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Explained: What is & who might take India’s first BA in “legal studies” for 3 years at JGLS?

The course structure for Jindal’s new legal studies BA Hons
The course structure for Jindal’s new legal studies BA Hons

JGLS Sonepat has launched a three-year “BA Honours Programme in Legal Studies” (LS), a course concept borrowed from the United States and the first-of-its-kind in India.

However, the bachelors degree, despite covering many subjects also found in undergraduate LLB degrees, is not recognised by the Bar Council of India (BCI) and will not provide graduates with eligibility to practice law (or take the All India Bar Exam).

So, the obvious question is, who is this course for? We asked JGLS founding dean and Jindal Global University (JGU) vice chancellor Prof Raj Kumar, and he offered the thoughts behind it.

Who is it for?

The BA Hons LS, as its catchy short-hand goes, would see admission for up to 150 students, said Kumar, and “fees are much cheaper than LLB”, around “half of it” (the course prospectus lists annual fees as Rs 3.5 lakh for tuition, and Rs 2.4 lakh for food, accommodation and laundry).

The legal studies programmes are common at many US universities, he noted, as a combination of social sciences and humanities subjects, often housed in non-law departments. As a first in India, it also dovetails with the CBSE schools introduced in the last decade to teach “legal studies” as a subject in the 11th and 12th standard.

One target audience for the undergraduate LS degree could be students curious about law but perhaps not yet sure that they want to join the lawyers’ profession, with its robes, law firm desks, bar councils and other trappings.

“There’s a lot of attrition rate amongst law students, they realise it’s not what they want to do,” said Kumar. “This is to enable people to take an informed decision to become a lawyer or not.”

Expounding further on the philosophy, Kumar added: “My big theme is, law is the new liberal arts. In my speeches I talk about it, the exponential rise in students seeking to study law, a new-found understanding that law is the new liberal arts.

“If you look at economics or sociology or engineering, you’re seeing it, as how these disciplines are impacting law today.”

Kumar argued that engineers were now interested in law, due to emerging areas around machine learning, robotics and driverless cars, while governance and policy people were increasingly called on to be conversant in legal language and landscapes.

One of the options available for them, would be to join the legal profession (and complete another three-year LLB, which is helpfully also offered by JGLS and would be an aggregate undergraduate legal education of just a year longer than the five-year LLB Hons).

“If you decide you don’t want to be a lawyer,” considered Kumar, “say [do an] MBA or other disciplines, the study can be beneficial for them for the future, or they can be using this degree to undertake a range of non-law careers... [such as working for] human rights organisations [in non-legal roles].

“But knowledge of law, ability to articulate effectively, all those things are valuable.”

Overall, Kumar said, extrapolating from the three-year LLB programme, that around half of anticipated legal studies graduates would be expected go on to do law, while the other half would pursue other fields (in the three-year LLB of 150 students at JGLS, a third of students apparently hailed from JGU’s own business, international affairs, public policy and liberal arts schools).

Why not just do a 3-year LLB?

Besides not being able to practice law with a legal studies degree, there is also a difference in substance, though it can appear subtle.

“The main thing is that pedagogy is key for this,” Kumar said. “In LLB, the focus is on case study methods. In [legal studies] it’s about the social, political and the economic context.”

While some of those things are also included in LLBs and the LS programme also includes some “black letter law”, the latter was “not based upon focus on courts, case studies and decisions, but more on social context, economic context and political context”, according to Kumar.

“The pendulum has swung in the other way”, claimed Kumar. “The idea is to elevate the LLB programme and emphasis to [US-American Juris Doctor] JD-type programmes, where graduate legal studies becomes a choice for all kinds of students.”

Good arguments aside, there is still the question of whether it will prove popular with students, whose parents have only recently come around to the idea that a law degree is perhaps even just on par in respectability with engineering or medicine.

But even if the legal studies degree doesn’t stick, it’s arguably worth trying for its own sake, particularly in light of one of Jindal’s more recent achievements.

“We are now mandated to look at innovative, inter-disciplinary programmes,” said Kumar. “Now that we have Institution of Eminence status, we are constantly innovating.”

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