India's Law School Bubble

LSAT Blog Law School Bubble India Edition
A few years ago, some Indian law schools began accepting a modified version of the LSAT (as an alternative to the Common Law Admission Test). If you look at the CLAT website, you'll understand why.

In what other respect is India taking a page from the U.S.?

On Friday, Bar and Bench, an Indian legal news site, reported:

Law schools are being established with disconcerting regularity these days. Of the fourteen National Law Universities (NLUs) which accept admissions via the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), nine have been established in the last decade alone. NLU-Delhi, although not a participant in CLAT, was established four years ago. Tamil Nadu is slated to have an NLU soon. All these NLUs tend to have eerily similar characteristics: Five-year, “integrated” courses, impressive infrastructure (at least on paper), fees running into several lakhs [1 lakh is ~$2,000 USD], and, most importantly, the promise of guaranteed employment.

Where else have I heard of a place with:

-an ever-increasing number of law schools
-expensive tuition
-promises of employment

Is India headed for a law school bubble of its own? Signs point to yes.


Too many law schools?

The Bar Council of India, the ABA's counterpart, is tasked with accrediting ("recognizing") law schools in India.

The Bar Council of India actually started trying to regulate its law schools in 2010, taking an action that would be unthinkable to the ABA - it de-recognized many that weren't up to par. At the time, the Times of India wrote:

Bar Council of India has decided to derecognize more than 30 law colleges while 20 others have been sent notices to improve infrastructure, in a move to tone up the legal education system. In addition, unlike previous years, BCI has decided to approve only 20 of the 70 applications that came in for setting up of new law colleges...
BCI has already discontinued the system of permanent recognition and has decided that law colleges will have to apply every year for renewing recognition. Also, if it comes to BCI's notice that any institute has procured recognition through illegal means, it will be derecognised immediately...BCI sources said,"The idea is to bring down the number of law colleges from 900 to 175..."

Internet commenters suggested that even more schools be derecognized, while also expressing concern for the graduates of these schools (presumably, their employment prospects). These are representative:

What implications does this have on those who have already passed out of these colleges? - XYZ, Bangalore 
[A] nice order given by BCI...now derecognise some more college who has unauthorised and destroing the future of new student and guidelineless student - Anand, Delhi

However, the Bar Council's efforts to regulate legal education were apparently short-lived.

Just over a month ago, Rakesh Tiku, a former chairman of the Delhi Bar Council, told Legally India, "The fault [with quality of legal education] lies with a large number of law colleges mushrooming all over India. There is no effective method to regulate the large numbers of law schools." The site also reported that the number of recognized law schools is currently "at least 900"(virtually no change from 2010).

So much for that.


Do the 5-year programs offer better employment prospects? Most likely.

While a 3-year undergraduate degree is sufficient to practice law in India, the rapidly-growing law schools described by the Bar and Bench article offer 5-year integrated law degrees (also undergraduate).

According to one 2008 survey, the top 3 law schools in India were all National Law Universities (those autonomous schools offering 5-year programs):

Bangalore-based National Law School of India University (NLSIU) [ranked] as the country’s top law school, followed by Nalsar and NUJS. In these three schools, the average strength of a graduating class is 80 and around 40 to 50 students participate in the placement season every year. 
India has 700 law colleges, 400 universities, including those with deemed status, and 13 autonomous universities, such as NLSIU, NUJS and Nalsar, that produce approximately 250,000 lawyers every year.

250,000 new lawyers a year? And you thought 45,000 new law grads a year (PDF) was bad.

It seems that India lacks a Law School Transparency movement of its own, and the Bar Council of India is probably doing even less than the ABA with regard to publishing employment information.

Virtually none was available on the Bar Council's website, nor on many universities' websites (note: I didn't check the websites of all 900 law colleges/universities - only a handful).

However, even that of the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences in Kolkata, one of India's top law schools offering the 5-year degree, provides nothing more than superlatives for today's prospective students (sidenote: it lists Cravath as one of its past recruiters):

NUJS is proud of its excellent placement record. Till 2008, NUJS had a 100 percent placement record. The placement record of the batch that passed out in 2009 has also been remarkable in spite of the economic downturn... 
NUJS graduates have always exceeded expectations and manage to combine a wide array of skills enabling them to satisfy employers as well as compete with the best talent in the world.

However, the school's Class of 2011 grads appear to have done extremely well when it came to getting job offers (although no salary information was listed), picking up after a slowdown at the start of the recession.

If even NUJS suffered at the start of the recession, you've got to wonder about the 200,000+ new lawyers produced each year who didn't go to one of the country's top law schools.


Just how bad is it for the majority of law school grads in India?

Given lack of statistics and transparency, it's difficult to say. However, I did find that 37% of those who took the All India Bar Examination in January failed it, and over 70% of retakers failed (PDF). (In contrast, the New York bar's highest failure rate was 24% in 2002 and 2003.)

Either the All India Bar Examination is way too difficult, or law schools aren't adequately preparing their students for it. 

It's time that the presumably worse-off 200,000+ graduates/year in India started their schools some hard questions about employment prospects and bar passage rates. Once they do, India's law school bubble may finally burst.



5 comments:

  1. So more the reason to opt for LSAT. However,the expense turns us off(agreed loan is a life saver but not always,not for everybody). And shall we budding aspirants wait for the NLUs of India to someday fall onto the right track and bloom?

    Pat comes the reply - take LSAT !! Not only the universities disappoint me, but the practical sessions too - so not promising. The court visits are often coupled with draconian ways to prepare students !! I wish we had a jury system here too.

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