Shambo Nandy, the Executive Editor of Journal of Indian Law and Society recently spoke to Raju Ramachandran on a wide array of topics. He talks about legal education in the 1970s and now, the qualitative change in the Bar and about the benefits of interdisciplinary legal education.
SN: Please tell us something about yourself. What made you interested in joining the profession?
RR: I grew up in Delhi and studied economics at St. Stephen’s College. I am the son of a railway officer; I have no legal pedigree. I initially wanted to be a journalist. So during my undergraduate days, I was attending a journalism course and was also doing some writing and reporting. There was a teacher in this journalism course who taught us press law, and he made the subject come alive. I became fascinated by the law. During my days at St. Stephen’s, the Kesavananda Bharati case was being argued. The quality of legal reporting in those days was very high. The arguments of Seervai and Palkhivala were reported on a daily basis, and I got interested. I started attending the hearings. So the first court I ever saw in my life was the Supreme Court, the first Bench I ever saw had thirteen judges in it and the first lawyers I ever heard were Palkhivala and Seervai. After Kesavananda Bharati, I forgot all about journalism and decided to study law. I joined what was then called the Faculty of Law of Delhi University. I did my three year course and joined the profession.
SN: What was the standard of legal education imparted then? Were you satisfied with the teachers who taught you? Based on your interactions with junior lawyers now, do you feel that there has been a qualitative decline in legal education now?
RR: I am glad you have asked me this question because I have been making this point to different people. The difference between then and now is that as far as the students of law were concerned there were very few of us who joined the law course because we wanted to become lawyers. Most of the others were there to avail of postgraduate hostel facilities and study for the civil services examinations. There were others who could not make it to regular postgraduate courses in their disciplines, and therefore joined the law course. So the number of serious motivated students was few. But the teachers we had were legendary teachers, great academics, highly qualified, highly respected. I think we learnt our law at the feet of great masters. Today the situation is diametrically opposite. The students getting into law these days, and I am talking about the major national law schools, are all a brilliant and a highly motivated lot, whether they want to come into litigation or whether they want to get into the transactional sector. The quality of the students is much better, but only a few law teachers measure up to these students.
SN: Many teachers experiment with different styles of teaching, some prefer the traditional lecture method, some go by the Socratic method and some adopt a mix of both. What method was adopted by the Delhi Law Faculty then?
RR: The Delhi Law Faculty prided itself as the pioneer in the case method, and that was the method by which we were taught.
SN: And do you think that was a very good method?
RR: I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the case method made the subject livelier but I did feel that unless we put in that extra effort of reading Acts as a whole, we could miss some fundamentals. Since the method of teaching did not cover an Act section wise, we did run the risk of missing some important provisions if the cases didn’t deal with them.
SN: One of the objectives behind the setting up of national law schools was the idea that quality junior lawyers would improve the standards of the Bar. Every year few graduates from these law schools join the various High Courts and even the Supreme Court. Based on what you have seen till now, do you think that there has been an actual qualitative improvement in the standards of the Bar by their contribution?
RR: We must remember that at the time the national law schools were conceived starting with the Bangalore project, the economy was still the old economy. It was therefore felt that lawyers were meant for courts. But alongwith the growth of the national law schools has come the major change in the economy, and therefore the legal profession is not confined to courts. Naturally, therefore, a major portion of legal talent thrown up by the law schools has gone to the transactional sectors. Therefore, the idea of bringing about a qualitative change in the Bar has not been achieved. But I think this was inevitable considering the change in the economy. However, I do feel that those who have come into litigation, each one of them (the exceptions would be few and far between), have all impressed by the quality of their work. It is also important to mention that those who have gone to the transactional sector have made an important contribution there, and if Indian law firms are an important force to reckon with, that is also substantially due to because of the recruitment from the major national law schools.
SN: You joined the profession in mid 1970s. Can you tell us how the Bar has changed over the years? Has there been a cultural shift in the Bar’s attitude towards matters of assisting the court, professional ethics, etc.?
RR: The Bar has also changed with economic change. When I joined the profession, the prospects of earning and accumulation of wealth were still limited, compared to the sky high possibilities of today. Therefore, in those times the approach was definitely far less commercial as far as the lawyers were concerned. In the controlled economy, there was not much choice in the kind of car which a lawyer could own or the kind of watch he could wear. The material ambitions of lawyers were very different. Today, in the liberalized economy and the culture of consumerism, aspirations in the material sense keep increasing and therefore the concept of fee as the payment for services rendered has been lost. When a lawyer charges a disproportionate fee, he loses his objectivity and becomes obliged to his client. The need to ‘win’ a case becomes stronger, and the lawyer cannot perform his role as “officer of the court” effectively.
SN: Current BCI Rules do not allow a law graduate in full time employment to practice before the courts. As a result of this, law teachers cannot plead on behalf of others and can only do so if they are appearing as party-in-person in matters where they have filed cases in their own name. Do you think that in the interest of the professional development of law teachers of our country, should an exception be carved out to allow them to appear at least in matters of public interest?
RR: It is definitely something worth thinking about, because an interaction between practice and academics will enrich both. To give you an example, take the field of architecture where many successful architects are teaching. I definitely feel it is worth a try, but how it is to be worked out has to be carefully thought out. Academic commitments should not interfere with court dates, and the fact that someone is busy in court should not affect his teaching.
SN: Over the last few years there has been a heated tussle between the BCI and the HRD Ministry over the latter’s attempt to take away control of legal education from the BCI. Do you think that BCI should continue controlling legal education, given the way it has handled it till now?
RR: I am not in favour of the control of legal education going out of the hands of the BCI on principle. I am however not oblivious of the fact that apart from the major national law schools, the quality of legal education is abysmal and I have often wondered, having interacted with alumni of different institutions, how those universities or law schools ever got their recognition. I therefore definitely feel that the BCI needs to get its act together.
SN: The five year law courses were started with an idea to promote a combination of legal and social science education. Do you think five year law schools have really managed to do something substantially new to legal education or legal research?
RR: I definitely feel that the five year model is better than the three year model because the five year course gives an exposure to different disciplines, may not be in depth, but still it is a multi-disciplinary approach compared to the three year course where the person may have graduated either in economics, or political science or computer science. I definitely feel that it contributes to creating lawyers with better all-round skills.
SN: What do you think is the relevance of interdisciplinary legal education in the everyday practice of law for professional lawyers, like say in litigation?
RR: A litigating lawyer will be either a civil lawyer or a criminal lawyer or a commercial lawyer or a constitutional lawyer or a tax lawyer – whichever branch of law you practice, you need a broad exposure to society as a whole, and that can come only through an interdisciplinary exposure.
SN: In what way can practicing lawyers contribute to the development of an interdisciplinary tradition of legal studies?
RR: If a lawyer is himself the product of multidisciplinary course, he or she himself or herself will not be a technical lawyer but a lawyer who understands law in the overall context of society and economy. Such a lawyer will definitely have a holistic perspective. For instance, I recently came to know that the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy has in its Policy Group inducted lawyers from the national law schools who has had some experience in working in the banking sector. Take some modern courses offered by some law schools abroad, like Law and Economics, Law and Corporate Governance, Law, Science and Technology – all these highlight the convergence which is the hallmark of law in the 21st century. Lawyers with a multidisciplinary approach can make an important contribution.
SN: Do you think judges should refer to social science literature or concepts in their judgments?
RR: Keeping in mind the same idea of convergence, social sciences are an important input in the adjudicatory process. But we must ensure that judges have a proper and comprehensive understanding of social science theories, and not make merely pedantic references.
RR: Today the legal profession is not the hereditary and dynastic profession it was at the time when I joined. If you are sincere and hard working, your chances of being successful in the legal profession, whether in the litigational or the transactional world, are very bright.
(The interviewer would like to thank Saptarshi Mandal, Satya Prateek and Jhalak Kakkar for helping him conduct this interview)
Images provided by Mr. Raju Ramachandran’s office