Conversation with Prof. Madhava Menon, former Vice-Chancellor, NLSIU and WBNUJS

On the occasion of our 8th Convocation, we were graced with the presence of Prof. Madhava Menon, former Vice Chancellor of WBNUJS and NLSIU. He took a few moments to sit down and have a candid chat with us. Here are the excerpts of that interview…

ImageMeenakshi Kurpad (MK): You first mentioned in one of your talks that law education should move from mere legal education to something that is promoting justice. Could you please elaborate on that?

Madhava Menon (MM): Law education can be for legal awareness building, to maintain rule of law, to enable people to know their rights, that’s a referral education part of law education which is required for every citizen in a democratic society whereas if you are talking about law education as professional education then the purpose is not just awareness or taking care of your rights but contributing to the maximisation of justice in society.. So, we when we say that as doctors are concerned with health rather than disease, lawyers are to be concerned with justice rather than disputes. How we make this shift from law education as education as a subject of law to justice education which requires redefinition of the objective of legal education; especially its content and its methods.

Ruchira Goswami (RG): When the Law School curriculum was designed it was meant to be an integrated curriculum where law and social sciences merged. Do you think it has shaped the way you envisioned that it has to be an integrated curriculum or do you think that this inter-disciplinary model is something that is still not so strong in teaching and research?

MM: The answer is in the question. The integration hasn’t taken place the way we anticipated, but it does serve a purpose. It becomes crucial that the learner of law realises that law has to be looked at in the context of society and its problems. So to that extent, awareness about reading law in the context of other social sciences and behavioural sciences is in fact merely knowledge. However, for integration to really happen, there is much needed change in teachers and study materials with which the course is taught as well as the pedagogic choices that we make. That unfortunately did not happen partly because teachers have not yet sufficient developed the capacity to integrate their own minds into a novel system and relate to the approach of this interdisciplinary model.  The foremost aim of this model was to mark a shift in the attitude amongst students with respect to legal education. The aim was to cultivate such values which would enhance mere law education to justice education. When this is achieved, there has been complete integration between law subjects and social sciences.

Promit Chatterjee (PC): You also mentioned in one of the interviews that the NLS models in Bangalore and Kolkata have become outdated. How so?

MM: That is the message which I wanted to give in today’s convocation. You are following an outdated curriculum which has, in fact, seen very minor modifications.  The argument that law education has to transform into justice education, which I have mentioned earlier, illustrates that the present models in Bangalore and Kolkata need some fundamental rethinking on the objects of legal education in a law school and the work methods we need to adopt to achieve these objects.

PC:  The  rising standards of private law universities with increasing focus on research and the comparable falling standard of National Law Schools has raised much debate and deliberation on the direction of the growth of legal education.  What should national law universities do to counter the challenges?

MM: I think it is a welcome development. You need as many models of legal education in our country. The model that was developed way back in 1988 at Bangalore is being implemented even today with some effective teachers along with some non-effective teachers. There is a dire need for alternate models of legal education. It does not matter if it comes from Private Universities or from National Law Schools, but there is certainly a need to constantly innovate the models of legal education. We are a diverse country and that diversity should be reflected in the form of legal education.

MK: Related to that, governance is a major challenge to most National Law Schools today. What do you think are theImage major concerns within that and how we can possibly overcome this?

The involvement of the alumni of the University becomes crucial to ensure governance of the law school. Graduates must be persuaded to return to their alma mater as faculty. Furthermore, alumni must be given representation in the Academic Council (AC) as well as the Executive Council (EC). The involvement of alumni, according to me, is the foremost governance measure to address governance and other related concerns in National Law Schools. Further, there is scope for student participation in academic matters of the University which should be encouraged.

RG: There exist legal aid societies in almost all national law schools, how do we enhance on client counselling and enhancing legal aid to societies?  

MM: Why don’t you implement section 89 CPC, forget about Courts. You can mediate, in neighbourhood, apartment, even within your law school building!

It’s a question of practice. We have a dearth of arbitrators; we have retired judges who conduct arbitrations like a court. The fact that they have been associated with courts has caused a great hindrance to the proceedings of arbitration.

RG:  Is this why most forms of dispute resolution follow proceedings just like a Court?

MM: That’s why parties do not arbitrate in India.  In most commercial agreements, the arbitration clause is for Singapore, not India. The hype surrounding moot courts really needs to die down.  I visualise in another 20 years, only 20-30% disputes which are filed in courts will even go as far as the trial stage. It will all end up outside court. . The demand for court room lawyers will decrease in the near future. Law firm lawyers as well as those lawyers and solicitors who mediate and settle disputes outside court will be in greater demand.

More and more lawyers who work in Amarchand & Mangaldas and more and more lawyers who mediate and settle disputes in communities will be in demand.

RG: Linked to this question – during the last few years, based on my experience in law school, a lot of students are now thinking outside of corporate law. A lot more are into legal aid, higher studies or looking into other career options all together, wanting to go into media, policy, economics and the like.  There is a movement away from corporate law, but this interest in other things outside black letter notion of the law, how do you think this would pan out?

MM: We need to encourage it and institutionalise it into our curriculum plan. There is a need to conduct research into the profile of 4th year law students and look at their career choices. When we do this, we will see that 60-70% will still go for corporate law. 10%, now increasing, now will be civil services and judicial services. Then there is 10-30% looking for litigating practice but mainly join senior counsel at the Supreme Court or the High Court. The standard of bar at courts continues to deteriorate. There are hardly any National Law School graduates who begin their litigating career at trial courts. Lastly, there will be 5% who will go for other career options. . Looking at a profile like this, it becomes important as to where we inculcate mechanisms to serve the needs of justice across social and economic classes. This is what I have been working on during my time in Chhattisgarh, trying to figure out how lawyers are to serve the justice needs of tribal rural communities, especially with regard to rights to land, water and the forest, which is crucial for their livelihood.

ImageRG: Could you elaborate on the new law school model that you have been formulating in the recent past?

MM: I want one year of experienced learning. That is why in the Chhattisgarh model, curriculum is 4 years of study and a year of practical experience. Instead of a 5 year model I am suggesting a four year course with a year of practical experience. The mandatory curriculum and optional curriculum can be finished in 4 years. In the 5th year, there would be 400 marks allotted for job training and practical application of the law learnt in the preceding four years.  This could even be done keeping the interests of the students in mind. For example, a student who is interested in corporate practice or Mergers and Acquisitions, his practical experience year may be based on those lines. Based on his performance during this year, his employers may evaluate him. Therefore, at the end of five years, the student would be awarded a law degree as well as a work experience certificate. This work experience certificate also benefits law firms and potential employers who tend to employ students with higher work experience. The second thing that I am trying to introduce is that this one year of practical experience will entitle a stipend by the employer. For example, if Amarchand & Mangaldas seeks to set up law offices other than urban centres as part of their CSR requirement, they may approach these fifth year law students to work for them during this one year of practical experience. This creates a lawyer’s cooperative which serves as a training centre for these fifth year trainees.

This will be a smooth transition from student to lawyer. That is where I say law school will not be providing graduating law students but real lawyers. You need partnership from NGO’s, legal aid committees, local bodies, that the law school should provide. I believe law school should be an incubation clinic where you incubate a future lawyer and that is the innovation I am trying to sell.

RG: We know there is a provision for appointing eminent jurists directly to the Supreme Court and people of eminence and exceptional academic caliber can be directly elevated to the Apex Court. Till date there has been no appointment, what do you think has been the problem?

MM: Even eminent academicians may have difficulty in deciding civil and criminal appeals, but law teachers with an experience of 10-15 years are as good as any lawyer or judge if we are taking about deciding constitutional matters under the original jurisdiction of the High Court or Supreme Court. There are teachers who deserve to be appointed, and the reason why it has not worked is the opposition by lobbies. At this juncture, it is to rethink the mechanism that appoints teachers, right from the initial stages.

(Special thanks to our faculty advisor, Prof. Ruchira Goswami, for conducting the interview)

Image courtesy: here, here and here.

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