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Evolution of legal education in India

EducationWorld March 2020 | Special Essay

From Mahatma Gandhi to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, many of the nation’s leaders pursued law overseas. Historically, most legal education for Indians happened outside India. At the time of independence, the government’s investment in higher education was oriented towards setting up institutions of agriculture, medicine, and engineering. Good legal education institutions were few and far. The field neither received much priority nor garnered much interest.

It was only after the first five-year law programme was introduced by National Law School, Bangalore in 1987 that the legal education scenario started to change. Come 1991 and the New Economic Policy boosting liberalisation and globalisation, the study and practice of law started to catch the country’s attention. The corporate sector opened up, making way for many new legal roles. After the year 2000 and the budding of private universities in the country, private law schools gained prominence.

Emergence of private law colleges

In 2009, Jindal Global Law School was set up as the first school of O.P. Jindal Global University in Sonipat, Haryana—a private, not-for-profit philanthropic initiative. It was the idea and endeavor of lawyer and academician, Professor (Dr.) C. Raj Kumar, and the philanthropic effort of industrialist and Chancellor, Mr. Naveen Jindal, to establish a world-class university in India.

JGLS was a significant departure from the traditional legal education system in the country. It aimed to put an Indian law school in the global league. Today, just 11 years later, it is indeed living up to the expectations. What made this possible? World-class faculty, academic freedom, a philanthropic approach, a global curriculum, a vibrant mooting culture, a Global Library and Legal Resource Centre, participation in conferences, seminars, and public lectures, international student exchange programmes and summer schools at the world’s top universities, national and international placement opportunities, and importantly, a multidisciplinary backdrop. This improving quality and standard of higher education brought private universities like JGU, Symbiosis, Nirma University, Christ University or Bennett University to the foreground of legal education in India.

The explosion of new areas of legal practice sorely needed new kinds of professionals and educators with an updated perspective to come into the picture. JGLS has roped in 328 faculty members from over 21 nationalities, with specialised experience and research expertise. Programmes at JGLS include a three-year B.A. (Hons.) in Legal Studies, a five-year B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) and BBA LL.B. (Hons.), a three-year LL.B. programme and a one-year LL.M. programme.

Boom of legal professions

From the narrow framework of courtroom practice, limited judicial positions and legal roles, the range of legal professions has been on a steady rise. There is the popular pick of corporate law, in all its glory. Transactional law, taxation law, competition law, consumer law, cyber law, and newer fields like sports law, aviation law, or maritime law have developed as niche areas. Until the turn of the 21st century, there were merely four or five law firms dealing with intellectual property rights. Today, there are over 200 dedicated firms.

In the modern world, law is no longer a domestic study. Law is a global study, a global practice and a global profession. Good law schools are shifting gears to nurture lawyers who are highly trained to be multi-jurisdictional. JGLS has played a significant role here. It is through the contribution of academicians like Prof. Raj Kumar who took legal education from the domestic setting to make it truly international. In its true sense, JGLS is not just an Indian law school, but an international law school.

The multidisciplinary advantage

A major shortcoming of many traditional style law schools and universities in India has been their single-faculty orientation. A holistic legal education seems to be rare. Law is in its very nature a multidisciplinary subject. Universities like JGU have a significant advantage by being multidisciplinary. Law students can explore an array of courses across schools on international relations, business, liberal arts, journalism and more—which tremendously enrich their learning experience. A good multidisciplinary education has the effect of bringing out the best in a student. Students have the opportunity to discover more. Their learnings transcend disciplines. Their journey carries them over into new and exciting adventures—and they are prepared for it. They gain giving an unparalleled edge over their peers who might study law in isolation.

Future of legal roles

The future of law and legal education looks bright. With each passing year and more development in the society and economy, the role of lawyers, which has already come to the center-stage, will become even more critical. Every business decision, every economic decision in the country, every step in politics or society, will all require legal vetting. Lawyers have already assumed important roles, and this is only going to expand.

Professor Arjya B. Majumdar Director- Admissions & Outreach, O.P. Jindal Global University

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