A common vision of studying law is best represented by memes and jokes that talk about how law students study the most, then earn the most but eventually don’t have time to make use of the money. Four years ago, when I joined law school, there was a sense of anxiety about something new that I was stepping into. I had little to almost no help to deal with the challenges I could (and would) face in law school.
Cut to today, as a fourth year student, I cannot say the journey has been an easy one; you know what they say about understanding things better when you are ‘in the system.’ We usually crib amidst our peers and teachers, but this has rattled me for long now, just like every other law student. So, I decided to widen my ambit and speak to law students across the country and try and realise the commonalities that act as obstacles and need to be fixed. Here are some things, us law students wish we had gotten guidance on.
Part of any competent curriculum of law school should essentially include training to write research papers. Teachers at law schools can be heard repeating regularly that what matters most at the end of law school, is how many papers a student got published. A good research paper brings out a lawyer’s intricate skills, like drafting and the ability to dig deep into a subject included. But the problem is, many law schools, even the well-established ones do not provide proper training on how to write research papers.
Research papers help build a much-needed foundation, that is required when we enter a work set-up. This kind of training should be incorporated from the very beginning of law school.
Youth Ki Awaaz spoke to Sukriti Jha, a law student from National Law Institute University, Bhopal, who said, “There is nothing in our legal curriculum that promotes writing research papers or aids it in any way. The only guidance I received was fragmented advice from seniors or friends. My professors were encouraging when they learned that I was trying to publish a paper but that’s what it was limited to. It would have been great if there were some mechanisms to firstly tell us how to write a paper (the essentials, language, how to differentiate between an essay, article, legislative comment, book review, etc.) and someone to review it and tell us whether it is good enough for publication, suggest improvements.”
Mooting is every law student’s practicals. The problem here is that the lack of training for writing research papers trickles down to even memorials (written submissions for moot courts) which are often very poorly drafted. A moot is essentially a mock courtroom proceeding, but the preparation for it is not adequate: how to argue, what pitch and tone to use, and etiquette of the court are certain intricacies that are crucial to being a lawyer. The years in law school act as a foundation for the future of the profession of the student, but it is not even close to being solid because there is no training before a moot.
Emil Jaison, a law student from Amity Law School, Mumbai spoke about her experience after attending a moot competition. She said, “While moot courts are given a lot of weightage and importance in law schools, students are not given proper guidelines or adequate help while preparing for competitions. They have to start from scratch, without having any basic knowledge about the same. When we go for competitions and see other teams and their presentations and memorials we get very discouraged. I wish our junior batches won’t have to face the same problems.”
Whether her wish becomes a reality, only time will tell.
To state the obvious, the Indian education system is in shambles and students study for marks. What’s worse is one is ‘taught’ to study for exams; there are teachers (and, mind you, quite a few of them) who teach on those lines. Many students on their first day, will have heard a teacher say, “I will teach you how to write answers for exam purposes.”
While the focus should be on giving students a space to think for themselves and an environment to shape those opinions, the focus gets shifted to marks. There exists no conducive climate for a student to express their own opinion, because it is assumed that it would only go against the strongly held beliefs of the faculty. To be fair, one cannot blame the teachers as they are also products of the same system, so they continue to participate in this vicious cycle. It is never acknowledged that a classroom must never penalise a student for having an opinion.
“I wish I had the guidance to understand the very basic idea of an approach to a subject. I believe, that every student has a different approach to subjects and its understanding. And, as a teacher, it becomes important to guide students on those lines,” said Oishi Banerjee, a fourth year law student from Amity Law School, Mumbai.
She further went on to talk about the impact this has on marks. “In many cases, when a student expresses his opinion differently from that of faculty, they are penalised in the form of marks. There is no standard of marks that is created and, in a system where marks are given so much importance, students are in a fear of expressing themselves.”
The existing curriculum studies law in a very narrow sense. Law has many facets; it has its own impact and is in turn, impacted by the diverse fields of economics, political science, biotechnology, fashion and many others. But the focus in law schools is limited in such a way that a wider perspective is often lost. The law is supposed to be a problem solver while holding up a mirror to society. How then, can it ever be studied in isolation?
An opportunity to an interdisciplinary understanding is barely available to law students, and even if it is, the learning is rudimentary. An interdisciplinary approach can build up a student’s views not only regarding law, but also many other disciplines.
Speaking on this matter, Anas Khan, a law student from Amity Law School, Mumbai said, “I always wanted to study law in an interdisciplinary pattern. Unfortunately, the system studies law in isolation mostly which further increases the rift between law and other disciplines. Particularly, the fields of philosophy, social sciences and economics, they should be studied in correlation with law because they directly impact it, and vice-versa. I sincerely wished these subjects such as, ‘The Sociology of Law’ and other similars could have been introduced in my curriculum, which would have helped in the creation of negotiating spaces in the narrative of these different disciplines.”
The focus in law schools today is majorly theoretical. Of course, one studies codes of Civil and Criminal Procedure in great detail – but, if they were to actually go to court and attempt to ask for a date for the hearing, they’d be standing clueless for the first five minutes. A plethora of provisions, sections, case laws are taught only to be mugged up; where is the practical application for the same? Along with theory, a side by side focus must also be given to practical application of these codes and acts. The curriculum needs a major revamp.
“We are supposed to mug up provisions of bare acts, but it’s only when we get to our internships that we learn any practical application. Case Laws are also not effective because we are just mugging it up. For more marks, we have to write more case laws. I feel, instead of studying 30 odd case laws, for one topic, we must focus on maybe just ten and actually read those judgments and opinions and use this in our practical approaches.” said Iravati Singh, a law student from NLIU, Bhopal.
Another problem that arises is obtaining internships. As per Bar Council Rules, 20 weeks of internship is compulsory after five years of law school. But, the struggle of getting an internship is something that every law student relates to. “No contacts, no internship” is a phrase law students dread since Day 1. Frequently, one quietly completes an internship any place they get one, regardless of whether it aligns with their plans for the future. This only creates confusion for the student in the long run.
Reenee Pyde, a former law student of Symbiosis Law School Pune, said, “Getting the right place to intern was one thing I struggled with. Just because I did not have the right contacts, I was still confused at the end of three years as to which specific field to get into.”
Even after securing good internships, students are unaware about the work culture, ethics and dynamics of the work setup. “I wish we had guidance on job dynamics: guidance on how to narrow down where you want to work, what to look out for in the job environment, how to go about choosing a senior and such,” said Alefiyah Shipchandler, a student of ILS Law College Pune.
It may sound excessive, but it is true that the teaching of laws (procedure, method and content) can be termed archaic. Certain statutes like the Criminal Procedure Code date back to 1973 with no major amendments.
There are a few points to be considered here. The societal setup was nowhere similar to the set up today. Now, when it comes to studying the Code, like every other subject, we mug up the sections, learn ten case laws for each topic and reproduce it in our papers. We are taught to study and learn the ‘landmark cases’ which brought about an important change in the law. My problem is why do we limit it to studying landmark cases? I understand that it is essential to study how the law evolved. But, why do we not bring contemporary rulings and judgments into classrooms and then draw graphs to trace its evolution? Why do we not also discuss where we are today, and which amendments are still needed? We stop at knowing the landmark examples from history.
What is ruled today, will become an landmark for students of the future, but they too, will not study the cases happening in their time. This is problematic and it stagnates the system.
Most students joining a law programme do so after completing their class 12 exams. They are fresh out of the water. For most, it is their first experience away from home on residential campuses and for most, a feeling of loneliness gets to them.
Everyone is acutely aware of the pressures that students face in law schools, with regard to CGPA, rank, internships and so on. This tends to create an overwhelming atmosphere for many, and issues like homesickness and inability to cope develop into cases of anxiety and depression. These issues are barely even spoken about, let alone given due importance. In many cases, even families do not support their children. The need of a counselor is thus, very important but many law schools do not even appoint one. And even if there is an appointment, there are cases where the students have not been informed of the same.
Ananya Bajpai, a law student from National Law University, Jodhpur, when asked about her experience in this matter said, “It’s okay to feel overwhelmed in law school. People in their final year of law school also feel the same sometimes. It’s important that these issues become a part of the mainstream discussion in law schools, because our profession is one to which stress is inherent and we need to learn to address that and what better place to help with that, than our law school.”
Studies have shown that stress is a common element in most lawyers and they adhere to one or the other forms of externalities and behaviour that aid stress (excessive smoking and drinking is an example). No one said that the stress can be completely removed, what we need is help to learn to cope up with it.
Essentially, there is no ‘perfect law school’ or a ‘perfect curriculum.’ What is important is to adapt with the changing times, while keeping in mind the needs of the system.