Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Impact of Corporate Law Firms on Elite Legal Education in India

Jonathan Gingerich and I have this piece out examining the impact of the rise of corporate law firms in India on elite legal education in the country. To me a fascinating aspect of this story is that corporate law firms have actually done very little to proactively alter legal education in India – they rarely give substantial money to schools, they don’t become heavily involved in its regulation, etc. Yet, the rise of the corporate law firm is probably the biggest driver of change in elite legal education in the last thirty years and perhaps since independence.

The story here really is a classic Marxist one: the economy changes with liberalization, new corporate employment markets for lawyers are created as a result, and students and schools respond to this demand for a new type of lawyer by reshaping legal education. Specifically, the piece looks at how the rise of corporate law firms altered the type of students who apply to law school and how they pick law schools; the legal education that elite law schools offer; and the motivations and actions of students while in school. It uses three cases studies to help illustrate its argument –NLSIU Bangalore (as an example of a “national law school”); Delhi Law Faculty (as an example of a “legacy school”) and Jindal Global Law School (as an example of a private law school).   

In case it’s not obvious, this is not a piece that is assessing which law schools or legal education models are better than others. It doesn’t tell a prospective student where to go to law school, reveal which law school is “best”, or come up with a plan to reform legal education. It also does not take a normative stance on the impact of corporate law firms, although one certainly could. Instead, we hope the piece will be useful to students and recent graduates to reflect on the forces that shaped their education and to those outside the legal profession in India to understand the shifts that have been afoot in this space since liberalization.

Importantly, we do not deal with the majority of law schools in India. We are looking at the “elite” schools (in the sense of the word that they produce graduates with power or wealth in a society). One of the most striking facts I came across while working on this - which is buried in a footnote in the actual paper - was that out of the 1,390 Bar Council of India accredited law schools as of 2013 859 of them had been founded after 2000! That’s an absolute explosion of new law schools and I don’t think the academic community has a very good sense at all of what these law schools look like.

This paper is part of a project by Harvard Law School’s Program on the Legal Profession called Globalization, Lawyers, and Emerging Economies (GLEE), which is looking more broadly at the impact of liberalization on a number of issues related to the legal profession in India and other emerging economies like Brazil, China, and Africa. The working paper series for this project, which includes some excellent pieces on India, can be found here. Our piece is a draft and we welcome feedback.
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