WHEN it comes to choosing a career in law, you seem to be blessed at least twice. One, unlike many other forms of professional education, the stream of legal education instantly provides you with numerous openings to choose from, solely depending on the area of your interest, inclination, resources and capabilities.
Secondly, for career choice in law, there are multiple entry points. In case you have decided and are determined to take up law as a profession or occupation from the very beginning, the course may be chalked out soon after completing your schooling of 10 years of general education (matriculation) through Plus II with law-related subjects like political science into the five-year integrated course leading to the basic degree of BALL.B.
You may choose to opt for law course after Plus II, if you so like irrespective of the stream of art, science or humanity, offered therein. Or, you may still opt to enter the realm of three-year legal education after your graduation in any subject falling under, say, faculty of arts, science, commerce, or agriculture.
For gaining entry into a five-year integrated course after Plus II, the candidate should be below 21 years of age, a stipulation seemingly created to equalise the age-related maturity level. However, entry to the three-year law course after graduation carries no such age bar, which further widens the horizon of legal education in multiple ways.
A basic law degree equips you, of course, to pursue a lucrative law practice as an advocate. It also prepares you for cognate professions, like Civil Judge (Junior Division), Solicitor (advising client in his own field of experience and acting as a bridge between him and his advocate), District Attorney, Public Prosecutor, Law Officer (overwhelming demand in banks), Legal Advisor (in the legal department of an organisation, advising them on business and personal legal matters, drafting legal documents, preparing affidavits, etc.), Notary/Oath Commissioner (drawing, verifying, authenticating, certifying and attesting the execution of documents with legal validity).
Add-on value of law studies
Legal study provides a very useful and functional add-on value to other professional disciplines. Company Secretary’s work, for instance, involving matters relating to tax, finance, excise laws, corporate laws and corporate planning, is put on a sound footing with a systematic study of law. Exposure of a medical doctor to legal studies enables him/her to contribute significantly to the development of medico-legal jurisprudence. A civil engineer equipped with a law degree turns out to be an arbitrator much in demand to settle the engineering related conflict of interests resulting into settlement of disputes outside the court. A computer engineer with the basic law degree is much sought after in resolving the new genre of cyber crimes.
In order to facilitate the acquisition of add-on value through legal knowledge there is often a provision of evening shifts (usually running from 5.30 p.m. to 9.30 p.m.) in many law colleges/departments of universities. In cosmopolitan towns it is not uncommon to find many persons, especially doctors, engineers, bureaucrats, and self-employed, joining the evening shifts for pursuing a course in law.
The correct course
Legal education invariably consists of two components: core and elective subjects.
Core subjects provide the foundational basis of legal knowledge, and invariably include the compulsory study of subjects like Jurisprudence (Legal Theory), Constitution, Interpretation of Statutes, substantive laws like the study of basic principles of the Indian Penal Code, Indian Evidence Act; and the procedural aspects dealt in the Codes of Civil Procedure (CPC) and the Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
Elective subjects are the ones that facilitate the choice of the area of specialisation that one would like to pursue, which cuts across the conventional division between the civil law practice and criminal law practice. In this respect, you may come across the bewildering variety of subjects offered by various institutions providing a law degree. The choice of subjects would depend upon your objective to pursue. If you wish to practice, say, in the local or mofussil court, you would like to focus on the area of local interest that may include subjects like land laws, revenue laws, rental laws.
If you wish to venture into the area of commercial law, you may like to equip yourself by opting for subjects like International Business, International Marketing, International Finance, International Trade Law, Corporate Law, and Intellectual Property Rights. Cyber Law may, likewise, be your choice in the emerging world of new genera of crimes if you would like to go in for practice on the criminal side.
Environment Law may be your area if you wish to deal with Public Interest Litigation (PIL).
The selection of subject areas may also vary according to the need of service-sector that one chooses to serve. There is persistent demand for law officers in banks; in Litigation Law Firms law graduates are needed to offer legal solutions of all sorts to clients; in Corporate Bodies Counsels are needed to provide legal services that are often in the nature of drafting, vetting, networking and negotiating contracts and resolving legal disputes on behalf of companies or their subsidiaries.
You may even explore avenues in an emerging area Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO) in which vendors or in-house departments outsource legal work from off-shore areas (like in the USA or the UK).
The right choice
The issue of choosing
the right law school is often baffling. While identifying the
institutions of your choice you should first of all look for the
status of their faculty. The determinants of a ‘status-faculty’
invariably include indices in terms of their basic qualifications
obtained from acknowledged universities; their tenure i.e. whether
they are holding permanent positions or are merely acting as a
part-time guest faculty; and research inputs evidenced by their
continuing published work in the accredited law journals. The myth
that there is no correlation between research and teaching, both at
the graduate and postgraduate levels hardly needs any more debate or
discussion for its falsification.
It is well-established that research and teaching are inseparable if teachers are required to encourage the young minds to be truly creative and innovative. Going by these few indices let us peruse the available law imparting educational institutions in the northern region comprising Chandigarh, Punjab, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttrakhand, and the National Capital Region of Delhi for making a decision.
In Chandigarh, the Panjab University, with excellent library facilities, qualified law faculty, and moderate fee structure, continues to be the first choice for legal education. It offers both the three-year course after graduation and five-year integrated course after Plus II, with the added facility of pursuing postgraduate courses. The university’s unique academic ambience and established credentials in arts, science and humanities make it a top choice in the northern region.
In Punjab, apart from the departments of law at Punjabi University, Patiala, and Guru Nanak Dev University at Amritsar (offering admission in both the streams), Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law at Patiala and Army Institute of Law at Mohali (both residential institutions providing only a five-year integrated course) are acclaimed as the top ranked priority places to seek admission in stark comparison to other private universities that have come into existence relatively recently.
The departments of law of Kurukshetra University at Kurukshetra and MD University at Rohtak (providing admissions in both the streams) are the acknowledged law institutions of Haryana, both for graduate and postgraduate studies.
Jindal Global Law School (JGLS), Jindal Global University, Sonepat, Haryana, is perhaps the latest addition, whose singular claim to excellence in legal studies is yet to fructify.
Likewise, the Faculty of Law, University of Jammu, at Jammu, and Faculty of Law, University of Kashmir at Srinagar, are the well-known centers of legal education in Jammu & Kashmir.
In Uttrakhand, the Faculty of Law, Kumaon University at Almora, and several BCI approved law colleges located in different places of the state and affiliated to Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University are adequately meeting the legal education requirements of a large number of residents of the state.
Faculty of Law, University of Delhi is the leading centre of conventional legal education, whereas Amity Law School, affiliated to Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi, has made its mark in the five-year integrated course. The Indian Law Institute (Deemed University), New Delhi, is a premier institute of legal research of international standard in India.
— The writer is former founding Director (Academics), Chandigarh Judicial Academy; Chairman, Department of Laws, Dean, Faculty of Law, Fellow, Panjab University; & UGC Emeritus Fellow in Law