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Miles to go: Prof Madhava Menon interview

Prof_Menon_thHe has been called a "living legend of law" by the International Bar Association and is nothing less than the father of modern Indian legal education. But even at age 75, Padmashree Professor Dr. Neelakanta Ramakrishna Madhava Menon is not slowing down.

We have talked to him about his vision and hopes for the future of legal education and of India.

Mission: Build a Harvard
In 1985 the Bar Council of India (BCI) invited Menon to set up the country's first national law school. The BCI's brief was for Menon to create a 'Harvard of the East' by introducing an integrated legal education programme of five years.

And so National Law School of India University Bangalore (NLSIU) began from a few rooms at Central College Campus with a total budget of Rs 50 lakhs and R. V. Krishnappa as its first registrar.

Menon recalls that this was the most challenging experience of his life at a time when legal education was not very much in demand. "Not many bright students were attracted to legal education and a law degree was available cheap from a variety of institutions."

"When I took it up, I myself never believed that it is going to click really and reverse the trend of bright students passing out of 12th standard to seek law as a priority," he says.

"That impossible thing happened."

Soon after, Menon repeated the feat and founded National University of Juridical Sciences Kolkata (NUJS) and National Judicial Academy Bhopal.

However, unlike Menon, the national law school model is now showing its age.

"What are we lacking?" he asks. "We have extremely bright students who make a mark wherever they go, we have the capacity to train them for the requirements of the new globalised environment but we are just not doing it."

He says a second generation of reforms is necessary which will have to make Indian law schools competitive with the world's top legal institutions.

"NLS was conceived in the early 80s and that time it turned out to be a resounding success, partly because there were no competitors and whatever you did was something different from the existing state of affairs, which was deplorable," he argues.

"Since we are now a part of the globalisation process and it is the legal system which pushes the global agenda, there is no time to wait - already Harvard, Yale and Stanford want to set up campuses in India."

Future of Indian law schools
The future is very bright, says Menon and adds that "Indians shine wherever they go", expecting Indian lawyers to compete on a global scale.

"For the 14,000 seats in the 14 National Law Schools, there are over 15,000 applicants, who are the cream of12th standard higher secondary school examinations," says Menon and he believes that they are the best judge of the future.

But the challenges remain real. "In a country of 1.2bn people we need to provide access at least to 25 to 30 per cent of our eligible population to study law," he argues. Today this figure is less than 12 per cent.

He believes that the private sector will have a huge role to play in this goal.

Menon says that the source from which students attain excellence is not important as long as excellence is accomplished with a degree of equity and equality, which is also a constitutional guarantee.

"There cannot be elitism for a certain section and mediocrity for the rest," he argues although merit-based selections and selective admission procedures will have to remain paramount.

Liberal views
"As far as liberalisation is concerned, it is bound to happen whether one likes it or not," says Menon. "Else exit [the World Trade Organisation] WTO and no sensible government will look for that option."

"Indian law firms have nothing to fear in competitive excellence, they only need to be more organized," he notes and the involvement of foreign players here and the equal treatment of Indian law firms abroad would improve the quality of delivery of justice. And this will ultimately be an advantage to the consumer.

Strong action by the organised bar would reduce the pain, he notes, by preparing a level playing field in the process of transformation.

But ignoring the issue and passing a resolution of "no foreign law firms in India", he says, would only increase the pain when the legal sector does finally open.

Menon feels that legal changes need to be introduced to make the current system more flexible and adaptable.

He recommends a bar entrance examination for law graduates and those interested in practicing in India. He reasons: "Nowhere in the world can Indian lawyers straightaway practice. In foreign jurisdictions, there are tough exams for getting a license to practice, but such is not the case here.

"We need to have bilateral agreements and a system of reciprocity in place."

Better living through technology

Menon is a firm believer that technology is a major key to driving legal education forward.

"There is no escape from technology," he says. "Technology will inform and influence every branch... You cannot practice law in future - either litigation or transactions - without the help, understanding and the capacity to analyse technology related issues."

How legal education imparts those skills will be crucial. He recounts the story of his colleague Dr N.L Mitra who went to Jodphur to introduce the BSc LLB and began teaching mathematics and chemistry to law students, recognising the importance of technology to legal education.

A later example he cites is that of IIT Kharagpur which has started a school of law and a three-year LLB course with admission limited to engineers and BTech. The course is now in its third year.

The second frontier of technology will be in providing access to justice and proactive legal assistance for India's rural poor population, which numbers approximately 500m, he adds.

He puts his weight behind the Government's plans to introduce a new concept of Gram Nyayala soon, under which a judge will be able to dispense justice with the help of the courts' lawyers, rather than the parties'.

"I love to think about the future and see how quickly the Indian legal education can assimilate these changes and be a world leader in the legal education for the future," enthuses Menon. "That potential can be explored by Mr. Kapil Sibal and Mr. Veerappa Moily, hats off to them."

Quiet retirement?
In Menon's recently published memoirs Turning Point, Memoirs of Prof. N.R. Madhava Menon, he reveals that he has technically retired three times in the last 15 years of his 50-year-long legal education career.

It is clear he has a hard time keeping still and resting on his laurels.

He is passionate about his work as a member of the Commission on Centre State relations, for example.

Menon's and the Commission's role is to redesign and reinterpret constitutional provisions so that governance that is split between local bodies, panchayats, states and the Union Government is adapted to the changing times.

"We have had a paradigm shift with multiple political parties ruling the centre and states," he explains. "The emerging socio-political trends have brought in new complex questions like cyber crime and terrorism that complicates governance."

The Commission's report is likely to be published by the middle of next year.

Menon is also actively involved in projects such as running the charitable Menon Institute of Legal Advocacy (MILAT) and he was recently honoured as the Best Law Teacher 2009 by the Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF) and the Bar Association of India.

Menon sums it up best in his memoirs. "Health is deteriorating and the body is asking to slow down activities," he wrote. "Mind, on the other hand, seems to say that lot many things need to be done and can be done before one bids good bye to this wonderful, beautiful world.

"I am reminded of what Robert Frost had written many years ago:

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep."

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Like +1 Object -1 BrigRetdAshok Joshi 18 Sep 09, 18:04
There is no doubt that Prof Menon has created one of the best law schools of India.But the question still haunts the legal fraternity as to how many of them have become good litigating lawyers.
The products of top law schools/colleges are very good but how much have they helped in the development of law and in helping our judiciary to lay down good law.
In the recent judjement of Delhi high court on sec 377 of IPC i am not sure as to what is the contribution of these high end law graduates?
Any way hats off to Prof Menon and we are grateful to you for creating Harward of the East
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Like +1 Object -0 John 20 Sep 09, 10:42
Dear Brigadier,
I dont have the complete picture on this one, but I know a few NLS-grads who worked with the Naz foundation..
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Like +1 Object -1 sayak chaudhuri 20 Sep 09, 22:49
why are we talking cutting edge work only in case of litigation? why are we not talking about the stupendous quality of work done in case of the non-litigating side of the legal profession as well? it is mighty unrealistic to say that the complicated and oftentimes seemingly impossible transactions are not the product of brilliant legal minds trained under the new model of legal education.
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Like +1 Object -1 XYZ 21 Sep 09, 10:28
Dear Brigadier,

Instead of just focusing on litigation only, there are lots of other sectors which required a high skilled lawyers like Private Equity, Infrastructure. And it is due to people like Prof. menon and Dr. N L Mitra that we have institutions like National Law School , Bangalore and National Law University, Jodhpur which had produces such lawyers who are experts in negotiations, drafting and also in grasping the technology which is must for structuring the transactions.

Instead of cribbing , we should appreciate for their contributions.
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Like +2 Object -0 J 21 Sep 09, 16:11
Dear Brigadier,

Truth be told there are several reasons why a National Law Univ graduates do not, in general, opt for private practice (as opposed to litigation).

The core reason lie in the way private practice is structured in India; one has to begin as a junior to a senior lawyer and as is most often the case such senior lawyers harldy give any exposure to the junior and pay them pittance (while they themselves rake in millions, insist on chartered aircrafts, luxury cars to ferry them etc.). Higher education in NL costs and it is not unfair for these students to ask for good pay once they graduate. You can't practice law by remaining hungry!

Again private practice works mostly on "connection" basis, if you do not have a family member who is an established practitioner or is a judge, then it is extremely difficult to break in.

It is unfair to say that none of these students have joined private practice, a lot have and quite a few are doing spectacularly well. Given the nature of practice we'll probably hear of them (as we hear about say a Salve today), once these people turn 48/50! Till then....
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Like +0 Object -0 AM 22 Sep 09, 16:21
It is time that the supporters of "lawschoolites should join litigation if they are worth their salt" realise that the lawschoolites are probably contributing better to legal development by working at the law firms. To but it briefly, India's transactional lawyers and law firms are spoken about in many international circles and journals and Indian transactional lawyers are also featuring in the World / Asia Who's Who of the legal fraternity. Therefore, it is time for some (or is it many?) to realise that joining the bar should not be a standard when it comes to measuring the contribution of the lawschools to the legal sector. The law firm boom happened along with the development of the lawschools, so it would not be too much to say that "preference for corporate / transactional lawyering" has led to such awesome development of the legal sector in India and brought it at par with international law firms in some ways.
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Like +0 Object -0 AM 22 Sep 09, 16:38
My last comment was a general one, and not an answer to any question. As regards the contribution of firms to legislation... law firms routinely work on legal drafting (often pro bono). Many regulatory bodies like SEBI and RBI seek advice from firms in the development of their regulations. The firms add-value by making these regulations meet international standards and often, firms study the models in US and EU when they advise on such legal structuring. Many legislations have been developed with the help of law firms (e.g. Electricity Act). Many bodies like Planning Commission, Law Commission to name a few, get advice from law firms.
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Like +0 Object -0 hansa 23 Sep 09, 13:57
the number of law schools are increasing and the quality of education, skill is deteriorating tremendously. Faculty is one of THE major concerns, which results in lack of motivation for the students.

In that case it is almost useless even if the students appearing for CLAT are the cream of 12th class!
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Like +0 Object -0 Chris 23 Sep 09, 19:52
Hey NLU grads, pls get a grip on reality.

So much vain boasting about how much money NLS graduates make and how many get employed in top firms, etc is missing the point completely.

The national law schools were set up to provide a steady stream of well-trained lawyers to assist litigants and the bench in deciding cases. To use a poor pun: the intention was to raise the bar!

That hope has been belied. And how.

The comatose Indian legal system is not something to boast about. It requires a complete overhaul.

Justice delayed is justice denied is the stark reality of the aam admi.

A few high profile "public interest litigation" cases (many of them brought by by ppl who are not lawyers) and decided on dubious grounds by publicity-hungry judges will hardly stem the rot.

The judiciary should resist the temptation to act as the executive and stick to interpreting the law.

At one end we have unscrupulous senior counsel who will charge in lakhs for getting an adjournment and at the other end is the pitiable, half-starving advocate in his tattered black coat and frayed collar, cycling away to the dilapidated and pre-historic district courts with its dank, musty smell, peeling plaster, spit and mucous everywhere, and the all pervasive stench of urine and dung.

Some even use the stairs of the court as their “official” address and chambers, a chair and table and an ancient typewriter – their card will say: stair no 9, Dist Court!!)

Few public buildings in India have a worse ambience.

If you thought only the senior advocates are running a racket in exorbitant fees (due to the fact that NLS grads are refusing to get into advocacy), then think again. Much of the judiciary is outright corrupt (and not just the lower judiciary which BTW is out and out corrupt).

Read below the shocking story where a bag containing Rs 15 lacs was delivered to the “wrong” High Court judge.

www.indianexpress.com/news/haryana-addl-ag-sends-rs-15-lakh-to-hc-judge/349543/

www.indianexpress.com/news/cash-scam-high-court-judge-who-goes-on-leave-says-influential-people-shielding-accused/352427/0

If the NLS grads could get off their high horses and actually do something which can change the way justice is delivered in India – then the world would be so much a better place.

Why should the hapless litigant have to chase or defend a case for decades?

Why should litigant have to fork out Rs 2 lacs to a “senior advocate” who has spent hardly 5 minutes in the court room coz’ the other party sought an adjournment (to which he gleefully acquiesces)?

The only persons who fatten and profit from this sordid drama is, I regret to say, the lawyers and the judges.

All others and “justice” can go for a toss!

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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous 24 Sep 09, 22:42
"For the 14,000 seats in the 14 National Law Schools, there are over 15,000 applicants, who are the cream of12th standard higher secondary school examinations"

Is that correct? As in only 1,000 applicants don't get through? This statistic is slightly doubtful, I think!
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Like +1 Object -0 anon 25 Sep 09, 12:21
Of all the national law schools, I guess only NALSAR, NLS, NUJS and NLU-Jodhpur are worth joining. Less than 350 merit seats are available in these law schools. Even if you add the seats in all the other national law schools, the number of seats available is unlikely to exceed 1,250.

BTW - are there 14 national law schools in the first place?
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Like +1 Object -0 Revolution 26 Sep 09, 19:40
Hi,

Firstly, I agree that there is a factual error in the above articles. There are around 1000 General Merit Seats in all the national law schools for which 15000 students compete.

Secondly, a National Law Schoolites choice of pursuing a non-litigation career is justified as he has to make up for the expenses of his costly education. On an average, all the National Law Schools charge around 1 Lakh a year. The National Law School Course is a 5 year course. At the end of the day, when I spend 5 Lakhs for my graduate education, I cannot expect myself to work under a senior and pursue litigation getting paid around 10000 bucks a month. I would expect a lucrative job that the corporates would provide.

The solution would be to allow private/government funding and reduce the fees of the National Law Schools. It will be better if "Indian Institutes of Law" are established. Please read the following article :
beta.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/article22616.ece

I pay my respects and admire Mr. Madhav Menon, the father of Modern Legal Education in India. Kudos to his work.

Thanks.

Cheers.
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Like +1 Object -0 S 27 Sep 09, 19:09
It is indeed a good idea to reduce the fees and hence the 'entry barrier' first to legal education and in turn to the legal profession itself.

However, with all due respect, it can't be through government funding, because that essentially comes with giving up control to the government. One of the significant reasons for the National Law School of India University to be started in Karnataka and not any other Indian State (particularly Delhi) was because Karnataka was willing to give the institution and its founders the autonomy required to bring about radical changes in a well-entrenched system.

We should be aware of the perils of governmental aid and control which experience tells us can mutate into complete government take over of an institution, where connections and not merit determines admissions and appointments. That will certainly be a regressive step in the history of legal education in India.
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Like +0 Object -0 Revolution 28 Sep 09, 19:02
S,

Valid point noted.

Isn't there a queer way where a National Law School can get government funding but still retain its autonomy?

Another solution is to allow grants from Private foundations like the Bill Gates and Melinda Foundation or something like that. Law Schools in the US are funded this way by private people.

Cheers.
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Like +0 Object -0 Vikramjit Banerjee 04 Oct 09, 15:23
Trideep Pais , whose name is recorded right after Anand Grover , Senior Advocate, appearing for the Naz Foundation in the judgment itself , is from the National Law School . I think Trideep may be the advocate on record for the matter as well . The copy of the original judgment is at : www.ilga.org/news-upload/Delhi_high_court_decision.pdf, incase you want to take a look. Just for your information.
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Like +1 Object -0 Vikramjit Banerjee 04 Oct 09, 21:54
Further in the Advocates for the Respondent No.8 , Voices Against 377 , two of the recorded advocates in the judgment , Arvind Narain and Jawahar Raja are also from the National Law School , as will be apparent from the judgment itself . There seems to be quite an overwhelming presence of law school students in the order sheet.
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous 30 May 11, 17:15
Well, it would be appreciable if you could also name some of your NLS alumni at the various District Courts in India.

Its really not a debate about an institutions history and development. Its a discussion on the quality of legal education of which the National Law school(s) are definitely a benchmark. Well, it does involve the story of thousands of other law colleges in this country too.

If a premier center of legal education in this country could not integrate these institutions in their tradition, I think the Goal of making India a prime seat for legal education and moreover, legal awareness is falling short of its objectives.
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