This post has been written by Khushi Kundu, a 2nd year student at Amity University, Kolkata. Coming from a small town named Siliguri, she aspires to make it big into the Corporate sector someday.
Rank issues? Selection Miseries? Lack of Resources/opportunities? Level of Competitiveness? Guaranteed Placement?
Almost all law students in India have delved into the debate regarding the quality of education, competition, internships and most importantly, the overall intrinsic experience and opportunities that is provided at national law universities (NLUs) as compared to private or traditional law universities (non-NLUs). That said, this may not be true for all NLUs and all non-NLUs. While several non-NLUs have successfully managed to create a conducive environment and provide opportunities to students, some NLUs also suffer from the lack of it. However, there are tens of law schools in every state and this problem is highly prevalent in most non-NLUs.
Students in many non-NLUs suffer from the problem of ‘asymmetric information’. There is hardly any awareness of the kind of opportunities that are available to law students during law school or post it. Students are aloof of the diverse co-curricular activities that they can take part in for overall development like national and international moot court competitions, ADR competitions, debates, research projects, research assistantships, etc. The level of competitive culture that drives the students of NLUs is absent from non-NLUs and the same has a direct impact on the motivation of students to make the most out of law school. Students are only focused on academics that too to the limited extent of passing exams. The course structures in non-NLUs are another cause of concern. For instance, most non-NLUs do not provide exposure to diverse electives and growing fields of law like WTO law, investment arbitration, public international law, comparative constitutions, etc.
These limitations often restrict the ambition of students in such universities and they are not able to think beyond the basic and limited work opportunities available at their disposal in their home towns. Therefore, many talented and skilful students from non-NLUs are not able to compete with students of top universities and miss out of good professional opportunities like working with top law firms, assisting senior advocates, pursuing post graduation studies from top foreign universities and other key opportunities available to law students.
The underlying problems in this regard are the lack of guidance and inequality of resources. There is no training provided to such students to learn how to research and write critical and analytical research papers. Similarly, these students are not provided adequate exposure. For example, a student from NLU can take part in big scale national and international events like Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, Willem C. Vis Moot, CDRC Vienna, etc. These events provide students with a completely different exposure, experience and networking opportunities. However, despite the hundreds of law students in India, these opportunities are only available to selected few students. Even the academic rigour and focus on building critical thinking amongst the students is absent from such universities. Classroom discussions are a formality and students are not encouraged to analyse, debate or discuss legal principles and interpretations. Additionally, lack of ‘internships’ and ‘placements’ are the major reasons for the lagging non-NLUs. The strength of the NLUs tend to lie in their cautionary attitude towards their students, wherein the progress of students are monitored. The same is done through the institutionalisation of internship and placement opportunities. However, the same institutional support is not provided to non-NLU students and they have to struggle to arrange such opportunities on their own. The struggles of non-NLU students are intensified due to the presupposed and biased outlook of recruiters towards graduates of NLUs. Non-NLU students may work hard and build strong profiles, however, in most cases, they remain second choices to NLU students. It is easy to make claims that the achievements of students solely depend on their determination and handwork but such statements are often made in isolation of ground realities of the obstacles faced by non-NLU students.
Owing to such massive divergence in resources and opportunities, most of the ‘law degrees’ provided by hundreds of Indian law schools merely serve ‘lip service’ as they practically do not add any expertise or skills to the profession. Lawyers perform one of the most important roles in a society. They are not only the officers of the court in administration of justice, they also act as instruments for legal compliances of enterprises, tools for peaceful resolution of disputes and pillars for analysis of social, political and economic issues. Therefore, there should be an obligation on all law schools to equally contribute to the society by producing abled and informed professionals. For law schools to be able to fulfil this obligation, it is important to bridge the ‘law school handicap’ (as called by Law League India) in terms of resources and opportunities that are available to students, irrespective of their law school.
The first step towards solving the ‘law school handicap’ is awareness. Students in non-NLUs must be made aware of the opportunities that they can avail of but are missing out on. If it important for the students to understand the level of potential and offerings of the legal profession for them to truly self motivate themselves. Awareness can be improved by active indulgence of students and university boards in research on available opportunities, internships and others experiences. Student bodies and university boards must actively pursue associations with organisations, firms, research institutes and legal networks. The advent of Linkedln as a platform for networking amongst legal professionals and law students is encouraging. However, it often acts as a ‘doubled edged sword’ as while Linkedln provides regular updates on the achievement of fellow law students, it may not always provide the path for non-NLU students to achieve the same. Therefore, for it to be used effectively by non-NLU students, it is important for people approached by them to be receptive and accommodative.
There is also a need to inject the spirit of competition into the culture of these universities and promote participation of students in diverse activities. Direction and mentorship is required for these students to be able channelise their energy and ambition towards a particular goal. Moreover, active efforts are required on part of recruiters to ensure that they duly give opportunities to meritorious students from non-NLUs to prove and apply themselves. This shall also impact the perception of people towards non-NLUs as students are often stereotyped as ‘CLAT rejects’ or ‘second class students’, even if they posses the same level of skill sets or potential.
It’s true that since the inception of NLUs in India, they have occupied a ‘supreme’ position in the law education fraternity. They provide multi-dimensional education to students, raising the attractiveness of the integrated 5 year law course. However, the ‘institution worship’ culture does more harm than good as the institution should not be the sole determining factor of a student’s prowess. Such ‘institution worship’ culture demotivates students in non-NLUs to perform to their maximum potential as they often operate under the belief that irrespective of the work they put in, they will always stand second in line of opportunities. There are several student in non-NLUs that have the driving force which motivates them to utilise the full of their potential and stand out of the ordinary crowd. Therefore, if the requisite amount of resources, guidance, direction, opportunities and mentorship is provided to them, they can surely compete with the top students of established universities. Quality must be judged on the basis of the hard work and determination of students, rather than the brand value of the institutions.
Should your position in the CLAT rank list dictate what you do and achieve in the whole of law school?
Lastly, it is encouraging to see Law League India working with a pool of talented non-NLU students in Kolkata and mentoring them. External mentorship is important to motivate students and to provide them with direction to best approach law school and attain maximum potential.