This article has been written by Aman Saxena (Batch of 2018) and Sarangan Rajeshkumar (Batch of 2018)
This is not an article on ‘the falling standards of law school’ – the two of us haven’t been around long enough to pass a judgment on it. ‘Falling standards’ may just well be a product of our predecessors blowing their own trumpets, but we wouldn’t really know. However, there is one thing that we know for sure – the median Law School student faces a lot more competition today than he/she did a decade ago. Moreover, we believe that he hasn’t done a great job at responding to this competition and fighting it. Throughout this article, we have taken a great deal of liberty in drawing conclusions based on broad generalizations that we believe to be true for no reason other than the fact that we have verified our claims with each other. Therefore, our understanding of things might be entirely untrue and we would be happy to learn about anything that we might have overlooked. Before we begin, we wish to state that there is an inherent value to benign hypocrisy. For instance, when someone who smokes refuses to share a cigarette with someone who is untainted, the outcome is a positive one although the hypocrisy of it is painful. Similarly, the two of us have arguably not been great examples to those around us, but we think we have diagnosed a serious problem that needs immediate action.
This conversation was one that began when the two of us observed that very few students from our University attended the Lecture Series organized by Herbert Smith Freehills and the University of Oxford. The organizers who had come down for this course had come with the hope that there would be considerable participation in this course from NLSIU as has been the case with other Universities where this course was organized. When the Student Initiative for Promotion of Legal Awareness had gauged student interest in the course, more than forty students expressed their intention to join it and attend the lectures. Ultimately, the course was attended by ten students – not all of whom attended all five days of the course. It is understandable that out of a student population of 400, it is only a limited number of students who take an active interest in commercial law. Nevertheless, lack of participation from our University did not go unnoticed and was not taken kindly by the event’s sponsor.
Being a student who attended the course, I felt embarrassed at what had transpired and brought this up at the dinner table. It wasn’t long before everyone there felt that they too, at one time or the other, had witnessed a similar incident – one that did not seem to match our University’s advertised culture of academic pursuit. It is my sincere belief that this is part of a larger culture of complacency brooding amongst us.
There have been far too many single credit courses, after-class lectures, symposiums, and conferences that have failed to see voluntary participation from the student body. The disheartening speeches we hear when a committee is begging students to attend its event has become all too common today. I issue the same disclaimer as I did with the HSF course – no student is expected to take a keen interest in every event organized on campus, but no one can deny a general lack of participation (or continued participation once the novelty of something wears off). This begs the question – what does the average law school student do with his time?
It is, of course, possible that this average law school student is working on a paper that he wants to publish or is browsing his reading material and preparing for tomorrow’s classes. He could also be writing his moot memo or working on a research project. However, going by what the two of us have seen, we don’t think that what the average law school student is doing any of these things for the most part of his time. Of course, there are several of us who can be found religiously hitting the books; we don’t deny that there are plenty of students of this variety too. But that does not take away from the fact that there are still a sizeable number of us who have not acknowledged the competition that is crawling up on us from behind.
Perhaps the reason behind this is nothing more than the success of our institution. The National Law School model was a novel idea that seemed to offer an entry point into a profession that was (and still largely is) seen as an old boys’ club. It allowed students the opportunity to pursue a liberal arts education and earn a professional degree at the same time. Students could justify a legal education outside of one’s hometown because of the pedagogy that the institution promised. The University advertised courses that would nurture academic curiosity in students and these students were, in turn, break new ground in their chosen area of law if they chose a career in academia or legal research. On the other hand, if you chose a career in a corporate law, you were told that the rigor of the B.A.LL.B course itself was something that would serve you well.
These promises were, by and large, fulfilled and the leap of faith that our predecessors had taken was rewarded in the form of seats in prestigious graduate programs, incredible opportunities in international law firms and a steady stream of rewarding careers in a burgeoning private sector. The best part of this arrangement was that it was our University alone that was churning out this new class of law graduates, that everyone was eager to get their hands on.
However, like any other success story, the ‘National Law School’ model was emulated by anyone who was perceptive enough to understand the reasons for its success. The result of this imitation is the fifteen National Law Universities and twenty odd private universities that boast programs that are similar to our own. Both these number continue to grow on a yearly basis and several of these universities are well past their initial gestation period and have successfully established themselves as competitors.
Further, around 50,000 people now appear for Common Law Admission Test as against ten years ago when the number had barely reached five digits. This increased competition in the admissions process (and the nature of the entrance examination itself) has come to mean that the difference between the CLAT scores of students across the top NLUs is marginal. Even on abstract markers such as the quality of their school education or the resources that they have access to, most students who study in an NLU or in a private institution such as JGLS or Symbiosis are comparable. However, NLSIU continues to lead the pack by capitalizing on its first-mover advantage – a privilege that it is yet to lose. This privilege is something that students from other universities are asked to compensate for when competing with a Law School student. But it is now time to admit these students who compete with us have not found this to be an impossible task.
With the right amount of effort, students at other universities have been able to compensate for and even overtake their counterparts in our University. By attending lectures that we refrain from participating in, writing in journals that we think are either too hard to publish in or are beneath our sense of self-worth, seeking out conferences to present their papers in or by simply doing more internships, our competitors have been able to more than make up for what they lack in pedigree.
For instance, while both of us had interned in a corporate law firm, we had waited till the fourth year to do so. Although this might simply be a result of prioritizing other internship opportunities for some of you, the two us had chosen to take a break during several of our vacations where we could have interned instead. Our co-interns at these firms, on the other hand, had completed 3 or 4 corporate internships when we met them. When we asked them why they had not taken a break instead, we were met with the response “it is easy for you to get a job, but we’re not from NLS”. What we take for granted is a matter of aspiration for students from other Universities. Thus, it is not a surprise if in the end; it is the RMMNLU student who bags a PPO given that he has simply worked harder for it. A further clarification that needs to be made here is that while the average student at RMNLU might not being doing much more than what the average student at NLS does with his time, the top brass at RMNLU is sure to outperform our median. No one can blame a recruiter or a post-graduate admissions committee for preferring him/her. Perhaps the most visible indicator of this problem would be the number of internships with multinational firms that students from each University secure. These firms can afford to be more selective in their recruitment process considering that they recruit fewer graduates. Further, their recruitment processes themselves are more personality driven and less driven by pedigree. This was not a problem that an NLS student had to contemplate ten years ago as there was no RMNLU at all.
The Ostriches of Nagarbhavi
Despite the sad picture that we painted above, the average student would continue to do “alright” if things continued to be the way they are now. But that might sadly not be the case. There are three reasons for this. First, an extremely worrying school of thought that presently plagues the law school way of life is a fetishisation of the outlier. These outliers are those individuals who have done exceedingly well, both in their time in law school and afterwards, without much effort on their part (or so we hear). It is well and good to talk lovingly of our seniors who spent their law school lives engaged in all kinds of debauchery and went on to do great things despite it. These stories make for great conversations over a round of drinks but they are not examples to live by. Hoping that you will do as well for yourself as one of these legends is not ‘optimism’. The label that it should be given instead is ‘daydreaming’. There are several of us who have had to learn this the hard way.
The second factor that instills a sense of complacency in every law school student is the fact that he is told that he is assured of the bare minimum of an RCC placement. Every time a law school junior expresses his/her concern that they might not be working hard enough, they are met with the response “chill out, everyone gets a job”. The truth of this statement, however, is up for debate. One should not take comfort in the fact that almost every senior they knew was able to find a job when the truth is that almost half of every class does not participate in the recruitment process. The surprise that you might be met with when you find out that this might not be the case with your batch would not be a happy one. Moreover, even if the ratios remain constant, the day when firms look to other universities after skimming through the top thirty ranks at NLS is not as distant as we’d like it to be. Even today, the number of people who do not score a job on ‘day zero’ is significant enough to be a source of worry. If you are not going to be in the top thirty of your batch, we suggest that you have something else to show for the time that you spent in law school. Not everyone gets a job. Do not chill out.
The third issue that we are faced with is the sense of comfort that we derive from the achievements of others. Yes, there have been 25 Rhodes scholars from NLS; yes, we are the first law school from India to break at WUDC; yes, we have won Jessup twice; and yes, in the last decade twenty-five percent of the partners at all tier I firms have been from our University. However, you do not get to take credit for any of this. These achievements belong solely to those whose names are actually on the certificates. This truth needs to be digested by each and every one of us because we need to learn that we cannot bank on the achievements of others when we are looking for a job or applying for a masters program. Although this seems intuitive enough to understand, what we do and say as a community seems to indicate otherwise. Even when we are not engaged in a pissing contest with students from another university, we beat our chests as a batch in front of other batches for no reason other than the fact a few individuals from our batches have done exceedingly well for themselves.
The point that we are trying to make is not that every one of us should pull up their socks starting this moment and begin a quest for academic excellence. It is entirely fine if you want to laze around, binge on the latest Netflix series and get a beer every evening. However, we simply want to inform you that if that is what you are doing, you will probably not end up where you think you are going . We do not think that the average law school student is incompetent or incapable of doing great things. In our experience, students of our college are intelligent, capable and talented. The average law school student will ultimately do quite well for himself since he is all of these things. But so will any student from RMNLU who is willing to put in as many hours as is required to make up for what he lacks. If in your fourth year, you are unable to answer a question on the difference between an interest and a charge, you cannot expect smooth sailing. What we presently have is an immense competitive advantage – one of the best libraries in the country, a handful of amazing professors, thousands of opportunities every year to showcase our talent, and the trust and confidence that the world continues to have in our students. Each of us needs to make the most of this advantage if we want to keep it.