Without the right kind of leaders, The Academic system will collapse
Prof. Ranbir Singh, Vice Chancellor, National Law University Delhi, speaks to Mahesh Sarma, on the multidimensional problems faced by India’s legal education system.
Q. In this globalized era, is Law more of a corporate tool than one serving social change?
A. Now, when you go for globalization, you need professionals everywhere - engineers, scientists, lawyers - those who will further your goal and further your economy. If you go for FDI, you go merger equations, you go for Competition Law, you need to have those kinds of subjects. And Law Schools are mandated to get into all those new areas of law, like capital markets, Competition Law, Company Law, it maybe Environmental Law and so on. Now because of this policy shift of the government from the socialist stand to a capitalist kind of mixed economy, you find a mushrooming of corporate law firms and majority of the students those who come to the Law Schools are first generation students. They don’t go by choice, they are forced to go to a corporate law firm because they spend all that money and their parents are mostly middle class or upper middle class, then they have no choice but to join corporate law firms.
Q. Do sizeable percentage of students still go for careers that drive social justice and change?
A. Not really, it would be hardly 10 percent. Many students go to NGO firms. And now students are fortunately coming into teaching sector. Some 70 percent will go to corporate sector, 10-15 percent will go for higher studies, and the rest will go for other jobs and some people now have started coming to civil services also.
Q. And is this a phenomenon of National Law Schools or Law Schools in general?
A. This is a phenomenon of National Law Schools. In others there is no teaching of law. In 250 Law Colleges, including best colleges I do not want to name, have no law teachers. There is dearth of faculty, facilities and books. I am a member of the Bar Council of India’s standing committee, I go to inspect best of institutions very often and recently I went to a very prestigious institution and I was so disappointed. I never believed that this would be the status of such a prestigious law faculty in Delhi. It was terrible. It is a cruel joke on the students.
Q. What is the next stage? If this continues, because National Law Schools are 20 in number, what kind of legal profession are we looking at?
A. We are 20 and that too, all are not that good. The people that get into the legal education from the so-called grass-root level are all those who come from the half-baked Law colleges where nothing is taught, so you are producing ‘badvocates’. They say that the best of law would be taught mostly when you join a court. And this is the situation, whether you agree to this or don’t agree to this. Earlier we had mushrooming of three-year colleges and now we have mushrooming of five-year colleges across the states.
Q. What is the role of new private institutions?
A. This is also a very small number. If there is a situation like this beyond Law Schools, you will take for example, Symbiosis, ILS, GLC Mumbai, this is a very small number but some of them are trying to come up and are working very hard. But faculty is a problem.
I believe in the country, and Law Schools are no different, leadership is facing a crisis. If you do not have the right kind of person heading the institution, it maybe Delhi University, it maybe IIT, it maybe IIM, and he/she fails to provide the right kind of leadership, the system collapses
Q. You started NALSAR, Hyderabad; it reached a truly predominant stage. What constituted that evolution?
A. Faculty is the main concern. I will be very frank with you, I believe in the country, and Law Schools are no different, leadership is facing a crisis. If you do not have the right kind of person heading the institution, it maybe Delhi University, it maybe IIT, it maybe IIM, and he/she fails to provide the right kind of leadership, the system collapses. Can you think of an institution where selections have not been made for nine years, right from 2005? And you say you’re a prestigious university? How do you carry on? And teachers kept on ad-hoc basis come for four months, and every semester they are changed and for four-five months you don’t get paid, you don’t come. How would you survive in a city like Delhi when you don’t get pay? And nobody bothers; this has been going on for 9-10 years. And your senior generation retired, second generation you did not recruit, young generation is dying, where is the teaching and research? Where will legal education go? We are in a very, very bad situation.
Q. When you started NALSAR, Hyderabad, how did you manage to get faculty?
A. Initially, I requested all the retired teachers in all disciplines to be visiting professors with me. One thing I learned in my life is that more than money the teacher wants to be honourably treated. I have five Vice Chancellors serving on my campus. They give me concrete suggestions and they are the backbone of the university. You have to create an environment of freedom - freedom to operate, freedom to teach, freedom to design your courses and then say money is not a problem, we will treat you well and give you best of places to stay. And then create a second team of young people. And now I have two from Yale, one from LSE, one from NYU, one from Oxford, name any Law School and I have the faculty from there. They carry a very strong culture of research. They come at UGC salaries because they come for work satisfaction.
Q. If you were to advise a young private institution, which wants to set-up a good Law School, what would you advise them?
A. Have best of teachers, provide best of facilities and give freedom. I believe anybody who provides best of academic space, academic facility, academic freedom and takes care of the students and the faculty and the non-teaching staff and treats the institution like a family, then there is no problem. It is very easy if you think big.
Q. Law is one professional education where there is no accreditation. Is it required?
A. It should be there. We are accredited by NAAC. There is an in-built system, but hasn’t been activated yet. It’s another difficulty that somehow we come under Bar Council of India. We need to have a separate body to be known as the National Council for Legal Education, chaired by the Chief Justice of India, where you have very senior judges of Supreme Court, High Court, some senior academics, senior lawyers who will decide the policies.