A weak case: Law has never been a hotter career, but education standards are slipping in the field
With outdated syllabi, vacant faculty positions and a theory-centric approach, online courses and internships can help students stay on top of the game.education Updated: Aug 24, 2016 13:12 IST
Two months have passed since Mihir Dere, 21, got his law common entrance test (CET) results — and he still doesn’t know which law colleges he is eligible to apply to.
For the first time this year, the state conducted a CET for law; earlier, each college released a merit list based on the applicants’ Class 12 scores. While the CET results have been out for a while, the Bar Council of India has de-recognised three top Mumbai institutes and barred them from accepting applications. These are GJ Advani Law College, Bandra; Kishinchand Chellaram Law College, Churchgate; and Jitendra Chauhan College of Law, Vile Parle.
“The colleges were asked to apply for fresh affiliation to the BCI after their permanent affiliation ended in 2008,” says a member of the BCI standing committee, who requested anonymity. “Many colleges did not apply for it despite our repeated reminders.” Also, the colleges do not have the required 40:1 student-teacher ratio.
“I filled in the online admission form a month ago, and I am still waiting for a list of colleges that I can apply to,” says Dere. “The top three colleges of my choice have been barred this year — my options have drastically reduced.”
Dere is one of about 8,000 city students applying for the three-year LLB programme this year, and uncertain about the progress of admissions. Over 2,000 students have applied for the five-year (BA-LLB) programme.
“Law is one of the hottest careers at the moment, and application data shows that the demand for law programmes is increasing in Mumbai,” says Kishu Daswani, professor at Government Law College (GLC), Churchgate.
But while demand is on the rise, the standards of law education seem to be slipping, suffering from poor teacher-student ratios, a theoretical syllabus and outdated details. As students wait for the admissions process to get underway, here’s a look at what’s missing in the city’s legal education.
Experts say that the rise in the number of students applying to law colleges can be attributed to a yet-to-be implemented government policy. “Foreign law firms will soon be allowed to practice in India,” says Purvi Shah, an advocate based in Bandra. “This will open up many avenues for law graduates.”
The curriculum is archaic, says Banat Baga, 20, a final-year student of the five-year bachelor of legal science (BLS) course at Pravin Gandhi Law College, Vile Parle. “The first two years involved concepts we had already studied in junior college,” she says. “Instead of attending class, which are typically only about memorising concepts, I have been interning at law firms and learning much more that way.”
Experts say that many new laws, amendments in existing laws and case studies have not been included in the curriculum. “Laws on sexual harassment do not feature in the syllabus,” says Nilima Chandiramani, principal at Nari Gursahani Law College, Ulhasnagar and former dean of law at the University of Mumbai (MU). “Students are taught subjects such as mathematical logic, which have no relevance to law. The syllabus needs urgent updating.”
The CET, though a good change, needs amendment too. “The centralised test could ensure quality students, but it needs to act as a filter and not just a formality. This year, students who have scored zero in the CET will also appear on the merit list — there is no quality check in place yet,” says Daswani of Government Law College.
The course is theoretical, with no scope for research, says Chandiramani. “We need to add projects and provide hands-on experience to students, to produce quality lawyers for the system. The assessment also needs to be improved,” she adds.
Most colleges have fewer than five full-time professors. “The teacher-student ratio needs to be 40:1,” says Chandiramani. “There are 300 students in each year of the course, hence 900 in total. There should be 22 full-time professors at colleges. The colleges, however, cannot hire many due to lack of funds.”
Since almost all law professors work part-time, the teacher-student relationship is affected. “In case of doubts, we do not know who to approach,” says Sachin Pawar, president of the Student’s Law Council and a student at GLC. “Many professors have dismal attendance, which affects the students’ interest in the subject.”
To counter an ailing system, law students are taking matters into their own hands, and gaining on-ground knowledge via internships and add-on courses.
Mehul Khetia, 21, third-year LLB student at DY Patil College of Law, CBD Belapur, took up an internship from the first year of his course. “Here, I was introduced to court proceedings, and got exposure to the practice,” he says.
Currently, internships are not a mandatory module, but students with them on their CVs have better chance at employment, say experts.
Students can also take online or certificate courses for updated or practical knowledge.
“To fill the gap between what is taught and what industry demands, students should consider additional courses such as a short-term cyber law course online,” says advocate Shah. “They should remain curious, and read about new laws and landmark rulings on the internet to stay updated.”