A bit of the new. A lot of the old.
A bit of the new. A lot of the old.

It is soon going to be twelve months since Amicus Partners hit the ground, reason enough to do a reflective, “this is what we have learnt” piece. After all, learnings have been made, a whole bunch of them. But perhaps they can be written about at a later point in time; a quiet reminiscence that may be better placed in a journal rather than in a highly social medium.

Instead, this post is about the future, the future of legal education and how the Indian law graduate is being viewed by universities and law schools across the world. As you can imagine, there is a lot that can be said about such a broad topic; I have chosen to narrow down the focus to a few words. Four words in fact.

One: Awareness

If you were to ask me what is the biggest change I have seen in the space of legal education, it would be awareness. Not only are more Indian law graduates considering a foreign education, but they are more certain of where and what they want to study. Most significantly, the what is not necessarily strictly law, as this interview with Ameen shows.This holds as true for current students of law, as it does for the 2-5 year PQE group.

Furthermore, it is the diversity of options exercised that ought to be taken note of; you can find Indian law graduates attending graduate courses in Sweden, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia – the range is fairly impressive. And this is apart from the traditional favourites: the UK and the US.

This awareness is definitely reflected in how foreign law schools are viewing Indian law graduates. The admission officers that I have spoken to, from institutions across the world, consider India as a growing feeder source for international applicants. And why not? Here is a large group of English-speaking lawyers seeking, for a host of reasons, an international education.

The cynic would add “with money to spare” somewhere in the last sentence. I won’t. Not yet.

Two: Ambition

Closely linked to awareness is ambition though I must admit that I largely interact with law graduates who are looking to play at the global level. These graduates are not restricting themselves to domestic employment alone. Far from it. Be it policy development, human rights advocacy, commercial law, academy – the Indian law graduate harbours ambitions of a global nature.

And I think universities across the world are responding to this ambition, be it through offering specialised courses, offering generous funding, and establishing networks with Indian law schools.

What will be interesting to see is how domestic and global structures respond to this ambition, if and how new spaces will be created where such ambitions can be met. And, if they are not met, then what signals will that send to the future generation of Indian law graduates. Of course, this falls in the larger, global debate over the legal profession and what being a lawyer means in the 22nd century.

Three: Rankings

Ranking. Ranking. Ranking. If there was one question that dominates nearly every client conversation, it is the one on rankings. “What is the best law school for corporate law” or “Which is the best school for sports law?” – they are valid questions no doubt; I certainly understand the reasoning behind them.

But, I also think they are incomplete questions, missing the words “for me” at the end.

A lot of LLM applications are driven by rankings rather than anything else. And I don’t think this will change. Law universities are inherently competitive in nature, creating strict, nearly unavoidable hierarchies about what is desirable and what is not. And lawyers like to think in black and white. What could be more black and white than rankings?

What indeed.

Perhaps the first step would be to acknowledge the import of rankings while also understanding their inherent flaws, some of which are quite fundamental in nature. I often find myself telling clients that some rankings do not reflect the graduate level courses (US News I am looking at you) – an important, yet overlooked, fact.

As an aside, I am quite interested to see how Indian law schools react to rankings, more so with the entrance of the public NIRF framework, as well as the private QS group (and their I-Gauge service) in the field of Indian legal education.

Four: Finance.

This is a big word. A very, very big one. After all, graduate programs in law are fairly expensive in nature, especially at the high-prestige American law schools. Add in high costs of living, and you are looking at a significant financial investment. Which can also become a stumbling block at the admissions stage.

I would say approximately 40% of our clients would not take up a course if they do not receive adequate funding. I have little doubt that financial aid, ease of educational loans etc are going to play a crucial role in the years to come.

In some ways, there is hope. You have newer players like Prodigy Finance, MPower etc who offer online loans with no collateral requirements, but a loan is a loan at the end of the day. And with this current trend in exchange rates, some astute financial planning is definitely the order of the day.

But this also means that the Indian law graduate is now considering non-traditional, and less expensive, options for her graduate education.

Conclusion

Even if you set aside the obvious bias that someone invested in legal education will have, there is little doubt that the Indian law graduate finds herself in interesting times. Especially when it comes to her choices on higher education. How Indian law schools, and universities across the world, react to these changes (and the four words) will be what I will be watching with more than a little interest.

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