Former Dean at OP Jindal Global University, Prof Dr Ashish Bharadwaj recently took over as Founding Dean of the newly instituted BITS Law School, the legal education arm of the renowned Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) Pilani. .Ready to begin operations out of its Mumbai campus in August this year, BITS Law School promises to adopt innovative curriculum and pedagogical tools in its five-year B.A.LL.B and BBA.LL.B courses.But all this comes at a substantial annual fee of nearly ₹10 lakh, including accommodation. To ensure that fee-related entry barriers for the less privileged are minimised, Prof Bharadwaj says there are many scholarships on offer..In this conversation with Bar & Bench's Jelsyna Chacko, Prof Bharadwaj delves into the vision and mission of the law school, what goes into setting up a new-age legal education institution in India, the scholarships on offer and more..Edited excerpts follow..What was the idea behind setting up BITS Law School?.At a broader level, the idea behind BITS Law is to respond to the challenges posed to us in a post-pandemic world, and the unique challenges that are confronting India. The idea is to create a school that can meaningfully respond to the crises around sustainability, plurality, diversity, etc and we thought it’s only a law school that can respond to these challenges.There was another question that we were confronted with: Why another law school where there are more than 1,700 in the country already that are producing perhaps 1 lakh law graduates every year? After doing a very thorough review and speaking with a lot of stakeholders in student and faculty groups and recruitment circles, we realized that there is an urgent need for more high quality law schools. There is certainly a need for more versatile lawyers, more judges are required in our country, and at the very least, more citizens who are aware of how the justice delivery system works. .Why another law school where there are more than 1,700 in the country already that are producing perhaps 1 lakh law graduates every year?Dr. Ashish Bharadwaj.How do you propose to re-envision legal education in the country through BITS Law School?.The end goal of higher education in general across disciplines, law included, is to find meaningful ways of engaging professionally. It could be through placements, it could be doing something on your own, but that’s an end goal. What we focused on were the means to that end. So we decided to focus on the means to the end, which implies that the approach to teaching has to change. A lot of law schools want to talk about internationalization, globalization and industry-relevant teaching; it is absolutely needed and correct. Sometimes, we realized that it was coming at the cost of the most fundamental element of higher education, which is good quality, immersive, collaborative teaching. In five years, students are going to be expecting a lot. That’s the time they need to learn a lot of foundational concepts, they need to learn how this applies to the real world. So, we decided to spend a considerable amount of time to understand for our own good, 'How do we deliver? How do we teach well? How do we teach in a student-centric manner rather than faculty-centric delivery of content in a classroom?'One realization of this process of introspection was that we need to somehow bring in critical thinking as a means to the end of developing good quality legal professionals. Perhaps one of our niche areas is to ensure students take up roles in the judiciary, in litigation, as in-house counsel and that focus is on innovative teaching methods in the classroom. We are bringing about some very serious innovations that are time-tested in other countries that we are learning from and benchmarking against. A range of tutorial systems that are adored in the Oxford-Cambridge tradition. It is also present in India, but we want to bring that back alongside lecturing. We’re going to bring a lot of attention to practitioner-oriented workshops so that students can also learn how to use these in the real world..Could you elaborate on the innovative curriculum and pedagogy methods that the law school will adopt?.It’s a performative exercise when you are teaching law students in this five-year program. The first point is to engage students through innovative curriculum and pedagogical tools. The second is about the curriculum per se. When we say progressive curriculum, we have to understand that the Bar Council of India (BCI) mandates the overall curriculum of a five-year program. There are liberal arts courses, there are business management courses, there are cold law courses, law clinics, mooting, and all kinds of electives across disciplinary areas. Within this prescribed framework of the BCI, what we are doing is reimagining the syllabi of all the courses within the five-year program. That’s a tall task, because across the five years, students do at least 54-56 courses. We did not simply want to assume the current syllabus of a particular course; we did not want to take it at face value and start delivering it. We want to reimagine it. Now, what does it mean to reimagine it? .We are currently bringing together leading scholars both from within India and around the world....We are currently bringing together leading scholars both from within India and around the world, in each major area of law and liberal arts, and we are conducting workshops internally to structure the curriculum and the syllabus for each course. Now, this will ensure that the curriculum is not only based on new research, but is also updated in areas where it’s going to be applied. Most importantly, it will be relevant to contemporary needs. This kind of approach to reassessing the curriculum is only suitable because post-pandemic, the world we are in right now is just so complex. The only way this kind of innovative curriculum can be meaningfully delivered is through accomplished faculty. The kind of people who are willing to go back to the classroom and try to learn some new practices in how to teach in a very new-age law school that we are trying to build..How does a newly set up law school like yours attract top faculty?.Attracting top faculty - be it in a law school or engineering school or policy school, or a young school or an old school - is always a challenge, not just in India, but around the world.The very first element of our conversation with prospective faculty candidates is our promise of academic freedom and institutional autonomy. These are the critical ingredients that will really define a new-age law school, or for that matter, a world class law school.The second parameter, or conversation we are having is around how do we balance teaching and research. We are very mindful in bringing in people who are willing to invest time and energy in learning new teaching techniques, which means that they have to be committed to high quality teaching. Alongside their teaching, they have their research aspirations and commitments. The way we have designed our workflow, the distribution of efforts of the faculty within the law school is a very balanced way in which teaching and research can go hand-in-hand.There is also a wide range of opportunities that are going to be available for faculty members for their own professional development. We are not merely restricting ourselves to a faculty development program. I think it is important to focus on internationalization of faculty. For students who are graduating from our institution and joining academia, we need to put in substantial institutional resources to give them international exposure, opportunities and resources to engage with the best minds around the world. Once they flourish intellectually and professionally, the benefits are going to percolate down to the students.The last bit is, faculty who are going to agree with the three points I shared, would also deserve a set of students who are not only passionate about learning law, but who are also genuinely interested in evolving and growing into better individuals. That’s an institutional responsibility we have, because teaching-learning is a two-way street. If you have students who will engage, you will also have faculty who will be willing to engage in a meaningful manner. So, that’s another promise that we are making to faculty candidates - that there will be a very interesting, diverse, passionate set of students who you could engage with. .What are some of the shortcomings of legal education in India and how do you intend to approach these challenges when setting up BLS?.We have to completely revisit the curriculum and syllabus that is already covered. We also need to address this major shortcoming of lack of inspiration among young scholars and faculty members in our law schools, who find it challenging to do cutting edge, meaningful research. We need to put in more effort, more resources, more minds into creating these forums within our own law schools.The second shortcoming is - what do we do with this research? There is very high quality legal research coming out of our own law schools, think tanks, research bodies, but it shouldn’t end there. For a law school to do well, that research needs to find its way into the classroom. Application of research in the classroom is the other piece of the puzzle that we need to work on. Another shortcoming that comes to mind is the absence of providing a practitioner’s perspective to the students. Some institutions are doing that, but I think it needs to be done in a fairly deeper and more comprehensive manner because our law graduates, more often than not, are finding themselves slightly ill-prepared for the real world. Of course, they need to first learn the principles and basic texts, but if they aspire to join the industry and work on real world problems, then they need to be exposed to that perspective during the five years..What assessment methods will be used at BLS?.I don’t want to give a specific answer to that. The decision on how the learning outcomes of a course are going to be assessed is going to be the prerogative of the faculty members or members who are going to be curating and delivering it. So, it connects to the point on academic freedom which also extends to their engagement within the classroom. We need to think about the exam system and assessment system a bit more. We will be innovative here, but we have to stay within the prescribed framework of the regulatory bodies. We will have an interactive element in our assessment scheme. We want students to not only shed the fear of examinations, which gets into the way of learning, but if we make the assessments more interactive and more peer-to-peer-based, then it will also inculcate more confidence. Hopefully, all of this is going to translate into their becoming more confident professionals when they join the industry or academia..In terms of research, are there going to be think-tanks that focus on research at BLS, like the one headed by you at JGU?.Yes, absolutely. We are offering four specializations to students at the BITS Law School and all four are contemporary and very exciting in terms of issues they are encompassing. The first one is Tech & Media Law, the second is Entertainment & Sports Law, the third is Corporate & Financial Law and the fourth is ADR and Mediation. The approach in Indian law schools is in need of disruption and the focus on law, business and technology is absolutely critical. We are going to focus on Intellectual Property (IP), but in a slightly more applied and nuanced manner. We will position IP and IP-related issues within the context of law, technology and business, meaning there is going to be a lot of emphasis on privacy, data protection and data regulation. There’s going to be a lot of emphasis on Competition policy and anti-trust issues. All of that requires a more nuanced understanding of how IP works, how the IP regime can be made more effective..When will students have the choice to take up these specializations?.Somewhere during the third year, which is the midway mark, we will have many touch points of checking with students, whether they are leaning towards one of these four specializations. If they have identified an area of interest, we will be guiding them in one of those. Somewhere in the middle of the five-year program, we will formally open the specializations which will be in the form of different elective courses. Some of them are going to be mandatory, some of them are going to be optional, which are going to be in compliance with the BCI Rules of Legal Education. Then they will get the opportunity to dive deeper into one of the four areas, but without losing the opportunity to engage with the other areas..What will the admission process of BLS be like?.We will accept the CLAT and LSAT-India scores. We are also accepting all the prominent law school exams including AILET/MH CET scores. Additionally, students can also choose to write our own BITS Law entrance test. The admission philosophy overall is to not really base it entirely on an entrance exam score. We are going to be focusing on evaluating students in a more holistic manner. We will be looking at their academic performance in school, all the way till 12th grade. We will look at their co-curricular achievements, and there’s going to be interviews with each applicant. All of this put together will tell us if we have the right fit, in terms of whether we are offering our curriculum to the right student..When is the BITS Law entrance exam tentatively scheduled for?.It is going to open from next month and will happen on a rolling basis. The details are going to be on our website: bitslawschool.edu.in. It is going to be an online test which is remote-proctored. There is no registration fee to write the test. We wanted to keep the entry barrier as low as possible for law aspirants..What are the fees BITS Law School will charge? What scholarships are in place to ensure inclusion and diversity?.That’s a very important question, particularly from the students’ and parents’ point of view. Our tuition fee for Year 1 is going to be ₹6,75,000. The first academic year begins from August 2023. It’s a fully-residential law school so there’s going to be an additional charge for student residence, which is an additional ₹3,00,000 p.a. The housing situation is slightly different in Mumbai, but this is what we have planned for in Year 1. .Our tuition fee for Year 1 is going to be ₹6,75,000 and ₹3,00,000 for residential costs.What we certainly don’t want is for this fee and these charges to become a barrier for talented, meritorious students who are aspiring to study in a law school like ours. For that, we have a range for scholarships that we have thought of. Some of them have been instituted for the very first time. We will have endowment-based merit scholarships. There is going to be the GD Birla Excellence Scholarship that will cover 100% of the tuition fee. This is going to be for the all-round performance of the student. Then there is an endowment-based KK Birla Outstanding Scholarship which is going to cover up to 75% of the tuition fee, and this is going to be awarded to students who will do really well in one of the entrance tests. There’s a third endowment-based scholarship called Sarla Birla Meritorious Scholarship which is exclusively for women applicants which also covers up to 75% of the tuition fee. .We will have endowment-based merit scholarships..Aside from these endowment-based scholarships, we have a wide range of merit and needs-based scholarships where we are going to see both the merit of the applicant and the financial situation of the family of the applicant. Additionally - and this is something which is aligning with the values of BITS Pilani and the values of the BITS Law School - are diversity scholarships - where we are going to focus on the under-represented areas of the country and law aspirants who are from those regions. We are going to be giving them diversity scholarships. Diversity scholarships will also include those applicants who have special needs. There are a variety of these scholarships that are difficult to find in other law schools, and the outcome of all these scholarships put together is that the fee is not going to become a deterrent or a barrier for those who are truly interested in BITS Law School. .What is the cap on students getting selected for each of these scholarships?.The final number of beneficiaries of these scholarships is really not pre-determined. That will defeat the purpose of it. The idea is, because we are going to be fully-financed by the tuition fee, we are going to really see and assess each candidate on a one-on-one basis to see who really deserves and requires a scholarship. There is no cap on the number. There could be a situation where three-fourths of the cohort that we bring in will be on some form of scholarship. .Could you elaborate on the discussions you’re having with top law firms for internships and placements of your students?.That’s one area we are particularly proud of. We already have partnerships with some of the most prominent law firms and even organizations in banking, finance and consulting. Top law firms we are partnered with include Trilegal, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas, AZB & Partners, Khaitan & Co and Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas. We have partnerships with them to consider our students for internships, and eventually for placements. Then organizations like Ernst & Young, PwC etc. We have similar arrangements with them. We are also in touch with several banks, insurance companies and financial services companies who will provide similar opportunities. The key point is that we are going to be focusing on the means, rather than the end. The end is our graduates taking up professional roles in elite organizations like these, but our job is going to be the “means” part, which is imparting them the skills and teaching them the right ways, inculcating competencies that are required to do well in any good organization. .How do you think BITS Law School can benefit from the prestige of BITS Pilani?.It’s going to be a huge advantage. First of all, when you say you are an alum of an institution, you are basically pitching that institution. It’s a legacy, a prominence of our brand, BITS Pilani and many of its campuses. That’s going to play an important role. It’s that legacy of trust, that legacy of promise which is going to be paramount even for BITS Law School. Talking about alumni particularly, BITS Pilani has a 1.7 lakh+ alumni base. There are tremendous opportunities during the five years, and of course, after they graduate, to learn from these thought leaders, people who are making a mark in different professional fields and to engage with them on a consistent basis.