Is the National Law School of India University a failure?

15 Oct

The National Law School of India University (NLSIU) in Bangalore is considered to be the sacrosanct citadel of legal education in India, a center for excellence, providing top-notch legal education to its students. In that it has been successful.

But the NLSIU was also established with loftier goals. The 1986 National Law School of India Act spelled those out: to instill a sense of responsibility towards serving society, to make law an instrument of social development, and to advance the interests of national development.

Now after more than a decade of its existence, its success by those standards is far more mixed. Only a few students seem to be living up to those goals.

The ultimate aim for NLSIU students seems to be corporate placement. Krishnendu Halder/Reuters

Instead their ultimate aim is corporate placement. Even a fresher at NLSIU dreams of a job in a corporate law firm, raking in huge sums of money and innumerable perks. What happened to those old dreams? The authors spoke to lawyers who have stayed away from corporate giants and current students to find out what they felt about the track record of their university.

Has the NLSIU failed?

No, is the overall response. Gautam John, an entrepreneur with Pratham Books, said just because most students opt for corporate jobs does not mean NLSIU should be dubbed a failure. However Aditya Sondhi, an advocate, said that if the abysmally low ratio of students who actually opt for litigation compared to those who go for corporate service is considered a benchmark of success or failure, then there is reason to think that there is a systemic failure. Mrinal Satish, an academic, admitted that the NLSIU might have fallen flat on its higher objectives, but it could not be called a failure just because of the career aspirations of its students.

Recently graduated students from NLSIU were more emphatic. “NLSIU has not been a failure at all,” said Adithya Banavar, who was recently felicitated with the Best Student Advocate Award at the XIXth Convocation of NLSIU. He said before judging an institution just based on the career track of its students, it’s important to recognise that India is part of a capitalist economy and needs to attract more foreign investors and thus more money.

The lawyers interviewed said they were pursuing cherished dreams instead of a fat pay-cheque, because they enjoyed their work. They said they hadn’t faced any pressure, from peers, faculty or family, to dissuade them from taking the less-trodden (and less remunerated) path. Of course there is anxiety when a distinguished lawyer opts for the coaching industry said Sachin Malhan, an entrepreneur with Rainmaker and LST which provides coaching for the CLAT examination.

So the question becomes can something be done to stem the exodus towards corporate jobs. To understand that one has to understand why the students are drawn towards them in the first place. Aditya Sondhi said it was a combination of the lure of short-term gains, financial temptation and propaganda against litigation. Prof Mrinal Satish cited better pay and a follow-the-crowd syndrome.

Satish rued the lack of formal career counseling opportunities for students. Malhan said a holistic college-level development was needed and students needed to push themselves and ask questions instead of just going with the flow. Sondhi suggested that the law school ought to project litigation as an avenue replete with positive opportunities, so that students did not graduate with a mind-block against the courts, assuming that corporate law brings easy money while litigators see little financial reward in the early years.

The question then becomes how do you solve the problem. “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 the basic response. Students should go for what they enjoy doing even though they needed to keep their long-term goals in mind.

According to law student Banavar the main reason students did not opt for the Bar was because the Bar is uninviting. It takes a lot of other factors including family connections in addition to hard work in order to succeed at the Bar. In the corporate sector, the students know that their hard work and career growth are more proportional to each other.

Some feel the NLSIU’s fee structure prevented the poor from studying there. But Banavar dismissed that saying there were a lot of easily available educational loans and scholarships. “Without charging fees like the existing ones, world-class institutions cannot be run,” he said.

Arjun Sheoran, the winner of the Vikram Singh Medal for Young Leader of the Year, regretted that NLSIU is far behind schools like the Harvard Law School. An autonomous body, it is plagued by a lack of transparency and accountability. There are not enough checks and balances in the institution. He also felt that an institution like the NLSIU cannot be run with a revenue of Rs 10 crore a year. It might be doing well now but it still has a long way to go.

In the end the test of a university’s success or failure cannot rest on its students alone. There is a deeper systemic dysfunction at work. There is a need for reform to attract all kinds of students to both the Bar and the Bench. Otherwise the NLSIU will fail in realising the real goals for which it was established. But it will have great success in producing smart lawyers for corporate houses and big law firms.


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