Law degree has little to do with one's potential to become a good lawyer. And if the ever-increasing crowd of average lawyers is any indication at all, the standard of legal education in India is not exactly rising at the same rate as expected, given the massive strides in other areas. It might be a failure of the education system in part, but it is quite certainly a failure of the selection process to a considerable extent.
When a candidate appears for law entrance it is not only a test of the candidate's suitability but also a test of the examination to judge the right candidate. If the test fails to pick an able candidate or picks candidates that are not good enough, it is neither the success of the successful candidates, nor the failure of those who could not qualify, but is the failure of the test itself. So far as law entrance tests are concerned, the selection of the right candidates is of utmost significance because legal profession is not just one of the most lucrative career choices but is also a profession where one deals directly with the life, liberty and reputation of individuals.
The piling up of cases in the courts across the country has a lot to do with unfilled vacancies in the judiciary, but it also has something to do with small number of lawyers capable of handling complex cases despite the fact that courts are teeming with law graduates. It seems we are either not selecting them right or are not training them as well as we should.
After all, the first challenge is to select the right candidate and the final one is to train him right so as to prepare him for the world of law, justice and courtrooms.
The teaching and training part is handled by each institution on its own. Therefore, training of the same level by each one of these institutions might be a slightly unrealistic expectation, but the selection process can still be made better.
Two years ago, there were separate entrance exams for each of the National Law Schools. An aspirant had to fill separate complicated forms as every law school had a different admission procedure. An applicant had to spend Rs. 1000 to 2000 on each application form, which used to cost Rs. 10000 to 25000 for each applicant depending on the number of schools he or she wished to apply.
The introduction of the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) in 2008 was a welcome step as it eased the burden of applicants and their parents. CLAT integrated the multiple formats into a single format and the various entrance exams into a single exam.
The CLAT is an All-India level test for admission in National Law Schools throughout the country. It is conducted by one of the National Law Schools every year based on rotational policy. At present, 11 National Law Schools are members of CLAT. The CLAT is a two-hour exam comprised of 200 questions of 200 marks from diverse areas like English including Comprehension, General Knowledge/ Current Affairs, Elementary Mathematics, Legal Aptitude and Logical Reasoning.
The success of this format is evident from the fact that every year a large number of students appear for CLAT and the competition for getting into the National Law Schools is getting tougher by each day as the entrance exam is not just there to judge the legal aptitude but also part of the elimination process designed to allow only the serious kinds to see the insides of a law school. CLAT aims at ensuring clarity and transparency in the admission procedure and is hailed as a positive step in this direction.
There is another beginning in this direction - LSAT. Now Law aspirants are able to take the special local version of the prestigious law school entrance test designed and conducted by the US-based Law School Admission Council (LSAC). The Law School Admission Test designed for Indian students (LSAT - India ) was launched on May 24, 2009 conducted by Pearson VUE at 14 cities across the country. The cities which hosted the test were Delhi , Chandigarh , Jaipur, Lucknow , Bangalore , Chennai, Hyderabad , Mumbai, Pune, Bhopal , Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Bhubaneswar , and Ranchi .
The Law School Admission Test (LSAT), which is conducted across the world four times a year, is a half-day, standardized test, which all law schools approved by the American Bar Association and most of the Canadian law schools together with several other law schools require their applicants to take for admission.
The LSAT - India is a 'paper-and-pencil' test comprising of four sections - two on logical reasoning, one on analytical reasoning and another on reading comprehension - with 35 minutes to answer each section.
The examination has been designed to test the overall ability of a candidate to be a reasonably good lawyer. To find whether or not the candidate has the skills that need to be there to be honed in order to turn him into an able lawyer is a formidable challenge. Therefore, the four different sections of the LSAT are meant to gauge different kinds of necessary skills required in a lawyer.
The Reading Comprehension section of the test is meant to measure one's ability to read with sufficient comprehension and to identify the significant portions in a passage as readily as possible. The section requires of the candidate to answer the question only in accordance with the information supplied by the passage and one is not supposed to have recourse to the knowledge one might have of the subject matter. The section is comprised of four passages of about 400 to 600 words with 5 to 8 questions per passage. These passages are picked from diverse areas of study like science, philosophy, economy, history, law and so on. These passages are similar to the passages that a law student would generally come across in the course of studying law.
The ability to readily comprehend a passage and be able to get to gist is essential for a lawyer because legal texts are not the only texts that a lawyer has to go through during his practice. Law applies to nearly all fields of human activity, which makes it imperative for a lawyer to be able to readily comprehend texts pertaining to diverse areas.
The Analytical Reasoning section comprises of conditions, statements, or rules with questions that seek to measure the candidate's ability to see a situation in terms of a given set of rules. This is a crucial skill for a lawyer because his primary function is to apply law to a given set of circumstances. Therefore, if a candidate is capable of quickly seeing a situation in terms of applicable rules, there is no reason why he or she would not be an able lawyer.
Logical Reasoning section has been divided into two sections and is meant to test the candidate's skills pertaining to reading, comprehension and application of logical constructs.
An essay is also required to be written at the end, which turns useful in case of a tiebreaker when two students obtain equal marks. Writing skills are necessary for a lawyer and better writing skills add to the possibility of one's rising above the competition. An essay written with precision and clarity could fetch one the coveted seat in the law school of one's choice.
LSAT, being a world class entrance test, can well be expected to change the way law entrance examinations are conducted in India . After all, the objective of every examination is to ascertain and measure the required skills and if a certain test manages to get the right candidates, who would naturally do better than others, it is bound to gain ground. With the kind of success LSAT has had across the globe, the expectations are sky high, quite understandably.
As of now, LSAT India scores are applicable to Indian law schools, with Jindal Global Law School Haryana, Law College Dehradun, MATS Law School Raipur and ICFAI Law School Dehradun being the only four law schools currently accepting LSAT India scores.
Prof. Veer Singh, the Vice Chancellor of NALSAR University, Hyderabad , denied ongoing rumors about National Law Schools accepting LSAT scores, stating, "The LSAT scores will not be accepted by the National Law Schools as the CLAT will function independently."
Legal profession is no longer confined within the geographical boundaries and the relevance of such boundaries is increasingly diminishing with the expanding reach of the Internet. The opportunities for a lawyer are no longer court-bound. Today, a lawyer can very well advise his clients, or even brief his colleague from thousands of kilometers away on law points of the case to come up for hearing the next day. New vistas are opening up, but, at the same time, there are different challenges to be met at several levels. It is, therefore, time for Indian law students to be better prepared for the challenges ahead. LSAT appears to be a great leap forward. It is too soon to comment upon how successful LSAT experiment would be, but going by its track record, it would not be unreasonable to believe that it is here to stay despite the teething troubles that it might have to face in the beginning.
*Dr. Manish Arora is Advocate, Supreme Court of India and Deputy Director, Amity Law School.