From Government to National to Global Law Schools—The Evolution of Legal Education in India

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There’s something about the idea of walking into a courtroom donning black robes and white bands, or giving counsel in a swanky corner office or even standing up for millions of people rallying for human rights that makes law a really compelling career. Gone are the days when only doctors and engineers earned the highest order of respect in society. As economies, politics, businesses, and societies across the world evolve—and as rapidly as they do today—the role of legal professionals is also expanding.

Back in the day, you had to go overseas in search of good legal education. Today, the improving standard of quality legal education has welcomed a whole new generation of private universities like O.P. Jindal Global University, Christ University, Symbiosis or Nirma University to the fore.

When O.P. Jindal Global University launched its first school, Jindal Global Law School, in 2009 as a private, not-for-profit philanthropic initiative, the idea was simple yet ambitious—to start a world-class university in India.

Barely a decade since the young institution has now made history. Jindal Global Law School has been ranked as the number one law school in India, by the QS World University Subject Rankings 2020, followed by National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru. JGLS has been ranked among the top 150 law schools across the globe, while NLSIU has emerged in the 151-200 band.

Still, in its early days, JGLS represents a new breed of private law schools that is changing the game in a big way. Yet the rise of world-class legal education in India has been a long time coming.

A glance at the early days of law in India

Law is not a new discipline. In a way, its development in India can even be traced as far back as the Vedic period. In ancient India, law was considered a part of ‘dharma’. Jump to the Mughal era, and you have court systems coming into play with legal experts or ‘vakils’. As the British rule took over, India was introduced to the ‘common law system’, and its first courts were established. Still, formal legal education was missing. Many of India’s icons who led the freedom struggle, from Mahatma Gandhi to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru were prolific lawyers, trained abroad. In the period after Independence, formal education in law started taking shape but was still not prominent.

Even though the oldest law school in Asia was set up in India in 1855—Government Law College, Mumbai—legal education didn’t find its roots in the country till much later.

The big shift—the launch of the five-year B.A. LL.B. programme & the rise of NLUs

The real turning point came in 1987. It was with the introduction of the first five-year integrated B.A. LL.B. programme that legal education really took off in India. The ground-breaking new curriculum was developed under the guidance of Madhava Menon, at National Law School, Bangalore. As of today, there are 23 National Law Universities across India.

Since the New Economic Policy of 1991, there’s been no looking back. As globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation opened the doors to the world, India welcomed a serious boom in legal professions. In fact, it’s still booming. As the world grows more complex, the need for savvy new lawyers and legal professionals is on the rise.

Though the lineage of serious legal education in India can be attributed to the NLUs—which will perhaps always hold a special place in Indian minds and hearts—a younger league of law schools is now growing in strength.

A new wave of legal education—boom of private law schools

At the turn of the 21st century, private law schools started budding in India. This meant more options for students and more freedom for academicians to shape legal education to meet the changing context.

What good law schools are getting right:

  • Multidisciplinary context: Law is in its very essence, multidisciplinary. Yet most stand-alone law schools are fundamentally missing one critical element—a holistic perspective. If you look at the best of global law schools, they are housed in universities. Take Harvard Law School, for example. As a part of Harvard University, students of the law school have access to the other, equally brilliant schools of medicine, business, etc. This creates a diversity of perspectives that simply cannot be found anywhere

It is to the example of universities like Harvard, Stanford or Yale that JGU aspired. JGU has taken best of global practices and moulded it to the domestic context. This means law students at JGLS can take up multidisciplinary electives across the schools of liberal arts, journalism, international relations, business, government and public policy, and more.

  • World-class faculty: An institution is as good as its teachers. As the legal sector booms and new areas of legal practice emerge, there’s an enormous expectation from law school faculty to lead the way.

Rising to the challenge, a new league of academicians are paving the way forward—those

who’ve attended top global institutions, have specialized areas of expertise, have professional experience and are actively engaged in research. JGLS has over 330 faculty from across 25 nationalities.

  • Global curriculum: In a globalised world, there’s no place for a domestic curriculum. Law is a global study, a global practice, and a global profession. It was with the idea of creating a truly ‘global’ offering that JGU was established. It is through the contribution of academicians like JGU’s Founding Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Raj Kumar, who is a lawyer himself, that legal education has moved from the domestic setting to make it truly
  • More international exposure and enriched experiences: Private universities like JGU have forged a number of national and international collaborations to enhance the student learning. JGU offers international student exchange programmes and summer schools at the world’s top universities. Placement and internships opportunities are galore, considering JGU’s strong ties with national and international law firms, corporates, governments, think tanks, research groups, and NGOs. Participation in conferences, seminars and public lectures, a rich mooting culture and plenty of co-curricular opportunities make for an all-rounded law school
  • Introducing new courses: Now that the five-year programme has become mainstream and post- graduate and doctoral degrees are also attracting many students, there is room to introduce other law programmes as

For instance, the B.A. Legal Studies programme is a popular course in premier American

institutions like University of California, Berkeley. It’s a multidisciplinary course that creates a foundation in legal studies while also exploring liberal arts perspectives, geared towards training young people for the pre and paralegal industry. JGLS is launching the first three-year B.A. (Hons.) Legal Studies programme in India this year. Another interesting prospect for law graduates is the one-year LL.M. in Environmental Law, Energy & Climate Change that JGLS offers in collaboration with World Wide Fund for Nature, India. Many other universities are also introducing a variety of courses on environmental law, recognising it as an emerging area that calls for immediate action.

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About the Author

Deepu Krishna, BA.LLB(Hons)NLIU. MBA(NIM). LL.M (JLU)

The author has teaching experience of 14 years, published books on CLAT/AILET prep and presently works as Deputy Director (Admissions and Outreach) with Jindal Global Law School.

 

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