"I realise that some of my criticisms may be mistaken; but to refuse to criticize judgements for fear of being mistaken is to abandon criticism altogether... If any of my criticisms are found to be correct, the cause is served; and if any are found to be incorrect the very process of finding out my mistakes must lead to the discovery of the right reasons, or better reasons than I have been able to give, and the cause is served just as well." -Mr. HM Seervai, Preface to the 1st ed., Constitutional Law of India.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Worth of an Indian LL.M.: A Critique of the LL.M. Programme in India


This blog post discusses a paper titled "LL.M. in India: A Critical Review" presented by the author in a recent conference on Legal Education in in India in a Globalised World. This post discusses some of the major problems with the course in India as identified in the paper. The next post would suggest possible means to address these problems.

Introduction

The Working Group on Legal Education constituted under the aegis of the National Knowledge Commission declared in 2007 that LL.M. in India was on a “steady decline”. LL.M. was a two-year course then and was beset with several problems. Many institutions ran the course without even a proper specialisation or a syllabus for the courses. LL.M. was seen by these institutions as a mere training ground for future law teachers. The teaching pedagogy was either unimaginative or, at times, absent. Even in the national law schools, which are considered to be institutions of excellence, LL.M. was neglected. Hardly would serious students opt for an Indian LL.M. They would rather do their “masters” abroad for various reasons; some of which included a shorter duration, rigorous standards and excellent faculty guidance (see, for instance, here, here, here and here.

In the recent past, there has been a shift in the way in which the LL.M. programme is being offered. This shift is mainly due to the introduction of the one-year LL.M. programmes and recognition therefor by the University Grants Commission. Despite the reduction of the course duration, many of the problems continue to exist. As a consequence, the recommendation of the Working Group on Legal Education of the National Knowledge Commission that the steady decline in the quality of the LL.M. programme could be reversed by better designing appropriate courses, study materials, internship programmes, systems of evaluation for the LLM programme remains relevant. Shortening the duration of the course cannot be seen as a panacea to the issues relating to LL.M. [Sudhir Krishnaswamy & Dharmendra Chatur, Recasting the LLM: Course Design and Pedagogy, 9 Socio-Legal Review 101-120, 102 (2013)(hereinafter "Recasting the LLM"]

Problems with the LL.M. Programme in India

LL.M. Programme & its Goal: One of the fundamental problems of the LL.M. programme is its goal. While LL.M. in India has been predominantly viewed as a training ground for law teachers, there is another school of thought which considers the programme to be able to attract students with multifarious goals (See, Recasting the LLM). It is this lack of a proper goal coupled with the demand from LL.M. students for better job opportunities similar to their undergraduate juniors which is largely responsible for the current state of affairs. While many of the students are not interested in pursuing a LL.M. course whose sole aim is to equip students to become law teachers, they are faced with the abject lack of institutional support for pursuing careers outside academia. 

A substantial number of students who pursue LL.M. in India either do so for want of further knowledge in law that would aid them in law practice or for getting jobs in the corporate sector. Typically, students attempt to get into one of the national law schools for the LL.M. programme targeting the potential for “corporate” jobs there. Except for a very few national law schools , there seems to be hardly any institutional support for such career pursuits. Even the student-based initiatives to compensate for the lack of institutional support have not been very successful. 

Unoriginal Research Methodology Courses: Legal research, unlike several other fields, is not an exclusive domain of postgraduate courses. It is taught, and is required to be taught, even at the undergraduate level, since legal research is one of the indispensable requirements of the legal profession. Hence, at a post-graduate level, research methodology courses should be something more than what the students ought to be equipped with at an undergraduate level. 

Unfortunately, legal research methodology courses taught at LL.M. courses are nothing new from what is taught at the undergraduate law courses. Students seriously lack skills in advanced legal research methods. For instance, only a few universities teach courses like empirical legal studies to their students. Even the faculty members are not equipped to handle such innovative legal research methods. Further, even the traditional methodologies of legal research such as doctrinal legal research, case survey methods, etc. are not taught using real papers/ works that take up a particular legal research methodology. Students woefully lack skills in presenting data. 

Lack of Substantive Research Output: One of the main problems that haunt LL.M. in India is the lack of quality research output which is the soul of the LL.M. programme. It is questionable if LL.M. programmes in India have actually had the effect of encouraging legal research. A chief contributor to this state of affairs is the lack of training in legal research in the undergraduate level. Students who have not had training in legal research at the undergraduate level for five years or three years (in case of the three-year course) cannot be expected to develop legal research skills overnight at the LL.M. level, which is rigorous, especially due to its limited duration. 

Although submission of dissertation has been a compulsory part of the post-graduate programme, one would be justified in doubting the quality of the dissertations that are submitted. Neither the supervisors nor the post-graduate council (of whatever name) does a thorough quality check on the research output. Students often do a rehash of some work previously done. Thus, at the end of the LL.M. programme, students miserably fail to learn research skills or acquire the experience of doing a serious research exercise in the form of dissertation. This is perhaps one of the serious failures of the LL.M. programme. 

Student Quality: One constant complaint of teachers of LL.M. programmes is that the students do not meet the high standards that the course demands. As stated previously, majority students of the pursuing LL.M. in India are from institutions with less rigorous academic standards as compared to the national law schools and other institutions offering such competitive curriculum. The problem with this is that the students are not able to cope up adequately with the higher standards set in the LL.M. programme. As a consequence, faculty members are forced to either bring down the level of the courses or the students being unable to match those standards either quit the course mid-way or do little justice to the course. Ultimately, the LL.M. programme fails to meet its goal. 

Doctrinaire Approach by Faculty Members: Another complaint about legal education in India is that it is not at all reflective of law in practice. This state of affairs is probably due to the lack of law teachers who are well versed with the theory as well as the practice of law. Law teachers who are strong on theory are not able to teach the complexities of law-in-action while law practitioners who teach part-time are neither able to devote substantial time to law teaching nor do make the students learn theory underlying law practice. The research output from students who law training in law-in-motion is often unrealistic. Lack of a practical approach ill-equips the LL.M. students to conduct legal research. This is perhaps one of the fundamental reasons for the relative failure of the Indian legal academia in contributing substantially to legal reform. 

One Year LL.M. Programme: The One-Year LL.M. programme has been heralded by many as a possible turn in revolution in post-graduate legal education in India just like how the National Law School revolution dramatically improved undergraduate legal education. But has it achieved the goal? Given the existence of other problems which remain unresolved, except to benefit the students by making them available to the market one year in advance, the course has not seemed to have brought substantial qualitative improvements in the LL.M. programme. Given the lack of quality in students to undergo the rigours of the LL.M. programme, the two-year course gave sufficient time for the students to improve. However, the one-year course seems too short for the students to have any qualitative improvement.

The second and concluding part would discuss possible solutions to address these problems.

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