Citizens for Justice and Peace

Failings of Indian Legal Education System

10, Nov 2017 | Vandita Khanna

The first thing you lose in law school is the reason that you came in the first place. The technicalities of substantive law intertwined with procedure in Indian legal education shifts focus to myopic concerns divorced from social realities and lived experiences of the people of India. Legal education in a capitalist set-up churns students as mechanical conformists occupying positions of privilege in a society so different from theirs. Law students are taught to read statutory rules and apply them to hypothetical situations in the race for grades. Nowhere are capacities of creativity, subversion, social reform, or practical skills valued or facilitated during the three or five years of a law degree.

Law students are taught to swallow a certain form of rationality and spew it from positions of privilege and elitism. Legal education has received a steady rise in demand in the past decade. Here, I aim to argue that Indian legal education has begun to cater to a particular demand in the neoliberal era characterized by an increase in corporate law firms. University curriculum is molded to serve the interests of a corporate market, and course fee structures increasingly threaten to create holes in students’ pockets for an education mistaken to be liberal. Following is a table of seven law schools in India tallying their annual fees for the five-year B.A. LL.B (Hons.) programme:

Name of Law School Annual Fees per student as of 2016-17 (in Rs.)
Government Law College, Mumbai 6,890
University Law College, Bangalore University 13,505
Amity Law School, Delhi 71,200
School of Law, Christ University 1,35,000-1,50,000
National Law University, Delhi 1,81,000
National Law School of India University, Bangalore 1,98,700
National Law Institute University, Bhopal 2,09,500
Symbiosis Law School, Pune 2,45,000
Jindal Global Law School 5,50,000

A comparison of fee structures would indicate that private law schools charge a higher annual fee than government-aided law schools. Privatization of legal education has not factored in affordability as a criterion, and in so doing, has arguably denied equal access to opportunity for a large section of the society. Qualitative public education at the level of higher legal studies should therefore be increased. A welfare State cannot be allowed to shirk its responsibilities of providing affordable and qualitative public education. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 requires the State to provide free and compulsory education to all children within the age group of six to fourteen years. With the State still battling the provision of primary education, a solely State-funded higher education scheme may be a far-fetched dream. Besides the feasibility of government-aided higher legal education, there exists the possibility of such institutions perpetuating a particular political philosophy of the ruling government. Government aid should not be allowed to compromise on academic freedom of both, students and faculty members.

With the advent of privatized legal education and the grossly high fee structure, the demographics of the students entering law school is disproportionately of an upper middle-class socio-economic stratum, and their interests are prematurely shaped in areas of corporate law. Lack of diversity then makes the bunch of law students entering the field every year a homogenous group of elite, socio-economically and intellectually privilegedstudents who thrive in disparity. What suffers is social justice lawyering.

Legal education in India is increasingly compromising on social justice and public interest lawyering. The high fees charged by most law schools serves as an economic guiding factor for most to search for equally high paying jobs in corporate firms. Legal training enables the few who do enter the field of social justice lawyering to internalize a sense of privilege to dictate to the unprivileged solutions to their lack of privilege. Law students internalize a mantle of superiority as they “save” the ignorant masses from their conditions of oppression. Legal specialists go on to appropriate voices and struggles, often conflicting with the real demands of the concerned community itself. Three or five years of legal training is sufficient time to divorce oneself from social realities and learn complacency and apathy, political and social, in ivory towers of elitism. Rarely do students realize the chilling degree of indoctrination in law schools that more often than not compels us to get caught up in legal technicalities within classrooms and moot courtrooms, when in fact, practical experiential learning would indicate that rules are just one of the many considerations that ought to be factored into the nature of judicial outcomes. The very entry requirement for National Law Schools in India is based on a Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), which ranks applicants based on (rather specific) general knowledge, mathematical abilities, logical reasoning and legal aptitude. Rote learning continues to plague all aspects of higher education in India, and students are socialized into academic fora that requires and expects conformity to rules instead of challenge to them.

With corporate firms mushrooming across the country, elite private educational institutions have sprouted to meet the demand for corporate lawyers, and have both physically and philosophically aligned themselves to the capitalist structure. Highly qualified faculty members more often than not belong to the same socio-economic class as the students, and effectively create a uniformly complacent law school family driven by capitalist needs and wants. Trained apathy of law students allows intellectual debates within academic circles, but scarcely encourages diffused interaction with affected communities in society. Instead of being safe spaces to speak of politically topical and significant issues, law schools have become sites of intimidation, either tainted by governmental (and therefore ideological) pressures or elitist demands to create a corporate lawyer who would remain unaffected by disparity, poverty, lack of legal aid, or human rights violations. Piecemeal considerations of the unprivileged apart, private law schools operate under the garb of liberal education to provide a certain kind of legal training that compromises on academic and political freedom.

One key way to change this is to encourage institutionalized clinical legal education in law schools. A concept originally emanating from American law schools, clinics offer a bridging exposure to law students to experience practical implications and limitations of the law. Students are not only made conscious of piercing social realities but made more responsible and responsive to needs of affected members of the society. While clinical education is still budding across a few law schools in the country, compulsory rights-based clinics would facilitate students to be exposed to the lived experiences of people situated outside of their bubble, and render law less abstract and more real.

One of the greatest failings of law school has been its ability to engrain the myth of treating law and litigation as the primary (if not the only) site of social struggle and social transformation. Legal curricula rarely speak of the limitations of the law, of the makers and custodians of the law. Legal curricula conveniently refuse to engage with the interaction between law, society and economy beyond theoretical readings, and treat it as a given unquestioning pillar to be followed. Subversive writing with political connotations is discouraged, and the linkages between law and politics often goes amiss. Students effectively internalize the specialized, rational, and autonomous nature of the law in abstraction. Commercialization of legal education is buttressed with commercialization of the legal profession at the cost of interdisciplinary studies, academic pursuits, and social change.

It should be the prerogative of legal education, public and private, to provide qualitative and lucrative legal training, measured not in terms of the monetary value of it, but the diversity of opportunities available after graduation. Academia, litigation, volunteering with NGOs, entrepreneurship, or a divergence into an interdisciplinary study, all need to be presented as equally valuable without hierarchizing any one of them. Law school is hierarchical in and of itself. Dismantling structures of oppression in society can only begin with realizing their operation inside of our own politically and socially apathetic bubbles. Legal education in India at present fails to do exactly that.

(The writer is a B.A. LL.B (2013-18) student from the  Jindal Global Law School)


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