Kolkata: What is perhaps most striking about West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, or NUJS as it is popularly known, is the age of its faculty members.
Growing demand: The National University of Juridical Sciences was started by the Centre as part of a policy decision to set up 12 independent law institutes in as many states. Indranil Bhoumik / Mint
Most teachers at NUJS, a 10-year-old law school on the eastern fringes of Kolkata, are in their 30s, and perhaps because they are young, they experiment with the way they teach—instead of delivering lectures, they engage students in debate.
“With students and professors arguing to establish their point like lawyers in a courtroom, a class of 20 minutes would at times carry on for hours,” says Sarbojeet Nag, 23, who graduated this year.
Nag secured a job with Allen and Overy Llp.—a leading law firm in the UK—even before completing his undergraduate course. He will move to London soon.
Nag declines to disclose his salary, but says foreign law firms can pay up to £38,000 (around Rs30 lakh) per year.
Universities such as NUJS and the National Law School of India University, or NLSIU, Bangalore, are redefining legal education in India.
“The concept of a national law university has emerged in India only recently,” says Soumik Das, who graduated this year and was vice-president of the Student Juridical Association, the student body of NUJS that manages on-campus recruitment. “Coupled with the emergence of big law firms, both in India and abroad, offering handsome salaries, it is making many students take to legal studies.”
Teachers at the university say it is the way the lessons are taught that makes this institute sought after.
“While discussing complex laws, we at times deliberately confuse students so they could brainstorm and derive a clear picture on their own,” says Bhavani Prasad Panda, a professor. “This helps them think independently—a quality that every lawyer needs to be successful.”
It’s not just its faculty, NUJS itself is a young university. It was launched in 1999, and was the fourth law university after NLSIU, the Nalsar University of Law, Hyderabad, and the National Law Institute University, Bhopal. The Union government started it as part of a policy decision to set up 12 independent law institutes in as many states.
NUJS offers three courses in law—one each at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, besides a one-year master of philosophy (MPhil) programme. It has 125 seats in its undergraduate programme, and 20 and five, respectively, in its master of law and MPhil programmes. The MPhil is a one-year bridge course for students who want to do research in law.
Last month, around 16,000 students aspiring to be lawyers sat for the second Common Law Admission Test, or Clat. The yearly test is an effort by the Bar Council of India, a regulatory body that prescribes standards in legal practice and education, and the University Grants Commission (UGC), a government agency that provides funds to institutions of higher education, to cut down on the multiplicity of law school entrance exams in the country. Clat, at present, applies to admissions in the country’s 12 national law schools, of which NUJS is one. In 2008, around 13,000 students sat for the common admission test and roughly 1,200 made the cut, an acceptance rate of 9%.
Also See Top Law Colleges (Rankings)
The rise in student applications is due to the growing demand for legal services in areas such as intellectual property, taxation and mercantile laws. Plum corporate legal jobs are proving attractive, though young lawyers face the criticism that most of them do not enjoy the rough-and-tumble of litigation.
The university has had legal heavyweights at its helm, a factor which has contributed to its success. At the invitation of the West Bengal government, N.R. Madhava Menon, who has worked in legal education for five decades and founded NLSIU, led the launch of NUJS as its founder vice-chancellor.
Besides Menon, former chief justice of the Calcutta high court Chittatosh Mookerjee and former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu, who was also a barrister, have been connected with the institute.
“They were members of the governing council and their association with the institute since inception helped build confidence (among recruiters) that we deliver good students,” says D. Mukhopadhyay, the registrar. Despite the economic downturn, NUJS managed to place 90% of its graduating students this year with top law firms and state-owned companies.
Some nine students landed foreign jobs with firms such as Allen and Overy, Clifford Chance Llp, Herbert Smith Llp and the Norton Rose Group in the UK.
“Some of the other law colleges produce students who are academically brilliant but too bookish in their approach, while those that are confident may not have sound legal knowledge. But in NUJS, students show a balance,” says Abhijit Joshi, partner at law firm AZB and Partners, which regularly recruits from NUJS. (AZB and Partners contributes a fortnightly column to Mint.)
The school wants to expand infrastructure but is strapped for funds, says Mukhopadhyay. Unlike other law schools that receive financial support from state governments, NUJS’ only source of revenue is the tuition fee students pay.
NUJS raised the course fee this year for its undergraduate programme from Rs60,000 to Rs1.4 lakh a year. The steep increase, says Mukhopadhyay, was due to rising staff and faculty costs, a result of the Sixth Pay Commission recommending a hefty salary hike.
“The cost of maintenance, too, has gone up a lot,” he says.
The school has also applied for a UGC grant. “We want to build a central library in a separate building and make the campus Wi-Fi-enabled...but we can’t do anything until UGC releases funds,” says Mukhopadhyay.