Academics at law school – learn as much as possible and don’t expect to be spoon-fed

AbhinavSekhri_NationalLawSchoolofIndiaUniversitySince the Bar Council of India prescribes that law schools must teach sixty courses over five years, you can make a fair guess that academics will consume most of your time there. Now, at the end of five years at law school, I think our time is largely shaped by how we take to the academic system that is in place. I can try to give you a headstart but, given that NLSIU follows a different system with three terms as against two, my knowledge is specific to my experience there.

Schools don’t have classrooms with eighty people, so the first day of college was quite strange – no fixed seats and no real friends yet to help you decide where to sit. Decisions were made along easy lines: while some came early to grab seats right up front, and some others specifically took seats at the back to text through class, most just sat near their roommates. Try taking a picture of how class sat on the first day, and look at it at the end of term. You would be amazed at the difference.

I can imagine the first legal methods class across colleges starting around that same old question: ‘What is law?’. A bunch of eighty wide-eyed enthusiasts then debate over a term that will forever remain beyond definition. It is sad though, that in my five years of law school, Legal Methods became something like the Defence against the Dark Arts class – every year, the teacher changed. Tort law was an early favourite because we could show off the little law we learned during our CLAT prep: damnum sine injuria FTW. The terror though, lay beyond law. Every first year student was taught to become afraid of the horror that is Economics-I, Professor Somashekar (though most women end up adoring him and his aviators), his slides full of graphs, and a sense of humour (I leave you to judge that). Pay enough attention, read your Pindyck, and you realise that economics is really not that hard after all. It also includes some of the coolest project topics, such as the ‘economics of dating in law school’.

From left to right, the library at NLIU Bhopal, exams at Salgaocar College of Law in Goa, and a student engaged in solitary study at NLSIU Bangalore.

Research papers, or ‘projects’, take academics outside the classroom. Now this is not some CBSE holiday homework assignment, nor a Chemistry practical exam. Projects are academic papers you write, which allow you to really learn something through in-depth research on a specific topic. For me, this was the best part of the academic life in law school. It taught me more than most classroom-teaching; it helped me develop research skills, hone my legal writing ability, and to respect academic integrity. My own economics paper, on the ‘economics of a chaat-vendor’, involved getting to know the business of a local vendor, figuring costs and profits, and determining whether the enterprise was profitable. I shared my findings with the vendor, and I can never forget how the predictions in the paper were realised later. This wasn’t policy-making or world peace, but few things give more satisfaction than seeing how you can affect change.

All this does not mean things are always rosy: courses are not a breeze, and don’t listen to those who insist otherwise. Exams happen twice a term, along with which you have projects for each course. During the first year, it seemed like an endless cycle: project submission, mid-term exam, second submission, end-term, and then ‘repeat’. In all of this, you’re lucky to have an amazing resource pool to tap into: your seniors. I don’t think many of us would have navigated the first year without having a senior to turn to at every step, be it exam preparation, projects, or anything else. When there’s just a day left to submit your economics project draft with a million changes, that’s who you will turn to. Talk to them, learn from them, make new friends, but don’t ever stop thinking for yourself in that entire process.

LawSchoolInductionCollege is not meant to be like school. Teachers are not supposed to spoon-feed you by dictating notes which you vomit during exams to get marks which don’t reflect your level of understanding. Prospective NLS first years, I can guarantee Professor Elizabeth will tell you this and many more things, and in a way that you are never likely to forget. The sad part is that some courses can easily end up involving nothing more than mugging notes, and getting marks with little resemblance to your understanding. Grades matter, but when the person across the table sees the mismatch between your grades and your ideas, it is not a nice place to be in.

Luckily, you can decide whether things should go that way. With everything else that is going to happen, try using your five years to learn as much law as possible. You will never get five years for simply doing this again.

(Abhinav Sekhri is a fifth year student at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore. The previous article in this series is here.)


2 replies on “Academics at law school – learn as much as possible and don’t expect to be spoon-fed”

Separate post on moot courts is going to come shortly, just wanted the person posting the earlier comment to know!

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