in regard to advocacy, legal services, legislation, law reforms and the like, to organise lectures, seminars, symposia and conferences to promote legal knowledge and to make law and legal processes efficient instruments of social development, to hold examinations and confer degrees and other academic distinctions and to do all such things as are incidental, necessary or conducive to the attainment of all or any of the objects of the School.

But now, after more than a decade of its existence, when we look back at the trajectory of the trend followed by the students there, it is heart wrenching. It is sad to note that a negligible number of students at NLSIU are living up to the objectives of their alma mater. It remains to be known whether the students even know what the objective of their place of study is!

Corporate Placements – These have become the ultimate aim of law students of the NLSIU. In NLSIU even a fresher aims at joining a corporate law firm and rake in huge money and perks. Are students following the crowd and have lost track of their own dreams and ambitions? Or is it dream to join these corporate jobs?

But this is not to disregard the really motivated ones and it is also not to judge the success of the institution on the criterion of the career option chosen by the students. It is felt that the professionalism at the Bar and the Bench is light years away from that found in the corporate jobs and this may be one of the reasons to drift away from traditional practice.

The authors spoke to many successful lawyers who have opted for diverse fields other than the corporate giants, to bring in their views, and what could be done to mitigate the situation.  Among the people interviewed are:

1. Prof. Mrinal Satish, Academician

2. Mr. Aditya Sondhi, Advocate

3. Mr. Sachin Malhan, Entrepreneur (Inclusive Planet, LST, Rainmaker)

4. Mr. Gautam John, Entrepreneur (Pratham Books)

5. Mr. Arjun Sheoran, Practicing Advocate at Punjab & Haryana High Court

6. Mr. Adithya Banavar, Associate at a Private Management Consulting Firm

On interviewing, we found a diverse set of enlightening opinions from them. An unanimous answer was NLSIU cannot be tagged as a failure because it depends on how success is measured. Gautam John(pictured right) highlighted that just because maximum number of students opt for corporate jobs, the NLSIU cannot be tagged as failure. Aditya Sondhi opined that if the abysmally low ratio of students opting for litigation is considered as against NLSIU’s aim at contributing to the improvement of the Bar, then there is indeed a systemic failure. Mrinal Satish, though agreed that NLSIU has failed in its primary objectives, yet it is not a failure just because of the career aspirations of the students. Sachin Malhan(pictured left) also negated the fact that NLSIU is a failure.

When we asked about what was the driving force behind them in their choosing careers, they unanimously stated that their current jobs were necessarily their long cherished dreams and they all enjoyed their work. They like to be there, where they are currently working and they have dared to follow their dreams rather than the fat pay cheque. There was absolutely no pressure on these people to dissuade them, responded our panel undisputedly on being asked whether there was any negative pressure from lecturers, peers or parents from opting for such less-trodden paths. Sachin Malhan highlighted that there was anxiety though, that a distinguished lawyer is opting for a coaching industry (as is in his case; he has established LST and Rainmaker).

Aditya Sondhi(pictured) opined that a combination of seeking short-term results, financial temptation and propaganda against litigation causes this exodus of students towards the corporate sector.

He suggested that the law school ought to work towards projecting litigation as an avenue replete with positive opportunities, so the students do not grow up with a mind-block against the courts; only then can they make informed career choices.

Among the various other reasons, Mrinal Satish(pictured) cited interest, better pay and easy availability of role models as reasons for students opting for the corporate sector in huge numbers. He also rued that the normally prevalent college atmosphere significantly contributes to the students’ decisions, as there is no disinterested formal career counseling made available to them. Sachin Malhan underscored that the students don’t push themselves and ask questions; they just follow the crowd. Sachin Malhan suggested that a holistic college-level development as a solution to this inertia.

We also quizzed our interview panel about their opinion on how to attract students to the non-corporate sector? “Nothing much can be done other than giving the students all the information regarding the various career choices available and letting them make an informed choice of their careers” was their response. Students should go for what they enjoy doing. Mrinal Satish highlighted that the students should keep the long-term goals in mind and not the short-term goals, while making career decisions.

While this was a mixed bag of responses from the seniors at NLSIU, authors also sought responses from some fresh blood – from the recently graduated alumni of NLSIU.

Adithya Banavar(pictured), who has recently been felicitated with the Best Student Advocate Award at the XIXth Convocation of NLSIU, shared his experience. He said “NLSIU has not been a failure at all. Before judging an institution with the criterion that most of its students opt to be transactional lawyers, he said that there is a need for good transactional lawyers because it increases the quality of the Bar. And India is de facto working in a capitalist economy and there is indeed a need for attracting foreign investors and the accompanying money. The main reason according to him, for students not opting for the Bar was the extent to which the Bar is uninviting. That is, it takes a lot of other factors in addition to hard work in order to succeed at the Bar. Whereas, in the corporate sector, the students know that their hard work and growth are proportionate to each other.  On the issue of a fee barrier for the poor to study at the NLSIU, he said that since there are a lot of easily available education loans, there is no barrier of fees at the NLSIU. He also justified the existing fee structure by saying “without charging the fees like the existing ones, world-class institutions cannot be run”. He added, in case a candidate is extremely poor, there are scholarships available to them which they can make use.

Arjun Sheoran(pictured), the winner of the Vikram Singh Medal for Young Leader of the Year, opined that NLSIU is far behind as far asthe ones like Harvard Law School are concerned. Since it is an autonomous body, there is a lack of transparency and accountability and sometimes it is found to be working against itself. There are no checks and balances in the institution. He also opined that an institution cannot be run with a revenue of Rs. 10 crore a year and NLSIU, though it is doing well, has still a long way to go.

Here, it should thus be noted that the students alone are not to be blamed for this drift in the trend. There is a deeper systemic dysfunction at the roots of this plague. The corporate law firms which pay huge salaries look attractive because of their lucrative nature and thus attract flocks of students at their doorsteps.  There is a crying need of sweeping systemic reforms to attract the students to both the Bar and the Bench. NLSIU seems to have sadly failed in implementing the motives for which it was established though it has been successful in creating lawyers for corporate houses and law firms.  A lot needs to be done yet to achieve their initial goal of advancing and disseminating learning and knowledge of law and legal processes and their role in national development.

Raghul Sudheesh is Associate Editor at Bar & Bench. Pranusha Kulkarni is a third year student at Karnataka State Law University’s Law College.

You can follow Raghul and Pranusha on Twitter.